Long-running film series are regularly required to re-cast major roles with new actors – and superhero movie franchises are no exception. Often times, a worn-out performer declines to return after their contract expires, or once they’ve butted heads with the studio regarding the size of the part (or the paycheck) offered to them for the sequel.
Then there are those occasions when a formerly minor character is elevated to a more prominent position in the franchise’s latest installment. In these instances, the filmmakers typically decide to replace the unknown actor currently playing the part with a bigger star better suited to handling the now more intensive role.
Whatever the reason for the re-casting, what really tends to concern notoriously continuity-obsessed superhero movie fans is how smoothly the transition between different thespians is handled. In some cases, directors and casting agents are able to pull off a minor miracle – finding a replacement actor capable of embodying both the look and spirit of the performer who proceeded them.
However, just as often, managing to find a seamless substitute for a departing superhero or villain star proves impossible. This isn’t always a bad thing, and more than a few fairly obvious replacement actors have gone on to make a role their own. Nevertheless, the resultant continuity issue between sequels can be hard to ignore – especially when watching several movies in a series back-to-back!
Here’s a round-up of 8 Superhero Movie Re-Castings Nobody Noticed (And 9 That Were Hard To Miss)
17 Nobody Noticed – Kitty Pryde (X-Men)
To be honest, you’d be forgiven for not remembering Kitty Pryde was even in the first two X-Men films. A perennial favorite among comic book fans, the mutant heroine was portrayed by two different actresses across both films – Sumela Kay in X-Men and Katie Stuart in X2 – and her film outings mainly amounted to prominent cameos showcasing her phasing powers.
Interestingly, Kitty was originally intended to have more screen time in X-Men. However this extended scene – which featured a conversation between her and fellow classmates Rogue and Jubilee – ended up on the cutting room floor.
Given how little of an impression either Kay or Stuart made as Kitty, it’s hardly surprising that director Brett Ratner had zero qualms about recasting the role when he took over the reins on X-Men: The Last Stand. With Kitty moving off the bench and into the spotlight story-wise, it certainly made sense to re-cast the character with a more high-profile star – which he did, bringing in Ellen Page.
With her youthful looks, brunette hair, and petite frame, Page was a close enough match to both Kay and Stuart not to raise any complaints from more eagle-eyed fans. Better still, because Kitty was practically a blank slate on the big screen up until this point, there was nothing about Page’s performance to really quibble over!
16 Hard To Miss – Clark Kent / Superman (Superman Returns)
Superman Returns is a funny beast – a not-quite sequel, not-quite soft reboot of the Superman franchise from the ‘70s and ‘80s which starred Christopher Reeve. Director Bryan Singer made the questionable decision to set his 2006 follow-up within what he termed a “vague history,” which left it unclear which events from the previous movies were part of the Returns canon and which weren’t.
All the same, Singer’s film is very much intended as a sequel to those films, which meant the director needed to find an actor able to channel Reeve’s celebrated take on Clark Kent and his superhero alter-ego. Enter: Brandon Routh, who bore a striking resemblance to the deceased Reeve and displayed a knack for capturing the nuances of the deceased star’s iconic performance.
However, while they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, here it wound up being kind of problematic. See, Routh’s portrayal of Superman – and even more so, the bumbling Clark Kent – aped Reeve’s interpretation so closely, it mostly just served to remind audiences that he was mimicking his predecessor, rather than truly embodying the character.
At the end of the day, audiences go to the cinema to see an actor become Superman, not to watch someone impersonating someone else impersonating Superman.
15 Nobody Noticed – Thanos (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Josh Brolin has made quite an impression on viewers recently with his portrayal of Marvel Cinematic Universe uber-baddie Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. But it’s important to remember that his first appearance as the Mad Titan was actually as a secondary villain in Guardians of the Galaxy – and even then, he wasn’t the first actor to play the part!
No, that honor goes to Damion Poitier, an actor and stuntman who has featured in minor roles in several other MCU instalments.
Poitier’s Thanos is only briefly glimpsed during the mid-credits sting in The Avengers, and even then, his face was only seen from the side, partially obscured by shadow.
What’s more, the balance-obsessed villain doesn’t have any lines during his short cameo. This therefore saved the studio any headaches over vocal differences between Poitier and Brolin when the latter subbed in for the former.
