It’s fair to say that the MCU is the biggest and most successful movie franchise of all time. Starting off with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk back in 2008, which kicked off their phase one, no one could have foreseen just how big and integrated the MCU would become. Crossing over multiple movies, as well as many TV series, the MCU is the franchise to beat. It’s such a massive, money-making franchise that the likes of DC and even Star Wars are struggling to keep up with them. But that won’t stop them from trying over the next few years!
With so many heroes at Marvel’s disposal, the biggest challenge the MCU has had is finding the right actor to portray the heroes in a way that will sell the movies and please the comic book fans. So far the casting choices have been spot on, or at least for the most part, but a lot of the roles we love came so close to being so very different. Here we look at 15 actors that almost made it into the MCU, and we’re so glad they didn’t!
15. Adam Sandler – Rocket Raccoon
We start our list with a casting choice that we are so glad didn’t happen, but almost did. When movies, especially superhero movies, want to get their stories on screen, a lot of the time they need a big name, or at least an accomplished actor’s named, attached in order to draw people in. Not so much with big superheroes like Spider-Man, Superman, or Batman, those characters sell themselves, but when Marvel wanted to push the MCU into new and uncharted waters with the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the studio bigwigs wanted a big name to get people into the theatres.
So for the loud-mouthed, rude, and aggressive character of Rocket Raccoon the studios called up Adam Sandler. We know exactly what you’re all thinking: Adam Sandler for Rocket Raccoon?! That was the reaction from a lot of fans when this piece of casting news was leaked and they all let their feelings known which promptly changed the executive’s mind and they cast Bradley Cooper as the voice. Phew!
14. Saoirse Ronan – Scarlet Witch
Next we come to a character that caused a lot of buzz and excitement when it announced that she would be involved in the MCU. In the pages of the comic books, Scarlet Witch is a huge and important character that crosses most of the platforms in the Marvel universe. From X-Men to the Avengers, Scarlet Witch has been involved in most of the major storylines over the years, and caused a few herself. So when it was announced that she would be involved in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there were high expectations on which actress should take on such a complicated character.
The role would eventually go to Elizabeth Olsen, for which we were all very happy about, as she did a brilliant job! But before that Saoirse Ronan came very close to playing the mutant. This Oscar nominee has been linked to so many movies in recent years that her popularity and scheduling conflicts is the reason she had to turn it down. Although Olsen fit the part perfectly, it would have been interesting to see what Ronan would have done with Scarlet Witch.
13. Alexander Skarsgard – Thor
When a lot of people heard that Thor was going to be included in the MCU, the first actor that came to mind for a lot of us was Alexander Skarsgard. Unlike most of the other entries on our list, Skarsgard would have actually been a welcome addition to the MCU and probably would have done The God of Thunder proud. After all, he looks like Thor and he has the acting skills to match, plus of course the Scandinavian heritage, he would be ideal.
Obviously the part went to Chris Hemsworth, for which we are all very happy with, but the True Blood and Tarzan star came very close to donning the magic hammer and we are now left wondering what he would have done with the role? It must also be said that Hemsworth wasn’t actually the first choice for Thor. Apart from Skarsgard, another front runner was Hemsworth’s brother, Liam. But director Kenneth Branagh decided none of them were right for the part and called back Chris.
12. Jason Momoa – Drax
Next we come to an actor that is very much in demand these days and that’s Jason Momoa. As we’ve already mentioned on this list, when the MCU were coming up with The Guardians of the Galaxy movie, they found it tricky casting the right person for the role. After all, The Guardians aren’t nearly as well known to the mass audience as the rest of the Marvel heroes are so for Drax the Destroyer, Momoa was offered the part. It went as far as costumes and art work, but at the last moment, Momoa pulled out and WWE star Dave Bautista won the role.
Reports are that Momoa pulled out because he didn’t want to be typecast, following his roles in Game of Thrones and Conan the Barbarian, which is weird that he jumped at the chance to play Aquaman in the DCEU. Either way, Batista made Drax his own and was one of the stand out stars of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Still, it would have been interesting to see Momoa in the role, we’ll just have to wait for the Justice League movie to see how good he is.
