The Avengers has made movie history for a number of reasons, most obviously for the records it has broken but primarily for its construction. It stands apart because it is the first ensemble movie of its kind, where all of the chief players are reprising roles they’ve played before in other films.
Being both a cinephile and a comic book nerd (I prefer “armchair historian” for the pure pretension of it), I began noticing a trend with the stars of the blockbuster and a little research dug up a coincidence worthy of its own list. Nearly every actor in The Avengers worked in a comic book related property long before they became the Earth’s mightiest superheroes.
Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man):
Of course, Tony Stark has been in two Iron Man movies and the Hulk flick, but for the purposes of this list we’re going to ignore all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s okay, because all the way back in 1985, Robert Downey (he wasn’t using the Jr. then) was one of the bad guys in Weird Science, the John Hughs classic that everyone seems to forget is based on a 50s comic book of the same name. In Weird Science the bad guys weren’t trying to destroy the world, though. They were just arrogant pricks that treated their girlfriends poorly.
He was also in A Scanner Darkly, which should be a graphic novel if it isn’t already.
Chris Evans (Captain America):
There was some skepticism when Evans was cast as Captain America, most noticeably because of his first comic book movie role as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, a film that was completely average in every way and generally a fanboy flop. His comic cred grew some more when he landed the role of Lucas Lee in the brilliantly fun Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The same year that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was released, he was in a lesser-seen comic book property, The Losers, which is based on a DC/Vertigo series.
Not only did Evans prove the skeptics wrong, he’s one of the elite few actors that can claim to have worked on comic book movies from five different properties. When Captain America 2 is released he will have made 7 comic book movies – another elite number.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor):
Chris Hemsworth is still a relatively new face as an actor. His most famous work besides Thor is The Cabin in the Woods and Home and Away, a small Australian drama of which few in the US have heard. That may have been because his role as George Kirk, the father of James Tiberius Kirk, captain of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, was fairly small. Even with such a fresh resume, he’s not a comic book movie novice.
Mark Ruffalo (Hulk):
Honestly, this is the one that stumped me. The newest addition to the Avengers lineup is also the one with the least comic book movie experience. The closest thing I can come up with is Where the Wild Things Are, which is a great book with beautiful pictures that everyone should own.
Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow):
A decade before Scarlett Johansson had to learn to fight aliens and Asgardian gods, she had to learn to be droll and fed up. One of her earlier films, Ghost World, is based on the eponymous graphic novel. It is a dry, dark comedy revolving around two just-graduated young women that hate the world. Ghost World has been a goto example for years that comic books aren’t just for adolescent boys – there are adolescent girls in the world that are comfortable living at their parents’ and hanging out with creepy dudes that collect esoteric stuff and those adolescent girls read comics, too.
Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye):
It’s a bit of a stretch, but Jeremy Renner was in 28 Weeks Later, which is the sequel to 28 Days Later, which is based on a graphic novel. I don’t believe 28 Weeks Later was turned in to a comic, though. That’s all I got.
Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury):
When the idea of this list popped into my head, I immediately assumed that Samuel L. Jackson would have the most comic cred of the bunch. The truth is, he comes in a close second to Chris Evans for his pre-MCU work. He can include Star Wars, Afro Samurai and The Incredibles on his comic book movie resume which is certainly impressive, but surprisingly light. It doesn’t help that both Star Wars and The Incredibles spawned the comic series, rather than the traditional comic book spawning a movie. If we include his MCU reign, however, Jackson clearly leads the pack.
Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill):
I didn’t think Cobie Smulders would make the list, honestly. I am nothing if not diligent, however, and I was able to uncover an episode of Smallville she was on. By uncover, I mean spot it on IMDB.