Warning: This article contains spoilers for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

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Summary

  • Despite a disappointing year for superhero cinema, 2023 has featured some incredibly strong performances from Marvel and DC’s dedicated actors.
  • Michael Keaton, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson and Xolo Maridueña, among many others, all delivered powerful performances as their respective heroes in 2023.
  • Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon were two of the strongest elements of their respective MCU films in 2023.

2023 delivered a mixed bag of superhero movies from Marvel and DC, but despite a divided response to superhero cinema, 2023 also featured some powerful performances from actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Extended Universe and Sony’s Spider-Man franchises. Marvel and DC production studios collectively released eight feature films in 2023, spanning across the universes of the MCU and DCEU, while Sony expanded its Spider-Verse franchise. Unfortunately, most of 2023’s superhero projects performed disappointingly at the global box office, but that doesn’t detract from some of the strong performances by notable actors in these projects.

While 2023 saw Marvel Studios receive mixed responses to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 marked a huge win for the ever-growing MCU. Conversely, the DCEU’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom were all poorly-received, marking a dull ending to the DCEU ahead of the franchise’s reboot. Sony, however, released the successful follow-up to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with Across the Spider-Verse in 2023, but even some of 2023’s most disappointing superhero projects featured some of the strongest performances from the franchises’ dedicated and committed actors.

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10 Michael Keaton Reprised His Role Of Batman In 2023

The Flash (2023)

Michael Keaton's Batman with the Ezra Miller's past and current Barry Allens in The Flash

After last appearing as Bruce Wayne’s Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and Batman Returns in 1992, Michael Keaton returned as the Caped Crusader in 2023’s The Flash. Even though The Flash became a huge disappointment for Warner Bros., marking a loss of roughly $200 million at the box office, the Ezra Miller-led project did provide a strong continuation of Keaton’s storyline as Batman. Bringing more of a serious tone to the goofy character from Burton’s duology, Michael Keaton stood out as the strongest component of The Flash, delivering gravitas and energy in the older and wiser version of Bruce Wayne.

With his performance in The Flash, Michael Keaton became the longest-serving superhero actor in history, having portrayed Bruce Wayne’s Batman for over 34 years.

9 Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man Defeated Kang The Conqueror In 2023

Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Although Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania fared poorly as Marvel Studios’ first theatrical release of 2023, the Quantum Realm-set adventure gave Paul Rudd the opportunity to show off more of his range as Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man. Trapped in the Quantum Realm with his family, Scott Lang had the chance to develop some of his familial relationships, particularly that with his now-grown daughter Cassie. Ant-Man’s dynamic with major villain Kang the Conqueror was also powerful, and Rudd was able to showcase Scott Lang’s love for his family, fright in the face of Kang and doubt in the film’s final moments to perfection.

8 Chris Pratt Delivered Emotion As Peter Quill’s Star-Lord

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Considered to be Marvel Studios’ most successful movie of 2023, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 provided beautiful and emotional moments for Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord. Throughout the film, Quill deals with his grief over losing Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War, while also battling hard to save the life of his friend, Rocket. Chris Pratt demonstrates real growth as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, culminating in him returning to Earth at the end of the film and setting up a new future for the cosmic superhero. Currently, Pratt is the only Vol. 3 cast member confirmed to be returning to the MCU.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 confirmed that Chris Pratt will be returning as Peter Quill in the MCU’s future, though would now be known as the Legendary Star-Lord.

7 Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel Saw Huge Developments In 2023

The Marvels (2023)

Carol Danvers in The Marvels 2023

The audience reaction to 2023’s The Marvels told a more positive story than the project’s box office turnout, as The Marvels became the lowest-grossing MCU project ever following its release in November. Nevertheless, the Phase 5 adventure gave Brie Larson another opportunity to show off her presence as Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel, and against some major odds fueled by pre-release criticism, Larson delivered a wonderful performance in The Marvels. Her chemistry with co-stars Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani was palpable, while missing pieces of Captain Marvel’s MCU timeline were explained brilliantly through Larson’s layered performance.