11. Channing Tatum – Captain America
The next entry on our list is quite possibly the most ridiculous and laughable piece of casting news that was so close to happening. Way back in 2010 when the MCU was getting underway, they had already secured actors to play two big hitters with Iron Man and Hulk, but next was the search for the other face of Marvel: Captain America. Originally Chris Evans was asked to audition for the role of The First Avenger but he was hesitant, probably because of his hit and miss work with Marvel before as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four.
So the next person on their list was Channing Tatum. The dancer turned actor may have had a few credible roles under his belt today, but at the time the thought of Tatum playing Marvel’s golden boy is, well, laughable. Luckily for us, Robert Downey Jr had a word with his friend Evans and he decided to take the part, which apart from Downey Jr himself, is the best casting choice the MCU has made.
10. Matthew McConaughey – Doctor Strange
Next we come to an actor that has actually been sought out by the MCU for at least two roles, that we know of anyway. Firstly for the part of Stephen Strange in the Doctor Strange movie. When the movie was in development, it was reported that Matthew McConaughey was near the top of the MCU wish list for the part of the Sorcerer Supreme, but for reasons unknown, McConaughey turned down the role and it went to the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch instead.
Then we come to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the part of Ego the Living Planet. The MCU once again went straight to McConaughey’s door but due to scheduling conflicts with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, McConaughey had to turn them down again and the part went to Kurt Russell, which is probably for the best as Chris Pratt and McConaughey are similar ages and that probably wouldn’t have worked for the story in that movie.
9. Joaquin Phoenix – The Hulk
When the MCU started its phase one with Iron Man, they hit a little problem when it came to their next movie starring The Hulk. For some reason, The Hulk has never performed well as a movie so the MCU wanted a big actor to fill the role and integrate the character into the MCU so they went after Edward Norton. However, Norton soon left the franchise, and on the build up to The Avengers movie, the MCU found themselves without a Hulk. So they wanted Joaquin Phoenix to replace him. Phoenix however turned down the role and Mark Ruffalo got the job. But the MCU wasn’t done with Phoenix yet.
After the success of The Avengers movie, the MCU wanted to bring the magical side of their universe to the big screen with Doctor Strange. We’ve already mentioned that Matthew McConaughey was near the top of the MCU list for this character, but another name was Phoenix. The reports are that Phoenix isn’t interested in doing big movies, especially ones that tie him in for multiple movies. So the part was given to Benedict Cumberbatch.
8. Morgan Freeman – The Ancient One
Even if you’re not a fan of comic books, when you hear that a movie has a character called “The Ancient One,” which actor springs to mind? Morgan Freeman of course. The actor that can bring wisdom and gravitas to any role he takes, Freeman is the ultimate wiseman and mentor and there is no denying that he would have made a great Ancient One to teach Doctor Strange all the tricks needed to become the Sorcerer Supreme.
The role ended up going to Tilda Swinton, which was a very different take on the character and in our view, an absolute brilliant one. Going for a female character instead of a male put Freeman out of the running, although we’re not sure if he could have handled the training sequences as well as Swinton did, but then we’re sure the character would have been rewritten for Freeman. After all, it’s Morgan Freeman!
7. Jim Carrey – Loki
Next we come to another actor that has been chased by the MCU for several roles over the years. Just like with a lot of movies over the last twenty years or so that have a slightly quirky, or even outright insane character, Jim Carrey‘s name has been mentioned. Admittedly, the rubber faced clown isn’t as popular as he used to be but that hasn’t stopped Marvel from going after him.
The first big role that Carrey was considered for was Loki. Thor’s brother, and one of the main villains for the MCU, definitely needs a man that can hold the audience’s attention, and also play around with his own insanity, which Carrey can do well. But we have a feeling that the MCU executives watched Carrey’s portrayal of The Riddler and decided against him. Although it would have been an interesting link for Carrey’s career if he had played Loki, since the movie that made him a superstar, The Mask, had him wearing a mask possessed by Loki. The other big part was the voice of Rocket Raccoon. Both him and Adam Sandler battled it out, and luckily they both lost.
6. Joseph Gordon Levitt – Ant-Man
Next on our list is another big actor that the MCU chased down for multiple roles. The first time Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s name was thrown into the ring was to play Star-Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. However, the actor has gone on record to say that he made a bad decision when turning that role down as he opted instead to do the Sin City sequel, which bombed. Next up came Ant-Man and this time Levitt wasn’t going to back down.
