Why Aren’t Americans Cast As Superheroes Anymore? Not Manly Enough


New York Magazine recently ran an article highlighting the fact that American men are almost nowhere to be found when it comes to being cast as superheroes in movies. Why is this?

John Papsidera, the casting director on both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, offers this opinion:

“You look at the list of American leading men, and in their twenties and thirties, they’re very boylike,” he says, adding, “Take Jesse Eisenberg: I put him in Zombieland, but he’s not going to play Superman. He’s much closer to what Dustin Hoffman turned into than John Wayne or Steve McQueen. It’s hard to find movie stars that live up to the needs of the story. Leo [DiCaprio] is growing into it, but for a long time, he seemed young and boylike. Inception was the first time Leo seemed to have fully grown into a man. You need to find guys who carry that heroic-ness with them.”

A Hollywood agent weighed in as well:

“I believe there’s been a certain feminization of the American male,” he says. “As a result, there are a lot of ‘mama’s boys.’ Kids are raised like veal. We’re afraid to let them play soccer. That kind of nurturing softens what we’re used to seeing on the screen. American men aren’t men on the screen.”

The article¬† speculates that American men aren’t raised to be manly anymore, unlike our Canadian and European peers, and that American boys are steered away from acting when they’re growing up because it’s considered “gay” or “wimpy.”

Read the Whole Article: Why Aren’t Americans Cast As Superheroes Anymore? Not Manly Enough — Vulture.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy Morris March 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Nuff said.

Matthew March 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Maybe casting directors need to mosey on down to the South. You won’t find many limp-wristed smooth-palmed mama’s boys ’round my neighborhood down here in East Texas.

Kevin March 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I live in Hollywood, though I don’t work in movies, and I would say that there is a lack of “manly” men out here in general.

Gomez March 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Matt Damon did a pretty good job on the Bourne Trilogy. So did Robert Downey as Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.

Mark March 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm

@Matthew: Yeah, but can they act?

Eric Dalshaug March 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Trust me, this problem is evident with Canadians as well, both within and outside of the acting industry. Case in point: That miserable little slime Michael Cera.

Stephen March 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Think about LA Confidential. The 3 main male characters were not Americans. I guess our country has become civilized to the point that we have to find manly actors in Australia.

Matt March 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Manliness doesn’t seem to be popular in movies anymore. That ‘death knell’ was sounded when being a ‘nerd’ became a socially accepted fad.

On a side note, I think what the real problem is that today’s moms and dads aren’t working together as a team. One parent seems to take more of a lead with the child rearing than the other does. I think a large part of this falls on the father’s shoulders because a lot of the dads today, grew up without a father.

Vince March 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I agree completely with Matt’s first paragraph.

Terry March 25, 2011 at 1:40 pm

the logic seems a little bit flawed, as two of the largest franchises to rise from the current comic book to movie craze are both Americans (Tobey Maguire as Spiderman & the previously mentioned Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man). In addition there is Chris Evans who has appeared in the Fantastic Four movies as the Torch AND will appear as Captain America later this summer. Even from the brit-heavy Xmen franchise you do have James Marsden in the mix as Cyclops.

I’m no comic book nerd, I’m sure there are lots of other examples. My point being that article is a load of crap.

P.S. @Eric… Canadian Ryan Reynolds is the Green Lantern (Also coming out this summer).

Joe March 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm

It probably doesn’t help that most American “actors” are pushing 30, but still portraying teenagers in movies and on TV.

Titus Techera March 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Tobey Maguire is a boy. Ryan Reynolds is a boy’s face and sense of humor ingeniously – but disturbingly – painted over a male model’s body. Robert Downey Jr. has junkie reflexes still and is unmanly as unmanly can be. Yeah, superheroes seem to be compensating for unmanliness nowadays.

