Can you imagine someone else other than Adam West playing Batman in the ‘60s series? How about someone other than Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones? These are iconic characters that have reached incredibly heights of popularity, thanks to amazing performances. Superhero TV is filled with actors who are doing great work as their characters. These names and faces are tied to our favorite heroes forever in our minds. However, many of our favorite superhero TV characters were almost played by completely different actors.
Some of the actors on this list will definitely surprise you. We’ll cover people who turned down roles and ended up becoming some of the biggest names in all of Hollywood. Of course, there are some names where you’ll scratch your head and say, “Who?” These poor actors missed the chance to tackle career-defining roles, and instead, are complete unknowns. One thing is for sure, many of the actors on this list really regret not landing the part. So, let’s take a look at 16 actors who were so close to becoming the iconic characters that we know and love, but just missed the opportunity.
16 ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most legendary actors to ever appear in an action film. The Austrian-born actor came to the US with dreams of stardom, and ended up surpassing them all with a variety of truly iconic roles. However, early on in his career, he almost landed a role that could have changed the course of his career completely. Arnie was almost the Incredible Hulk!
Back when the pilot for the ‘70s Incredible Hulk series was filmed, actor Richard Kiel (who played Bond villain Jaws) was cast as Hulk. Unfortunately for him, during production, he was fired. When the producers were looking for his replacement, they narrowed it down to two unknown strongmen, Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The decision ultimately came down to one thing only – size. At 6’5”, Ferrigno was three inches taller than Schwarzenegger, and the studio ended up casting him as Hulk. Who knows what would have happened to Arnie’s career if he landed the role?
15 TOM WELLING
This is more a case of willfully refusing a part rather than missing an opportunity, but it still counts! Every actor dreams of landing a career-defining role. Actor Tom Welling was lucky enough to get that sort of role in the 2000s, when he was cast as a young Clark Kent in Smallville. The actor went on to star in 218 episodes as the character, and is now seen forever as the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, he’s not really excited about that idea.
When the new Supergirl series was created a couple years back, producers have always included special cameos by actors who have starred in previous Super films and shows. However, when these producers called up Welling, he turned them down. His reason is simple, he’s past that point in his career. The actor has said multiple times that the new Supergirl series is “a totally different tone” to what he did in Smallville, and he has no interest in showing up in the series. It’s sad we’ll never see Welling return to a series that he, arguably, had a hand in creating.
14 EMMA STONE
Remember Heroes? Ten years ago, NBC decided to steal some of the greatest parts of superheroes and comic books for a new series filled with brand new characters. Part Watchmen, part Rising Stars and a dash of X-Men, Heroes started off with tons of promise, but quickly puttered out in later seasons. The main character of the series was an indestructible cheerleader. Think Wolverine but in a short skirt.
Actress Hayden Panettiere played Claire, the cheerleader, and was great on the show. She was so good in auditions, she actually beat out another up-and-coming actress, Emma Stone. The recent Academy Award winner auditioned for the role on Heroes, but was ultimately passed on. Just a year later, Stone would land a lead role in Superbad, and the rest is history.
13 LIAM NEESON
The first time that Ra’s al Ghul was given the live-action treatment was in the amazing Batman Begins. Portrayed beautifully by actor Liam Neeson, Ra’s al Ghul was shown to be an incredibly capable villain for a young Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. So, when Arrow producers were going to bring Ra’s al Ghul to the small screen, they really swung for the fences and gave Neeson a call.
“We never thought he would,” said Mark Pedowitz, president of The CW. “We quickly went to him, just on the off-chance that he had the time to do it.” As Arrow viewers know, Neeson didn’t accept the role. Neeson claims he just didn’t have the time. Ra’s al Ghul was eventually played by Matt Nable. No offense to Mr. Nable, who did just fine in the role, but it would have been amazing to see Neeson come back to the character another time.
12 KATIE HOLMES
You have to think that Sara Michelle Gellar wakes up every day and says a little prayer to Joss Whedon and the producers behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Because of her lead role in the series, Gellar is now forever linked to a role that is loved and celebrated by so many fans. She should also pray to Katie Holmes because if it wasn’t for Holmes, Gellar wouldn’t have been offered the role.
