Marvel Studios' omnipresent Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed blockbuster filmmaking. Since Iron Man kicked things off nine years ago, Marvel's interconnected universe has gone from risky experiment to dominating the box office, becoming the highest grossing movie franchise of all time in the process. Of course, you don't need us to tell you any of this considering our readership, but sometimes it's worth stepping back and seeing how far we've come.
Perhaps one of Marvel's biggest successes has been in its casting. It's a hugely important matter as there's not only solo movies (plus sequels) to worry about, but also cameo appearances in other films.
If you cast wrong, it's going to impact a portion of the franchise's future, so it's crucial to pick your heroes and villains well. Marvel has had an excellent record so far and it's not looking to break that streak any time soon. It seems like every big Hollywood actor has appeared in the MCU at this point, but there are a few holdouts.
So, as tribute to the MCU and how it might have been, we decided to collect together a bunch of actors who, for one reason or another, said no to the mighty Marvel Studios.
Here are 15 Actors You Never Knew Turned Down Roles In The MCU.
15 Tom Cruise - Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr's casting as everyone's favorite genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist was a masterstroke. RDJ's career highlights and lowpoints in the public eye made him the perfect choice to play the similarly afflicted tech genius Tony Stark. With Downey Jr. on board, Marvel hit the ground running and RDJ became a bone fide A-Lister. It all could have been so different.
Iron Man had spent decades in development hell before Marvel decided to start from scratch in 2005. One of the leading men they courted for the role of Tony Stark was Tom Cruise, who remained attached to the project for quite a while before talks fell through.
According to Cruise himself, things didn't feel right: “They came to me at a certain point and … when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work.”
Who knows what would have happened if Cruise had stepped up to the plate, but we'd be lying if we said we weren't at least a little bit curious to see how it would have panned out.
14 Emily Blunt - Black Widow/Peggy Carter
After seeing her awesome performances in Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow, it's a tough break that Emily Blunt was forced to decline the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and beyond. Blunt was originally cast as the Russian assassin turned Avenger, but a pre-existing deal with Fox meant that she had to turn down the catsuit and Widow's Bite bracelets.
The same goes for the role of Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, for which Blunt was courted for during pre-production. Timing was the issue here and unfortunately the MCU has been Blunt-less ever since.
To be fair, several attempts were made for her to share responsibilities to both studios, but the Marvel machine being what it is, the schedules didn't mesh and Blunt had to take a role in the Jack Black vehicle Gulliver's Travels instead.
It's difficult to imagine someone other than Scarlett Johannson and Hayley Atwell playing the roles of Romanoff and Carter respectively, but Emily Blunt would have been a fantastic addition to the cast in both cases.
13 Alec Baldwin - Unknown Marvel villain
Such is the proliferation of superhero blockbusters that any actors who haven't appeared in a comic book movie eventually get asked why not. Alec Baldwin was asked the question in a 2013 episode of The Howard Stern Show and he gave a surprising answer.
He revealed that he had been approached to play a villain but declined to comment on which movie it was outside of it being "one of these Marvel Comics movies.” This doesn't necessarily mean the MCU, but it seems the likeliest candidate.
According to Baldwin “I wasn't available, they wanted me to work a certain time. And because of my wife's pregnancy, I had to turn down two films this summer that I wanted to do."
A commitment to his family is both understandable and commendable, but it does mean that we missed out on seeing Baldwin chew some scenery for Marvel. As far as his mystery role goes, we're thinking perhaps Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but your guess is as good as ours.
12 Olivia Wilde - Gamora
The Guardians casting pool must have been huge because it seems like nearly every actor was considered for a role in the first movie. House regular and Tron: Legacy star Olivia Wilde was close to getting the role of warrior woman Gamora, but turned it down in favor of a different project.
When responding to fans casting her as a potential Captain Marvel, Wilde shed some light on her possible reasons for declining Gamora several years previous.
Wilde said “I’m a big fan of superhero films, and I have so much respect for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The thing with female superheroes is that, in order to be powerful, they are flawless. The idea of kick-a** power lacks a certain nuance, at times. There is something to be said for a female director working to create a female superhero that perhaps (has) a little more complexity.”
She went on to say that she would love to play a female Marvel character who “is just as unexpected and complex as some of the male characters as Iron Man.” Fair enough.
11 Patrick Wilson - Unknown Ant-Man role
Probably one of the MCU's biggest “What if?” moments, Edgar Wright's departure from directing Ant-Man still has people talking to this day about how it may have turned out. Production was left in flux after Wright left and the project's figurative and literal direction drastically changed when Peyton Reed was brought on board.
