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Superhero Actors Who Were Never The Same After Their Roles

Audiences haven't lost their enthusiasm for superhero films. From Mavel's epic "Avengers" saga to DC properties like "Joker" and "The Batman," fans keep asking for more, and these major studios keep delivering. Over the past two decades in particular, we've seen big names in Hollywood put on a cape, hide behind a mask, or pick up a shield to bring stories from classic comic books to life. 

But as a wise Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker, "With great power, comes great responsibility." And while these actors aren't actually saving their cities or protecting the galaxy like the superheros they're portraying, it turns out that playing a caped crusader does make them feel like they have a high standard to live up to. Maybe that's why taking on a superhero role tends to have a long-lasting impact on an actor's outlook. From Marvel stars to DC legends, here's why these superhero actors were never the same after their iconic roles.

Robert Downey Jr. became the highest-paid actor in Hollywood

When it comes to reboots, Robert Downey Jr. might be the quintessential example of a superhero role completely resetting an actor's entire career. The Marvel star's tragic true-life story saw him become a major star in the '80s and early '90s before a series of career-destroying scandals throughout the '90s saw him kicked off a hit series after winning an Emmy and undergoing multiple stints in rehab. By the mid-2000s, the former "Ally McBeal" star was trying to get his life back together in Hollywood with roles in "Zodiac" and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," but he wasn't much of a box office draw at all — much more of a talented also-ran whose best days were behind him. Then, Marvel took a chance and bet their entire cinematic universe on him, casting him in the title role of their first movie, "Iron Man."

In this situation, however, it wasn't just Robert Downey Jr. himself who was never the same after taking on the role. Because it's difficult to understate just how transformative the film was — for Downey, for Marvel Studios, and for the movie business as a whole. The film was an instant hit, making Downey the hottest commodity in town. But his success in the role also turned Marvel into the most coveted indie moviemaker whose interconnected superhero universe became the envy of even their biggest rival studios, including Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. In 2015, Downey was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, earning $80 million, almost entirely from playing Tony Stark in the MCU. 

Spider-Man turned Tom Holland into a star

A superhero role can make or break an actor's early career, and more and more studios like Marvel and DC are turning to lesser-known, unknown actors to play their most famous characters. In 2016, teenage British actor Tom Holland was cast to succeed Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in the MCU's version of Spider-Man in "Captain America: Civil War." Not only did it turn out to be Holland's breakout role, but it completely redefined his life and career, turning him into a bankable movie star and a sex symbol for an entirely new generation of fans.

"I've been so lucky that I've been, you know, offered jobs," Holland told "On Purpose with Jay Shetty" in 2023. Those jobs included films like "The Current War" but also major money-makers like "Uncharted." As Spider-Man, though, Holland starred in four billion-dollar movies: "Spider-Man: No Way Home," "Avengers: Infinity War," "Avengers: Endgame," and "Spider-Man: No Way Home," the latter of which united him with both Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire, who'd played the web-slinger in previous "Spider-Man" films. And thanks to his work with the Russo brothers, he was cast in the 2022 Apple TV+ drama "Cherry."

Beyond how his success changed his professional life, it also altered the course of his personal life. Not long after the release of "Spider-Man: Homecoming," gossip columns went into a frenzy with the revelation that Holland and his Marvel co-star Zendaya were in a relationship, making them one of Hollywood's hottest young power couples.

Captain Marvel completely changed Brie Larson's life

Brie Larson had been a struggling actress for years. She'd been working in Hollywood since she was a little kid, but it wasn't until her role in the 2013 film "Short Term 12" that she really hit her stride. Just a few years later, Larson suddenly found herself up for the part of Carol Danvers in "Captain Marvel," an opportunity that her childhood self could've only dreamed of. But Larson was nervous about how her life could change if she played such a big part in the MCU, with the lack of privacy and the pressure of high expectations. And to make things even more stressful, Marvel had sworn her to secrecy after reaching out to her about the role, so she couldn't ask her loved ones for their opinions. The decision was completely on her — and obviously, she ended up going for it, and Larson wound up transforming herself to become the MCU's Captain Marvel.

"I had to sit with myself, think about my life, and what I want out of it," Larson told Vanity Fair. "Ultimately, I couldn't deny the fact that this movie is everything I care about, everything that's progressive and important and meaningful, and a symbol I wished I would've had growing up." Now, Larson gets to play the kind of woman she would've looked up to as a kid.

Chris Evans needed help to prepare for his superhero role

It's easy to assume that most actors would jump at the chance to play a superhero like Captain America. But Chris Evans, who eventually got the part and picked up that famous shield, wasn't so keen to take on the challenge when it was offered to him. 

"I was nervous about the lifestyle change, about the commitment. ... I also like having anonymity," Evans told We Got This Covered, adding, "Losing that and having to change my lifestyle was just terrifying." 

Evans went on to explain that his loved ones helped him realize why he couldn't skip out on this incredible opportunity. "The more I spoke to people about it though, the more they said that I can't make a decision based on fear," he said. But even though Evans was about to start playing a superhero, he certainly didn't feel like one. He decided to begin seeing a therapist to deal with his anxiety about his new role. Going to therapy helped him embrace his new status and understand why playing Captain America was worth all of the changes and sacrifice. 

Thor helped Chris Hemsworth prove his comedy chops

Outside of the cast of the original "Star Wars," there are few actors in Hollywood whose entire career can be credited to a single role. But if anyone in superhero movies can claim as much, it's Chris Hemsworth, who was plucked from relative obscurity to play the title role in Marvel's 2011 origin epic "Thor" alongside Oscar-winning heavyweights like Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. While it's true that Hemsworth's first crack at the part didn't earn him any awards consideration, his appearances in the team-up ensemble "Avengers" garnered him plenty of love from audiences.

Before playing the God of Thunder, of course, Hemsworth was best known in his native Australia for his run in the soap opera "Home and Away" and was few people's predictions for the next big action star. But thanks to playing Thor, Hemsworth became an in-demand superstar and was soon taking leading roles in high-profile movies like "Cabin in the Woods" and "Snow White and the Huntsman." And thanks to his work with directors Joe and Anthony Russo on "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame," he later starred in the critically acclaimed Netflix action movie "Extraction" and its 2023 sequel that they produced.

Hemsworth's turn as the God of Thunder didn't just raise the actor's profile, though. Thanks in part to 2017's genre-breaking superhero comedy "Thor: Ragnarok" from director Taika Waiti, the actor established himself as a capable funnyman in addition to a proven action hero.

Chris Pratt became a blockbuster star thanks to Star-Lord

Chris Pratt spent years playing the lovable, scatterbrained Andy Dwyer on the feel-good sitcom "Parks and Recreation," but all along, he had his sights set on bigger projects. It was hard to imagine that the same guy who portrayed Andy playing a superhero, but when the opportunity came up to audition for the role of Peter Quill in "Guardians of the Galaxy," Pratt eventually decided to go for it. He didn't think he had a real shot, but against all odds, he nailed it.

"Guardians" premiered to rave reviews, and Pratt took his career to a whole new level. "I made a genre jump," Pratt told Vanity Fair, "a category jump, some kind of jump." After playing Peter Quill, new doors opened up for him in Hollywood, paving the way to leading roles in other blockbuster films. He starred alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the film "Passengers," and while that film was mired in controversy, he made the big bucks by starring as raptor trainer Owen Grady in the "Jurassic World" franchise and later headlined big-budget films and series like "The Tomorrow War" and "The Terminal List."

Chadwick Boseman became one of Hollywood's most recognizable, influential actors

When he was cast to play the title role in 2016's "Captain America: Civil War," Chadwick Boseman was already a well-respected actor. Boseman had already played several pioneering Black icons like James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall. But no matter how much Hollywood had already recognized his talent, his 2018 solo follow-up "Black Panther," set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, made him one of the most influential actors on the planet overnight. The role of King T'Challa aka Black Panther, one of comics' earliest Black superheroes, catapulted him to superstardom.

"Black Panther" wasn't just the first blockbuster superhero movie with an all-Black cast. It also blew everyone away at the box office, becoming the first superhero film with a predominantly Black cast to crack the billion-dollar mark, and it remains the highest-grossing film with a Black leading man. He returned to the role just a few months later joining the rest of the heroes of the MCU in the groundbreaking modern classic "Avengers: Infinity War."

For his performance as T'Challa, Boseman received widespread acclaim. Tragically, he died from cancer in 2020 before production began on the "Black Panther" sequel, with his posthumous voicework in the Disney+ animated series "What If...?" in 2021 earning him an Emmy. Though he had an impressive and arguably Oscar-worthy career outside of the superhero genre, especially in films like "Da 5 Bloods" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," his role as T'Challa established an indelible legacy that will live on for generations.

Paul Rudd got to share his superhero role with his son

For a long time, Paul Rudd always seemed to pop up in romantic comedies. From his breakout role in "Clueless" to "Knocked Up" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," he definitely had a niche. Starring in a superhero film didn't seem like it would be in the cards for Rudd, but in 2015, the comedian played Scott Lang in "Ant-Man" and went on to appear in the sequels, "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," as well as a couple of crossover films like "Avengers: Endgame."

But there was something extra special about playing the pint-sized superhero, and it wasn't just the fact that Rudd got to become a part of the MCU. After decades of working on movies that were clearly geared towards adult or teenage audiences, he had finally starred in a movie that he could enjoy with his young son, who was ten years old at the time. "This is the first film of mine that he's seen," Rudd told The Guardian, "and it makes me proud and nervous at the same time. I took him to the premiere — he'd never been to a premiere, and that was a very moving experience for me. The best thing about anything is sharing it with your kid."

Margot Robbie became an action star thanks to Harley Quinn

Although "Suicide Squad" flourished commercially, it got generally negative reviews. That didn't stop Margot Robbie from having a fantastic time playing Harley Quinn. And Robbie definitely wasn't ready to leave Harley behind. While filming "Suicide Squad," she realized that this character had so much more potential, and she wasn't quite ready to let her go just yet. 

"I wasn't seeing enough girl gangs on screen, especially in the action space," Robbie told Collider, adding, "I was like, 'I love action. I love action films. I'm a girl. What, are we meant to only like a specific thing?'" So Robbie took matters into her own hands, and she pitched an idea for an action film starring Harley and her girl gang. 

And Robbie's vision came to life with "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)," a movie about Harley saying goodbye to the Joker and taking matters into her own hands to save an innocent girl. Thanks to her superhero role, Robbie has gone from sex symbol to a legitimate action star, complete with her own team of heroic sidekicks.

Gal Gadot was never the same after Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot just might've been born to play Wonder Woman. She embodies her character so well that you could be forgiven for thinking she was actually a skilled Amazonian warrior who just happened to stumble on a Hollywood set one day. The crazy part? Gadot nearly quit acting before she was offered the role of Diana. She was so discouraged by countless rejections that she was ready to throw in the towel.

"I was thinking about never coming back to Los Angeles. ... Because there had been so many 'no's," she admitted to Glamour, adding "I reached a place where I didn't want to do that anymore. ... I was thinking, 'What am I good for?' And that's when I got 'Wonder Woman.'" Finally, she'd landed the life-changing role she'd been searching for all along, and the film made an incredible impact on audiences around the world, proving that yes, people were more than ready for female superheroes.

Batman brought Christian Bale (and Christopher Nolan) to the A-list

In 2005, Christian Bale suited up as the Caped Crusader in Christopher Nolan's reboot "Batman Begins." Bale had received rave reviews for "American Psycho" and "The Machinist," but most of his filmography comprised prestigious arthouse films like "Velvet Goldmine" and "The Portrait of a Lady" as well as cult action films like "Reign of Fire" and "Equilibrium." As the title character in "Batman Begins," though, Bale was playing arguably the biggest characters in all of pop fiction while becoming the center of a huge tentpole action franchise.

The casting of Bale as Batman proved to be one of the biggest strokes of genius for Nolan, who like the actor was making his first big-budget blockbuster, and the film's success sent them both to the A-list. They'd reunite for two more films in "The Dark Knight Trilogy" and also collaborated on the beloved 2006 thriller "The Prestige." The role of Batman might not have been Bale's first action movie, but it was his first major, bonafide hit in the genre, and it wasn't long before he was headlining more major movies like "Terminator: Salvation" and "3:10 to Yuma" and nabbing Oscar nominations in work like "American Hustle" and "Vice." Suffice it to say, the actor's career completely altered its trajectory after donning the cape and cowl.

Since 2012, Bale has said he's only interested in playing Batman a fourth time if Nolan is involved. Still, he returned to the world of superheroes, playing the villainous Gorr the God Butcher in 2022's "Thor: Love and Thunder."

Ryan Reynolds dealt with serious anxiety thanks to his superhero role

Years before the superhero comedy "Deadpool" hit the big screen, Ryan Reynolds dreamed of playing this character in a movie that wasn't "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." He'd already pitched the idea to studios and was turned down, but those early rejections didn't quell his enthusiasm for this story. He knew that his ideas for the script were gold, and he just needed a chance to prove it. When "Deadpool" finally premiered, over a decade after Reynolds began pushing for it, the response was overwhelming ... and it was almost too much for Reynolds to handle. He felt overexposed and vulnerable.

"I had a little bit of a nervous breakdown," Reynolds told GQ. "I literally had the shakes. I went to go see a doctor because I felt like I was suffering from a neurological problem or something. And every doctor I saw said, 'You have anxiety.'" Looking back on his emotional state after the release of "Deadpool," Reynolds said, "I think that was a slightly fear-based reaction." Now, he feels more comfortable with himself, and he's not so scared to have all eyes on him. 

Sydney Sweeney overcame her fear of spiders

Not every superhero movie that alters an actor's life and career is a hit. Sometimes, it's a major flop that changes them forever, but in the case of "Madame Web," the notorious box office bomb centered on a lesser-known member of the Spider-Man family of characters, alongside several other female heroes like Spider-Woman and Spider-Girl. But it wasn't the movie's poor box office and critical reception that changed star Sydney Sweeney — rather, it was a hilarious behind-the-scenes comment from an on-set medical professional. And it all relates to an incident that occurred while filming her previous movie, "Anyone But You."

Sweeney revealed the details of that experience while appearing on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," and how working with real-life spiders was somewhat traumatic. According to Sweeney, one of the on-set spiders used in the film actually bit her, causing a momentary crisis for her. "I thought I was gonna die," the actress told the late-night host. "Well, I was like, 'It's poisonous. I'm gonna die.'" After the medics took care of the problem (Sweeney was fine), they put a medical note in the report saying, "Sydney Sweeney (Cast Department) bitten by spider, now Spiderwoman."

Now, fast forward to 2023, and sure enough, Sweeney was playing Spider-Woman on screen in "Madame Web," for which she was already well-prepared to work with arachnids. "I definitely feel like I can't kill a spider anymore," Sweeney told IMDb. "Prior to the film, there might have been a few slaps. Now we are one."