Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, is one of the most famous superhero characters in the history of comic books, having been created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko way back in 1962. Although he has been adapted into a variety of properties, such as video games, animated TV shows, and animated movies, it wasn’t until 50 years after his debut that Hollywood gave the character his first major live-action film.
Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi directed the original Spider-Man trilogy for Columbia Pictures (a division of Sony Pictures), starring Tobey Maguire as the eponymous superhero. For a time, it looked like there were chances of a fourth installment. However, instead of pursuing the desired sequel, Sony decided to reboot the series with (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb at the helm. Andrew Garfield ended up taking over the role of Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man films.
Then, just last year, audiences got yet another reboot. This time, Tom Holland was playing Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ahead of Holland’s solo debut as Peter in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, we’ve decided to look back at all the actors who came close to landing the highly coveted role over the years.
The list is in chronological order, from Hollywood’s earliest attempts at adapting the character up until the hero’s appearance in the MCU. Here are 15 Actors Who Almost Played Spider-Man (and one guy who tried really hard to cast himself).
15. Tom Cruise
Long before Sony Pictures’ original Spider-Man trilogy hit theaters, Marvel Comics was working alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest studios to adapt the iconic superhero into live-action. Cannon Films oversaw one of the earliest attempts at adapting the character. The studio had initially hired Tobe Hooper to direct the film, but after years of being stuck in development hell, Joesph Zito eventually replaced Hooper as director.
Zito had expressed interest in stuntman Scott Leva playing Spider-Man, but the studio wanted up-and-coming actor Tom Cruise for the role. Cruise was in his mid-20s at the time, which made him a prime candidate for Peter Parker. Plus, the fact that he was just coming off the heels of Top Gun made him a huge box office draw.
Things were finally starting to move forward, but thanks to the lackluster box office performance of Superman IV, Cannon decided to slash the budget of their Spider-Man film. That caused a chain reaction that ended with the project being indefinitely shelved.
14. Edward Furlong
James Cameron established himself as one of the greatest blockbuster filmmakers of our time in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which became clearly evident with the release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Edward Furlong starred in the film as the 10-year-old John Connor — the actor’s first ever on-screen role. It wasn’t much later that Cameron moved forward with plans to direct Cannon Films’ (then later Columbia Pictures’) first Spider-Man movie.
He delivered a 57-page script treatment that centered on the character’s origin as well as his fight against villains Electro and Sandman. Cameron ended up abandoning the project, and his Spider-Man story was eventually rewritten by David Koepp. At the time, though, Furlong was the director’s top choice to play Peter Parker. After all, Furlong was the right age, and they had previously collaborated together on Terminator.
13. Leonardo DiCaprio
Tobey Maguire has carried a successful career in Hollywood in his years outside the red and blue tights, but he will always be remembered as the original on-screen Spider-Man. It turns out, however, that one of his real-life best friends, Leonardo DiCaprio, could have scooped up the role first. Following the enormous success of James Cameron’s Titanic, Sony Pictures wanted to capitalize on the actor’s fame, so they approached him for the part.
DiCaprio had previously worked with Raimi on The Quick and the Dead, a Western film that was also a product of Sony Pictures, which could have boosted the studio’s interest in the actor. Despite that, DiCaprio never got too close to getting the part. He never screen-tested for the role because he felt that he wasn’t ready to put on a superhero suit at the time. Whether or not DiCaprio would have been a bit too good looking at the time to play Spidey is debatable, but he certainly would have been an interesting fit.
12. Freddie Prinze Jr.
Another actor that Sony Pictures was courting for the role of Peter Parker for the original film was Freddie Prinze Jr. He was coming off teen movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and She’s All That, which made him a prime candidate to headline Sony’s then-new superhero franchise. At the time, rumors were swirling that Prinze Jr. had already screen-tested for the role and that it was his if he wanted it. Although parts of those rumors were true, we can’t say for certain whether or not the ball was truly in his court.
The specific details regarding Prinze Jr.’s running for the role of Peter Parker are unclear, but the actor ended up landing on his feet, we suppose. Even though he didn’t get to play Spider-Man, Prinze Jr. did star in the live-action Scooby Doo movie as Fred Jones, which released the same year as Raimi’s flick. Take from that what you will.
11. James Franco
It’s quite common in blockbuster movies for someone to screen-test for the main character, only to be cast in one of the supporting roles. It happened with Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins — who went on to play Scarecrow — and it happened with James Franco in Spider-Man. Franco originally wanted to play Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s film and had even gone through extensive auditions for the part. However, the role eventually went to Maguire in the end.
