There was once a time when decorated thespians wouldn’t be caught dead in a superhero movie. Those days are long gone as the genre has grown in terms of popularity and respect. In fact, a few have even been nominated for the coveted Best Picture prize at the Academy Awards.
Even before the widespread acclaim of these films, some award-winning actors appeared in them. That’s especially true in movies based on Marvel Comics, which has seen a handful of Oscar-winning performers step into key roles. These might not lead their movies but they’re memorable side characters.
10 Sally Field (Aunt May)
The twisty history of live-action Spider-Man movies is evident in just how many versions of the same character have appeared on screen. After Rosemary Harris played Peter Parker’s Aunt May in the Sam Raimi trilogy, Sally Field took on the role for the Marc Webb films.
Field was wasn’t someone who stood out all that much in the role, not being heavily praised or disliked. She was kind of just there. That was disappointing because Field has immense talent, winning two Best Actress Oscars for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart.
9 Marisa Tomei (Aunt May)
Speaking of ladies who played Aunt May, the most recent to do so is Marisa Tomei. Starring as the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she first appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, as well as the two standalone Spider-Man movies, and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
This version of May is much younger and more in tune with Peter while still giving sage advice. Tomei won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar back in 1992 as Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny. There was some controversy when it was suggested that the wrong name was read. That rumor was debunked and Tomei went on to score two future nominations.
8 Forest Whitaker (Zuri)
One of the many things that made 2018’s Black Panther such a massive success was the incredible cast that was put together. For example, an acclaimed performer such as Forest Whitaker had nothing more than a supporting part but he was great in every scene.
Zuri was a perfect role for Whitaker as he was a trusted elder in Wakanda who everyone turned to for advice, though he did have a checkered past. In 2007, Whitaker took home the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in The Last King of Scotland.
7 Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross & Karen)
It feels like a lot of people forget that Jennifer Connelly was in 2003’s Hulk, though that’s likely because many fans don’t remember the movie at all. In it, she portrayed Betty Ross, the love interest to Bruce Banner and the heart of the entire story.
What many don’t realize is that she was also in the MCU. In 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, she voiced Karen, the A.I. in Peter Parker’s suit, which was a nod to her real life husband Paul Bettany, who voiced Tony Stark’s A.I. for years. Connelly nabbed a Best Supporting Actress trophy for A Beautiful Mind.
6 J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect casting for a supporting character in a comic book film than J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. He was hilarious and accurate in the role throughout Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and often stole the show.
In fact, Simmons was so fantastic in the role that he was brought back for it in the MCU in the post-credits scene of 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. It was in 2014 that Simmons scored his Best Supporting Actor Oscar thanks to his intense work in Whiplash.
5 Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One)
There was a bit of controversy surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in 2016’s Doctor Strange. Despite that, most fans would agree that the talented actress more than handled herself well in the role and was welcomed back in Avengers: Endgame.
It shouldn’t be a surprise since Swinton is such a good actor. Her work has been praised at almost every turn and she finally took home an Oscar statue in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress in Michael Clayton as Karen Crowder.
4 Michael Douglas (Hank Pym)
Michael Douglas is certainly one of the more prominent fixtures in the MCU on this list. He is not your typical supporting character thanks to his past as a superhero himself. Hank Pym is a key character in both Ant-Man films and his Pym Particles helped save everyone in Avengers: Endgame.
Douglas also boasts one of the longest career filmographies. Like Sally Field, he has two Academy Awards to his name. The first came as a producer of Best Picture winner One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, while the second was for Best Actor in 1988’s Wall Street.
3 Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi)
At the start of 2021, Daniel Kaluuya wouldn’t have been able to be on this list. He only recently won his coveted first Oscar thanks to his turn as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. Kaluuya was also nominated back in 2018 for Get Out.
For as long as most fans can remember, Kaluuya has been a fast-rising star in the film industry. Along with his award-nominated turns, he has continually shown up in important films. One of them was the influential Black Panther in 2018 as W’Kabi, friend of protagonist T’Challa.
2 Natalie Portman (Jane Foster)
There’s a good chance that very soon, Natalie Portman won’t qualify for this list. She will be returning in Thor: Love and Thunder but in what seems like more of a leading role where she’ll even wield Mjolnir. For now, her parts in the first two Thor movies were as a love interest.
Portman played astrophysicist Jane Foster in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World. Of her many accolades as an actor, the most impressive is her win for Best Actress in 2011 as troubled ballerina Nina Sayers in Black Swan.
1 Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia)
For the third time on this list, Black Panther appears. The phenomenal cast included three former Oscar winners and that’s not even mentioning the Golden Globes, Emmys, BAFTAs, or anything else. Lupita Nyong’o was part of that group, playing Wakandan spy Nakia.
She was one of the highlights of the film and among Marvel’s strongest female characters. Nyong’o immediately exploded as an actor, winning Best Supporting Actress for her debut feature film, 12 Years A Slave. She made history as the first Kenyan and Mexican to do so.
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