Being cast for a role in the Marvel Universe can really elevate a star’s status. The franchise has become so popular that landing a role as one of the superheroes (or super villains) can put your name down in Hollywood history.
These actors passed on Marvel roles for different reasons, but hey, at least it meant we ended up with the characters we know and love. Just imagine how strange it would be if Tom Cruise played Iron Man!
Matt Damon Was Supposed To Be Daredevil
Long before the 2003 superhero film was released starring Ben Affleck, his longtime buddy Matt Damon was the first choice for the role. Damon told New York Daily News that he’d always been a fan of the Marvel character, but that he didn’t know much about the director’s work, so he passed on the project.
Look, Daredevil as a whole was a huge failure. Affleck has stated on numerous occasions that he regretted taking the role, so maybe Damon passing on it wasn’t such a bad idea.
Marvel Keeps Trying To Cast Joaquin Phoenix
Apparently, Marvel tried many times to get their hands on actor Joaquin Phoenix, but he kept sliding out of their grasp. The producers first wanted Phoenix to play The Hulk/Bruce Banner, but as we all know, the part when to Mark Ruffalo instead. Marvel then tried to cast Phoenix as Dr. Stephen Strange, but once again he turned it down.
When asked why he avoided the Marvel universe for so long, Phoenix said the films “never felt like they’d really be fulfilling.”
Next, see what role Aquaman was originally offered.
Jason Momoa Originally Had A Different Character
Now we know Jason Momoa as the hunky Aquaman from the DC Universe. Years before he landed the aquatic role, he was invited by Marvel to play Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. While the role was tempting, Momoa turned it down because he said the role was too much like other ones he’d played.
DC eventually decided to snatch him up for the role of Aquaman. Momoa later commented that it was ironic because once again he was playing a role where he doesn’t wear a shirt or have many lines. Hey, we’ll still take it.
Rachel McAdams Was The Original Pepper Pots
Not too long ago, Gwyneth Paltrow announced that after 13 years she was retiring from the role of Pepper Pots. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Tony Stark’s secretary and love interest, but Paltrow wasn’t even the first choice. Rachel McAdams of The Notebook was the top choice by Marvel.
McAdams eventually had to decline because of scheduling conflicts at the time. Luckily, she got her second chance at being part of the MCU when she landed her role in Doctor Strange.
Bryan Cranston Was Supposed To Be An X-Men Mutant
The role of mutant Sebastian Shaw was initially offered to fan favorite Bryan Cranston. Cranston was riding high off the success of Breaking Bad and seemed like the perfect person to play the mutant in X-Men: First Class.
Unfortunately, Cranston turned the role down and instead chose to star opposite Ryan Gosling in Drive. There’s no hard feeling though because we got to see the incredible Kevin Bacon take on the role instead.
Keep reading to see why Matthew McConaughey refused to work with Marvel.
There’s A New, Smaller Star Lord In Town
We can’t imagine anyone but Chris Pratt playing the goofy character of Peter Quill AKA Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, but what about Joseph Gordon Levitt? Yep, Levitt was the first choice by producers, but due to conflicting schedules with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Levitt turned down the role.
The Marvel producers then offered the part to Pratt who interestingly enough also turned it down. Pratt thought he was too out of shape for the MCU, but luckily, he changed his mind and hit the gym.
Emily Blunt Said “Yes” To Playing Black Widow
Back in 2009, British actress Emily Blunt was a star on the rise. Her profile was growing so big that Marvel actually reached out to her personally to offer her the role of Black Widow and she accepted immediately! The only problem was, Blunt was already on contract for the film Gulliver’s Travels.
The conflicting contracts and time frame meant Blunt had to call Marvel back and turn down the role. They opened up the role to auditions and found Scarlett Johansson to be the perfect fit.
Matthew McConaughey Was Not Alright, Alright, Alright With The MCU
Both Marvel and DC have been trying to get their hands on Matthew McConaughey for years. The closest they ever got to casting the memorable actor was when he was supposed to play Ego the Living Planet in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Not only did McConaughey turn the part down, but he had some not-so-nice words. The actor said he felt the part was “an amendment” just because Marvel wanted to add a big name to the cast. Yikes.
Coming up, find out what TWO roles Leonardo DiCaprio passed up.
Mel Gibson Was Supposed To Be Odin
When Marvel introduced the character of Odin in Thor, they wanted to cast a big name with an intimidating presence. With those guidelines, Mel Gibson was initially the top pick to play the King of Asgard. In an interview with The Guardian, Gibson simply explained he “didn’t do it.” No rhyme or reason why.
The role ended up going to Anthony Hopkins, who might not seem as intimidating, but definitely did a great job as the character.
