Bond, Batman, & More: Who Played These 10 (Well, 4) Iconic Characters The Best, ONTD?

This past weekend saw the release of "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," the latest film to feature Tom Clancy's CIA analyst. It's probably fair to say that the film didn't live up to Paramount's expectations as a franchise re-starter, opening in fourth at the box office with a disappointing $15 million, and is heading to a rather ignominious future as a film that you watch ten minutes of on cable before realizing that you've already watched it.

But the film will at least be remembered for one thing: with Chris Pine taking over the lead role, it marks the fourth actor in five movies to play the title character, which must be something of a record—James Bond has had six actors, but over 23 movies, for instance. But it got us thinking about some of the characters who've appeared on screen most frequently, from masked heroes to royalty to religious icons.

So, in celebration (?) of Paramount's achievement, we've picked ten movie characters who've been played by multiple actors, and tried to work out which of their many incarnations was the best. To help pare things down, we've mostly excluded Shakespeare's characters (there've been over 50 versions of "Hamlet" alone), and, for the most part, historical figures, though we've made some exceptions here and there. You can take a look below, and voice your thoughts in the comments section below.


The Contenders: Sean Connery from "Dr. No" in 1962 to "Diamonds Are Forever" in 1971; George Lazenby, who was Connery's replacement for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969; Roger Moore from 1973's "Live And Let Die" to 1985's "A View To A Kill"; Timothy Dalton in 1987's "The Living Daylights" and 1989's "Licence To Kill"; Pierce Brosnan from 1995's "Goldeneye" to 2002's "Die Another Day"; and Daniel Craig from 2006's "Casino Royale" to the present. David Niven also played the role in the terrible, terrible 1967 parody version of "Casino Royale."

The Argument: Ian Fleming's hard-drinking, womanizing spy is the focus of the longest-running singular franchise in the history of the medium, and the part serves as a testament to the kind of diversity you can get when six (or seven) middle-aged white men all get to showcase their own takes on the same character. Connery as the first, is probably still the most iconic, and is, for the most part, closer to the cruel and callous 007 of Fleming's books. Lazenby might have the best movie with "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," but feels a little awkward in the role, though who knows if he would've have settled in better with more time. Moore is the most fun, always ready with a wisecrack and an eyebrow-raise, but only descending into camp in the later entries, when the scripts got worse (much, much worse) and he started feeling too old for the part. Dalton was the Bond for the P.C. era, serious and emotional, and never quite gets to the root of the character, though that's the fault of the material rather than him. Brosnan melds some of the best characteristics of his predecessors, able to pull off some wry Moore-ish humor with a little Connery chilliness and Dalton pathos in for the mix. And Craig is the blunt instrument, leavened with a certain GQ Magazine new-man sensitivity.

The Winner And Why: Sean Connery. Moore's films are too silly and inconsistent, for the most part, for him to be a serious contender, and Dalton and Lazenby can't match their colleague's impact. Craig probably has the most emotional material, best hit rate so far (two very good Bond films and one duff one), but it feels too early to elevate him into the pantheon yet. As for Pierce Brosnan, despite his fine performances, he only made one classic with "Goldeneye," with the series falling a few notches after that film (and picking up again later). So that leaves Connery, and really, who else could be: the Scottish actor defined the role in the 1960s, and every actor who'll ever done the tuxedo will be in the shadow of the hirsute, savage hound dog who launched the franchise.

The One You Might Not Have Seen: If you missed any of them, it's most likely the 1967 "Casino Royale," with David Niven. Trust us, it's for the best: it's a spectacularly uneven counter-cultural mess that went through as many as six directors.


The Contenders: Arguably the movies' most popular superhero (he's been consistently more successful than Superman, and gone through more incarnations than Spider-Man or Iron Man), billionaire-orphan-turned-crime-fighter Bruce Wayne, better known as Batman, first came to the screen in a 1943 serial for Columbia, played by Lewis Wilson, with a follow-up, "Batman And Robin," in 1949 with Robert Lowery donning the cowl. But the first to truly become famous was Adam West, in the TV series that ran from 1966 to 1968 (as well as the movie spin-off that was filmed after the first season). Twenty years later, Michael Keaton got the keys to the Batmobile for Tim Burton's megabudget 1989 "Batman," and reprised the role in 1992 sequel "Batman Returns" before Val Kilmer, and then George Clooney, took over for 1995's "Batman Forever" and 1998's "Batman and Robin," respectively. The latter put paid to the franchise for a while, but it was rebooted to huge success by Christopher Nolan with 2005's "Batman Begins," in which Christian Bale played the role. Nolan and Bale reunited for the second and third parts of the trilogy, 2008's "The Dark Knight" and 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises." Ben Affleck will play the role in "Batman Vs. Superman," but you'll have to wait until 2016 to see that happen, now that the film's been delayed.

