Hot off the release of Black Panther, fans are celebrating an MCU rarity: a complex supervillain. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger gave Marvel fans something they’d been thirsting for at least since Captain America: Winter Soldier. Killmonger was a compelling villain that managed to both touch a sympathetic nerve, as well as provide a real sense of danger for the movie’s heroes. Unfortunately, not all supervillain actors are as powerful as Jordan was when they are called upon to deliver a villainous performance. In fact, there’ve been plenty of rumored casting that we wish played out on the big screen instead of what we did end up getting to see.
For every Killmonger-tier performance, there’s ten forgettable January Jones type of performances. Whenever we hear rumors about who almost played the role of someone like the DCEU’s Lex Luthor instead of Jesse Eisenberg, our imagination lights up with what could’ve been. But the same goes for nightmarish rumors. Sometimes we hear that a beloved performance almost never happened — that in some bizarre alternate universe, Tom Hiddleston isn’t playing Loki and that Thanos is played by a living-meme. The horror! Here are eight supervillain casting rumors better than what we got, and seven that are worse.
15. BETTER: BRYAN CRANSTON AS SEBASTIAN SHAW
If Breaking Bad revealed anything to comic book fans, it’s that Bryan Cranston was born to play a supervillain. It turns out that he was offered the gig for Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class. He almost did it too but had to turn it down because of a scheduling conflict.
Like a lot of the entries on this list, Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw was far from terrible, but he was also far from memorable. And nobody was dying for Kevin Bacon to play an X-Men big bad. On the other hand, fans salivate at the thought of Cranston playing an evil mastermind — any evil mastermind. At this point, we can forgive Cranston for turning down the role of Sebastian Shaw. Perhaps he can play the MCU’s Norman Osborn?
14. WORSE: AMBER HEARD AS MYSTIQUE
When it was announced that Jennifer Lawrence would be joining James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender for the next wave of X-Men films, we were ecstatic. By that time, Lawrence was already showing tremendous potential. And now there’s no doubt that she’s one of the best young actresses in Hollywood.
Amber Heard isn’t on the same tier as someone like Lawrence. If they did decide to go with Heard over Lawrence, it would’ve been a big drop in quality. Lawrence’s Mystique stood out after X-Men: First Class came out. She was such a hit that, for a time, Fox imagined Mystique taking over the role of Wolverine as the face of the X-Men universe. If Heard had taken the role, Mystique would’ve likely played a supporting role on par with how the character figured into the original trilogy.
13. BETTER: ANTON YELCHIN AS HARRY OSBORN
The late Anton Yelchin was first up for the role of Peter Parker in Sony’s Spider-Man reboot, and then for the role of Parker’s frenemy, Harry Osborn. For whatever reason, Yelchin was passed over for both, and the Harry Osborn role was handed over to the breakout star of Chronicle, Dane DeHaan.
First of all, we have to give props where props are due. Despite all of the crap that filled the two hours of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, DeHaan did a fine job. It’s not his fault the movie missed out on the “don’t use the Schumacher Batman flicks as inspiration” memo. Regardless, we think Yelchin would’ve made a good Osborn. Besides his Osborn-ish hair, we like Yelchin because, well, he’s super likable. Osborn should be likable. That makes his conflict with Peter all the more heartbreaking.
12. WORSE: NIC CAGE AS SCARECROW
Back before Nic Cage evolved into a living meme and he was still a highly-respected actor, Joel Schumacher wanted him to play Scarecrow in his third Batman flick. We can’t say we’re surprised. Considering that overacting was a hallmark of the Schumacher Batman movies, Cage was the perfect choice to close out the Schumacher trilogy.
The flick was titled Batman Unchained and was to feature Scarecrow as the primary antagonist and Harley Quinn as a secondary villain. But the Batman and Robin follow-up was never made, and Cillian Murphy provided an accurately creepy portrayal of Scarecrow in Batman Begins. To be clear: Would we like to see Nic Cage go nuts as Scarecrow? Of course. But would he be a better Scarecrow than Cillian Murphy? Heck no.
