The DC Extended Universe has had some turbulent times recently. With Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and Justice League all being met with negative reviews from critics and fans alike, it’s a worrying time for DC and Warner Bros. It’s disappointing since each film in the current continuity have all boasted some incredible actors that can bring a wide range of performances to the comic book adaptations. Whether it’s the writing, the directing or even just the actors themselves, some of those performances really don’t manage to resonate very well.
But what about the cast members that could have been? Hollywood is a fickle place, and studios will compile lists of many candidates for their superhero roles. It’s one of the most popular genres in cinemas today, so they want to make sure they choose someone that’s really going to land with the audience. We’ve looked into who has previously been sought after for a comic book role from DC. Join us as we delve into the superhero roles that could have been. From metahumans, sidekicks and vigilantes to iconic supervillains, this lot have looked at them all. Here are 15 actors you never knew were up for a DCEU role.
15 DAVID BOREANAZ
Back before Henry Cavill’s moustache caused havoc for Justice League, many other actors all wanted in on the big blue boy scout. And at one point, this was rumored to be David Boreanaz. Yes that’s right, Angelus himself was supposedly going to strap on the red cape. Fans loved Boreanaz opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy, so much so that he warranted his own spin-off show, Angel.
Don’t get us wrong, his role in both shows was done well, but his brooding acting style might not have fitted the cheerful Man of Steel.
Whereas Henry Cavill seems to have mastered the line between angst and having fun with the character. Or he does in his own solo film that is…it’s not the first time Boreanaz has been associated with the DC Universe. He voiced Hal Jordan in 2008’s Justice League: The New Frontier.
14 JENSEN ACKLES
Once Man of Steel was released, fans began to incessantly debate what was next for the DC Universe going forward. And after the several Batman easter eggs in the film, it was quite obvious that we were about to get a brand new Bruce Wayne. Enter, Jensen Ackles. The Supernatural star had already missed out on playing Captain America for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
He stated on multiple occasions that he was interested in bringing his version of the billionaire playboy to the big screen. It wouldn’t be a huge step away from his role on Supernatural; a brooding fighting force against evil. He also stated that “any guy in his right mind would die to play Batman. It would be a dream come true.” You hear that Ben Affleck? At least someone wants to play Batman.
13 JON BERNTHAL
In a time where we were all still excited about Suicide Squad, Tom Hardy had dropped out of playing the team’s leader, Rick Flag. So after Jake Gyllenhaal also moved away from the role, other big names were floating around the project. One of which had recently collaborated with David Ayer on his gritty WWII movie Fury, Jon Bernthal.
That’s right, the Punisher could have been going up against the Enchantress -- thankfully, that didn’t happen.
But he had spoken to Ayer about the role, and during Wizard World’s Tulsa Comic Con he said to the audience that he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Obviously, this sent fans into a frenzy. It worked out for the best though, since Bernthal gave a near career-best performance as Frank Castle and Suicide Squad is now notoriously hated by the internet.
12 JAIMIE ALEXANDER
We all know Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif from the Thor franchise, and she brings the strong female warrior to life with ease. But there was another warrior she could have brought to life across the other side of comic book territory. Alexander herself said that she was excited to see Gal Gadot in the Wonder Woman role, but knew her involvement in the film was doomed from the start.
She told Variety that because she was on a specific, ongoing contract with Marvel, it just wouldn’t have worked. She even went on to compare the two warrior women, noting their fighting prowess and ethereal nature. Whilst Gal Gadot does a superb job as Diana Prince, it’s interesting to think what Alexander would’ve been like in the role. Would she be similar to Sif, or different type of fighter? We’ll never know.
11 BRADLEY COOPER
The voice of Rocket Raccoon could’ve wound up being the voice and face of The Flash at one point. Bradley Cooper had previously been looked at by Warner Bros. for their Green Lantern movie, but they went for Ryan Reynolds instead, so the studio had clearly already taken a liking to Cooper.
It was once reported that since Reynolds was in the midst of Green Lantern, the studio wanted Bradley Cooper to join them for The Flash.
It wasn’t revealed whether this was Wally West or Barry Allen, but his ability to play a roguish character with buckets of charm could have given us an excellent speedster before Grant Gustin or Ezra Miller put their stamp on the iconic hero. Would you have liked to see Cooper don the red costume?
10 DENZEL WASHINGTON
Denzel Washington is one of the rare actors of his tenure and caliber not to be in a huge superhero movie. He has an incredible range and his films usually land well with audiences and critics alike. But he was at one time rumored to be up for a role in Batman v Superman, and although the initial rumor was as Lex Luthor, it was then revealed that it was supposed to be John Stewart.
Details are scarce, so this John Stewart may not have had his powers yet, but it’s an interesting idea, a grizzled hardened Green Lantern. We know that John Stewart was rumored to be in Justice League at one point too. Denzel Washington would’ve stood well next to Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill. But who knows what the future holds? Probably not a Denzel Washington starring Green Lantern Corps movie.
9 RYAN GOSLING
The La La Land star might’ve had a different all-singing all-dancing role if he’d have been willing to sign on for multiple films. Originally, the studio wanted Ryan Gosling to play their new version of The Joker.
Given his acting abilities, this could’ve been something quite special but he wasn’t up for signing a contract tying him to multiple appearances throughout the DCEU and declined the offer.
Enter Jared Leto. We all know that this didn’t quite make the splash that Warner Bros. (and Leto himself) were hoping for. We have to wonder though, would Suicide Squad have been better for Gosling as part of the ensemble? After all, Leto claimed to have shot enough footage for a whole other film, perhaps more of that would’ve featured if we had a Gosling Joker.
