There’s all sorts of science behind the Nerdverse, as I have come to call it, a periodically evolving ranked list of actors and filmmakers who cross the boundaries between realms of sci-fi / fantasy cinema. Catch up on the context behind this peculiar project.
Here come so many of the people you’ve been expecting to see. But in what ORDER!? Read on, friends, read on.
Robert Downey, Jr.
86 points, 2 realms, male actors #14
He is, of course, Iron Man. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark was a bellwether for the kind of magic that can happen when a comic book character and an actor are perfectly matched. Downey brought Stark to life in a way that was authentic and alive and true to the intentions of the original Marvel comic writers, and his film, Iron Man (the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) began the wave of comic book movies’ crowning achievement in cinematic history thus far: a collection of 22 films which, together, tell the Avengers’ Infinity Saga story. Downey appears in 10 of the films in the storyline and was one of the saga’s most important heroes – arguably, the protagonist of the entire thing. He’s also one of the only superheroes to never really have been played by anyone else. Interestingly for someone ranked this high, he also hasn’t really done much else in the Nerdverse – just a minor role in Weird Science back in his brat-pack days (a movie that was loosely based on a comic that was popular in the early 1950’s), which gives him a 2nd realm multiplier.
– 2nd Highest Box Office Total Of All Time ($5.8 billion with a B)
– Only Avenger With a Real-life Criminal Record
86 points, 2 realms, male actors #14
A similar story to RDJ – Hemsworth is the one and only actor to play Thor in any sort of major way, and he’s just perfect for the role, with an inspired combination of handsomeness, cluelessness, and bravado. He has starred in 7 MCU films as the God of Thunder so far, and it seems he has stories yet to tell post-Infinity War saga, so Hemsworth’s Nerdverse star may yet be rising. He also recently took on the role of Agent H in Men In Black: International and earns a cross-realm multiplier for playing Captain Kirk’s father in Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness; George Kirk was Hemsworth’s first role in a major Hollywood movie, arguably his big break.
87 points, 3 realms, male actors #13
Unlike Downey and Hemsworth, Josh Brolin earns his silver medal by playing a bunch of Nerdverse characters, with varying levels of success. Let’s go in order from least to most embarrassing, shall we? Brolin has had the most success in Marvel. His portrayal of Thanos, the arch-villain of the Infinity Stone saga, was amazing – even with the CGI enhancement and Grimace makeup. Thanos was so good that it’s easy to forget that Brolin also played the maybe-bad-guy-maybe-good-guy, Cable, in Deadpool 2, which was pretty good, and a few years back played young Tommy Lee Jones / #37 in Men In Black 3, which had the highest box office gross of all the MIB films.
Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there. Whether or not Brolin was good, 100% of his films in other realms were commercial failures. We’ve got Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, in which he played new Clive Own / #64, and the Oldboy remake, which was directed by Spike Lee, but unfortunately failed to improve on the original. Both were based on Dark Horse comics and were box office bombs, losing their respective studios $25 million each.
But the coux de grace is Jonah Hex (DC), in which Brolin played the titular zombie confederate soldier intent on revenge. Losing the studio $36 million, Jonah Hex was extra special because it was universally hated. Some of my favorite excerpts from reviews: “The wildly dissonant tone caroms so haphazardly between self-satire and self-seriousness (sometimes within the same scene!) that it’s impossible to form anything resembling an attachment to the characters or situations” and “Seems almost calculated meticulously to suck the life out of its audience…” and “An awful excuse for cinema that ultimately fails in nearly every way possible” and “…a mere 81 minutes, it feels like an eternity.” The terrible reviews actually made me want to watch it, but honestly, it was really boring and I shut it off.
88 points, 4 realms, male actors #12
One of the rare delights of this project is learning about people like Doug Jones. A contortionist and mime, Jones has spent most of his career doing physical work under heavy makeup or playing computer-generated characters – and he shows up everywhere!. He’s a long-time collaborator of Guillermo del Toro’s, playing a major role in six of his films, including two Hellboy movies (Dark Horse), in which he played Abe Sapien, Hellboy’s amphibious sidekick. He also played Pencilhead in Mystery Men (Fox Feature), one of the random guys in Tank Girl (Dark Horse), the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, mailroom Joey in MIB 2 (both Marvel), and a random clown in Batman Returns (DC). Jones has found his groove recently in Star Trek, playing first-mate Commander Saru in the latest series, Star Trek: Discovery, which I hear is pretty good.
Trivia: Doug’s big break was playing the McDonald’s crooner mascot with the crescent moon head in the 80’s! Remember this commercial?
88 points, 4 realms, male actors #12
Stamp is one of the Nerdverse’s most senior veterans. His first big role was General Zod in Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), a role later reprised by Michael Shannon / #65 in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Superman lovers tend to venerate Stamp’s portrayal as the best, in fact some nerds claim Stamp’s Zod is the most iconic comic book movie villain of all time. I can’t speak to that because I always fall asleep watching those old Supermans, but sounds like high praise that I’m sure is well-deserved.
