Hollywood is in the superhero business. Sure, other genres are still in the blockbuster mix here and there, but for now, superheroes reign supreme.
Comic-book movie juggernauts like the Marvel Cinematic Universe are casting as many stars as they can get for gargantuan superhero team-ups, while 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise is snatching up new talent for more experimental projects like Deadpool, Logan, and The New Mutants.
This heavy demand for talent in the superhero genre has led to a steady stream of casting controversies, snafus, and mishaps.
But juggling actors in and out of roles is hardly something that modern superhero movies invented. Hollywood has practically made an art of hiring, firing, re-hiring, and re-firing actors both in and outside the superhero genre.
Our current age of comic-book blockbusters—an inflated avatar of everything Hollywood has ever been, and probably ever will be—is merely carrying the torch (albeit in a big way).
In an age where behind-the-scenes stories have become their own entertainment industry, superhero roles are of constant public interest, not to mention under constant public scrutiny.
To show you what we mean, here are 15 Actors Who Were Kicked Out Of Superhero Roles.
15 Edward Norton, The Avengers
It’s unfortunate that 2008’s The Incredible Hulk became the forgotten MCU film. It had some solid action scenes, a great Hulk design, and Edward Norton as Bruce Banner.
We all love Mark Ruffalo’s sympathetic take on the hulk-smashing scientist, but Norton brought a unique brand of tortured freneticism to the role.
Norton was set to reprise the Hulk in Avengers, but prior to production on the long-awaited Phase I team-up, Marvel Studios released a statement that they had axed Norton in favor of “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members.”
In other words, they thought Norton was too much of a jerk to play with the other kids. Eighteen movies later, Mark Ruffalo is not only the MCU’s resident Hulk, but really the only one anybody remembers.
14 Val Kilmer, Batman and Robin
Val Kilmer didn’t turn any heads as the Caped Crusader in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, but he was a perfectly adequate Batman for a perfectly campy Batman movie.
Unfortunately, Kilmer—who had just been cast in The Saint—was forced to bow out of the role when the studio insisted production on the follow-up begin immediately (the departure may also have been brought on by conflicts between Kilmer and director Schumacher, who claimed “[Kilmer] sort of quit, and we sort of fired him.”).
And what a follow-up it was. Batman & Robin remains the punching bag of the entire Batman franchise, oft-maligned for its high-octane, '90s toy-marketing camp and goofiness.
Kilmer’s replacement, George Clooney, took the brunt of that maligning for years before he rose above the batsuit and becameg an a-list movie star. It’s just too bad we can’t say the same for Chris O’Donnell.
13 James Purefoy, V for Vendetta
What could be more humiliating than having to leave a film that didn’t even require you to show your face? Ask James Purefoy, the original V in V for Vendetta.
Purefoy had made it six weeks into filming on the Alan Moore adaptation when he could no longer work under the burden of wearing a mask for the entire production. With no compromise to be made, Purefoy left the project and was replaced by Hugo Weaving—a veteran of producers Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy.
There are only a few scenes with Purefoy that made it into the final cut of the film. Weaving’s voice was, of course, dubbed over those scenes, as it was for the rest of the film to make up for Weaving's muffled voice during filming.
12 Dougray Scott, X Men
Dougray Scott was this close to being 20th Century Fox’s resident Wolverine. The scottish actor was cast as James “Logan” Howlett in the first X-Men film in 2000, but scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible 2 forced him to pull out of the production.
Hugh Jackman was brought in after production on the film had already started. Jackman was an unknown at the time, but he ended up being the breakout star of the film (despite being literally surrounded by bigger stars).
Since Mission: Impossible 2, Dougray Scott has had a steady career full of colorful roles, but he’s certainly not a household name in the vein of Jackman.
Who knows how successful Scott would have been in X-Men, or whether his Wolverine would’ve had the broad cultural appeal of Jackman’s take on the character. Either way, Tom Cruise really owes him an apology.
11 Annette Benning, Batman Returns
Sitcoms will find ways to work and film around a cast members pregnancy, but not big-budget summer superhero movies.
