Superhero and comic book movies are everything in Hollywood these days, and everyone wants a part in these ever-expanding stories and universes. There was a time when superhero movies were considered to be C-grade cash-grabs in Hollywood; where struggling actors or retired athletes would go to make a name for themselves. Those days are long gone.
Today, top-notch action superstars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are signing up for multiple-movie roles in DC’s Extended Universe, while powerhouse actors like Benedict Cumberbatch are now synonymous with names like Doctor Strange. However, there are some big names in the industry who have previously declined to enter the fantastical world of comic book, sci-fi, and superhero lore. Why have headliners like Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Leonardo DiCaprio refused roles in major superhero franchises despite the ever-growing popularity of these blockbusters? Not only have they been offered (oftentimes recurring) roles in movies that have gone on to become massive success stories at the box-office, but they’ve also wilfully declined those roles and in some cases, refused the superhero genre altogether!
I’ve compiled a list of 15 Hollywood icons who are, or were at one time, A-list Actors in the business who have so far refused to play parts in superhero films in either the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Some of these actors have valid reasons, while others had terrible misconceptions of the genre that kept them from away from those roles. Will we see these actors don a cape or cowl someday? Maybe. But for now, these are the Hollywood heavyweights who denied the chance to slap a superhero alias on their illustrious resumes.
15 Matt Damon (Two-Face/Daredevil)
Matt Damon has been one of the biggest names in Hollywood for decades now, starring in multiple award-winning films such as Good Will Hunting and The Departed, and even carrying a franchise like the Bourne movies into blockbuster territory. Still, the one thing Matt Damon hasn’t done – apart from finally having a legitimate interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live, is star in his very own superhero movie.
Back in the early 2000’s, both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were riding high following the success of Good Will Hunting, and both best friends were equally offered the part of Matt Murdock / Daredevil in Mark Steven Johnson’s film adaptation of the comic book icon. While both Affleck and Damon admitted that Daredevil was their favorite superhero growing up, Damon wasn’t impressed with the script or familiar enough with the director and eventually gave it a pass. "I just tried to divorce my emotion from it," Damon explained, but Affleck was "more of an emotional guy" and couldn't say no. As things would turn out, Matt Damon probably dodged the biggest bullet of his career. However, his compadre wasn’t so lucky and the movie ended up being one of the most disappointing superhero projects of all time, and one of the first major flops in the new wave of blockbuster comic book adaptations. But that wasn’t the only comic book role Matt Damon was offered. Years later, director Christopher Nolan would offer Damon the role of district attorney Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight… a movie that would go on to become the most revered superhero film of all time. Damon had to decline the role due to a scheduling conflict, but agreed that Aaron Eckhart did a fantastic job in the role.
14 Emily Blunt (Black Widow)
It's hard to imagine anyone other than Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, the covert spy and expert tactician who’s now an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But prior to Iron Man 2, director Jon Favreau wanted Emily Blunt to have the part. Apparently Blunt declined the role because the financial offer was too low, which was a huge mistake on her part if you ask me, but also said scheduling conflicts got in the way. Unfortunately, the thing she was filming happened to be the Jack Black comedy Gulliver’s Travels, which not only underutilized her talents thanks to a lousy script, but also tanked hard at the box-office.
However, that wasn’t the only time Marvel Studios’ head honcho Kevin Feige reached out to Emily Blunt. She was also asked to play Steve Roger’s love interest Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. Blunt turned down the offer yet again due to issues with timing and her involvement with other projects, and the role finally went to Hayley Atwell, who in my opinion was perfect for the part. Blunt later explained to Vulture, “It was never the right time, really, and it just didn’t work out scheduling-wise with those two.” Fans have been clamoring for Emily Blunt to sink her teeth into a juicy superhero role thanks to movies like Edge Of Tomorrow and Sicario, so let’s hope Marvel Studios or someone in the X-Men universe offers her something big soon. A major part in Deadpool 2, maybe?