It's hard to believe, but Gellar wasn’t the first choice for the famous Slayer. In fact, Katie Holmes is said to have been offered the role, but she turned it down. Why did she turn it down? Surely, it was for a bigger role somewhere else, right? Nope. Holmes turned it down to go to high school. Hard to fault her for that.
11 MICHAEL ROSENBAUM
If you’re a Superman fan and watch the CW show Supergirl, you might wonder where Lex Luthor is. The villain is the biggest foe for the Superman Family of characters, but in the TV show, he’s barely mentioned. Well, you can’t blame the Supergirl producers for this situation. In fact, they actually wanted someone to play the character, but their choice turned down the role. That actor is none other than Michael Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum is perhaps best known for playing Lex Luthor in Smallville. However, he has zero interest playing the character in Supergirl. He actually just has zero interest playing any character on the television series. “Also, there’s an ego to it. Supergirl is a show with a lead character and I don’t want to come in and be a secondary character. That’s not me right now,” said the actor on his podcast. Sorry fans.
10 JASON STATHAM
Actor Jason Statham has been vocal about his dislike of superhero films. In multiple interviews, he’s been critical of superhero films, specifically their reliance on CGI for action scenes. So, it’s very interesting that the actor was apparently very close to signing on to one of the biggest superhero TV shows around, Daredevil.
According to the rumor mill, back in 2015, Statham was deep into negotiations with Marvel to star in the second season of Daredevil as the villain Bullseye. After news broke, fan excitement went through the roof. However, it just wasn’t meant to be. Various claims have surfaced in the aftermath of Statham walking away from the role. Some say he was asking for too much money. Some say that Marvel was worried he would negotiate too hard. Either way, during negotiations, Marvel decided to change course and eliminated the villain from season two. Perhaps there’s a chance the two parties come together in the future?
9 FRANK SINATRA
The Joker is now an iconic role. When an actor gets cast to play the Joker in film or TV, fans analyze it to death and instantly rank the actors compared to others. The Joker is such a classic role thanks to the amazing work done by Cesar Romero in the ‘60s Batman TV series. Romero created a pitch-perfect Joker and stole every episode he was featured in. However, Romero wasn’t the only actor vying for the part.
Singer Frank Sinatra was also interested in the role. According to Robin actor Burt Ward, Sinatra was desperate for it, but producers had already hired Romero. Ward says that Sinatra was very upset to learn that he would never get the chance to play the iconic villain. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Sinatra, who was always so cool and suave, could have played the same wild, maniac Joker that Romero gave viewers.
8 GIANCARLO ESPOSITO
There are a lot of actors that turn down roles in superhero films and television shows because they don’t want to be linked to the genre. Then there are actors like Giancarlo Esposito that love superhero films and tv shows, specifically created by Marvel, but still turn down roles. Why would an actor turn down a chance to work on a superhero tv show created by Marvel, if he really wanted to work for Marvel?
Esposito is holding out for a movie. “I love those guys at Marvel. They came to me with something for their television department, then I realized if I did that, I’d never be able to have that same character be in that film department,” said the actor in an interview. Sorry, Marvel TV, but Esposito is only interested in a movie. Marvel Studios needs to call this guy pronto.
7 DEVON AOKI
Back before Katana was kinda, sorta featured in Suicide Squad, the character showed up in a recurring role in Arrow. This was before Arrow had a “No Suicide Squad” mandate. The role in Arrow was played by Rila Fukushima, and she actually did a pretty great job. However, if the Arrow producers had their way, Fukushima wouldn’t have been Katana.
Before her season 3 debut, Devon Aoki was actually first cast as Arrow’s Katana. The Sin City actress had been signed on to play the sword-wielding comic book character, but ultimately had to bow out of the series. Details are unclear as to the reasons, but it is believed that a scheduling conflict came up, and Aoki was unable to fulfill her commitment.
6 JACQUELINE MACINNES WOOD
The name Jacqueline MacInnes Wood is not a name that many CBR readers are going to know. Really, the only reason you would know her name is if you’re a die-hard The Bold and the Beautiful fan. To those of us who aren’t daytime soap enthusiasts, she’ll always be the actress that could have been Black Canary.