It also didn’t hurt that Brolin’s Thanos is an all-CGI creation, either. As a result – although the digital Thanos’ facial features have been slightly tweaked from the design used for Poitier’s prosthetics – the character in Guardians looks largely identical to his Avengers self.
Toss in the less prominent “puppet master” modus operandi of Thanos up until his fully-fledged arrival in Infinity War – where his CGI aesthetic was slightly modified yet again – and the handover between Poitier and Brolin was ultimately seamless.
14 Hard To Miss – Harvey Dent / Two-Face (Batman Forever)
The Batman film franchise from the late '80s to mid '90s suffers from almost as much of an identity crisis as its brooding lead character. The first two flicks in the series directed by Tim Burton feel very much unrelated to the third and fourth entries, helmed by Joel Schumacher.
A lot of this has to do with tone: Burton’s movies were psychologically twisted affairs set in a gothic nightmare world, whereas Schumacher oversaw campy adventures taking place in a neon-drenched fever dream.
Regardless, as the presence of recurring cast members Michael Gough, as Batman’s loyal butler Alfred, and Pat Hingle, as his ally Commissioner Gordon, can attest, the franchise is considered to exist in a single, shared continuity.
When Tommy Lee Jones showed up in Schumacher’s Batman Forever as notorious antagonist Two-Face, audiences familiar with Burton’s first Batman outing were perplexed. Why?
Two-Face’s once-heroic alter ego District Attorney Harvey Dent is a supporting character played by Billy Dee Williams – who unlike Jones, is African-American!
It goes without saying that it’s pretty hard to get more conspicuous than re-casting a character with an actor of a different ethnicity, so yes: fans were easily able to spot this one.
13 Nobody Noticed – Fandral (Thor: The Dark World)
Despite being popular mainstays in the Thor comics, the Warriors Three – Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun – are relatively minor supporting players in the Odinson’s big screen adventures. As such, viewers don’t spend a whole lot of time familiarizing themselves with this colorful trio – which came in handy, when Marvel Studios needed to recast Fandral!
See, Josh Dallas – who had originally portrayed Fandral in 2011’s Thor – was no longer available to return as the dashing swashbuckler, owing to his ongoing role in Once Upon a Time. Fortunately, Zachary Levi was available to fill the gap in the Thor: The Dark World cast line-up, and went on to appear as Fandral in third instalment Thor: Ragnarok as well.
Levi taking up Fandral’s sword was actually a nice development, considering the actor had previously been cast in the part by Thor director Kenneth Branagh. He was later required to step down, once it became clear that his contractual obligations to the TV show Chuck would clash with the film’s shooting schedule.
To be honest, it’s highly doubtful that anyone other than hardcore Marvel Cinematic Universe fans noticed when Levi took over as Fandral. He and Dallas shared enough of a passing resemblance – and their interpretation of the role was so similar – that for Fandral’s comparatively brief screen time in the franchise, any differences between the actors were essentially negligible.
12 Hard To Miss – Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (X-Men: First Class)
There’s a certain irony in the re-casting of Mystique – a shapeshifting mutant who constantly alters her appearance – being labelled hard to miss. Yet there’s no denying that – even swathed in heavy prosthetic make-up for Mystique’s default, blue-scaled form – it’s possible to distinguish between actresses Rebecca Romijn and Jennifer Lawrence in the role.
Despite the blue mutant only being a secondary antagonist in the first three X-Men movies from the mid-00s, Romijn still managed to leave an indelible impression on viewers’ minds. The actress was suitably nasty and deceptive as Mystique, even beneath a hefty amount of body paint and scales.
Fast forward to 2011, and Lawrence assumed the role from Romijn, in order to play a younger version of Mystique for prequel installment X-Men: First Class. Here, Mystique – more often known by her given name, Raven – is now a main character, and this more complex, conflicted part arguably required an Oscar-winning performer to pull it off.
At the same time, even though Lawrence’s portrayal of Mystique in sequels X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse has cemented her take on the character as definitive, nobody has ever truly forgotten that it was Romijn who originated the part on-screen.
The pair are just too different in terms of their facial features and body type for fans to go from watching Romijn as Mystique in X-Men: The Last Stand to Lawrence in First Class without ever batting an eye.
11 Nobody Noticed – The Red Skull (Avengers: Infinity War)
Avengers: Infinity War was an epic blockbuster filled with surprisesm but easily one of the most unexpected of these was the involvement of the Red Skull. The former head of the insidious HYDRA, the Red Skull hadn’t been seen on screen since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. There, the evil mastermind had been seemingly lost in time and space, after attempting to harness the otherworldly power of the Tesseract.