11. BETTER: RACHEL WEISZ AS CATWOMAN
In the mysterious lead-up to The Dark Knight Rises, rumors popped up everywhere, but few were confirmed. However, the rumor that Rachel Weisz was up for the role of Catwoman was, and from the sound of it, she almost got the role.
Some casting possibilities instantly spark movies in the heads of fans. Rachel Weisz as Catwoman is one of those possibilities. Weisz looks the part, and we know she can play the sly and seductive role of Selina Kyle. Of course, this isn’t to tear down Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the Bat-baddie. She took on an incredible challenge — portray a Catwoman that doesn’t smash the borders of Nolan’s grounded universe — and succeeded. But was she memorable? Not really. We think a Weisz Catwoman could’ve given us a little something extra.
10. WORSE: BOB HOSKINS AS DOCTOR OCTOPUS
In the late ’80s, Bob Hoskins almost played Doctor Octopus. The unmade movie featured Tom Cruise in the lead role as Peter Parker squaring off against Hoskins’ Doctor Octopus, with Joseph Zito due to direct.
Hoskins was a fine actor, but we can’t deny the feeling that we dodged a bullet with this one. It’s not so much that Hoskins would’ve made a terrible Doc Ock, just that, well, it was the ’80s. And at the time, a good superhero flick was a very rare beast. Besides, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is regarded by many as the best Spider-Man flick to date. Alfred Molina’s rendition of Spidey’s tentacled foe was spectacular, reminding many fans that Doc Ock was a villain on par with the Green Goblin.
9. BETTER: MICHAEL C. HALL AS WILLIAM STRYKER
X-Men Origins: Wolverine has gone down as one of the worst and just plain embarrassing superhero movies of the 21st century. But we think it could’ve been incrementally better if Michael C. Hall were involved. When the film was in production, Hall was rumored to be playing a younger William Stryker. Unfortunately, the rumor ended up having no substance, and the role of William Stryker was awarded to Danny Huston.
Why would Hall be a better Stryker? The pitch is simple: Wolverine vs. Dexter. The movie is already structured in a format of “Wolverine Vs”, and Wolverine vs. Dexter sure as heck sounds a lot more enticing than Wolverine vs. that guy from 30 Days of Night. Plus, Stryker is supposed to be a serious nemesis for Wolverine, so it would be nice if the role were charged with some star power.
8. WORSE: JOSH HARTNETT AS LOKI
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is a commodity in the MCU. The MCU has excelled in many areas and has outperformed our wildest expectations, but it has one consistent weakness: flat and otherwise forgettable villains. Except for the Winter Soldier and Eric Killmonger, no villain in the MCU has been loved by fans as much as Loki has. Every time the villain shows up, we can count on Hiddleston to further flesh out the always entertaining God of Mischief.
If Josh Hartnett had been cast as Loki, the MCU would’ve been without a notable villain until Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hartnett just doesn’t carry the charisma that Hiddleston does. Hartnett is also similar in build to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and part of what makes the dynamic between Hiddleston’s Loki and Thor is how different they appear and act.
7. BETTER: JOHN MALKOVICH AS VULTURE
Sam Raimi was serious about creating Spider-Man 4. The director kept sending the script back, frustrated by the lack of the right story. Eventually, he was forced to fold by the studio, but since then, we’ve learned a lot about the bare bones of Spider-Man 4. One thing that popped up was the rumor that John Malkovich would be signing up to play the role of Vulture.
You can say a lot of things about Raimi’s Spider-Man films, but you’d be hardpressed to say that his villains weren’t memorable. In each film, including the convoluted third one, Spidey’s villains expressed nuances that we rarely see in MCU villains. Michael Keaton did fine with what he was given in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but he couldn’t avoid the MCU tendency to vacuum up character complexity for the sake of Marvel’s Disney-tone.
6. WORSE: VIGGO MORTENSEN AS GENERAL ZOD
The DC Extended Universe got off to a rocky start with Man of Steel. The film had a slew of problems, but unlike future DCEU movies, the casting was on point. Henry Cavill looks, talks, and feels like Superman, albeit, a very melancholic Superman (not his fault). Amy Adams is a solid choice for Lois Lane, and we only wish she was given more to work with. And Michael Shannon appeared to be the perfect pick to play to General Zod.