Gamora Was Originally Set Aside For Olivia Wilde
Casting the character of Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t easy and it took a few tries for Marvel. When it came to finding the perfect person to play a deadly alien assassin, Olivia Wilde was the first choice. With her talent and good looks, she would have been a shoo-in, but unfortunately, scheduling conflicts forced her to decline.
It appears that Marvel had a really tough time casting for Guardians of the Galaxy but it seems to have worked out alright in the end.
Tom Cruise Was Our Original Iron Man
Yep, you read that right. Tom Cruise was the original actor slated to play the one and only Tony Stark. He was all signed up and ready to go, but eventually backed out because Marvel took too long to get the rights for the character and Cruise “lost interest.”
When they did finally gain the rights back in 2005, Marvel turned to Robert Downey Jr. who audiences know was the perfect actor for the part.
Leonardo DiCaprio Turned Down Multiple Superhero Roles
During an interview with ShortList, DiCaprio said that he’s been on the radar of both DC and Marvel to play superheroes. DC tried to get him to play Robin in Batman Forever but DiCaprio said he wasn’t interested. Years later Marvel tried to take a swing at him and cast the actor as Peter Parker in the original Spider-Man trilogy. Again, he declined.
When he was asked why later on, DiCaprio said he felt that at the time, they weren’t “complex characters.”
John Krasinski auditioned for this major Marvel character while still on The Office.
Wolverine Couldn’t Wait Around For Dougray Scott
One of the most long-lasting and iconic characters in the MCU is Wolverine, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but Hugh Jackman as the character. While Jackman is now a fan-favorite, he was a last minute recast when Dougray Scott had to quickly back out of filming.
Scott was simultaneously shooting Mission Impossible 2. He’d been in a bad motorcycle accident which stalled shooting for MI2. Marvel got tired of waiting for Scott to heal and just a few days before filming began, offered the role to Jackman.
John Krasinski Auditioned For Captain America
It’s easy to believe now that we’ve seen John Krasinski take on action roles, but back in 2011, he was still Jim from The Office. 2011 was the year that Krasinski began stepping into film roles and directing, and one of his first auditions was for Captain America.
He didn’t end up getting the part but he says he doesn’t regret it. Krasinski told Yahoo Entertainment that if he had to sign on for multiple Marvel films, he would have missed out on other great projects.
The next two actresses both wanted a better part than the one they were offered.
Brie Larson Didn’t Want To Become A Marvel Celebrity
Brie Larson has made a name for herself in Hollywood as a serious actress who takes on serious roles. While she’s received a ton of critical acclaim, she keeps a relatively low celebrity profile. That’s why she initially rejected the offer to play Captain Marvel. Larson told Entertainment Weekly that she didn’t want the celebrity that ultimately comes from playing an MCU role.
Considering the fact that Captain Marvel was recently released and broke box office records, it was a good idea that Larson eventually took the role.
Amandla Stenberg Couldn’t Accept A Role In Black Panther On Moral Grounds
The up and coming actress could land basically any role she wanted. In 2018 alone, Amandla Stenberg was the lead in three blockbuster films. That’s why it wasn’t surprising when she was offered the role of Shuri in Black Panther.
She ended up turning down the role though because the felt an African princess should be played by a darker-skinned actress. She admitted it was “challenging to make that decision” but that there are “spaces that [she[ should not take up.” Bravo, Amandla!
Jessica Chastain Just Didn’t Want To Play A Civilian
Most actors would beg to be cast as any part in the MCU, but actress Jessica Chastain decided to be a bit pickier. Marvel reached out to the fiery redhead and offered her the part of genius Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3. There were scheduling issues that forced her to say no, but Chastain also said, “why do a superhero movie and play the boring civilian?”
She got a second chance and was offered the role of the Wasp in Ant-Man, but for unknown reasons, she also lost out on the part.
Olivia Munn Wanted A Bigger Role In Deadpool
Deadpool was one of the most anticipated Marvel Universe films in recent memory and Olivia Munn was originally touted as playing Ryan Reynold’s girlfriend, Vanessa Carlysle. Munn has the looks and the comedic timing so she would have been perfect for the role.
None of that mattered because the actress turned down the role because she “had no desire to play someone’s girlfriend in a movie.” Who knows if her opinion would be different if she’d known Carlysle would turn into Copycat.
Josh Hartnett Was Too Nervous To Play Spider-Man
Josh Hartnett became famous for his roles in action films like Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down, so you’d think he’d feel totally comfortable taking on a superhero action role. Apparently not. In the early 2000s, Hartnett was offered the role of Spider-Man but turned it down immediately.
