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The Top 10 Most Controversial CBM Casting Decisions That Worked Beautifully

David Maisel, the man credited with the idea of a Marvel Cinematic Universe, is making news about controversial CBM casting decisions lately. In particular, he mentioned Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. Would you believe choosing him as Iron Man was considered “meh” at one time?

Speaking to the New Yorker, Maisel dropped a Thanos-sized bomb on the comic book collective when he said, “My board thought I was crazy to put the future of the company in the hands of an addict. I helped them understand how great he was for the role. We all had confidence that he was clean and would stay clean.”

Back in the totally tubular 1980s, RDJ was a superstar in the making. He was everywhere, and all the while, addicted to heroin. That monkey had his back like a cheap suit two sizes small. After a series of public arrests and incarcerations, he vanished for a while and got his life straight, largely thanks to Mel Gibson (if you can believe that).

Robert Downey Jr mug shots from 1996-2001
The RDJ Mug Shot Collection, Circa 1996-2001 (Credit: State of California Penal System)

His story is inspirational for addicts and motivational for anyone who thinks it’s too late to do something better with their lives. Nonetheless, years past sobriety, a looming shadow followed him around until the armor of Iron Man protected him from a sneering glare.

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Can you imagine Tony Stark as anyone else?! Of course, not. That casting was magical and led the Avengers to box office supremacy. So, that got us list-making machines at FandomWire thinking, “What are some other casting decisions that were frowned upon that paid off in major ways?”

So, here you go…the top 10 controversial CBM casting decisions in comic book movie history.

10. Anne Hathaway (Catwoman)

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman was one of the most controversial CBM casting decisions in recent memory
Credit: Ron Phillips via Warner Bros./Syncopy

“Wait, what?!” That was the cry when word came out that the Carnac of the Comic Book Movies, Christopher Nolan, cast the queen of Disney movies to be Selina Kyle. Anne Hathaway was princess material up to this point. The kind of crap reserved for Hallmark movies and romcoms that went straight to the Walmart $5 DVD bin.

And did nerds miss on this one because she was surprisingly convincing with “Bale-Man.” People forgot her lollipop acceptance speeches when they this sultry Catwoman appear on the screen. Check out that scene when she first meets Batman upstairs. Me-YOW!


9. Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)

Ryan Reynolds was victimized in casting because of the first time he was cast as Deadpool
Credits: James H. Fisher/20th Century Fox + David Dolsen/Marvel Studios

Everyone who keeps up with comic book movies understands this colossal controversy. Whatever interns laced Director Gavin Hood’s hookah with was some monster stuff because to this day, no one knows what the hell was in that X-Men Origins: Wolverine film.

Let’s get this right: He’s the “Merc with the mouth” but had no mouth. Instead, he borrowed Cyclops’ mutant power for eyeball laser shows. Obviously, people hated the idea of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool again. Boy, did he shut everyone up with a genius, expletive-filled script of sarcasm befitting his natural personality that everyone applauded.

8. Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man)

Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man was definitely one of the most controversial CBM casting decisions ever
Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Sony Pictures

Where do you start? First, look at him. Something he’ll be grateful for decades from now was a serious obstacle when Sam Raimi cast Tobey Maguire to become the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Then again, Peter Parker was in high school, but at least fans assumed puberty happened in the comics.

Also, before this moment, Tobey Maguire had never been the lead of an action movie. Ever! Of course, this would make a list of controversial CBM casting decisions. Yet, when Raimi called ‘ACTION,’ Tobey Maguire captivated everyone. He was as equally believable as the bullied, puppy-love-stricken Peter Parker and the skilled and effective crime fighter Spider-Man.

7. Chris Pratt (Star Lord)

guardians of the galaxy vol 3 star chris pratt
Credit: Jessica Miglio/Marvel Studios

We just witnessed the end of a triumphant trilogy (thank you, James Gunn) and at the center of it was…a guy not many people wanted in the movie. Chris Pratt was ha-ha portly fun guy from NBC’s Parks and Recreation, not muscular superhero action star. But Marvel Studios trusted James Gunn was doing something special here.

So, they doubled-down on a comic faction most casual fans never knew existed with a name everyone questioned. If that doesn’t scream controversial CBM casting decisions, nothing will. As we know, that 2014 movie changed Pratt’s life and much of what we think as “successful” before a movie is released.

