Starring in a comic book movie is a young actor’s dream. Countless careers have been built off the backs of superheroes, with A-listers like Hugh Jackman, Gal Gadot and Chris Pratt owing much (if not all) of their success to starring in these movies. Even Robert Downey Jr saw a huge resurgence in his career thanks to starring in Iron Man (2008). Going back even earlier, Christopher Reeve was relatively unknown before starring in Superman (1978), and Batman (1989) turned Michael Keaton from a comedian into a bankable star. Not only do these movies turn actors into stars, they often guarantee several years of high paying work due to sequels and other licensing deals.
With all of the huge talent that’s being attracted to comic book movies, not everyone can join in on the fun. Plenty of A-listers have come close to putting on a brightly colored outfit to fight crime, but things didn’t work out. Also, there are some A-listers who felt like they were above “comic book movies,” only to have to watch the role they turned down go on be a huge hit for someone else. These are the A-list actors who almost played your favorite superheroes.
15. JOSH BROLIN AS BATMAN
It turns out, Josh Brolin is basically a human comic book character. He’s a part of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as the villainous Thanos, and he’s also appearing in Fox’s X-Men franchise as Cable in Deadpool 2 (2018). He even once played the titular role in Jonah Hex (2010), but that’s probably best left forgotten. On top of all of that, Brolin almost donned Batman’s cowl in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
Before Ben Affleck was cast in the role, director Zack Snyder met with Brolin to discuss the actor playing Bruce Wayne. The exact reasons aren’t clear, but based on comments that Brolin made to the press, it seems that he just wasn’t interested in that specific role. Maybe he just doesn’t want to involved in every comic book cinematic universe.
14. EMILY BLUNT AS BLACK WIDOW
It what will probably go down as the defining role of her career, Scarlett Johansson’s turn as the Black Widow has made her one of the most popular actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It almost wasn’t meant to be, however. Early on in production for Iron Man 2 (2010), Emily Blunt was actually going to play super spy Natasha Romanoff.
Unfortunately for Blunt (and fortunately for Johansson), she was unable to take the role due to her commitment to another film, Gulliver’s Travels (2010). The comedy, starring Jack Black, was both slammed by critics and a box office dud in the United States, making this one of the most painful scheduling conflicts any actor has faced. Blunt’s career survived, and she’s repeatedly said she doesn’t regret not getting the role.
13. TOM CRUISE AS IRON MAN
These days, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr playing Tony Stark, but if Tom Cruise had had his way, he would’ve donned the Iron Man armor. The character, who first appeared in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Don Heck, was one of the properties that Marvel sold off the films rights during the ’90s.
Fox ended up with the rights and began work on a possible film. A script was written, and Tom Cruise expressed interest in starring and producing the movie. Unfortunately for Cruise, the film never made it into production, and the property passed between studios before landing back at Marvel. By that point, Cruise had moved on, and Robert Downey Jr came on board to launch one of the most successful film franchises ever.
12. LEONARDO DICAPRIO AS SPIDER-MAN
Even though it seems like Hollywood can’t get enough of Spider-Man these days, with the constant reboots and sequels being produced, there was a time when Spidey couldn’t get a film made at all. James Cameron, one of the most successful directors of all time, tried for years to make Spider-Man, but legal issues and contractual disputes kept getting in his way.
This was during the ’90s, and Leonardo DiCaprio seemed like a perfect Peter Parker, and he allegedly took meetings with Cameron about putting on the web shooters. Since the film never went into production, it’s unclear how far along those talks went, but by the time Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), DiCaprio was too old for the young hero.
11. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AS DR OCTOPUS
As previously stated, Spider-Man’s journey from the comic to the big screen wasn’t an easy one. James Cameron had tried to develop the movie in the early ’90s, but was unsuccessful. There were actually two different scripts that Cameron was attached to, one involving both Electro and Sandman (or characters very similar to them), and one that featured Dr Octopus as the villain.
According to reports, Cameron wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the villain. This version was going to be a wildly different take on the character compared to the one that appeared in Spider-Man 2 (2004), played by Alfred Molina. While Schwarzenegger would never get to torment the web head, he did get to take on Batman as Mr Freeze in Batman and Robin (1997).
10. DOUGRAY SCOTT AS WOLVERINE
When Bryan Singer and Fox began production on X-Men (2000), they were faced with the difficult task of casting Wolverine. The character was one of the most popular and recognizable comic book characters at the time, and had a very unique look and attitude. Originally, Singer approached Russell Crowe, who didn’t take the part, but recommended an actor named Hugh Jackman.
Fox, however, wanted a big name actor for the part and Dougray Scott ended up actually getting cast. Problems arose when the shooting schedule for Mission Impossible 2 (2000) caused conflicts, forcing Scott to bow out of X-Men. This makes Mission Impossible 2 the best thing to ever happen to Hugh Jackman’s career, who would go on to star as the character an amazing nine times, culminating in the critically beloved Logan (2017).
9. JOSH HARTNETT AS SUPERMAN
In 2001, Warner Brothers attempted to revive both the Batman and Superman film series by producing Superman vs Batman. The story would have followed a retired Bruce Wayne returning as Batman after his wife is killed by the Joker. Superman, divorced from Lois, would come into conflict after being manipulated by Lex Luthor. Wolfgang Petersen was attached to direct, and even began approaching actors.
He reportedly talked to Christian Bale and Josh Hartnett about playing the part of Superman. While Bale would later go on the famously play the part of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Hartnett never got to join the DC universe. Superman vs Batman was scrapped in favor of developing individual movies for each character, although the two would eventually get their cinematic showdown in Batman V Superman (2016).
