THE PUNISHER – Ranking 4 Actors Who Played Castle In Live-Action

The Punisher has been played by multiple actors in film and television. How do these different visions of vengeance stack up against one another?
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The Punisher will return to the MCU in Daredevil: Born Again, continuing a long legacy of cinematic violence. Jon Bernthal is the actor currently attached to the role, but he is not the only one to portray the classic anti-hero onscreen.

Jon Bernthal teased the approach to Frank Castle in Born Again in a recent interview with Collider.

“I think there’s a reason why that character has resonated as deeply and strongly as he has…In the hearts and minds of comic book fans and first responders and people in the military and people all over the globe. I think there’s a little bit of Frank Castle in everybody…It’s absolutely essential that if we do it, we do it right and we have real sacred integrity to the source material and to what is at the core of Frank.”

In anticipation of his return, here is a ranking of the 4 actors who have played Frank Castle in live-action.

The Punisher (2004)- Thomas Jane – #4

Thomas Jane’s Punisher may be at the bottom of this ranking, but there are still many great elements to his story. For starters, while most origin stories begin with the death of Frank Castle’s immediate family, The Punisher (2004) ups the ante. Mob boss Howard Saint wants revenge for Castle’s involvement in the death of his son, and so he sends his goons to attack the Castle family reunion.

Frank Castle’s entire bloodline is wiped out by these murderers during a lovely get-together in Puerto Rico. This change from the norm is heartbreaking and intense, but in this bloated film, the affair just takes too long. And at the end of the day, the increased Castle family body count doesn’t change the status quo in a meaningful way.

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Thomas Jane plays a very believable Punisher, and there are several impressive kills throughout. By no means a bad film, The Punisher (2004) is at the bottom of the list primarily because the other versions have more interesting Punisher stories to tell.

Punisher: War Zone – Ray Stevenson – #3

Punisher: War Zone follows a version of Frank Castle who is well-seasoned as The Punisher. His deadly efficiency combined with his resources (weapons through Micro, intel through Detective Soap) make him a force of nature hellbent on stopping the guilty with lethal force.

The story follows the fallout of Frank Castle’s attack on the Russoti crime family. He killed many heads of the family, but Billy Russoti survived Castle’s attack. To make matters worse, Castle accidentally killed an undercover officer during his assault. While Billy spirals into revenge-obsessed madness and becomes Jigsaw, Castle is tormented by his unintentional killing of an innocent.

Punisher: War Zone is low-budget, over-the-top and even cartoonish at times. But Ray Stevenson’s Punisher has some of the most brutal kills in the franchise, and his fight scenes are (usually) top shelf. Punisher’s relationship with the wife and daughter of the fallen officer make for an excellent exploration of loss.

The Punisher – Dolph Lundgren – #2

This hidden gem tells the story of Frank Castle years after he lost his family and became The Punisher. His body count is in the triple digits and his exploits have become urban legend. His war on crime forces the local crime families into an uneasy truce, a move which gathers the attention of the Yakuza. Frank Castle’s former partner on the NYPD tries to quell the violence, yet many still die in the conflict.

The film moves quickly and spends a lot of time showcasing a storm of bullets, blood and bodies. Maybe even a bit too much time, but this is The Punisher after all, and so the gratuitous excess is welcome. The Punisher (1989) is charming in its simple and direct approach to adapting the source material. The filmmakers captured the heart and soul of Frank Castle and created a stripped-down tale about the consequences of revenge.

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Frank Castle’s origin is explained quickly and efficiently, shown through soul-crushing flashbacks. The showy, vintage 80’s filmmaking gives this movie a really unique, throwback style. There may be some minor issues (it can be too cheesy at times), but outside of nitpicky complaints, there’s not much to criticize here.

The Punisher – Jon Bernthal – #1

As incredible as the performances from Jane, Stevenson, and Lundgren are, none of them quite live up to Jon Bernthal’s version of The Punisher. To be fair, Bernthal starred in the role for 3 seasons of TV, much longer than the single film afforded to the other actors on this list.

Jon Bernthal’s Punisher is terrifying, sympathetic, lovable, and heartbreaking all at the same time. You’ll root for him on his blood-soaked journey to punish the wicked and pray for him to find peace at the same time. His mission will keep you on the edge of your seat, and his brutality will make your stomach churn. He is the definitive version of The Punisher, and that is unlikely to ever change.

Frank Castle first joined the MCU in Daredevil Season 2, standing as a dark mirror to the titular hero. His first appearance is arguably the best introduction for a Marvel TV character ever, and his world expanded beautifully from there. Karen Paige, Dinah Madani, Curtis Hoyle, and many more developed fascinating, layered connections with Frank Castle throughout The Defenders Saga.

Every version of The Punisher on this list has something special that makes their film/TV show unique. There is no “bad” entry on this ranking, there are just some stories that work better than others. They are all worth watching if you are a fan of the franchise, or if you simply enjoy action-revenge plots.

Which live-action version of The Punisher is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts on social media, and thanks for reading! We are always watching.



Corbin Shanklin

Corbin Shanklin

CJ Shanklin is a journalist. They have been writing & reporting in the entertainment industry for four years, but their best work is still ahead of them. Stay tuned for more stories for the fans, penned by a fan.