In the world of film casting, there are hundreds of thousands of stories about actors almost landing roles that happened to go to someone else. These stories always capture interest because the stories can spin in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's interesting to see what stars dodged being in a bad movie that could have damaged their career. Other times you see stars in the making who were passed on for a movie that turned someone else into a movie star. In the world of superhero films, fans take casting seriously because they want these characters they've been invested in for decades to come across the right way on the big screen. Over the last decade plus we've seen 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and numerous films for both the X-Men and DC characters. Considering the MCU's success and longevity it's really interesting to take a look at the actors who almost played these characters that are now synonymous with the actors who portrayed them for more than a decade.
It's hard to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans as Tony Stark/Iron Man or Steve Rogers/Captain America, but that was almost certainly the case during castings for the heroes. Let's now take a look at 25 Marvel superhero castings that almost happened. We'll be focusing primarily on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but we'll also be looking at the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films as well as Fox's X-Men film franchise.
25 Adam Sandler As Rocket Raccoon
Yes, you indeed read that right. Adam Sandler, the iconic comedian who's been a lot more miss than hit the last decade, was considered for the part of Rocket Raccoon. Could you imagine having everyone's favorite furry member of the Guardians of the Galaxy shouting the way Adam Sandler has been known to do? Funny enough he wasn't the only over the top comedian looked at for the role. Apparently, Jim Carrey was also widely considered for the part. In the end, Disney and Marvel decided to go with an actor with multiple Oscar nominations for his dramatic acting in Bradley Cooper. It seems to have worked out pretty well.
24 Neil Patrick Harris As Nightcrawler
Neil Patrick Harris was known for his role as a kid doctor, but over the years he's sort of settled into the role of the lovable womanizer, which is hilarious considering Harris is an openly gay man in real life. He was apparently up for the role of Nightcrawler in the 2nd X-Men film in the early 2000s X2: X-Men United, but the role ultimately went to Alan Cumming. Neil Patrick Harris is very youthful in appearance and it wouldn't be too surprising to see him make his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe now that the X-Men are making their way back home.
23 Jared Leto As Doctor Strange
Jared Leto is a very handsome man with a mixed reception in terms of his acting performances. Recently he portrayed the Joker in DC's live-action Suicide Squad movie, and though he was barely in the film fans weren't necessarily in love with his take on the character. Leto stated after the film's release that he was personally upset with the number of his scenes that were edited out of the theatrical release, and it only lent to his portrayal being a letdown. Leto was recently cast as Morbius in the Sony Spider-Man universe film of the same name. Thankfully we dodged a bullet and Benedict Cumberbatch was able to accept the role.
22 Tom Hiddleston As Thor
You'd be surprised at the number of actors who audition for the role of the lead or superhero in a comic book movie and end up in the role of lead villain. Many times what happens is that the casting director really gets a feel and understanding for the actor and what their strengths and end up bringing them to the round of finalists. From here the powers that be try and find the one actor who embodies the character the most, and thus are very critical and decisive. This then leaves them with an actor or two who are great and in turn, they find they'd make a great villain. That's exactly what happened with our lovable Loki actor, Tom Hiddleston.
21 Josh Hartnett As Loki
Josh Hartnett is an actor that you'd probably recognize upon seeing him but likely won't remember what films he starred in when hearing his name mentioned. The star of Black Hawk Down and The Faculty was up for the role of Thor's mischievous brother, Loki. Hartnett landed a lot of roles in the 2000s but his career never really reached the top tier in terms of Hollywood superstar. It seemed as though he was well on his way in doing so, but he was never really able to land those mega blockbuster roles. Unfortunately, he was looked over in both Fox's X-Men franchise as well as the MCU.
20 Sam Rockwell As Iron Man
So, you're telling me we live in a reality were an actor who was almost cast as the lead role in a superhero film ultimately ended up being cast as a villain in the same franchise? Though Sam Rockwell is the first actor we're talking about that managed to have this exact scenario happen to him, he won't be the last one we mention on this list. Rockwell ended up being cast as Justin Hammer, owner of Hammer Industries, in Iron Man 2 and was one of the numerous villains who went after Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. If you can't beat them, try and defeat them?
19 James Franco As Spider-Man
Wow, would you look at that? It seems as though we have another actor that lost the main role and ending up playing the villain. Well, for James Franco, the villain isn't necessarily the right descriptor if we're talking about his early appearances in Sam Raimi's trilogy of Spider-Man films. According to reports Franco was one of the two finalists for the role of Peter Parker, the other being the guy who landed the role, Tobey Maguire. Franco ended up securing the role of Harry Osborne, son to the Green Goblin, and after Norman's death, Franco became one of Maguire's main antagonists.