Franco has admitted to being disappointed that he didn’t get the gig, but that letdown was softened when Raimi offered the Freaks and Geeks star the role of Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn. Although he didn’t get to play the eponymous hero of the film, his turn as Harry (and later, the second Green Goblin) ended up becoming his most well-known role to date. It put him up in the public eye, a place he hasn’t left since.
10. Scott Speedman
Much like James Franco, another actor who screen-tested for the part of Peter Parker for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film was Scott Speedman. At the time, Speedman was known for playing Ben Covington in the J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves created TV series, Felicity, which he starred in for four seasons. The series became a cult favorite amongst its fans, which ended up putting Speedman on the map for feature films.
It’s unclear how far along in the process he got, though it has been confirmed that he at least screen-tested for the role. Of course, he didn’t land the part, but that didn’t do much to stall his career. The year after Spider-Man hit theaters, the actor appeared in his first majorly successful movie, Underworld. He played Michael Corvin in that movie as well as its sequel, Underworld: Evolution.
9. Jake Gyllenhaal
It doesn’t happen often, but studios are sometimes forced to recast one of the leading roles for one reason or another. For instance, Katie Holmes chose not to reprise her role as Rachel Dawes for The Dark Knight, so the part then went to Maggie Gyllenhaal. On another occasion, Marvel Studios replaced Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers. It happens from time-to-time, and it almost happened to Tobey Maguire with Spider-Man 2.
Maguire had been filming Seabiscuit at the tail-end of 2002, shortly before he had to begin filming on the Spidey sequel. He had injured his back on set, and that forced the studio to begin making preparations in case he needed to be replaced. Instead of going back to actors who had previously screen-tested for the role, Sony entered negotiations with Jake Gyllenhaal to replace Maguire. It turns out, it was all for naught, as Maguire ended up recovering just in time to film his scenes for the smash hit sequel.
8. Alden Ehrenreich
Instead of pursuing a fourth installment in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, Sony Pictures decided to reboot the franchise entirely. After Marc Webb signed on to direct, the studio then began looking for their next Peter Parker. Several actors auditioned for the role, with only a handful actually screen-testing for the part. One of the folks who made it further in the process than most was Alden Ehrenreich.
Ehrenreich was a relatively unknown actor at the time. He didn’t get the part, but when Webb and the studio were working on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, reports started to spread about the actor being up for the part of Harry Osborn. Unfortunately, he didn’t get that one either. Ehrenreich may not have gotten the highly coveted role (or the villainous one that turned out to be a bit of a disaster), but he has arguably landed an even bigger part to play: playing a young Han Solo in Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s upcoming Star Wars: Han Solo anthology film.
7. Jamie Bell
Another screen-tester for the role of Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man was Jamie Bell, who was best known for his roles in Doug Liman’s Jumper and Edward Zwick’s Defiance at the time. Bell went pretty far in the process and had even been reported as being on the final shortlist, alongside Andrew Garfield. Interestingly, Bell was the most recognizable name on the list, for he had previously starred in the biggest films.
Some rumors had suggested that Bell landed the role, although those were quickly debunked by studio representatives. Even though Bell never got to suit up as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, he did get the chance to appear in a Marvel superhero film, playing Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, in Josh Trank’s lambasted Fantastic Four reboot in 2015. So yeah, this one didn’t quite work out for the best.
6. Anton Yelchin
The late Anton Yelchin can also count himself amongst the group of actors who screen-tested for Peter Parker in Marc Webb’s Spider-Man films. Yelchin was one of the more well-known actors around the time, having appeared in blockbusters such as McG’s Terminator Salvation and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Reports at the time suggested that Yelchin was one of the top contenders for the gig.
When it started to look like Yelchin wouldn’t get the lead role, rumors started to swirl about the actor being cast as Harry Osborn, a part that would eventually be taken on by Dane DeHaan. Although he didn’t get the part, Yelchin had no problem continuing his impressive career. Within the next few years, he reprised his Star Trek role as Pavel Chekov in Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness and Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond, and his star was still on the rise before his life was tragically cut short last year.
5. Logan Lerman
Logan Lerman rounded out the list of actors who went far enough to screen-test for the role of Peter Parker in Sony’s rebooted Spider-Man series. In fact, Lerman was listed as one of the first actors to be considered for to play the nerdy high schooler, and many considered him to be neck-in-neck with Andrew Garfield. He had developed a strong fan base since his early days acting in films like The Number 23 and 3:10 to Yuma, so it made sense that Sony would be looking at him for the reboot.
