Superhero Casting Announcements That Ultimately Fell Apart

Superhero movies are some of the biggest blockbusters being made right now, and for good reason. Whether they be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe, it seems clear that fans are going to pack into the theater to see their favorite cape-wearing heroes every year. But what exactly is it about superhero movies that make them so appealing to audiences?

What superhero movies have going for them isn't just thrilling action sequences and dazzling special effects, it's the star power. Most heroes and villains have high-profile acting talent underneath the spandex to boost their character's appeal for their solo movies as well as their ensemble appearances.

When a superhero casting decision is finally announced, it always ends up being huge news for the fandom at large. Some recent examples have been the casting of Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam, Will Poulter as Adam Warlock in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," and Mahershala Ali as "Blade." But despite the iron-clad nature of these contracts with Marvel and DC, sometimes deals fall apart even after announcements are made to the public. There's a handful of legendarily messy situations where famous celebrities had to hang up their capes and cowls before ever even making it to the big screen.

Nicolas Cage as Superman

One of the most famous what-ifs in movie history is what would've happened if the famously eccentric Nicolas Cage was actually able to star as Superman in Tim Burton's unmade film, "Superman Lives." This doomed project has a long and complicated history dating all the way back to the 1990s after the success of Burton's previous entries into the DC canon, 1989's "Batman" and 1992's "Batman Returns." With a script written by Kevin Smith, the film would have featured a whole host of Superman content including Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Doomsday, and the Eradicator.

Many actors were considered for the titular role of Superman, including Ben Affleck (who later went on to play Batman in "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice"), but ultimately the role was given to Nicolas Cage, thanks to his background as a comic book fan. After all, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Cage apparently owned an original issue of Superman's 1938 Action Comics debut, which he ended up selling for over $2 million. The only remaining artifact of this casting decision comes in the form of an infamous production still of Cage looking ridiculous in Superman's costume that has been shared on the internet for decades. Although the project ultimately fell apart, a documentary about Cage's flirtation with the last son of Krypton has since been released called "The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?"

Tom Cruise as Iron Man

It's hard to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. being Iron Man, but in another reality, that may very well have been the case. When Jon Favreau brought Tony Stark to the big screen in 2008's "Iron Man," Marvel Studios was putting all their chips on the movie being successful enough to launch a new franchise from the ground up. It was essential that the producers found the perfect actor to bring the charisma, talent, gravitas, and star power to the role for the next big superhero origin story.

Although Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr. seem like a match made in heaven, he actually wasn't the first actor considered for the part. Nicolas Cage once again expressed some serious interest in portraying another superhero (and, once again, it didn't work out). However, the biggest name to be attached at one point was none other than Tom Cruise. The "Mission Impossible: Fallout" and "Top Gun: Maverick" actor not only wanted to star in the leading role of Iron Man, but he also wanted to have significant creative control over the project as a producer. According to Us Weekly, Cruise discussed the nuances of why this didn't pan out with IGN back in 2005. He said, "As it was lining up, it just didn't feel to me like it was gonna work. I need to be able to make decisions and make the film as great as it can be, and it just didn't go down that road that way."

John Krasinski as Captain America

Fans of "The Office" will always see John Krasinski as the lovably snarky character of Jim Halpert, but over the past decade since the show ended, he's certainly done his best to avoid being typecast. With roles in "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi," "Jack Ryan," and "A Quiet Place" (alongside his real-life wife, Emily Blunt), it's clear that Krasinski is trying really hard to develop an action persona for himself. It's because of that re-branding that he was seriously considered for a huge role in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Following the breakout success of 2008's "Iron Man," Marvel went full steam ahead in adapting all their major superheroes in the lead-up to a massive crossover experience with the first "The Avengers" film. Aside from "Thor," the most important character to be cast was the heroic figure of Captain America himself, which apparently John Krasinski was in the running for. In a 2020 appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," he claimed that he was an early choice for the role of dork-turned-soldier, Steve Rodgers. Krasinski said, "The truth is, they hadn't offered it to [Chris] yet, so they were like, "Let's see who else is out there before we offer it to Chris Evans." And um, I went in and I tested for Captain America." Ultimately, the role went to Chris Evans, but John Krasinski did eventually make a debut in the MCU as Mr. Fantastic in a brief cameo for "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness."

Jim Carrey as Loki

One of the more surprising casting choices on our list has got to be Jim Carrey as the villainous Loki, brother to Thor and Norse god of mischief (via CBR). Although Carrey has a history of playing over-the-top comic book bad guys, thanks to his role as The Riddler in Tim Burton's 1995 flick "Batman Forever," his whole vibe doesn't really match the subdued sinister energy that Loki requires.

Nonetheless, it turns out that Jim Carrey was a contender for the role during the development of the first "Thor" movie back in 2011. This was very early during "Phase One" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when everything was still unsettled for the fledgling franchise. It seems likely that the studio wanted as much star power as possible to puff up each installment of the universe, and Jim Carrey would be a natural choice for a chaotic comic book antagonist. According to some sources, Carrey was on the shortlist as Loki, but decided to bail on the whole thing due to creative differences. Oh well, at least we got Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik in the "Sonic the Hedgehog" movies to make up for it.

Joaquin Phoenix as Doctor Strange

Speaking of doctors, there are few as powerful or enigmatic within the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Doctor Stephen Strange. The character is currently played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who had been previously known for playing other charmingly arrogant characters such as Sherlock Holmes from "Sherlock" and Khan from "Star Trek: Into Darkness." While he has been amazing in both "Doctor Strange" movies and his "The Avengers" appearances, it's interesting to imagine how different things would've been if Joaquin Phoenix had been given the role instead.