Clint Harris March 25, 2011 at 2:17 pm

There’s a lot to factor into this. There are plenty of “manly” American actors who could pull off Superhero roles, but aren’t in those movies. British actors aren’t paid squat compared to their American counterparts, but are extremely talented. Superhero movies have been a decent stepping stool to get into the higher pay scales in American movies. They aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and put up with B.S. roles to get paid what they deserve. Half of the movies mentioned here are awful, and a lot of Americans who could have done the job didn’t because they didn’t want to be saddled with that kind of burden on their resume.

Dan March 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm

The argument is kind of flawed altogether. How manly is wearing your underwear on the outside? Superheroes and mythology has always been a way of showing how you will be ok because somebody who is super strong or super fast will come save you. Barring Batman and the green arrow who just have billions of dollars to buy cool toys.

I think the whole concept of superheroes and looking for manliness doesn’t fit. It makes the ordinary man or boy feel not responsible to step up to adversity. I know I am way off base because the whole discussion is about American Actors not being manly, but since when do the superstars represent the general population.
Want manliness, go talk to the guys that do superhero-like stuff on a daily basis with no super powers, cops, firefighters, EMTs, armed forces, you will find plenty of manliness there. Don’t look at some over-privileged over-stroked pretty boy to represent us.

Bill March 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Timothy Olyphant seems to have quite a time being just that, a man. He wasincredible in Deadwood, Die Hard 4 and Justified is just great.

Bill March 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I meant to add that foreign actors tend to be more classically trained so maybe they carry a bit more graviatas to their performance than an American would, as IMO most American actors are picked on charm and likeability.

There are of course exclusions to this, but it seems the trend.

Bill (Again) March 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Rescue me seemed to me, to be all about trying to be a man when the nations balls got kicked in publically. But it carried it way past that symbolism and became why men chose their careers, how they reacted to trauma, grief, everyday pressures from the job.

It’s definitely lost it’s way, but the first 3-4 seasons were pretty wrenching on the topic of men.

Miguel Castro March 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm

i have no problem with it, maybe this is just revenge for all the years Americans made movies with white people playing Native Americans and even Cleopatra was white.

caleb March 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm

All you need to do is watch the news to see our real American heros in action. There are more real American heros doing the real lifesaving than any other foreigner.

Sgt Mills USMC

Shannon March 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Wait, doesn’t the fact that they are told not to act because its gay or wimpy show that American men are concerned about being manly? Maybe the problem is not so much a lack of manly Americans as it is a problem with being secure with their masculinity, and fearing “traditional” feminine traits like showing emotions (ala acting) when this is not the antithesis of masculinity at all. Some of the most masculine men I know are very secure with showing emotions, but also know when and where they are appropriate.

Steven March 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I was trying to think if there have been any Americans as superheros lately, and the first I thought of was Tobey Maguire as Spider-man — however, this does not provide a very good counter example to what the article is talking about. Peter Parker is very boyish, wimpy even, at least in Sam Raimi’s films. It helps that when he’s Spiderman, you see a muscular head-to-toe costumed figure, rather than any of Peter Parker.

Some others have pointed out better counter examples (ie. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man)

A Northern Neighbour March 25, 2011 at 4:13 pm

America used to be known as “The land of the Free and the home of the Brave.”.

Having been to many US airports, and seen what their citizens will tolerate at their borders I don’t think that statement applies any longer. The US Gov’t has scared the populace into compliance with their every whim. And if a wheel squeaks it gets greased, but not in a good way.

heatherfeather March 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Plenty of good men still out there. But, you won’t find them in the Hollyweird or advertising view of the world. As a rule of thumb, the less you have to rely on others,the stronger you will be–this applies to both genders. Growing up in the cities and suburbs, where services are provided by government, is much easier than growing up in rural areas or small towns where a lot of practical skills are still passed down from generation to generation. Easier means softer.

Zeke March 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I’ll agree with everything being said about the ‘feminization’ of the American male, but looking to movies is hardly a good way to find the average. You want real men who are true heroes, look to our military. Looking at a bunch of overpaid immature actors? I’m really hoping they’re not indicative of our society. Actors of late are the scum of the earth.

Matthew V. March 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Two words. Chris. Nolan.

