It’s been eighteen years since the birth of the modern genre of superhero films. Who knows how long it will be until the bubble bursts. I, for one, hope it continues for many years to come. Until then the genre has only been expanding. With more and more of these films being released, it’s no longer fans making lists of who’s in them, but more like who isn’t! There’s Russell Crowe, who missed out on his chance to portray Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s first X-Men (2000). That was the film that kicked off the genre. Crowe believed it was a silly cartoon concept and didn’t fit him. He did recommend Hugh Jackman and the rest is history.
In today’s cinematic landscape, the opportunity to take on a role in a superhero film is a quick way to earn pop culture stardom. We’re talking Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), DC Universe, or even the Sony-Fox-Marvel mishigas! It doesn’t matter, as long as the film’s good. It also doesn’t matter if you’re a legendary award-winner or a newcomer looking for your big break. Being in a superhero film these days is a good gig! Well, we say that, but as we saw with Crowe, that isn’t always the case. In spite of the impact these films have had on the box office, not every actor is falling over themselves to claim one. Whether it’s because they can’t see themselves seriously performing the role, or they can’t fit in their schedules, as you’ll see here, quite a few simply said ‘no thanks.’ Let’s take a look at 25 superheroes that were almost played by different actors.
25 JESSICA CHASTAIN - HOPE VAN DYNE
Jessica Chastain is known for her award-nominated performances in films like 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty. She’s an A-lister now, so, unsurprisingly, the MCU called her in hopes she might be willing to join. Chastain was receptive but knew you have to get the role right, as you only get one chance to make a first impression.
First, Shane Black asked her to join 2013’s Iron Man 3. Unfortunately, her schedule was already full. Then she was offered the female lead in 2015’s Ant-Man. Again, she had to decline. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to see her suit up soon!
24 GLENN HOWERTON - STAR-LORD
Marvel’s decision to take a chance on television comedic darling Chris Pratt for the lead in Guardians had a huge payoff! Fans couldn’t be happier. But director James Gunn has gone on record claiming that he was also considering Glenn Howerton if Pratt fell through.
It’s Always Sunny fans have long known that Howerton has the comedic ability and chiseled good looks. Howerton auditioned for the role and impressed Gunn. If Chris Pratt hadn’t accepted the role, we’d have had the “Golden God” himself, Glen Howerton!
23 OLIVIA MUNN - VANESSA CARLYSLE
In limbo for years, fans finally got the Deadpool film they were waiting for in 2016; there was much rejoicing! That same year, X-Men: Apocalypse opened. The latter film co-starred Olivia Munn as the mutant Psylocke.
Originally, she was approached for the role of Vanessa Carlysle, girlfriend of Wade Wilson, Deadpool. Munn passed on the role as she wasn’t interested in playing the main character’s girlfriend; she wasn’t interested in simply being “eye candy,” as she put it. Morena Baccarin was cast in her place and Munn jumped on-board the X-Men franchise.
22 RAMPAGE JACKSON - JOHN WRAITH
MMA star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is a legendary UFC fighter. He co-starred as B.A. Baracus in the big-screen adaptation of the hit series The A-Team. However, many don’t know that about a year or so prior, Jackson was offered a role in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Fox Studios sought the championship fighter for the role of John Wraith, a mutant teleporter, and friend of Wolverine. Jackson was in the middle of training for an upcoming fight and had to decline. The role then went to music star will.i.am.
21 OLIVIA WILDE - GAMORA
Olivia Wilde is no stranger to action and fantasy roles. She co-starred in Tron: Legacy (2010) and Cowboys and Aliens (2011). The films might not be so memorable, but her performances were good. She was up for Lois Lane in 2013’s Man of Steel, and was a fan-favorite for Lara Croft role in the new Tomb Raider.
When James Gunn offered her the role of assassin Gamora in 2014’s Guardians, the timing just wasn’t right. She had to decline. Wilde has never discussed why, so we might never know the reason. Zoe Saldana is great in the role, but the versatile Wilde probably would’ve been just as good.
