Monday, January 31, 2011

FILM TOPIC: Why the Brits are taking over our American Superheroes

This weekend it was announced that Henry Cavill ("The Tudors") will play Superman in the franchise's reboot. After hearing the news, a Twitter friend of mine (@BlkCinemaAtLarg) pointed out that Hollywood's top three superheroes are all played by British actors:
A lot of questions popped into my head after I realized this, specifically: What does this say about the American people's perception of the modern American hero? and Why aren't American actors cutting it as the ideal American heroes anymore?

In regards to the first question, I find it interesting that most of the superheroes that American actors portray have war-driven plots (Captain America, Iron Man, and War Machine) as if they play a role in the propaganda machine to instill hope into American citizens. But the further the superhero's story is from reality, the less important it is to producers, it would seem, for the actor to be American, which made me wonder about the cultural hierarchy that exists in Hollywood.

Australian actors are usually heavily sought after for the chest-baring, manly roles. Eric Bana did Hulk in 2003, Hugh Jackman made Wolverine popular enough in 2000's X-Men to get his own spin-off in 2009, and now newcomer Chris Hemsworth will bring Thor to the big screen this May. While we may have our fair share of six-pack laden brutes (Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, and Chris Evans), none of them are quite the size of these gentlemen. I'm not sure what they're eating Down Under but in a fight to the finish, my money will always be on the Aussie.

When it comes to the Canadians, it would seem, by the evidence of Rogen, Reynolds, and Cera's characters, that they are usually pegged for the heroes with a geeky or sarcastic sense of humor. They don't have to be perfect, but they do have to be funny. Rogen is a special case though, because the studio was actually opposed to his casting, but he went ahead with it anyway.

The British actors, however, are on a whole different playing field, and after this weekend's batch of honors were given out, it would seem that the British biopic The King's Speech is at the forefront for Best Picture, pushing Black Swan, The Social Network, and 127 Hours to the wayside. That said, it's sort of an unspoken belief that if there's a category that includes a British actor, chances are they're going to win. That common theory could be applied to the casting of dramas, epics, or biopics, but it didn't occur to me that the trend could spread to the fantasy/comic book genre.

Ever since British director Christopher Nolan raised the bar with Batman Begins in 2005, studios have been trying to elevate their comic book adaptations to a more award-worthy level, snagging Robert Downey Jr. for Iron Man and allowing Edward Norton to reboot Hulk in 2008. I think this sudden increase in casting British actors as American heroes is a continued effort to do so. But are studios saying that Brits are better actors than Americans or just easier to take seriously? I don't think it could be the latter. Most moviegoers didn't even know Christian Bale or Aaron Johnson were British until they heard them in interviews. And if comic book fans didn't watch The Social Network last year, they might be surprised to hear Andrew Garfield's accent at Comic Con this year. Whatever the producers' motives were, we'll know for sure if their new formula is a guaranteed cash cow once Spiderman and Superman are released in the next two years.

In the mean time, tell me if it at all irks you that that the top three comic book heroes aren't American like their illustrated counterparts or if the caliber of the actor is more important than his nationality. And tell me if you think the British are naturally more talented than American actors.


  1. Now, that's a very interesting thought. I just realized that on my list on favorite actors, there are more British actors than American. I don't know, it's something in the way they look and act that I found more appealing in movies (with or without their accent).

    With the superhero movies, I think it doesn't have to go that deeply, because in the end what they want is profit. But, of course, superhero movies like Captain America must be played by an American, rite?

  2. The British actors are "unknown" but talented. And when rebooting such an iconic character, foreign actors come with less American baggage, meaning the audience can focus on their role instead of their personal life (which often gets splashed in the news when they're already a Hollywood name).

    Christian Bales has been around for years, but he wasn't a full-on big movie star to the general public until Batman Begins. Hugh Jackman became part of American pop culture when he got the Wolverine part. Andrew Garfield was relatively unknown until The Social Network, and unless someone's into indie films that's the only thing people will associate him to. And even though The Tudors is successful, it's nowhere near Glee status so a lot of people are still unfamiliar with Henry Cavill.

    And I imagine it's cheaper for the studios to pay an "unknown" British actor than to go for an already established Hollywood name like Robert Downey Jr. I'd like to see someone compose a list with paychecks for each film mentioned and compare the American salaries vs. the British actors. And not for the sequels, just the first movies in the franchises.

    Anyhow, great topic!!!