Science fiction is an actor's dream. The genre has created some breakout stars, like Harrison Ford, but it's also turned scores of working actors into beloved fan-favorites, who work the convention circuit. But here are 12 great science fiction actors who swing for the fences, and just don't get the appreciation they deserve.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Karl Urban
This is a good weekend to mention Urban, because he does a great job in Star Trek Into Darkness, as the surly, argumentative Leonard "Bones" McCoy. He brings a great sweetness to the part, and manages to do justice to DeForest Kelley while also carving out his own portrayal. And meanwhile, the Kiwi played Judge Dredd the right way, never taking his helmet off, and made us buy into what could have been a one-note character. He rocked Lord of the Rings, and was actually decent in Doom and the second Riddick film. And we're stoked for his "robot cop" show, Almost Human.
2) Tony Todd
To Star Trek fans, he's probably best known as Kurn, Worf's brother, or the older Jake Sisko in "The Visitor" — two very different roles, both of which he nails. But he's also the Candyman in the Candyman films, the star of Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake, and a mainstay of horror movies in general. And he's a science fiction television mainstay, who usually raises everybody's game when he turns up on Angel, Babylon 5, Xena, Hercules, Stargate SG-1, Smallville or Andromeda.
3) Anna Torv
Everybody says John Noble deserves an Emmy for his role as the many versions of Walter Bishop on Fringe — and it's true — but not enough people give praise to the wonderful Anna Torv. She also plays multiple versions of Olivia Dunham, and she also builds a really great arc for the character, starting out emotionally shut down and then growing and opening up over time. Plus she had to be Leonard Nimoy. As we've said over and over, Torv also deserves an Emmy nod.
4) Peter Wingfield
This one might be cheating — Wingfield has a huge fan following, unlike some of the other actors on this list. But doesn't get brought up often enough in people's lists of great science fiction actors. As Methos, Wingfield was the saving grace of the Highlander TV show — and he answered your questions here — bringing a lot of freshness and good humor to the 5000 year old immortal who's left a trail of blood behind him.
5. Michelle Forbes
Speaking of actors you might know from Star Trek — she was Ensign Ro Laren on TNG, and actually brought some conflict and spark to the otherwise complacent-feeling final season of the show. And then she was astonishing as Admiral Cain on BSG, bringing a lot of layers to a character who could have just been a one-note villain. She made one of the weirdest and most messed-up characters on True Blood kind of work. But alas, if only the Global Frequency pilot had gotten the pickup it deserved, we would all know and love her as Miranda Zero.
6. Keith David
His list of science fiction and fantasy roles is almost too long to mention, starting with The Thing and going right up to Cloud Atlas. And he's often the best thing in whatever he's in, especially when it's a slightly dodgy piece of work like Volcano or Armageddon. He's in both Riddick movies, and makes the tricky "Imam" role work beautifully. And he was instrumental in making us actually sort of love The Cape.
7. Sophie Turner
Turner has the disadvantage of being on one of the best casts on television, possibly ever. And she's playing Sansa Stark, who's basically the opposite of a fan-favorite character — a lot of people already hated her in the books, and her character did not become any wiser or much less of a pawn/victim on television. But jeez. She brings a ton of strength and passion to the role, and makes it impossible not to feel bad for this sheltered girl from the North who sees her romantic dreams turn to shit. People don't appreciate how much great acting Turner brings to this character.
8. Kevin McKidd
The Rome actor been in a ton of things, including the first Percy Jackson movie and Brave. But he was absolutely brilliant in Journeyman, as the guy who becomes unstuck in time and finds himself popping up in 1970s key parties and 1980s serial killer attacks. McKidd sold us on Dan Vassar's anger and confusion, but also his love for his wife and brother. Totally great stuff. Update: And he rocked in Dog Soldiers! Thanks to everyone who reminded us.
9. Carrie-Anne Moss
She seems like a weird choice, since she was acclaimed for her performance in the first Matrix and got some awards and nominations for her performance in Memento. But she also seems to have dropped off the map, and the awfulness of the second and third Matrix movies may have tarnished her aura somewhat. And she's just amazing, in all three of those films — plus she does a great job with terrible material, as the captain in Red Planet. But none of that is why we put her on this list — if you haven't seen her satirical, creepy, beautiful performance in the zombie comedy Fido, then you're missing out on greatness.
10. Jason Momoa
Another Game of Thrones actor who's playing a character that's hard to sympathize with — and Momoa just owns the role of Khal Drogo. He sacrifices none of the character's viciousness and barbarism, while also showing the tenderness that he starts feeling for Daenerys. And yeah, his Conan reboot is not a great movie, but he's pretty terrific in it. And he was bloody awesome in Stargate Atlantis, wooing Jewel Staite in style.
11. Gina Torres
Another actor whose roles we'd be here all day listing — but most of us know her as Zoe from Firefly. Which is another show whose cast is just incredible, from top to bottom — so Torres doesn't get singled out for praise as much as she deserves. But just watch any Firefly episode and watch Torres have a scene with Wash, and then a scene with Mal, and see how much different stuff she brings to those interactions with the two men in her life. Just amazing. We've said this before, but she should be the new Wonder Woman.
12. Brandon Routh
And finally, another person who starred in a failed relaunch of a popular character — Brandon Routh was fucking aces as Superman in Superman Returns, but was let down by Bryan Singer's obsession with the Richard Donner films. He is Superman, and it's going to be hard for Henry Cavill to top him. And then he was just perfect in his recurring role in Chuck, going from lovable to creepy to scary without missing a beat.
Thanks to Rob, Esther and Annalee for the input!