When a movie franchise becomes big enough, the actors in it become downright iconic. And it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else inhabiting their roles.
Right now, Marvel movies are one of the biggest driving forces in our culture. From X-Men and Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these are the movies shaping the zeitgeist.
But while Marvel movies dominate the box office nowadays, there was a time when superhero films weren’t a guarantee of success. You will be shocked at the big names who turned down a chance to be in a Marvel movie! Here are some actors who are probably kicking themselves now.
Tom Cruise (Iron Man)
As Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. did more than bring the role to life. It would be fair to say he formed the beating heart (or should that be Arc Reactor?) of the early MCU.
Before Downey was cast, however, Tom Cruise was set to both produce and star in the first Iron Man movie. He only dropped out of the project after it took Marvel a long time to get the character rights to shoot the film, allowing Downey to step in and make film history.
Rachel McAdams (Pepper Potts)
By the time they were casting Pepper Potts, Robert Downey Jr. had already secured the role of Iron Man. And eventually, Gwyneth Paltrow would land the role of a character who starts out as Tony Stark’s assistant and ends up as his wife and a hero in her own right.
Before Paltrow was cast, though, Rachel McAdams was offered the role. She had some scheduling conflicts that kept her from accepting the offer. But when the MCU was casting for Doctor Strange, McAdams had no trouble landing the role of Strange friend and ally Dr. Christine Palmer.
Joaquin Phoenix (Hulk and Dr. Strange)
After Marvel decided to part ways with Edward Norton, who starred in The Incredible Hulk, it’s rumored that they offered the role of Bruce Banner/Hulk in The Avengers to Joaquin Phoenix.
Later, Marvel tried to secure the actor again, this time as Dr. Strange. Phoenix didn’t think these roles would be fulfilling, though, and turned them both down in favor of pursuing various passion projects. The roles went to Mark Ruffalo and Benedict Cumberbatch, respectively.
But Phoenix’s decisions worked out pretty well. Following his passions led him to his Oscar-winning DC Comics role in 2019’s Joker.
Leonardo DiCaprio (Spider-Man)
Nowadays, everything is about the MCU movies and TV shows. But we would never have the MCU if not for the runaway success of Sony’s Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire in the early 2000s.
Before Maguire was cast, though, and before Sam Raimi was chosen as director, the role of Spider-Man was offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. This would have been under James Cameron’s direction, but DiCaprio declined and simply said he wasn’t ready to put the suit on.
Emily Blunt (Black Widow)
The character of Black Widow pretty much defines “tough woman.” And Scarlett Johansson did an admirable job of fleshing this character out for more than a decade.
Originally, though, the role was offered to Emily Blunt. And while Blunt is perfect at portraying tough leading ladies (Edge of Tomorrow, anyone?) she had a prior commitment to Gulliver’s Travels that kept her from accepting the offer.
RELATED: Top 10 Avengers Cosplayers Ever
Jensen Ackles (Hawkeye)
As a non-superpowered human, Hawkeye has always stood out among the powerful Avengers. And Jeremy Renner has done an admirable job of imbuing this character with genuine passion and pathos.
Before Renner was cast, though, Supernatural star Jensen Ackles was offered the role of Hawkeye (he originally auditioned for the role of Captain America). Ackles ultimately chose Supernatural over the MCU, but it’s fun to imagine the world where he was rocking a bow and arrow on the big screen!
Joseph Gordon Levitt (Star-Lord)
At this point, Chris Pratt is pretty synonymous with the character of Peter Quill (Star-Lord). And while being cast in the role essentially transformed Pratt into a movie star, he wasn’t the first choice for the studio.
Instead, they wanted fellow funny man Joseph Gordon Levitt for this witty role. Levitt couldn’t accept because he was busy shooting Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Considering the reception for that movie, we can only imagine Levitt is kicking himself right about now.
Olivia Wilde (Gamora)
Zoe Saldana really brought the role of Gamora to life. And given her other roles in Avatar and Star Trek, being in Guardians of the Galaxy helped cement her reputation as a true sci-fi queen.
Originally, though, the role of Gamora was offered to Olivia Wilde. She could not accept due to scheduling conflicts, so you’ll have to settle for watching Tron Legacy to see her mad skills in an action movie.
Jason Momoa (Drax the Destroyer)
It’s fair to say that playing Drax the Destroyer was a career-defining choice for Dave Bautista. Overnight, he went from being “just” a wrestler to being an iconic movie star. He wasn’t the original choice for Drax, though.
Jason Momoa was originally offered the role, but he declined because he was worried about getting typecast. Considering that most of Momoa’s major roles are all about playing super-buff shirtless dudes, we’re pretty sure that the typecasting has already happened! But Momoa eventually found superhero success as DC Comics’ Aquaman for Warner Bros.
Matthew McConaughey (EGO)
Most of the stars on this list likely regret turning down Marvel roles. But at least Matthew McConaughey had a good reason.
He was originally offered the role of EGO the living planet, Star-Lord’s dad in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While Kurt Russell ended up playing that character to perfection, McConaughey didn’t want to hop onto a film series after it had already become a major success.
While it’s great that McConaughey likes to take creative risks, there’s no denying he would have been wonderful in this role.
Jessica Chastain (Maya Hansen and The Wasp)
What’s worse than turning down one major role in the MCU? Turning down two roles, of course!
Jessica Chastain was originally offered the role of friend-turned-villain Maya Hansen in Iron Man 3. She declined because she thought the role was boring. Later, she was offered the role of Hope van Dyne in Ant-Man. But Chastain declined that, too, possibly because the character does not become the superhero The Wasp in the first movie.
But she might regret her choice to hold off. By the time she felt like starring in a Marvel movie, it was for Fox’s box office disaster X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
Alec Baldwin (Alexander Pierce)
Alec Baldwin was offered an MCU role in 2013 and turned it down due to his wife being pregnant at the time. In a July 2013 interview on The Howard Stern Show, he revealed the character was a villain.
“I won’t mention which one. I don’t want to undo somebody because they hired someone else to do it. But they asked me to play a villain in one of these Marvel Comics movies,” he said.
Even though Baldwin declined to name the role, it is heavily rumored it was Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Matt Damon (Daredevil)
For a time, it seemed like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were inseparable. And that extended to casting: Matt Damon was originally offered the title role of Fox’s 2003 Daredevil film. Affleck accepted after Damon turned it down.
Damon’s reasoning was simple enough. He wasn’t familiar with director Mark Steven Johnson and turned the role down. Considering how bad that movie was, it seems like he made the right choice!
Bryan Cranston (Sebastian Shaw)
Once upon a time, it would have been impossible to imagine Bryan Cranston as a villain. After Breaking Bad, though, it’s all too easy.
This is likely why he was offered the role of the villainous Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class. But he had to turn the role down because of his prior commitment to the movie Drive, paving the way for Kevin Bacon to take the role.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (John Wraith)
By almost any standard, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a fairly terrible movie. But it had some great guest stars, including Ryan Reynold’s first appearance as Deadpool and will.i.am as John Wraith.
Originally, though, the role of Wraith was offered to MMA fighter turned actor Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. He declined because he had to train for an upcoming fight. Given the quality of the finished movie, it looks like he made the right choice!