At the end of Iron Man, Marvel Studios’ hit superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, Samuel L. Jackson, portraying the character Nick Fury, utters a line in the film’s post-credits scene that would not only change our entire paradigm of movies based on comic books, but also make a billion-dollar impact on Hollywood as a whole: “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the career trajectory for countless actors. Some actors who were otherwise relegated to side roles in small movies suddenly became household names. New actors who were craving that “breakout role” suddenly became A-list actors who were set for life. And nearly everyone in Hollywood not only has become a fan of the comic book films, but has always entertained the idea of joining one of those films, given the incredible levels of success they’ve had.
This entire movement seems to be headed towards its biggest project yet with Marvel’s ambitious Avengers: Infinity War, which will portray 24 of Marvel’s top superheroes and villains, and feature an ensemble cast of all of Marvel’s top comic book heroes, the like of which moviegoers have never seen before. We’re almost six months away from the movie’s release, and even the trailer for the film has already broken records for viewership. Given that, we thought this would be a good time to take a look back at some of the actors who were almost cast as some of the superheroes you’ll see in Avengers: Infinity War. Here’s our list of 15 actors who almost portrayed the Marvel superheroes you currently know and love.
15. Lindsay Lohan – Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
After appearing in 27 films between 2004 and 2013, Lindsay Lohan‘s life turned into a very public train wreck. She’s has two two film appearances to her name, from 2014 onwards. However, there was an outside chance that she could have not only appeared in one of the biggest films of 2015, but also had incredible job security for the next few years, if she was chosen for a part that she reportedly auditioned for in 2013: the role of Scarlett Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In her failed reality television series Lindsay, Lohan revealed that she was in the running for the aforementioned role, and blamed the fact that she didn’t get the role on her manager, Evan Hainey, because she didn’t try hard enough to get her the role. Lohan also said that Hainey told her that Marvel Studios told Hainey they were going with “an unknown.” That certainly didn’t turn out to be the case, as Elizabeth Olsen was selected for the role.
14. Tom Cruise – Tony Stark/Iron Man
When Robert Downey Jr. completely reshaped the trajectory of his film career with his magnificent performance in 2008’s Iron Man film, people described his portrayal of Tony Stark, Iron Man himself, as “the role [Downey] was born to play.”
Now, imagine a world where, instead of Downey, Tony Stark was played by Tom Cruise. That was very, very close to being a reality. The idea of an Iron Man film was debated for years (way back as early as 1990), and if or when it happened, Cruise was thought to be a lock for the part. According to many accounts, he was extremely interested in both the role and in helping produce the film.
However, director Jon Favreau was dead-set on casting Downey for the role, as he felt the story of Tony Stark closely mirrored the story of Downey: the best and worst moments of their lives being firmly in the public eye. Fast forward to today, and Downey is arguably the bedrock which the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and all of its success, is built upon.
13. Jessica Chastain – Hope Van Dyne/Wasp
When the folks at Marvel were casting for the 2015 Ant-Man film, the role of Hope Van Dyne, daughter of Hank Pym, and eventual love interest of protagonist Scott Lang, was the very last role they had to fill. Rumor has it that Jessica Chastain, who won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her performance in Zero Dark Thirty, was approached to play the part of Van Dyne, but turned it down.
When Chastain was first approached, she was reportedly told that the Hope Van Dyne character had “the possibility in the future of becoming something,” but nothing more definitive. Chastain didn’t want to gamble on playing the part of a character who would end up being a “one-and-done” appearance, so she turned down the role. Little did she know that, at the end of Ant-Man, they show the Wasp suit, teasing the potential of Van Dyne becoming a superhero opposite Ant-Man in a planned sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
12. Matthew McConaughey – Doctor Strange
Imagine if the silver screen portrayal of Marvel’s Doctor Strange happened to have a classic southern drawl when he spoke? That was nearly the case when Benedict Cumberbatch – who was basically everyone’s choice to take on the role – initially turned down the role of Stephen Strange, because he was set to perform in a theatrical production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in London.
After being rejected by Cumberbatch, President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige placed Matthew McConaughey on his short list of actors to play the film’s lead character, and someone who would have a major part in the upcoming Marvel films. McConaughey reportedly turned down the film, because it didn’t seem like the “right character and the right story” for him to take on.
