These days, comic book properties are big, big business, whether that’s on the movie screen or the small screen. Gone are the days of comic books being hidden and read in private, for now, as the old saying goes, the geeks rule the world.
Whether it’s Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Image Comics, IDW, or any sort of comic book banner, any and all characters and properties are seemingly ripe for a live-action adaptation by this point in time. Of course, leading the charge is Marvel Studios and Disney’s ridiculously popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that is a shared cinematic realm that truly has changed the face of cinema in a whole host of ways.
Still, superheroes and comic book characters are nothing new, with them having been around for a century in some form or fashion – possibly even longer, depending on how you like to classify such things. Now though, given the massive levels of popularity achieved by such characters, playing a superhero or supervillain on the silver screen is a major deal that has many a Hollywood A-lister clamouring for those very roles; roles that a decade or two ago would often be looked down upon by such big-name talent.
By the very nature of the movie and TV business, however, many an actor or actress has been signed on to play a huge comic book character, only to get fired before they could have the chance to do so. And that’s where we come in handy, for here we have 15 big-name celebs who got fired from their superhero/supervillain role.
15 Annette Bening Was Pregnant
Having been wowed by Annette Bening in The Grifters, Tim Burton saw the talented actress as the perfect choice to play Catwoman in his Batman sequel, Batman Returns. And so, Bening was cast in the role; a character who is one of the Caped Crusader’s most famous rogues, who would later become a true ally of the World’s Greatest Detective. To point, where the pair are about to get married in the comic book world.
Sadly, fans would never get to see Bening play Selina Kyle though, for her involvement in the project was halted because got pregnant with her and Warren Beatty’s eldest child. With Bening unable to meet the demands of the Catwoman role, Warner Brothers was left with the decision of either delay the production or find a Catwoman replacement.
Deciding on the latter, the search was on for a new Selina Kyle. Famously, it would be Michelle Pfeiffer who’d play Catwoman in Batman Returns, and her performance there stands as one of the most memorable in any and all comic book-driven movies over the decades. In fact, there was at one point in time a return mooted for Pfeiffer’s Kyle, but we’ll get to that a little later in this feature.
14 E For Exit
While the big-screen adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s beloved V for Vendetta has its fair share of fans, it also originally had a completely different actor in the role of V.
For the finished release of the movie, Hugo Weaving famously played the character, but that wasn’t always the case. Originally, it was Rome and The Following’s James Purefoy who was signed on for the role. And not just signed on, for he actually shot several weeks’ worth of footage.
There are two varying stories out there regarding Purefoy’s exit from the picture, with one suggesting that the actor became frustrated with having to act under a mask the entire time.
But, you know, given the V for Vendetta source material, it was always known that the V character was going to be masked the entire time. Well, unless the film was to pull a Judge Dredd, where the awful call was made to have Sly Stallone’s Dredd constantly remove his helmet as longtime fans slapped themselves in the forehead at what they were seeing, but, we digress.
Away from the mask situation, the more logical approach says that Purefoy simply struggled with his performance; whether that was the mask hindering him or not. Seemingly not up to what the Wachowskis were looking for from their V, it was decided that the directing duo would instead turn to Hugo Weaving to come in and replace Purefoy.
13 The Failed Wonder Woman Launch
With The CW having had a ten-year run with Smallville, 2011 saw NBC decided to try their hand at a new Wonder Woman TV series. Never heard of it? That’s because it sadly didn’t make it past the pilot stage.
Said pilot is online if you have a quick search, and it’s not actually all that bad, it just may have been a little before its time. That’s the thoughts of Adrianne Palicki, the actress tasked with playing the legendary Amazon in the pilot. As she told The Wrap,
“We were a year or two too soon. It was right before the main pop of Marvel movies and television series. It was a little too soon, it was a little early. I was devastated for a while after, I’m not going to lie. But I got paid to wear the costume!”
Due to the network ultimately deciding against a season order, Palicki was given the boot from the Wonder Woman role by default. Fast forward a few years later, and the Gal Gadot version of Diana is one of the most popular in the superhero game right now. Something that again reiterates about how much film and TV is all about timing.