Despite his name was being tossed around as one of the top candidates, Lerman ended up being passed over for the wall-crawler. Instead, he went on to reprise his role as Percy Jackson in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters as well as star in David Ayer’s critically-acclaimed WWII film, Fury. Interestingly, his name was one of the few that resurfaced when Marvel Studios was looking to cast Spider-Man for the MCU.
4. Josh Hutcherson
Another actor who was up for the role of Peter Parker in Webb’s film was Josh Hutcherson. It seems strange to think of Hutcherson as an unknown actor nowadays, but at the time, he was known primarily for his roles in Bridge to Terabithia and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Having that clout with younger audiences presumably boosted his chances of landing the part. Hutcherson never screen-tested for the role, though he did feature on several of the rumored shortlists for the web-slinger.
He didn’t end up getting the gig, but it arguably worked out for the best. The same year The Amazing Spider-Man hit theaters, Hutcherson appeared in Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games adaptation. The film grossed over a billion dollars and produced three sequels (based on the two remaining books in the trilogy), thus turning the actor into a global star. Despite losing out all those years ago, Hutcherson recently said that he’s still interested in playing Peter Parker, should the opportunity ever arise.
3. Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Aaron Taylor-Johnson made a name for himself playing the eponymous hero of Kick-Ass, and that made him a prime candidate to play Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man. He made it onto one of the shortlists, but as far as we know, he never moved to the screen-testing stage. Instead, he reprised his role as Dave Lizewski for Kick-Ass 2 in 2013 and then moved on to other projects, such as Godzilla.
Similar to Jamie Bell, while Taylor-Johnson didn’t get to suit up as the web-head, he did eventually get his chance to star in a Marvel film. He made a brief appearance as Peter Maximoff, aka Quicksilver, in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. His character was killed off in the same movie, however, so he doesn’t seem likely to reappear in a future Marvel Cinematic Universe movie — though he has said he’s willing to reprise his role as the speedster.
2. Asa Butterfield
Sony Pictures originally had plans to develop their own Spider-Man cinematic universe, consisting of sequels and spinoffs. It didn’t end up working out exactly as they had planned (though they are still moving forward with parts of it), and instead, they signed a landmark agreement with Marvel Studios to share Spidey. The following year, Spider-Man made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War. Prior to Tom Holland landing the highly coveted part, though, Marvel tested several of Hollywood’s up-and-coming actors.
Asa Butterfield was among the lucky few actors who screen-tested opposite Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Butterfield had been known for playing Hugo Cabre in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo as well as Ender Wiggin in Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game. He knew how to carry a leading role, which is presumably why he went far along in the casting process. (Not too many young actors have that kind of experience under their belt, after all.) It was later reported that Butterfield was no longer being considered, though it was unclear if his exit was his choice or the studio’s.
1. Charlie Rowe
Marvel Studios made it clear that they wanted to focus on Peter Parker as a teenager in high school — and that meant searching for a younger actor who could carry the franchise throughout multiple films (perhaps even multiple decades). English actor Charlie Rowe fit the bill. His first role ever on the silver screen was playing Billy Costa in Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass adaptation, though he may be best recognized from his work in the short-lived TV series Red Band Society.
Just like with Butterfield, Rowe also screen-tested opposite Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark for the role. Rowe was reportedly the only other person aside from Tom Holland to screen test twice, however. After the final round of tests, Marvel and Sony eventually decided on Holland. Rowe congratulated Holland on nabbing the role, though he felt that he could have made for an excellent Spider-Man if he was given the chance.
Honorable mention: Michael Jackson
It came as a surprise to comic book readers when Disney, of all companies, had acquired Marvel Comics in 2009. It wasn’t the first time the company flirted with the idea of selling, though. In the mid-’90s, the comic publisher was on the verge of bankruptcy, and to prevent the company from collapsing entirely, Toy Biz and Marvel Entertainment Group merged to create Marvel Enterprises (later renamed Marvel Entertainment). But before all that, there were more than a few suitors who were interested in buying the company. And the biggest name of all? Michael Jackson.
The King of Pop himself had planned to acquire Marvel Enterprises along with Stan Lee in the late ’90s, which would have nabbed him the rights to Spider-Man. According to the iconic comic book writer and editor, it seemed like Jackson didn’t just want to produce a Spider-Man film — he also wanted to play the wall-crawler himself. For a number of reasons, Jackson’s plans to acquire Marvel and play Spidey, thankfully, fell through.
Which of these actors do you think would have delivered the best take on Spider-Man? Would any of them have been a better fit for the role than the actors who beat them out for it? Sound off in the comments.