Over five decades ago, comic book creators Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson unleashed Swamp Thing, one of the most iconic horror characters in the DC universe. The comic introduced a scientist named Alec Holland who had created a Bio-Restorative formula that was meant to help end world hunger. Unfortunately, Alec was attacked by saboteurs who murdered his wife Linda and left him for dead after rigging his lab to explode. But Alec’s mind and memories survived thanks to his formula, which transformed him into the elemental creature that we call Swamp Thing.
A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Wes Craven wrote and directed the first Swamp Thing movie in 1982, which featured Ray Wise as Holland and Dick Durock as Swamp Thing. Durock reprised his role in The Return of Swamp Thing and in the subsequent Swamp Thing TV series in 1990. Aside from a Swamp Thing reboot series in 2019, the character has been largely absent from the live-action realm. However, DC Studios co-CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran have announced that there’s a new Swamp Thing movie in the works for the upcoming DCU. Additionally, Logan and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny director James Mangold is likely to write and direct the film.
With Swamp Thing’s return immanent, the real question now is this: Which actor will step into the role on the big screen? Assuming that the writers’ and actors’ strikes come to an end in the near future, these are our picks for the 5 actors who should play Swamp Thing.
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When it comes to actors who can perform in heavy prosthetic makeup, Doug Jones is in a class of his own. Jones has made a career out of playing fantastical creatures like Abe Sapien in two live-action Hellboy movies, the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s LabyrinthSaru in Star Trek: Discoveryand perhaps most famously, the Amphibian Man in the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water.
Getting Jones is almost a no-brainer because his lanky frame helps him appear to be more than human, and yet he still projects his own humanity even with the vast majority of his body and features hidden under layers of makeup. Jones is also a very good actor in his own right, but he hasn’t previously been called upon to headline a film on the strength of his own name. If DC and Warner Bros. insist on hiring a name actor, they may not give Jones the consideration that he deserves.
If Swamp Thing opts to bring its title hero to life via CGI, then there’s an easy call to make: Andy Serkis. Over two decades ago, Serkis helped convincingly bring Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings trilogy with his motion capture performance and his ability to make his character scary, pitiful, and even sympathetic at times. Serkis also headlined three Planet of the Apes films as Caesar, the ape who led an uprising against humanity.
More recently, Serkis reminded viewers that he’s a great actor even without CGI trickery when he appeared as Kino Loy in three episodes of Andor. Serkis was given great material to play, and he delivered one of the best monologues in the history of Star Wars during a thrilling escape from an Imperial prison. He may not have the physicality of Jones to portray Swamp Thing in person, but there’s no question that he can deliver an A-list performance.
There’s a good chance that David Harbour wouldn’t be interested in playing Swamp Thing after portraying Hellboy in heavy makeup. Plus, he already has a role in the new DCU as Eric Frankenstein in the Creature Commandos animated series. James Gunn has also indicated that the voice cast will portray their characters in live-action, which would seemingly rule Harbour out for this role.
Regardless, we feel that Harbour would be a great fit for Swamp Thing because he can be physically imposing and run the gamut of emotions on screen. Swamp Thing isn’t always a stoic character, and he’s meant to be really frightening when he gets angry. It’s easy to envision Harbour’s take on the character raging against his fate, especially if he’s privy to the fact that his memories may be a lie and he may not actually Alec Holland at all. Harbour is a compelling performer, and he could pull this off.
This is the dark horse pick on the list because Michael Fassbender is one of the best actors of his generation and it’s highly unlikely he’d get involved in another superhero franchise after starring in four X-Men movies. But he was great as Magneto, and his performance helped humanize one of the most complex figures in the mythos of the X-Men. That’s the kind of powerhouse performance that Swamp Thing needs from its lead character to get audiences behind him.
Would Fassbender wear a full body suit and heavy makeup to play Swamp Thing? Well, he did wear a papier-mâché mask over his head for most of his screen time in Frank. Perhaps Fassbender would be up for the challenge in live-action, or maybe he would be willing to lend his voice to a CGI creation.
In 2019, there was a short-lived Swamp Thing TV series on DC Universe, a streaming service that didn’t last very long once HBO Max came along. Unfortunately, Swamp Thing had an even shorter shelf life, and it was canceled a week after its series premiere despite being very well-received by fans. Derek Mears portrayed Swamp Thing on the show, and his makeup and body suit helped make him the most convincing live-action incarnation of this character to date.
Mears was also very good in the title role, and he had the perfect balance of physicality and empathy to make Swamp Thing a believable on-screen character. For ten episodes, he was Swamp Thing. Unfortunately, the biggest knock against Mears is that he is not a star. He’s always been more of a utility cast member, a supporting actor, or simply a guest star. So despite being a perfect fit for the character that he’s already played, Mears will probably not have the chance to step back into the role. But at the very least, Mears deserves to make a cameo in Swamp Thing for his contribution to the character’s live-action evolution.