After Superman, Stamp took some time to really let his face wrinkles ripen, returning to the Nerdverse 20 years later as Finis Valorum, the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Empire, in The Phantom Menace. Valorum is famous for losing his re-election to Senator Palpatine, who was secretly Darth Sidius, the Dark Lord of the Sith, and we all know how that turned out. (Basically, the whole empire mess is his fault.) But Stamp doesn’t stop there – he threw in performances as father-figure types in Elektra (Marvel) and Wanted (Top Cow).
90 points, 5 realms, male actors #11
Best known in the Nerdverse as the titular character in Guillermo del Toro’s two Hellboy movies of the aughts, Ron Perlman earns his silver medal through realm-skipping: he’s had a role in FIVE different realms in the Nerdverse, which is the highest cross-realm multiplier out there, and a distinction shared with just one other person, a silver medalist compadre to come. In addition to Hellboy, Perlman played Blade’s main antagonist, Dieter Reinhardt, in Blade II (Marvel), Tom Hardy’s creepy BFF in Star Trek: Nemesis, goblin gangster Gnarlack in Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (Wizarding World), and voiced the arch-enemy of the Teen Titans in their animated series (DC).
– Highest-ranked Wizarding World Character
– Crosses Most Nerdverse Realms (Tie)
93 points, 3 realms, male actors #10
Ryan Reynolds specializes in making snarky jokes and firing guns, qualities which make him the world’s greatest Deadpool. Through that character, you could argue he started the recent wave of successful R-rated movies based on comics that are clearly made for adults, not kids. (Well, at least not little kids.) The Deadpool movies are filthy-mouthed and bloody and inappropriate and really, really funny – and Reynolds himself earns a lot of that – he was even credited as a writer in Deadpool 2. In a strange Nerdverse twist, Reynolds played a brainwashed, overly serious version of the same character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine back in 2009, a completely different franchise, series, and storyline than the Deadpool films.
Elsewhere in the Nerdverse, his trademark move is playing a cop with a twist: he’s a vampire society cop in Blade Trinity, an intergalactic cop in Green Lantern, and a cop for ghosts in R.I.P.D.
96 points, 3 realms, female actors #2
Runner up to the top medalist in the ladies’ bracket is the startlingly beautiful Zoe Saldana, the lady with the most elegant neck in the biz, the combat grace of a trained ballet dancer, and A+ box office draw (holding the rare distinction of a lead role in both of the highest grossing films of all time). Saldana plays two incredible Nerdverse heroes: genius linguist and communications officer, Lieutenant Uhura, in the 3 Star Trek reboot movies; and Gamora, daughter of Thanos himself, in the two wonderful Guardians of the Galaxy films as well as Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Saldana earns a third realm multiplier for her role as Aisha, mysterious secret agent, in The Losers, which is based on a Vertigo comic (an imprint of DC).
115 points, 5 realms, male actors #9
Here he is – the guy who started it all. It’s kind of great that Karl Urban, who inspired this whole weird project, crosses the most realms of anyone (tied with Ron Perlman), kicks off the top ten, and is the first person to top 100 points (by quite a bit!). His biggest box office role was probably as reboot federation doctor, Bones McCoy, in the 3 Star Trek reboots, but true Urban fans will remember him first from his Nerdverse debut role as Eomer, Horsemaster of Rohan, from the Lord of the Rings movies. So that’s two. He also played CIA agent William Cooper in Red (DC), easily influenced Asgardian putz Skurge in Thor: Ragnarok (Marvel), vampiric satanic priest Black Hat in Priest, and post-apocalyptic law enforcer Judge Dredd in the fantastic Dredd (IDW Publishing).
Ed. note: Yes, Urban also has a starring role in the new series, The Boys, based on the Dynamite Entertainment comic – but since this project has taken me forever, I had already begun writing up the list by the time the series premiered. Will include The Boys in the next version – we’ll see how far our boy Karl can climb in this thing!
Special Recognition: Crosses Most Nerdverse Realms (Tie)
116 points, 4 realms, male actors #8
Really? Yeah, really. Mr. Puffycheeks made a Nerdverse career out of playing “that guy in the back” – first in Batman Forever, in which he was actually just a guy without a name, then in Daredevil as Ben Affleck’s best friend, and then in the MCU, he went pro as professional guy in the background Happy Hogan in six films, including Avengers: Endgame, the highest-grossing film of all time. Of course, Favreau made his mark behind the camera as well, as Director of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Cowboys & Aliens (Platinum Studios). Throw in Star Wars with a small role in Solo and voice work in The Clone Wars: that makes 4 and a silver medalist makes. Congrats Jon – I’m glad you’re getting less irritating as you grow into your uncle body.
117 points, 3 realms, female actors #1
Here she is, folks, your queen of the Nerdverse, #1 in the ladies bracket, the gold medalist, Lady Scarlett! You knew it was her, right? Johansson’s iconic portrayal of Natasha Romanoff, the sultry master spy/assassin with a dark past and a heart of gold, in EIGHT films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – including all of the best ones – has been transformational. Not only is she one of the original six Avengers in the most significant Nerdverse franchise ever, her character is the beating heart that catalyzed the triumphant resolution of the 22-film odyssey. Of course, for a silver medalist, one realm doesn’t cut it, no matter how epic. She played Rebecca in Ghost World (Fantagraphics Books) and Major in Ghost in the Shell (Kodansha); and in DC, she plays evil henchwoman Silken Floss in The Spirit. Silken Floss. What a name! It kind of grosses me out.
