Here’s the definitive ranking. (Merry Chrismas.)
7. Chris O’Donnell
Role: Dick Grayson/Robin
Appearances in: “Batman & Robin”; “Batman Forever”
Listen, Chris O’Donnell didn’t stand a chance. Outside forces were too strong for his boy-next-door charms. Although O’Donnell’s cocky, somewhat-tortured sidekick was one of the consistent characters in director Joel Schumacher’s two Bat-films, he starred alongside two of the least-favorite Batmans in the franchise: Val Kilmer and George Clooney.
And while “Batman Forever” (1995) was an adequate movie, no one made it out of “Batman & Robin” (1997) unscathed — including Clooney. The A-lister and Schumacher have both since apologized for their roles in the film, but O’Donnell hasn’t gone quite that far. “On ‘Batman Forever,’ I felt like I was making a movie,” O’Donnell has said. “The second time, I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.” Though children’s toys generally don’t have costumes with nipples included.
6. Chris Evans, Pt. 1
Role: Johnny Storm/Human Torch
Appearances in: “Fantastic Four”; “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer”
Up until “Fantastic Four” was released in 2005, Chris Evans had mostly starred in teen-centric films like “Not Another Teen Movie,” “The Perfect Score” and “Cellular.” He carried that bro-heavy bravado into his role as the hotheaded (get it?!) Johnny Storm, one in a ragtag crew of superhero misfits.
And though he stayed true to the tone of the comic book, making Johnny irresponsible and arrogant — but still lovable — it was another case of an unforgiving film not giving its stars a chance to really shine. (Plus, even with Jessica Alba’s blue contacts and blond hair, there was no way we were ever going to believe that she and Evans were siblings. The Thing’s makeup was more believable.) Luckily for Evans, one mediocre superhero franchise opened up a pretty stellar opportunity a few years later.
5. Chris Pine
Role: Steve Trevor
Appearance in: “Wonder Woman”
We know, we know, he’s not really a superhero. But as Steve Trevor, Chris Pine is still a pretty super guy. And hey, doesn’t he get some nerd cred for playing Capt. James T. Kirk in not one but three well-received “Star Trek” films?
As the sidekick to Princess Diana of Themyscira — better known as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) — Steve is a welcome presence alongside our hardcore heroine. Pine and Gadot had palpable chemistry, and their relationship is well-developed enough that we genuinely care about his character’s well-being. He is intimidated by Diana — who wouldn’t be? — but still supportive and selfless. Pine plays the role with just the right amount of confidence, and proves that we should never underestimate the power of charm.
4. Chris Pratt
Role: Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Appearances in: “Guardians of the Galaxy”; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
The “Guardians of the Galaxy” films are super fun and, we, like director/writer James Gunn, agree that the casting was spot-on. Despite initially not wanting to even let Chris Pratt screen-test for the part, “20 seconds into his audition I’m like, ‘That’s the guy,'” Gunn said.
But Pratt as Star-Lord is very much like Pratt as any other character. Peter Quill is reminiscent of Pratt’s role as Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recreation,” though a lot smarter — and skinnier. And while Pratt plays the role with effortless charisma, quick wit and believable action chops, when you’re acting alongside a wise-cracking raccoon; a perfectly dry, humorless, giant blue man; and a dancing tree with a limited vocabulary, you’re never going to be the most interesting character.
3. Chris Hemsworth
Appearances in: “Thor”; “The Avengers”; “Thor: The Dark World”; “Avengers: Age of Ultron”; “Thor: Ragnarok”; and “Doctor Strange”
A god cast down to Earth who still believes he is a king-like, untouchable figure is a hard role to play in a likable way. But Chris Hemsworth embodies the part with a near-perfect balance of extreme arrogance and newfound naivete (and his rippling six-pack certainly doesn’t hurt). Look no further than the diner scene in “Thor,” Hemsworth’s first outing as the character, in which he appears surprisingly delighted by his first-ever coffee. “This drink, I like it,” he says bemusedly, before proclaiming “Another!” and smashing the mug on the ground.
As Thor appeared in more films, Hemsworth imbued him with an increasingly witty sense of humor without losing his over-the-top bluster. We may even argue that Thor’s chemistry and rivalry with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his adopted brother, are more compelling than any of the contrived love stories in other superhero outings.
2. Chris Evans, Pt. 2
Role: Steve Rogers/Captain America
Appearances in: “Captain America: The First Avenger”; “The Avengers”; “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”; “Avengers: Age of Ultron”; “Captain America: Civil War”; “Spider-Man: Homecoming”; “Thor: The Dark World”; and “Ant-Man”
In 2010, Chris Evans was given a second chance at a franchise when he was cast as Captain America. The Cap and the Human Torch are two extremely different characters despite their supernatural abilities, so comic-book fans were, per usual, concerned about the news. But Evans proved to be more than capable. Though known more for comedies, Evans, as the eternally loyal Steve Rogers, excelled in a role that required more nuance than flash.
Because Rogers is an extremely patriotic but physically underdeveloped man, he volunteers to be made into a super-soldier of sorts for World War II — meaning Evans had to play someone who was both believably weak at one point and incredibly strong at another, with a heart that never changed. Plus, Captain America eventually goes on to lead the Avengers. Evans plays the Cap with sincerity and weariness as he navigates the modern world with sensibilities of the old.
Mark Hughes of Forbes put it best: “I could not have asked for a more perfect portrayal of not only the hero in uniform, but more importantly the man behind the mask… a strong characterization of… a young man who spent his life refusing to back down no matter how beaten and outnumbered he was in life.”
1. Christopher Reeve
Role: Clark Kent/Superman
Appearances in: “Superman”; “Superman II”; “Superman III”; “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”
Yes, compared to today’s films, with their advanced special effects, “Superman” and its sequels may seem like small potatoes. But Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of a bumbling Clark Kent and self-assured Superman is hard to top. In The Washington Post’s 1978 review of the film, the author noted that Reeve “developed the characters… in different ways that share an authentic sweetness. Both are earnest, good and loving; to do this in a way that is charming, rather than corny, is no simple feat.” Even in the lesser sequels such as “Superman II,” the Post reviewer wrote that “Reeve sustains the sequel…You tend to fall back on Reeve as the only heroic resource in sight.” Elements of the films (that spit curl) work against him, but Reeve elevates the material, changing his physicality as he transforms into his alter-ego, and reinforcing both the physical and mental dichotomy of the character.
And despite the many men who attempted to fill those tights after him — Tom Welling, Brandon Routh, Henry Cavill and Tyler Hoechlin among them — Reeve will always be the only real Superman, and the original movie superhero.