13 Josh Hartnett (Batman, Superman AND Spider-Man)
You’ve heard of actors turning down one superhero role, or two offers at most… but have you ever heard of anyone turning down THREE massive comic book icons? That’s exactly what Josh Hartnett did when he was offered not only the role of Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy back in the early 2000’s, but also declined when he was called to play Bruce Wayne / Batman in Christopher Nolan’s critically-acclaimed series, and even Clark Kent / Superman in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns - a soft reboot of the classic Superman saga.
That’s right… Superman, Batman, AND Spider-Man! Hartnett explains that, "I somehow knew those roles had potential to define me, and I didn't want that." While you can argue that Hartnett dodged a bullet with Superman Returns because of how it eventually turned out, landing a role as Spider-Man or Batman would have taken his career to incredible heights and positioned him as one of the biggest actors of the decade. Nevertheless, Hartnett seems pretty happy with his career, so it’s a win-win all around. He may not have the same pull now, but Josh Hartnett was at one time one of the most sought after names in Hollywood, and is still a damn good actor all the same. Who knows, maybe he’ll join the superhero fold someday… maybe there’s a Marvel or DC role just waiting for him to put his name on it.
12 Joaquin Phoenix (Doctor Strange)
When it comes to actors who take on weird and eccentric roles, it doesn’t get much weirder than the one and only Joaquin Phoenix. Sometimes I’m not sure if he gets lost in the role or if he’s just that damn weird in real life… I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both. Not too long ago, Phoenix was heavily considered for the role of Doctor Strange, a part that now belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, it’s fun to think about how close Joaquin Phoenix actually was to donning the Cloak of Levitation in Marvel’s trippy smash hit. The reason he declined? According to "Birth.Movies.Death", Phoenix didn’t feel comfortable in a studio full of green screens, and wasn’t interested in messing around with all that SFX and insane reshoots. However, Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson will tell you that Benedict Cumberbatch was "the only actor we seriously considered…" and, to prove he wasn’t lying, revealed that the studio postponed Doctor Strange’s release date just to accommodate Cumberbatch, who was already signed to play Hamlet in a London stage production at the time. So maybe Phoenix wasn’t as close as we first thought.
Also, did you know that Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t the only actor considered for the "Sorcerer Supreme"? Jared Leto almost nabbed the role, and so did Ryan Gosling… who at the time couldn’t do it because of La La Land; a movie that now has a record-crushing 11 nominations at the Oscars!
11 Jessica Chastain (The Wasp/Maya Hansen)
I’ve been a huge fan of Evangeline Lilly since her days on LOST, so I was beyond excited when she was revealed as Hope Van Dyne in Ant-Man, and can’t wait to see her don the high-tech suit in Ant-Man and The Wasp. But back in 2013, the role was Jessica Chastain’s to lose, and I’ll admit that she would have been just as good as Evangeline Lilly had she agreed to it. But that’s not the only role Chastain was offered by Marvel Studios.
Back when Shane Black was formulating Iron Man 3, Marvel reached out to Jessica Chastain to play Maya Hansen, a botanist who may or may not have been in Tony Stark’s corner. Chastain had to give it a pass due to scheduling conflicts, and was kind enough to even apologize to fans on Facebook by saying "I know many of you want me to be involved, and I'm sorry to disappoint you. Hopefully there'll be another Marvel film in my future." Luckily for Chastain, her path led her to major blockbusters like Interstellar and The Martian; two movies that greatly depended on and utilized her talents, while Iron Man 3 eventually downplayed the role of Maya Hansen thanks to pesky studio interference. The part went to another fine actor, Rebecca Hall, but the character herself was weak and inconsequential to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.
10 Olivia Wilde (Gamora)
Marvel Studios have been so spot-on with their casting choices that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing their characters, but every once in a while we gain new information that makes us wonder about the possibilities. For instance, did you know that Olivia Wilde was once offered the part of Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy? It would have been an inspired choice, and Wilde is no stranger to playing off other charismatic heavyweights on the big screen. And her chemistry with Chris Pratt would have been fun to watch, too.