It didn’t appear all that likely that the Red Skull would be seen again – although the ambiguous nature of his final fate left the door wide open for his return. On the other hand, actor Hugo Weaving – who portrayed the character in Captain America – openly expressed his reluctance to continue on as the character.
Among other concerns, Weaving’s biggest beef was reportedly the amount of time he was required to spend in the make-up chair – and honestly, it’s hard not to sympathize with him on that one.
When the Red Skull reared his ugly crimson head in Infinity War, looking and sounding a lot like he did before, fans wondered if Weaving might have changed his mind.
Amazingly, the answer is actually no – in reality, this was The Walking Dead star Ross Marquand!
It actually makes sense that Marquand was able to substitute in for Weaving so effortlessly. Not only is the Red Skull realized visually through considerable prosthetic and visual effects work, but Marquand is well-regarded for his skills as a celebrity impressionist, too.
10 Hard To Miss – Rachel Dawes (The Dark Knight)
If there’s anything about the generally sublime Batman Begins that doesn’t quite work, it’s probably Katie Holmes turn as love interest Rachel Dawes. It’s not the Holmes is bad in the part, per se – it’s just that in a cast including Oscar-winning heavyweights like Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine, she’s easily the weakest link.
That’s likely why few fans (if any) were too disappointed to hear that Holmes had opted out of appearing as Rachel in the sequel, The Dark Knight. In fact, after Maggie Gyllenhaal proved considerably more convincing as an assistant district attorney than Holmes, fans wished director Christopher Nolan had cast her as Rachel from the start.
It’s not just that Gyllenhaal is a more capable dramatic actress than Holmes – although that’s certainly something that would have benefited Begins, too. It’s also that the transition from her to Gyllenhaal is unbelievably jarring, from a continuity standpoint.
Other than their dark hair and slender frames, the two actresses look almost nothing alike.
Frankly, the discrepancy between the different versions of Rachel is so pronounced, it’s almost disconcerting that none of the characters in the Dark Knight trilogy comment on it!
9 Nobody Noticed – Jubilee (X-Men: Apocalypse)
The big screen version of Jubilee shares a nearly identical behind-the-scenes history as that of her X-Men teammate Kitty Pryde. Not only was she initially a minor character featured in the background of the X-Men movies, she was also portrayed by two different actresses prior to making the jump to key supporting player.
In X-Men, actress Katrina Florece is credited as Jubilee for her cameo appearance in a classroom scene – the same scene that was trimmed to remove material involving her and Kitty interacting with Rogue. For X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, Kea Wong took over the role from Florece, although as before, scenes intended to properly introduce the character were ultimately excised.
Then X-Men: Apocalypse happened, and director Bryan Singer decided he wanted Jubilee to properly take part in one of the team’s cinematic outings. To that end, he enlisted the talents of actress Lana Condor, who – despite having many of her scenes cut, too – finally raised Jubilee’s profile in the franchise.
Fans who know that Jubilee has technically already appeared in the series might argue that Jubilee’s re-casting was actually hard to miss. According to these fans, the character’s very presence in Apocalypse is distracting, given it’s set decades before any of Jubilee’s previous appearances!
Since Jubilee is never addressed by name on-screen before Apocalypse, her prior cameos are easily dismissed.
Frankly, for most casual viewers, the Condor version is the only version they’re likely to have noticed, anyway.
8 Hard To Miss – Bolivar Trask (X-Men: Days of Future Past)
The timeline of the X-Men movie franchise is almost as screwy as that of its comic book counterpart – and that’s quite an achievement. Even a movie like X-Men: Days of Future Past – which was designed in part to correct certain issues with the series and its continuity – only served to make things worse than before.
Take the character of Bolivar Trask. First introduced in X-Men: The Last Stand, Trask is the head of the Department for Homeland Security, and portrayed by middle-aged African-American actor Bill Duke.
Jump forward to Days of Future Past – or rather backward, given its 1973 setting – and Trask shows up again. Only this time, not only is he depicted as a brilliant scientist and founder of Trask Industries, he’s still middle-aged and played by Caucasian little person Peter Dinklage!
