9 Amazing Actor Performances In Bad Superhero Movies

Sam Elliott - 'Ghost Rider'

Certain superhero movies are just plain bad. Despite the fact that these substandard films have the potential to turn you off from the entire genre, the best acting performances in superhero movies just might be hidden within their poorly assembled scenes. Even if the movie itself is entirely cringe-worthy, one talented actor can serve as a beacon of light that at least allows you to reach the end without expiring from boredom. 

While a few minutes of good acting can’t save an atrociously bad movie, these performances still deserve recognition. Take a look below at great performances in terrible superhero movies and vote up the actors that almost made the movie worth watching. 

9. Ray Stevenson – ‘Punisher: War Zone’

Ray Stevenson - 'Punisher: War Zone'

The third adaptation of the Punisher character, Punisher: War Zone, is perhaps more painful than the other movies. There’s nothing to save the audience from the grim feel of the entire film, which leads to a movie that’s completely violent without any kind of emotional redemption. Eventually, viewers become desensitized to the incredible brutality on screen, and the endless string of shootings starts to feel more than a little boring. While the Punisher himself is supposed to be serious, some kind of moralizing element would have made his killing feel worth it, despite its ferocity.

Although the movie drags along in endless action, it did get one thing right: the casting of the Punisher himself. Ray Stevenson depicts the serious, nearly sociopathic nature of the character well. He’s pissed off, angry, and always ready for a fight. There’s little emotion in his performance, but there’s also little fear. He’s a man with nothing to lose, and Stevenson certainly captures that persona well. 

8. Sally Field – ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’

Sally Field - 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

Much like one of the previous films about this hero, Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tries to do too much in a single movie. The film technically includes three villains: Electro, Goblin, and Rhino. While Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) tries to take all three down, so much of the film is spent explaining their backstory, which confuses the plot and leads to a muddled mess of action scenes. In addition, the film also tries to weave in a conspiracy involving Spider-Man’s parents and Norman Osborne, but even that plot is distracted by everything else that’s going on. The movie doesn’t have a clear direction, which makes it difficult to take the story seriously. 

One character that takes the monotonous, tired dialogue of the movie to the next level, however, is Sally Field, In her small role as Aunt May, Field manages to shine, giving an authentically emotional performance that’s missing from many of the other interactions within the film. One of the best moments is her heart-to-heart with Peter where she finally reveals what she thinks happened to Peter’s parents. She admits to her own sense of inadequacy and begs Peter to see that he’s her mother, the only one who didn’t abandon him. Her performance feels real, authentic, and human in every scene she appears in, making her the standout star of the film. 

7. Doug Jones – ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’

Doug Jones - 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer'

The first Fantastic Four movie wasn’t that great, so the need for a sequel was highly questionable. Still, Rise of the Silver Surfer had an opportunity to redeem the original film… and it didn’t. Although there’s more humor included in this second installment, it can’t make up for the juvenile feel of the movie and the uncompelling nature of the characters. As a sequel for these comic book personalities, Rise of the Silver Surfer fell flat. 

One aspect of the film that does deserve some recognition, however, is Doug Jones’s creation of the Silver Surfer. Although the Surfer is voiced by Laurence Fishburne, Jones does the hard work of bringing the body and movement of this character to life. The Silver Surfer presents a quiet sort of strength that feels no need for expressive hand movements or outward displays of aggression. Instead, his power and confidence are communicated through a strong core posture and simple movements. Jones depicts the character perfectly, in all his strength and sadness. It’s a performance that truly deserves a round of applause, even if the rest of the film doesn’t. 

6. Sam Rockwell – ‘Iron Man 2’

Sam Rockwell - 'Iron Man 2'

While most MCU movies are considered top-of-the-line superhero films, Iron Man 2 doesn’t resonate with fans. Not only is it a major step back from the first movie, it lacks the compelling stakes of the first film. The villains feel like cartoon characters who got a little too much power, and Iron Man himself takes a step back as a likable superhero. The movie rushes from moment to moment, with little to tie the scenes together. It lost a lot of the connection to the characters that makes MCU movies so engaging, which is why fans felt disappointed with this installment. 

Despite the many shortcomings of the film, Sam Rockwell puts together an intriguing performance as Justin Hammer. In the film, Hammer is Stark’s business rival who wants to push his own company above Stark Industries. His character is painfully egotistical, mimicking much of Stark’s own personality. However, he lacks the humanity that turns Stark into a likable character. Instead, Hammer is simply a businessperson whose only goal is to succeed – nothing else matters. Rockwell perfectly captures his indifferent attitude, reminding us what Tony Stark could have been had his experiences not changed his life. His performance is fun, lighthearted, and easy to watch in a film that often feels dark and disappointing. 

5. Sam Elliott – ‘Hulk’

Sam Elliott - 'Hulk'

The Incredible Hulk has always struggled to find his footing in film adaptations, but director Ang Lee’s 2003 film is a particular failure. While it tries to create a story full of pathos and emotional vulnerability for a character who’s most known for flying into a blind rage, the result is a slow-paced film with a lot of unnecessary scientific explanation that distracts from the superhero quality of the movie. In short, this film was just boring. It tells you too much of the story rather than allowing you to see it for yourself, resulting in a film that feels stilted and disappointing from the very beginning. 