Nevertheless, Zoe Saldana is perfect as Gamora and fans wouldn’t have it any other way. But that doesn’t mean the door has shut for Olivia Wilde in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her name is constantly associated with things like Captain Marvel and the Inhumans, and let’s not forget that 20th Century Fox is constantly expanding their X-Men franchise with a New Mutants movie on the way and a Deadpool sequel in the works. And if all else fails, DC is prepping their slate with a Gotham City Sirens film led by Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn… and a role like Poison Ivy or Catwoman could always use a talent like Olivia Wilde to bring a certain gravitas to those characters.
9 Matthew McConaughey (Star-Lord's Dad?)
Alright, alright, alright. Superhero movies are so big these days that every actor is clamoring to be in one just as a rite of passage. But only someone like Matthew f*cking McConaughey would be ballsy enough to pass on a chance to be in a sci-fi space epic like Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2; a movie that is tracking to be a giant, monumental box-office record-destroyer this year.
Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey is one of the best actors working today, and probably gets a sh*tload of screenplays shoved down his mailbox on a daily basis by eager studios wanting to hire him. And according to McConaughey on an interview with Playboy, two of those offers were from Marvel Studios with a part in Guardians Vol.2, and another undisclosed part by Warner Bros and DC! He explains, in his signature chill-as-f*ck demeanor, “I like Guardians of the Galaxy, but what I saw was, 'It's successful, and now we've got room to make a colorful part for another big-name actor.' I'd feel like an amendment.” He went on to accept the part of the Man In Black in Stephen King’s highly-anticipated film The Dark Tower, which I have to admit, is something I’m even more excited for than seeing him as (presumably) a villain in Guardians of the Galaxy. I’d much rather see McConaughey nab a juicier recurring role in the Marvel universe than just a one-off baddie. It’s Matthew McConaughey! Either give him a scene with Tony Stark or don’t give him one at all!
8 Pierce Brosnan (Batman)
If there was a list of actors who made terrible choices and made painfully shortsighted statements, Pierce Brosnan would make the top of that list. Hey I have nothing against Mr.Brosnan, but deciding to decline the role of Bruce Wayne way back in the 1980’s wasn’t the smartest decision on the actor’s part. That’s right… back when Tim Burton was still casting his titular superhero for his first-ever Batman movie in 1989, Pierce Brosnan was shortlisted as one of Burton’s favorites for the role. Sadly for Brosnan, he just couldn’t wrap his head around taking on the character. In an interview with Details magazine, Brosnan said, “It was the beginning of these huge movies, and I just thought, Batman? Batman held such an indelible place in my own childhood, but I said something flippant to Tim Burton, like, ‘Any guy who wears his underpants outside his trousers cannot be taken seriously.’ So yeah.”
"So yeah" indeed. Burton’s "Batman" would go on to become a groundbreaking success, and was the first movie to prove that dark and gritty were what comic book fans really wanted. But I guess it all worked out in the end… with Michael Keaton nailing it as the Dark Knight, and Pierce Brosnan eventually becoming one of the best incarnations of James Bond. Still, with pictures of Brosnan nudged cozily in between Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds recently making rounds online, Brosnan’s entry into the comic book universe might not be too far away.
7 Leonardo DiCaprio (Robin/Spider-Man)
If this was a little over a year ago, there would have been only two things that Hollywood juggernaut Leonardo DiCaprio hadn’t done in his illustrious career; win an Oscar and headline a major superhero blockbuster. And now, only the latter is left for Leo to achieve. It might sound bizarre that someone like DiCaprio has yet to don a spandex suit of some kind, but to the studios’ credit, it’s not like he was never offered major roles which he later declined. Back when Joel Schumacher was putting the pieces together for 1995’s Batman Forever, he apparently wanted DiCaprio to play Robin in the follow-up to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Keep in mind, this was even before DiCaprio was cast as the lead in 1997’s Titanic.
