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Why These Sci-Fi Actors Look So Familiar

Science fiction films have been daring filmgoers to dream since the dawn of cinema, and the genre is arguably more popular than ever today. With the Star Wars franchise still going strong alongside numerous comic book adaptations, most of which have at least one foot heavily planted in science fiction, sci-fi isn't just thriving, it's dominating the cinematic landscape. 

With so many genre releases lighting up the cineplex, it's only natural that most working film actors have shown in up in at least one science fiction film — even if they did so behind a generous amount of character makeup or in an outlandish costume. Sci-fi fans tend to pay close attention to the details of their favorite films, so in a way, these actors are more recognizable than they might be if they only showed up in dramas or comedies. With that in mind, here's a look at several actors who've appeared in some of the biggest and most memorable science fiction films of recent years — and a look at some of the other projects you might have seen them in first.

Matthew Maher as Norex (Captain Marvel)

Marvel's March 2019 blockbuster Captain Marvel contains a number of surprises for fans, many of which revolve around the shape-shifting alien race known as the Skrulls. We're introduced to different members of the Skrull army, including Norex, an engineer and scientist who serves as second in command to the group's leader, Talos. His high rank belies his actual personality, which is more humorous than viewers might expect — in fact, he gets a couple of the biggest laughs in the movie.

Audiences are unlikely to recognize actor Matthew Maher underneath the heavy prosthetics and makeup he wears in the film, but his distinct voice may ring a bell. A talented and prolific character actor who's appeared in over 50 movies and television shows, as well as multiple stage productions, Maher has shown up in the likes of Dogma, Gone Baby Gone, John from Cincinnati, and a couple different iterations of Law & Order. Maher previously worked with Captain Marvel directors Ryan Fleck and Ana Boden on the 2010 comedy It's Kind of a Funny Story.

Ashton Sanders as Gabriel Drummond (Captive State)

The alien invasion film Captive State chronicles the battle for freedom after Earth is enslaved by a race of intergalactic imperialists. The story uses an ensemble cast to look at how individuals across a wide swath of humanity would react to such an event — who would surrender, who would collaborate, who would fight back. In the latter camp is the character of Gabriel Drummond, a young resistance fighter played by Ashton Sanders.

Sanders will be familiar to audiences from his breakout role as the teenage Chiron in the middle section of 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight. Prior to Moonlight, Sanders starred in the critically acclaimed but underseen historical drama The Retrieval, and had a bit part in Straight Outta Compton. The young actor is poised for big things: his starring role in Native Son, airing on HBO, received positive reviews after it played at Sundance in early 2019.

Hannah John-Kamen as F'Nale Zandor (Ready Player One)

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's pop culture-obsessed virtual reality adventure novel Ready Player One was stacked with young, up-and-coming actors as well as familiar faces — and Hannah John-Kamen fits into both camps.

In Ready Player One, John-Kamen plays F'Nae Zandor, the villainous head of operations for IOI (Innovative Online Industries), who is tasked with hunting down the story's hero, Wade Watts, before he can win the central game. She's also on the verge of a huge mainstream breakthrough thanks to her role as Ava, a.k.a. Ghost, the tortured antagonist at the center of Marvel's Ant Man & the Wasp. Her character survived that film and joined forces with the good guys, so her inclusion in future MCU films seems more than plausible, positioning her to become a household name.

Along with Ready Player One and Ant-Man and the Wasp, John-Karmen will be familiar to audiences for her work in Black Mirror, Tomb Raider, and Game of Thrones. She even had a small part in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, playing a First Order officer.

Betty Gabriel as Detective Cortez (Upgrade)

The A.I.-enhanced revenge thriller Upgrade was one of the best under-the-radar films of 2018. A dark, funny, and at times shockingly violent throwback to hard-R sci-fi action movies like Robocop and Total Recall, it features a gung-ho central performance from Logan-Marshall Green, who's helped greatly by his supporting cast. One of the most surprising characters in the story is Detective Cortez, the officer assigned to investigate the escalating violence that results from Green's quest for vengeance.