20 DOUGRAY SCOTT - WOLVERINE
Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) kicked off the modern era of superhero films. It changed the cinematic landscape forever and made the genre a massive draw. The breakout character from that early film was Wolverine. Stage actor Hugh Jackman will be forever known for the role. Did you know he wasn’t the studio’s first choice?
The Scottish actor Dougray Scott was originally offered the role and he even accepted! However, he was in the middle of filming Mission: Impossible II and production went over schedule. Scott was forced to drop out of the film and Jackman went on to become a huge star!
19 EMILY BLUNT - BLACK WIDOW
Emily Blunt was a fan-favorite for the lead role in the upcoming Captain Marvel film. What most people don’t know is that Blunt had already been offered a few roles in Marvel films. Originally, in 2010, Jon Favreau wanted Blunt for the role of Natasha Romanoff in 2010’s Iron Man II.
Blunt couldn’t do it due to some scheduling conflicts, but the following year Kevin Feige then offered her the role of Agent Peggy Carter in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Again, the timing wasn’t right and she had to pass. Scarlett Johansson and Haley Atwell ended up being cast in those roles, respectively. It’s not hard to see how great Blunt would’ve been as either of those characters!
18 JOAQUIN PHOENIX - DOCTOR STRANGE
When Marvel set about casting the mystical character of Doctor Stephen Strange, Joaquin Phoenix topped the list. They approached Phoenix and he was receptive to the idea, but ultimately passed on the role. He has often said that he has nothing against Marvel films, even calling them fun. However, Phoenix felt that he would not do well acting against a green screen.
He actually has shown little interest in CGI and effects-driven films. Marvel may have wanted Phoenix, but director Scott Derrickson said the only actor he wanted was Benedict Cumberbatch. So, for the film, it all worked out.
17 JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT - STAR-LORD
Okay, Chris Pratt is Star-Lord! The guy worked out aggressively, lost a bunch of weight, and the role might have even ended up costing him his marriage. I’d say he’s earned all of his success. However, now we know the role was not really his originally.
Pratt might’ve been a top choice over Glenn Howerton, but rumors are that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a top contender. He’s always publicly denied it, of course. Still, different rumor mills have stated that Gordon-Levitt was actually offered the role and he turned it down, choosing instead to join Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
16 MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY - UNNAMED ROLE IN GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Matthew McConaughey once admitted that he was actually offered a big role in the Guardians sequel, but turned it down. McConaughey opted instead to star in the film adaptation of the Stephen King thriller The Dark Tower.
In a Playboy interview, he explained, “I like Guardians of the Galaxy, but what I saw was, 'It's successful, and now we've got room to make a colorful part for another big-name actor.' I'd feel like an amendment.” He has never elaborated on what role he was offered. Many have speculated that it was Ego, the role that ultimately went to Kurt Russell.
15 MATT DAMON - TWO-FACE
Aaron Eckhart was cast as Harvey Dent, Gotham District Attorney, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The heroic character ultimately becomes the villain Two-Face. It was a great role in a great film. Many fans don’t realize that Eckhart wasn’t actually Nolan’s first choice.
Matt Damon reportedly got the call first but had to decline. “I couldn’t [do it] – there was a scheduling thing,” Damon told MTV News. Would he join the franchise now, especially with good friend Ben Affleck involved? “I'd consider anything with the right director…," he said. "If [Ben] was directing me, I'd jump on it in a New York minute. I'd love to work with Ben."
14 JOHN KRASINSKI - CAPTAIN AMERICA
Would you believe John Krasinski was almost cast as Captain America? Well, you might believe it now, but years ago there was no way. Krasinski came in to test for the role back before Chris Evans was cast. In 2016, during an interview with Conan O’Brien, Krasinski explained how he was invited to the Marvel set.