Viggo Mortensen is always a reliable actor, but he doesn’t have the same militant resonance that Shannon can so smoothly portray. Shannon often portrays hard men, making him a nice fit for the cold and vengeful General Zod. We aren’t knocking Mortensen, but in our estimate, Shannon edges him out for this role.
5. BETTER: SIGOURNEY WEAVER AS EMMA FROST
If Bryan Singer hadn’t left to do Superman Returns, he planned to use Sigourney Weaver for the role of the White Queen of the Brotherhood, Emma Frost. Instead, we got the horrendous mutant-fest that was X-Men: The Last Stand and Emma Frost wasn’t introduced until later in X-Men: First Class.
Mad Men‘s January Jones played the White Queen in what stood out as one of the weaker parts of the movie. There’s no doubt in our minds that Weaver would’ve played a more menacing and memorable Emma Frost. She’s a legend as far as we’re concerned, and certainly has more acting chops than Jones. If Weaver hadn’t already played the role of Alexandra in The Defenders, we’d be casting our vote for her to play the MCU’s Emma Frost.
4. WORSE: EMMA ROBERTS AS HARLEY QUINN
There was a whole lot of bad that went into Suicide Squad, but that doesn’t include casting Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. From the first trailer, we could tell that Robbie would steal the show as Joker’s famous girlfriend. Suicide Squad and the entire DC Extended Universe is filled with suspect casting — but Robbie as Harley Quinn was on point.
It’s hard to imagine Emma Roberts bringing the flair and charisma that Robbie did to the role. It’s even harder to imagine Roberts carrying the mess that was Suicide Squad like Robbie did. Without Robbie in the role of Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn wouldn’t have become a household name, and we doubt there’d be any Suicide Squad 2 in production. At the end of the day, who could’ve guessed that Harley Quinn would ever outshine Joker on the big screen?
3. BETTER: TIM CURRY AS JOKER
Tim Curry knows a thing or two about playing terrifying clowns. Curry played the role of Pennywise in the original It adaptation, and despite some corny acting by his fellow cast members, gave a memorably horrifying performance. It comes as little surprise that Curry was up for the role of Joker in Tim Burton’s first Batman flick. While Jack Nicholson did do the role justice, we can’t help but wonder what kind of nightmares a Tim Curry Joker would’ve produced.
Curry was also up for the voice of Joker for Batman: The Animated Series. In fact, Curry recorded multiple episodes before being replaced by the now legendary Mark Hamill Joker. The reason Curry was replaced? His voice was too terrifying for a children’s cartoon. In any case, if Curry had played Joker, we could be talking about him today like we talk about Hamill.
2. WORSE: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AS THANOS
Every year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings in new top-tier actors to their already stacked roster. Whether it be seasoned veterans or young actors that are on the rise, the MCU seems intent on swallowing any and all talent that Hollywood has to offer. But some actors simply should not be in the MCU in any major capacity — and that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger doesn’t exactly lose himself in his roles. When audiences see Schwarzenegger on-screen, they don’t see the character that Schwarzenegger is playing. Instead, they see Schwarzenegger playing a character. Case in point, just imagine Schwarzenegger’s face painted purple, portraying the menacing Thanos. Imagine the first ten years of the MCU being built up to battle Arnold Schwarzenegger. That, by the way, was suggested by Jim Starlin, and the rumor frightened Marvel fans everywhere for about half a week.
1. BETTER: JOAQUIN PHOENIX AS LEX LUTHOR
There were a lot of things wrong with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And one of them was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, which seemed to gather inspiration from Batman Forever‘s duo of villains. Simply put, Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor felt nothing like Lex Luthor, leaving fans baffled by how poorly Superman’s arch nemesis could be portrayed. To add insult to injury, before DC went to Eisenberg with the role, they had approached Joaquin Phoenix.
Joaquin Phoenix is a hugely accomplished actor and has proven his ability to play despicable characters. His role in Gladiator alone is enough to indicate his potential in playing the villainous Lex Luthor. It’s too bad Phoenix turned down the role. If there’s any good news here, it’s that Phoenix does appear to be joining the DC Universe (or something) in the role of the Joker.
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