Eagle-eye viewers of the Arrow pilot will no doubt notice that Sara Lance is not played by actress Caity Lotz. Lotz, who ended up playing Sara Lance in a recurring role as Black Canary on Arrow and White Canary on Legends of Tomorrow, was originally hired after the pilot was filmed. Wood was actually the actress that played Sara Lance in the pilot, and she was first offered the chance to come back as the Canary. However, that would have meant she had to leave her daytime gig, and she chose to keep the guaranteed role instead of taking a chance on a fledgling superhero show. We’re guessing she probably regrets that decision.
5 ANGELA BOWIE
Angela Bowie isn’t a name that many people nowadays will remember. As her name implies, she was married to singer David Bowie and is the mother to director Duncan Jones. However, she was never a huge star in her own right. The actress and model had pitched hard to play not one, but two iconic female superheroes, though.
First, she claimed permission from Stan Lee to pitch a Daredevil/Black Widow TV series, but was never able to get the series off the ground. The only evidence we have of her endeavors are black and white pictures that show the actress as Natasha Romanov and someone behind her dressed (badly) as Daredevil. She also took test-pictures for her audition for the role of Wonder Woman on the early TV movie. The role ended up going to Cathy Lee Crosby because Bowie refused to wear a bra as the character.
4 MICKEY ROONEY
By 1966, actor, comedian and a cultural icon who has spanned generations, Mickey Rooney, was already a household name. The actor had been around Hollywood for decades as one of the biggest stars around. If Batman producers would have had their way, he also would have been TV viewers' first Penguin.
The role, which ended up being perfectly performed by Burgess Meredith, was originally offered to Rooney. For whatever reason, the actor turned down the role, which ended up going to Meredith. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming close to the performance of Meredith, but if anyone could have brought the same comedic strength to the character, Mickey Rooney would have been the guy. Sadly, we’ll never know what could have been, but we're sure he would have waddled to a strong performance either way!
3 ALEXANDRA DADDARIO
Alexandra Daddario is one of those actors that you’ve probably seen in something, but you just don’t know her name. She’s had starring roles in the film San Andreas (opposite The Rock), the recently maligned reboot of Baywatch and the Percy Jackson film series. Daddario was also one of the finalists to play Jessica Jones in the critically-acclaimed Marvel series.
Daddario was one of a few actresses that were in the final stages of audition for the title role in the Marvel series. Ultimately, the job went to actress Krysten Ritter, who killed it. Daddario would have been an interesting choice because she normally stars as the sweet, beautiful young woman in everything. She hasn’t had the chance to play anyone with a hard edge. Would she have been as amazing as Ritter? Probably not, but perhaps there’s another spot for her in the MCU?
2 LYLE WAGGONER AND PETER DEYELL
Adam West and Burt Ward are names that will be forever linked to Batman and Robin. The two actors were launched into super-stardom when Batman hit the airwaves in 1966. Now, 50 years later, the “dynamic duo” of West and Ward are icons in the industry, and even continued to play the roles in voice-over in two recent animated films. But they were almost passed up for the roles by Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell.
Relative unknowns Waggoner and Deyell screen-tested for the roles of Batman and Robin before the producers ultimately chose West and Ward. The screen-test, which you can watch on YouTube, shows a very different version of the Caped Crusaders. The absurdity and camp that was presented by West and Ward was toned down in the Waggoner and Deyell version. It’s clear that the producers made the right choice.
1 LINDA EVANS
To many people nowadays, Linda Evans is best known for her role in the ‘80s primetime soap opera, Dynasty. However, before that, in the mid-‘70s, Evans was an in-demand actress who was being offered all sorts of roles on TV. One of these roles was as the future pop culture sensation, the Bionic Woman.
Evans ended up turning down the role because she was afraid of the weekly commitment that a TV series brings. Actress Lindsay Wagner ended up being cast in the titular role, and went on to becoming one of the most iconic characters in ‘70s television. As mentioned earlier, Evans did end up landing another big role in the ‘80s, but never reached the heights she could have as a TV superhero.
Which other actors almost played a superhero on TV? Let us know in the comments!