Golden Age Marvel FilmsOctober 4, 2014
For over 50 years, The Avengers have fought evil and battled for the good of all. Now they are one of the most successful films of all time and the Marvel Universe is gearing up for even greater adventures ahead.
It was 1963 when the comic first hit the stands so in tribute to both the modern film, and the era from whence it was born, let’s imagine ‘The Classic Avengers’ (1963)! How might the great Golden Era of Hollywood have cast the ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’? Below are a few choices of actors and actresses who might have filled the roles in a pre-1963 casting call…
Robert Downey Jr. – Clark Gable
Tony Stark is a cocky, brilliant, ladies man with a few personality flaws but, thankfully, enough cash to balance it out. Robert Downey Jr. has become the star of the Marvel Universe, and his Iron Man a worldwide icon that has carried three films and led the Avengers to billion-dollar revenues.
It would take a sizable figure to fill that role but when you have the nickname “The King of Hollywood’, you’re probably in good shoes. Like RDJ, Clark Gable’s serious acting credentials are sealed with an Oscar win for Best Actor and two more nominations. Can he lead a massive movie? Well he starred in the most successful film of all time so he’ll be fine. Gone With the Wind (1939), which garnered him a nomination for Best Actor, has made over $390 million dollars globally. When adjusted for inflation, however, it breaks all records with a tremendous $3.3 billion dollars.
Still not convinced? Think Gable needs more edge to have that ‘bad boy’ appeal? Often described by both sexes as the most masculine figure they have ever met he uttered the immortal line “Frankly my dear… I don’t give a damn”, bringing the wrath of the censor board down with the largest fine in cinema history. And to top it all off, he enlisted in 1942 in the U.S. Army Air Force and was nearly killed on combat runs on Germany.
Chris Evans – Errol Flynn
Created by the legend Jack Kirby and the brilliant Joe Simon, Steve Rogers has been the patriotic symbol of American moral power from his first appearance in 1941. The dynamic Super Soldier who is always racing to the rescue, he needs a truly daring and dashing actor to capture him on film.
Enter Errol Flynn, one of the greatest swashbuckling heroes in cinema’s history. Flynn quickly established himself from the silent era onwards as adventurer par excellence. Staring in the action films Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Hollywood promoted him as the ideal man and the height of physical perfection. Combined with his golden locks and heroic features, Flynn would be an ideal candidate from Old Hollywood to take on the role of Captain America.
Scarlett Johansson – Lauren Bacall
The alluring but deadly spy, Natalia “Natasha” Romanova, was created as a femme fatale in 1964. Hiding behind her smoky eyes and lusty moves was a trained killer and professional soldier who would manipulate or outright force people to get what she wants.
So when it comes to sultry looks, there is only one perfect choice, the noir goddess Lauren Bacall, the young model who practically created the alluring look with her first film To Have and Have Not (1944). Her real-life partners ranged from Hollywood legends to Frank Sinatra himself and, to seal her sex appeal, she uttered the immortal sensual line: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow”.
More than just looks, she was an Academy Award nominee. Bacall could do femme fatale in her sleep and was also adept at action and comedy, key aspects in portraying the confident and competent Black Widow.
Jeremy Renner – Burt Lancaster
Clint Barton is the only other member of the Avengers than Black Widow who relies on his skill instead of a suit or superpower. His tough character and cocky attitude, however, show he’s a man capable of handling himself.
The all-American Burt Lancaster ticks so many boxes to portray a great Hawkeye it’s scary. A trained gymnast who joined the circus (like Barton!), with a killer grin, he later served in World War II for the USO until becoming a self-taught actor, known for his complex characters, Western tough-guys and great physique. One of his on-set requests was gymnastics equipment so he could practice and stay in shape.
A four time Oscar nominee, with one win, Lancaster’s athletic physique, hidden depths and commitment (he become an expert swimmer for a role despite originally being afraid of water), would create a charming and wonderful Hawkeye.
Chris Hemsworth – Rock Hudson
The god of Thunder is a powerful figure. Hemsworth has worked hard to fill out the character, and managed to lend a charm and depth to the role as well. When it comes to great leading men the towering (6 foot 5!) Rock Hudson would have clearly filled that cape just as well.
A fencer, rider and mechanic, he was a handsome Oscar nominee, known for his powerful figure, deep voice and enduring popularity. From comedies to dramas, he was a versatile actor who worked in film and TV for over four decades.
Mark Ruffalo – Laurence Olivier
One of the more tricky roles, Banner has seen three different actors portray him on film in the last three Hulk films so to make sure you get something truly great, you have to go to a truly great actor.
Few actors have the reputation that Shakespearean star Laurence Olivier has in the acting world. A two-time Oscar winner (and 12 time nominee), Olivier’s portrayals of Hamlet, another character battling his dark side, have become the stuff of legend, even making its way into the novel The Catcher in the Rye. His film roles have ranged from period heroes and kings to gods and generals. He was even the first choice for Don Corleone. His truly dark side, something Banner knows all too well, is present in all its frightening power as Szell in Marathon Man.
His commitment, noble nature and ability to learn complex language (RE: science talk) would lend Bruce an intelligence and fragility to perfectly balance the rampaging green Goliath soon to appear.
