Playing a superhero might sound like a great offer to some actors. You get to portray characters beloved by millions, and between huge box office and the prospect of sequels, hopefully you also achieve some degree of career security. Of course, many of the same things which make the prospect enticing to some actors also make it intimidating to others. With huge fandoms come the extreme pressure to please often highly critical fans. At the same time, the idea of playing the same role for years might be good for your bank account, but not for your desire for playing a variety of roles. Typecasting is certainly a concern for many actors playing such iconic roles. This isn’t even getting into the superhero genre’s history of being seen as “below” the talents of great actors. And isn’t there some sort of curse on whomever plays Superman?
Superhero movies have built and shaped many stars’ careers, but for every actor who takes a role, there are even more who end up saying no to it. The 20 actors and actresses on this list have all rejected an offer to play a superhero at some point in their careers. A few of them have rejected multiple superhero roles! These all are (or were) big names in Hollywood. Many have gone by just fine in their careers without taking these roles. Others end up regretting these rejections as mistakes. A few even try to correct those mistakes and reapply for the roles that they once turned down.
20. WILL SMITH (SUPERMAN)
Michael B. Jordan as Superman might be the hottest casting rumor at the moment, but he wouldn’t be the first black actor considered for Superman. Early in the development of Superman Returns, Will Smith was under consideration to play the Man of Steel! At the time, Will Smith was one of the biggest stars in the world, so it’s understandable why he’d be asked.
It’s also understandable why he rejected the offer: after receiving backlash for playing the traditionally white hero of Wild, Wild West, Smith had zero interest in playing an even more iconic white character. He’d go on to star in his own superhero movie with Hancock and play Deadshot in Suicide Squad.
19. JOAQUIN PHOENIX (DOCTOR STRANGE)
Joaquin Phoenix was really close to landing the part of Doctor Strange. He’d gotten far beyond mere consideration into final negotiations for the role. Then, at the last minute, those negotiations fell apart and Benedict Cumberbatch filled in to play the mystical superhero.
Why they fell apart is anyone’s guess. Little White Lies tried to ask him about it in an interview. The response was decidedly elusive: “I think that everybody was, is… I’m trying to figure out how to say this most diplomatically, okay… I think everybody was really happy with how things turned out. All parties were satisfied.”
18. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (STAR-LORD)
The end of The Dark Knight Rises set up “Robin” John Blake to potentially take on Batman’s cape and cowl. However, since Warner Bros and Christopher Nolan decided not to spin off the Dark Knight trilogy, in 2013 Joseph Gordon-Levitt was free to search for new comic book movie roles. It came down to a choice between the lead roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For.
Gordon-Levitt made a choice he’d ultimately regret, going for the disappointing sequel rather than the surprise blockbuster. He was later rumored to be in the running for the lead in Ant-Man, but he claims that never went beyond a few potential discussions.
17. JON HAMM (GREEN LANTERN)
Jon Hamm is the subject of many a superhero fan-cast, with fans particularly wanting to see him as Batman. In an interview with Graham Bensinger, Hamm has expressed a willingness to play Batman if asked, but in the past he’s been less keen on playing superheroes. He’s rejected at least two superhero roles in the past. While one role is a secret, it’s confirmed the other was Hal Jordan in Green Lantern.
Regarding Green Lantern, he told GQ UK in 2014 “these aren’t the kind of movies I like to go and see.” Given his more positive comments about superhero movies since, he’s either changed his tune or he was specifically talking about superhero movies akin to Green Lantern.
16. HEATH LEDGER (BATMAN)
Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight is now legendary, but if things turned out differently, he could have been playing the hero instead of the villain! In a 2012 Q&A at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater, Nolan reported that Ledger was on his list of actors to play Batman in Batman Begins. However, Ledger expressed zero interested in starring in a superhero film.
After watching the finished Batman Begins, Ledger realized he’d made a big mistake and immediately got back in contact with Nolan about playing the Joker in the sequel. He was so enthusiastic for the part, he signed on for the sequel even before the script was finished!
15. TOM CRUISE (IRON MAN)
One of the major inspirations for the characterization of Tony Stark in the MCU was action mega-star Tom Cruise. Cruise’s name had been bandied about as the potential star of an Iron Man movie back when FOX held the rights in the late ’90s. When the rights reverted to Marvel, Kevin Feige mentioned Cruise as under consideration for the role.