He later told Playboy Magazine that he was nervous about being “pigeonholed” as an actor. That wasn’t the only superhero role he turned down. Apparently, he also said no to playing both Superman and Batman in the DC Universe.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson Couldn’t Train And Shoot A Film
Quinton Jackson is one of the biggest stars in the MMA world. He was fighting long before Connor McGregor and Ronda Rousey hit the scene. In 2010, Jackson moved out of MMA and into Hollywood when he was cast in The A-Team.
One year later, Jackson was offered the part of John Wraith in the MCU film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Unfortunately, he was preparing for his next MMA fight when he was offered the role and couldn’t train and shoot a film at the same time.
Alec Baldwin Was Going To Play A Mysterious Villain
He might be known for his portrayal of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, but back in 2013, Alec Baldwin was lined up to play a Marvel villain. Baldwin told Howard Stern that he was offered a role but didn’t elaborate what the character was. The actor had to turn it down though because his wife was pregnant at the time.
We’ll never know which villain Baldwin was set to play but we can only hope it would be as captivating as his President Trump impression.
Jensen Ackles Didn’t Have A Good Enough Audition
Any fan of the show Supernatural would agree that Jensen Ackles is a great actor and would have done amazing if he’d been cast as Captain America in the MCU. Ackles auditioned for the part but the role instead went to Chris Evans.
Marvel producers didn’t forget about his audition though and tried instead to offer him the role of Hawkeye. Ackles said he wanted desperately to be in the MCU but his Supernatural commitment got in the way, and he had to turn the role down.
There Were A Lot Of Names Up For The Hulk
The 2008 movie, The Incredible Hulk, was an early MCU attempt and their casting failure reflects it. Edward Norton ended up with the role, but other big names like Vince Chairman, Peter Cuneo, and David Duchovny were all set to star as the angry green giant.
It’s hard to remember a time where Mark Ruffalo wasn’t Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk. He’s been a staple in the Avengers franchise and we’re glad Marvel decided to recast.
Timothy Olyphant Was On The Iron Man Shortlist
Another actor who auditioned for and lost out on the role of Iron Man was Timothy Olyphant. He was on the shortlist for it but lost out at the last minute because Robert Downey Jr. auditioned on the same day as him!
He seems fine with losing out on the part, but Olyphant still jokes about it from time to time. During an interview with Conan O’Brien years later, he said he’s “still waiting to hear back.”
Saoirse Ronan Would Have Loved To Be In The MCU
One of the later additions to the MCU is the Scarlet Witch AKA Wanda Maximoff. The character ended up being played by Elizabeth Olsen, but director Joss Whedon initially had Irish actress Saoirse Ronan in mind. She never ended up actually auditioning but Ronan still regrets not getting the part.
In an interview years later, Ronan said that “of course” she was interested because she “loves Joss and…those films” but sadly it never happened.
Sam Rockwell Stepped Down By Choice
One of the names at the top of the Iron Man casting list was none other than Sam Rockwell. He was a favorite of director Jon Favreau until Robert Downey J. auditioned. According to Rockwell though, he wasn’t cut — he stepped out of the running voluntarily after seeing RDJ’s audition.
It must have been apparent RDJ was meant for the role, but luckily, Rockwell got a second chance and went on to play Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2.
Wonder Woman Was Supposed To Be Kate Beckinsale
Kate Beckinsale’s first superhero opportunity with Marvel was as Wonder Woman. Considering the fact that Wonder Woman inspired a generation of young women, you might wonder why Beckinsale would pass on the role of a lifetime.
Well, at the time she was offered the part, the movie was being directed by Joss Whedon, not Patty Jenkins. Beckinsale admitted that she didn’t want to do a “lesser Wonder Woman movie” that could be “embarrassing to her children.”
Val Kilmer Was Going To Be Captain America
Okay, Val Kilmer wasn’t supposed to be the Chris Evans version of Captain America we know and love. He was actually lined up to portray the character way back in 1990 for the first Captain America film (yes, that’s an actual thing that exists).
According to IMDB, Kilmer turned down the role to star in The Doors instead. The 1990 Captain America ended up casting Matt Salinger and has an impressively low 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Alexander Skarsgård Almost Stole Chris Hemsworth’s Role
It seems that Thor is one of the few roles who always had one actor destined for it—Chris Hemsworth. What many people don’t know is that True Blood star Alexander Skarsgård came pretty darn close to being the God of Thunder.
According to Kenneth Branagh, Skarsgård practically nailed the audition and lost out narrowly to Hemsworth. In a later interview with MTV, Skarsgård said even though he lost the part, just doing to audition process for a Marvel movie was “pretty fun.”
Keep reading to see what actors and actresses turned down other superhero roles.
Heath Ledger Was Supposed To Be Batman, Not The Joker
The Joker has gone down in history for being Heath Ledger’s best role, but Christopher Nolan originally wanted to cast him as Batman. According to Nolan, the meeting went well, except Ledger had no interest in being in the movie at all.
