A superhero franchise is only as good as the actor playing the lead role. And when they do a terrific job as the superhero they are portraying, such as Robert Downey, Jr. in "Iron Man," it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling those shoes. However, the role that thrust Downey back into super stardom was almost played by another actor entirely. The same goes for many other iconic comic book characters over the years. This list will hit on some of the most interesting, and hopefully more than a few that you never even heard about.
Tom Cruise as Iron Man
It was long in the making that Tom Cruise would star as snarky, yet charming, billionaire Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” films. In fact, he was all set up to produce and star in the films since the ‘90s. But once the wheels started falling into place, ultimately, Tom was unhappy with the script they had and opted out. And while it is possible to imagine Cruise’s adaptation of the character, it just wouldn’t have felt as right as Robert Downey, Jr.
Nicolas Cage as Superman
Once the 1989 “Batman” film was met with success, Warner Bros. decided they should give Tim Burton a shot at rebooting the Superman franchise as well. However, unlike “Batman,” this film titled “Superman Lives” would have likely been a huge mistake. Not only was Cage all wrong for the role of the Man of Steel, the script (originally written by Kevin Smith) went through numerous rewrites from other writers to appease producer Jon Peters, who wanted things in the script such as giant spiders, robot sidekicks, space dogs and for Superman to never fly or be seen in his iconic suit. The film was thankfully scrapped and “Wild, Wild West” (which featured a giant, mechanical spider) was produced instead.
Anne Hathaway as The Black Cat/Vultress
OK, so other than her involvement in the proposed fourth “Spider-Man” film in the Sam Raimi franchise, all that was clear is that Anne Hathaway would be playing a character known as Felicia Hardy. Now, in the comics, this would mean that she would eventually transform into the burglar known as the Black Cat. But according to news sources at the time, she was to play a completely new villain known as Vultress (with John Malkovich set to play the comic book villain The Vulture). But obviously once Sony decided to instead reboot the franchise, this was all lost in translation and Hathaway would go on to play a more iconic cat burglar in the form of Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises."
Edward Furlong/Leonardo DiCaprio as Spider-Man
Speaking of Spider-Man, did you know that James Cameron once wrote a treatment for the film and planned to direct? The rights to the franchise had fallen to Carolco Pictures, the same studio that made “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and Cameron was all about casting stars Edward Furlong and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the roles of Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus respectively. However, Carolco ended up going belly up, and the rights eventually landed in the hands of Sony. They still had Cameron’s script and were eyeballing then “Titanic” star Leonardo DiCaprio for the role, before hiring Sam Raimi to take the reigns. He…had different plans.
John Krasinski as Captain America
Yes, this almost happened. Jim from “The Office,” aka John Krasinski, was inches away from being Captain America in Marvel's new line-up of superhero films. He beat out the likes of actors such as Ryan Phillippe, Mike Vogel, Garrett Hedlund and even Magic Mike himself, Channing Tatum, for the much coveted role. Krasinski had apparently been called in on four separate occasions to read for the role and even did two screen tests. The role was all but his until, at the last second, Chris Evans seemed to swoop in out of nowhere and nab the part, apparently without even testing for it.
Emily Blunt as Black Widow
Speaking of John Krasinski, his lovely wife Emily Blunt basically had the “Iron Man 2”/”The Avengers” role of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, in the bag before it was given to blonde bombshell Scarlett Johansson. However, unlike Krasinski’s situation, Blunt did not lose the part to Johansson, but rather, she was contractually optioned to star in a different film at the behest of Fox. The fact that that film was the Jack Black flop “Gulliver’s Travels” simply could not have sat well with the actress.
Jim Caviezel as Cyclops/Superman
Prior to his almost career-ending role as Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” Jim Caviezel beat out the likes of Thomas Jane, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson and Jude Law for the role of X-Men team leader, Cyclops. However, due to his involvement in the film “Frequency” at the time, he was forced to back out and the role was given to James Marsden. Ironically, when he later auditioned for the title role in “X-Men” director Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” he was disqualified from the race due to the attention he was getting from his “Passion of the Christ” role.
Dougray Scott as Wolverine
Dougray Scott may not be a household name, but he would have been if not for unfortunately having to pass on the role of Wolverine in the “X-Men” films. As the story goes, Scott had landed the role but was forced to pull out shortly after filming began due to scheduling conflicts with another film he was currently shooting, “Mission: Impossible II.” The role then went to Aussie actor Hugh Jackman, and the rest is history.
Interesting side note: Other actors considered for the role of Wolverine included Russell Crowe, Viggo Mortensen, Gary Sinise, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Keanu Reeves.
Marlon Wayans as Robin
There was a time when Tim Burton planned to do a third “Batman” film. Prior to that, however, Marlon Wayans was considered for the role of Robin in “Batman Begins,” but was omitted due to the film already having too many characters. Once the third film finally rolled around, Wayans had officially signed on as the Caped Crusader’s partner. But when the director of the film changed mid-production from Tim Burton to Joel Schumacher, so did the decision to cast Wayans. He was still paid in full and still gets residual checks from the film, but was replaced by white actor Chris O’Donnell. We have to say, of all the actors to miss out on the opportunity to play a superhero, Wayans ended up with the sweetest deal.
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Bill Murray as Batman
This one tops our list for the sole reason that it’s Bill freakin’ Murray as Batman. How strange (although possibly amazing) would that have been? Rumor has it that prior to Tim Burton being hired to take the reigns of the Batman franchise, an adaptation was in the works that was modeled after the ‘60s Adam West “Batman” series. Therefore, having Murray in the title role would have actually made some sort of sense, and as mentioned, could have gone down as another of his classic films, though it may have stifled the progression of the dark, gritty Batman films we have today.