Superhero movies have been a constant in the world of modern Hollywood, and the genre reached its peak popularity with the explosion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With such a storied history, there are obviously going to be stories of actors who didn’t make the cut. But believe us when we tell you the actors on this list who almost played major superhero roles are quite the collection of characters.
Burt Reynolds - Superman - Superman (1977)
A bunch of big name actors turned down the role of Clark Kent/Superman when it came time to make 1977’s Superman feature film. Among those who skipped this early era of cape action is the legendary Burt Reynolds. The decision seemed to work out in the end, as that same year saw Smokey and the Bandit become one of his most iconic hits.
Demi Moore - Supergirl - Supergirl (1984)
Early in her career, Demi Moore had a chance to become a part of the Superman franchise. She auditioned alongside Brooke Shields for the lead in Supergirl, though Helen Slater would eventually win the part. Moore then almost played the supporting role of Lucy Lane but passed, as she was about to go from being on General Hospital to starring in the Brat Pack era of films, including About Last Night…
Pierce Brosnan - Batman - Batman (1989)
There are quite a few actors that have done the dance of fate with both superhero movies and the James Bond movies. One of the most surprising, besides Burt Reynolds turning down 007, was Pierce Brosnan testing for Tim Burton’s Batman. Brosnan admitted he blew it, especially since he criticized the wardrobe choices of Bruce Wayne’s darker alter-ego.
Annette Bening - Catwoman - Batman Returns (1992)
Annette Bening was almost Catwoman, believe it or not. The original choice for that role in Batman Returns, Bening seemed set to be a part of the film. That is until the actress found out she was pregnant and had to bow out of the part. It’s ok though, as Burton found a more than willing successor in Michelle Pfieffer, who practically signed on after reading half of the script.
Marlon Wayans - Robin - Batman Returns (1992)
Marlon Wayans is the Bobby Bonilla of the superhero movie world. Just as Bobby continues to be paid not to play for the Mets, Wayans still gets royalties for not playing Robin in Batman Returns. Due to the roster of characters in Tim Burton’s 1992 sequel being trimmed, Wayans never took flight as the hero.
Dougray Scott - Wolverine - X-Men (2000)
Out of the 13 actors that almost played Wolverine in X-Men, Dougray Scott was the one that got the closest. Scott was actually cast in the iconic pre-MCU film and was so close to getting to pop those Adamantium claws. If he hadn’t suffered injuries and scheduling conflicts from the tail end of Mission: Impossible II, we would've seen different Logan in action.
Rachel Leigh Cook - Rogue - X-Men (2000)
Brace yourself for a weird loop of coincidence. She’s All That star Rachel Leigh Cook turned down the role of Rogue in 2000’s X-Men. Who did the role end up going to? Academy Award winner Anna Paquin… the actor who gave Cook's character that memorable makeover in the aforementioned teen comedy. Maybe Paquin has some mutant career powers that nobody’s ever noticed before. As for Cook, she eventually admitted that she totally blew it by passing on this classic adventure.
James Cameron’s unmade Spider-Man movie would have gone in some wild directions. Perhaps what fans discuss most is the fact that if he were to have made the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio would have been his Peter Parker! While that’s not the most shocking aspect, especially if you’ve actually read the script, it’s certainly something that feels pretty interesting considering where Cameron and DiCaprio’s careers would go after that point.
Kate Winslet - Elektra - Daredevil (2003)
There was a wide net cast when looking to fill the role of Elektra in 2003’s Daredevil. Lucy Liu, Salma Hayek and even Katie Holmes were all considered; as was Titanic alum Kate Winslet. Considering her co-star Leonardo DiCaprio almost played Spider-Man for James Cameron, could Winslet have also been considered for Mary Jane Watson had that movie gotten off the ground?
Ashley Judd - Catwoman - Catwoman (2004)
Development hell can wreck a movie before it ever shoots a single frame. Michelle Pfieffer's intended Catwoman spinoff, for example, eventually mutated into a standalone film. And somewhere in-between Pfieffer’s variant being iced and Halle Berry’s infamous final product being made, Ashley Judd was meant to play the character in the early aughts. According to the Daily Haggis, Judd dropped out in favor of a stage play; which was probably the better move.