In a desperate move, Nolan quickly offered him the part of The Joker instead and Ledger signed on before the script was even completed. Needless to say, the late actor made the right choice because his performance was near perfection.
Jude Law Didn’t Think An Englishman Should Play Superman
Another actor who was a contender for the role of Superman was Jude Law. Law definitely has the good looks and charm that an actor who plays Superman needs. Law eventually turned down the offering because he felt as an Englishman, he shouldn’t play such an iconic American character.
On top of that, the director sent Law a spandex suit to try on and Law just could picture himself “in that costume on posters all around the world.”
Pierce Brosnan Didn’t Even Consider Being Batman
In an interview with Details magazine, legendary actor Pierce Brosnan revealed that he was in the running to play Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster. We know that Michael Keaton ended up with the role but only because Brosnan refused to even audition.
The Bond actor said that the character held such “an indelible place” in his childhood and that couldn’t wrap his head around playing a guy “who wears his underpants outside his trousers.”
Jake Gyllenhaal Was Supposed To Be Rick Flagg
After the original cast member Tom Hardy dropped out of playing Rick Flagg in Suicide Squad, Warner Bros.’ first choice to replace him was Jake Gyllenhaal. Variety reported that Gyllenhaal was offered the part but ended up passing on the role for unknown reasons.
Joel Kinnaman ended up playing Flagg and, as we all unfortunately remember, the movie was terrible. Gyllenhaal got a second chance at being in the franchise though and will play Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Matt Damon’s Schedule Got In The Way Of Playing Two-Face
The Dark Knight trilogy redefined DC’s superhero genre and Aaron Eckhart’s villainous Two-Face was a major part of that. Before Eckhart got the role, it was actually offered to our good friend Matt Damon. The actor told MTV that he was actually really excited to play Harvey Dent but that a “scheduling thing” stopped him from meeting with Christopher Nolan, so they never moved forward on it.
While he was a bit disappointed, Damon also admitted that Eckhart did an incredible job as the character. That’s two times Damon didn’t end up in a super role.
Rikki Lee Travolta Was In The Running To Be Thor
Even though you’ve likely never seen this actor, the last name might be an indication to his famous roots. Yes, Rikki Lee Travolta is John Travolta’s nephew. He’s a Shakespearean trained actor who happens to be tall, strong, and have long blonde hair. That was basically the requirements that Marvel was looking for when they began casting for Thor.
While Travolta certainly had the looks, he didn’t have the lighthearted side that Chris Hemsworth brought to the table.
Eliza Dushku Really Wanted To Be Black Widow
While most of these actors turn down the studio, this time it was the studio who turned down the actor. Eliza Dushku tried to campaign on The Howard Stern Show to play the role of Black Widow. She said that she would be “so perfect for the Black Widow character” because she “just learned Russian” to play a Russia girl in the series Dollhouse.
Obviously, we know the studio ended up going with Scarlett Johansson instead.
Coming up: actors who have rejected roles in DC films
Will Smith Wasn’t About To Ruin Another Hero
Brandon Routh ended up landing the part of Superman in Man of Steel and he looks like a pretty stereotypical superhero. Before Routh was cast, the DC studio wanted to switch things up and cast Will Smith. They offered the part to Smith but the actor quickly shot it down.
Why? According to Smith, he didn’t want to “mess up white people’s heroes.” He referenced the backlash he faced after his portrayal of Civil War hero James West in Wild, Wild West.
Jon Hamm Just Isn’t Into Superhero Movies
When DC Comics was trying to decide who to cast for Green Lantern, their first choice was Mad Men star Jon Hamm. The studio called the actor personally to ask (more like beg) him to star in the film, but Hamm said no simply because superhero flicks “aren’t the kind of movies” he likes to watch.
DC ended up casting Ryan Reynolds in the role and the film completely tanked. Hamm dodged a bullet by turning down the role.
Paul Newman Didn’t Want To Play Any DC Character
When Richard Donner started casting for his 1978 Superman movie, he had his mind set on Paul Newman for any role. Seriously. According to the 2006 DVD commentary, the film’s producers offered Newman $4 million to be in the movie in any capacity.
Neman was given the choice to play Superman, Lex Luthor, or Jor-El and he turned all of the roles down. It seems like no amount of money could force the serious actor to put on a silly costume.
Kristen Stewart Didn’t Want To Be In Another Franchise
Hot off the success of Twilight, Kristen Stewart was an original frontrunner to play Superman’s love interest, Lois Lane, in Man of Steel. The part ultimately went to Amy Adams but DC Comics thought Stewart’s aloofness would be great in the role.
The actress had one meeting that apparently didn’t last too long. She had just finished filming the Twilight series and didn’t want to immediately jump into another franchise.