Cruise was never as close to being cast in the role as the urban legends claim, saying he was “not close” to being cast. Ultimately it was for the better that Robert Downey Jr. got the part, while Tom Cruise gets to star in action movies that show off his wild stunt skills better than the MCU’s mostly-CGI action would.
14. DOUGRAY SCOTT (WOLVERINE)
Dougray Scott was on the verge of stardom at the turn of the millennium. Tom Cruise personally picked him to play the villain in Mission: Impossible 2, while Russell Crowe recommended him to Bryan Singer for the role of Wolverine in the first X-Men film. FOX President Tom Rothman praised Scott in a press release, claiming “Dougray has the charisma, the physicality and the intensity.”
What he didn’t have was the schedule. Mission: Impossible 2 kept running into production difficulties, and the delays made it impossible for him to schedule for both shoots. As such, Hugh Jackman was cast as a replacement. Scott also almost played James Bond in Casino Royale but didn’t get the part.
13. MATT DAMON (DAREDEVIL)
Many actors reject superhero roles because they’re not fans of the genre. Matt Damon, on the other hand, rejected the offer to play Daredevil in the 2003 movie precisely because he was a fan of the comics and the movie wasn’t living up to his standards. He wasn’t a fan of the script, and the director was an unknown, so he backed away.
His friend and Good Will Hunting screenwriting partner Ben Affleck was also a big Daredevil fan, but in Affleck’s case the excitement of playing a favorite character outweighed concerns about the movie’s quality. Damon has since said he’d still be interested in playing The Man Without Fear under the condition that Christopher Nolan would direct.
12. MEL GIBSON (ODIN)
Marvel really dodged a bullet when Mel Gibson rejected the offer to play Odin in Thor. It’s not completely inexplicable why he was offered the part. He was very personally supportive to Robert Downey Jr. during dark times, and the casting people might have thought Gibson could achieve a similar return to stardom like Downey did.
Of course, in 2010, Gibson was back in the news again for domestic violence and usage of racial slurs. Given the Thor movies already had to fight back against the appropriation of Norse mythology by racists, it’s especially fortunate we ended up with Anthony Hopkins as Odin instead of Mad Mel.
11. AMANDLA STENBERG (SHURI)
Amandla Stenberg is getting plenty of job offers. She’s the lead in three different films in 2018 (The Darkest Minds, The Hate U Give and When Hands Touch). She was almost in a fourth film this year, a little one you might have heard of called Black Panther. She was also in consideration for the role of Shuri.
Why turn down such a great part? Stenberg had a thoughtful reason for rejecting the role. She felt the role of an African princess with darker-skinned family members would be better served by a darker-skinned actress. She told Vanity Fair, “That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets. I recognize 100 percent that there are spaces that I should not take up.”
10. JESSICA CHASTAIN (THE WASP)
A lesson filmmakers can learn from this casting rejection story: if you want a big name star to play your superhero, maybe don’t save all of said hero’s action scenes for the sequel! Jessica Chastain reportedly turned down the role of The Wasp in Ant-Man because it was, frankly, so (pun not intended) tiny, especially in Edgar Wright’s early script.
Speaking to MTV News in 2014, Chastain said of superhero roles, “If you’re going to be in a superhero movie, you only get one chance. You’re that character forever. So why do a superhero movie and play the boring civilian?” Her role in 2019’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix remains a mystery as of this writing.
9. KATE BECKINSALE (WONDER WOMAN)
Wonder Woman, as played by Gal Gadot in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie, seems like it would be the role of a lifetime for any actress with action movie chops. When understanding why Kate Beckinsale, star of the Underworld series, turned down the role, it must be understood that Wonder Woman was not always Patty Jenkins’ movie.
It’s unclear which incarnation of the Wonder Woman movie Beckinsale was offered to star in (was it the controversial Joss Whedon script or some other rejected treatment?). Regardless, she’s said, “the incarnations that I was seeing were… they weren’t this one.” She was concerned a lesser Wonder Woman movie could prove embarrassing to her children.
8. PIERCE BROSNAN (BATMAN)
Before he was James Bond, Pierce Brosnan was almost Batman in the 1989 film! The actor revealed in a 2014 Reddit AMA that Tim Burton met with him about the role. At the time, Brosnan was best known as the star of the TV series Remington Steele; Batman would have been his biggest movie role to date.
Why did he turn it down? His excuse was, “I just couldn’t really take it seriously; any man who wears his underpants outside his pants just cannot be taken seriously.” Today, he admits he was proven wrong in his skepticism about Batman working in a serious context, and says he was a big fan of the character growing up.