18 Aaron Taylor-Johnson As Cyclops
Aaron Taylor-Johnson has had a tough break in the world of comic book movies. Despite a pretty good portrayal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron, not only was his character self-sacrificing in order to save Hawkeye, he's considered the second-best current live-action version of the character. Everyone has fallen in love with X-Men's current Quicksilver, arguably the only glowing part about the recent trilogy of films. That isn't the only time X-Men has done him dirty. Aaron Taylor-Johnson lost out on the role of Cyclops in X-Men: First Class.
17 Olivia Wilde As Gamora
The Guardians of the Galaxy films not only work because of James Gunn's creative and unique vision, but most people would also agree that the casting is pretty close to perfect across the board. Zoe Saldana jumped into the role of Gamora and has brought an obscure and overlooked character into the forefront. It'd be hard to imagine that she wasn't actually the first choice. An accomplished actor and now director Olivia Wilde was the first choice for the deadliest woman in the galaxy. No specific reason was given as to why she turned down the role, but it's safe to say her passions laid elsewhere.
16 Saoirse Ronan As Scarlet Witch
Elizabeth Olsen was often an afterthought for many Americans because her twin sisters ruled the 90s with their adorable portrayals in television and film. Funny enough, as adults Elizabeth Olsen has seen the most mainstream success and fans quickly fell in love with her take on Scarlet Witch, despite the now abandoned hokey Russian accent. Joss Whedon was reportedly very interested in Academy Award winner Saoirse Ronan taking on the part but things just didn't work out. Though she's a fantastic actress it'd be hard to see her ditch her current path to pursue a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
15 Jada Pinkett-Smith As Storm
Most people would agree that Halle Berry was perfect casting for Storm in the original X-Men films. The crazy thing is that she not only wasn't the first choice, but she also wasn't even the second. Angela Bassett almost took on the role of the weather-controlling goddess in a 90's movie adaptation of the character and Jada Pinkett-Smith as the first choice to play her in the X-Men franchise. All of these women are powerful and beautiful actresses so it's hard to believe any of them would have failed at the role, but boy did Halle Berry do the character right.
14 Kate Winslet As Rogue
When it comes to Fox's X-Men franchise most people praise Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto as the perfect castings in the original trilogy of films. Sadly, most people overlooked how great Anna Paquin was as Rogue despite being written into a weird romantic relationship with Wolverine. The age difference always made the connection between the two feel more like a mentor and student as opposed to romantic equals. The original plan was reportedly to have Rogue be older and thus Kate Winslet was an actress they looked at to possibly take on the role of Rogue as well as Wolverine's love interest.
13 Channing Tatum As Gambit
Channing Tatum playing Gambit seems to be an entry on this list that's simply poking fun at the fact that his movie seems to be in limbo and he'll never get the chance to see it made. It turns out before this solo outing was ever in production hell, Tatum was passed on for the role of Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine in favor of Taylor Kitsch. With the recent acquisition of Fox by Disney it's hard to believe that Tatum's Gambit project doesn't get the ax almost immediately, but maybe Kevin Feige will hear him out and love Tatum's proposal for a Gambit solo film. Stranger things have happened.
12 Jason Mamoa As Drax
It's hard to look at the current superhero film landscape in 2019 where Jason Mamoa's Aquaman is the most profitable DC superhero and will likely be around for the foreseeable future in multiple sequels and imagine he was almost Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. Mamoa does a great job of playing brutal barbarian type characters as well as the easy-going surfer type, but it's hard to see him playing Drax in the same way Dave Bautista has. Mamoa likely would have brought a different feel to the character overall, and though it likely wouldn't have been bad, who's to say it would have been as loved as Bautista's portrayal.
11 Sigourney Weaver As Emma Frost
Sigourney Weaver is one of those older accomplished actors that seems to hold her nose up against the world of superheroes. This has always been odd considered she portrayed one of the first strong female characters in film when she took on the role of Ripley in the Alien franchise. During the first trilogy of X-Men films, producers really wanted to bring Emma Frost into the fold and Sigourney Weaver was a top choice for the role. With so much happening narrative-wise, Emma Frost never made the cut. Luckily she finally made her way to the screen years later in 2011's X-Men: First Class.
10 Joseph Gordon-Levitt As Ant-Man
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was not only lucky enough to land the role of Robin in disguise in Christopher Nolan's swan song to his trilogy, Dark Knight Rises, but he almost became a headliner in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was revealed shortly after the news that Paul Rudd had landed the role as Marvel's obscure size-shifting hero Ant-Man that Gordon-Levitt was in the running and was one of two finalists alongside Rudd. Gordon-Levitt is a very lovable actor, and it's no surprise he was a finalist, but it's hard to see a world where Paul Rudd isn't Scott Lang.