Matthew V. March 25, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’d also like to note, forgive the double post gentlemen;

I was extremely disappointed in the pick for Superman, I mean, what is more American than Superman?

“The never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

Again, thank Christopher Nolan and his cronies.

Another Heather March 25, 2011 at 5:02 pm

First of all, you have a picture of Christian Bale as Batman, who doesn’t fit the manly man mold either. I think the less stereotypically manly actors make the parts more interesting. Thor and Superman look terrible. Clash of the Titans sucked. I could go on and on with this. Honestly, the only foreign actor who both looks “manly” and is worth watching in his role is Hugh Jackman (well, Gerard Butler too – when he plays noble and not jackass). Besides, there are plenty of thick-headed, dumb, muscle-bound rock-heads in America, if that’s what you consider manly. Maybe the problem isn’t with American actors, but with the fact that Hollywood has been coming out with so many subpar superhero movies and that your definition of manly is way too narrow.

fan of men March 25, 2011 at 5:12 pm

totally true that culturally we are not appreciating men in their nature, and that’s heartbreaking. Forget the movies, we need heroes in real life, men who are men, who are lauded and appreciated for it. I’m married to a manly man, thank my lucky stars, and I make sure he knows how much I value those traits in him. I think if other men did things like study David Deida’s “way of the superior man” we would see a resurgence in masculinity, and also, praise goddess, real femininity!!!!!

Forgetful Gentleman March 25, 2011 at 6:01 pm

1 in 5 movies released in 2011 will be sequels – 27 in total. The casting Director quoted in the article is looking for the same actors of yesteryear because they are re-selling the same stories back to us. Men have evolved. Hollywood needs to get more original and creative. I don’t think it has to do with the feminization of the American man.

Sam March 25, 2011 at 6:14 pm

We may have used up all our superhero potential on John Wayne. The Duke is irreplaceable in modern cinema. (Though I did like the True Grit remake!)

Sam March 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I usually don’t double post, but thought of this immediately after my first post. I’m pretty sure that the actor portraying Conan in the upcoming remake is from Iowa. You can’t get deeds more epic and overblown as you find in Robert Howard fiction!

Grant March 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Totally agree with Zeke. You want real American heroes, we’ve got ‘em. Look in any of the branches of our military, including the Coast Guard, our firefighters, police, EMT’s, etc. There are plenty of Americans putting it all on the line to make the world better. If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is.

Scott Brenner March 26, 2011 at 11:24 am

The concept of “manliness” is a relative one and image always seems perception. This is true especially where superheros are concerned. Jesus of Nazareth, Mohandis Gandhi, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Wilson, Jesse Jackson, Sr. are all men who have devoted their lives to a certain faith and practice devoted to peace, love, and tolerance in our world. I don’t play along in fantasy; there’s too much to learn, consider and do in reality.

David March 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm

These baleful laments about the dearth of ‘real’ men in the United States never fail to spread a smug, self-satisfied smile on my boyish, unmanly face. I am glad this country feels the loss of what it has spent the last fifty years destroying: men. Older women richly deserve their anguish, for they are the most to blame for our plight. Respected madams, enjoy your Twilight fantasies. You do not deserve to live them. Do us all a favor and stop berating boys for being boys. You yourselves taught them to hate manhood. Younger women, you are not nearly so much to blame, but you are living in the ‘liberated’ world your wise, selfless, thoughtful mothers created. Thank them every day for their hard work. Gentlemen: our fathers also let us down, but as feminists are apt to remind us, one should not blame the victim. Our fathers were not the aggressors, but the weak-willed victims of feminine hatred. Have pity on them. After all, each one of us men has felt, at one time or another, the white-hot pain of pure female scorn. We know how destructive it can be, and how hard it can be to withstand. Don’t you suppose women know this, too? Our fathers faced a tidal wave of such scorn not long ago. And whenever women complain about the absence of ‘real’ men, let us ‘fraudulent’ men never forget that these same women have *deliberately* focused the full power of their scorn against three generations of our sex, with the stated intention of destroying masculinity. Tell me: why are you going to help them? Do you not respect yourselves at least enough to specify the terms of your assistance? Are you really going to offer yourself to these untrustworthy, undeserving women without at least demanding they become ‘real’ women in return? After all they’ve done, are you really going to rush to become a ‘real’ man just because they ask? Please! Have some respect for the value of your offering! Make them prove their worthiness. And don’t imagine for a moment that women will improve just because we do. They have spent fifty years taking advantage of us, and they’re not about to stop. Know when your enemy is holding a knife.