He was trying on the new Captain America suit. He got it up to his waist, shirtless, “feeling pretty good about myself,” he recalled. “All of a sudden, Chris Hemsworth walked by as Thor, and he’s like ‘hey mate,’” Krasinski continued. “And I went, ‘I’m good, this is stupid. I’m not Captain America.’” The sight of all that muscle on Hemsworth shattered any confidence he might have had in portraying the character. As it happened, having Chris Evans become Captain America became one of the greatest things that could have happened to the MCU.
13 LEONARDO DICAPRIO - ROBIN
Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in 1997’s Titanic, raised him to superstar status. However, a few years prior, Warner Bros. approached DiCaprio to portray Dick Grayson, Robin, in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (1995). Some say he even screen-tested for the role, which, of course, DiCaprio steadfastly denies.
“I had a meeting with Joel Schumacher,” he says. “It was just one meeting and, no, I didn’t end up doing it.” DiCaprio insists he was never interested in the role. “As I recall I took the meeting but didn’t want to play the role… I don’t think I was ready for anything like that.” Judging by the film’s place in cinematic history, I’d say he made the right choice in turning it down. He became very busy in starring in movies that would continue to rise him to Oscar level status.
12 TOM HARDY - RICK FLAG
Having already appeared in The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy was ready when Warner Bros. decided to launch the DC Universe. The studio wanted Hardy to appear in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016), as Col. Rick Flag.
Hardy was down and the studio sent the script to him. Later, Hardy politely declined and said he wouldn’t be able to take the role. Rumors are that Hardy disliked the script, though he says that’s not true. Hardy says he had to pull out due to a previous commitment to Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, which had just added three additional months of filming.
11 JASON MOMOA - DRAX
Fans are eagerly awaiting Jason Momoa’s solo outing as the titular hero in James Wan’s Aquaman. What many fans don’t know is that we almost got to see Momoa join the MCU a few years prior to his DC debut. James Gunn offered the impressively built Momoa the part of Drax the Destroyer in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Momoa claims he had to pass as it seemed just another tough guy role where he wouldn’t be wearing a shirt. I guess at first glance the role might seem a bit one-dimensional. It’s a credit to Dave Bautista that he was able to bring so much more out of the character than probably originally envisioned. Plus, we now get to see Momoa as Aquaman!
10 MICHAEL B JORDAN - FALCON
Fans really felt connected to Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of the tragic villain Killmonger in 2018’s Black Panther. Some years before that role, Jordan was close to joining the MCU in a totally different role, a hero role.
When Marvel was casting for the role of Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon, in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Jordan got the call. He went in to read for the part and was called back for an audition. He made the short list, as you know he would, but he was edged out by Anthony Mackie.
9 SAOIRSE RONAN - SCARLET WITCH
When it was announced that the Scarlet Witch would appear in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, I began to think of who would be a perfect portrayal. I envisioned someone like Saoirse Ronan, honestly. Many thoughts the same and it was rumored that Marvel was considering her. It seemed that everyone wanted this lady to play our favourite witch.
Naturally, Ronan caught wind of the role and expressed interest and a desire to work with Joss Whedon. Unfortunately, her busy schedule couldn’t accommodate the film. I guess that’s the rub when you’re an in-demand three-time Oscar-nominated talent!
8 JAKE GYLLENHAAL - RICK FLAG
After Tom Hardy had to pass on the role of Rick Flag in Suicide Squad, director David Ayer moved on to his next choice, Jake Gyllenhaal. He was no stranger to blockbuster action flicks. Unfortunately, he also had to pass on the role. Gyllenhaal has never given a reason why he declined, but again, many say it was the script that turned him off to the role.
Of course, Gyllenhaal has always been on the superhero short list. Sam Raimi actually hired him to star in Spider-Man 2, when Tobey Maguire suffered a back injury. Maguire ended up sticking it out and Gyllenhaal was tapped again for 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, albeit as the villain.
7 RACHEL MCADAMS - PEPPER POTTS
Rachel McAdams appeared alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in 2016’s Doctor Strange. What many don’t know is that she almost joined the MCU some eight years earlier. Reports are that McAdams was originally offered the role of Pepper Potts in 2008’s Iron Man.
