How Daredevil 2003 Proved There’s Never Been a Bad Live-Action Kingpin

In the multiverse of live-action Marvel films and television, there have only ever been three iterations of Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. The most famous has easily been Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal on the Daredevil spirit Hawkeye television shows. But the campiest yet still maniacal was John Rhys-Davies’ turn in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV movie. But Michael Clarke Duncan’s Fisk managed to bridge the gap between the two and deliver a performance that proved there’s never been a bad live-action Kingpin.


Fisk was always a wealthy man who maintained his influence and status through fear and organized crime in the comics. The fear and respect he earned were all but common knowledge for the average New Yorker. However, that status never stopped Fisk from making a public appearance and denying these claims head-on. This idea would become a mainstay in future interpretations of the character and would later get perfected by D’Onofrio.

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While 2003’s Daredevil was not a huge hit compared to other superhero films, its portrayal of the Kingpin was nothing short of memorable and even iconic for the era. This version of Fisk lived an affluent life and did so with pride. He was not afraid to show people that he started from the bottom and gained his status on his own. But this also made him threatening even in a friendly environment because Duncan’s presence could make the viewer feel like anything Fisk wanted, he would get. In a way, that also allowed him to channel the campiness of Davies’ performance as he could have fun with the role more. In The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, Davies set a precedent for this style of villainy as he showed that even the deadliest enemies could still enjoy being evil.


Physically, Duncan brought everything he had to the role and the speed and power of the Kingpin to life in a way that’s hard to replicate. Kingpin was a big man made of pure muscle in Marvel Comics, which meant his speed with his immense strength. Duncan’s approach was similar to how D’Onofrio had to carry himself in combat and has since remained a mainstay in any version. But the one thing Duncan’s iteration had was that future ones never did was the mystery surrounding him.

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Fisk’s origin was easy to understand as it got loosely presented in the film. But when it came to his connection to Daredevil, it was far less ingrained than in the comics and TV shows. As a result, the idea that Fisk would do anything to dismantle the world that Matt had created for himself without knowing it was truly terrifying. Duncan’s Fisk did not realize that Matt and Daredevil were one man until the film’s end. Daredevil built a vendetta against a man who killed his father and the love of his life, but he never even knew who he was. Therefore, Matt held a grudge against a man who could not care less and felt nothing from his actions.


Duncan brought a disarming quality to the Kingpin, making him approachable enough to get caught up in his web. But unlike the 2015 version, there was no sympathetic quality to him. He was through and through a wolf in sheep’s clothing and relished in it. This Kingpin’s unpredictability made him a threat that even today’s heroes would have an issue facing. But most importantly, what he brought to the role was just a step for the next actor to climb in the journey to ensure this character would be memorable. Duncan helped set a precedent that would form the backbone of how the Kingpin should be presented on screen, ensuring that anyone who came after him would continue the legacy of greatness established before him.



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