Tom Cruise - Iron Man - Iron Man (2008)
You knew this was coming. When the MCU fired up its arc reactor in 2008, Robert Downey Jr. was there front and center to make Iron Man a mega hit. Of course, the studio needed to be convinced that Downey was the way to go, as there were powers that be who wanted the Mission: Impossible daredevil as the lead. Cruise turned down the part, while at the same time the Tony Stark we knew and loved had enough people in his corner to make it happen.
Emily Blunt - Black Widow - Iron Man 2 (2010)
It’s time to revisit one of the cruelest villains ever: contractual obligations! Back when Iron Man 2 was getting into gear, the then up-and-coming Emily Blunt was offered the role of Natalie Rushman… who was eventually revealed to be Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow. Unfortunately, this was the first of Blunt’s two Marvel passes; with this part going to Scarlett Johansson after Emily had to fulfill her obligation to star in 2010’s Gulliver’s Travels.
20th Century Fox
Daniel Craig - Baldur The Brave - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
The worlds of James Bond and superhero culture have collided before, thanks to Daniel Craig’s rumored Thor casting being debunked. What isn’t as sketchy is the claim that Craig almost played Baldur the Brave in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. And if you need anyone to further firm up this claim, just ask Elizabeth Olsen, who actually saw Craig’s costume after it was designed.
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Joe Jonas - Spider-Man - The Amazing Spider-Man (2011)
One of the greatest heartbreaks in Joe Jonas’ career as an actor is still that time he almost landed the lead role in The Amazing Spider-Man. Jonas recalled his Marvel auditions as well as the tragic turn the situation took when Andrew Garfield landed the role, and it’s hard not to feel for the dude. Then again, Jonas may have dodged a bullet, considering where that series went.
John Krasinski - Captain America - Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
One of the hot prospects for the casting of Captain America was appropriately a man who’s clearly cut out for the role of an American boy scout -- John Krasinski. Though The Office star failed to secure the bag as Steve Rogers, he did go on to play the similarly patriotic lead of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Oh yeah… and he was a Multiversal Reed Richards in Doctor Strange 2 as well.
Morena Baccarin - Maria Hill - The Avengers (2012)
Joss Whedon sure does have a deep bench of talent he loves to pull from. Firefly alum Morena Baccarin knows that fact, as she auditioned for The Avengers to play the role of Maria Hill. Though she stayed in the extended MCU family through Deadpool, Baccarin admitted she tanked the audition because she didn’t get Hill’s character on the page.
Cillian Murphy - Batman - Batman Begins (2005)
Beginning his stint as one of the actors in the most Christopher Nolan movies, Cillian Murphy played Scarecrow in Batman Begins and was a menacing presence to behold. And yet, the Irish actor initially tried out for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman; going as far as doing screen tests in and out of the Batsuit. While it was admitted that he wasn’t a good fit for the lead role, Nolan did use Murphy’s audition to cast him as Dr. Jonathan Crane; and the rest was history.
Jamie Dornan - Superman - Man of Steel (2013)
Mr. Kent will see you now. If history shook out a bit differently, maybe Henry Cavill would've played the lead in Fifty Shades of Grey, and Jamie Dornan would have been the Man of Steel lead that kicked off the DC Extended Universe.
Amanda Seyfried - Gamora - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
If it wasn’t for Amanda Seyfried questioning whether or not Guardians of the Galaxy would be the first Marvel movie to bomb, she might have accepted the role of Gamora. However, it’s those doubts that kept her out of James Gunn’s 2014 blockbuster; a fact that Seyfried admits she was “very wrong” about.
Glenn Howerton - Star-Lord - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
It’s more than an implication that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Glenn Howerton was almost cast as Star-Lord. It’s been pretty much confirmed by James Gunn that Howerton would have been his next choice, had Chris Pratt not signed on. The only thing more interesting is how “the Golden God” himself wasn’t considered to play Adam Warlock.