Viewers may have remembered Betty Gabriel, who played Detective Cortez, from high-profile roles in movies like The Purge: Election Year and Unfriended: Dark Web, or from TV shows such as Good Girls Revolt and Westworld, but they probably didn't recognize her from her best-known role. As the housekeeper Georgina in Jordan Peele's smash horror hit Get Out, Gabriel had one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. The power of that performance, along with the range she's displayed in other films, ranks her among the most exciting stars working today.

Benedict Wong as Lomax (Annihilation)

The sci-fi/horror hybrid Annihilation didn't exactly set the box office on fire when it came out in early 2018, but it received gushing reviews from fans of mind-bending weirdness. Its reputation has only grown since, and if ever a movie seemed destined for future cult classic status, this is it.

A large part of its appeal was its cast, which included Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. There were only three male speaking parts in the movie; aside from Oscar Isaac, who played Portman's husband, the most recognizable of those was the scientist Lomax, played by Benedict Wong.

Wong, whose parents emigrated to Manchester from Hong Kong, is no stranger to science fiction, having turned up in a number of major films and television shows within the genre, such as Sunshine, The MartianPrometheus, Black Mirror, and Electric Dreams. He's also known for playing Mongol ruler Kublai Khan in Netflix's Marco Polo series, as well as the similarly-named Wong in Doctor Strange and Avengers: Endgame. His increased profile within the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made him a sought-after character actor, so expect to see more of him in the years to come.

Ana De Armas as Joi (Blade Runner 2049)

One of the most memorable faces to grace the screen over the last couple years belongs to Ana De Armas, who played the mesmerizing Joi, the holographic A.I. girlfriend of Ryan Gosling's K in 2017's Blade Runner 2049. Anyone who's seen that film remembers De Armas, especially since her image was often projected in giant proportions and blazing neon colors. Of course, even without all the CGI enhancement, De Armas is hard to forget. 

This rising star hails from Cuba, where she started acting in 2006; less than a decade later, she raised plenty of eyebrows playing one of a pair of sexy but psychotic home invaders who torment Keanu Reeves in Eli Roth's darkly comic thriller Knock Knock. She would again star alongside Reeves in the thriller Exposed, and has since shown up in movies like War Dogs, Hands of Stone, and Overdrive. Big things lay in store — she's reportedly been in talks to play Marilyn Monroe in director Andrew Dominik's biopic of the star, titled Blonde.

Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant)

Guy Pearce seemed to be on the verge of American mega-stardom in the late '90s and early aughts thanks to starring roles in a number of modern masterpieces such as L.A. Confidential and Memento. But while he never quite made the jump to full-on American leading man status, he's continued to put in strong work in films such as Iron Man 3, The Road, The Rover, and Animal Kingdom, to name just a few. He's remained a recognizable actor, although younger audiences may not be quite as familiar with his name.

One of his more prominent roles of the last few years has been his turns in Ridley Scott's Alien prequel films Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. In both films, Pearce plays Sir Peter Weyland, head of the Weyland Corporation and the man responsible for developing advanced androids such as Michael Fassbender's David. It's Weyland's obsessive quest for greater universal meaning, as well as immortality, that leads to the series of horrific events throughout the Alien franchise, including his personal destruction during the climax of Prometheus. He may not have been instantly familiar to some members of the audience, but Pearce is always a welcome screen presence.

Min-sik Choi as Mr. Jang (Lucy)

The Scarlett Johansson-led sci-fi action film Lucy was a surprise hit, taking in over 40 times its initial budget upon release. Johansson's title character, an American student living in Taipei who's gifted with superhuman powers after ingesting a powerful synthetic drug, goes to war against the Korean mafia. The main villain is Mr. Jang, who is played by South Korean actor Min-sik Choi.  

International cinema fans were likely ecstatic to see Choi in such a prominent role in a Western movie, as he's well known for his work in Oldboy, one of the most critically acclaimed South Korean films in history. His performance in the mind-blowing revenge thriller is truly unforgettable, and he's turned in similarly intense and unforgettable appearances in Lady Vengeance and I Saw the Devil. While Choi isn't the most prolific film actor, anyone who's seen him in any of the above-listed films is unlikely to ever forget him.