8 JOAQUIN PHOENIX
One thing that Batman v Superman got wrong, was Lex Luthor. Jesse Eisenberg’s version was intended to be a Mark Zuckerberg allegory/eccentric parallel to Bruce Wayne, but came across more annoyingly comedic than intended. But back in December 2013, Variety reported that Warner Brothers had an entirely different actor in mind: Joaquin Phoenix.
The critically acclaimed actor is best known for taking on very character driven roles. Clearly, he enjoys a role that he can really sink his teeth into and explore at his own free will. Lex Luthor probably wouldn’t have been enough for Phoenix, although it’s fascinating to think what might’ve been had he taken on the role instead of Jesse Eisenberg. Maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t have had a Lex who giggled with glee.
7 EMMA ROBERTS
Harley Quinn is arguably currently as popular as Batman and Superman. She dominates comic books, merchandise and more importantly, the Suicide Squad film. Say what you like about the film, but it took Harley’s already iconic status, and shot it into the stratosphere alongside Margot Robbie, but we almost had Emma Roberts take on the role of Doctor Quinzel instead.
Emma was originally offered the role of Harley Quinn by Warner Bros. but turned it down.
She was enchanted by the dark thriller coming from Fox, Scream Queens. She starred in the series until the cancellation in 2016. Roberts might’ve thought she was banking on a long term project, if so -- she should’ve stuck with Harley. Especially since DC and Warner Bros. seem to be doubling down on Harley films.
6 CLIVE OWEN
When Man of Steel brought a brand new cinematic version of Superman, Krypton and the DC Universe to our screens -- the film needed an actor with a certain gravitas to bring Jor-El to life. And although Russell Crowe snagged the role, it’s clear from the group of potentials the aim of the studio when looking at the character.
Clive Owen was amongst the actors gunning for the role. They needed someone who could be quite stoic whilst also motivating enough as a role model for Superman. There’s a near reverent sensibility when Jor-El’s concerned, and that’s something that Clive Owen would be able to pull off quite well. His part in 2006’s Children of Men proves his range of acting abilities. Although Crowe gives a good performance, we’re intrigued thinking about what Owen would’ve done with it.
5 VIGGO MORTENSEN
Whilst the DC Extended Universe might be in a strange state at the moment, back before Man of Steel, there seemed to be a rosy future. One that looked to reimagine the Superman mythos for the modern, post-Dark Knight future.
One idea seriously looked at by Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan was to bring Zod back, but with Viggo Mortensen in the role.
Most notable known for his role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen could have brought an incredible level of depth to Zod, instead of just screaming at Superman for his entire screen-time. Don’t get us wrong, Michael Shannon is a phenomenal actor, but Zod felt quite stereotypical as a superhero. Viggo certainly has the acting prowess to give audiences a memorable villain, but after seeing what’s happened since then - maybe it’s best that this wasn’t it.
4 OCTAVIA SPENCER
Amanda Waller was one of the best parts of Suicide Squad, played by the formidable Viola Davis. But Warner Bros. had a shortlist of actresses they had in mind to play the leader of Task Force X that included Viola Davis, Oprah Winfrey and Octavia Spencer. We all know that casting Oprah may have cast a shadow over the other actors, but what about Octavia Spencer?
She’s proved on numerous occasions that she has a level of versatility when it comes to her on-screen presence. She’s most recently been praised for her role in The Shape of Water. She could quite easily be a dominating force over a team of criminals. Unfortunately, Viola Davis had already proved this on numerous occasions, and the role was hers to own.
3 IDRIS ELBA
Lex Luthor is an interesting role because he needs to be complex and a viable threat to the most powerful man on the earth. And although Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t quite match up to that vision, Idris Elba most certainly could. We’ve seen Elba in a variety of different roles, and although Luther wouldn’t be much of a tech mogul, Elba’s ability to bring a vicious nature to a character could match up well with Supes.
In the run-up to Batman v Superman, Elba was on the list of actors who could be Lex Luthor.
It’s tantalizing picturing Elba facing down Superman on a rooftop -- much more so than Jesse Eisenberg anyway. We’re not bitter, but Idris Elba has a dominating presence on-screen that would enable a villainous role to become truly iconic.
2 TIMOTHY DALTON
Batman v Superman has become infamous with fans, some love and some adore it. What most people can agree on and praise however, is the Batman portion of the story. Alongside Ben Affleck, Jeremy Irons gave a captivating take on Alfred. But the iconic Butler would have paid homage to some of the most legendary espionage thrillers of all time, James Bond, if Timothy Dalton had taken the role.
The ex-Bond actor was being looked at for Alfred that would take the character in an entirely fresh direction rather than ‘just’ a Butler. And as we saw from BvS, he was an inventor/mechanic who felt more like a partner than a Butler. Ultimately, this never happened, but it’s not hard to picture Dalton in the role.
1 EZRA MILLER
Even though he brought a young DC hero to Justice League (and briefly appeared in Suicide Squad), Ezra Miller was originally up for a role as Batman’s ex-sidekick, Dick Grayson. Back in 2013 it was reported that Miller was among a list of actors that Warner Bros. had to cast Nightwing, so that he could be included in Batman v Superman.
Ultimately, the only inclusion of a Batman sidekick was a Robin suit kept in a glass suit, presumably belonging to Jason Todd. Dick Grayson is yet to appear in the DCEU, but a solo film is in development. Not that Ezra Miller will star in it, since he’s Barry Allen. Some fans loved his version of the speedster, others hated him. Would you rather see him as Dick Grayson?