12 Michelle Pfeiffer’s Canned Catwoman Movie
As one of the most iconic villains, Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns completly blew us away. With Michael Keaton’s returning Caped Crusader butting heads with both Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, many hold a special place in their heart for that 1992 picture. The thing is, we so very nearly got a spin-off movie for Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle. Speculations over the years claim that Burton was planning to direct just such film, and Pfeiffer herself has confirmed that this was a movie that was at one point in the pipeline. As she explained to The New York Times only last year,
“I loved that part. I felt like I was just getting comfortable and getting used to the claws and the mask, just figuring out how to move in all of that. There was a little bit of talk about that, then that kind of faded away.”
And by “faded away,” that means that Warner Brothers decided to pass on a Catwoman return for Pfeiffer. Instead, they sat on the project for over a decade before putting out the truly atrocious Halle Berry-starring Catwoman in 2004 — leaving fans with a huge sense of what-could’ve-been.
11 Billy Dee Williams’ Two-Face Was Halted
To many, Bill Dee Williams is best known as Lando Calrissian in the original Star Wars trilogy. A chat who debuted in The Empire Strikes Back, Williams’ Lando would be back for The Return of the Jedi. Unfortunately for his Harvey Dent, he was not afforded that same opportunity.
If you remember back, Williams played Dent in Tim Burton’s Batman back in 1989. He was then originally due to reprise the role for Batman Returns before the Dent character was eventually left out of the script. So, when Dent was to become the villainous Two-Face in Batman Forever, it was rightly assumed that Williams would finally get to become the nefarious comic book villain many had hoped for.
That, of course, wouldn’t come to be. With Joel Schumacher replacing Burton in the director’s chair, he decided to bring in Tommy Lee Jones to play Harvey as he transitioned to the maniacal Two-Face.
And so, Williams was shunted out of the Harvey Dent role; not necessarily fired, per se, due to him not being contracted for Batman Forever, more like not afforded the professional decency of returning to the role he played in this latest take on the Dark Knight and those who call Gotham City home.
As it happens, Williams would voice the animated Two-Face in 2017's Batman vs. Two-Face movie.
10 The Justice League Torn Down
This right here? This is the only half-decent image to have surfaced from a project called Justice League: Mortal. Back in 2007, Mad Max director George Miller assembled his very own Justice League team. It was all full-steam ahead for what was to be the first cinematic outing for this famed DC Comics group. So much so, that a full cast of heroes and villains had been brought together; Armie Hammer as Batman, DJ Cotrona as Superman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter, Common as Green Lantern, Teresa Palmer as Talia al-Ghul, and Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord.
With that cast, the production headed to Australia and were set to being shooting only for Warner Brothers to get cold feet over how much it would cost to put the movie together.
By the time early 2008 had rolled around, the WB were looking to switch production to the more cost-effective Canada, and then soon after the wheels completely fell off as the studio completely cancelled the ensemble, promptly relieving Miller and his cast of their Justice League duties. The League would eventually see the silver screen, of course, with Zack Snyder’s Justice League hitting the big screen last year to a so-so response.
9 The Robin That Never Was
If you’re up on your movie trivia, you may well be aware that Marlon Wayans was originally due to play the Boy Wonder, Robin in Tim Burton’s Batman. In fact, if you have certain DVD or Blu-ray releases of that movie, you’ll even be able to see storyboards for a scene towards the end of the film in which Wayans’ Dick Grayson was to be introduced. The original plan was for Grayson to have a super brief role in Batman before then becoming a much more prominent figure in Burton’s Batman Returns. Ultimately, the decision was made to hold off on using the Boy Wonder in that sequel, and the character would instead be introduced by Joel Schumacher in Batman Forever.
Schumacher had a very different vision for the realm of the World’s Greatest Detective, and that particularly vision involved a very different Robin. And so, Wayans was scrapped by the director and instead, Chris O’Donnell was brought in to play the debuting Dick; a role he’d later reprise for the utterly horrendous Batman & Robin.
For many longtime fans of DC Comics, they’re eager to see an accurate depiction of Robin on the big screen, and it remains to be seen whether Marlon Wayans would’ve cut the mustard or not. Sadly for Chris O’Donnell, the scripts of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin left a lot to be desired, and his Grayson often suffered as a result.
8 Ed Norton’s Incredible Exit
Many lamented Ang Lee’s Hulk as being a little lacking when it came to “Hulk Smash!” and so Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk aimed to up the action for the Green Goliath. It also attempted to finely balance that chaos and destruction with the more delicate struggle that exists within Bruce Banner. And to do that, in came Ed Norton to play a Banner who very much harked back to the Bill Bixby take seen in the classic Incredible Hulk TV series of the '70s.