Kumail Nanjiani as Pawny (Men in Black: International)

Kumail Nanjiani's face may not appear in the fourth installment of the Men in Black franchise, but his familiar voice does. In the MIB world there are friendly aliens that help the titular alien hunters fight back the encroachment of evil aliens, and one of those good-guy aliens is a cute, chubby, and scaly elf-like creature named Pawny. (He's actually a sentient chess piece, which explains why he dresses like a medieval warrior.)

Before this high-profile voice acting gig, Nanjiani broke into entertainment as a stand-up comedian, another place where a memorable set of pipes is crucial. In addition to countless comedy performances on stage and on TV — including co-hosting the Comedy Central stand-up showcase The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail — Nanjiani has done a lot of acting. He played agoraphobic lawyer Pindy Singh on the TNT dramedy Franklin & Bash, and then programmer Dinesh on HBO's Silicon Valley. 

Prior to Men in Black: International, Nanjiani's most notable movie gig was definitely The Big Sick. Nanjiani also wrote the movie with his wife, Emily Gordon, and it's based on the true story of how they met and fell in love. That script earned a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Jess Radomska as Spike (Men in Black: International)

English actress Jess Radomska is just getting started. After making her screen acting debut as a teenager in a 2013 short film called "Heart of Nowhere," she landed a brief but pivotal role in 2016's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The bestseller turned horror movie reimagined a Jane Austen story as a horror flick about the undead. Radomska portrayed Annabelle Netherfield, a small and uncredited part, but she got the plot moving, as one of the first proper Regency-era ladies to fall victim to the zombie plague and its subsequent insatiable hunger for human flesh. 

More recently, Radomska booked small roles in two back-to-back blockbuster musician biopics. She portrayed a character named "Cheryl" in the Queen-based Bohemian Rhapsody, and "Teddy Girl 1" in the Elton John movie Rocketman. Playing an alien named "Spike" in Men in Black: International, a reboot of the sci-fi franchise, is certainly the biggest role of her career so far.

Penelope Kapudija as Baby Passerby (Men in Black: International)

This actress only broke into the business in the last few months, but she landed roles in two of the summer of 2019's most anticipated movies: Men in Black: International and Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. She's already got a few more high-profile gigs lined up — some episodic TV work and appearances in the heavily anticipated sequels Wonder Woman 1984 and Top Gun: Maverick. 

This string of successes right out of the gate is perhaps even more impressive owing to the fact that Penelope Kapudija has only been alive for a couple of years. She's a toddler, and she's a cute one at that, and she seems to be landing every role for a small human that Hollywood has on offer. It's probably owing to her age and stature, but Kapudija may have a problem with typecasting. In Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood she plays "Baby," in MIB, she's "Baby Passeerby," and in Wonder Woman 1984 she's "Mall Baby." She might just breakthrough to more mature roles in that forthcoming Top Gun movie, where she portrays "Naval Officer's Daughter."

Tom Green as Donald (Iron Sky: the Coming Race)

The European-produced sci-fi comedy Iron Sky: The Coming Race invites audiences into a bizarre, futuristic world in the wake of a nuclear war between Earth and the Moon Nazis. Adding to the kookiness is a character named Donald, the leader of Jobsism, a cult based on the philosophies of Apple chief Steve Jobs. Perfectly cast in this quirky role: Tom Green, a true Hollywood original. 

In 1999, Green first burst into the American consciousness, taking his obscure Canadian program The Tom Green Show to MTV. One part Andy Kaufman-style experimental performance artist and one part prankster, Green inspired countless YouTube stars (and predated Jackass) with his weird and hilarious stunts, like suckling on a cow's udder in public and painting sexually explicit images on his father's car. The popularity and originality of the series gave Green the chance to write, direct, and star in a feature film: 2001's Freddy Got Fingered, a loosely-plotted movie that's really just an excuse for some of Green's most absurd and over-the-top bits (e.g., playing a sausage keyboard and biting through an umbilical cord). 

That movie mystified critics and drew only a cult audience, and Green turned to playing supporting character oddballs in middle-of-the-road comedies, like Barry in Road Trip and Duff in Stealing Harvard. He also had a small part in the 2000 movie version of Charlie's Angels, starring and produced by his then-wife, Drew Barrymore.