Seth Rogen: The Green Hornet
Seth Rogen's Green Hornet is a crime-fighter by night and… a pudgy stoner who impregnates women by day? George Clooney was once set to play the iconic hero and then forced to back out in favor of 1997's Batman and Robin. Though he's not Clooney, Knocked Up's Rogen isn't the slacker he's often made out to be. Because cleaning the mean streets is a serious matter, the actor shed 30 pounds for the role and critics seem to approve of his new heroic image. "While definitely not cast in the classic comic book hero mold, the trimmed-down Rogen still brings a pleasantly goofy, everyman likability to the role," The Hollywood Reporter reviewed.
Michael Cera: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Being in a really cool band isn't enough to overpower your crush's seven evil exes; you have to be strong, too. Sure, Arrested Development star Michael Cera is endearingly dorky, but he's never exactly played the fighter. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the 2010 film adaptation of the beloved graphic novel, Cera shockingly held his own while mowing down his foes, including strongman Brandon Routh of Superman Returns fame. In this scene, Cera takes on A-list superhero Chris Evans ( The Human Torch and the next Captain America), who shouldn't underestimate him. "He's been typecast a lot and he's turned into this wimp character. But he's got so much more," the novel's author Brian Lee O'Malley told USA Today of Cera.
Tobey Maguire: Spider-Man
Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is a geek; but, in the comic books, his nerd factor is nothing contact lenses and a new hairstyle can't fix. Tobey Maguire, previously known as the quiet, studious type in Pleasantville and Wonder Boys, was a surprise pick for Spidey and his alter ego Peter Parker for the 2002 film. The latter role was seemingly easy for him to nail. "[Peter Parker] was a nerd, a loner, socially inept, insecure, a poor kid being raised by relatives. Maguire gets all of that just right," Roger Ebert reviewed. But the actor hit the gym and was able to beef up to fill out the spandex blue and red suit. With a new, toned build and his innate geekiness, Maguire made for the perfect web-slinger, catapulting three Spider-Man films to box-office success.
Michael Keaton: Batman
Before he was the original Dark Knight in Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman, Michael Keaton made us laugh as Mr. Mom and Beetle Juice. Fans of Batman revolted when they heard that a pouffy-haired comic actor would wear the cape over some of the more macho actors considered for the role (which reportedly included Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, and the mustachioed Tom Selleck). In the end, Keaton channeled his tormented self and turned out a performance of Bruce Wayne equal to Christian Bale, Adam West, and George Clooney, if not better.
Ellen Page: X-Men: The Last Stand
Female superheroes tend to be curvy and possess the dual ability to wear tight leather costumes and bare flesh (i.e. Michelle Pfeiffer, Jennifer Garner, and Lynda Carter) simultaneously, which is just one their many stereotypical powers. So did Ellen Page—the young actress who went on to play a surly, over-eloquent knocked-up teenager in the Oscar-winning 2007 film Juno—have what it takes? In 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, the then-19-year-old unknown actress walked through walls as Shadowcat, proving that she could hold her own with anyone, including large, rampaging men like the Juggernaut.
Aaron Johnson: Kick-Ass
"Superhero" may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you see teen British actor Aaron Johnson; but then again, 2010's Kick-Ass isn't your typical comic book tale. When a geeky kid becomes a YouTube sensation for wearing a costume and getting the pulp beaten out of him, Johnson gets roped into the crime-fighting universe. Soon, Kick-Ass, as he calls himself, finds another über-nerd in tights—Christopher Mintz-Plasse, better known as McLovin in Superbad. The two join forces and manage to achieve what the title professes, despite their gangly physiques that work in this anti-hero superhero film. "[Johnson] plays this male ingénue to perfection, just nerdy enough to be charming with it, but never straining our sympathy or, more importantly, our credulity," The Guardian reviewed.
Jackie Earle Haley: Watchmen
In the 2009 hit Watchmen, Jackie Earle Haley did what Christian Bale could not seem to achieve in 2005's Batman Begin: a guttural growl that was both terrifying and audible. Haley gave Rorschach—the most popular character in the graphic novel—an edge (even though we may not have expected the nearly 50-year-old actor, who played a pedophile in Little Children, to fit snuggly into the role). As Entertainment Weekly reviewed, "Haley, full of spitting fury and loathing, makes [Rorschach] a gripping hellion."
Nicolas Cage: Ghost Rider
Nicolas Cage really wanted to be Superman. After Tim Burton's cinematic attempt with Cage as the Man of Steel was canned, the actor went on to make his superhero debut as a stunt motorcyclist who sells his soul to the Devil in 2007's Ghost Rider. While he later received critical praise for his stint as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass, Cage's initial foray into the superhero realm didn't seem promising. "Is the world ready for a flaming Nicolas Cage?" The New York Times asked before answering the question themselves: "The only thing he should be firing is his manager." Watching the actor transform into the otherworldly creature really showcases his talent for screams of agony.
John Ritter: Hero at Large
If you were to knock on John Ritter's door in Hero at Large, he may have knocked you out. In the 1980 film, the Three's Company star donned superhero tights as an out of work actor, only to actually and unexpectedly stop a robbery. Thus, Captain Avenger was born. Unfortunately, the film didn't have any supervillains named Mr. Furley and there was no love triangle with a brunette and a blonde—but still, the late comedic actor managed to entertain (and not just due to the body-skimming attire). "Thanks to the enthusiastic performance of John Ritter, Hero at Large remains amusing even when you know what's going to happen next (a common occurrence in this film)," The New York Times noted.
Edward Norton: The Incredible Hulk
While The Incredible Hulk's alter ego Bruce Banner is a scientist, in previous reincarnations of the comic book character, he wasn't as nerdy as Edward Norton made him in the 2008 big-screen adaptation. But staying true to some of the original interpretations, Norton (who seemed as though he would snap at any moment) fit seamlessly into the role of the not-so-jolly green giant who can't keep his shirt or shit together. According to The New York Times, "Mr. Norton does a credible enough job of conveying how tiresome it must be to shred your shoes and clothes."
Sujay Kumar works at The Daily Beast. He's written for MTV Splash Page and The Daily Illini.