In the minds of most comic book fans, there would be no greater honor for an actor than to portray a superhero, or even a villain. These characters are legendary and anyone who fills their boots will be immortalized as such - although that’s not always necessarily a good thing. For many actors, this is a dream come true. However, there are others who not only have no desire to step into spandex, but are actively unwilling.
To be fair, the film landscape is vastly different than it was when some of these performers turned down what could’ve been the role of a lifetime. Portraying a superhero used to be a far riskier proposition than it is these days. In fact, several of these actors didn’t take parts in one franchise only to be later lured in by another.
As fans, it may be difficult for us to understand how anyone could turn down these amazing opportunities. For some stars it was the thought of being pigeonholed that gave them pause, while others just had a general disinterest in the genre itself.
Whatever their reasons, here are 10 Actors Who Didn’t Take Marvel Roles (And 7 Who Turned Down DC).
17 Matt Damon - Daredevil
Daredevil was a huge blunder, poorly received by fans and critics alike. It was Ben Affleck’s first foray into superhero films and had a lasting negative impact on his career.
Affleck has stated on more than one occasion that Daredevil was a movie that he regrets doing, despite his immense love of the character. Although an undeniable improvement, Affleck’s second time suiting up hasn’t been a rousing success either.
What many fans don’t know is that Matt Damon was offered the part of Matt Murdock before Affleck was.
Damon told the New York Daily News that he had always been a fan of Daredevil, but he was unfamiliar with director Mark Steven Johnson’s work and was therefore apprehensive about signing onto the project. All things considered, Damon is one actor on this list who is definitely grateful for his life choices.
16 Jude Law - Superman
Before Brandon Routh was cast as the Man of Steel in Superman Returns, Bryan Singer had his eye on another, much more well known actor: Jude Law.
In fact, the director was so set on the idea of Law portraying Superman that he even sent him the suit to try on - under close supervision of course. Interestingly, it was struggling into the spandex that made Law positive that he would not be playing the Last Son of Krypton.
Law felt that, as an Englishman. it seemed wrong for him to play Superman at all.
Singer hoped that the suit would assuage his fears, but apparently it was Law's reflection in the mirror that cemented his decision. He told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, “I stood there and then I have this picture of me in that costume on posters all around the world and I was like ‘No way!’
15 Leonardo DiCaprio - Robin, Spider-Man
Leonardo DiCaprio has had a pretty amazing career. Turning down the opportunity to play both Robin and Spider-Man has apparently never slowed him down one bit.
The actor told ShortList that he had a meeting with Joel Schumacher about playing Robin in Batman Forever, but DiCaprio ultimately wasn’t interested. The same goes for portraying Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. DiCaprio had a meeting, but “didn’t feel ready to put on the suit yet”.
When asked if he would ever consider playing a superhero, DiCaprio had this to say, “You never know. You never know. They’re getting better and better as far as complex characters in these movies. I haven’t yet. But no, I don’t rule out anything.”
14 Jason Momoa - Drax the Destroyer
Here is one example of an actor who decided he was wrong for one superhero, only to later wind up playing another.
Screen Rant reported that before Dave Bautista was cast as Drax the Destroyer, Jason Momoa was offered the role. However, the actor felt that Drax was too similar to many other “brutish” characters that he’d already portrayed and he was nervous about being pigeonholed. Momoa felt Bautista was the perfect man for the job anyway.
Of his decision, the actor stated, “I’ve done so many things where I don't say much and I'm colored up and I have my shirt off again.” With this rationale, it’s interesting that Momoa went on to portray Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman. Perhaps DC did a better job of wooing him.
Momoa is set to reprise his Justice League role in the upcoming Aquaman film, due for release December 21st, 2018.
13 Joseph Gordon Levitt - Star-Lord
Although it’s nearly impossible at this point to imagine anyone besides Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, he actually was not the studio’s first choice.
According to Uproxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was initially pursued, but he turned down the role of Star-Lord to portray Johnny in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Apparently, other actors on Marvel’s short list at that time included Joel Edgerton and Eddie Redmayne.
Interestingly, someone unexpected passed on the role as well: Chris Pratt. The actor initially rejected the idea of joining the MCU, fearing that he was too out of shape to even audition. We can all be thankful that Pratt changed his mind. Anybody can buff up for a role, but no one could’ve brought Star-Lord to life the same way that Pratt has.
