Actors who were almost cast as Doctor Strange

By most accounts, Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a pretty perfect Doctor Strange—but the role could have been taken by a number of other actors. In fact, due to scheduling conflicts, Cumberbatch had to decline his first opportunity to star in Doctor Strange, and director Scott Derrickson met with a number of potential leading men. Convinced none of them were the right fit for the part, Derrickson persuaded Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige to delay production to accommodate his star, and the rest is Sorcerer Supreme history. Here's how things might have gone if Cumberbatch hadn't signed on after all.

Joaquin Phoenix

In 2014, Marvel pursued Phoenix for Doctor Strange. Contract negotiations were reportedly close to agreement, but Phoenix is said to have balked at how much time and creative energy starring in the movie would consume, not to mention the appearances in other MCU releases he'd be obligated to make over the next few years. He ultimately decided he preferred indie efforts to superhero blockbusters.

Ryan Gosling

After Joaquin Phoenix turned down the role, Ryan Gosling took some meetings with Marvel Studios executives. In a 2014 interview that year with ScreenCrave to promote Gangster Squad, he hinted he'd also love to play the Flash in Justice League. Unfortunately for fans of costumed "Hey Girl" memes, he ultimately didn't land either part.

Jared Leto

Derrickson told Empire that when it looked like Cumberbatch was a no-go, he met with "a lot of good actors," including Phoenix, Gosling, and Jared Leto, hot off his Best Supporting Actor win for Dallas Buyers Club. Leto would wind up crossing the comics adaptation tracks and signing on to play the Joker in the DCEU movie Suicide Squad, which was, ironically enough, in production at the same time as Doctor Strange.

Ethan Hawke

While doing promotion for his Oscar-nominated turn in Boyhood, Hawke mentioned on a podcast that he came "as close as anybody could" to playing Stephen Strange. Hawke suspects he didn't wind up with the part because he doesn't have a huge fanbase like Benedict Cumberbatch, nor is he a major box office draw. "If people are gonna put up with somebody like me," he mused, "they wanna make sure you're gonna put asses in seats, and there's a lot of actors that are gonna put more asses in seats than me."

Ewan McGregor

There was apparently mutual interest between Marvel and Ewan McGregor for Doctor Strange. In 2015, a reporter from MTV asked McGregor about his involvement in the movie. "I was into it, yeah. I thought it was exciting," he told the network, admitting he "liked the idea of creating or being a superhero character." He pointed to his lack of comic book knowledge as what he believes bumped him out of the running for the role, but said "it was still fun to be a part of the mix for a while."

Jake Gyllenhaal

After appearing in a series of dark, independent dramas like Southpaw and Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal was ready to do a fun superhero movie—coming full circle on a journey he'd started when he nearly took over the title role in Spider-Man 2 after contract negotiations with Tobey Maguire broke down. He was reportedly on Marvel's shortlist of actors to star in Doctor Strange, but apparently didn't get too far in the casting process.

Patrick Dempsey

A movie star in the '80s, Dempsey enjoyed a massive comeback when he took on a starring role on ABC's popular soap Grey's Anatomy from 2005 to 2015. In 2011, he admitted he was looking to get back into movies, specifically with a movie adaptation of Doctor Strange. Dempsey publicly discussed his attraction to the character with the Los Angeles Times, saying, "I've been lobbying for that. It would be fantastic. It'd be a great TV show, especially for HBO or something like that." Marvel obviously envisioned the Doctor on a bigger screen, and Dempsey wasn't part of the picture.

Aiden Gillen

In May 2014, a group of 4Chan users got together to let Marvel know who they thought should play the Sorcerer Supreme in the then-uncast Doctor Strange movie: Aiden Gillen—i.e., Littlefinger from Game of Thrones or Carcetti from The Wire. The group even started a petition at Change.org which they promised would be sent along to Marvel executives. While Gillen's certainly talented, and the petition received a respectable 875 signatures, Marvel never publicly gave him consideration for the role.

Nicolas Cage

Director/writer Roman Coppola is part of the Coppola filmmaking dynasty—brother to Lost in Translation director Sofia and son of The Godfather's Francis Ford Coppola. Nearly two decades ago, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe got up and running, Coppola set out to make his own unique adaptation of Doctor Strange, which at the time was still just a cult favorite among comics fans. Coppola says he never pursued it much beyond the planning stages, but he had an actor in mind for the title role: the actually strange Nicolas Cage.