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Superhero Actors: A Risky Career Move

"Will portraying beloved superheroes (particularly Batman) hinder your acting career?"
Playing a beloved character on television or in movies can either bolster an actor's career, or tear it to pieces. Becoming consistently type-cast, and being overly-recognizable as a famous character presents a major hurdle for anyone trying to break free from their past roles. This seems to be especially true with superheroes. With the upcoming release of Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman, it seems important to look back at how Hollywood culture effects actor's lives. Featuring Michael Keaton as the titular superhero actor, Birdman follows his life as he must overcome his ego, and his most famous role, in order to move forward with his life and his career. Iñárritu chose Keaton, in part, because of his own history with portraying a famous superhero, and it is with him that we start our list of the “Top 5 Washed-up Superhero Actors” Michael Keaton - Batman 5. Michael Keaton Beginning his career, like most actors, in television, Keaton got his first “break” as a semi-regular on The Mary Tyler Moore Hour. Keaton soon made the foray into feature films like Gung Ho, Night Shift, and Mr. Mom. With his manic portrayal of Betelgeuse, in the homophonic Beetlejuice, Keaton seemed to secure a spot for himself as a comedic actor, worthy of utterance in the same sentence as Robin Williams. As a lover of using (and overusing in the case of Johnny Depp) staple set of actors, Tim Burton had no problem selecting Keaton when it came time to cast his new Batman movie. Wildly successful, and brimming with Burton's uniquely-weird charm, Batman was a massive hit. Catapulting Keaton into international fame, Batman secured his a spot on Hollywood's “A-list,” and a sequel for both him and Burton. Batman Returns was another hit, although not as successful as its predecessor, as many fans found the Danny DeVito Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman cartoonish and bizarre. After his quick rise to stardom, Keaton seemingly fell off of the map. Making some awful choices (aside from Much Ado About Nothing), Keaton appeared in travesties like Multiplicity, Jack Frost and First Daughter. Will Keaton's almost autobiographical role in Birdman be his rise back into Hollywood's good graces? Early reviews seem to suggest so, but only time will tell.   Dean Cain - Superman 4. Dean Cain Dean Cain was seemingly everywhere in the 90's. With several appearances in Beverly Hills, 90210, and other one-time acting jobs, Cain found his home as Clark Kent in the long-lived series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Featuring a fresh take (it has “New Adventures” in the title) on the old comic book story, the series was very successful, and ran for 87 episodes between 1993-1997. After the show's cancellation, Cain was featured in the Ripley's Believe it or Not! show which was also a hit for Cain and the museum it was named after. After its eventual demise in 2003, Cain took small parts in television shows, or the lead in short-lived series. Appearing in several “Family Approved,” straight-to-DVD/VHS, movies, and as himself in the series Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, Cain has yet to drag his career out of the dregs of made-for-TV movies.   Val Kilmer - Batman 3. Val Kilmer Val Kilmer is a very interesting case, as he only played a superhero once, yet it seemed to completely derail his burgeoning career. Starting in the mid 80's Kilmer quickly rose to stardom with back-to-back successes Real Genius (1985), and Top Gun (1986). The wildly disparate roles pitted Kilmer as a both quick-witted and intelligent, and a no-nonsense man of action. With successes continuing into the 90's, Kilmer was featured in Willow (1988), The Real McCoy (1993), True Romance (1993), and Tombstone (1993). His most famous role, however, came in 1995 with Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever. As was the case with the other Batman on this list, Kilmer quickly descended to bit-parts and obscurity (with the exception of 1995's Heat). Featuring a ridiculous plot and cast of characters, Batman Forever could have been just as easily called Batman's Fever Dream. A purple-faced Tommy Lee Jones and a green spandex covered Jim Carrey are the least of this films various issues. With his only recent successes coming from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), and some voice acting in Prince of Egypt (1998), Kilmer has begun to start making fun of his past to gain some traction. Hilarious roles in films like the ill-fated MacGruber (2010), will gain him favor with cult audiences, but it will take more than small roles in small movies to revive Kilmer's career to its former glory.   West and Ward - Batman and Robin 2. Adam West Our next man on the list is also from television, is also famous for playing Batman, and needs no introduction. Adam West brought the caped crusader into American homes, and continued the legacy that the Lewis Wilson/Columbia Pictures serial had started in the early 1940's. With some theatrical success, the serials convinced Ed Graham Productions to option the comic strip for a CBS television show. When the deal fell through, Greenway Productions, by way of Fox and ABC were quick to pick up the series, airing it in 1966. Starring in Batman: The Movie along with co-star Burt Ward, the Batman franchise was one of the most popular shows on television in the late 1960's. The overly-dramatic and campy nature of the show led to both Ward and West being type cast for decades afterwards. Appearing mainly as Batman to make money, West was stuck as his most famous character. Recently reaching pop-icon status (much like George Takei was able to do), West has used his signature voice to make a comeback on shows like Family Guy and The Fairly OddParents. Mark Hamill - Luke Skywalker 1. Mark Hamill Our number one on this list is a stretch for the guidelines, but perhaps the most type cast actor of all time: Mark Hamill. While “the force” is not technically a super power, it's pretty damn close. Hamill was a relatively unknown actor, appearing on various television shows, with his only long-term part being Kent Murray on General Hospital. In 1977, an upstart director, fresh off the massively successful release of his second feature film, American Graffiti, hired Hamill as the lead in his newest venture – a space opera set in the past. Star Wars sent Hamill, Lucas and everyone else involved into the upper stratospheres of fame. Starting a decades long (and still very healthy) obsession, Luke Skywalker will most likely go down as the most famous character in film history. However, their fame did not last (Indiana Jones did just fine), and most found themselves struggling to find work. Relegated to TV movies and small parts in shows, Hamill found little success in Hollywood after Lucas' saga ran dry. Hamill now focuses on cartoons, and has become a prolific a voice actor, most famously as The Joker on TV and computer games. With roles in the upcoming franchise-continuations, Hamill seems to have finally recovered from his acting slump.


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