7. LEONARDO DICAPRIO (SPIDER-MAN AND ROBIN)
As one of the big break-out movie stars of the ’90s, Leonardo DiCaprio would frequently find himself meeting for roles he had zero personal interest in early in his career. He met with Joel Schumacher about playing Robin in Batman Forever but wasn’t interested. It was the same deal with James Cameron’s unmade Spider-Man movie.
These weren’t the only major franchise roles he rejected. George Lucas wanted him for Anakin in the Star Wars prequels! He says at the time he didn’t feel ready for franchise roles, though he’s open to the possibility of playing a superhero in the future as the quality of the genre continues to improve.
6. EMILY BLUNT (BLACK WIDOW AND PEGGY CARTER)
Marvel Studios really wanted Emily Blunt to take part in the MCU. Emily Blunt, in contrast, was less enthused about it. Her initial scheduling conflict might have seemed odd in the moment (choosing the 2010 Gulliver’s Travels movie over offers to play both Black Widow and Peggy Carter?), but thinking longterm it’s probably benefited her career.
Major MCU roles are commitments that can take up an actor’s time for many years, and Blunt told IndieWire if she accepted either role, “I don’t think I would have been able to do a lot of projects that I’ve loved doing.” If she’d taken the MCU offers, or if John Krasinski got cast as Captain America, films like A Quiet Place probably wouldn’t get made!
5. PAUL NEWMAN (SUPERMAN, LUTHOR AND JOR-EL)
Casting Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie was a serious challenge. The initial goal was to get a big name star for the lead role. The decision to cast the unknown Christopher Reeve had to do in large part with many bigger names turning the part down. Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford were among the stars who passed on playing Superman.
Paul Newman didn’t just reject the offer to play Superman, though. He rejected the offer to play anyone in the movie! According to the 2006 DVD audio commentary, the producers offered Newman $4 million for the chance to pick between playing Superman, Lex Luthor and Jor-El. Newman wasn’t interested in any of the parts.
4. JOSH HARTNETT (SUPERMAN, BATMAN AND SPIDER-MAN)
Ask anyone to name the three most famous superheroes in the world and odds are good you’ll hear “Superman, Batman and Spider-Man” as an answer. One actor had the chance to play each of these characters. Josh Hartnett was offered the chance to star in Superman Returns, Batman Begins and Spider-Man. He turned down all three.
His main reason for avoiding superhero roles was a fear of both committing to constant sequels and a fear of being typecast for the rest of his career. Seeing the way Christian Bale managed to avoid typecasting post-Batman, Hartnett’s admitted to regretting turning down Batman.
3. CHRIS EVANS (CAPTAIN AMERICA)
Surprise! Just because an actor turns down a superhero role doesn’t mean they can’t change their minds! Chris Evans didn’t only turn down the role of Captain America once, but multiple times! Marvel wanted him in the role, but he kept backing away until he eventually changed his mind.
Evans told Jimmy Kimmel on the August 11, 2016 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! that “I was saying no out of fear, really… It ended up kind of clicking to me in the way that whatever you’re scared of, push yourself into it.” Considering how well he portrays Captain America’s bravery, it’s impressive how Evans stood up to his own fears.
2. CHRIS PRATT (STAR-LORD)
Another famous Chris, another “reject a superhero role before eventually agreeing to it” story! In Chris Pratt’s case, his initial disinterest in playing Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy was due to a previous bad audition experience. “I didn’t want to go and embarrass myself like I did when I auditioned for G.I. Joe a couple of years previously,” he told Esquire. “I went in there, and halfway through I saw the director’s eyes just glaze over.”
Ultimately Chris Pratt did audition for Guardians, got in shape and got the part. For an interesting “what could have been” scenario, had Pratt rejected the role, James Gunn’s second choice for Star-Lord was Glenn Howerton, aka Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
1. BRIE LARSON (CAPTAIN MARVEL)
Brie Larson rejected the opportunity to play Captain Marvel before ultimately agreeing to star in next year’s highly anticipated blockbuster. Her initial offer was years ago, presumably back when Captain Marvel was supposed to cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Larson was uninterested in the celebrity that comes with these sorts of roles. She told Entertainment Weekly, “I like disappearing into characters, and I always felt like if I was out in the public eye too much, it potentially limits you in the future.” It was ultimately the quality of the Captain Marvel script that convinced her to get onboard.
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