Annette Benning was the original Catwoman of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Burton hired the actress after seeing her incredible performance in The Grifters. Watch that movie and you’ll see real fast what Burton was so enamored by.
As luck (or biology) would have it, Annette Benning’s Catwoman would never see the light of day. Benning’s pregnancy prevented her from meeting the demands of the role, so she was dropped from the film and eventually replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Pfieffer’s Catwoman remains arguably the most beloved iteration of the character. Several Catwomans—both animated and live-action—have come since, but no one has overshadowed what Pfeiffer and Burton collectively brought to the screen.
Benning would certainly have been a great Selina Kyle, but Pfeiffer’s crazed Catwoman has stood the test of time.
10 Terence Howard, Iron Man 2
Perhaps to an even greater degree than Edward Norton, Terrence Howard is a one-time MCU cast-member whose replacement ended up carrying the role well past Marvel’s Phase 1 and firmly into the public consciousness.
Howard played James “Rhodey” Rhodes in 2008’s Iron Man. The actor went to great lengths to play an authentic air force officer in the film—visiting air force bases and meeting pilots to create a believable reluctant sidekick to Tony Stark. Howard was also a longtime fan of the Iron Man comics, and his dedication to the property paid off on screen.
Howard’s enthusiasm didn’t pay off for him personally, however, when he was forced out of the role over salary disputes. Don Cheadle replaced him within hours of being offered the role in Iron Man 2, and the rest is history.
9 Tom Hardy, Suicide Squad
Most critics (and a fair amount of fans) remember Suicide Squad as an undeniable dud with equally undeniable star power and charisma. The charisma factor would have been even more ferocious had the film’s original Rick Flagg— none other than Tom Hardy— not pulled out during pre-production.
Long after his initial casting, Hardy was forced out of his Suiicide Squad role as The Revenant's prolonged poduction conflicted with the DCEU schedule. Flag was recast with Joel Kinnaman, who ended up doing an adequate job in the film.
But the comic book world hasn’t seen the last of Tom Hardy. He’ll be returning to the dark-superhero subgenre this fall in the long-awaited Venom adaptation. Perhaps the Rick Flag role was too small to contain Hardy’s overwhelming screen presence.
8 Ed Skrein, Hellboy
The upcoming Hellboy reboot has a lot to live up to, and it’s not off to an incredibly good start. The film has already experienced multiple casting controversies— including the replacement of OG Hellboy Ron Perlman with (the admittedly well-liked) David Harbour. The film has also had a whitewash casting incident in the form of Ed Skrein.
Skrein was originally cast as Major Ben Daimio, a character who was asian in the comics. Within a week of his casting, public outcry over whitewashing caused Skrein to voluntarily exit the film.
Casting with diversity in mind has certainly become a higher priority in Hollywood in the last few years, and Skrein’s decision to drop out of Hellboy is yet another step forward in making the system more inclusive.
7 Michael Keaton, Batman Forever
Batman Forever would have been Michael Keaton’s third performance as the Caped Crusader, but studio execs imposed a “lighter”, more kid-friendly tone upon the project, which eventually led to Tim Burton turning director duties over to Joel Schumacher and Keaton leaving entirely.
With both Burton and Keaton out, Val Kilmer was brought into take Keaton’s place at the center of Schumacher’s neon-soaked, pun-happy Gotham.
It’s doubtful that Keaton would have pulled off a performance as good as his what we saw in his previous Batman films— especially in a brighter cinematic universe that he wouldn’t have identified with, let alone recognized. Then again, Kilmer— though an adequate replacement— didn’t make a particularly notable stamp on the role.
In fact, most people don’t even remember that Kilmer was ever Batman. Keaton, meanwhile, is still frequently hailed as the best live-action Batman to date.
6 Stuart Townsend, Thor
Thor was the second “fantasy” open where Stuart Townsend rapidly landed and lost an epic role. Ten years after being fired from The Fellowship of the Ring, Townsend was cast as Fandral, one of the Warriors Three in the first Thor movie.
Already a replacement for Zachary Levi, Townsend ended up leaving the production as well, with both Townsend and the studio citing “creative differences”.
