With legions of die hard fans paying close attention to the development of any comic book superhero project, every last detail – from the story to costume design – is placed under a microscope, picked at until the final product hits the big screen (setting the stage for more examinations of its finer points). And whenever a new superhero film is announced, the question on everyone’s mind is clear: “Who will play them?”
Casting can make or break a film – in the eyes of the die-hard fans, at least – and nearly every superhero casting is immediately met with… heated opinions on which actors are “fit” for certain parts (just ask Ben Affleck). But more often than not, directors and studios have shown the ability to make a solid choice. Even the maligned Green Lantern had a likable leading man in Ryan Reynolds, who has seemed as disappointed with the finished result as aynone.
But not all filmmakers have an eye for talent, as some of the most popular comic book characters were almost played by thespians that would have been out of their element, if not downright doomed. Here are Screen Rant’s 5 Awful Superhero Movie Castings That Almost Happened.
Nic Cage – Superman
Well before Bryan Singer made Superman Returns, Warner Bros. tried to revamp the Last Son of Krypton via a project called Superman Lives. Among the writing team was writer/director/actor Kevin Smith, with Tim Burton brought in to direct Nicolas Cage in the lead role. Cage even took part in a costume fitting, but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. An endless string of rewrites (from Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy) derailed the film before cameras rolled, and WB dropped it in favor of focusing on Wild, Wild West. Burton was annoyed, but Superman fans probably weren’t.
It’s easy to forget that Cage has a Best Actor Oscar to his name, but that doesn’t mean he was cut out to play Clark Kent/Superman. Cage is most associated with a “hyper” style of acting, relying on hysteria to portray his characters. On the other hand, Kal-El is renowned for his sense of calm collectiveness and rather unassuming nature. Kent is supposed to be an everyman who can blend in with the crowd, and his alter ego a well-meaning, kind-hearted hero. Cage didn’t even look the part in his costume test, coming across as someone’s bad Halloween get-up instead of the Man of Steel.
Tom Cruise – Iron Man
At this point, it’s difficult to divide the identity of Robert Downey, Jr. from Marvel’s billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, having now played the character six times (including a cameo in The Incredible Hulk) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But before Jon Favreau convinced the Marvel bosses that RDJ was the right man for the job, Tom Cruise was attached to star in Iron Man for years, dropping out after he lost interest in the script.
Cruise’s career is still going strong, and his commitment to roles isn’t in question (see: the Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation plane stunt), but this is one instance where Cruise’s fame may have hurt the series, not helped it. Audiences had yet to attach a single fictional role or franchise to Downey, Jr., allowing his persona to blend with that of Stark, perfectly capturing his dry wit and sarcastic humor. Picture Cruise spitting some of Downey’s banter and the character just wouldn’t be the same. That’s nothing against Cruise, but it’s hard to argue that the studio wound up with the better choice.
Leonardo DiCaprio – Spider-Man
Leonardo DiCaprio has grown from the baby-faced Titanic heartthrob to the respected, Oscar-nominated actor he is today with a résumé of standout performances, but there are some parts even he’s not cut out for. After Sony acquired the film rights to Spider-Man, they had their sights clearly set on the actor for their Peter Parker. It was director Sam Raimi who convinced Sony to let him hire Tobey Maguire instead (despite the studio’s fear that he was too small in stature). DiCaprio went on to become Martin Scorsese’s muse, so things worked out fine for both actors.
Still, while it’s true that anyone can be underneath the Spider-Man mask, it takes a special kind of actor to bring Peter Parker to life. Audiences had to accept him as a nerdy kid from Queens, bullied in high school and struggling for any female attention. As one of the most relatable heroes to young comic fans, those elements aren’t just important, but mandatory for success. DiCaprio is a gifted actor, but it’s hard to buy him as a science geek bumbling his way through conversations with Mary Jane and trying to stand up to Flash Thompson. If anything, DiCaprio is someone most men aspire to be – not what’s needed for the traditional Spider-Man.
Bill Murray – Batman
Look, everyone loves Bill Murray. It’s almost impossible to not have at least one of his films committed to memory – but would he really have been able to do the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman justice? That’s a question we’ll never have answered, but we almost did, considering the funnyman was strongly considered to star in a Batman before WB brought in Tim Burton to place Michael Keaton in the suit, and Jack Nicholson as his nemesis in 1989’s Batman. Instead of a comedy following the path of the campy Adam West TV series, the world got its darkest Batman project to date.
Murray has turned in dramatic performances throughout his career (Lost in Translation, for one) that show he’s more than a jokester, but even those turns are laced with his trademark brand of deadpan sarcasm and humor. While Bruce Wayne was no stranger to dry wit (The Dark Knight Trilogy included), he’s far more brooding and serious-minded when compared to his fellow Justice League members – something Murray may have struggled with. Would the result have been worth watching? Almost certainly. But Burton and Keaton blazed a trail for all comic heroes, and built the mold that most would eventually follow, meaning every fan should be pleased this bullet was dodged.
Jack Black – Green Lantern
Many Green Lantern fans were supremely disappointed by how Martin Campbell’s 2011 film turned out, but at least the director tried to craft an entertaining space opera that stayed true to the comics. If New Line had gotten their way, Green Lantern would have been a comedy starring Jack Black as “Jud Plato,” an average Joe working in a furniture store. Jud (for some unknown reason) is chosen as Abin Sur’s successor by the power ring, and spends the movie learning how to master his new abilities. Principal players like Sinestro are relegated to lowbrow humor in the script, as Jud uses the ring trying to bed a woman he works with, and performing with The Beatles.
Even a small sample of the lost screenplay shows why Black would have been a poor fit for the role. Whether it’s Hal Jordan, John Stewart, or any of the other members of the Lantern Corps, the character is defined by strong will and determination with the potential to be a great man and hero. Entrusting a slacker schmuck (which Black would play well, admittedly) with that kind of responsibility defeats the purpose of what the Lantern Corps stands for. As much as you might dislike the Green Lantern film we did get, at least it wasn’t this.
Hollywood is a magical place full of “what-ifs” and superhero movies are no stranger to that. Genre pictures are always subject to an endless stream of rumors and speculation, and in an alternate reality, there’s probably countless Internet memes of Nic Cage’s Superman flipping out and no Avengers movies to enjoy. It’s easy to freak out at an eyebrow raising casting choice (again, say hello to Affleck), but some we just know would have been disasters even without seeing a frame of footage.
As always, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to share your favorite close calls in the comments section below!