Since comic books burst with men and women with bulging muscles, exaggerated physiques, and flawless good looks, it seems that any mere mortal approaching superhero levels of appeal would have no problem landing a superhero role. And yet, it’s not all about looks, and actors often have to get creative to be considered for the parts. Utilizing their social media followers, connections with casting directors, and pals within the industry, they use any means necessary to ensure their names become synonymous with certain superheroes. They know that landing the right superhero gig not only means steady work for the next decade, with multiple film deals and appearances, but the unwavering devotion of a gargantuan fanbase.
Campaigning online and on talk shows is child’s play compared to what lengths some stars will go to ensure they beat out the competition. For many of the roles, casting directors want actors they know will bring life to the character for years, at the expense of taking on other movies. CBR has found 15 actors who went the distance to throw their capes in the ring and snag a superhero role, some of whom were rewarded for their valiant efforts, and some of whom received nothing but sadness and failure.
15 RYAN REYNOLDS
While fans embraced Deadpool for its ability to deliver a solid adult themed movie, few realize that its power to get rowdy at the exact moment when needed wasn’t accidental. Since before Ryan Reynolds suited up to play Deadpool in the universally terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he was a Deadpool fan and wanted him to have his own film. He thought the bit part in a Wolverine movie would do the trick but alas, it only served to make a Deadpool movie seem like a pipedream.
Reynolds could have quietly swallowed his defeat, but then that wouldn’t have been very much like his favorite superhero. Rather than send flaming bags of dog crap to studio executives, however, he campaigned for ten years to have the movie made and when a little leaked footage made fans freak out, those same executives were only too happy to help him realize his dreams.
14 SEAN YOUNG
If you’re scratching your head and wondering who Sean Young is, you might remember her from Blade Runner, in which she played the replicant secretary Rachael. That character was sophisticated, cool, and had consistent sass to throw at her male co-stars (most notably Harrison Ford as Decker).
Once Young learned that Tim Burton’s Batman Returns would feature Catwoman, she jumped at the chance to nab the part. Convinced she’d be perfect for the role, she famously showed up on the Joan Rivers Show wearing a Catwoman costume. She also made sure to show up at glamorous Hollywood parties in catsuits and other ensembles that evoked the essence de Selena Kyle. Despite her valiant efforts she didn’t get the part, and it ended up going to Michelle Pfeiffer.
13 CHARLIE SHEEN
Known for spoofing action movies as much as starring in them, Charlie Sheen the actor and his antics make it hard to take him seriously as Charlie Sheen the superhero hopeful. But like any child of the ‘70s and who was fed a steady diet of the best franchise storylines Marvel had to offer, he often imagined himself donning some spandex and saving the world. The supersuit in question would belong to Spider-Man, his favorite superhero and the main focus of a screenplay that he would write.
He took his Spider-Man movie and shopped it around, but at that time, superhero movies were still thought of as cheesy and ridiculous, and he was turned down. Alternatively, the notion of Sheen writing, directing, and starring in a movie about a teenage boy with superpowers when he was in his 30s wasn’t a hot ticket item.
12 TYRESE GIBSON
As the Justice League premiered and everyone clamored to see what actor would play the Green Lantern, they may or may not have seen the epic campaign Tyrese Gibson had launched to self promote his casting in the role. As names like Armie Hammer were tossed around to personify Hal Jordan, the question about who would play John Stewart remained unanswered. As it turned out, Justice League wasn’t interested in that topic at all.
Gibson had spent the last two years posting on social media about how perfect he’d be in the role, going so far as to post several shots of himself in the famous green and black suit. As the premier of Justice League loomed, his posting got more incessant, but in the end, no member of the Lantern Corps appeared in it anyway.
11 CHRIS HEMSWORTH
Though Hemsworth Major has become the most associated with the hammer wielding god Thor, it was actually Hemsworth Minor, aka Liam Hemsworth, that wowed casting directors when the part was first offered up. Eventually however, Liam couldn’t commit to it because of prior opportunities, so Chris saw his chance.
Wasting no time he began filming scenes in his kitchen, using the script that Liam had with him. He ran lines with his mom, and filmed it entirely on his phone. He sent it to the casting directors and they were impressed enough with his guerilla reel to give him a chance at a formal table reading with the rest of the cast. He made sure to bring his A-game to that and landed the role -- and we're all better off for it.
10 JENNIFER GARNER
As Sydney Bristow on the action-packed drama Alias, Jennifer Garner made quite a name for herself among action fans. She trained hard throughout the shows many seasons, ensuring that the fight choreography looked as realistic as possible. Her dedication to making sure Sydney looked like she had all the right moves paid off, because it allowed her to score one of only a handful of female superhero roles at the time.
Before filming began on Daredevil, in which Garner was up for the part of famed assassin Elektra, studios were considering several other actresses for the part, including Ashley Judd and Eliza Dushku. Garner blew away the competition by working real martial arts moves into her audition and securing the role. She would go on to star in a separate stand alone movie named after the character as well.
9 MARS CRAIN
When the MCU landed in our living rooms with such impressive series like Daredevil and then Jessica Jones, it was only a matter of time until the whole Defenders crew came together. The part of Power Man, aka Luke Cage, was a hot commodity and many prominent black actors were eager to nab it because it promised character depth and lots of action. Mars Crain, who had last been seen in Hancock opposite Will Smith, was keen to be the loudest contender.
In an effort to appeal to casting directors, Crain made a reel of himself as Luke Cage. It was incredibly cinematic for something as simple as an acting demo. A physically imposing person, he also displayed a dynamic personality, but would that be enough? The reel failed to deliver the acting qualities necessary to effectively convey the complexity of Cage’s character, however fun it was to watch.