But folks at Marvel seemed to have their heart set on Cumberbatch the whole time, even delaying the release of the film to the fall of 2016 to accommodate Cumberbatch’s schedule. Obviously, Cumberbatch ended up taking the role.
11. Jason Momoa – Drax The Destroyer
Jason Momoa didn’t totally miss out on the superhero gravy train that Hollywood has become, as he played the role of Aquaman in the Justice League film, and is currently wrapping up production of an Aquaman origin story film as well.
But with his success as Khal Drogo on the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, Momoa was offered the role of Drax The Destroyer, the hulking, blue-skinned member of Guardians of the Galaxy. He was even reportedly offered the part, but turned down the role because, after playing the character named Ronon on Stargate: Atlantis, he was tired of playing brutish characters “who didn’t say much and grunted.” Plus, filming for Guardians of the Galaxy would’ve conflicted with the production schedule of Road to Paloma, which was Momoa’s first film as director, writer, and producer.
10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Peter Quill/Star-Lord
2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was the film that took Chris Pratt from lovable supporting actor to certified A-list actor. But Pratt was far from Director James Gunn’s original choice to play the role of Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord.
After completing the re-write of the script for the film in 2012, Gunn had considered as many as eight different actors to portray the leader of the Guardians, one of whom included Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt not only auditioned for the role, but was actually screen tested for it as well. However, he eventually took himself out of consideration for the part, instead choosing to work on Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
As the story goes, Pratt only entered the consideration set for the part when casting director Sarah Finn arranged for a meeting between Gunn and Pratt (an idea which Gunn originally rejected). Upon meeting Pratt, Gunn was almost immediately convinced that he would be perfect for the part. Gunn’s intuition clearly proved to be accurate, as Pratt masterfully played the part.
9. Emily Blunt – Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow
Apparently, Emily Blunt has zero interest in having any part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The British-American film actress was first offered the role of Peggy Carter, an officer in with the Strategic Scientific Reserve (which would eventually become S.H.I.E.L.D), and the first love interest of Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America). However, she turned down that role. Later on, when Marvel was casting for Iron Man 2, Blunt was offered the role of Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, but turned down that role as well. Blunt’s rationale for turning down both roles was, “It was never the right time, really, and it just didn’t work out scheduling-wise with those two.”
8. Jensen Ackles – Clint Barton/Hawkeye
In early 2010, Jensen Ackles was at the height of his popularity, due to his portrayal of the lead role of Dean Winchester in The CW’s hit show Supernatural. Ackles reportedly try to parlay said popularity into a major film role, when he auditioned for the role of Steve Rogers – a.k.a. Captain America himself – for the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger film. Ackles didn’t get the part, as he was beat out by Chris Evans.
But the executives at Marvel Studios were reportedly impressed enough with his audition that they invited him to try out for the role of Clint Barton, better known as Hawkeye. Ackles had to turn down that opportunity, despite Marvel’s continued interest in bringing him into their burgeoning film universe, because it conflicted with his shooting schedule for Supernatural. That’s when the folks at Marvel cast Jeremy Renner for the part, shortly after gaining his second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Town.
7. Olivia Wilde – Gamora
Don’t get me wrong: Zoe Saldana does an amazing job portraying the character Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise. She’s nailed the combination of being fierce, fearless, sexy, and vulnerable. But when the casting directors were first filling out their shortlists for actors they would have liked to use for the various members of the Guardians, Olivia Wilde was on the short list of women for the role of Gamora. She hadn’t really had a ton of experience in action films, though she fared rather well playing the character Quora in Tron: Legacy. It’s reported that Wilde actually turned down the role of Gamora. In the time that Guardians was filming, Wilde worked on films including The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Drinking Buddies (the latter of which she was also an executive producer).
Turns out, the role of Gamora wasn’t Wilde’s only potential dalliance with superhero films. She reportedly also tested for the role of Lois Lane in the Man of Steel film, but that part was eventually given to Amy Adams.
6. Pierce Brosnan – Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym
In comic book lore, Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym is a biochemist, entomologist, physicist, and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was the original Ant-Man, and created the suit that was eventually worn by Scott Lang, who was Pym’s successor.