Now, the generally accepted view among fandom is that the Trask seen in The Last Stand should be treated as a separate individual from the one seen in Days of Future Past. This isn’t too much of a challenge, given Secretary Trask’s first name is never uttered in The Last Stand. As such, it’s plausible that the two otherwise incompatible characters only coincidentally share the same surname.
Even so, at the time Days of Future Past was released, ardent fans of the X-Men franchise were left scratching their heads over how to resolve the Dinklage-Duke debacle.
7 Hard To Miss – Bruce Banner / The Hulk (The Avengers)
Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner (and by extension, the Hulk) has been so thoroughly embraced by fans, it’s easy to forget he didn’t originate the role.
It was Edward Norton who debuted as the Marvel Cinematic Universe incarnation of Doctor Banner, in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Norton’s turn as Banner was actually generally well-received by fans and critics, but Marvel Studios dropped him in favor of Ruffalo when it came time for the character to appear in The Avengers.
Allegedly, the reason for Norton’s dismissal was due to clashes he had with director Louis Leterrier on the Incredible Hulk set, as well as disagreements with the studio over the film’s final cut. However, for his part, the actor claims he chose not to reprise the role, desiring to continue developing a diverse body of work.
Whatever the truth of the matter really is, one thing almost everyone can agree on is that the differences between the Norton and Ruffalo versions of Banner are glaringly obvious. Admittedly, part of this is due to the new direction the character was taken in by Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon. It also has to do with how little the two actors resemble each other. Credit also has to be given to Ruffalo for the extra quirkiness he brings to the part.
6 Nobody Noticed – Piotr Rasputin / Colossus (Deadpool)
Fun fact: Colossus’ very first big screen appearance is in the original X-Men movie. He’s the kid sketching in the school grounds during the montage sequence around halfway through the film, played by extra Donald Mackinnon.
The metal-encased mutant properly arrived on the scene in X2, where he was portrayed by Daniel Cudmore. Admittedly, Colossus still isn’t exactly integral to the plot of the movie – he’s little more than a minor character, even though we do finally get to see him in all his armored-up glory.
This marks the start of an upsetting trend that continues throughout the X-Men franchise – Colossus (and Cudmore) continually ending up on the receiving end of an underwritten part. For all that our hero gets more screen time in X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s only really to participate in action set pieces.
When a bulkier, all-CGI version of Colossus enters the fray in irreverent romp Deadpool, we’re pretty positive that nobody but the most die hard fans noticed that Cudmore’s vocals weren’t used. That’s not because director Tim Miller hired an ultra-convincing sound-alike, either.
On the contrary, he intentionally hired Stefan Kapičić because his husky Russian voice didn’t match Cudmore’s North American inflections. Factoring in how few lines Colossus had up until that point – and that we never seen him in human form – casual moviegoers likely didn’t notice (or care) that a substitution had taken place.
5 Hard To Miss – James Rhodes / War Machine (Iron Man 2)
Contract negotiations can be a messy thing – as Marvel Studios and Terrence Howard found out the hard way in the lead-up to filming for Iron Man 2! Howard had already appeared as Iron Man’s best buddy Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes in the first Iron Man movie in 2008, but a salary dispute between the actor and the studio saw him bow out of the sequel.
Filling the void left by Howard was Don Cheadle, who – with his darker complexion and more weathered looks – isn’t really much of a physical match for his predecessor. Cheadle’s take on the character is also noticeably more snarky than the performance turned in by Howard.
Indeed, even though Rhodey has been written as more or less the same character in all of his Marvel Cinematic Universe outings, the fresh-faced, less edgy incarnation portrayed by Howard doesn’t quite align with Cheadle’s more weathered, acerbic version.
Nevertheless, Cheadle made the part his own very early on. Suiting up in the War Machine armor in his very first appearance probably didn’t hurt. It’s been eight years and an additional four movies since Cheadle’s debut as Rhodey in Iron Man 2, and everyone’s gotten kind of used to seeing him (and not Howard) in the role.
4 Nobody Noticed – Raphael & Donatello (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II)
It can’t be stated how big of a deal the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Starting out as a popular indie comic book, the Turtles soon made the leap to the small screen with a wildly successful animated series, and this was followed by a live-action adventure which opened in cinemas in 1990.
The film was a hit at the box office – it raked in $202 million off a $13.5 million budget, making it the highest grossing independent movie of all time – and a sequel was all but assured. This flick – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze – was turned around at breakneck speed, landing in theaters only a year later!
