When will Hollywood give the world what it wants: Mel Gibson as Howard the Duck (in just makeup)?1 of 12
New Mutants actor Maisie Williams has cast doubt on the future of the somewhat up-in-the-air last of the last Fox X-Men movies.
It seems likely we’ll see it some way, sooner or later – but if not, it wouldn’t be the first comic book movie that came so far and tried so hard but never made it to the screen (remember the 1990s Fantastic Four movie?)
And Maisie Williams (and the rest of the cast) wouldn’t be the first big name actors to land superhero roles only to have them fly away. Here are ten prime examples.
Christopher Walken as Superman2 of 12
In many ways, the 1978 Superman film defined what a superhero movie could be. Director Richard Donner and actor Christopher Reeve were the major pillars to make that movie what it is, but what would you do if I told you Reeve wasn’t the filmmakers first choice? Donner and producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind had bold ambitions when looking for their Superman. Before casting a relative unknown like Reeve, they were instead looking for an A-list star to stand with Marlon Brando, who had already been cast as Jor-El.
Christopher Walken is just one of many stars who were courted and screen-tested for the part of Superman. We chose Walken because, well – it’s Walken – but the studios also tested the role with Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, James Caan, Nick Nolte, Steve McQueen, and Al Pacino. Word is that the Salkinds approached Burt Reynolds and Muhammad Ali as well, and had to fend off overtures from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone who were themselves lobbying to play the part.
Walken was just off of Annie Hall and a western called Shoot the Sun Down which starred Superman’s Margot Kidder. When he didn’t get the Superman part, he ended up filming what was his first breakout film: The Deer Hunter.
Just imagine – Christopher Walken as Superman.
Brigette Nielsen as She-Hulk3 of 12
Do you remember the She-Hulk movie from the 1990s? The titular role of She-Hulk was to be played by Rocky IV and Red Sonja actress Brigitte Nielsen. Nielsen was at the apex of her career when she signed on to She-Hulk, and Marvel was excited to have her onboard – going so far as to paint her up in green to post for a series of stills promoting the movie.
Nielsen was hired ten months after b-movie writer/director Larry Cohen was hired, but despite their big hopes Marvel failed to come up with the money to finance their 1990s movie ambitions. But for its time, it was the talk of Wizard and other comics magazines, being considered a “sure thing” in terms of being made until, well, it wasn’t.
Adam Brody as the Flash4 of 12
In the mid 2000s, The O.C. was the king of all teen drama, and one of the faces of that was actor Adam Brody. Brody, who played the character Seth Cohen, was described by the Los Angeles Times as “TV’s sexiest geek,” and he was close to cashing in that geek cred to play DC’s fastest man alive, the Flash.
Brody as Flash was part of an ensemble cast chosen in to star in a 2007 Justice League film that died on the vine. The film was to be helmed by Mad Max’s George Miller, with a budget of 220 million and pre-production underway in Australia. But due to the writer’s strike, the success of The Dark Knight and costly delays in pre-production, Warner Bros. ended up cancelling Justice League and with it, Brody’s hopes to play the Flash.
Brody is getting a second shot, with an as-yet-unrevealed role in Shazam! (at least to those who didn't see the Saturday sneak preview).
Armie Hammer as Batman5 of 12
Years before The Social Network and The Lone Ranger, Armie Hammer was already being groomed as a top star – as Batman in George Miller’s scrapped Justice League: Mortal. The actor, who before had one major role – as Reverend Billy Graham in an indie bio-pic titled Billy - was considered a surprise choice, especially in light of the dramatically different Batman who was being played by Christopher Bale in the solo Dark Knight trilogy at the same time. Upon his announcement, Hammer was well aware of Bale’s long shadow.
"That guy's got his s--t down," Hammer said of Bale in an E! Online interview.
Hammer, while only 22 at the time, measured in at an imposing 6’5” and had already undergone fittings for the Batman suit.
"I was looking down, and I was thinking, This is the best," E! quoted Hammer as saying. "Then I stood up, and they turned me around, and I faced a mirror—there was Batman. But then it hit me like a ton of bricks—it's not just Batman, it's me!"
Hammer underwent several months of physical training, including gunwork, in preparation for Justice League: Mortal, only for it to stall out due to the writer’s strike and the success of The Dark Knight.
Emily Blunt as Black Widow6 of 12
Scarlett Johansson has won over the world with her portrayal of Black Widow in Avengers and the other Marvel movies… so it’s tough to swallow that she wasn’t Marvel’s original choice.