Townsend’s replacement, Josh Dallas, won out in the film’s sadistic game of Fandral musical chairs and made it to the final cut.
Dallas’ depticion of Fandral was inspired by Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, and certainly meshed well with the movie’s ensemble and tone. Here’s hoping Stuart Townsend’s next superhero role will be one that actually makes it into the final film.
5 Jake Gyllenhaal, Spider-Man 2
That’s right. Long before he was a rumored contender to replace Ben Affleck as the DCEU’s Dark Knight, Jake Gyllenhaal was actually cast as Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2.
After the success of the first Spider-Man film, star Tobey Maguire got himself temporarily fired from the sequel for playing hardball in salary negotiations. He even claimed that a back injury would prevent him from performing stunt work. Sony Pictures called Maguire’s bluff and sought to recast the sequel’s title role with Jake Gyllenhaal.
Director Sam Raimi had already met with Gyllenhaal about the role when Maguire re-entered negotiations to win back Spider-Man 2. Once Maguire met with the film’s stunt coordinators to work out the details of the stunt work, Gyllenhaal was dropped—leaving Maguire to secure the role of Peter Parker for another 5 years.
4 Marlon Wayans, Batman Returns
Marlon Wayans is still getting royalty checks from Batman Returns—a pretty good deal considering he wasn’t even in the movie.
Earlier drafts of the script for Tim Burton’s Batman Returns included the introduction of Robin. Ultimately, the character was dropped from the screenplay to avoid a clutter of characters and backstories.
At some point, though, Wayans was cast as Robin to either make his debut in Batman Returns or come back for Burton’s third Batman adventure. When Burton turned the property over to Joel Schumacher, Wayans’ Robin was dropped in favor of Chris O’Donnell.
Fans have been speculating for years about what might have been had Burton made Batman Forever. The prospect of Michael Keaton’s Batman teaming up with Marlon Wayans’ Robin is certainly an intriguing element of that what-if.
3 Emily Blunt, Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has always been sort of a confounding presence in the MCU hero roster, but the character makes a little more sense when one considers that Emily Blunt was the original choice for the role.
Back in 2009, Emily Blunt was well on her way to becoming a big star, with memorable performances in movies like Dan in Real Life and The Devil Wears Prada under her belt. When Marvel came calling with the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Blunt was in the perfect position to accept the role and further raise her profile.
Unfortunately, scheduling issues with Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels forced her to back out Iron Man 2, and Scarlett Johansson was cast instead. Since the release of Iron Man 2, Blunt has taken several action-heavy roles (Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario) that have demonstrated exactly what Marvel saw in her when they sought her out for Black Widow.
2 Armie Hammer, Justice League: Mortal
George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal has become the stuff of legend. After the action c-change of Mad Max: Fury Road, movie fans remembered that Miller’s visionary cinematic genius was once the mastermind of a Justice League movie.
Pre-production on Miller’s Justice League: Mortal began in 2007. The movie had cast all of its major roles by the time the writer’s strike hit and put the film’s production on hold.
Further complications with further held back the film until Warner Bros. canceled it altogether, and we wouldn’t see the Justice League up on the big-screen for nearly another decade.
In hindsight, one of the most intriguing members of the Mortal cast was Armie Hammer as Batman. Hammer was relatively unknown at the time, but has since become a household name. Who knows? Maybe Batman is still in Hammer’s future.
1 Nicolas Cage, Superman Lives
You’ve probably seen countless memes of Nic Cage’s funky costume test for Superman Lives—a failed late-90’s project from Tim Burton. The test was for the durability of specific materials for the suit (not yet perfected or properly painted) which means it paints the production in an unflattering, and very unfair light. Watch the documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?, and it becomes clear that Burton’s bizarre Superman movie might’ve been one of the most visionary films of the genre.
As for Nic Cage, he lost the chance to play Superman when Burton finally left the long-gestating project to direct Sleepy Hollow. Further script re-writes ensued after Burton’s departure, but ultimately the movie was shelved. And that’s how the world was deprived of Nic Cage as Superman.
So which of these fired actors would have been better than their replacements? What are your favorite superhero casting what-ifs? Let us know in the comments.