The Argument: Let's assume for a minute we can disregard Wilson and Lowery from the serials, who from what we've seen, are fairly deservedly brushed over in the history of the character. West is gloriously silly (it says something about the endurance of his performance that people still make references to his catchphrase), though it's obviously lightweight stuff—though some would argue, perhaps correctly, that it's the appropriate tone for something based on the funny papers. George Clooney's one film in the Batsuit is almost as campy, which is almost a shame—he's the Timothy Dalton of the franchise, a decent bit of casting wasted on disappointing material. That said, we'd probably take him over Val Kilmer, who looks miserable for every second that he's on screen in "Batman Forever." As for the greatest ever, it probably depends on your age as to whether you go for Keaton, whose casting proved unlikely, or Bale, the grittier 21st Bat-avatar, as the seminal pick.

The Winner And Why: Christian Bale. Keaton is great in the role, with a wry humor that none of the other Batmen matched, and his two films are pretty solid. But ultimately, he has a tendency to fade into the background a bit, with Burton much more interested in the villain. "Batman Begins" might be the weakest of Nolan's trilogy, but it's the only Batman movie to actually be about Batman, rather than his adversaries, and even in Nolan's sequels, there's much more depth to the character than you find elsewhere. And Bale, while a bit dour, is superb, delivering multiple performances in one—there's wounded orphan boy Bruce Wayne, there's the public persona of Bruce Wayne, drunken playboy, and there's the monstrous and intimidating alter ego (and yeah, the gravelly voice can become silly in places, but it was an inspired choice to begin with). The actor takes the odd concept of a man who dresses up as a flying rodent to fight crime and sells it as something you can empathize with, and that's a hell of an achievement.

The One You Might Not Have Seen: We were tempted to unseat Bale for Will Arnett's vocal turn in "The Lego Movie" based on the trailer alone, but we should probably wait for the film to actually come out before we do that. But we should shine a light on another great animated performance, that of Kevin Conroy. The voiceover specialist first voiced Bruce Wayne for the seminal "Batman: The Animated Series" in 1992, and twenty years on, continues to crop up in straight-to-DVD animations and video games. In many ways, his performances are just as iconic and influential as Keaton and Bale's have been.


The Contenders: A relatively manageable field: Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” (1986); Anthony Hopkins three times over in “The Silence of the Lambs,” (1991), “Hannibal” (2001) and “Red Dragon”(2002); Gaspard Ulliel in prequel “Hannibal Rising” (2007) (in which Hannibal as a child is played by Aaran Thomas); and Mads Mikkelsen in the current TV show “Hannibal.” Various parody versions have shown up in comedy shows, but nothing really worth noting.

The Argument: Thomas Harris’ most enduring creation really first made a mark on the popular consciousness in Jonathan Demme’s all-conquering “The Silence of the Lambs,” which is certainly the most complete and all-round satisfying feature on this list, and which picked up the “Big Five” Oscars (Picture, Screenplay, Director, Actor, Actress), including Best Actor, slightly controversially, for Hopkins’ 16 minutes on screen as Lecter. So the case is closed, right? It’s Hopkins, right? Well, not for us actually. ‘Silence’ is brilliant, and he’s terrific in it—snarling and purring and malevolent—but in many ways, 15 years before that, Brian Cox had done equally as impressive a job at inhabiting a different sort of Lecter, more dispassionate, less broad, without anything like the support resources Hopkins had. That said, it is perhaps just a little too bloodless to be the definitive take. Ulliel, bless him, isn’t really a challenger; he looks the part but “Hannibal Risible” as we enjoy calling it, was never going to provide any actor with enough to (sorry) chew on, as soon as Harris, this time also the screenwriter, made the decision to have Young Lecter motivated by revenge against the Nazi collaborators who, sigh, ate his sister as a child, sigh again. And Hopkins further eroded whatever putative lead he may have had with the diminishing returns of the two ‘Silence’ sequels, especially “Hannibal,” which seems to suffer from the same impulse to make Lecter into a sympathetic cannibal who mostly kills people who really deserve it. Which leaves...

