Today we decided to rank the best flicks that feature Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) actors and actresses in non-Marvel roles. Before these Marvel regulars decided to don their suits, wings and ripped up shorts, they gave heroic performances in more grounded and celebrated films. We hope you enjoy our list of Earth’s mightiest heroes in some of Earth’s finest features.
Honorable Mentions: Avatar-Zoe Saldana; The Imitation Game-Benedict Cumberbatch; Hotel Rwanda-Don Cheadle; The Goonies-Josh Brolin
5. Zodiac (2007)-Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo
This movie follows the case of the Zodiac killer and his brief and cryptic exchanges with journalists and investigators in the 60’s and 70’s. Both Downey and Gyllenhaal give outstanding performances as journalists at the San Francisco Chronicle. Ruffalo also delivers a good performance as inspector Dave Toschi. Needless to say, this flick will leave you locking your doors as you Google the Zodiac killer conspiracy theories at midnight. As for the Marvel connection, Downey kicked off the MCU and Gyllenhaal will play the Spider-Man adversary Mysterio in the first installment of the next phase of Marvel movies, Spider-Man: Far From Home.
4. Room (2015) – Brie Larson
Room tells the story of Joy Newsome (Brie Larson), a mother held captive for seven years alongside her five-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay). Their escape from the enclosure gives the boy an opportunity to experience the outside world for the first time. Larson’s spectacular and beautiful performance in Room earned her the Oscar for best actress. While Larson has yet to make waves with her portrayal of Captain Marvel, this film gives us ample room for excitement.
3. Pulp Fiction (1994) – Samuel L. Jackson
Long before Samuel L. Jackson slipped the eyepatch over his face for the role of Nick Fury, he slipped a perm wig over his head for his role as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. The non-narrative flick tells the interconnected stories of three different characters who are all tied up with the gangster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Pulp Fiction did not only become an instant cult-classic, but it also cemented Jackson as a performer with some serious acting chops. While the movie only won best original screenplay, it was nominated for six other Academy Awards, including best supporting actor for Jackson. So perhaps it was Oscar gold in the briefcase all along?
2. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) – Michael Keaton
Surprisingly, this beautifully-crafted film starring Michael Keaton, and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is not the first or last movie in which Keaton flaps across the screen in giant wings. The film follows Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a burned-out actor who’s trying to overcome his past as the blockbuster-saturated superhero, Birdman. The movie is presented as one long shot of Thomson trying to put on a serious play that will change the narrative of his life. The Academy nominated Keaton for best actor due to his intriguing performance as the struggling playwright. Two years after the release of this film, Keaton went on to play the Vulture, a villain with large mechanical wings, in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Furthermore, Keaton also played a large, flying bird-man in the 1989 film, Batman. Anyways, thank you for indulging in our Keaton/bird-person conspiracy and remember the old saying, “once a Birdman, always a bird-man.”
1. Spotlight (2015) - Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton
Spotlight represents an amazing movie that features strong performances from all of its actors while also accurately depicting an event that shook the globe (both the Boston one and the world). Coincidentally, the film also showcases a multitude of Marvel actors who delivered amazing performances. This movie tells the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative team, Spotlight, and their investigation into widespread child abuse by Roman-Catholic priests in the Boston area. The investigation earned the team a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 and an Oscar for Best Picture in 2015 for the adaption of the story. We chose this as our number one primarily for Mark Ruffalo and his stellar portrayal of the tenacious journalist who ruffles a few feathers, Mike Rezendes. Additionally, Rachel McAdams also gave a candid and strong performance. Both McAdams and Ruffalo earned a nomination for best supporting actress and actor. In the MCU Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner/ the Hulk and McAdams plays Christine Palmer, Dr. Strange’s love interest/friend. Surprisingly, the Vulture and Howard Stark also make an appearance in the film as Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) and Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery).