13 Horror Movies with Marvel Universe Stars
Article By: Tony Timpone
The Marvel Universe juggernaut is unstoppable. 2017 alone sees the release of four mega-budget Marvel superhero movies, which began with the smash Logan in March and adds new Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man and Thor adventures throughout the year. Meanwhile Netflix, ABC and FX continue to drop series episodes of Daredevil, Legion, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., et al. Working in the Marvel factory has been a steady commitment for a small army of lucky performers, many of whom dabbled in the horror genre in their salad days. This week the Friday 13 digs up 13 horror films starring your favorite Marvel superhero actors. (List arranged alphabetically to actor’s last name.)
1. Robert Downey Jr, In Dreams (1999)
The success of 2008’s Iron Man jumpstarted the modern superhero crossover wave. The hit film also reignited the career of former Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr., who frequently found himself in box-office duds like this atmospheric but dreary supernatural thriller. Downey plays a serial killer named Vivian (not the scariest name for a maniac!), whose child-snatching misdeeds turn up in the dreams of befuddled Annette Bening. With direction by Neil (Interview with the Vampire) Jordan, this could have been a gripping chiller. But thanks to the dour screenplay, you’d be dreaming.
2. Chris Evans, Cellular (2004)
The handsome actor played his breakout role as the cocky hero in this fast-paced action thriller, written by B-movie great Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, God Told Me To, Q). When criminals kidnap Kim Basinger, she randomly dials from a landline and connects with the cell phone of stranger Chris Evans. Racing against time and a failing battery, Evans jumps into hero mode, qualities he displayed again a year later in Fantastic Four as Johnny Storm and to an even greater extent as Captain America across seven films and counting.
3. Michael Fassbender, Blood Creek (2009)
Forget about your six degrees of separation. Everyone associated with this Nazi horror stinker has dabbled in superhero movies, beginning with director Joel (“Let’s put nipples on the Batsuit!”) Schumacher, who helmed the two most reviled chapters in DC’s Batman franchise. Blood Creek also stars future Superman Henry Cavill, Blade: Trinity baddie Dominic Purcell and Agent Carter’s Shea Whigham. Before he reveled in conflicted villainy as Magneto/Eric Lensherr in the current X-Men run, Michael Fassbender toplined here as an ageless Nazi occultist up to no good on a modern West Virginia farm. Not even Magneto’s magnetic powers could keep Fassbender from being attracted to this claptrap.
4. Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Prior to picking up Thor’s mighty hammer, Aussie hunk Chris Hemsworth joined a group of five unlucky teenagers whose weekend getaway turns into a deadly trip to hell and beyond. This Meta horror sleeper came from genre geniuses Joss Whedon (as co-writer) and co-writer/director Drew Goddard. Whedon would graduate to the first two awesome Avengers installments, while Goddard currently pilots Netflix’s Daredevil. Hemsworth’s a hoot here, a dim bulb caught up in a nightmarish scenario that he can’t get a grip on, but one which will delight every horror geek out there.
5. Samuel L. Jackson, Def By Temptation (1990)
Hollywood’s busiest actor manages to fit in four or five major movies every year besides his regular stint as The Avengers’ Nick Fury. But Samuel L. Jackson endured humble beginnings like most thespians. Early gigs ranged from an uncredited extra role in the grindhouse gem The Exterminator to a bit part as a blind angel (!) in Exorcist III. In this better-than-usual Troma quickie, Jackson appears as Reverend Garth, minister father of divinity student Joel (writer/director/star James Bond III), target of a soul-stealing succubus. Though he only turns up in about 15 minutes of this all-black production, Jackson displays much of the larger-than-life gusto that has become his forte in today’s big-budget franchise pictures.
6. Scarlett Johansson, Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
In this silly big bug movie (originally titled Arac Attack, but changed because studio heads thought audiences would confuse Arac with Iraq!), Johansson plays the stereotypical sheriff’s daughter. She’s one of a small assembly of townspeople trying to ward off a colony of giant mutated spiders. Not nearly as fun as Arachnophobia or the recent Big Ass Spider, Eight Legged Freaks lamely aims for the funny bone instead of generating real scares, and the adorable actress doesn’t get much to do besides serve as bug bait. A year later, Johansson garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her starring turn in Lost in Translation and now spins a different web as the high-kicking Black Widow (a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff) in the Marvel Universe.
7. Elizabeth Olsen, Silent House (2011)
In the comics, Wanda Maximoff (a.k.a. Scarlet Witch) has revealed both good and evil sides, not surprisingly as she’s the mutant offspring of Magneto. That backstory got left behind when all-American actress Elizabeth Olsen (the vastly more talented younger sis of the Olsen twins) took on Scarlet Witch in the Avengers and Captain America movies. In the shot-in-one-take Silent House, Olsen plays a young girl with a mysterious past trapped in a remote summer home with unseen intruders. The actress shows multiple facets to her traumatized character (wait till the surprise twist), and she stretched her acting chops even more in the indie sleeper Martha Marcy May Marlene and the underrated supernatural yarn Red Lights.
8. Chris Pratt, Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Previous to saving the (Jurassic) World and the Galaxy itself, future Star-Lord Chris Pratt paid his dues with brief movie parts and TV series assignments. In this unjustly ignored horror black comedy written by Juno’s Diablo Cody, Pratt portrays himbo police rookie Roman Duda, former love interest of succubus cannibal Jennifer (Megan Fox). It’s a nothing part, but Pratt radiates a hint of the charm he’d go on to use to much greater effect in the two volumes (so far) of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
9. Jeremy Renner, Dahmer (2002)
Now an entrenched team player as The Avengers’ Hawkeye (née Clint Barton), Jeremy Renner once plumbed the worst of humanity as one of history’s most infamous serial killers. The actor nabbed his first lead role in Dahmer, essaying the titular Milwaukee maniac who drugged, chopped up, murdered and cannibalized 17 male victims. This low-key (and very low budget) docudrama gets into the head of psychopath Dahmer—who returns the favor by drilling into the heads of others. Renner makes the murderer an unassuming and quietly troubled man; his scenes with his oblivious father (Bruce Davison, X-Men’s mutant-hating Senator Kelly) work especially well.
10. Ryan Reynolds, The Amityville Horror (2005)
This good-looking Canadian flirted with comic book movies to ho-hum effect with Blade: Trinity, R.I.P.D. and Green Lantern, though he finally hit paydirt with the blockbuster Deadpool in 2016. Produced in the aughties during the horror remake craze, this refurbished Amityville Horror placed Reynolds as the possessed father of the beleaguered Long Island Lutz family. Reynolds must have agreed to the job to flex his dramatic muscles, but his efforts are wasted in this lackluster, mean-spirited haunted house movie. Better to catch Reynolds in the tense one-hander Buried.
11. Paul Rudd, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
This likable New Jersey-born actor previously scored in a long series of hit comedies ahead of becoming a growing (and shrinking) fixture in the Marvel Universe as the dust-sized Ant-Man (a.k.a. Scott Lang). After a bright feature debut in Clueless, Rudd took a step backwards by playing the now-grown Tommy Doyle in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, inarguably the franchise’s worst entry. In his quest to put a stop to the Shape’s reign of terror, Rudd comes across as equal parts driven and silly (like when he puts on those ridiculous druid robes). In interviews at the time, Rudd said he had “high hopes” for his Halloween date, but even this ant couldn’t move that rubber tree plant.
12. Mark Ruffalo, Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance (1994)
Much in demand these days for both serious roles (Zodiac, Spotlight) and comic-book escapism (as the recurring Hulk/Bruce Banner in the Avengers films and spin-offs), Mark Ruffalo accepted a few dues-paying assignments when starting out. He made his motion picture debut in the direct-to-video flotsam Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance as the smooth-talking ghost occupant of a haunted mirror. Strangely, Ruffalo enjoyed the experience so much he did the third Mirror, Mirror movie just a year later as a different character! In the even worse Mirror, Mirror III: The Voyeur, Ruffalo portrays the concerned brother of Billy Drago, the prey of a vixen spirit. With these training wheels off, the actor would soon bust out in better movies deserving of his talent.
13. Sebastian Stan, The Covenant (2006)
Captain America’s best bud, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, suffered at the hands of evil Russian scientists, who turned him into the human weapon Winter Soldier. Sebastian Stan has winningly limned the character’s dual personalities in the Captain America films, eventually rejoining the forces of righteousness. Stan was all bad in one of his initial movies, however. In The Covenant, sort of an all-male version of the witch movie The Craft, he plays Chase Collins, one of five warlock descendants of a 17th-century coven. Duplicitous Chase wants to steal his friends’ supernatural powers for himself, leading to a fiery confrontation with goodie-good Steven Strait (of Syfy’s The Expanse). Basically a pricier version of the homoerotic quickies of director David DeCoteau (The Brotherhood, Voodoo Academy), The Covenant will only weave a spell over undiscriminating 9-year-old girls.
Fans of obscure genre cinema and Marvel superheroes can also find Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista in the stultifying My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and young Professor X James MacAvoy in the German slasher The Pool. Rate these films on our Facebook page or Twitter using #Friday13.
Tony Timpone hosts Dread Central’s theatrical screening series DreadVision.