Actors who were almost cast as Spider-Man

He's one of the world's most recognizable superheroes, and a jewel in Marvel's crown. For actors, there aren't many superhero roles that match up to Spider-Man in terms of bragging rights, though precious few have been able to add the web-slinger to their resumes. Countless hopefuls have auditioned for the part of Peter Parker in his various incarnations over the years—some for movies that went on to become international blockbusters, others for projects that ultimately fell through. It's easy to see what some of the actors on this list could have brought to the Spider-Man franchise, with a good number of the names here leaving you wondering what might have been. For every dream we missed out on, though, there's a nightmare we narrowly avoided.

Tom Cruise

After several failed attempts to negotiate a deal to get Spider-Man swinging onto the big screen in the late '70s and early '80s, Marvel finally signed on the dotted line with Cannon Films, a production company known for churning out B-movie horror and low-budget action flicks of the Chuck Norris variety. Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper was signed up to direct a script that actually saw Peter Parker mutate into an anthropomorphic tarantula, a project which Tom Cruise unsurprisingly turned down. The Top Gun star was a big target for the clueless Cannon, who wanted him to face off against Bob Hoskins as iconic Spidey villain Doctor Octopus.

Charlie Sheen

It isn't easy to imagine Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, though if the actor had gotten his way that image would have become reality. During a 2012 appearance on Jay Mohr's Mohr Stories podcast, Sheen revealed that in his younger days he attempted to get a movie adaptation of Spider-Man off the ground with himself in the starring role. Back when the actor had his own office at the Orion headquarters, he took the idea to producers at the studio and told them he was perfect for the part, urging them to greenlight it before he got too old to play Peter Parker. They responded by telling him that comic book movies were not the future. (Orion declared bankruptcy a few years later.)

Michael Jackson

Marvel forefather Stan Lee has never been short of something interesting to say during his appearances at Comic Con, though one of his most memorable reveals came at the San Diego event in 2009. He told bewildered audiences that Michael Jackson had once invited him to his Neverland ranch to ask about personally producing a Spider-Man movie, with the late King of Pop intending to take on the starring role himself. The Spidey creator later revealed that Jackson (a lifelong comic book fan whose collection of memorabilia included a life-sized Batman suit molded to his build) also tried to tempt him into a joint venture to buy Marvel Comics in the 1990s, though this also fell through.

Edward Furlong

Easily the greatest Spider-Man movie that never was, James Cameron's adaptation was derailed by a mixture of issues, from the script being considered too edgy to competing interests over the rights, though details of how it might have looked have come to light in the years since. The film was set to reunite Cameron with his Terminator 2 star Edward Furlong in a big screen retelling of classic story arc The Night Gwen Stacy Died, with Drew Barrymore in line to play love interest Stacy. Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed in an interview with Empire that a full-on reunion was in the cards at one stage, with the Terminator himself penciled in to appear as Doctor Octopus before the studio went in a different direction.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Furlong wasn't the only actor Cameron considered for his Peter Parker, as Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio can attest. DiCaprio has long been rumored to have been in contention for the title role, and years after the fact he finally admitted that he met with Cameron about the possibility. He read the screenplay, though unfortunately for Cameron and the millions of Spidey fans who never got to see what might have been, negotiations never progressed past the "semi serious" stage. When Cameron was offered a budget of $200 million to make Titanic (four times the amount made available to him for his Spider-Man project) he didn't hesitate to take DiCaprio with him—a move that worked out pretty well for both of them.

Jude Law

Parts of Cameron's screenplay were later recycled and added to by not one, not two, but three further screenwriters. When Sony announced that they were ready to go ahead with their long-awaited Spider-Man flick, the studio hired Sam Raimi as director, and he wasted no time getting his search for the new Peter Parker underway. Rumors that Raimi's Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell was under consideration were shot down by studio sources, though one name that was definitely in the picture was Jude Law, a self-confessed Spider-Man fanatic since childhood. The British actor's agent confirmed that Sony made "overtures," though unfortunately for Law it never went past that stage.

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger will forever be remembered for his game-changing performance as Christopher Nolan's Joker in The Dark Knight, though the late actor could have wound up on the other side of the superhero divide if Sony had gotten its way. In the wake of his death, Ledger's former agent Steve Alexander revealed that his client was the studio's number one choice when it came to casting the lead in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. The actor was ultimately put off by how little he knew about the character, telling his agent he would have been "taking somebody else's dream away" if he took the part without fully appreciating Spider-Man's history.

Jake Gyllenhal

Of course, the part of Raimi's Peter Parker ultimately went to Tobey Maguire, and the rest is Spidey history. Maguire was propelled to A-list stardom after the first film in the eventual trilogy stormed to the top of the domestic box office in 2003, though he almost never made it to the second movie after sustaining a back injury while filming Seabiscuit in 2003. Jake Gyllenhaal was drafted in to take his place, though he was dropped again when Maguire made a miraculous recovery in time for shooting. It isn't the first time Gyllenhaal has narrowly missed out on playing an iconic superhero: he was also close to playing Christopher Nolan's Batman, only to be beaten to the role by Christian Bale.

Wes Bentley

When Sam Mendes' American Beauty cleaned up at the 72nd Academy Awards, it was only a matter of time before the film's young stars started getting big league offers, and Wes Bentley was no exception. His turn as troubled teen Ricky put him firmly in contention for the highly coveted lead role in Spider-Man, though the actor later admitted that he just wasn't ready to make the move from indie actor to A-lister at the time. "I didn't want to go there because I believed what I did in American Beauty was special and I had higher expectations for myself to do something like that again," he explained. "I regret not doing them and they're painful to watch sometimes. But they're a reminder of my struggle. If I were to get those opportunities again, I'd know exactly how to handle them."