The next time a woman asks, “Where have all the ‘real’ men gone?” you should say, “Madam, your sex has spent the last fifty years letting them know they are not welcome here. It is not clear they are ever coming back.”

Dustin C March 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm

This has to do with the whole trying to connect with the audience thing. They’re all trying to be that good all around guy that *every* single person can get along with. Too many as- kissers in my opinion.

Phil March 26, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Speak for yourself. But then I’m 50 something. In my generation, men were men, women were women and Little Green fuzzy creatures from Alpha Centauri were Little Green Fuzzy Creatures from Alpha Centauri. I have my strong doubts about everything in a generation where a college student is someone who thinks that Canada is a State in the USA that borders on Pennsylvania. [and then complains when you don't give them the 'free' points from that question on a Quiz. Nope it is only free if you know the answer]

Jay Hammers March 27, 2011 at 12:58 am

“Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Nuff said”

Samuel is not very masculine. He’s whiny and bitchy. He’s rarely cold and calculating. He’s just angry. He’s not headstrong, he’s capitulating. Look at his body language. It’s funny that Samuel L. Jackson is held up as an example of masculinity.

Ken OBrien March 27, 2011 at 5:09 pm

This has nothing to do with movies,just manliness…
Theodore Roosevelt,Steven McQueen and,Johnny Cash.

Chad Smith March 28, 2011 at 2:48 pm

First off I would like to say that you people need to understand the author of this article was by no means saying there are no American heroes. We all understand the sacrifices American men and women make for us. I say this even as a Canadian, and a member of the Canadian Airforce. My contrymen and women are fighting along side Americans, and they are all heroes. Secondly I would like to remind people that although there are many manly actors still portraying superheroes in film, the number is very steadily declining. The author did not say all american actors are sissies, just that the majority of young twenty something american male actors are not what they used to be.
And lastly I would like to mention to a few people who posted ideas about this site thinking Big, brauny, unkempt men are what is constituted as manly, then you don’t know anything about this site.

@ Eric…….Michael Cera may never be a manly superhero, but damn is he funny!

Warren March 31, 2011 at 9:04 pm

I took a class on how to raise boys a couple of years ago because I have a young son and the class looked interesting. One of the points made was that television and movies portray men, especially fathers, are stupid, lazy and bumbling, and the women are the ones who get the job done, are steadfast and dependable.

I personally believe that the nearly 50 years of liberalism as a political and sociatal point of view have neutered manhood in the US. Society now teaches young men that its ok not to be a man, its ok not to be a provider, its ok not to respect women and its ok not to take responsibility for your actions. I loathe the “Baby Mama” culture that is invading manhood these days.

I’m doing my best in my household to put a stop to that. I’m doing my best through my actions and words to teach my son how to be a man.

Jack April 2, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I think its a little sad that Superman isn’t being played by an American. The only superhero whos more fundamentally American is Captain America, and hes more of a poster boy of American ideals rather than a true representation of them, once you look past the physique.

I think its odd when someone says that Superman is not manly. Superman is the manliest of characters and its through comparison with Batman, as well as a look at his origins, that this becomes apparent.

For starters, lets look at Batman. If there is any character who is wish-fulfillment for young boys it is Batman. Batman is unbelievably wealthy, comes from noble stock (the son of a doctor), lives in a luxurious mansion, is 6-foot-4, weighs 220 pounds all muscle, has mastered every martial art on the face of the planet, speaks dozens of languages, is well learned in all branches of sciences, has a loyal butler, drives a fleet of awesome cars loaded with gadgetry, has a belt that somehow holds every tool for every job, flies a fleet of awesome planes, spends his nights beating up bad guys such as the school bully, gets all the girls including the cute redhead who you have a crush on and general lurks around being cool like the love child of Dirty Harry and James Bond, all before his 30th birthday. Batman is everything a young boy dreams about one day being, all wrapped up into one character.