8 TOM HIDDLESTON
Most people associate Tom Hiddleston with the part of Thor’s nemesis Loki, but he actually tried out for the part of the hammer wielding Asgardian himself. Determined to get the role, Hiddleston packed on 25 pounds of muscle and read every Thor comic he could get his hands on. At the time, he only had a handful of television appearances under his belt and unknown to American audiences.
While casting directors weren’t as impressed with his take on Thor, they respected how much effort he put into trying to get the part so they asked him to read for Loki. In anticipation of that, he died his hair black and learned all of Loki’s lines by the next day. His passion for acting made him one of the most memorable characters in the MCU.
7 JOSH HUTCHERSON
Of recent superheroes, Spider-Man has been the one that has changed leads the most. While other franchises lock in their star and see the seeds of their labor bare fruit, Spider-Man has gone the way of ‘90s Batman, with every new movie getting a different punk kid in the Spidey suit. After the disaster that was Spider-Man 3, Tobey Maguire was out and they wanted a fresh face.
When it came time for the next round of Spider-Man casting calls, Josh Hutcherson was keen on making the cut, so he made an impressive sizzle reel to get noticed. Unfortunately, he lost out to Andrew Garfield at the time. Which wasn’t that horrible, because the action sequences helped him get tapped for The Hunger Games. He now stars in the Hulu retro action series, Future Man.
6 TOM HARDY
Everyone knows that landing superhero roles means brutal workouts and strict diets so that average humans can be made to look as superhuman as possible. Supervillains by contrast, can sometimes get away with just looking good in a suit, since supervillains are mostly known for using their intellectual faculties to outsmart the protagonist.
When Tom Hardy wanted the role of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, he knew he would have to commit to a grueling workout, since Bane is literally one of the largest super villains Batman has faced. He only had a few months to pack on as much muscle as physically possible, and Hardy weighed 170 when he began. When filming started, he weighed more than 200 pounds on a 5’9” frame, a metamorphosis which he maintains caused permanent damage to his body since it didn’t have time to acclimate to the muscle mass.
5 DEREK THELER
When the role of Shazam was up for grabs, Derek Theler, best known as Danny Wheeler on Baby Daddy, was actually interested in the role of Captain Marvel. When that didn’t pan out, he went to social media and started his own social media campaign to get his followers rooting for him to star in Shazam. While Shazam isn’t exactly a household name, someone who very much is suddenly became attached to the project; Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had been in talks to play the movie’s antagonist Black Adam.
Theler, a good friend of Johnson’s started to shamelessly hit him up for pics and blasts on social media. The two had a whole series of Shazam themed posts. It was Johnson’s assist that helped Theler get noticed by casting directors, but ultimately he would get passed over for Zachary Levi. Hopefully it didn’t ruin their friendship!
4 DONALD GLOVER
Back when Andrew Garfield hadn’t made The Amazing Spider-Man and fans were wondering who would save the franchise from the weird place Tobey Maguire had taken it, Community star Donald Glover was a strong contender on social media. Like Tyrese Gibson, he campaigned to have himself don the famous wall-crawler’s suit as the first person of color to do so.
Unfortunately, his casting was not meant to be, but the characterization of Spider-Man he would have played was the source of inspiration for Miles Morales, an alternate universe Spider-Man that presently fights crime alongside Peter Parker as the first Afro-Latino web-slinger. This led to his part in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where he actually played Miles Morales’ uncle, as identified by the identity tech built into Spider-Man’s mask. So in a roundabout way, his efforts did help him to get into a Spider-Man movie, just not into the suit.
3 TAYLOR KITSCH
Though X-Men Origins: Wolverine won’t go down in history as one of the most mind-blowing superhero movies, it gave X-Men fans a chance to see one of the most beloved characters in the franchise with the Cajun mutant, Gambit. Up until its release, fans had speculated on just who would be personifying the Ragin’ Cajun, and were eager to see if the end result warranted the hype.
Up for the part were several notable lead actors in Hollywood, including Paul Walker and future Captain America Chris Evans. But it was Taylor Kitsch who got it, presumably because ever since he heard about the part he spent months learning fancy card tricks at casinos across the country, which he used to dazzle the casting directors at his audition.
2 ARMIE HAMMER
Despite being ridiculously tall and ridiculously good looking, Armie Hammer has had a bit of trouble breaking into the superhero business. After one stint as the Lone Ranger, the inanity and irrelevance of the film overshadowed his ability to play a leading man of action. He is a big fan of the Green Lantern, purportedly, and wants nothing more than to be Hal Jordan in the upcoming Green Lantern Corps coming in 2020.
His pursuit of wearing the Green Power Ring has caused him to be a major troll on the internet. Of course, what constitutes trolling for big shot celebrities is a little different than for mere mortals. Like when you have your friend Henry Cavill, who’s currently playing Superman, start declaring that you’re going to be in Justice League, as Hal Jordan.
1 JARED LETO
When the chance to play the notorious Clown Prince of Crime appeared on the heels of Heath Ledger’s stellar performance, actors were both intrigued and intimidated. Every performance of The Joker has been different, from Cesar Romero’s bombastic theatricality, to Jack Nicholson’s dandy businessman, and finally Ledger’s nihilistic sociopath.
Jared Leto wasn’t the casting director’s first choice, but he was always in the running to play the character. In order to secure his status and remove any doubt that he would personify The Joker completely, he had a dead pig carcass sent to the cast during their table read. This proved to everyone present that Leto took his pranks to be serious business, and was obviously not worried that anyone present would think that he was actually, truly legit nuts.