The real reason these actors abandoned their superhero roles

Love them or loathe them, superhero movies are set to be a staple in cineplexes for many, many years to come. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Minus a few glaring missteps—we're looking at you, Warner Bros., DC—the genre itself is thriving creatively. The genre's current creative confluence has every actor under the sun trying to work their way into spandex-land.

Of course, donning a costume and saving the day isn't always what it's cracked up to be, and even with superhero films dominating the cinematic landscape, some if its bigger names—e.g., Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Evans—are actively looking for a way out. They wouldn't be the first actors to leave a superhero franchise. The genre has already seen its fair share of Tinseltown A-listers come and go. Here's why some of the biggest names in Heroland abandoned their most heroic roles.

Hugh Jackman - Wolverine (aka Logan)

Of all the actors fighting their way through the superhero landscape, few embody their on screen personas as completely as Hugh Jackman does as the internally conflicted Wolverine. Over the years, the actor has appeared as everyone's favorite mutton-chopped beast a whopping nine times, but his ownership of the role was clear the first time he donned the claws almost 20 years ago for X-Men. And even more so when Logan dismembered the box-office back in March. At this point, it's almost impossible to imagine another actor in the role.

Barring a dramatic turn of events, it seems that's just what we'll have to do. Prior to suiting up for Logan, Jackman announced that his ninth appearance as Wolverine would ultimately be his last. There are a lot of reasons for Jackman's decision—it seems even Jerry Seinfeld's thoughts on why he left Seinfeld had a hand in the actor's decision to walk away from Wolvy—but, at the end of the day, the decision was Jackman's alone.  

So, why's he leaving Wolverine behind after all these years? Well, the phrase "all these years" is actually a big part of it. Keep in mind, Jackman's been playing the part for 17 years now. Though there's no shortage of brutal new adventures for Logan to embark on in terms of Wolverine lore, one has to wonder just how much more Jackman has to give to the character. Factor in the intense, physical demands of the role, and the fact that Jackman is now 46 years old, and you can start to see that staying ripped to play Logan while also playing rough on set might become a problem for Jackman. It certainly wasn't going to get any easier moving forward either.

Luckily, Jackman is leaving Logan with a bang rather than a whimper. The film was a massive critical and box office success and serves as a fitting final chapter to one of superherodom's truly iconic roles. Now the question becomes, "Is there an actor out there brave enough to follow in Jackman's footsteps?"   

Christian Bale - Batman

Speaking of iconic, that word almost seems an understatement when talking about Christopher Nolan's and Christian Bale's Dark Knight trilogy. Not only did the trilogy bring Batman back down to Earth after a particularly foolhardy, big-budget misfire, it also changed the face of the superhero film as we knew it.

That Bale became the face of that franchise was a surprise in and of itself. Since breaking out as a child star in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Bale spent close to two decades building a reputation as a true actor's actor. While bat-fans believed Bale would have no trouble finding the darkness within Bruce Wayne, there was speculation whether he could pull off the physical presence of The Batman. Although a lot of fans scoffed at Bale's Batman voice, their fears were quelled when Bale brawled his way through the streets of Gotham in Batman Begins. They were completely decimated when he returned for The Dark Knight—now widely regarded as the definitive Batman film.  

The Dark Knight also made Bale the definitive Batman for many fans of the characterthat includes the head honchos at Warner Bros. After Chris Nolan walked away, the studio was desperate to keep Bale on board as Batman. Prior to announcing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. reportedly offered Bale as much as $50 million to don the cape for Zak Snyder.

Bale it seems had seen enough of life in the Batcave. Though he was purportedly jealous over the idea of someone else playing Batman, he turned down the loot and retired his batarangs for good. Why'd he do it? Christopher Nolan choosing not to return to the franchise was a big part of his decision. Bale has always maintained that he and Nolan told the Batman story they wanted to tell, but he's also said he wouldn't say no if Nolan came to him with a new Batman script. Sadly, that hasn't happened, and given what's been happening in the DC cinematic universe, his decision not to return seems wiser than ever.

