- Zorro, the charming vigilante, was introduced in a 1919 novel and became a trendsetter in the swashbuckler genre, inspiring future superheroes like Batman.
- Zorro’s popularity extended beyond serialized novels, with movies, comics, and video games featuring the masked avenger in different settings around the world.
- Several actors have taken on the role of Zorro throughout the years, each adding their own unique interpretations, from Duncan Regehr’s strong and smart portrayal to Antonio Banderas’ dynamic and romantic version.
From Douglas Fairbanks to Antonio Banderas, many actors have donned the black mask and sword of Zorro. The charming vigilante was introduced as the savior of the New Spanish commoners of California in pulp writer Johnston McCulley’s 1919 novel The Curse of Capistrano. The nobleman Don Diego de la Vega embraced this alter ego to defend the rights of his people from tyrannical officials and a corrupt law-enforcement system. A trendsetter in the swashbuckler genre, Zorro’s all-black costume with the mask, cape, Cordovan hat, and rapier also turned him into an early blueprint of future superheroes. In fact, the consensus remains that Zorro even inspired the creation of Batman.
Following the immense popularity that Zorro accumulated in serialized novels, the “fox of California” made the jump to other media, such as movies, serials, comics and video games. Starting with The Mark of Zorro in 1920, Zorro became a cinematic staple in the adventure and fantasy genres. Within the next few decades, the mythos of the masked avenger reached filmgoers even beyond America. Mexico, Italy, Spain, India, and many other countries had their very own renditions of Zorro, transporting the horse-riding swordsman from the New Spanish regions of California to more localized settings. In every case, the lead actor got their moment to shine as the iconic vigilante.
10 Frank Langella – The Mark Of Zorro (1974)
A TV remake of the 1940 movie of the same name, The Mark of Zorro is a delightfully entertaining showcase of Zorro’s adventures with Oscar-nominated genre actor Frank Langella as its lead. But considering that he was just starting out in movies at the time (Langella’s iconic take on Dracula debuted five years later), his performance wasn’t as memorable as the actors who played Zorro before him. The repetitive origin story of how Don Diego turned from a wealthy military cadet to a champion of the downtrodden is executed in an earnest but ultimately lackluster performance by a much younger Langella.
9 Naveen Nischol – Zorro (1975)
Naveen Nischol’s melodramatic spin on Zorro in this Bollywood revenge drama serves as a campy but amusing throwback to the character, bearing testimony to Zorro’s universality. Nischol played a vigilante who must protect a kingdom from his unjust father and stepbrother. With a love interest by Zorro’s side and familial drama at the center, the Hindi-language movie is as formulaic as it gets. But the campiness works in Nischola’s favor, as he emulates Zorro’s heroic energy even when the action is on par with a B-movie. His over-the-top performance proves that, at the end of the day, Zorro can go against his own familial ties to uphold justice.
8 Robert Livingston – The Bold Caballero (1936)
The first-ever Zorro talkie The Bold Caballero stars Robert Livingston as its masked crusader, who is heavily moralistic but not as dashing as predecessors like Douglas Fairbanks. Even still, he adds his own touch to the character by bringing a certain level of humanity to the caped crusader. Livingston’s Zorro can inspire fear in the hearts of his enemies, but the actor also layers the characterization with a smiling persona. So, when Zorro gloriously wins a swordfight, saves innocent civilians, or just rides his horse Tornado, Livingston adds a smile or two to show how Zorro actually enjoys being a hero of the masses.
7 Rodolfo De Anda – The Great Adventure of Zorro (1976)
Rodolfo de Anda took up the mantle of Zorro in this Spanish-language classic. The actor brought a revolutionary spirit to Zorro, as well as his alter ego, Diego De La Vega. The Mexican actor is fiery when fighting with his sword and when indulging in ideological debates as Diego. While other Zorro movies have featured actors who added a mild-mannered touch to Diego, de Anda brought a rebellious energy to the character as he made a stand against an oppressive military regime. What de Anda’s Diego cannot do, he allows the sword-wielding Zorro to achieve in The Great Adventure of Zorro.