The Winner And Why: Mads Mikkelsen in NBC’s “Hannibal.” We know, we know, it’s a TV show so it’s sort of apples and oranges, but truth is we’d probably have awarded first place to Mikkelsen on the strength of the pilot alone, or any single one of the episodes. Not only is he one of the greatest actors at work today, the role here peculiarly suits his chilly Danish cheekbony intelligence, and he has invested back into the character a trait we hadn’t seen for a while: he’s fucking scary. As he told us himself back in December, what attracted him to Lecter is not simply that he's a killer, but that he’s killing really nice, really good people, so there’s no sense in which he’s the cuddly cartoon cannibal the character was threatening to become. Lecter is supposed to be evil, someone to be fascinated by, but not to like, and that’s what Mikkelsen, within a surprisingly well-written show, has delivered. He’s given us our Hannibal Lecter back.

The One You Might Not Have Seen: You probably didn't see “Hannibal Rising” and you should definitely keep it that way. But if you haven’t seen Brian Cox take his turn wearing Lecter’s skin (ew), you really should. Here’s our recent Michael Mann retrospective to further convince you.


The Contenders: Perhaps because it's harder to make someone leap tall buildings in a single bound than it is to to put a rich guy in a fancy car, Kal-El's often been overshadowed by his less godlike stablemate Batman in recent years, but he's appeared on screen just as many times. Bud Collyer was the first, in serials from 1941 to 1943, before Kirk Alyn took over the tights in 1948 and 1950. George Reeves became famous in 1950s TV series "The Adventures Of Superman," before Clark Kent came to the big screen in grand fashion under the guise of Christopher Reeve in 1978's "Superman," and its three sequels of increasingly diminishing returns. After various false starts, and TV dramas "Lois & Clark" and "Smallville" (where Superman was played by Dean Cain and Tom Welling, respectively), newcomer Brandon Routh starred in Bryan Singer's big-budget "Superman Returns." That failed to spawn a franchise, but last year's "Man Of Steel," starring Henry Cavill as Kal-El, was most successful: Cavill will return and square off against Ben Affleck's Batman in 2016.

The Argument: Superman's arguably easier to play than Batman in some ways—the contrast between bumbling Clark Kent and noble Superman is an easier one to pull off, and you don't have to act with a mask on your face—but in other ways, it's much trickier: he's so all powerful and so saintly that it can be difficult to make him interesting. That's certainly true of early incarnations like Collyer and Reeves, who are fine, but nothing to write hope about, and of the latter-day TV versions too. Brandon Routh was actually a pretty good choice, but Singer's desire to imitate Richard Donner as closely as possible, and the film's misjudged Super-Stalker subplots, meant that audiences never took him to their heart. Cavill's off to a pretty good start—even "Man Of Steel" detractors will likely acknowledge that he does a fine job with Superman, though we're yet to see his Clark Kent. But really, all of the others are in the shadow of...

The Winner And Why: Christopher Reeve. His third and fourth movies might have been incredibly terrible, but his first and best attempt, Richard Donner's "Superman," remains a high watermark for the character, and possibly for the genre. Reeve is deeply charming as Clark Kent, channeling Cary Grant circa "Bringing Up Baby," and legitimately noble and heroic as Supes, proving to be a role model without being dull or worthy. He might not have had the emotional material that Cavill gets, but he's still the most iconic and imitated portrayal.

The One You Might Not Have Seen: It's not quite Superman, but Ben Affleck's performance as George Reeves, the man who played Superman more than anyone else before dying of a gunshot at 45, in "Hollywoodland," should give anyone worried about his next venture into superheroics some faith: it's one of Affleck's best performances, and it won him the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Six more popular film characters played by multiple actors can be read at the ( SOURCE )

Which actor/actress played an iconic film character the best for you, ONTD?