The shining star of the film, however, is Sam Elliott, who plays General “Thunderbolt” Ross. In addition to being a four-star general, he’s also the father of Hulk’s love interest. In his role, Elliott perfectly captures the mixed feelings he has towards the Hulk. On the one hand, he’s a monster who Elliott wants to take down. On the other hand, however, he’s a brilliant scientist caught in a bad situation. Ross has some sympathy for his daughter’s love for Banner, but he’s still the steely and solid military man that must make drastic decisions in these situations. Overall, Elliott’s performance provides the complicated humanity the film was searching for and failed to provide anywhere else. 

4. Ryan Reynolds – ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’

Ryan Reynolds - 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'

This Wolverine backstory was supposed to be just the first in a line of origin stories about the X-Men. However, the movie failed so spectacularly that all the other films were canceled. The origin story goes all the way back to Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) childhood, but flies by the most important parts of his development simply to establish that he is good, while his brother, Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), is bad. They briefly cut to Wolverine joining a team of heroes, but then he’s suddenly living in the woods with a new love interest. The rest of the movie is much the same. It jumps from scene to scene with little continuity or character development to get you really interested in the story. 

Despite how dreadfully bad this movie is, it allowed Ryan Reynolds to appear as Deadpool for the first time. While it’s nothing close to his later performances of the character, Reynolds brings humor to the cast that offers a brief respite from Wolverine’s painfully serious attitude. Although the movie itself ruins it by taking away his mouth, Reynolds’s short turn as Wade Wilson is a surprisingly pleasant addition to this film. 

3. Margot Robbie – ‘Suicide Squad’

Margot Robbie - 'Suicide Squad'

Suicide Squad is about a group of villains who are forced to work for the government. With that kind of premise, the movie should have been incredibly fun. Unfortunately, it just misses the mark. The film is lacking in humor, and it doesn’t explain the priorities of the characters well at all. The reason the team is even assembled is lacking in logic, as are the motives of the film’s villains. Jared Leto’s performance as the Joker is almost painful, and every attempt to pull these characters together leads to a confused plot with no real objective in mind.

Margot Robbie, however, is one character who manages to find the unconventional feel of the movie. Although Harley Quinn is given painfully simple lines and an over-sexualized feel, Robbie plays to Quinn’s insanity and never fails to remind us that these characters are truly the villains, no matter their origins. Despite her effortlessly unbothered behavior, Robbie also reminds us that Harley is multi-dimensional – the victim of psychological abuse, though she hides her hurt well. Robbie’s character is simply fun, whereas the rest of the villains are often too serious to give this film the anti-superhero quality it’s searching for. 

2. Sam Elliott – ‘Ghost Rider’

Sam Elliott - 'Ghost Rider'

Nicholas Cage stars in Ghost Rider as Johnny Blaze, a daredevil biker who makes a deal with the devil. Now, Blaze has to hunt down demons for a living. The premise is somewhat intriguing, but the actual movie is not. The film is full of plot holes and clichés which turn this already simple premise into a smoking disaster, much like Cage’s face when he’s collecting souls. Blaze’s actual abilities and motives are all a little unclear, even by the end of the movie. All you know is that he can set his head on fire and that he’s committed to battling the Devil’s son. Most audiences walked away feeling that the movie was just plain stupid, and they certainly weren’t wrong. 

Despite the cheesy dialogue and confusing plot, Sam Elliott still manages to put forward a fairly impressive performance in this film. Elliott stars as Carter Slade, a former Ghost Rider who takes Blaze under his wing. Though Elliott isn’t used in many scenes, he manages to convey a sense of knowledge and strength. He’s a serious character who knows what he’s doing, which is the type of personality Elliott plays best. He can’t beat the cheesy quality of the film, but his performance is the only one that feels even remotely convincing. 

1. J. K. Simmons – ‘Spider-Man 3’

J. K. Simmons - 'Spider-Man 3'

While the first two movies in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy are generally considered to be flawless, the third was a total bust. The inclusion of Venom in the list of villains made the plot confusing, messy, and more than a little cringe-worthy. From Peter Parker’s (Toby Maguire) strut down the streets of New York City to his overconfident performance in a jazz club, the symbiote’s influence made us more embarrassed for Parker rather than concerned for his safety. While the actual action scenes were compelling, the plot was cluttered and the conclusion was anticlimactic. 

Still, even with all those shortcomings. J. K. Simmons’s performance as J. Jonah Jameson was a bright spot in an otherwise terrible film. Continuing his legacy from the first two installments, Simmons played the easily angered editor of the Daily Bugle perfectly. No matter the circumstance, Simmons always gives an animated performance full of hilarious lines that are true to the skeptical nature of the character. Even when Peter Parker is utterly humiliating himself, you can still count on Simmons to slam his hand on his desk and demand more pictures of Spider-Man.