6 Alain Delon – Zorro (1975)
The year 1975 witnessed not only an Indian Zorro, but one of the best Spaghetti Westerns featuring the character. The Italian movie Zorro featured French actor Alain Delon in the titular role. While Delon had mostly portrayed intensely passionate action heroes, he balanced Diego’s heroic responsibilities with an occasional light-hearted demeanor. His fighting skills may not be top-notch, but when Delon leaps and bounds with a ballet-like smoothness, he adds a near-slapstick routine to Zorro’s duels. The humor aside, Delon also anchors a prolonged but heavily engaging duel-to-the-death with the antagonistic Colonel Huerta in a thrilling third act that moviegoers mostly associate this Italian-French production with.
5 Guy Williams – Zorro (1957-1959)
When it comes to depicting the glorious swordfighter on television, Guy Williams is the undisputed champion. Starring as Zorro for Disney’s ’50s-era serial, Williams managed to effortlessly portray the duality of the character. Just like the Superman-Clark Kent binary, the swashbuckler genre veteran could be dashing with the black mask in one scene and quite naive and unremarkable as Diego in the other. Williams’ rousing monologues as Zorro are effective enough for the show’s socio-political setting in Los Angeles in the 1820s. This rendition of Zorro not only saves those in need; it also inspires Hispanic settlers to reclaim their identity.
4 Duncan Regehr – Zorro (1990-1993)
Duncan Regehr starred as Zorro in The Family Channel television series Zorro, which doesn’t hold a candle to the superior Disney show from the 1950s. Regehr still made up for the show’s technical limitations with his own unique take on the character. Utilizing his well-built frame, Regehr added a brawny supremacy to Zorro’s sword fights and hand-to-hand combat that most of his agile but weaker predecessors could not. If physical dominance wasn’t enough, his Zorro was equally brainy, relying on gadgets like a Leonardo Da Vinci-inspired hang-glider and investigative methods to solve crimes. This blend of both brute force and gray matter sets Regehr apart from other Zorros.
3 Douglas Fairbanks – The Mark Of Zorro (1920)
Dashing, athletic, and unabashedly dramatic in his performances, Douglas Fairbanks is one of Hollywood’s most glorious heroes with his impact still felt (he even inspired Brad Pitt’s Jack Conrad in Babylon). Fairbanks’ overzealous personality and characters made him a perfect fit to helm the live-action debut of Zorro in the 1920 silent-era classic The Mark of Zorro. The film was released a year after Zorro’s literary debut, and Fairbanks breathed new life into the masked hero with his exceptional athleticism and nimble swordplay. Contemporary critics might describe Fairbanks’ overall performance as hammy, but his usual brand of overacting worked to make Zorro a truly spectacular figure beyond human realities.
2 Tyrone Power – The Mark Of Zorro (1940)
Tyrone Power was already a charismatic swashbuckler veteran, but The Mark of Zorro remake allowed him to add some intensity that was never present in the character before. While Fairbanks turned Zorro into the stuff of legends, Power humanized him through relatively realistic action sequences and a passionate chemistry with Zorro’s lady love, Lolita Quintero (Linda Darnell). Even though Fairbanks’ action was enthralling enough, the sword choreography that Power indulged in led to more nail-biting moments. The biggest case in point is the exceptional sword duel between him and Sherlock Holmes actor Basil Rathbone, who played the villainous Captain Esteban Pasquale.
1 Antonio Banderas – The Mask of Zorro (1998) & Legend of Zorro (2005)
The quintessential Zorro for many audiences, Antonio Banderas’ casting was not just accurate to the character’s Spanish origins, but the Desperado action star was also dynamic enough to make Zorro proficient as both a swashbuckling hero and a vigorous lover. His second outing as the swashbuckler, Legend of Zorro, drew polarizing responses. However, his origin with The Mask of Zorro set his arc perfectly, as Banderas captured Zorro’s physical and mental transformation from being an everyman to a symbol of courage. What also worked in his favor was the student-mentor relationship that Banderas’ Alejandro Murieta shared with the older Zorro aka Don Diego, played proficiently by Anthony Hopkins.
By playing an entirely new character in the Zorro mythos, Banderas carved his own niche for new-age audiences. The Spanish actor takes the spotlight, but The Mask of Zorro and Legend of Zorro also rank among Catherine Zeta-Jones’ best movies. Banderas and Zeta-Jones share an electrifying romance as Zorro and Elena Montero. With Elena not being reduced to a damsel in distress like other Zorro heroines, she also spars Zorro in some memorable duels. The way Elena’s love shapes Zorro only adds more depth to Banderas’ take on the character. He ultimately proved that Zorro could be heroic even as a team player.