Will Smith as Superman
Producer Jon Peters had wanted a black-suited Superman – and giant spiders – when Kevin Smith was writing the script for the mooted reboot in 1997. Peters also flirted with the possibility of a black-skinned Clark Kent a couple of years later while still trying to get Superman – any Superman – off the ground, going as far as approaching Will Smith about the role.
Apparently director Bryan Singer also sought Smith out more recently before making Superman Returns. In the end, Will Smith was never going to court such a controversial, albeit very interesting, move.
“The last Superman I got offered, the script came, and I was like, ‘There is no way I’m playing Superman!’ Because I had already done Jim West (Wild, Wild West) and you can’t be messing up white peoples’ heroes in Hollywood. You mess up white peoples’ heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”
Ironically, Smith also turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix so he could appear in the commercial flop Wild, Wild West. Smith eventually went on to play Superman an alcoholic with superhero capabilities in the underwhelming Hancock.
Josh Hartnett as Superman
With Superman struggling to take off and Batman beaten to a pulp critically after the disastrous Batman and Robin, Warner Bros. looked at making a two-for-the-price-of-one Batman vs Superman blockbuster in the early ‘Naughties.’
McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation), and then Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm, Troy) were attached to direct an Andrew Kevin Walker script that included Clark Kent being best man at Bruce Wayne’s wedding, before the two go toe-to-toe over their differing values.
The studio had apparently wanted rising star Josh Hartnett for the Man of Steel – and Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader – but really upped the ante to get their (Super)man when the entire ‘versus’ concept was scrapped and attention turned to a screenplay by J.J. Abrams called Superman: Flyby, an origin story with a controversial difference that also deals with Superman’s death, a ‘Kryptonian heaven,’ and Supes’ subsequent resurrection.
The rugged Hartnett, viewed as the next big thing, was allegedly offered $100 million to appear in a planned trilogy, but that was believed to be the sticking point. Usual suspect Jude Law was also in talks. Brett Ratner, who was signed to direct, said in 2003:
“No star wants to sign that, but as much as I’ve told Jude and Josh my vision for the movie, I’ve warned them of the consequences of being Superman. They’ll live this character for 10 years because I’m telling one story over three movies and plan to direct all three if the first is as successful as everyone suspects.”