Josh Hartnett

Bentley wasn't the only actor to turn down the lead role in 2002's Spider-Man over fears about what it might mean for him professionally and personally. After featuring in Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down in 2001, Josh Hartnett was already finding the spotlight uncomfortable, and the idea of spearheading the Spider-Man franchise wasn't one he relished. The actor chose to return home to Minnesota for some down time instead, not shooting anything for 18 months. Hartnett later revealed that he also turned down the chance to play Superman in Bryan Singer's 2006 Superman Returns as well as the role of Batman in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films, which he came to regret.

James Franco

It's not uncommon for an actor to come away from an audition having failed to get the part that they went for, only to be contacted and offered another role in the picture. This was the case with James Franco, who read for the lead role in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man but was ultimately beaten to the prize by Toby Maguire. Franco confessed that he was disappointed when the director called him to let him know the part had gone to Maguire, though he softened the blow when he instead offered the Freaks and Geeks star the part of Harry Osborn, son of the Green Goblin and Peter Parker's best friend. Franco agreed, and the casting call was immediately withdrawn.

Robert Pattinson

When Raimi and Maguire both announced they were stepping down from the Spider-Man franchise over disagreements about the Spider-Man 4 script (which was set to be a prequel detailing Peter Parker's time at high school), the rumor mill went into overtime. A number of websites ran an April Fool's story that all but confirmed Twilight star Robert Pattinson would be taking over, and these joke articles almost predicted the future. The British heartthrob was seen as key to Sony securing the teen demographic, though when Spider-Man 4 was canned and a reboot featuring a high-school age Peter Parker was announced, Pattinson fell out of contention.

Taylor Lautner

You couldn't discuss Edward without also discussing Jacob at the time, and this was the case when it came to casting the titular hero in The Amazing Spider-Man. Taylor Lautner was a name not many people took seriously to begin with, largely due to the fact that the Twilight star was stacked in a way that Peter Parker never has been and didn't have that quasi-nerdy look about him, though when news broke that Lautner had met with Spider-Man producers, people started to pay attention. While the nature of the role in question remained unspecified, many jumped to the same conclusion that they reached when Pattinson was rumored: Sony execs were looking to poach some Twihards.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Rumors about who would take over as Sony's Spider-Man were numerous at the time, though a discussion about who might take over from Raimi was also rife. As soon as Marc Webb's name was attached to the reboot, talk turned to the star of his indie hit 500 Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The actor was one of the more popular choices at the time, and he responded to the buzz by saying he was "honored and flattered" to be in the frame. His age was discussed as a potential stumbling block, despite being just two years older than eventual Amazing Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield.

Josh Hutcherson

One of the most talked-about auditions for the part of Peter Parker in 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man was that of Josh Hutcherson. The actor wound up appearing in another big-budget franchise that same year, starring as Peeta in The Hunger Games, though he was always extremely vocal about his wish to take the Spidey mantle from Maguire. "I grew up watching the originals — the originals, you know, the ones with Tobey Maguire. They came out when I was ten years old," he explained. "It's just an honor. It's really cool to be considered for that." To bolster his chances of pulling ahead of the pack, Hutcherson went as far as creating his own screen test so the producers could see him in action as Peter Parker.

Zac Efron

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's working relationship with Marc Webb automatically threw his name into the mix when it came to casting a new Spidey, and the same thing happened with Zac Efron. The former Disney star had previously collaborated with comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis on the adaptation of the latter's graphic novel Fire, and when Bendis (responsible for the Ultimate Spider-Man relaunch) admitted he had contacted Sony about the direction of the reboot, Efron looked like he had a foot in the door. Having been a fan of Spider-Man comics since the age of six, Efron courted the interest, letting everyone (Sony included) know that the part would "be a dream" for him.

Jim Sturgess

Bookmakers started shortening their odds on Jim Sturgess landing the lead part in Webb's reboot after a tweet sent by Adulthood director Noel Clarke claimed that the British actor had nailed down the part. Clarke claimed he had the "inside track" when it came to casting The Amazing Spider-Man, and his assertion that Sturgess had already been chosen was backed up by actor Arnold Oceng, who said "of course it is" when asked if Clarke's claims were true. Of course, both men were wrong in the end, though Sturgess clearly came close to winning the role eventually claimed by Andrew Garfield.

Asa Butterfield

When The Amazing Spider-Man 3 was canned and Sony announced their intentions to introduce a new Spider-Man as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one person you would expect to be upset at the news was Andrew Garfield, though this wasn't actually the case. The actor was philosophical about losing the part, revealing that he wouldn't have been able to work with Mel Gibson or Martin Scorsese had he been committed to a third Spidey outing. With the door left open for a new Peter Parker, the rumor mill started spinning again, linking any actor of a certain age with the role. In the end, it came down to a two-horse race between eventual winner Tom Holland and Asa Butterfield. The Hugo star was considered the frontrunner for a good while, even joining in the casting conversation on Reddit to confirm his height, though he finally lost out to Holland.

Daniel Radcliffe

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe was one of the actors who came out in support of Holland's casting when the latter was finally confirmed as the new MCU Spider-Man, calling his fellow countryman a "fantastic" actor that he was looking forward to watching in the role. His compliments were uttered through half-gritted teeth, however, as Radcliffe went on to reveal that he wanted the part himself while also conceding that it was now out of reach: "I would have made a good Spider-Man, but the boat has sailed on that one. I'm not sure if I'd sign up for something that was another seven or eight films or ten years, but a shorter franchise, yeah."

Recommended