Being a superhero isn’t for everyone. The hours are horrible, it’s impossible to maintain healthy relationships and the pay is non-existent. However, pretending to be a superhero can be quite lucrative and an excellent career boost for an actor. The one exception to that rule is for the lucky few actors who’ve played Superman over the years. Though it can offer a significant jump in one’s career, they must also deal with the idea that no matter what they do, they will be Superman for the rest of their lives. For some, it's a big burden and they turn down the opportunity.
For others, they just barely missed out on becoming the Man of Steel, leaving fans wondering if they would have been a better choice than the actor who ended up in the tights. While some of these names are pretty well-known, there are also some big surprises. Who knew Muhammad Ali was one of the early names on the Superman short list? Though fans seem to be split on their opinions of current Superman Henry Cavill, things could have gone very badly with some of the other almost Clark Kents. These are the eight Superman casting rumors better than who we got and seven that are much worse.
15 BETTER: JOE MANGANIELLO
Before he joined the DCEU as Deathstroke, Joe Manganiello was in the running for Man of Steel. Unfortunately for him, during the process before the screen test he found out that the shooting schedule conflicted with season five of True Blood and they couldn’t make it work. He never even got to screen test and took missing out on the role very badly. After seeing the film he might feel differently about that.
Manganiello is quite the proud nerd and would have played the Last Son of Krypton with the respect he deserves. While he absolutely could’ve pulled off Superman, he may have been less believable as the unassuming Clark Kent. Of course, he did eventually make his comic book movie debut as Deathstroke in the post credits scene of Justice League. There is no word yet on what role he play in future movies in the franchise.
14 BETTER: ZACHARY LEVI
When Warner Bros. decided to reboot the character in Man of Steel, most of the popular hero-type actors in Hollywood were up for the role. This included Zachary Levi, star of NBC’s Chuck. Levi didn’t make it too far into the casting process, as he was likely busy wrapping up Chuck.
He would’ve been the perfect choice for Clark Kent, since he was essentially playing that role on TV already. Superman would have required quite a bit of training beforehand, but anyone who’s seen Levi preparing to portray Shazam knows he could’ve handled it. He also would’ve brought some much needed comedy to Superman. As Billy Batson’s hero alter ego, Levi will join the DCEU, though no one knows if he will get to cross paths with the Man of Steel.
13 WORSE: BRENDAN FRASER
Before Superman Returns signaled Clark’s return to the big screen, JJ Abrams was working on Superman: Flyby in 2002. At the time, every mildly famous actor was shortlisted for the part. One of Hollywood’s most popular stars at the time was Brendan Fraser. His success in The Mummy franchise made him very bankable.
While he has an earnest all-American quality and could sell the audience on him being Clark Kent, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking him seriously as Superman. This is one of those instances where Hollywood was thinking strictly in terms of box office and not what was best for the character. Fraser’s films usually feature him as some sort of bumbling, funny guy. It’s impossible to convince viewers that you’re the most powerful hero in the universe, if they’re waiting for a hilarious pratfall.
12 BETTER: JARED PADALECKI
Though his Supernatural co-star Jensen Ackles has been in the running for various superhero roles and even voiced Jason Todd in Batman: Under the Red Hood, Jared Padalecki may have him beat, as he was actually in consideration for the aborted project Superman: Flyby. At the time, he was relatively unknown, something producers sometimes want for well-known roles.
As Sam Winchester, Padalecki plays everything from drama to comedy to action, all emotions seen in every good comic book movie. The actor also looks like he could easily be both Clark and Superman. He would be a different choice from the usual names on the list and fans would appreciate a new face in the superhero universe. It might be awhile before Padalecki (or Ackles) gets another shot a being a superhero, since Supernatural is currently in season 13 and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
11 WORSE: JUDE LAW
Jude Law is a very good actor. He is perfectly cast as a romantic leading man in movies like The Holiday and Sherlock Holmes. He’s also set to be young Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. This is not to say he can’t be in a superhero movie, he’s just not necessarily the best choice for Superman. Not to be mean, but Law doesn’t exactly scream "Man of Steel".
Before Dawn of Justice, there was another Batman vs Superman film in the works and Law turned down the chance to be Superman to Colin Farrell’s Batman. Luckily for all involved this movie never made it past the development stage. In the end, Law didn’t want to spend 10 years of his life playing Superman. The actor may end up in the comic book world after all, as he’s rumored to be Mar-Vell in the MCU’s Captain Marvel.
10 BETTER: ARMIE HAMMER
Armie Hammer looks like a comic book hero come to life, so it’s no surprise that he was one of the thousands considered for Man of Steel. He may have had a bit of a lead, as he had previously been cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the ill-fated Justice League: Mortal. Hammer hasn’t had the best luck at the box office, but he has received praise for his performance in the Oscar nominated Call Me by Your Name.
The closest he’s come to a big heroic part was as the title role in The Lone Ranger, which he gets an undeserved bad rap for. While that movie had a lot of problems, Hammer wasn’t one of them. It’s only a matter of time before he ends up in a superhero role, so maybe his shot at Superman will still happen one day.
9 WORSE: COLIN O’DONAGHUE
Henry Cavill must have given a spectacular audition to have beaten out half of Hollywood for Man of Steel. One of the many he was chosen over was his The Tudors co-star Colin O’Donaghue. We’re not saying that he would have been a bad Superman, just that Cavill was a better choice. Picking the right actor to embody a character like Clark Kent can come down to the smallest differences. Especially if a studio is envisioning a huge franchise.
After seeing O’Donaghue as Once Upon A Time’s Captain Hook, he might be more suited for a villain. We’ve seen him go from untrustworthy pirate to hero, something comic book bad guys do all the time. He has a bad boy charm that doesn’t really work for someone as innately good as Clark.