12 Emily Blunt - Black Widow
These days, Emily Blunt is a bona fide star. However, when Iron Man 2 was cast in 2009 the actress’s career was still very much on the rise. When Marvel came calling, Blunt was initially on board to play Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Mere months later, those talks were over and Scarlett Johansson - who’d lost the role to Blunt - was cast in her stead.
According to Looper, after The Devil Wears Prada Blunt was contractually obligated to appear in another Fox project and the studio chose Gulliver’s Travels. This put her in direct conflict with the Iron Man 2 shooting schedule.
Blunt has gone on record as saying that she has no regrets about the situation, as thus far, she feels that the men in the MCU are given better stories. Luckily, that seems to be changing with Black Panther and the upcoming Captain Marvel film.
11 Kristen Stewart - Lois Lane
Casting Lois Lane in Man of Steel couldn’t have been easy. Lois is an incredibly iconic character, portrayed most memorably by Margot Kidder. Although the part of the intrepid reporter eventually went to Oscar-nominated actress Amy Adams, Snyder met with a different star first.
According to the New York Daily News, Kristen Stewart met with the auteur to discuss the possibility of playing Superman’s love interest. Apparently, the meeting did not last very long.
Having only recently completed the Twilight franchise, Stewart had no desire to jump into another one, so she decided to pass on the role. This makes sense, as she has worked largely on more independent features in the years since. Other actresses being considered to star opposite Henry Cavill included Jessica Biel, Rachel McAdams, and Malin Akerman.
10 Dougray Scott - Wolverine
Long before the DCEU, the MCU or even the Nolan Batman trilogy, the modern era of superhero movies truly began in 2000 with X-Men. The film not only made the comic book characters household names, but also launched the career of a little known Australian actor named Hugh Jackman. However, the role of Wolverine originally belonged to Dougray Scott.
According to THR, production had begun on Bryan Singer’s superhero film, but Scott was still on set for MI2. Tom Cruise kept calling the director asking for more time, but it was eventually revealed that Scott had been in a motorcycle accident and that he was never going to be healed up in time to play Logan.
At this point, Jackman - whose tenure recently came to a close with Logan - has become synonymous with the clawed mutant. Fun fact: the original concept art for the character featured Mel Gibson!
9 Olivia Munn - Vanessa Carlysle
Although Firefly star Morena Baccarin was undeniably excellent as Vanessa in Deadpool, she wasn’t the first actress approached about the role. Olivia Munn was offered the part before her.
According to American Way Magazine, Munn had no desire to play someone’s girlfriend and was far more interested in a character who could “kick butt.” Perhaps Vanessa’s evolution into Copycat was never made clear or maybe Munn simply didn’t want to wait that long.
Apparently, before Munn agreed to sign on as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, the actress first made certain that she would be more than eye candy. Munn wanted to be sure that her character was going to see some real action. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have happened in a better film. Here’s hoping that Dark Phoenix doesn’t disappoint.
8 Jon Hamm - Green Lantern
Green Lantern may have been a huge disappointment, but Ryan Reynolds rebounded in pretty spectacular fashion - especially considering his first movie appearance as Deadpool. Before Reynolds was ever even cast as Hal Jordan, Mad Men star Jon Hamm was apparently in the running.
In an interview with GQ, Hamm stated, ”I mean, they came after me pretty hard for Green Lantern. But I was like, meh, that's not what I want to do. Never say never, but those aren't the kind of movies I like to go see.” Well, he didn’t say never, right?
Hamm would hardly be the first actor to change his mind about portraying a superhero. At this point, though, he’s probably feeling pretty good about turning this one down.
7 Joaquin Phoenix - The Hulk, Doctor Strange
Marvel has spent years attempting to woo Joaquin Phoenix, but to no avail. The studio hoped to cast Phoenix as Bruce Banner, but it was Mark Ruffalo who became the Green Goliath. Following that, the actor was in talks to portray Stephen Strange, but we know Benedict Cumberbatch wound up wielding the Eye of Agamotto.
Why is Phoenix so resistant to playing a superhero?
Phoenix explained his feelings to Time Out London: “I’ve flirted with several of those films, having meetings and getting close, but ultimately it never felt like they’d really be fulfilling.”
However, Phoenix appears to be coming around to the idea, at least where Joker is concerned. He recently opened up about his feelings on potentially being cast in the titular role of the upcoming Joker origin story. The actor hasn’t ruled it out.
