• Surprising casting choices in DC movies often turn out to be better than expected, injecting new life into the franchise.
  • Actors like Zachary Levi, Jason Momoa, and Andy Serkis have delivered outstanding performances that defy initial skepticism.
  • Margot Robbie, Joaquin Phoenix, and Robert Pattinson have redefined iconic characters, proving their remarkable talent in unexpected ways.

DC movies, both within the brand’s shared universe and outside of it, have seen a number of surprising actors cast in unlikely roles, and sometimes these unorthodox choices prove to be far better than anyone would have expected. With superhero movies dominating the modern box office, making innovative and creative choices is an absolute must for studios. Taking a chance on a new angle or approach to adapting a superhero story often comes with an element of risk, and though it doesn’t always work, sometimes making an unexpected casting decision pays off.

Though the franchise has seen its share of ups and downs, DC movies boast many incredible actors. It’s not always the quality of an actor that’s surprising, though – often, a performer’s style doesn’t initially seem to coalesce with the character they’re tipped to play. However, there are many occasions where this seems to be the case, only to have the actor in question deliver an outstanding turn in their role. Here are 10 of the most surprising DC movie castings that worked better than anyone imagined they would.

10 Zachary Levi As Shazam

zachary levi looking confused in 2023's shazam! fury of the gods

At the time that Zachary Levi’s casting in Shazam! was announced, DC’s flagship franchise was in turmoil. Though inconsistency was one of its biggest issues, one of its most consistent traits was its dark and gritty approach to adapting DC’s heroes. This made the casting of a well-known comedic talent seem especially baffling, but it turned out that Levi was exactly what the franchise needed. His ability to inject levity into his role as one of DC’s most powerful heroes proved particularly popular, making Shazam! one of the franchise’s best movies by doing away with the unnecessary grit and gloom.

9 Jason Momoa As Aquaman

Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry in Aquaman 2018

Jason Momoa’s potential as an action star was made clear by his breakthrough role in Game of Thrones, but the decision to cast him as Aquaman in the DCU still seemed an unlikely one. Momoa’s rugged aesthetic didn’t entirely match up with the clean-cut hero of the comics, making him seem somewhat ill-suited for the role. However, Aquaman proved that Momoa was indeed the perfect choice, capturing the necessary intensity and physicality of the role to bring Aquaman to life in a way that no one quite expected.

8 Andy Serkis As Alfred Pennyworth

Andy Serkis as Alfred in The Batman

Over Batman’s cinematic history, there have been many live-action iterations of Alfred Pennyworth. The majority portray him as Bruce Wayne’s elderly butler and only surviving father figure, so the casting of the younger Andy Serkis in the role was somewhat surprising. Serkis’s turn as Alfred turned out to be particularly interesting, though, and despite relatively little screen time, the butler’s backstory as a retired spy made for an interesting take on the character. As it turned out, Serkis was perfect for the role, delivering a fresh spin on Batman’s often-overlooked sidekick for The Batman.

7 John Cena As Peacemaker

John Cena as Peacemaker in the woods with cuts on his face

When James Gunn’s first DCU project was announced as the follow-up to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, the casting of John Cena as Peacemaker stood out somewhat. Cena’s acting credits at the time consisted almost entirely of underwhelming action movies, making his inclusion in Gunn’s movie seem an odd choice. However, Cena proved to be far more capable than expected in the role, demonstrating his ability to balance comedy, drama, and action all at once. In fact, it helped Cena’s career resurgence, and his star has only continued to rise since his turn in The Suicide Squad.

6 Margot Robbie As Harley Quinn

suicide squad extended 2016 Margot Robbie Harley Quinn smiling

Harley Quinn has become an iconic live-action DC character and is by far one of the most complex and beloved that the franchise has to offer. When Margot Robbie was initially announced in the role, though, it was something of a surprise, as her previous list of credits revealed very little to suggest she was capable of harnessing the wacky chaos necessary to bring Quinn to life. Robbie proved these doubts wrong, standing out as one of the few positives about Ayer’s Suicide Squad, also managing to redefine the character of Harley Quinn in the process.

5 Joaquin Phoenix As The Joker

joaquin phoenix dancing in joker

Not only is he Batman’s greatest nemesis, but the Joker is also perhaps the most iconic comic book villain of all time. Therefore, the announcement that Joaquin Phoenix – an actor known for his powerful performances in dramatic roles – would be playing the Clown Prince of Crime was a surprising one. While Phoenix applied his usual introspective approach to the role, it turned out to be exactly what Todd Phillips’ movie needed. In fact, Phoenix won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck/Joker, proving the artistic merit of comic book movies with the power of his performance.

4 Amy Adams As Lois Lane

Amy Adams as Lois Lane DCEU

The relationship between Superman and Lois Lane is crucial to any Superman story, which makes the casting of Lois Lane a particularly important decision. It’s fair to say that Amy Adams had earned herself a reputation as a well-respected actor prior to her casting in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, but between her red hair and her more reserved mannerisms made her seem an odd choice for the iconically audacious, outspoken brunette. Adams was excellent in the role, however, proving to be a perfect match for Henry Cavill’s Superman and delivered exactly what the franchise needed from its Lois Lane.

3 Ben Affleck As Batman

Two images of Ben Affleck as Batman

Ben Affleck’s career has been filled with ups and downs, and the announcement that he would be Zack Snyder’s Batman was met with surprise. Affleck’s often muted performances didn’t seem to be conducive to a particularly good Dark Knight, especially so soon after Christian Bale’s turn in the cowl had come to an end. Though Batman v Superman proved divisive, Affleck’s brooding Batman turned out to be far better than anyone expected, offering an interesting and innovative take on the character that managed to be both authentic to the franchise’s world and somewhat comic-accurate.

2 Heath Ledger As The Joker

Heath Ledger as the Joker pointing at Christian Bale's Batman in The Dark Knight

When Heath Ledger was first announced as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, there was distinct confusion as to how the fresh-faced Australian would capture the sinister wackiness of the villain. As he was mostly known for more dramatic and light-hearted fare, Ledger seemed an unlikely choice, but this assessment couldn’t have been more wrong. Over a decade later, Heath Ledger’s Joker is considered among the best villains in any comic book movie, with the actor’s hypnotic intensity in the role one of the best things about Nolan’s entire trilogy.

1 Robert Pattinson As Batman

robert pattinson in matt reeves the batman

Despite having earned himself a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most promising stars, Robert Pattinson’s most famous role in Twilight saw many dismiss his casting as Batman to be ridiculous. Upon the release of Matt Reeves’ The Batman, however, this was disproved entirely: Pattinson perfectly captured the obsessive qualities of the Dark Knight in Reeves’ grounded take on the Batman mythos. Pattinson was exactly the man for the job, and though his casting in the role initially seemed surprising, it turned out to be one of the best casting decisions in DC movie history.

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