Although he's earned critical acclaim for his own venture into comic book movies as the titular character of "Joker," it turns out that actor Joaquin Phoenix was being considered as the Sorcerer Supreme pretty deep into production. According to a piece by Little White Lies, Phoenix was in "final negotiations" with Marvel before they ended up parting ways over various creative differences. He went on to say, "I think they make some great, fun movies ... I'm trying to figure out how to say this most diplomatically, okay ... I think everybody was really happy with how things turned out. All parties were satisfied."

Emily Blunt as Black Widow

We already mentioned how John Krasinski was almost Captain America, but it turns out that his better half was also close to appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well. Emily Blunt is a talented actress known for her roles in "Sicario," "Edge of Tomorrow," and "A Quiet Place," where she often portrays strong female characters. So it shouldn't be surprising that Emily Blunt came very close to playing the lethal secret agent, Black Widow, before the production of "Iron Man 2."

Black Widow made her big screen debut in 2010's "Iron Man 2," where she was played by Scarlet Johansson (who stayed in the role up until the recent "Black Widow" prequel film). Initially, however, Emily Blunt was in talks to star as the red-haired S.H.I.E.L.D. agent but was unable to commit due to scheduling conflicts. According to an interview on Howard Stern's show, Blunt was locked into doing the "Gulliver's Travels" movie and was forced to pass on the project (via Entertainment Weekly). She bluntly stated, "I was contracted to do 'Gulliver's Travels.' I didn't want to do 'Gulliver's Travels,'" before adding, "It's not that I'm loathed to put on a catsuit. It's not that at all. I just haven't found something that really speaks to me." Guess we won't be seeing Emily Blunt in a superhero flick anytime soon.

Glenn Howerton as Star-Lord

Could you believe that the golden god of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" was almost cast as the galaxy's most legendary outlaw from the "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise? It may come as a surprise to learn that Glenn Howerton was second in line to play Star-Lord if things didn't work out with Chris Pratt. Director James Gunn was open on Instagram about the process of finding the perfect person to play Peter Quill in his first "Guardians of the Galaxy" film by saying, "I would never share who auditioned & didn't get the role unless they shared it first — many people know @glennhowerton auditioned & was my 2nd choice for the role."

Glenn Howerton is best known for his role as Dennis Reynolds on the FX comedy series "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," as well as appearances on shows like "A.P. Bio," "The Mindy Project," and "Velma," where he voices a young Fred Jones. Howerton weighed in on his not being cast as Star-Lord by replying with his own Instagram story saying it "still hurts" (via NME). He also discussed his audition with The Guardian, noting how well-suited Chris Pratt seemed for the part. He said, "I remember thinking: 'Oh s***, that guy's perfect for this."

Jack Black as Green Lantern

Aside from the poorly-received film starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, Green Lantern is one of the biggest superheroes who still hasn't made a splash on the big screen. The ring-welding space cop is a fan-favorite member of the Justice League who at one point was going to be played by someone totally out of left field: Jack Black.

In the early 2000s, Saturday Night Live writer Robert Smigel wrote a script for a total re-imagining of the Green Lantern story that would be much more overtly comedic. Instead of Hal Jordan being given the ring of power by Abin Sur, a new character named Jud Plato would instead become an unlikely hero thanks to a total accident. During an interview with Vanity Fair, Smigel elaborated on the humor of this story and why Jack Black was the perfect person to take on this version of the Green Lantern. He said, "the premise [is] that the wrong guy gets the ring and can do all kinds of goofy visual jokes — because the visuals are so potentially ridiculous." He later added that Black's character would be, "the laziest Green Lantern in history." It unfortunately never came to pass, but it's fun to imagine a goofy Green Lantern played by the frontman of "Tenacious D."

Will Smith as Superman

Yet another famous actor who has been considered for Superman is none other than Will Smith who, at the time, was at the peak of his stardom. Having become immensely popular thanks to his roles in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Men in Black," Smith was a serious contender for the role of Kal-El in Bryan Singer's 2006 film "Superman Returns." While the role eventually went to Brandon Routh, Will Smith eventually had the chance to show off his superhero skills in the 2008 black comedy, "Hancock."

According to an interview with MTV, however, Smith passed on the role because he wasn't convinced that audiences were ready for a race-swapped Superman just yet. He said, "'There is no way I'm playing Superman!' Because I had already done Jim West [of 'Wild Wild West'], and you can't be messing up white people's heroes in Hollywood!" He also noted how more complex, morally gray anti-heroes are more to his liking than squeaky clean characters like the Man of Steel, claiming, "You can get away with all kinds of things if it's funny. It's like staying on that edge of comedy, which is what I think is the beauty of this movie."

Leonardo DiCaprio as Spider-Man

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and has been a household name since his now iconic performance in James Cameron's 1997 tragic romance, "Titanic." He's continued to score leading roles in the biggest movies of the past few decades including "Inception," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "The Revenant," and "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood." Thus far, he has been one of the few movie stars to completely avoid anything superhero-related throughout the rise of the MCU and DCEU.

So, it may be surprising to find out that even Leo has had some history with superhero movies — he was initially slated to star as Spider-Man in James Cameron's lost adaptation of "Spider-Man." During an interview with Empire Magazine, DiCaprio divulged details about how far along the project was and his place in the entire thing. He said, "I know he was semi-serious about doing it at some point, but I don't remember any further talks about it. We had a couple of chats. I think there was a screenplay that I read, but I don't remember. This was 20 years ago!" It's fascinating to imagine how different things would have been if Leonardo DiCaprio was this generation's first Spider-Man instead of Tobey Maguire. Who knows, maybe he would have appeared in "Spider-Man: No Way Home" instead.