8 WORSE: ASHTON KUTCHER
Yes, Ashton Kutcher was once in the running to play Superman. Now that you’ve wrapped your head around that, here’s what happened. Apparently, he had a good audition for Brett Ratner for Superman Returns. However, he turned it down because he didn’t want to be Superman for the rest of his career. In the time since that movie came out Kutcher has made What Happens in Vegas, Killers, Two and a Half Men and The Ranch. Clearly he made the right choice.
Though he has the all-American Clark Kent look that everyone associates with the character, no one would ever believe that the worst monsters and villains in the galaxy are afraid of him. Specifically in Superman Returns, the world sort of revolves around him and there’s just no way we’re buying Ashton Kutcher as the world’s greatest hero. It’s a Kryptonite bullet we all dodged.
7 BETTER: WILL SMITH
Perhaps the most interesting actor on the list is the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. He was offered the role for Superman Returns, but turned it down, “because I had already done Jim West [of Wild Wild West], and you can’t be messing up white people’s heroes in Hollywood! You mess up white people’s heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!"
While it’s unlikely a star of Smith’s caliber would have been blackballed, it’s certainly true that messing up Superman is hard to come back from. Smith would’ve been a very fun Superman and could’ve brought a new energy to the character. He did eventually join the DCEU as Deadshot in Suicide Squad, which actually turned out to be a good choice for him. He’s not as constrained as he would’ve been as Superman.
6 WORSE: NICOLAS CAGE
Any nerd who knows anything is familiar with the story of Superman Lives. Kevin Smith wrote a script, which was thrown out by Tim Burton, who then cast Nicolas Cage as Kal-El. Cage is a well-known comic book fan and collector, specifically when it comes to Superman, so he no doubt would’ve given the character the respect it deserves. And possibly in a weird Burton version it may have worked.
However, Cage wasn’t quite mainstream enough to pull off the worldwide appeal of Superman. Before he became known for his over the top, crazy performances, Cage was a much more subtle actor who could’ve made Clark Kent interesting, but the Superman half is where things fall apart. That’s what most people don’t understand about the character, it’s the balance of Clark, Superman and Kal-El that makes him work and balance isn’t really Cage’s strong suit.
5 BETTER: HARRISON FORD
In the lead up to Superman: The Movie, literally every young actor in Hollywood was considered for the role. This includes young up and coming hero Harrison Ford. In an interview, the actor admitted that he was in the running for a very short time, but never got far enough to “try on the tights.”
We can’t help but imagine the rogueish charm Ford would’ve given the Man of Steel. One of the major problems with Superman has always been that he’s a little bland compared to the rest of the Justice League. Ford, as DC’s lead hero would have been anything but boring. However, if he were Superman, we wouldn’t have gotten him as Han Solo, so we can all agree we got the best end of the deal.
4 WORSE: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Yes, there was a time when The Terminator himself lobbied very hard to become Superman. He was one of cast of thousands who desperately wanted to star in Superman: The Movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger believed he had the body to be the Man of Steel, something no one could argue with. However, he was not the experienced actor then that he is now. Let that sink in. He was also very new to America and still learning the language, so he actually wasn’t ready to take on a project as big as Superman.
Arnold did eventually make his way into the comic book world with his memorable performance as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin. Of course, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. As the first big Hollywood introduction to superhero movies, casting was the most important thing for Superman and Schwarzenegger may have been the second worst choice.
3 BETTER: MATT BOMER
Matt Bomer is an actor who looks like he came through the TV while we were watching the animated Justice League. He’s literally a real life Clark Kent. Bomer was almost Superman twice. He had the role locked up when Brett Ratner was directing his project, then it came down to him and Henry Cavill for Man of Steel.
Bomer may have had to bulk up a bit to pull off the suit, but he definitely had the charm and all-American looks to be Kansas farm boy Clark. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see the White Collar star’s take on Superman, as he may have portrayed him as a more grounded, confident hero. Considering how successful he’s been and how chaotic the DCEU has become, Bomer may have gotten off lucky after all.
2 WORSE: SYLVESTER STALLONE
In what was clearly an averted disaster, Christopher Reeve was cast as Superman over Sylvester Stallone. Fresh off the success of Rocky, Stallone really wanted to be the Last Son of Krypton. However, Richard Donner had no interest in even seeing the actor. After meeting with him, he thought Stallone was a nice guy, but still not right for the role. Apparently, Marlon Brando had casting approval for Superman, and was also unimpressed by the idea of Rocky as Kal-El.
This is not a knock against Stallone, but he would not have been able to play the more nuanced parts of being both Clark Kent and Superman. Everything worked out for all parties, as Reeve is the quintessential Superman and Stallone went on to great success in several more Rocky and Rambo movies.
1 BETTER: DAVID BOREANAZ
Since he showed up as Buffy’s vampire boyfriend Angel, David Boreanaz has been a fan favorite. He’s been a TV hero for years on Angel, Bones and now Seal Team, so he’s pretty much a perfect choice to become Superman. He lost the chance to fly over Metropolis twice. Once to Brandon Routh, then again to Henry Cavill.
No offense to Cavill, but Boreanaz has already shown he can handle action, drama and comedy in his various roles, so it seems weird that he wouldn’t be producers’ top choice. He also exudes a commanding presence, which is something the DCEU Superman doesn’t always have. Basically, any Man of Steel character trait fans feel Cavill is lacking, Boreanaz has in spades. If the DCEU is really considering a reboot with Flashpoint, perhaps there’s still time for the actor to finally don the tights.