9 David Duchovny As Hulk
Bruce Banner is not only the often overlooked human component of the Hulk, but he's also one of the harder character's to cast in the world of superheroes. You need someone who's unconventionally handsome and has a quiet stoicism and intelligence about him. After the falling out with Edward Norton, Marvel was lucky enough to cast Mark Ruffalo, a man who seems like perfect casting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the character. David Duchovny of X-Files fame was also up for the role, which makes sense considering he gives off a lot of the same energy as Ruffalo in terms of acting.
8 Joaquin Phoenix As Doctor Strange
We're currently months away from seeing Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker in the DC standalone movie of the same name. Before he locked down one of the most iconic and critical roles in superhero films he was also in the running to be the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange. Now, according to Scott Derrickson, the idea was always to have Benedict Cumberbatch take on the role, but due to some scheduling conflicts, Cumberbatch was likely going to be off the project. In the time before he fixed his schedule and accepted the role Joaquin Phoenix was a replacement Marvel was eyeing heavily.
7 Glenn Howerton As Starlord
This has to easily be the weirdest and most surprising almost casting on this entire list. Most of the other possible actors tend to feel similar to the star that was actually cast in one way or another, but Glenn Howerton is such an opposite direction comedy wise from Chris Pratt. James Gunn, in an interview, discussed that if Chris Pratt wasn't able to take on the role that Howerton was someone he felt was an ideal replacement. It's hard to not get the image of an entire Guardians of the Galaxy movie cast comprised entirely out of the Always Sunny In Philadelphia cast members lodged in your brain.
6 Liam Hemsworth As Thor
Imagine being considered for a blockbuster movie role and seeing it eventually go to your brother. That's exactly what happened to Liam Hemsworth when Chris Hemsworth landing the role of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Liam is also a very good looking man with a charm of his own, but in 2019 it's hard to imagine anyone other than Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding god. With as many characters as we've seen across the 22 movies in the MCU, it's pretty surprising that Liam hasn't been cast yet. Maybe he'll make his way in via the X-Men or Fantastic Four.
5 Jake Gyllenhaal As Spider-Man
In the Summer of 2019 fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as Spider-Man, will finally get treated to a live-action version of the crafty illusionist Mysterio. He is being played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who funny enough almost landed the role of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man in the Sam Raimi sequel due to Tobey McGuire's back injury he sustained while filming Seabiscuit. Gyllenhaal fell short of playing the web-slinger because in a surprise turn of events McGuire's injuries healed in time and he was able to put the mask back on. More than a decade later Gyllenhaal has finally made his way into the Spider-Verse.
4 John Krasinski As Starlord
If you're the type of person who often looks at articles discussing superhero castings and the stars who almost suited up, then you're probably familiar with a more prominent role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that John Krasinski almost landing that we'll be discussing a little later. This, however, is likely a role you probably didn't even know he was up for. Krasinski was a finalist for the role of everyone's favorite plucky leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill aka Starlord. So, not only did Krasinki compete with Chris Pratt in office-based television sitcoms, they fought over the red leather jacket.
3 Emily Blunt As Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson is often overlooked in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and has received tons of unnecessary dislike over some of the roles she's landed in anime adaptations. Before the days of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, Black Widow was the strongest representation of a female hero in the last decade of superhero flicks. In an alternate reality, Emily Blunt would have been an original Avenger and Black Widow as a character may be interpreted a little stronger physically. Johansson's take on the character is more alluring, whereas Blunt's take could have given a real sense of physicality.
2 John Krasinski As Captain America
Hot off the hills of A Quiet Place and Jack Ryan fans are yearning for him and his wife Emily Blunt to take on the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Fantastic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Marvel's first family. Would you be surprised if you knew he was almost Captain America? Yeah, he almost landed the role over Chris Evans, a man who embodies Steve Rogers in every way. I mean, have you seen his twitter feed? This was long before Krasinski was a bankable action star, so it's understandable why Chris Evans landed the role. It made the possibility of him playing Reed Richards in the MCU a real possibility.
1 Tom Cruise As Iron Man
Many people were starting to feel as though Tom Cruise's time as a bankable Hollywood movie star may have been coming to an end. With the release of Mission Impossible: Fallout and it's incredible response and performance it's safe to say that notion was still premature. With as likable as he is on a movie screen it's always been surprising that he never made his way into a superhero movie. It turns out that before Robert Downey Jr. became the perfect Tony Stark, Tom Cruise was almost the billionaire genius playboy. It's easier to do your own stunts when your action scenes are all CGI.