Something most fans probably didn’t notice was that not all of their favorite “heroes in a half shell” were played by the same actors for this sophomore outing.
That’ll happen when your lead characters are brought to life by stunt performers wearing full-body costumes and animatronic face masks.
As you can imagine, this means that the people inside the turtle outfits could be changed discretely, and similarly, that the voice actors involved could be easily swapped for convincing soundalikes. That’s why, when Laurie Faso replaced Josh Pais as the voice of surly loner Raphael and Adam Carl inherited the part of tech genius Donatello from Corey Feldman, most fans were none the wiser.
3 Hard To Miss – Victor Creed / Sabretooth (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
As portrayed by professional wrestler Tyler Mane in the first X-Men, Wolverine’s nemesis Sabretooth is a towering, primal, and largely silent figure. Mane’s take on the mutant otherwise known as Victor Creed wasn’t particularly nuanced – but then, it wasn’t supposed to be. As written, Sabretooth was meant to fill the role of Magneto’s intimidating, physical enforcer, and that’s pretty much what Mane delivered.
When it came time for Sabretooth to return in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, director Gavin Hood quickly determined that a more experienced actor was required. The logic here was likely due to the part being more emotionally sophisticated here than in the previous film. So it was that Liev Schreiber signed-on to to replace Mane as Sabretooth in Wolverine – and it was hard not to notice.
That’s not to say Schreiber was bad as Sabretooth. On the contrary, his Victor Creed – while less outright animalistic than Mane’s – was palpably more sinister, and all the more terrifying for it.
There’s no way to reconcile the facial features of Schreiber’s younger Creed with Mane’s older version – especially considering that Sabretooth is supposed to be ageless!
Then there’s the obvious discrepancy in build between the two performers. Mane is clearly taller and broader than Schreiber. Coupled with their wildly different prosthetic make-up, the pair aren’t easily confused for one another.
2 Nobody Noticed – Abe Sapien (Hellboy II: The Golden Army)
Full disclosure: this entry doesn’t constitute a total re-casting in the strictest sense. Actor Doug Jones did indeed reprise the role of Abe Sapian in Hellboy II: The Golden Army after debuting as the character in the first Hellboy movie.
Having said that, this time around, Jones also provided Abe’s vocal performance, as well as physically portraying the character. In the previous film, Frasier star David Hyde Pierce had lent Abe his cultured tones, but for the sequel, Jones was able to convince director Guillermo del Toro to allow him to bring the character to life all by himself.
Luckily enough, Jones’ own voice is a close match for Hyde Pierce’s distinctive pipes, and the handover between actors is virtually indistinguishable. Sure, Abe sounds slightly less melodious in Hellboy II than he did in Hellboy, but we’d bet good money few fans really noticed.
Not only was this performer reshuffle a total success, it was also a well-deserved reward for Jones, too. After all, the poor guy spent hours in the make-up chair transforming into Abe – not to mention his supporting roles, the Angel of Death and the Chamberlain – so it seems only fair his voice be heard in the finished film!
1 Hard To Miss – Bruce Wayne / Batman (Batman Forever)
We’ve covered this already, but just to make it clear: the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher entries in the Batman film franchise of the ‘80s and ‘90s are set in the same continuity. Yes, it’s a fairly loose continuity – particularly between the Burton movies and Schumacher’s efforts – but all four films nominally follow the same incarnation of the Dark Knight Detective.
You’d be forgiven for believing otherwise, however – especially when Michael Keaton handed over the cape and cowl to Val Kilmer for Batman Forever. Whereas Keaton was known for his intense, haunted spin on both Batman and Bruce Wayne, Kilmer’s take on the legendary comic book character was disconcertingly bland.
It’s not just that the two actors’ interpretation of Batman differed, either – physically, Keaton and Kilmer were chalk and cheese. At around 5 ft 9, Keaton was noticeably shorter than his 6 ft tall successor, and his interesting facial features stood in contrast to Kilmer’s more traditional good looks.
Kilmer’s tenure as the Caped Crusader would prove an unhappy one for the actor as well as fans, and he declined to return for follow-up Batman & Robin – although this time, the segue between lead actors was somewhat smoother.
Newcomer George Clooney was a better physical match for Kilmer’s Wayne, although he brought far more charisma to the role. The less said about his Batman, the better, though.
What are some other superhero movie re-castings that nobody noticed or were hard to miss? Let us know in the comments!