Thankfully for DiCaprio, he let the role pass and allowed Chris O’Donnell to look goofy as f*ck instead. But that wasn’t the only comic book-related part Leo was offered. Before his buddy Tobey Maguire took on the role, Leonardo DiCaprio was asked to play Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy. And just like with Robin, Leo explained that he just wasn’t ready for the part. “That was another one of those situations, similar to Robin, where I didn’t feel ready to put on that suit yet.” I’m not bummed though. The first two movies in Sam Raimi’s trilogy were fantastic, with Tobey doing a damn good job as Spider-Man. It’s just a shame that the third film in that series was such a convoluted mess.
6 Tom Cruise (Iron Man)
Can you imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark / Iron Man? Well neither can I because Downey has become synonymous with Marvel’s iron-clad billionaire, but there was a time circa 2004-2006 when Tom Cruise was gearing up to be Tony Stark in Marvel’s new experimental pet project. Heck, Cruise was even supposed to co-produce the first film in the Iron Man trilogy! But after several attempts at getting the project off the ground (no pun intended), Cruise apparently exited the film after being not-too-impressed with the script and direction the movie was heading in. In his own words, “I don’t know. It just … they came to me at a certain point and … when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work.”
Well it did work, and in doing so launched what we now call the Marvel Cinematic Universe; an expansive, explosive, extremely profitable franchise that has revolutionized the way movies as a whole are made today. Literally everything that can be turned into a “shared universe” wants to do just that, from Transformers vs GI Joe to Godzilla vs King Kong... and now Tom Cruise himself starring in The Mummy, which is the launchpad for Universal’s new "Classic Monsterverse". Would the Iron Man movies be as good with Tom Cruise as the titular hero? Probably. But it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as perfect as Robert Downey Jr. in those metallic shoes.
5 Alec Baldwin (Unspecified Marvel Villain)
You can’t help but love Alec Baldwin. While the most popular brother of the Baldwin clan was known for his gripping, dramatic roles back in the early 90s, Alec has since become an insanely-loved comedic figure thanks to his work on 30 Rock as Jack Donaghy, and is currently making waves because of his weekly impersonation of President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live!. Back in 2013, Alec Baldwin revealed on The Howard Stern Show that he was offered the chance to play a villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He wouldn’t say what character or for which movie, but he did say that although he was initially keen on doing it, he eventually turned down the part because the filming schedule would overlap with his wife’s pregnancy.
I can only speculate that he would have been asked to play Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; a role that soon landed in the talented arms of none other than Hollywood icon Robert Redford. Obviously Redford made the role his own and the movie is still considered to be the best film in Marvel’s catalogue as far as critics are concerned, but it would have been fun to see Baldwin square off against the Captain as well.
4 Will Smith (Superman)
When you’re one of the most popular faces in Hollywood, you’re bound to be asked to play some of the most popular faces in pop-culture history. But when you’re the one and only Will Smith, you get asked to play none other than the icon of all comic books, Superman! That’s right, the charismatic patriarch of the Smith family was offered the role of the most famous superhero of all time, multiple times, but the actor turned down the offer on all accounts. Referring to him being offered the titular part in 2006’s Superman Returns, Smith said, “The last Superman I got offered, the script came, and I was like, ‘There is no way I’m playing Superman!’ Because I had already done Jim West (Wild, Wild West) and you can’t be messing up white peoples’ heroes in Hollywood. You mess up white peoples’ heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”
Smith is obviously referring to the fact that superheroes who change complexion while transitioning from page to the big screen often suffer the backlash of hardcore fans the world over. And honestly, with the kind of critical reaction Superman Returns received, Smith is lucky he avoided the role. But Will Smith isn’t against playing superheroes per se. He took on the role of Hancock in a failed attempt to turn the character into a bankable franchise, but then seemed to find his mark as the villain Deadshot in 2016’s Suicide Squad. The movie was critically-panned, but at least it made some serious bank at the box-office.