– Highest-ranked female actor
– 3rd Highest Box Office Total Of All Time (#1 lady there too!)
120 points, 3 realms, filmmakers #2
It’s honestly pretty surprising that some guy named Christopher Yost is ranked this high – tied as runner-up to the filmmaker top prize-taker. But this is science, so you know – it’s indisputably right and true. So let’s learn about who he is! Christopher Yost spent his young adult years in Detroit, then found his way somehow into becoming a Marvel company writer: for comics (Avengers, Spider-man, X-Men, X-Force, X-23), then animated TV (Avengers, X-Men, Iron Man), and then two Thor movies, The Dark World and Ragnarok. He went through something wikipedia calls the “Marvel Feature Film Writers Program,” which presumably is something studio execs dreamed up in order to produce 22 movies made by different teams that all link together into one long story. Along the way, he wrote a bunch of episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars Rebels. He also wrote a screenplay called Silver & Black, about Silver Sable and Black Cat, cat burglar assassin types who Spider-Man likes to smooch – unfortunately it was lost in the Sony vs. Marvel Spider-man mess. Too bad! Sounds like fun.
120 points, 3 realms, male actors #7
As Klingon starfleet Lieutenant Worf, Dorn has appeared on-screen as the same character in more Star Trek episodes and movies than anyone else: 175 episodes of The Next Generation, 105 episodes of Deep Space Nine, and 5 Star Trek movies (including Star Trek VI, with the original series cast). He also directed a number of Star Trek episodes across two different series’. So, damn. Since Star Trek, Dorn brought his 6’3” frame and commanding baritone to comic-based TV, as supervillains Prometheus (Arrow and Supergirl – DC), Kalibak (Superman and Justice League – DC), and Captain Mozar in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW Publishing). But really, Worf is all that matters. Also: check out how charming Michael is under his makeup – again, damn!
Guillermo del Toro
120 points, 3 realms, filmmakers #2
The king of haunting beauty and spectacular practical effects, Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro wrote and directed across three realms in the Nerdverse. Perhaps most famously, he helmed the first two Hellboy films, based on the Dark Horse comic. He also directed Blade II, the one with the cool vampire monsters and Norman Reedus / #69. Also, it was a total surprise to me that Peter Jackson initially hired Guillermo del Toro to write and direct The Hobbit movies; unfortunately, studio issues made it impossible for him to direct. I wonder what the del Toro Hobbits would’ve been like – probably a lot scarier and more fantastical. Though del Toro has excelled at telling stories based on beloved literature/comics with aplomb, he perhaps more than any other Nerdverse filmmaker has also created a mythological fairy tale landscape all his own (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water). He’s one of a kind, and a well-deserved runner-up to the Nerdverse filmmaker gold medal.
Special Recognition: Highest-ranked Oscar Winner
James Arnold Taylor
132 points, 4 realms, male actors #6
It’s pretty awesome that an amazing voice artist tops off the silver medalists. James Arnold Taylor has 250 IMDB credits, including 9 roles across 4 realms in the Nerdverse. Though the biggest budget project he starred in was as the voice of Leonardo in 2007’s TMNT, the role he’s played the longest – and is best known for – is Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (series, movie, and mini-series). He has also voiced a whole bunch of DC and Marvel characters in animated series and films: Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy, Harry Osborne in The Spectacular Spider-Man, The Flash in Young Justice, and Green Arrow in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Plus literally hundreds of video games and one-off episodes of things. And like Bronze medalist Nolan North, Taylor also had one cameo role – face and body and all – in a big-budget Nerdverse movie, as a Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens.
David S. Goyer
135 points, 3 realms, filmmakers #1
After attending a lecture by Lawrence Kasdan / #57, writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Goyer decided to turn his back on a career in law enforcement and become a screenwriter. That turned out to be a pretty good move for young David, since he would go on to an extremely successful 25+ year career as a Hollywood screenwriter and director, becoming the #1 filmmaker in the Nerdverse, as well as an accomplished writer of comics (mostly Justice Society of America), video games, and a trilogy of science fiction novels. He broke into the Nerdverse with The Crow: City of Angels (Kitchen Sink Comics), but established his legacy work in the Marvel realm, writing three Blade movies (and directing one) as well as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (by far the superior Ghost Rider). After that, he shifted to DC, writing the origin stories Batman Begins and Man of Steel, as well as Batman v. Superman. He’s also working on a new Sandman series, so there is more Nerdverse fun to be had for our guy Dave for years to come.
Special Recognition: Highest-ranked filmmaker
OK, friends – we’re down to the top 5 now! Do you know who they are? Any guesses about who will bring home the #1 spot? Comments, guesses, text messages, etc. are very welcome – gold medalists on their way to you next!
To review, the full Nerdverse countdown is available here.