Lindsay Lohan - Scarlet Witch - Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
Back in the days of her docu-series Lindsay, this Mouse House graduate thought her manager cost her a role in an Avengers movie. Well, if the timing of that 2014 project was any indication, the whispers of Lindsay Lohan being up for the part of Scarlet Witch just may have been true.
Olga Kurylenko - Wonder Woman - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
If there are two stars that need to be interviewed together about their careers, it’s Gal Gadot and Olga Kurylenko. Apparently, they both competed for lead roles in Quantum of Solace and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; with Kurylenko ultimately getting the Bond experience and Gadot snagging the Lasso of Truth.
Asa Butterfield - Spider-Man - Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Remember that time the world was convinced Asa Butterfield was the new Spider-Man? It happened, and the Sex Education lead apparently did test for the role in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Though his bid was unsuccessful, it’s hard not to admit he’d have made a good candidate had Tom Holland not eventually landed the role.
20th Century Fox
Emma Roberts - Harley Quinn - Suicide Squad (2016)
Apparently, the world has Fox’s now defunct shriek-com Scream Queens for taking Emma Roberts away from Suicide Squad. Roberts chose that TV gig over becoming the living embodiment of mayhem, leaving the role wide open for Margot Robbie to accept, and own, the role of Harley Quinn for years to come.
Josh Brolin - Batman - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Ben Affleck had some stiff competition for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’s Caped Crusader; and Josh Brolin was one of those competitors. But just as those hopes of Bryan Cranston as Lex Luthor and Timothy Dalton as Alfred didn’t pan out, Brolin lost the gig. With that, another major "what if" casting scenario was created.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Ryan Gosling - Doctor Strange - Doctor Strange (2016)
Yes, it’s true: Ryan Gosling took a meeting back in the Phase Three days of the MCU. The Mickey Mouse Club alum was considered to play Dr. Steven Strange himself. It’s hard to tell which missed opportunity is the more intriguing what if: this, or Gosling’s failed attempt to make a Haunted Mansion movie with Guillermo del Toro.
DeWanda Wise - Maria Rambeau - Captain Marvel (2019)
Getting cast in a superhero movie like Captain Marvel, only to have to bow out, has to be a painful feeling. DeWanda Wise is another case of such history in action, as she was supposed to play Maria Rambeau opposite Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers. But then, commitments to Season 2 of Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It forced Wise to exit, with Lashana Lynch taking her place shortly after.
Sean Young - Catwoman - Batman Returns (1992)
Sean Young really wanted to be Catwoman in Batman Returns. No, seriously, the Blade Runner actor had such a desire to be cast in the role, that details reported via CBR saw a Warner Bros exec talking about how she burst into his office, in a Catwoman costume of her own design, to try and impress him and Michael Keaton. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
David Duchovny - Batman - Batman & Robin (1997)
There was a bit of a holding pattern between the success of Batman Forever and the accelerated timeline to make Batman & Robin. In that chaos, Val Kilmer exited the role, and a new Bats needed to be found. The X-Files' David Duchovny was one of the candidates considered, but the spooky man lost out on the role to George Clooney. A fate that Mr. Clooney still apologizes for, to this very day.
Armie Hammer - Batman - Justice League: Mortal (2007)
Tax rebates! That’s what caused the cancellation of George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal, which was pretty far along in pre-production for a movie to be given the axe. With Armie Hammer cast as Batman for this big blockbuster, the Caped Crusader scored yet another intriguing “what if…” when the curtain fell.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Anne Hathaway - Black Cat - Spider-Man 4 (2011)
If Spider-Man 4 had actually happened, it could have been a hell of a sight. With folks like John Malkovich cast, the next intended Sam Raimi-helmed movie could have been a return to the heights of Spider-Man 2. And in that pocket of alternate reality, Anne Hathaway probably didn’t play Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, as she would have played a feline of a different stripe: Felicia Hardy herself, Black Cat.
20th Century Studios
Meet the list of actors who could have played major superhero roles, a roster that ranges from missed opportunities to truly strange choices.