Gwyneth Paltrow has become synonymous with the role for the past decade and has appeared at Tony Stark’s side in six MCU films. In fact, without Potts, Stark would’ve crashed and burned long ago. Paltrow has been great in the role, but McAdams could’ve been just as great. I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see if another opportunity arises.
6 ANTHONY HOPKINS - ALFRED PENNYWORTH
Sir Anthony Hopkins is a legendary actor who always delivers the goods. We can’t picture anyone else as Odin in the Thor franchise. We almost got to see Hopkins on the other side of the coin, as Warner Bros. wanted him to join the Batman franchise.
Before Sir Michael Caine was cast as Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), the role was actually offered to Hopkins. He turned it down. Hopkins has never said why he refused the role but Caine went on to give some great movie moments. At least we got Hopkins in the MCU.
5 NICOLAS CAGE - THE GREEN GOBLIN
When you’re looking for an actor who can deliver an over-the-top performance and literally chew up the scenery, Nicolas Cage has got to make your short list. Evidently, Sam Raimi was looking for just that when thinking who could portray the role of Norman Osborn in 2002’s Spider-Man. They just didn’t need an Osborn, but someone who could then portray his eventual alter-ego, The Green Goblin!
When Cage passed, the role eventually went to Willem Dafoe. That man can give you over-the-top! Did you see him in The Boondock Saints? Wow! Cage has said his days of possibly being in a superhero film are behind him, but you never know!
4 JON HAMM - GREEN LANTERN
Regrettably, Warner Bros. has had some misfires when it came to their superhero film projects. Green Lantern was in development limbo for years. The studio finally had the opportunity in 2011, with Martin Campbell signed on to direct and Ryan Reynolds starring as the titular hero.
Reynolds wasn’t always the studio’s first choice. Warner Bros. actually approached a few actors, including Mad Men star, Jon Hamm. “They came after me pretty heard for Green Lantern. But I was like, ‘Meh, that’s not what I want to do,’” he once recalled. While Ryan Reynolds tried his best, the movie went on to be a major disaster, so much so that his new character Deadpool jokes about it constantly in the Deadpool films.
3 JOSH HARTNETT - SUPERMAN AND BATMAN
In the late 1990s, Josh Hartnett was coming into his own! He had starred in some big films like Pearl Harbor (2001) and Black Hawk Down (2001). He was a card-carrying Hollywood heartthrob. The studios were clamoring for him to take on the roles of Spider-Man, Superman, and even Batman! That’s right! He was offered, at different times, all three roles!
"I Somehow knew those roles had [the] potential to define me, and I didn't want that. I didn't want to be labeled as Superman for the rest of my career.” His status has fallen in the past few years, but he’s still talented. Maybe he’ll get another chance one day. Who knows, they have changed Batman and Superman enough times that we can see him taking up one of the caped heroes in the future.
2 PIERCE BROSNAN - BATMAN
Pierce Brosnan is very well-known for his portrayal of the suave private eye Remington Steele. That role eventually earned him the role of super-spy James Bond. That would be the highlight of any actor’s career. As luck would have it, Brosnan also had the opportunity to add another iconic role to his resume, that of starring in a superhero film. He ultimately declined.
When Tim Burton was casting for 1989’s Batman, Brosnan was approached to star. Brosnan admitted that he couldn’t take the role seriously. “Don't get me wrong, because I love Batman, and I grew up on Batman.” He just couldn’t see himself playing the role. But what if he had? How would the genre look today?
1 TOM CRUISE - IRON MAN
Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect actor for his role. His portrayal of billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark is flawless! But before we saw the finished product in 2008’s Iron Man, there was a lot of studio work being done behind the scenes. Remember, Downey Jr. was no longer a big commodity in Hollywood. His years of bad behavior had soured many film executives.
In fact, Tom Cruise was the actor many had in mind to suit up. Kevin Feige confirmed as much in 2004, “There had been discussions [with Cruise] over the last several years and there are a number of factors involved.” However, for whatever reason, that fell through and Marvel took a chance on Downey Jr. The rest is cinematic history!