6. Chris Evans (Captain America)

chris evans 1
Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios

There will be a FandomWire list about the most perfect casting decisions in movie history soon, but among them, Chris Evans as Captain America should make the conversation. However, before he was the quintessential Steve Rogers, he was among the most controversial CBM casting decisions.

How?! Blame Fantastic Four. Remember Johnny Blaze? Well, much like Deadpool’s Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans heard a smattering of “You Suck” because of a poor movie he did previously. He acted the Human Torch admirably, but the movie though? Woof. Good thing no one listened to fans because no one should ever recast Captain America. He was that good.

5. Michael Keaton (Batman)

Credit: Murray Close via Warner Bros./Polygram

Imagine if Steve Carell‘s first gig from The Office was as the Man of Steel. Makes you shoot soda out of your nose thinking about it right? That was 1989 for Michael Keaton. The film’s avant-garde director, Tim Burton, had an idea to bring a full-powered comic book to life and who did he want? The guy who was Mr. Mom?!


No one thought Keaton had the Bruce Wayne chops, except for maybe his family and a few guys he owed money. Put it this way, he was so good as both Bruce Wayne and Batman that he was asked to play the role again more than 30 years later. Holy Haterade, Batman! That’s how you shut people up and down.

4. Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One)

Tilda Swinton was good in Doctor Strange but she was definitely going to be on a list about controversial CBM casting decisions.
Credit: David Lee/Marvel Studios

No one can do a list about controversial CBM casting decisions without talking about Doctor Strange. There was gender bait, culture bait, and person bait. And starring as “The Ancient One” is Tilda Swinton?! Nerds were outraged. This is an Oscar-caliber actress who has done drama like Snowpiercer, indies like Adaptation, and…oh wait, she was the White Witch in Narnia.

There was nationwide outcries against this casting. Yet, she was great. She gave Stephen Strange the levity he needed to understand and later ply his craft as the Sorcerer Supreme. We were fortunate to have her in that role, even before we even accepted her.

3. Christopher Reeve (Superman)

Christopher Reeve is the GOAT of Supermen
Credit: Douglas Luke via Warner Bros./Dovemead Films

From TV to the Silver Screen, there have been 11 actors to be Superman and Clark Kent, and none of them excelled at both as well as Christopher Reeve. Sure, some have been better at one or the other, but the campy scene where he loses his glasses in Superman II?! Please. Christopher Reeve had multiple personality disorder he was so good.

And yet, he almost didn’t happen. Hollywood “casting experts” said he was too skinny, too tall (he was 6′ 4″), too clean cut for Superman but not dorky enough for Clark Kent. Too whatever. In 1978, just as the marketing tag said, “We did believe a man could fly.” And all that was Reeve.

2. Ben Affleck (Batman)

Remember the controversial CBM casting decision that became Batfleck?!
Credit: Clay Enos via Warner Bros./Cruel and Unusual Films

Anyone remember one of the controversial CBM casting decisions that was “Sad Batman?” When Zack Snyder released that noir image of Batfleck by the new batmobile, nerds lost their minds! There was no way Ben Affleck was going to win people over as Bruce Wayne or Batman. No way.

Well, fast forward to today and look at people crying out for Ben Affleck to direct his movie with Deathstroke. We can’t get enough Batfleck. Much like two other people on this list, when he starred–and sucked–as Daredevil, no one wanted Ben Affleck near a superhero movie again. Good thing those no ones don’t work in Hollywood.

1. Heath Ledger (The Joker)

Heath Ledger Tom Waits Joker 1140x570 1
Credit: Stephen Vaughan via Warner Bros./Syncopy

The year was 2006 when news first broke that the man playing DC’s most iconic villain would be Heath Ledger. Oh dear God! You would have thought Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer made fun of someone’s mother. All hell broke loose.

I mean this was semi-dramedy actor Heath Ledger who did 10 Things I Hate About You, A Knight’s Tale, and Brokeback Mountain. And that’s the guy to play that guy?! If you were around then, you could have guessed a list about controversial CBM casting decisions would have ended with Ledger (or came close).


Of course, Ledger’s performance was Oscar-winning and mind-blowing good. The shame of it all is Ledger never found out what people thought about his skills once the movie came out. All he knew is what they assumed. Too bad because he will forever be the Joker in some fashion or another. He turned every fowl comment around 180 degrees, and no one has had a bad thing to say since. Absolute legend job. RIP.

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Written by Shawn P Wood

Movie lover and writer