We live in a time where everybody and their mother are either trying to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or are already apart of it in some sort of capacity. There was once a time when there was a stigma towards comic book movies. That they were kids fare, or that they were dumb flicks not worth taking seriously as actors or audiences. Now, not only does everybody love their fair share of comic book movies, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular is the highest grossing Hollywood movie franchise in film history.
Needless to say, everybody loves comic book movies and comic book movies are held in a higher esteem, especially if they happen to be Marvel movies, even if they do not sit directly under the Marvel Cinematic Universe banner. Actors just want to be apart of Marvel movies now, but back in the day, it was a completely different story. Actors were quick to turn down a comic book movie, and we have heard several stories regarding actors who turned such movies down. However, we know far less about actors who have turned down non-comic book movies in the past. Here are some former Marvel actors who turned down some awfully surprising movie opportunities.
15 ROBERT DOWNEY JR. - SAY ANYTHING
Long before he played a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist for the MCU, Robert Downey Jr. was a teenage heartthrob in '80s movies like Weird Science, The Pick-Up Artist, 1969, and Johnny Be Good. One classic '80s movie that alludes his resume is Say Anything, but he came very close to getting cast in the lead as boy next door Lloyd Dobler.
The part went to John Cusack instead, but before Cusack even auditioned for the part, Downey was offered it. Because he did not like the script attached to the film, he declined in favor of starring in Chances Are and True Believer. Both films turned out to be stinkers at the box office, and Say Anything was a hit with critics and audiences. Downey still has to be kicking himself over his choice.
14 EDWARD NORTON - AMERICAN PSYCHO
Although his time in the MCU was brief, his performance as Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk remains memorable and exceptional. Years prior, he was offered a completely different role. Fresh off the heels of playing a crazy guy in Fight Club, Norton was asked to play an even crazier guy in American Psycho.
Director Mary Harron's first choice to play the main protagonist, Patrick Bateman, but he declined. Here's where things revolving the movie got crazy. When Norton turned down the part, Harron wanted Christian Bale, but the studio didn't. When they said they wanted Leonardo DiCaprio to play Bateman instead, Harron walked away from the project. Oliver Stone was set to replace her as director until Leo declined. Harron was brought back, and so was Bale.
13 GWYNETH PALTROW - TITANIC
A whole decade before Gwyneth Paltrow stood beside Robert Downey Jr. as his on screen love interest, she was offered the role of a lifetime. Paltrow was asked to play Rose, the lead of what would become a Hollywood mega box office smash hit: Titanic. For reasons unknown -- because Paltrow once said her mother would deem it "unladylike" for a woman to talk about roles she turned down -- she declined and the role went to Kate Winslet.
Not only did Winslet's performance get nominated for an Oscar, the film itself won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture. It all worked out for Paltrow though, as a year after Titanic's juggernaut success, Paltrow won Best Actress for her role in Shakespeare in Love, which also went on to win Best Picture.
12 SAMUEL L. JACKSON - BOOGIE NIGHTS
In addition to playing Nick Fury ever since the very beginning of the MCU, Samuel L. Jackson has plenty of other impressive roles attached to his resume: Jules Whitfield in Pulp Fiction, Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequel franchise, Mister Señor Love Daddy in Do The Right Thing -- the list goes on. One role that managed to elude Jackson's career was that of Buck Swope in Boogie Nights.
Paul Thomas Anderson revealed during the film's DVD commentary that Jackson was his first choice for the part, he approached Jackson with an offer to play it. Rather than just declining, Jackson read the script, looked at Anderson and asked "What the hell is this?" Needless to say, he didn't understand the script. The part went to Don Cheadle instead, who plays War Machine in the MCU.
11 PAUL RUDD - THE HANGOVER
Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper first broke into Hollywood after they gave their star making performances in Wet Hot American Summer. Now, 15 years later, both have inexplicably appeared in the MCU respectively as Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon. Somewhere in between that success came The Hangover, the surprise 2008 hit comedy.
Direct Todd Phillips reportedly asked Paul Rudd to play one of the film's stars, the incredibly immature teacher Phil, but he declined. When Rudd was out, Phillips brought in Bradley Cooper who, unlike Rudd, did not decline the offer to star in the film. There are no hard feelings between Rudd and Cooper as the two are still good friends. It would be interesting to see if the two old mates trade dialogue in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War.
10 SYLVESTER STALLONE - THE TERMINATOR
In the 1993 fantasy action comedy Last Action Hero, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is a gag that tells us that Sylvester Stallone plays The Terminator in an alternate universe. The gag is even funnier for those who know that Stallone very nearly did play the iconic T-800. Stallone had reportedly been offered the part, but ended up turning it down, as did another young Hollywood star who was offered the role who goes by the name of Mel Gibson.
This led to James Cameron casting relative unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the rest is history. In more recent times, Stallone played Starhawk in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Arnold Schwarzenegger became the Governor of California. Our universe might just be weirder than that aforementioned alternate universe.
9 THOMAS JANE - MAD MEN
Jon Bernthal has gained a highly praised reputation for playing Frank "The Punisher" Castle over on Netflix, but before Jane or even Ray Stevenson came along to don the skull tattered shirt, Thomas Jane was the first live action Punisher in a major Hollywood blockbuster. Well, actually, Dolph Lundgren played The Punisher in a movie first, but comic book readers don't like to talk about that one.
On the contrary, people loved Jane's interpretation of The Punisher, even if the movie wasn't well-received. It led to him becoming a breakout star himself. As an actor newly in demand, AMC were eyeing Jane to play Don Draper on Mad Men. During an interview with Marc Maron, Jon Hamm said they wanted Thomas Jane as their star, but he didn't want to do television. He eventually did star in HBO's Hung.