6 Josh Hartnett - Batman, Superman, Spider-Man
There was a time when Josh Hartnett was well on his way to becoming a major star. The Penny Dreadful actor was featured in films like Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down. By the early 2000s, Hartnett was one of the most in demand actors in Hollywood. Why then did he turn down the chance to play Batman, Superman and Spider-Man?
Hartnett told Playboy that he was nervous about being pigeonholed, but perhaps starring in major blockbusters simply wasn’t for him.
Of the three parts, it is rejecting the Batman role in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy that he regrets the most.
This led to him being overlooked in favor of Christian Bale when it came time to cast Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige. The worst part though may have been that Scarlet Johansson - Hartnett’s then-girlfriend - was also chosen for a part in that movie.
5 Matthew McConaughey - Ego the Living Planet
Matthew McConaughey has been courted at various points by both Marvel and DC, but thus far, nothing has really spoken to him. Before Kurt Russell was cast as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the part was offered to McConaughey.
In an interview with Playboy, the actor explained his reasons for turning down the role: ”...what I saw was 'It’s successful, and now we’ve got room to make a colorful part for another big-name actor.’ I’d feel like an amendment.”
Although he enjoyed the first GotG movie, McConaughey chose Dark Tower over it because that was an opportunity for him to be with a franchise from the beginning, as opposed to joining up with an already established one. Unfortunately, Dark Tower wound up being a huge disappointment, but perhaps someday either Marvel or DC will be able to lure the Oscar-winner over to their side.
4 Jessica Chastain - Maya Hansen, The Wasp
Screen Rant previously reported that Jessica Chastain was initially in line to portray Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3. However, she had to drop out due to apparent scheduling issues and the role went to Rebecca Hall. Chastain was then up for Janet van Dyne in Ant-Man - when it was still directed by Edgar Wright - who wound up being portrayed by Evangeline Lily.
Chastain stated, “If you’re going to be in a superhero movie, you only get one chance. You’re that character forever. So why do a superhero movie and play the boring civilian?”
Maya Hansen, sure, but what about van Dyne? Evangline Lily will be suiting up in this summer’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Perhaps Chastain didn’t realize this when she turned down the role, but she appears to have finally found a part that works for her in Fox’s upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
3 Will Smith - Superman
Long before Will Smith took on the role of Deadshot in Suicide Squad, the Oscar nominated actor was offered a very different part in the DC Universe: Superman. It seems that several actors were considered before the studio landed on Brandon Routh, and that at one point the part of the Man of Steel in Superman Returns was offered to Smith.
Smith stated in an interview with MTV, “There is no way I’m playing Superman!’ Because I had already done Jim West, and you can’t be messing up white people’s heroes in Hollywood! You mess up white people’s heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”
Not too long after, Smith opted to dip a toe in the superhero pool with Hancock instead. Perhaps the actor was uncomfortable portraying Superman, but Deadshot suited him just fine.
2 Tom Cruise - Iron Man
Has there ever been a more perfectly cast role than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark? Iron Man not only launched the MCU, but also completely revived the actor’s career. Once considered washed-up and unemployable, Downey Jr. is now one of the most beloved and respected actors in Hollywood. It’s crazy to think that the role that helped get him there almost went to Tom Cruise.
Keep in mind that this happened years earlier, at a time when the project found itself with many different stars and directors attached.
According to Slash Film, at one point Cruise was also set to produce. Marvel didn’t even get the rights back until 2005, by which point the actor had lost interest. Thankfully, Marvel decided that the character should be bigger than the star involved and the rest is history.
1 Heath Ledger - Batman
It’s almost impossible to believe that Heath Ledger’s casting as Joker was met with an overwhelmingly negative reaction from many fans. Needless to say, the late actor proved them all wrong with his incredible performance and subsequent Oscar win. However, what many people don’t know is that prior to signing on to play the Clown Prince of Crime, Ledger was offered the part of Batman first.
Christopher Nolan first met with Ledger in the hopes that he would portray the part that eventually went to Christian Bale.
The meeting went very well, except for the fact that Ledger had no interest in being part of a superhero movie. Batman Begins obviously changed his mind though, because when Nolan offered him the Joker, Ledger signed on before the script was even completed. Obviously, everything worked out the way that it was supposed to.
Do you think that these actors would've been a good choice for the roles they turned down? Let us know in the comments!