Being on the short list of two, along with Paul Rudd, the competition was fierce between the two and we feel that Rudd got the part because he helped write the script, which is fair enough. Both Paul Rudd and Chris Pratt made their roles their own and excelled but being as good an actor as Levitt is, he also would have been a great choice for whatever role the MCU would have offered him.
5. Jensen Ackles – Hawkeye
Next we come to Supernatural star Jensen Ackles, who was actually offered the part of Hawkeye but had to turn it down because of his restrictions and scheduling for Supernatural, for which the MCU would give him no leeway. The role eventually went to Jeremy Renner who has made a great Hawkeye and fit into the MCU nicely.
But considering that Hawkeye is one of the least complicated characters within the MCU and has had the least screen time, we do feel that Ackles could have fit in there nicely. We’re not saying anything bad about Renner but Ackles has a huge fanbase for a reason and it’s a shame he never got to express himself within the MCU. Still, since the character of Hawkeye hasn’t stepped out on his own yet, we don’t think that the MCU wasted too much time on casting choices here.
4. Clive Owen – Iron Man
When the MCU decided to bring their universe to the big screen and have a huge, integrated franchise that would take over the world, the very first thing they had to do, and do right, was cast Iron Man. Tony Stark has not only become one of the most popular characters within the MCU but he, and his alter ego Iron Man, has become the face of the franchise and that’s largely down to the excellent casting of Robert Downey Jr. But how close it came to being so very different! The casting of Iron Man was such a big deal that our next two entries are devoted to actors that came so close, and therefore came close to changing the entire franchise.
First up is British actor Clive Owen. Hot off the successes of Sin City, Shoot ‘Em Up and Children of Men, Owen was a big name in movies and the MCU had him high on their short list for Iron Man. In the end, Owen lost out, which probably isn’t a bad thing. Although Owen is charming, a great actor and can command the screen, we’ve seen him trying to do an American accent before and it’s not great.
3. Tom Cruise – Iron Man
As well as Clive Owen, and of course Robert Downey Jr, the biggest name on the MCU’s list of possible Iron Mans was none other than Tom Cruise. Cruise wasn’t just considered for the role but he wanted to be on board to produce it as well. The Mission Impossible star wanted to take the character of Iron Man and build his own franchise. It has to be noted that Cruise’s involvement with Iron Man actually goes back to the late nineties and Cruise stuck with the project for a while but it never got off the ground.
So years later when the MCU decided to kick start their universe with Ironman, who’s door do they knock at? Mr. Cruise’s, of course. However, given the Mission Impossible and Jack Reacher franchises that Cruise is involved with, he decided he didn’t want to be involved in the superhero business and declined. So the MCU went for Robert Downey Jr. and the rest, as they say, is history.
2. Emily Blunt – Black Widow
Next we come to what might have been and what was so very close to being, if it wasn’t for the dreaded contractual obligations. When the MCU wanted to introduce Black Widow into Iron Man 2, they offered the role to Emily Blunt. She jumped at the chance but unfortunately her obligations to 20th Century Fox meant she had to turn the role down and instead made the box office bomb that was Gulliver’s Travels and Scarlett Johansson got the part in the MCU.
However, the MCU wasn’t finished with Blunt yet. They desperately wanted her involved in their universe, so they offered her the part of Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. But due to her other obligations she couldn’t accept the role and it went to Hayley Atwell. Both Atwell and Johansson excelled in their roles and made their characters their own, but we can’t help feel a little sorry for Blunt as there is no doubt whichever role she had taken, she would have been great at.
1. Johnny Depp – Doctor Strange
The number one entry on our list of actors that were so nearly in the MCU is Johnny Depp. As we’ve already mentioned on our list, the character of Stephen Strange in the Doctor Strange movie was a difficult character to cast. With the likes of Joaquin Phoenix, Matthew McConaughey, and of course Benedict Cumberbatch being considered for the role, the MCU wanted Depp.
The MCU executives felt that Depp would be perfect for the role of the Sorcerer Supreme and went for him. However, due to his schedule and obligations to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Depp was unavailable for the role. So the MCU went down their list until someone said yes. Cumberbatch did and a great job he did, too. Still we can’t help but wonder what Depp would have done within the MCU. These days Depp’s star power and even acting choices haven’t been the best, but a magical hero could have been right up his alley.