With so many superhero movies and TV shows sucking up all of the talent and attention in sight, it is sometimes easy to forget that the actors involved in these projects have other jobs too. Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest culprit to date, let’s take a look at the stars of Phase One and pick their best performance outside of the the capes, shields, and iron suits!
Iron Man – Robert Downey Jr
Best Non-MCU Movie: Zodiac
Robert Downey Jr is so iconic as Tony Stark/Iron Man that it’s hard to picture him playing a normal human being. Yet, pre-2008, the actor, after nearly two decades of personal issues getting in the way of his career, was quietly being the best supporting player in a bunch of excellent films. His performance as Paul Avery in David Fincher’s classic, Zodiac perfectly shows the actors ability to tightrope walk movie star charisma with something deeper underlying.
The Incredible Hulk – Edward Norton
Best Non-MCU Movie: The 25th Hour
Let’s face it, The Incredible Hulk is Edward Norton’s worst leading man performance, which isn’t really all that surprising given that he is known for playing complex and morally ambiguious characters. The problem is that Marvel forgot that that’s exactly what Bruce Banner/The Hulk is. I could have picked Fight Club, Primal Fear, or American History X, but Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour finds Norton on quieter and even more impressive form. Plus, you’ve all seen Fight Club anyway.
Iron Man 2 – Don Cheadle
Best Non-MCU Movie: Manic
I’ll admit it. I haven’t seen Hotel Rwanda. But if I had it would probably be my pick for Don Cheadle. Instead I’m picking a film that you the reader definitely haven’t seen (unless you’re Martin), and that is Manic. Starring a stupidly young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teen sent to a psych ward after a violent incident, Cheadle is the social worker in charge. Manic is like Short Term 12 if it was directed by Larry Clark, which is to say that it doesn’t give in to sentiment and that is perfectly encapsulated in Cheadle’s unshowy yet warm performance.
Thor – Chris Hemsworth
Best Non-MCU Movie: The Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard really knows how to get the best out of Chris Hemsworth which means it was a choice between Cabin in the Woods and Bad Times at the El Royale. Cabin in the Woods takes the prize mainly because it’s a much better movie, while also showing how the Thor star can straddle the line between the real human being his character actually is, and the meathead that he is being forced to portray.
Captain America: The First Avenger – Chris Evans
Best Non-MCU Movie: Knives Out
Chris Evans is so good as Captain America/Steve Rogers that, for a full decade, I forgot that he made his name playing complete assholes. Knives Out brilliantly reminded me of this as Evans is one of the stand-outs in a supremely stacked cast, a great chance for him to re-establish himself as one of cinema’s premier dickheads post-MCU.
The Avengers – Mark Ruffalo
Best Non-MCU Movie: The Brothers Bloom
I should be suggesting Foxcatcher for Mark Ruffalo’s best movie. But despite it boasting three absolutely terrific performances from himself, Steve Carrell, and Channing Tatum, I still think of the wrestling drama as the best boring movie I’ve ever seen. Instead I’m going to recommend Rian Johnson’s least watched movie, the heist caper The Brother Bloom, which stars Ruffalo and Adrian Brody as the titular siblings. It’s a treat in a way that Foxcatcher, though arguably the better film, is a slog.
What are some of your favourite pre- or post-Marvel performances from the stars of the franchise? Let us know in the comments, and tune back in for phase two soon!
If you enjoyed this article, please check out the rest of our MCU retrospective, as well as our look at the Batman cinematic universe, and consider supporting us on Ko-Fi!
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Pocket Lint)