Michael Keaton - Batman

Michael Keaton – Batman

Christian Bale isn't the only Dark Knight to turn down a stack of Benjamins and walk away from playing Batman. Michael Keaton beat him to that punch prior to Batman Forever back in 1995. That move came a full six years after he first donned the cape for Tim Burton in the then genre-defining film Batman.

It was Burton's and Keaton's pitch-black take on The Dark Knight that put the "goth" back in Gotham, but 1989's Batman also got adult audiences on board the superhero train, proving there was a market for comic book fare beyond the Saturday morning cartoon set. The film proved a massive hit with fans and a financial juggernaut at the box office, as did the pair's deliciously divisive follow up Batman Returns.

Many now wonder why it is that neither Burton or Keaton returned for Batman Forever. In Burton's case, it seems studio heads deemed his Batman Returns too dark and were less than enthusiastic about handing him the reigns for the next Batflick. That decision may have had unforeseen ramifications on the future of the franchise.

Though Michael Keaton didn't immediately exit Batman Forever, he certainly began to rethink his involvement without Burton on board. According to Keaton, he knew he was done after he read the rewritten script and took a meeting with Burton's replacement Joel Schumacher. The actor has recently gone on record about why he left the project claiming simply that, "It sucked." Keaton felt so passionately that he reportedly turned down a $15 million payday to reprise the role, and, well, if you've seen what Schumacher did to the Batman franchise, it's kind of hard to disagree.

Thomas Jane - The Punisher

Sure, people are digging on the down and dirty version of Frank Castle in Netflix's The Punisher, but it's been a bumpy road to respectability for Marvel's tortured, bad-boy vigilante. That road took an interesting turn in 2004 when—on the heels of comic book successes like X-Men and Spider-Man—a big-screen version of The Punisher got the green light at Lions Gate Films.

Though Frank Castle doesn't quite fit the mold of superhero films of the time, the character has always been one of Marvel's best loved characters, so it made a lot of sense that The Punisher was one of the first of Marvel's flock to find its way into theaters. There was genuine excitement for the film when it was announced, and even more when the studio cast then up-and-coming actor Thomas Jane in the lead and John Travolta as the villain. Sadly, the excitement faded fast once The Punisher was released.

To put it mildly, the film was a critical and commercial failure. The one bright spot in all the critical carnage was that Jane had managed to bring the right mix of malice and melodrama to the film. It was enough for the studio to sign him up for the planned sequel Punisher: War Zone.  If you're wondering what happened to that film, it was released in 2008 and met with just as much critical and commercial strife as the original. History, it seems, has proven Thomas Jane right.

Don't feel too bad for Thomas Jane, though, because he wasn't in it. A self-professed fan of the comic book, Jane actually left the project just prior to cameras rolling because he felt the sequel's script was "too comic book" and didn't give Frank Castle the treatment he deserved. Though he did make a short fan film, Jane didn't get the call to suit up for the bleak and brutal Netflix series. 

Patrick Stewart - Charles Xavier (aka Professor X)

It seems foolish to say now, but Logan was hardly a sure bet when it clawed (Get it? Genius!) its way into theaters back in March. But the hard R-rated take on the X-Men's most beloved mutant proved a critical and commercial force to be reckoned with—and a fond farewell to the clawed one himself.

Unfortunately, Hugh Jackman isn't the only member of the Logan cast that decided to ride off into the sunset after Wolverine's last stand. Patrick Stewart—Professor Xavier himself—also announced his departure from the X-Men universe prior to Logan's release, and, no, Jerry Seinfeld had nothing to do with this decision.

If you've seen Logan already—stop reading if you haven't—the news that Stewart is out will come as no surprise since the Prof meets his own end in the film. Of course, death hasn't stopped Professor X from returning to the franchise before. He was resurrected after X-Men: The Last Stand, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that the character could come back. Still, like Logan's slow, somber goodbye, most fans believe Xavier's ultimate fate was just as perfect. For his part, Stewart seems to agree.

It's also worth noting that Stewart has been playing Professor X just as long as Jackman has been Wolverine. Obviously, Stewart's role requires less of a physical strain, but one still has to wonder how much more he can bring to the role. While the beloved actor has left the door open to a possible Professor X return, we're sort of hoping he lets the equally beloved character lay just where Logan left him.