The Conjuring star and Nite Owl Patrick Wilson was an unfortunate casualty of the delayed production, with a scheduling conflict forcing him to leave the movie fairly late in the game. When news of his casting broke, there was wild speculation as to who he would be playing.
Some even guessed that he may have been the first choice to play movie villain Yellowjacket, but the smart money's on him originally playing cop stepfather Paxton. Wilson is an awesome character actor able to do a lot with limited screen time, so it would make sense. Bobby Cannavale made a fine replacement, however.
10 Stuart Townsend - Fandral
Despite a solid number of movies to his name, Stuart Townsend is probably most famous for a part he didn't play – that of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Townsend was unceremoniously replaced with Viggo Mortensen the day before shooting.
Whilst not nearly as high profile, the story is somewhat similar with Townsend's involvement in Kenneth Branagh's Thor, where he was set to play dashing swordsman Fandral of the famous Warriors Three.
Things didn't quite pan out that way. Townsend was replaced by Josh Dallas in the first Thor movie. The reason? The vague and hand-waving excuse of “creative differences.”
Little is known of what went on behind the scenes, so either side could have walked away from the other, but according to rumors, Townsend may have been fired from the production for showing up six hours late to a screentest. We may never know what really happened, but the official line is the only one we have.
Josh Dallas would himself be replaced by Zachary Levi who has recently jumped ship to be the lead in DC's upcoming Shazam! movie
9 Saoirse Ronan - Scarlet Witch
When it came time to do a sequel to the smash-hit Avengers movie, Joss Whedon apparently already had ideas for who he wanted to play one of the most important new additions to the team, Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch.
Supremely talented actress and autocorrect nightmare Saoirse Ronan was apparently Whedon's first pick for the role in Age of Ultron, but Ronan passed on it, presumably in massive demand after being Oscar nominated for her performance in Atonement and showing her range in movies like The Lovely Bones and Hanna.
As Ronan has gone from strength to strength since, earning her second Academy nod for Brooklyn, it would be great to have an actor of her caliber join the already ridiculously talented MCU cast, but Elizabeth Olsen has done more than enough to make the role of Scarlet Witch her own.
Truth be told, neither Ronan nor Marvel Studios seem to need the other's involvement to succeed at all, but it would have been undeniably cool to have happened.
8 Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Star-Lord
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's name seems to keep cropping up in relation to Marvel movies. It's no surprise really-- he's in the prime age rage for the lead and he's appeared in comic book movies before, most notably The Dark Knight Rises.
It was rumored that the role of Scott Lang in Ant-Man was down to him and Paul Rudd and his name was even bandied around for Doctor Strange. However, the closest he's got to playing a Marvel hero was when he was up for the role of Star-Lord in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy.
JGL auditioned and screen-tested for Peter Quill, but ultimately turned down the offer of the part to star in Sin City sequel A Dame to Kill For. Whilst Guardians went on to become a mega-hit, A Dame to Kill For flopped at the box office, a decision which Gordon-Levitt reportedly regrets.
As Peter Quill seems tailor-made for Chris Pratt, we probably got the best outcome, but JGL have would have also been a fine choice to lead the gang of loveable intergalactic misfits.
7 Jason Momoa - Drax the Destroyer
Guardians of the Galaxy must have been a tough movie to cast. Whilst ex-WWE wrestler Dave Bautista turned out to be a revelation as the literally minded stab-happy brute, Marvel were apparently thinking along different lines during pre-production.
Their first choice for Drax was handsome man-mountain Jason Momoa, then known for his portrayal of the awesome Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones and the titular hero in the Conan the Barbarian remake.
Momoa auditioned and even attended costume fittings for the role but dropped out over concerns about becoming typecast in the same sorts of roles. On the one hand, it's a shame that we never got to see him flex his comedic muscles and crack jokes with the rest of the Guardians.
On the other hand, the dude's Aquaman and he looks like he's going to steal scenes by the quindent-ful in Justice League. Furthermore, Bautista's crushing it as Drax, so it's difficult to feel too hard done by the eventual outcome.
6 Jensen Ackles - Hawkeye
Chris Evans edged out a ton of other potential leads to play Captain America. One of them was apparently Jensen Ackles, best known as Dean Winchester in the long-running show Supernatural. Whilst the panel went for Evans, the Marvel people reportedly liked Ackles' audition and offered him to try out for master marksman Hawkeye instead.