6 Patrick Wilson Returned As Orm In The DCEU’s Final Project

Aquaman & The Lost Kingdom (2023)

Orm and Arthur fighting Manta in Aquaman 2

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom premiered as the final project in the DCEU in December 2023, and though the box office totals for the project aren’t yet known, early predictions for the Jason Momoa-led sequel don’t spell good news. Despite this, Patrick Wilson’s return as Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and former King of Atlantis, in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was fantastic to watch, and one of the strongest aspects of the movie. Wilson fully inhabited the mystery and darkness of Orm, while showing real character development as an unlikely ally to Aquaman, giving Orm much lighter tones than his depiction in 2018’s Aquaman.

5 Oscar Isaac’s Spider-Man 2099 Is A Terrifying Villain

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023)

Sony’s only superhero release of 2023 developed the animated Spider-Verse franchise by catching up with Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. While the heroes were evidently central to Across the Spider-Verse’s storyline, it was Miguel O’Hara, a.k.a. Spider-Man 2099, who stole the show. Voiced by Marvel alum Oscar Isaac, Spider-Man 2099 became a truly terrifying antagonist to Miles Morales, with Isaac delivering the sinister tones of the character perfectly, while balancing this with the character’s tragic backstory and understandable motivations. Oscar Isaac will be returning in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, though the follow-up doesn’t yet have a release date.

Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse was originally set for release on March 29, 2024, but was removed from Sony’s upcoming release schedule, reportedly due to 2023’s WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

4 Xolo Maridueña Will Be Returning As Jaime Reyes’ Blue Beetle In The DCU

Blue Beetle (2023)

Jaime Reyes' Blue Beetle in 2023

Despite all of DC Studios’ theatrical releases in 2023 performing terribly at the box office, Blue Beetle did introduce Xolo Maridueña as the live-action Jaime Reyes, a.k.a. the titular Blue Beetle. Even though Blue Beetle released as part of the DCEU, Xolo Maridueña has been confirmed to be returning as Blue Beetle in James Gunn’s rebooted DC Universe, though it’s unclear whether his upcoming storylines will connect at all to his 2023 big-screen appearance. Maridueña brought youth, vibrancy, energy and charisma to the role of Jaime Reyes, delivering one of the most colorful and entertaining performances in the entire DCEU.

3 Chukwudi Iwuji’s High Evolutionary Is A Truly Sinister Foe

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

High Evolutionary as the villain of Guardians of the Galaxy 3

2023’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was an incredibly strong addition to the MCU’s Phase 5, and this was due in part to the introduction of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic and threatening supervillains. Chukwudi Iwuji delivered a terrifying performance as the sinister High Evolutionary, finally bringing a villain into the MCU who has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Iwuji’s performance is fantastic, making his villain a stand-out despite only having made one appearance in the MCU so far, though it’s possible the High Evolutionary could return in the MCU’s future. Iwuji’s High Evolutionary was the perfect villain for the Guardians of the Galaxy’s final adventure.

2 Iman Vellani Was A Strong Addition To The Marvels As Kamala Khan

The Marvels (2023)

Kamala Khan in The Marvels 2023

While Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris both delivered strong performances as Carol Danvers and Monica Rambeau, respectively, in The Marvels, Iman Vellani was the stand out of the November 2023 sequel. Vellani debuted as the MCU’s Kamala Khan in Phase 4’s Ms. Marvel on Disney+, and quickly became a fan-favorite addition to the MCU. In The Marvels, Vellani’s energy and screen presence allowed the emerging actor to perform alongside the more-established MCU figures, and perfectly hold her own. Kamala Khan has been teased as the leader of the MCU’s Young Avengers, so her future in the MCU is looking incredibly bright.

1 Bradley Cooper Voiced Rocket Raccoon To Perfection In 2023

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Chris Pratt and Chukwudi Iwuji may have delivered two of the strongest performances of 2023’s superhero movies, but Bradley Cooper – who lent his voice to Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – stole the show. Vol. 3 was Rocket’s story, exploring the mysterious character’s backstory with the High Evolutionary and developing his relationships to his new family, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Across all superhero projects delivered by Marvel and DC in 2023, Bradley Cooper’s command over Rocket’s emotion, strength, exploration of self and growth into a true leader provided the most powerful, impactful and entertaining superhero performances of the year.

Bradley Cooper hasn’t been confirmed to be returning to the MCU as Rocket Raccoon, but as the new leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s very possible that he could be reprising the role in upcoming cosmic adventures.

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