Unfortunately, the end result of the movie was a mixed bag, with it being a fun popcorn picture that very much felt like a comic book brought to life, yet ultimately struggling to connect with many audiences.
Still, The Incredible Hulk is the second picture to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Hulk was going to be a big part of the MCU. Regardless of the reception to The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner was to be back to join Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in The Avengers. By the time that happened though, Norton had been passed over in favor of Mark Ruffalo.
As Marvel’s Kevin Feige put it at the time, for Banner, they needed “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members” which basically translates as Ed Norton wasn’t exactly a team player, and so they decided to recast the role.
7 Marvel Studios Lowballs Terrence Howard
To the surprise of many, when Iron Man 2 was released, we saw Don Cheadle playing the role of James Rhodes. Why that was particularly surprising was that Tony Stark’s best pal was played by Terrence Howard in the first Iron Man picture.
According to Howard, he was fired and replaced by Cheadle following a pay dispute. Having been paid $4.5 million for the first movie, Howard had a three-film deal that would supposedly see his salary upped to $8 million should any sequel move forward. By the time said sequel was indeed given the green light, Howard claims that he was instead lowballed and offered $1 million to reprise the Rhodey role, with Marvel Studios confidant that Howard wasn’t necessarily a vital piece of the puzzle following the warm reception to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark.
A day after this dispute and Howard’s unhappiness with the vastly reduced offer, Don Cheadle was announced to be playing James Rhodes/War Machine in Iron Man 2 and the rest, as they say, is history.
To be fair, Cheadle has been pretty great as Rhodey, but some would argue that Howard was an even better fit for the gig based on his performance in Iron Man.
6 The Spider-Man 2 Fiasco
Right now, Jake Gyllenhaal is set to play the nefarious Mysterio in the to-be-titled Spider-Man: Homecoming, but this isn’t the first time that Gyllenhaal has had ties to the superhero genre – and it’s certainly not the first time that he’s had links to Spidey. Back when Sam Raimi was developing his first Spider-Man picture, Gyllenhaal was one of those in contention for the Spidey gig that would eventually go to Tobey Maguire. Fast forward to Spider-Man 2, and the Donnie Darko star would actually be fitted for his own Spider-Man costume. Why? Well, that’s because Maguire was actually fired! The story goes, Maguire saw the impressive box office haul taken by Spider-Man and wanted an increase in his $4 million salary.
Deciding to play hard ball, he and his agent said that Maguire had suffered some back injuries while shooting Seabiscuit and wouldn’t be able to partake in some of Spider-Man 2’s stunts. This was done as a negotiating tactic that would also threaten to delay production on the sequel. Unfortunately for Maguire, the powers-that-be at Sony Pictures decided to call his bluff.
Gyllenhaal met with Raimi and the franchise’s producers, with him lined up to replace Maguire in the famed red and blue duds. Feeling the heat, Maguire promptly said how his back issues were all resolved and that he would be fine to return for Spider-Man 2 – and somehow, he ended up getting a pay increase that saw him take home $17 million for that stunning sequel.
5 Jetlag Gets Andrew Garfield Booted
Certain characters may appear in this feature more than once, and one such superhero is everyone’s favorite wall-crawler, Spider-Man. At present, Tom Holland is tasked with playing Spidey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and before him, it was Andrew Garfield who took on this most iconic of roles in Marc Webb’s two The Amazing Spider-Man pictures. Unfortunately, while Garfield himself was a good fit as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, those films themselves were massively flawed; most notably the hugely disappointing ASM2. But it seems that Garfield was more than aware of the issues suffered by those movies.
From his own admittance, Garfield was happy to speak up on set about elements of those films that he wasn’t happy with – especially with him having been a longtime Spider-Man fan since his childhood. It seems that didn’t exactly put him in the good books of the powers-that-be at Sony Pictures, and the final straw came during a public gathering in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
There, Garfield was to join Sony’s Kaz Hirai on stage to announce The Amazing Spider-Man 3’s release date. Unfortunately, Garfield suffered from jet lag and sickness; thus being unable to make it to the event. Before you could say “Thwip,” Garfield was soon relieved of his Spider-Man duties and the whole Amazing Spider-Man series was scrapped. Which, let’s face it, was likely for the best given how awful The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was.