Ackles declined the part, blaming a clash between the Marvel and Supernatural schedules. Would he have quit the show for Captain America? Possibly. Whilst Hawkeye has been given more depth in subsequent movies, it's not hard to see why Ackles may have passed on the original character pitch.
Luckily in Ackles' absence, we got the reliably great Jeremy Renner. It would have been interesting to see how Ackles would have tackled the role - especially since his stint on Supernatural has shown he's game for anything, but we're all good with Renner being the one behind the bow.
5 Jessica Chastain - The Wasp
Jessica Chastain seemed to spring out of nowhere and soon became a massively in-demand actor after appearances in The Help and Zero Dark Thirty. Marvel wanted to catch the Chastain train early and she was reportedly in talks for the role of Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3.
Her hectic schedule forced her to decline the part, but when Ant-Man rolled around, she was up for consideration again, this time for Hope Van Dyne aka The Wasp.
Reports vary as to why Jessica turned down Hope Van Dyne, but some have said that Chastain was disappointed in the lack of supeheroine butt-kicking in the script.
Of course, Evangeline Lilly's Hope is going to get a big upgrade and come into her own in sequel Ant-Man & The Wasp, but perhaps it wasn't soon enough for Jessica. She'll get her chance to flex her muscles in the upcoming X-Men movie Dark Phoenix, playing Shi'ar Empress Lilandra Neramani.
4 Matthew McConaughey - Ego the Living Planet
After the "McConnaissance" happened and stock in Matthew McConaughey went through the roof, the Failure to Launch actor saw a massive and well-deserved career revival. It should serve as no shock that Marvel soon came calling.
It was widely reported that he'd been shortlisted for Doctor Strange (which would have been insane in the best possible way) but his biggest brush with Marvel came when he was offered the part of Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
In an interview with Playboy, McConaughey spoke about the franchise and how he felt that his casting would be rather perfunctory.
“I like Guardians of the Galaxy, but 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,” he said. McConaughey passed in favor of The Dark Tower, but we're not going to hold that against him.
3 Johnny Depp - Doctor Strange
On paper, Johnny Depp could be a fantastic choice to play the Sorceror Supreme Doctor Strange. He's had a long history of playing offbeat characters and it would be all sorts of fun to see him in the MCU. Depp may be renowned for dialing it up to eleven for characters like Jack Sparrow, but we're sure he would have pulled way back to play Stephen Strange.
However, it was not to be. As is often the case with Hollywood, franchise commitments are a nightmare for scheduling, and Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean contract wouldn't allow for any magical Marvel action.
Most people agree that Benedict Cumberbatch, most recently seen in Thor: Ragnarok, is a great pick for the part, but it's easy to speculate on what could have been. If Johnny can escape his pirate duties, there may be a Marvel role in his future yet, especially as Universal's Dark Universe, in which he was slated to play The Invisible Man, has just fallen through and looks unlikely to recover.
2 Mel Gibson - Odin
Mel Gibson is still a controversial figure, but his career does seem to be on an upswing these days. Oddly enough, he was apparently approached to play Odin in the first Thor movie. Gibson turned the offer down and the role went to Sir Anthony Hopkins. It's crazy to think about Mel Gibson being the All-Father, but it could have conceivably worked.
However, Gibson would have certainly struggled with the tone of the first movie. Hopkins' sheer stage presence makes Odin who he is and not having the actor lend his Shakespearean gravitas to the role would have been a big loss for the Thor movies.
Friend Robert Downey Jr. has long-since campaigned for Gibson's inclusion in the MCU, so a future Gibson appearance, be it in front or behind the camera, isn't out of the question. Personal life aside, Gibson's a talented man and it could be in Marvel's favor.
1 Joaquin Pheonix - The Hulk/Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios' big franchise plans hit a small snag early on when Ed Norton was replaced after one movie as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk. Nobody knows for sure why Norton was dumped before The Avengers, but it happened nonetheless.
Marvel were then left with the question of who they were going to get to fill the Hulk's stretchy pants. Top of the list was Joaquin Phoenix, who was reportedly offered the part, but declined.
Not to be deterred, Marvel tried again years later with Doctor Strange. Phoenix turned them down again, seemingly not wanting to appear in big blockbusters and focus on more independent movies.
The actor has admitted to being snobby about blockbuster movies in the past and being tempted by some of the newer big movies out there. If Marvel did somehow manage to talk him round, it would certainly be a big get for the MCU, although we're not holding our collective breaths.
Do you know of any other actors who declined roles in the MCU? Let us know in the comments!