Actors who were almost cast as X-Men

The X-Men franchise has incorporated generations of actors, casting and recasting roles to maintain its relevance and offer fresh takes on the stories. With all those X-Men roles to go around, it probably shouldn't surprise you to learn that there are some actors who came thisclose to the franchise, but didn't quite make the cut.

Let's start with Shaquille O'Neal, who'd already played a superhero in DC's Steel before the first X-Men film started casting—and the basketball star wasn't done yet. O'Neal apparently lobbied to play an X-Man who never even made it into the final cut: according to screenwriter David Hayter, Shaq wanted to play Bishop, a mutant with the power to absorb and emit energy who's most recognizable by the large 'M' on his face.

Hayter ended up leaving Bishop out of the film because he wasn't familiar with the character, but Bishop did eventually appear in the X-Men universe, briefly popping up in X-Men: Days of Future Past as played by Omar Sy. We've done some Photoshop work to give you an idea of how differently things might have turned out if Shaq had gotten his wish.

Rachael Leigh Cook as Rogue

Anna Paquin was already an Oscar winner for her role in The Piano when she was cast as the quintessential angsty teenager Rogue in X-Men, but that doesn't mean she was a shoo-in for the part. According to X-Men screenwriter David Hayter, Rachael Leigh Cook, a rising teen star after her turn in She's All That, was the top choice for the role, but he said she turned it down due to salary constraints.

Cook has commented on turning down the part, saying on The Movie Crypt podcast in 2014 (via Superhero Movie News) that producers said they didn't have a lot of money to make the movie. Reading the script, Cook thought it would be a disaster without the proper budget, and she also said she was worried about the time commitment: producers wanted six months, which was hard for her with her already packed schedule.

Kevin Nash as Sabretooth

Sabretooth has had two iterations in the X-Men universe, with former professional wrestler Tyler Mane playing the villainous mutant in X-Men and Liev Schreiber taking over the role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (despite Mane expressing a desire to return to the part). However, Mane almost didn't have a chance to play the role at all; in an interview with Pop Culture Addict, he confirmed that his tag team wrestling partner Kevin Nash was initially up Sabretooth, recalling, "I guess they were talking, but luckily for me Kevin was a little overweight at the time."

Nash, who was known for playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze villain Super Shredder, would later appear as the villain in Marvel's The Punisher, in which star Thomas Jane famously forgot to swap out a real knife for a fake fight knife, accidentally stabbing Nash. Luckily, he was all right, and has since appeared in movies like Rock of Ages, John Wick, and Magic Mike.

Ethan Embry as Nightcrawler

Can't Hardly Wait star Ethan Embry was widely rumored to have landed the role of Nightcrawler in X2 before Alan Cumming was eventually announced in the part. According to Entertainment Weekly, Singer had Cumming in mind from the beginning, but the actor was stuck in a contract for the TV pilot Zero Effect, a prequel for the 1998 Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller film of the same name. However, the show ended up not getting picked up to series, allowing Cumming to get out of his contract and sign on for the movie. Embry's reps later confirmed to MTV News that he was in talks for the role.

Terence Stamp and Michael Jackson as Professor X

Patrick Stewart was obviously the perfect pick for Professor X when he debuted in 2000's X-Men, and James McAvoy has done an admirable job following in his footsteps as the younger version of the character in the newer X-Men films. However, if one pop star had his way, the character (and the entire X-Men movie universe) could have been very, very different.

Various reports have alleged that mega-star Michael Jackson lobbied hard for the chance to play Professor X in the Marvel universe, starting long before the comics publisher became ubiquitous in the film business. Rumor has it that Jackson even tried to purchase Marvel in the 1990s so he could play the character when the studio started making films. Although Hayter confirmed that Jackson did go out for the part, Stan Lee has said Professor X wasn't the role Jackson had his eye on—as he remembers it, Jackson actually wanted to play Spider-Man.

Also auditioning for Professor X was Terence Stamp, already well-established in the DC universe as the villainous General Zod in the Christopher Reeve-starring Superman films of the late 1970s. Although Stamp didn't win the part, he did end up showing up in the Marvel universe later on, playing the part of Jennifer Garner's mentor Stick in the ill-received 2005 Daredevil spinoff Elektra.

Sigourney Weaver and Alice Eve as Emma Frost

Two very different actresses were up for the part of Emma Frost in two very different X-Men movies. In 2004, X2 screenwriter Dan Harris revealed that the character was involved in the X-Men 3 treatment he'd written for director Bryan Singer. According to Harris, filmmakers were planning on approaching Sigourney Weaver for the part. However, Singer left to do Superman Returns and a new script for the film was written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, which didn't include Frost. Weaver later commented on the potential casting while on press tours for Harris' feature film directorial debut Imaginary Heroes, joking that he should write the part into Superman.

Jones eventually made her debut as Emma in X-Men: First Class (although the character also had a semi-appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but it was another blonde bombshell who was reportedly offered the role first. According to ComicBookMovie.com, future Star Trek Into Darkness actress Alice Eve was initially set for the project, but decided to leave due to script changes she didn't agree with.

