Man of Steel: Ten actors who almost played Superman

Several actors almost wore the red cape

Henry Cavill made his debut appearance as Superman in 'Man of Steel'. (Warner Bros)
Henry Cavill as Superman in 2013's Man of Steel. (Warner Bros)

Superman is synonymous with actors Christopher Reeve, Henry Cavill and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Brandon Routh, but there was once a time when the character could have been portrayed by completely different people.

The last son of Krypton was a role that many sought to take on, while there were others who chose to shun the red cape entirely when offered the role, and soon there will be a brand new actor to portray Kal-el in James Gunn's forthcoming film Superman: Legacy.

This year Cavill's Superman debut, Man of Steel, turns ten years old, so we're looking back at the actors who, at one time or another, could have played the character.

Which actors almost played Superman?

Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage pointing a gun in a scene from the film 'Snake Eyes', 1998. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)
Nicolas Cage in 1998's Snake Eyes. (Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most famous example of an actor whose Superman we didn't get to see is Nicholas Cage, who was once meant to portray the hero for Tim Burton in Superman Lives over 20 years ago.

The actor went so far as to put on the character's iconic suit in costume tests that are featured in the documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? but ultimately it was not meant to be.

Read more: Nicolas Cage's best movies: A celebration of the many phases of Cage's career

In an interview with Variety in March, Cage said of the failed project: “It was more of a 1980s Superman with like, the samurai black long hair.

"I thought it was gonna be a really different, sort of emo Superman, but we never got there.”

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone / Paradise Alley / 1978 directed by Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone in 1978's Paradise Alley. (Alamy)

When the first Superman film was in development in the 1970s, director Richard Donner was keen to cast an unknown actor in the title role but one name that was suggested to him was, surprisingly, Sylvester Stallone.

The action star was on the rise in Hollywood thanks to Rocky and so the film's casting director thought he would be a great fit as the Man of Steel, but Donner thought otherwise.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter the director reflected that producer Alexander Salkind "wanted a name" and so he met Stallone, as he said: "I tried to be nice and say, 'This is wrong.' I liked Stallone; he turned out to be a nice guy.

"He wanted to do it. I remember meeting him in his manager’s office and I was as cordial as I could be. He was a big star and I’m some punk kid."

Read more: Superman director Richard Donner is not a fan of 'bleak and angry' superhero movies

Joe Manganiello

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 12: Joe Manganiello attends the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 12, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Cindy Ord/VF23/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
Joe Manganiello was one of Zack Snyder's picks to play Superman before Henry Cavill was ultimately chosen. (Getty Images).

Before Cavill took on the role of Clark Kent, one actor who Zack Snyder considered to take on the role was Joe Manganiello, but the actor was unable to commit to the part because of his commitment to True Blood.

Matt Bomer

Matt Bomer at the star ceremony where Carrie Fisher is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on May 4, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)
Matt Bomer was also considered for the role of Superman. (Getty Images)

Matt Bomer almost portrayed Superman for Brett Ratner in a film that ultimately didn't come to fruition, though he did voice the character in Superman: Unbound.

Speaking on the Happy, Sad, Confused podcast in 2015, Bomer said: “I actually screen-tested for Superman, and there was a time when Brett Ratner and I were going to work together on it.

“That particular incarnation of that franchise sort of fell apart, and then it became a whole different beast."

Will Smith

Will Smith during Mary J. Blige and Will Smith Visit
Will Smith in 2006. (Al Pereira/WireImage)

Will Smith was once offered the title role for Superman Returns, which ultimately saw Routh play the character, but he rejected the part because he didn't feel he'd suit the part.

Read more: Brandon Routh reveals why a 'Superman Returns' sequel never happened

In an interview with MTV in 2008, he said: "The script came, and I was like, 'there is no way I'm playing Superman!' Because I had already done Jim West [of 'Wild Wild West'], and you can't be messing up white people's heroes in Hollywood! You mess up white people's heroes in Hollywood, you'll never work in this town again!"

Brendan Fraser

380071 07: Actor Brendan Fraser Stars In 20Th Century Fox's New Movie
Brendan Fraser in 2000's Bedazzled. (Getty Images)

JJ Abrams was once going to make a Superman film titled Superman: Flyby in the early 2000s, and one of the actors that was in the running for the role was Brendan Fraser.

While he has praised Abrams' vision for the character in the past, Fraser told Howard Stern earlier this year that he was concerned about being defined by the character for the rest of his career.

Read more: The troubled timeline of The Flash: What happened to the DC movie?

Of the project being cancelled, he said: "I felt disappointed that there was an amazing opportunity and it didn’t come to fruition.

“It had to do a lot with some shenanigans and studio politics. And probably, inherently, in my screen test. I think that’s why you test… they could kind of see I was only there like 98 percent.”

Matthew Goode

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 10:  Actor Matthew Goode attends The Weinstein Company's
Matthew Goode was also considered by Zack Snyder after they'd worked together on Watchmen (Getty Images).

Another contender for Snyder's Man of Steel was Matthew Goode, who the director had worked with in his 2009 adaptation of Watchmen, but ultimately Snyder chose Cavill instead.

Josh Hartnett

SANTA MARGHERITA DI PULA, ITALY - JUNE 12: Josh Hartnett attends the Filming Italy 2022 photocall on June 12, 2022 in Santa Margherita di Pula, Italy. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli / Getty Images)
Josh Hartnett turned down the chance to play Superman because he didn't want to be typecast (Getty Images)

Josh Hartnett was offered the role of Superman for Singer's Superman Returns, but he ultimately turned it down because he didn't want to become typecast.

In an interview with Metro in 2020, the actor shared: "There were a lot of powers that be that wanted me to pursue those films, but I have always been interested in stories about people and I didn't want to be boxed into that superhero type.

Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel in <i>Superman Returns</i>(Warner Bros.)
Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel in Superman Returns. (Warner Bros.)

"Back then a lot of actors had to fight really hard to get their career back after they played those characters. At that age it is very easy to become someone else's tool or someone else's puppet. I was very aware of the choices I was making and I wanted them to be my choices."

Jude Law

Jude Law arrives for the UK premiere of The Holiday, at the Odeon Leicester Square in central London.   (Photo by Lewis Whyld - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Jude Law at the 2006 UK premiere of The Holiday. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Jude Law was also in the running to portray Superman for Singer, and he even got so far as to wearing the character's costume but that was exactly what put him off.

Read more: Why Henry Cavill loves to read false Superman rumours

The actor spoke about his decision to turn down the role in an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where. he said: “I take the suit into the bathroom and I’m putting it on and I look around and I look in the mirror and suddenly I’m Superman. And the music kind of comes in.

“Then I have this picture of me in that costume in posters all over the world and I was like, ‘No way!’ And I unzipped it. But I was Superman for two minutes, that was enough.”

Paul Newman

JOHNSTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA - CIRCA 1977: Paul Newman appears in the classic movie Slapshot, a story of a minor league hockey team based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images)
Paul Newman in 1977's Slapshot. (Getty Images)

When the 1978 Superman film was in development, Paul Newman was so in demand that he was offered the role of the Man of Steel, Lex Luthor or Jor-el for $4 million.

But the actor wasn't keen on playing any of them.

Man of Steel is streaming on Prime Video in the UK.

Watch: Henry Cavill dropped as Superman after publicly confirming return to role