3 Jon Hamm (Unspecified Role)
Jon Hamm is probably one of my favorite actors. He’s good at playing dark, mysterious characters but can also turn up the funny when a project calls for it. And with a jawline that looks like it was chiselled out of granite and a physique that’s built like an action figure, it’s a surprise that Jon Hamm hasn’t been cast as a superhero already. While he was offered a role in the past, Hamm doesn’t really have a fairly positive outlook on the whole superhero landscape in Hollywood. “The deals that they make you do are so Draconian. And, of course, you are signed on for not only the movie but at least two more that you haven’t read and you have no idea what they are going to be and all the crossover ones you are going to have to do.” He went on to explain, “For me to sign on now to do a superhero movie would mean I would be working until I am 50 as that particular superhero. It’s a lot of work at one thing which is not necessarily the reason I got into the business, which is to do many things. If you want to spend all day pressing the same key that seems an odd choice.”
It's an odd choice of words from someone like Jon Hamm, who only recently wrapped up his role as Don Draper on Mad Men after six whole seasons; so it’s unlikely that the man has commitment issues. Still, it’s a shame that we might never get to see Hamm don a mask of any kind. He would have made a pretty good Bruce Wayne if you ask me.
2 Jake Gyllenhaal (Rick Flagg)
While it’s crazy that Leonardo DiCaprio only recently won his first Oscar after two decades of churning out phenomenal performances, what’s even more baffling is that Jake Gyllenhaal continues to get snubbed year after year despite putting out stellar work in films like Prisoners and Nightcrawler. He’s almost Christian Bale-esque in his commitment and work ethic, and I hope the Academy recognizes his talents someday soon. Warner Bros and DC seem to appreciate Gyllenhaal’s skillset though, and even offered him a part as Rick Flagg in 2016’s Suicide Squad, after original cast member Tom Hardy dropped out due to a scheduling conflict. Gyllenhaal didn’t make any comments about his involvement and ended up declining the role, allowing it to fall into the arms of Joel Kinnaman, who did his best to bring that character to life.
In my humble opinion, Gyllenhaal made a wise choice. The character of Rick Flagg was pretty shallow and didn’t need someone with Gyllenhaal’s talents to portray it, and the movie itself didn’t really sit well with fans, with most people labeling it as "fun but riddled with pacing and editing issues" at best. I’d love to see Jake Gyllenhaal enter the realm of superheroes someday though. A gritty role like Moonknight or a new Ghost Rider done right could definitely use some of that signature Gyllenhaal gravitas. There was also a time, almost a decade ago, when a much younger Jake Gyllenhaal was in the running to play Spider-Man before the role was ultimately nabbed by Tobey Maguire.
1 Mel Gibson (Odin)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no stranger to Hollywood heavyweights taking on key roles in their movies. You have the iconic Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3, legendary Anthony Hopkins in the Thor series, powerhouse character actor Benicio Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy, and guys like William Hurt and Martin Freeman joining the fold as supporting cast. One name that almost made it into that stacked deck was none other than Mel Gibson, who was apparently supposed to play Odin before the role was made perfect by Anthony Hopkins. Gibson didn’t explain why he didn’t take on the offer, only saying “I didn’t do it” as a way to end the rumors and speculation. In retrospect and in light of all the controversy that has surrounded him these last few years, it’s probably best that Gibson embody the Alfather. Even though movies are fiction, it would have been awkward seeing a guy who went on a slur-spewing meltdown perched on a throne that's meant for an all-protecting, benevolent God-like figure.
But all that controversy aside, Mel Gibson is a damn good actor and an even better filmmaker. It was a shame that Apocalypto didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture in its year, and it’ll probably sting a little if Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t win this year. Who knows, now that Hollywood and the general movie-going public seems to have forgiven Gibson for his sins and the man himself is functioning better than he has these last few years, maybe Marvel or DC will soon make him an offer than he can’t refuse… and it’ll be pretty damn interesting to see who or what that character is going to be.