In the film adaptation of the comics, Paul Rudd, who portrays Scott Lang, is the main protagonist, with Pym being more of a “godfather” figure to him. While Michael Douglas plays the role of Pym in the film, he wasn’t actually the first choice of screenwriter Edgar Wright (who co-wrote the film). In fact, Pierce Brosnan – the former James Bond himself –was one of the first actors that Wright was considering for the role. But of course, Douglas eventually got the role, and will reprise his role as Pym in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp film, scheduled to be released in July of 2018.
5. Morgan Freeman – The Ancient One
In the comics, the Ancient One – the original Sorcerer Supreme – is actually a Tibetan man. So when the team filming 2016’s Doctor Strange film casted Tilda Swinton, a British woman, for the role, they received criticism for “whitewashing” the Ancient One character.
Given that, it would have been rather interesting to see what the reaction would have been if Morgan Freeman, who was reportedly one of Marvel studio’s original top candidates to play the role, had actually portrayed the Ancient One character. Everyone knows Freeman has the voice that leaves everyone mesmerized, but at his age, one would have to wonder if he would have been suited for the combat scenes in which the Ancient One is involved. Obviously, the production team went with Swinton, and did their best to portray her as a “domineering, secretive, ethereal, enigmatic, [and] mystical” character.
4. Michael B. Jordan – Sam Wilson/The Falcon
Michael B. Jordan has always been a vocal advocate for having a broader range of film roles being made available to African-American actors. Coincidentally (or not?), just a few months before Time magazine named him one of “the 30 People Under 30 Changing the World,” Michael B. Jordan almost became the second African-American actor to portray a superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jordan was originally considered for the role of The Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, even though the part eventually went to fellow African-American actor Anthony Mackie.
However, Jordan still got to not only play a superhero on the big screen, portraying Johnny Storm – a.k.a. the Human Torch – in the (doomed-to-fail) Fantastic Four remake in 2015, but also ended up a part within the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well. He will play the character named Erik Killmonger, who is the nemesis to the titular Black Panther. That film is scheduled to be released this upcoming February.
3. Ewan McGregor – Scott Lang/Ant-Man
After Marvel decided to make Scott Lang, who was Hank Pym’s predecessor as the Ant-Man, the main protagonist of the film, Paul Rudd was eventually chosen for the part from a group of actors that included Scottish actor Ewan McGregor.
When reports first leaked that McGregor was being considered for the role of Lang, many comic fans were intrigued by the idea of McGregor, who famously portrayed the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episodes One, Two, and Three of the Star Wars films, also taking on the role of Lang. Clearly, that did not happen.
Perhaps the best part of Rudd getting the role was the story he told of how Rudd told his then nine-year old son about getting the part, with Rudd’s son replying, “Wow, I can’t wait to see how stupid that’ll be.”
2. Daniel Craig – Thor
Chris Hemsworth does such a perfect job playing the role of Thor, the Norse mythological deity and the crown prince of Asgard, that it’s really difficult imagine anyone else playing the role. That’s especially the case when you consider that Daniel Craig was reportedly Marvel’s first choice to play the role of Thor.
We know that Craig is in phenomenal shape, but at only 5’10, he just didn’t have the frame to portray the mighty demigod (especially in comparison to Hemsworth, who stands 6’3). Plus, it would’ve been really hard for filmgoers to shake off the perception of Craig as the enigmatic, brusque, and hot-tempered version of James Bond, and suddenly play the role of a precocious prince that is humbled by his father.
1. Sam Worthington – Steve Rogers/Captain America
This one just feels so wrong, on so many levels. At the risk of being biased, Marvel would have had a lot of explaining to do, casting an Australian-born actor as the most patriotic superhero in the Marvel Comics Universe. But even if Sam Worthington happened to be 100% American, he still would have been a really lousy fit for the role. In films like Avatar, Terminator Salvation, and Clash of the Titans, Worthington always plays this angry and brooding character who’s almost an anti-hero of sorts. That’s completely the opposite of the selfless and inspiring Steve Rogers character that we all fell in love with, and is supposed to be the representation of everything great about America.
Worthington admitted being a big fan of the Captain America character, but claimed that the reports that he was in consideration for the part and had interest in the part were false. If that really is the truth, even though it’s been reported otherwise, then fans of the Captain America character dodged a major bullet there.