Actors who almost played Superman

No matter how many times Superman hits the screen—big or little—the young and handsome actors of Hollywood line up for the honor of playing the Man of Steel (and, spoiler alert, his bespectacled alter ego Clark Kent). It's a gig that can make a career, and these performers all had a shot at going up, up and away. Unfortunately, someone else ended up wearing the cape.

Caitlyn Jenner

Before becoming best known as a reality TV star and transgender pioneer, Caitlyn Jenner was one of the greatest athletes in the world. In 1976, while still identifying as male, Bruce Jenner won the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics, an achievement which brings with it the unofficial title "World's Greatest Athlete." Jenner was an overnight star, and Hollywood came calling. According to Jenner's agent at the time, George Wallach, one offer he fielded for his client was the title role in the big-screen version of Superman. Christopher Reeve got the part, of course, while Jenner went on to host Battle of the Network Stars and costar with the Village People in the 1980 musical Can't Stop the Music.

Muhammad Ali

Early in the production for what would become 1978's Superman: The Movie, DC Comics approved a list of potential stars submitted by the producers. On that list: Al Pacino, James Caan, Dustin Hoffman, and Muhammad Ali. Ali was a world champion boxer, but also a civil rights icon, media personality, and actor—he starred in The Greatest, a big-screen biopic telling the story of…Muhammad Ali. He was also a part of the Superman mythos, "guest-starring" in the 1978 DC Comics special issue Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, in which the Man of Steel squared off in the ring against the People's Champion. While working on the comic, DC tried to extend the partnership further. Ali's promoter took Superman producers Alexander Salkind and his son Ilya to dinner and tried to sell them on Ali for the movie, boasting that he was popular all over the world, having just fought in front of huge crowds in Japan. Alexander was on board, until Ilya casually mentioned that Ali was African-American…and Alexander thus rejected the idea of a black Superman.

Neil Diamond

Back in the '70s, your mom's favorite singer was a huge star. One-time Monkees songwriter Neil Diamond had a ton of solo hits in the '80s (along with some duets with Barbra Streisand) and was looking to give acting a try. Salkind set up a meeting with Diamond, who said no to Superman before being offered the part—he realized the months the shoot would take would eat into his multi-million-dollar-generating concert schedule.

Gerard Christopher

In 1993, ABC brought Superman back to TV with Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. In an unusual twist for a Superman project, it was a comic soap opera focused on the burgeoning romantic relationship between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Dean Cain got the part over several actors, including future Hercules star Kevin Sorbo, but the show's casting director had actually earlier settled on Gerard Christopher. After Christopher's apparently excellent audition, they glanced through his credits and discovered he'd starred as Clark Kent in the 1980s syndicated TV show Superboy. The casting director told him "you've done this already," and Christopher didn't get the part.

Ben Affleck

After Kevin Smith's comic book reference-laden comedies Clerks and Mallrats demonstrated his expertise regarding all things superhero, Warner Bros. executive Jon Peters hired him in 1996 to execute a rewrite on an existing screenplay for a new Superman movie, then titled Superman Reborn. Peters had some caveats for Smith, however: Superman couldn't fly and he had to wear an all-black suit; he had to fight a polar bear at the Fortress of Solitude; and there had to be a giant mechanical spider in it. Smith turned in the best script he could under such strict parameters, recommending that Ben Affleck should star. Tim Burton, who had so ably (and lucratively) directed Batman and Batman Returns, was ultimately hired to direct, and one of his first orders of business was hiring an actor of his own choosing to play Superman: Nicolas Cage.

Superman Lives never made it to movie theaters, but in 2006, Affleck played Superman anyway (sort of) as the star of Hollywoodland, a drama taking a speculative look at the mysterious death of George Reeves—the actor who starred on Adventures of Superman in the 1950s.

Nicolas Cage

Burton's choice of the idiosyncratic Cage was unconventional, but then so was his decision to cast Michael Keaton as Batman. Besides, Cage was and is a huge comics fan: he took his stage name from Marvel's Luke Cage, and he even named his son Kal-El, after Superman's Kryptonian birth name. Burton talked up Cage in the press, promising audiences that the silly old Superman trope of Clark Kent's glasses somehow concealing his identity would actually be believable because Cage was just that good of an actor—that he "could physically change his persona." What followed were long months of script rewrites, delays, and budget problems. Burton left the movie in 1998 to film Sleepy Hollow, Warner Bros. put the movie on hold, and with no progress being made by 2000, Cage moved on too.

Jensen Ackles

For Smallville, the long-running series about young Clark Kent growing up in Iowa and figuring out how his powers work, producers narrowed down their picks to two young actors: Tom Welling and Jensen Ackles. They tentatively offered the part to Welling, but had he turned it down, producers were ready to give it to Ackles. Nevertheless, they liked the future Supernatural star enough that they brought him back in the show's fourth season to play Jason Teague, a romantic rival to Clark.

Paul Walker

After the Jon Peters/Tim Burton/Kevin Smith debacle burned itself out, Alias creator J.J. Abrams got a crack at creating yet another new Superman reboot in 2002. Lots of actors were approached and/or auditioned for the project, titled Superman: Flyby, including Jude Law, Josh Hartnett, and Brendan Fraser. Heading up the list of possibilities was late Fast and the Furious lead Paul Walker—development on Flyby occurred during the lull between the first two Fast and Furious movies and its latter-day sequels. He was apparently offered a ton of money, but he didn't want that kind of lifestyle. "I could have made a gazillion dollars on that franchise," Walker said in 2003. "I could probably have bought my own fleet of jets or my own island. You know what? I don't need it."

Daniel Cudmore

This Canadian actor and stunt worker has been lucky enough to be a part of two hugely lucrative franchises—he portrayed Colossus in the X-Men movies and Felix in the Twilight series—but not a third. He auditioned for director Bryan Singer's 2006 reboot Superman Returns, but narrowly lost out to Brandon Routh. (Probably complicating things: he was also signed and scheduled to appear in X-Men 3: The Last Stand, which would shoot around the same time as Superman Returns.)

D.J. Cotrona

In 2007, DC Comics and Warner Bros. started production on the superhero team-up movie Justice League: Mortal. Budgeted at $200 million with director George Miller at the helm for a scheduled Australian shoot, sets were built, costumes were designed, and a cast was hired, including Armie Hammer as Batman, Adam Brody as the Flash, and D.J. Cotrona, who at the time had appeared in just two independent movies and made a handful of guest-star appearances on TV. The movie hit a snag after Australia reneged on the tax breaks promised the production, and once new locales were chosen, the screenplay needed work—but that rewrite period jutted up against the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike. Cotrona never got to put on the blue tights (but he did go on to play Flint in G.I. Joe: Retaliation.)

Joe Manganiello

The Magic Mike and True Blood star was on a very short list of actors considered for Zack Snyder's 2013 reboot Man of Steel, but he never even got to audition. He'd even scheduled a screen test and had been measured for a Superman costume for the occasion. Unfortunately, Man of Steel's production schedule changed at the last minute and his screen test was delayed. The new shooting dates would've required Manganiello to take almost three months off from shooting True Blood, which would definitely not have worked for the producers of True Blood. In fact, his schedule for the show was so tight, he couldn't even find time to re-schedule his screen test. But don't feel too bad for Manganiello: he eventually found his way into the DC Comics universe after being cast as villain Deathstroke in Ben Affleck's standalone Batman movie.