Jim Caviezel and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Cyclops

James Marsden played Cyclops in the original X-Men series, but it turns out he wasn't actually the first to be cast in the role. The Passion of the Christ and Person of Interest star Jim Caviezel told IGN in 2004 that he was actually cast in the part, but was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with the sci-fi thriller Frequency. "It really happened really quick," he said. "The role, Cyclops, was at the time between doing Cyclops and another film I made at the time, Frequency. I can't remember. I was more involved in the Frequency film than [X-Men]." Two other actors who were rumored to be in talks at the time were Vince Vaughn and Edward Norton. Ain't It Cool said in 1999 that Vaughn, who is apparently a big X-Men fan, was in heavy talks for the role, although neither the actor or the film's producers have commented.

Years later, Kick-Ass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson was reported as potentially being in talks to play a younger Cyclops in X-Men: First Class, a part which ended up not being (explicitly) featured. (Tom Pocock would play a younger version of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, while Tye Sheridan would play him in X-Men: Apocalypse.) Producer Tarquin Pack confirmed to MovieWeb that there was "unfortunately" nothing true to the rumors, noting that Taylor-Johnson was "kind of busy." The actor later suited up as a different Marvel superhero, playing Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Maggie Grace and Summer Glau as Kitty Pryde

Teleporting teen mutant Kitty Pryde was played by a revolving door of actresses before Ellen Page finally landed the part in X-Men: The Last Stand. However, before Page's casting, there was some speculation about another actress being attached to the role. Variety reported that Lost star Maggie Grace was in talks to play a new mutant that many assumed was Pryde, although it was later said that she quit the film. Grace, for her part, said she didn't read for the role at all and she was unsure where the rumors came from. According to Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof, Grace told him she was enjoying her time on Lost and had no plans to leave the show to shoot the movie.

Another TV genre actress also had her name thrown around for the role. According to Joss Whedon, his Firefly star Summer Glau auditioned for the role of Kitty by reading a scene Whedon wrote for Astonishing X-Men Issue #5. Although Whedon said he thought Glau would make a "wonderful" Kitty (and she probably would), Page ended up landing the part, delivering a performance impressive enough that Singer was inspired to bring her back for Days of Future Past.

Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Angela Bassett as Storm

Halle Berry became an Oscar winner shortly after her debut as Storm in the X-Men series, something Hayter says was parlayed into an increased role for the actress in later movies. However, if producers had their way, it wouldn't have been Berry in the role at all.

According to Hayter, Angela Bassett, who would later go on to join the DC movie universe in Green Lantern, was the first choice for Storm, but salary requirements stopped them from being able to offer her the part. (Rumor has it Bassett was offered the part as early as the mid-'90s.) Bassett hasn't commented on why she turned the role down, but she has responded to being a fan favorite for the part, telling Film Fad in February of 2016 that she remembers being in the conversation for the role and that she'd like to play a superhero at some point in the future, saying she thinks she could be "quite believable saving the day."

Two of the others up for the role of Storm had musical backgrounds. Hayter said Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey both came in and tested, although neither made the cut. Still, the image of an X-Men universe starring Michael and Janet Jackson may never leave our minds.

Just about everyone as Wolverine

It's impossible now to imagine anyone other than Hugh Jackman with the adamantium claws, it seems like everyone and their mother was considered at one point for the part of Wolverine. Braveheart's Mel Gibson was producers' original pick, according to Hayter, with the actor depicted in the original concept art for the film. However, Gibson has decried superhero films at multiple points, saying in an interview with Variety, "Do you know what the difference between real superheroes and comic book superheroes is? Real superheroes didn't wear spandex," so it's unlikely that he would have been receptive.

Also up for the part was metal rocker Glenn Danzig, a "Wolverine fanatic" who is said to have been considered due to his close resemblance to Wolverine in the comics. Danzig later criticized Jackman's portrayal, telling the Los Angeles Weekly that, if he had played the character, it wouldn't have been as "gay." "I'm glad I didn't do it," he said. "It was terrible."

A number of other stars were also considered. Keanu Reeves met with Bryan Singer to talk about the role, but said he wasn't sure if he was "the right one for it." Viggo Mortensen, who Hayter said he liked in the part, ended up turning down the role for the chance to appear in another famous movie franchise, The Lord of the Rings. (Considering Aragorn was the role that launched him into mega-stardom, we don't think he made a bad decision.) Russell Crowe also turned it down, although he did give producers a pretty good suggestion on his way out, asking that they look into the relatively unknown Jackman for the part.

In the end, producers ended up casting Dougray Scott, but he had to drop out due to a very scary accident on the set of Mission: Impossible 2. According to Hayter, Scott was filming the movie in Australia when he was injured in a motorcycle accident while shooting a scene for the climax of the movie, leaving him "pretty messed up." Luckily, producer Lauren Shuler Donner remembered Jackman's audition tape and suggested that they bring him in for the role. The rest, as they say, is history. For an in-depth look at the long list of actors who had a narrow brush with playing Wolverine, click here.