On the flip side, Superman has a lousy job, pines for a woman who doesn’t want him, and generally lives an underwelming life as a civilian. Despite having the power to win over the girl and have limitless wealth and be the ruler of the world he doesn’t do it. He continues to live in his mediocre conditions despite knowing that hes capable of so much more because he knows its the right thing to do. He knows saving lives and defending the planet is what he should use his powers for and it doesn’t take the death of an uncle to teach him that. He knows that because he was raised by parents with wholesome American values and had a father who taught him what it means to be a man. Hes not mainly because he can move mountains or shoot lasers from his eyes or fly, hes manly because he resists the temptation to take the easy path. Hes a man who can do basically anything and what he chooses to do is be an example for all men to live by at the cost of his own personal comfort. Batman is a freak, a man suffering from severe mental illness, a total outcast from society. Batman is what a six-year-old boy wishes he could grow up to be. Superman is what a six-year-old boy should grow up to be.

Superman, like many old superheroes, was created during the Great Depression. He was created at a time where life was hard and bleak. When you read old Superman comics you find that he doesn’t often fight supervillains. Instead he fights common crooks and other plagues on society. This is what later Superman comics missed out on. With the sci-fi adventuring they disconnected themselves from real world problems. The thrill of old comics was seeing people standing up for what you believed in and righting wrongs and fighting for the little guy. And when its someone of great power doing this, like Superman, it says something for the character. When a man with superpowers chooses to help ordinary people with their problems instead of serving their own needs it shows a kind of responsibility and social awareness that many men would be blessed to have. Superman’s roots also link him strongly to American culture of the 1930s, which is why attempts to modernize the character feel off. There is an excellent story called Red Son that has Superman’s ship landing in Russia instead of America and the subsequent ramifications it has on the world. Its quite interesting and shows how tightly bound to American ideals Superman actually is.

I also think there are more superficial elements that make Superman manly. Hes always had a manly hair cut (for anyone wondering, he cuts his hair by reflecting his heat vision off a mirror) and even his flashy costume expresses a sort of “I’m my own man and I don’t care what you think of me” thought that is also manly. And his personal hero is Atticus Finch, who is one of the manliest fictional characters ever.

Michael April 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Real men don’t act, they are who they are. They step into the boots that need to be filled and do what needs to be done. Some (one or two in history) can do it on the Hollywood screen, and the rest will never get that chance. I would say that many of my fellow Americans have gotten too lazy and if they really saw a man they would run away in fear, as they know that they can never “man up” to match, put their “binky” in and run back home to their moms crying.

Where I live there is a man who road his horses from Alaska to Mexico. This took him two years to do, and he did it before he was 20. Jeremiah, is a man that when you meet him you see that, no show, just real. Why did he do it? Many reasons can be given, but why does a man climb mountains, or laugh in the face of adversity? because it needs to be done…He sets his mind to do it, and does it.

Nor' Country April 6, 2011 at 1:52 am

I don’t really agree with Brad Pitt’s personal life… I think he should quit playing house and get married, but I think he pulled off a few manly roles like in Legends of the Fall and Troy…

Theophania March 20, 2013 at 6:17 am

1) Sam Jackson was not a leading man as Nick Fury, he was a 3rd tier character who was hardly in the movies and none of the action.
2) Nick Fury is not a superhero, he’s a cartoon spy.
3) Everything above about the feminization of American men is spot on. I don’t know about you, but I am attracted to adult males with a physical build. But if you want to fap to an 11 year old with a goatee go ahead.

Max Biden May 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Well, Americans are just pussies. We can’t all be constantly drunk in bar fights like Russell Crowe.

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