12. Rick Sparks, Neverland (2003)
Here’s that gritty Pan adaptation nobody wanted! In Damion Dietz’s little-seen indie, the ”lost boys” are a group of teenage runaways loitering around an abandoned amusement park; Peter’s their androgynous leader. The movie, and Sparks, are just about as unappealing as that description sounds.
11. Mia Farrow, Peter Pan (1976)
She certainly had the right hair for the part. Unfortunately, the Golden Globe winner’s suitability for Pan ended there. Boyish as her coif may be, Farrow—appearing in a new TV musical featuring none of the original’s classic songs—is just too effete to convincingly play a cocky, male preteen. Her wavering accent and less-than-powerful singing voice certainly doesn’t help matters.
10. Charlie Rowe, Neverland (2011)
Syfy’s disappointingly literal origin story recasts Captain Hook (Rhys Ifans) as a devious fencing teacher and Pan as an Oliver Twist-esque orphan thief who stumbles into Neverland via a mysterious portal. The story’s fairly airless—and while Rowe’s Peter is adequate, he’s not interesting enough to make this adaptation seem necessary.
9. Jason Marsden, Peter Pan and the Pirates (1990)
Hey, did you know that kid who was on every TGIF show in the ’90s (Full House, Boy Meets World, Step By Step) also voiced Pan in a short-lived animated series? Because he did! (He was fine.)
8. Kelly Macdonald, Finding Neverland (2004)
While her role in the film is as slight as a sprinkling of fairy dust, the Scottish actress is perfectly nice when she appears in a few scenes as an actress playing Peter in J. M. Barrie’s original stage production.
7. Kyle Walters, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy (2014)
Walters is a puppyish, pushing-30 Peter in this webseries, a modern reimagination told via vlog that transports the story’s action to the fictional town of Neverland, Ohio. The actor, who doubles as the series’ co-creator, is appealing as a manchild who somehow doesn’t inspire eye-rolls—though Paula Rhodes’ charming Wendy is the show’s real draw.
6. Jeremy Sumpter, Peter Pan (2003)
Onstage, Peter is normally played by a full-grown woman—which made then-13-year-old Sumpter’s casting seem like a novelty. (It also made filming more difficult; the actor grew so much during the shoot that the crew twice had to enlarge the window Peter flies out of.) But Sumpter’s age isn’t the only reason he fits the role well; he plays Pan as an emotional, tempestuous creature, more like a real boy (albeit one who can fly) than a myth.
5. Cathy Rigby, Peter Pan (2000)
Talk about never growing up: This former gymnast kept playing the leader of the Lost Boys onstage over the course of nearly 40 years, hanging up her tights only after she turned 60 years old. (There’s been more than one farewell tour.) Her Pan is a sprightly, unapologetically theatrical creation, a delight best for those who don’t mind their Peter with a healthy helping of cheese.
4. Robbie Kay, Once Upon a Time (2013)
True, the Neverland plot on ABC’s fairy tale mashup series ended up being a drag—but it livened up considerably whenever Kay appeared as a malevolent, villainous riff on Pan. His smirking take teased out the darkness inherent in Barrie’s original story—and even when his dialogue was heavy-handed, Kay managed to play the role with a light touch.
3. Robin Williams, Hook (1991)
Go ahead and crow, as critics did at the time, that Steven Spielberg’s Pan sequel is a saccharine, overly stylized mess. There’s a reason, though, that the movie’s still looked upon fondly by millennials—one that boils down to Williams’ Peter, who starts the movie as a boring, work-obsessed grownup before rediscovering his inner child. Williams played a lot of overgrown kids during his fertile family movie period. Sometimes, the results were cringeworthy (Jack, Patch Adams). Under the right circumstances, though, they were magical—and nobody else could have captured this version of Pan as well as he could.
2. Mary Martin, Peter Pan (1955)
Exuberant, effortless, effervescent; a lot of ebullient ”e” words come to mind when describing Martin’s charismatic, magnetic Pan, a performance many a female star has attempted to imitate in the years since. (Good luck to them; the piece was written for Martin and designed to showcase her specific talents.) Maybe, though, the ”e” word that matters most is ”Emmy”: Martin snagged TV’s highest honor for her work in the 1955 production, after winning a Tony for the original stage musical. That’s something worth crowing about.
1. Bobby Driscoll, Peter Pan (1953)
True, the Disney version deviates from its source material in a few major ways. But Driscoll’s iconic performance truly embodies the spirit of Barrie’s most famous creation. He’s alternately impish and innocent, petulant and heroic, bringing nuance to a part that could potentially be as flat as a page in a storybook. (It helps that Driscoll was himself a teenager when he recorded the role.) It’s a performance for the ages—one made even more poignant by the story of Driscoll’s tragic life and untimely death. Onscreen, he’s immortalized as a boy who never wanted to grow up; offscreen, he was a child star who never really got a chance to.