In January 2009, word broke that the Black Widow role was being primed for actress Emily Blunt. At the time, Blunt had just completed filming The Wolfman (directed by Captain America: The First Avenger’s Joe Johnston), and had previously done well in ensemble films like The Devil Wears Prada and Charlie Wilson’s War. Marvel reportedly offered the English actress the part as Black Widow after a successful screen test, but Blunt couldn’t take the role due to a contract with Fox for another film, which ended up being Gulliver’s Travels. It was only then that Marvel went to Johannson, who had also screen tested as Black Widow, obtained the role.
Common as Green Lantern7 of 12
Comics seem to be a big thing in the hip-hop community, and when rapper Common transitioned into acting, he quickly found himself a sought-after actor for action movies – including superhero films. Common made his comic film debut in 2008’s Wanted as the Gunsmith, and that among other roles put him in the casting spotlight for another role – the ill-fated Justice League: Mortal’s Green Lantern.
When Common’s casting as Green Lantern was announced, fans were generally excited – more so for the fact that it was the John Stewart GL they’d be seeing, but also for Common and his short film resume to date. Originally the plan was for Common to play Green Lantern in Justice League: Mortal then have a major role in the then-forthcoming Green Lantern movie with Ryan Reynolds. But when the 2008 Justice League production tanked, so did Common’s chances to be John Stewart.
After being fitted for the Green Lantern costume and undergoing rigorous physical training along side his co-stars, the 2007 writer’s strike put the Justice League movie on hold. When the writer’s strike eventually ended, the shifting sands of the superhero film market had changed and WB didn’t see a superhero team movie working at that time.
Common finally got his superhero role, however, being cast in 2016's Suicide Squad as the villain the Tattooed Man.
John Krasinski as Captain America8 of 12
Chris Evans was a surprise choice to play Captain America, but who he beat out was even more of a surprise: The Office’s John Krasinski.
In the build up to the production of Captain America: The First Avenger in 2010, Fox News reported that Krasinski was Marvel’s choice to play the part after two screen tests and four read-throughs. At the time, Krasinski was noticeably bulkier in public appearances, apparently getting in shape in preparation for the role. It was only when Chris Evans, who had turned down the part three times, reconsidered and came back into the picture that those stories ended.
Picturing John Krasinski in the role of Captain America might seem far-fetched, but if you look at how Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt transformed into an action star to be Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star-Lord, you can see how it could’ve turned out.
Russell Crowe as Wolverine9 of 12
Russell Crowe is best known to superhero film fans as the father of Superman, but did you know at one point he was Wolverine?
During the casting of the landmark original X-Men film, director Bryan Singer openly campaigned for Russell Crowe to play Wolverine. Crowe reportedly turned down the role over pay and because the actor didn’t like the character’s hairstyle, but instead recommended a fellow Australian actor named Hugh Jackman. Jackman was a total unknown at the time, so instead Singer cast Hemlock Grove’s Dougray Scott for the role as the feral mutant. Three weeks into filming X-Men however, Scott dropped out because of overruns in Mission: Impossible II, leading Singer to reach out to Jackman – who, remember, was an unknown actor who had only ever done Australian television – as Wolverine.
Although passing on X-Men might have seemed like a bad idea for Crowe, it was only by passing down that role that he had time to make Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind and The Insider, all three of which he received Academy Award nominations for, with a win for Gladiator.
Tom Cruise as Iron Man10 of 12
Of all the Marvel superhero roles in films, the role of Iron Man/Tony Stark is hardest to imagine without its actor. But for a time in the early 2000s, Marvel was in bed with Tom Cruise to both act and produce an Iron Man film after the success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Just imagine: “Show me the money!” meets “I am Iron Man.”
Marvel was reportedly very close to signing Cruise, excited to have a top-notch star for their first self-financed film, but Cruise reportedly dropped out due to the script. With Iron Man not being a Tom Cruise vehicle, Marvel went another route and hired Jon Favreau who in turn brought Robert Downey Jr. aboard.
It’s also worth mentioning that at one point, the Tom Cruise-led Iron Man had Quentin Tarantino in talks to direct but they couldn’t agree on numbers.
Nicolas Cage as Superman11 of 12
Nicolas Cage is perhaps the best known movie star that’s also a comics fan. His immense comics collection has become an item on Gawker and Entertainment Weekly, and he’s also done a few superhero movies – but what’s more interesting in some sense is the movies he didn’t do.
After taking up a pseudonym based on his favorite comic character Luke Cage, the actor petitioned on several occasions to play a superhero – most famously, Superman. As detailed in the documentary “The Death of "Superman Lives", What Happened?” Cage was in fact cast as Superman – Tim Burton’s Superman – but the pre-production of the film faced so many delays, distractions and disasters that Warner Bros. cut bait before Burton began filming.
Although he didn’t get to play the superhero there, he ended up voicing Superman in 2018's Teen Titans GO! to the Movies.
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