Samuel L. Jackson – Sydney Poitier
Look at that picture of Nick Fury. Just look. Clearly there wasn’t a lot of leeway in the casting. With the Ultimates, the modern update of the Avengers, Nick Fury was re-designed and styled after the actor Samuel L. Jackson to gel with the more ‘filmic’ tone of the graphic novel.
So finding another actor today would be difficult. Finding a suitable actor in pre-1963 Hollywood is nearly impossible. However, the noble, authoritative and hard-working figure of Sidney Poitier certainly demands attention.
From menial jobs to Army service, the man knows about a hard life, overcoming obstacles and keeping your cool. Eventually his composure, his unwillingness to take demeaning roles and his representation of dignity and intelligence, led him to being one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. He became an Oscar winner, the first African-American, and led box-office hit after hit, nailing down number one films during the Civil Rights movement no less. Playing a street-smart, intelligent, and powerful head of a spy organization would be a snug fit. He’s a knight AND speaks Russian. What else do you need?
Addendum: Humphrey Bogart
Now it would be unfair to use the modern idea of Nick Fury if we are focusing on the 1960s Marvel creations. Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, Nick Fury ended up in the U.S. Army Rangers during WWII. He’s a character who has fought hard and had to cope with losing the woman he loved.
So to fill the role of a tough, smart, cynic who secretly has a big heart and high morals the great noir actor Humphrey Bogart is your only real choice. Bogart’s range, from his iconic role of Rick in Casablanca, a courageous, tough casino owner who ends up revealing his nobility and need to do what’s right no matter the cost to himself, to his hard-boiled detective roles fit Fury to a tee.
There are few actors in any generation who could play a spy better, or move from comedy to action to complexity with such ease. Throw in a doomed love interest and that’s a stand-alone film ready to go!
Tom Hiddleston – Peter O’Toole
No talk of the Avengers could possibly exist without mention to the wonderful villain of the piece, the handsome Tom Hiddleston. Handsome as he is though, Hiddleston is university educated in the Classics and a graduate of RADA. An actor of stage and screen, from Shakespeare to Wallander, his intelligence and talent shine through in the role of Loki. A character rarely so interesting in the comics (of the 1960s).
Luckily few actors, even Tom, can hold a candle to the legendary Peter O’Toole. Another graduate of RADA, also hailing from across the Atlantic, and performer of Shakespeare, O’Toole is the Oscar bridesmaid. Never a winner, he was nominated for Best Actor eight times, including for the stunning epic Lawrence of Arabia.
He also shares gorgeous good looks, a sensuous smooth voice and powerful blue eyes with his modern equivalent. His talent, rebellious streak, mischievous comedic tendencies and striking appearance would have created a Loki for the ages.
Some special mention is to be made to key characters, not all of who appear in the Avengers, but are fan favourites:
Gwyneth Paltrow – Audrey Hepburn
The dynamic Pepper Potts is a far cry from a damsel in distress. The glue that keeps Tony Stark’s life (lives?) together, she segues from shoulder to cry on to CEO of a global corporation.
The fun, warm and confident depiction by Gwyneth would dovetail so well into the film icon Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn is best remembered as one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen. However, she was supremely talented on screen and a tireless humanitarian off it.
Nominated for five Oscars, she won one and created a long line of charming characters moving between comedies and dramas. But beneath her flawless beauty was that strength one would expect from Pepper Potts. During WWII, while she was still in Belgium, she worked with the Dutch resistance. She raised money for the rebels and transported secret messages. Yes. Audrey Hepburn fought Nazis.
Hepburn would have the screen presence, inner power and outer charm to hold her own against anyone, whether modern or classic Avenger.
Anthony Mackie – Harry Belafonte
As the first mainstream African-American superhero, Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie, is a prominent and crucial figure in the world of Marvel’s history. First appearing in 1969, he joined the Black Panther in depicting a greater diversity in the comic world. Again, pre-1963, the choices are limited but it is a very important role to have.
Though most famous for his singing and musical career, or even his civil rights actions, Harry Belafonte was also an actor during the 1950s and again later in his life. Not afraid to speak his mind and set in what he believes is right; Belafonte was also in the U.S. Navy and served during WWII. Playing the role of high-flying Falcon would allow him to portray a strong and admirable character, much like the man himself.
Sebastian Stan – James Dean
The young sidekick who becomes a powerful villain, then hero (anti-hero?), Bucky Barnes is one of the key elements in the history of Captain America. Going forward the character will take on even more significance in the film world if the rumours of future films are anything to go by.
Perhaps fittingly, and tragically, the impossibly handsome James Dean is the perfect fit for a classic version of Bucky. Best known for playing a rebellious youth, disillusioned with older figures and authorities, he is also known for having died in a horrible accident in the prime of life, something that scarred the public consciousness about him, much like Bucky’s death affected Steve Rogers.
But Dean was a mercurial talent, and was nominated for two Academy Awards, both of which were posthumous, and created that boiling over, impulsive teenage image etched in people’s minds. But his characters were also decent and often trying to do the right thing. He would embody the innocent and decent Barnes and then, later, the angry and confused Winter Soldier.
The Director: Joss Whedon
There’s only one person who could direct a classic version of the Avengers: Joss Whedon. Sure, he wasn’t born until 1964, and it would be have a time trying to control such talents from the uterus but I think he’d rise to the challenge.
Failing that, who do you think would manage to create a truly amazing Classic Avengers? Hitchcock? DeMille? Kubrick?