4 Holy Broken Arm, Batman!
For poor Sean Young, she had a golden opportunity pulled out from right under her. Initially, the Blade Runner and Ace Venture: Pet Detective actress was cast as reporter-turned-love interest Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman. While practising for a horse riding scene, Young fell and broke her arm. With time being of the essence, the Warner Brothers brass weren’t prepared to wait for Young to recovery from this injury, and so the decision was made to let her go and replace her with Kim Basinger. If that wasn’t bad enough, Young then passionately campaigned to play the Selina Kyle/Catwoman role in 1992’s Batman Returns.
In fact, one of Hollywood’s most notorious stories of the '90s is that the actress randomly turned up at Tim Burton’s office in her own very Catwoman outfit in order to give an unarranged audition of sorts. Sadly for her, Burton would have security remove her from the Warners lot.
Not content with that embarrassment, Young would take to the chat shows of the day to try and help her cause when it comes to landing the Kyle role. Still, that all came to nothing as Michelle Pfeiffer was given the Catwoman gig.
3 Stuart Townsend Gets Replaced For A Second Time
For 2011’s Thor, Stuart Townsend was originally cast to play Fandral, one of the famed Warriors Three who often accompany the Thunder God in to battle. Sadly for the Irishman, he would leave the production only a matter of days before shooting was to get underway. Instead, he was replaced by Josh Dallas in the role, with the official line on this move being the ever-familiar “creative differences” line. As alluded to, this wasn’t the first big-picture part Townsend was replaced on.
While Fandral was a relatively small role in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, the other notable role he missed out on was a far, far bigger one. That role, of course, was Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
There, Townsend was signed on to star as the King of Gondor before a late change saw a more mature, seasoned Aragorn. From there, Viggo Mortensen would famously get the nod and go on to become an icon of modern cinema in the eyes of many due to this particular role. So yeah, you can say that Stuart Townsend hasn’t exactly had the best of luck over the years. Then again, there could be a whole more to these decisions that any of us could possibly be aware of.
2 Val Kilmer “Sort Of” Gets Fired
While Tim Burton’s Michael Keaton Batman and Batman Returns are often still revered to this day by fans, the two movies that followed them aren’t looked at with quite the same affection. Undoubtedly Batman & Robin was a total stinker of a picture, but before that came Batman Forever.
Joel Schumacher directed those latter two efforts, and for Forever it was decided to have Val Kilmer brought in to don the cape and cowl for that film. The Top Gun and The Doors actor actually did quite the impressive job as the Dark Knight, and the film performed strongly at the box office despite the story itself not being up to the standards of its two predecessors. For Kilmer though, this would be his one and only time play Batman.
By the time the production wrapped, it’s been said that the relationship between star Kilmer and director Schumacher was strained at best. And so, it came as no surprise to see these parties part ways after Batman Forever.
With Kilmer eyeing a role alongside Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, tensions came to a head. As Schumacher has gone on record as saying, Kilmer “sort of quit, and we sort of fired him.” Either way, by the time Batman & Robin came around in 1997, George Clooney was in the Batsuit for what turned out to simply be an overblown toy ad.
1 The Death Of Superman Lives
The Death of Superman Lives is actually the title of a stunning documentary from Jon Schnepp which looks back at the time that Nicolas Cage was lined up to play the legendary Man of Steel — yes, that Nicolas Cage.
While Cage may often be ridiculed these days for some of the awful films in which he’s appeared, he has proven time and time again how he can be phenomenal. Sadly, those days seem lost in the '90s by this point, but you get our point. And it was back in the '90s when Cage was so, so close to playing the Last Son of Krypton. To be precise, the movie was only three weeks away from shooting!
Batman director Tim Burton was developing a movie called Superman Lives, and he had Cage signed up to play the titular Kal-El. In fact, Cage underwent several costume fittings for the role before the plug got completely pulled. The reasons for Superman Lives being canned are multiple, but the biggest hurdle seemed to involve the spiralling costs needed to fund the picture. So, not only was Cage booted from the Superman gig, the whole production was completely scrapped. On a side note though, Cage will be lending his vocals to the Big Blue Boy Scout in this summer’s Teen Titans Go! to the Movies release.