8. WILL SMITH AS SUPERMAN
Will Smith is one of the most likeable actors working in Hollywood, and he seems to be a perfect fit for superhero movies. He’s extremely charismatic, in great shape and and can deliver one liners like no one else. When Bryan Singer rebooted the Superman franchise with Superman Returns (2006), he reportedly offered the role of the man of steel to Smith, who turned it down.
While promoting Hancock (2008), Smith joked around about turning the part down due to concerns about how people would react to changing the character’s race. While Smith never played Superman/Clark Kent, he did join the DC Universe by starring as Deadshot in Suicide Squad (2016). Maybe Will Smith would just rather play a nefarious villain than a hero?
7. MARLON WAYANS AS ROBIN
Batman and Robin is one of the most recognizable duos in not just comics, but all of pop culture. It seems crazy that Warner Brothers made two Batman movies without Robin making an appearance, but that wasn’t the original plan. While Robin had appeared in some early drafts for the first Batman film, he was included in Batman Returns (1992) fairly well into production.
In fact, Marlon Wayans was actually cast in the role, and even attended costume fittings. While Robin was eventually cut out of the final movie, Wayans reportedly still got paid for the movie. It’s also likely that Wayans would’ve appeared in Burton’s third Batman film, but when the director left and Joel Schumacher came on board, the film took a different direction and Chris O’Donnell was cast in the role.
6. ROBIN WILLIAMS AS THE JOKER
Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker in Batman (1989) is one of the actor’s most celebrated roles. Nicholson received both critical praise and a huge payday, which included a percentage of the film’s box office (which was astronomical, especially at the time). To say it was a big deal would be an understatement, and it all could’ve gone to Robin Williams instead.
Williams, a huge comic book fan himself, had campaigned for the role. When Nicholson initially turned it down, Williams was offered the part. His dream role was then snatched from his fingertips, however, when Nicholson changed his mind and took the part. Reportedly, Williams was also offered the role of Riddler in Batman Forever (1995), but there are conflicting stories as to why he didn’t get that part.
5. JACK BLACK AS THE GREEN LANTERN
While Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern (2011) wasn’t a hit, it was at least a fairly faithful adaptation of the comic. Warner Brothers had actually been trying to make a Green Lantern film since 1997, and at one point tried to take it in a comedic direction. In 2004, Robert Smigel wrote a script where the ring malfunctioned, and instead of choosing Hal Jordan, it gets confused and selects a reality TV star played by Jack Black.
Yes, Jack Black. The premise was supposedly based around the idea that a Green Lantern’s power doesn’t require any physical talent or fitness. Warner Brothers was allegedly serious about making the film, but when the concept leaked to the internet, the fan backlash convinced them not to pull the trigger.
4. ANGELA BASSETT AS STORM
Like many of the other movies on this list, the first X-Men (2000) film had a long and rocky road to development. The film almost went into production during the early ’90s, and Bob Hoskins and Angela Bassett were rumored to be attached to play Wolverine and Storm, respectively. Obviously, that film was never made, and it wasn’t until years later when Fox would finally get the movie moving forward with Bryan Singer in the director’s seat.
Interestingly, Singer approached Bassett again to play Storm. According to reports, Bassett’s agents asked for too much money, so the producers then went with Halle Berry. Berry would go on to play the part three times, culminating in her appearance in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
3. ANNE HATHAWAY AS FELICIA/BLACK CAT/VULTRESS
After directing two highly successful and popular Spider-Man movies, Sam Raimi stumbled with Spider-Man 3 (2007). Still, despite the negative reviews and fan reaction, the film was successful and Sony had Raimi begin pre production on Spider-Man 4. This movie was set to feature the Vulture as the main villain, played by John Malkovich. Interestingly, Anne Hathaway was cast as Felicia, who seemed to be a combination of the Black Cat and a new character named the Vulturess.
When Raimi had doubts that he could hit Sony’s proposed release date, however, the film fell apart. The sequel was cancelled, and the series was rebooted with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). Raimi ultimately revealed that Hathaway would’ve appeared as the Balck Cat, had the film gone into production. Don’t feel bad for Hathaway, though, as she got to play Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
2. BEYONCE AS WONDER WOMAN
Girls may rule the world, but that didn’t help Beyonce get her dream role. In 2008, Wonder Woman was in trouble. Warner Brothers had been trying to get the movie into production, and had even hired Joss Whedon to write the script. The project kept running into trouble, however, and seemed unable to get past the scripting phase.
The project was given a brief shot in the arm when Beyonce publicly discussed her interest in playing the lead role. At the time, the singer had recently received praise for her role in Dreamgirls (2006), and it seemed like her career was taking a turn towards acting. While Gal Gadot eventually scored the part, she does credit listening to Beyonce before her audition for her success.
1. NICOLAS CAGE AS SUPERMAN
One of the most infamous cancelled comic book movies has to be Superman Lives. Loosely based on the “Death and Return of Superman” storyline, the film was well into pre-production when problems between Burton, producer Jon Peters and the studio came to a head, and the movie ended up being cancelled. Being a Burton production, however, much of the pre-production revealed that it would’ve been a very odd looking Superman movie.
One of the strangest choices was Burton’s decision to cast Nicolas Cage as Superman. Images were even released showing a long-haired cage Cage testing out the film’s proposed Superman costume. Whether or not Nicolas Cage would’ve made a uniquely compelling Superman, or a completely insane one, remains one of Hollywood’s biggest unanswered questions.
Think any of these stars would’ve been better, or did we dodge a bullet? Let us know in the comments!
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