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The Scariest Performances In Comic Book Movies

Updated May 29, 2021 19.3k votes 3.2k voters 97.8k views13 items

List RulesVote up the actors who gave you unexpected nightmares.

Ever since Richard Donner's Superman hit theaters in 1978, moviegoers have been fixated on superhero films, and there's been a particularly large influx since the mid-'90s. Viewers have seen a variety of beloved characters cross the screen for the first time since they were initially penned by their creators. Many of them are forces for good, fighting for truth, justice, and other positive ideals. There is, however, more than one formula for comic book adaptations, and as a result, plenty of these films are littered with scary protagonists, baddies, and antiheroes.

Many actors have done stellar jobs of bringing scary superheroes, villains, and antiheroes to life on the big screen. Roles like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, and Ed Harris as Carl Fogarty in A History of Violence, are chilling enough to brand themselves on audiences' memories forever. 

  • The last truly great live-action movie featuring DC’s Joker to-date got its harrowing reputation thanks to the phenomenal acting of Heath Ledger. His portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime is one of pure, unadulterated chaos. For a month and a half, the actor isolated himself in a hotel room to perfect the craft of living and breathing the ways of the Joker. His dedication comes through in his performance, as Ledger embodies Batman's greatest foe with his facial movements, his walk, his speech, his gestures - and best of all, his laugh.

    Ledger concocted eerily accurate depictions of one of the most terrifying villains ever to grace comic book pages. He kept audiences guessing, and he generated unease and horror via seemingly benign everyday items, like pencils and pool cues. 


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  • Peter Stormare's interpretation of the Prince of Darkness in 2005's Constantine ranks among the most haunting interpretations of the Devil in film. Constantine is a fairly dark, though not necessarily scary film, and Stormare nails his role in it as Satan with his nauseating performance.

    He is utterly unnerving - from his steely eyes and oily voice, to the enthusiastic way he celebrates finally claiming Constantine's long-doomed soul. With the creative ways he unpredictably moves and expresses himself, Stormare makes even the coolest viewers jumpy. 


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  • When most people think of Elijah Wood's acting career, some of the first roles that come to mind tend to be his work in movies like Lord of the Rings and shows like Wilfred and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. One of his more memorable roles, however, is that of the people-eating Kevin in Frank Miller’s Sin City.

    The noir setting of the film further highlights Kevin's creepy nature, and the way Wood's eyes and glasses reflect light while holding the viewer captive is harrowing. He can almost make us feel like we're going to become his next meal. Worst of all is the unnerving, indifferent, and borderline excited way he reacts to his own limbs being amputated. It's enough to send shivers down anyone's spine.


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    Jackson A. Dunn In 'Brightburn'

    Brightburn may have received mixed reviews, but Jackson Dunn is truly terrifying in his role as Brandon Breyer. On the surface, this movie examines what would have happened if someone like Superman turned out to be evil instead of a hero. Look more deeply and you'll note this movie also handles an age-old question: Are people born bad and beyond saving, or is there always some thread of hope for redemption?

    Dunn is chilling in the role, which is especially dark for a young actor in a superhero film. It's difficult to forget the cold, heartless way he looks his foster mother in the eyes before taking her to meet her demise, or the way he calmly snacks on a chocolate chip cookie while surrounded by catastrophe caused by his own hands.