8 PAUL GIAMATTI - THE OFFICE
Paul Giamatti may not be a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- yet, as of this writing -- but he did play Rhino in the Marvel movie, Amazing Spider-Man 2. Long before that role came to Giamatti's door step, Giamatti was up for an extremely surprising comedy role: Michael Scott on The Office.
When NBC had gone into pre-production to create their US version of The Office, then-NBC boss Kevin Reilly's top pick to play Michael Scott was Paul Giamatti, as the actor was fresh off the heels of getting nominated for an Oscar for Sideways. He declined, and as Rainn Wilson revealed in a 10-year old audition sign-in sheet he posted online, several actors auditioned in his place. Including Wilson himself, Alan Tudyk, and of course, Steve Carell who won the part.
7 NATALIE PORTMAN - LOLITA
Ever since first stepping onto the Hollywood scene, Natalie Portman has been a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. In more recent years, the actress has shown she is well in the prime of her career thanks to powerhouse performances given in films like Black Swan, Closer, Jackie, and Annihilation. Even as a child, she was a sought after actor due to her incredible performances.
So sought after, in fact, that she was offered the title role of Lolita for the 1997 book adaptation. However, she declined the offer. When asked about the matter during an interview, the young teenaged Portman admitted that at the time, she was not willing to put herself in a that type of role at that age, and she thought that there was "enough exploitation out there that it's not necessary to do more of that."
6 MICKEY ROURKE - PULP FICTION
Pulp Fiction is infamous for rejuvenating John Travolta's career. Quentin Tarantino hoped to work the same magic for Mickey Rourke, whose career was also in turmoil at the time when Tarantino offered him the part of Butch. Rourke told the Daily Mail that not only did he let the opportunity pass him by, he didn't even read the script Tarantino gave him.
Interestingly enough, Rourke preferred to focus on his real life boxing career which he started at the time rather than play the on-screen prizefighter role that ended up going to Bruce Willis. Rourke would not be allowed a career comeback until his Golden Globe winning role as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in 2008's The Wrestler. The comeback allowed him the opportunity to play Whiplash in Iron Man 2.
5 BEN KINGSLEY - THE LAST AIRBENDER
Ben Kingsley is truly an actor's actor. He blew everyone away in Iron Man 3 when he went from playing the seemingly intimidating (albeit fraudulent) Mandarin to the measly weasel named Trevor Slattery in a matter of moments. Even before that, Kingsley regularly gave tour de forces in films like Gandhi, Schindler's List, Sexy Beast, and The House of Sand and Fog. He almost committed himself to work the same magic on The Last Airbender.
M. Night Shyamalan originally considered to bring in Ben Kingsley to play Prince Zuko's Uncle Iroh, but when the decision was made for everyone in the Fire Nation to be played by Middle Eastern and Indian actors, the director had no choice but to drop Kingsley from his original plans.
4 BENICIO DEL TORO - STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE
Sure, saying that Ray Park stole the show in The Phantom Menace may not be saying much considering that the first Star Wars prequel is notoriously a lackluster film, Park's performance as Darth Maul is truly a highlight of the film. It is interesting to think about how different the film may have been if Benicio Del Toro was cast as Darth Maul, as that was originally the case in early production.
He was originally considered for the role and initially was set to play the part, but after George Lucas wound up taking out most of Maul's lines from the script before production went underway, Del Toro was turned off and walked away from the movie. He re-joined the franchise for Last Jedi as DJ. And of course, he's The Collector in the MCU.
3 GLENN CLOSE - DUNE
Since the very start of her career, Glenn Close has always had a knack for playing strong willed and sharp tongued women on the big screen. Keeping that in mind, it's understandable as to why Glenn Close turned down the opportunity to star in the 1984 adaptation of Dune as Lady Jessica, a role that wound up being taken by Francesca Annis.
Prior to Annis being cast, Close was offered the role, but said that she didn't want to play "the girl who is always running and falling down behind the men." Instead, later down the line, Close opted to pursue the lead role in Fatal Attraction, where she did more chasing men down than being chased. Her performance led to Close receiving her fourth Oscar nomination, and her third Golden Globe nod.
2 VIN DIESEL - 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS
Nowadays, Vin Diesel happily flips back and forth between starring in the Fast franchise and playing Groot for the MCU, but 15 years ago, he had trepidations about juggling multiple projects at once. When first approached with a $20 million offer to reprise his role as Dom in 2 Fast 2 Furious, he was already onboard another project, The Chronicles of Riddick.
He decided he would rather pursue the latter project. It also helped that he read the script for 2 Fast 2 Furious and didn't like it. However, two Fast movies later, Diesel decided to return to the franchise and has headlined it ever since. In fact, he regrets declining the first sequel now because he thinks he should've have tried harder to make that bad script work as "an obligation to the audience to fight."
1 LAURENCE FISHBURNE - DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE
Long before he assembled The Avengers as Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson played John McClane's sidekick, Zeus, in Die Hard with a Vengeance, but the part very nearly wasn't his. In fact, considering everything revolving the matter, it arguably shouldn't be his. As reported by The Insider back in 1996, the studio Cinergi wanted Laurence Fishburne onboard to play Zeus.
Initially, Fishburne turned it down to focus on another project, but he made a verbal agreement -- an agreement that Bruce Willis himself witnessed -- with Cinergi that as soon as he's done, the part was his. Instead, Cinergi hired Jackson and started filming. For breaking their promise, Fishburne sued the production company. Recently, Fishburned joined the MCU to play Dr. Bill Foster for Ant Man & The Wasp.