Every actor wants to play an iconic comic book character or superhero these days, but only a select few will ever get to add those roles to their illustrious resumes and immortalize themselves as pop culture legends in the process. One of the most popular superheroes of all time is undoubtedly everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and it’s amazing to look back at the number of Spider-Man films we’ve had in this short span of about 15 years. Just imagine the number of actors who would have auditioned for the role of the renowned web-slinger before the part went to someone else. What if things went differently and one of these actors was chosen instead?
I’ve listed 15 actors who came very close to being Spider-Man, and either lost the role because the studios decided to cast someone else or in the case of certain Hollywood megastars, had the role escape them due to production issues. That’s right, there was a time when superhero movies weren’t as easy to get off the ground as it is today. Someone once said that with great power comes great responsibility, and these 15 actors were more than prepared to take on that responsibility at one point in time.
15 Tom Cruise
It’s amazing that we’ve had three different versions of Spider-Man with three different actors playing the web-slinger in a span of 15 years, because at one time it was nearly impossible to get a Spider-Man movie into production… even with someone as famous as Tom Cruise keyed in to play your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler! That’s right…back when Cruise was in his mid-twenties – the perfect age to play an adult Peter Parker – Marvel Comics was trying to work with some of Hollywood’s biggest studios to bring the iconic superhero onto the big screen. Marvel finally landed a partnership with Cannon Films (now known as Columbia Pictures), and the studio tapped Tobe Hopper to direct the film. Unfortunately, nothing meshed the way the studios wanted it to, and the film was condemned to development hell. Joseph Zito would later sign on as director, and Cannon Films was keen on hiring up-and-coming heartthrob Tom Cruise, who was reveling in the success of Top Gun, for the role of the titular character.
Everything was moving along smoothly until the failure of another superhero franchise threw everything off course. Superman IV bombed so hard after its release that it scared Cannon Films out of their own Spider-Man plans. The studio immediately slashed the film’s budget, which meant they couldn’t afford Tom Cruise anymore. One by one the pieces in the production fell apart, until the project was canned for good.
14 Scott Leva
It might come as a surprise that Tom Cruise was not first in line to play Spider-Man in Cannon Films’ failed production. Director Joseph Zito was strongly rooting for stuntman Scott Leva to be Peter Parker/Spider-Man in his film, and Leva was actually the frontrunner before Cruise hopped on board. Scott Leva was so close to nabbing the role that the studio even hired him to appear at promotional events as Spider-Man! During an interview with CNN back in 2002, Scott Leva said, “In 1987 I was the number one slated to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the film for Cannon. I was the guy. They started using me in some cases as a model. And they did a photo cover, which I think was the only one where Peter is unmasked.”
That’s the photo you see above, with Leva posing as Marvel’s iconic hero. Of course, once Tom Cruise showed interest, it was no-brainer for the studio thanks to Cruise’s simmering hot popularity at the time, but it’s funny to think how Marvel Comics once had a tough time selling their characters to studios… when today Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios had to sign unprecedented contracts to get the character to cross over into the Avengers franchise.
13 Edward Furlong
Here’s a strange web of events that led to yet another failed Spider-Man production. At one time, visionary filmmaker James Cameron was signed to direct a Spider-Man movie for Carolco Pictures – the same company that produced massive hits like Terminator: Judgment Day and the first three Rambo flicks! Cameron’s choice to play young Peter Parker? None other than Edward Furlong, the actor who played John Connor in Terminator: Judgment Day! Furlong was the right age to play a high school-age Parker, and he would star alongside his Judgment Day co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger! That’s right, Schwarzenegger was signed to play Doctor Octopus in the film, but that isn’t even the strangest casting choice.
James Cameron listed Katherine Hepburn as his choice for Aunt May. Green Goblin would be played by Lance Henriksen, and the script would have him killing Gwen Stacey, played by none other than Drew Barrymore! Cameron had a 57-page script and everything; detailing Spider-Man’s origins as well as an epic showdown between the web-crawler and villains Electro and Sandman. And then everything came to a screeching halt. To everyone’s surprise, Carolco Pictures filed for bankruptcy in 1995, and production on Spider-Man came to an end. James Cameron would go on to make Titanic instead – a turn of events that worked spectacularly in his favor.
12 James Franco
Can you imagine James Franco as Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy? Hey, just because Franco plays a stoner most of the time doesn’t mean he’s a bad actor. If he played the role straight like he did as the lead in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, I could actually see it sorta working. It’s quite common in big Hollywood productions for someone to screen-test for the main role, only to be cast as another character in the production instead. For instance, Cillian Murphy auditioned for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Obviously he didn’t get the role, but Cilian was later cast as the Scarecrow in all three Batman films.
Apparently James Franco was pretty close to nabbing the role of Spider-Man after auditioning for Raimi, but the director felt the actor was better suited for the role of Harry Osborne instead. The role worked wonders for Franco’s career. He may not have gotten the leading slate, but his presence in those movies gave him pop-culture reverence and his career has been soaring ever since. Heck, he even got to play a major villain in the third movie, before actually becoming a hero towards the end!
11 Freddie Prinze Jr.
Another actor whose name was making rounds at the time of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man pre-production phase was Freddie Prinze Jr. He had just done movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer – a massive hit in the thriller genre and a staple of 90s slasher flicks. In fact, Freddie Prinze Jr. might have been way closer than we might give him credit for. Apparently the up-and-coming star had already screen-tested for the role of Spider-Man and Sony Pictures was willing to make him an offer if he wanted it. For whatever reason, talks between both parties seemed to slowly fade and Raimi was more keen on signing Tobey Maguire for the iconic role. Would Freddie Prinze Jr have made a good Spider-Man? It’s hard to say, but I would have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to think of anyone else as Spider-Man at the time, but hey, both Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland did an amazing job so who’s to say Freddie wouldn’t have been able to put his own unique spin on it?
Freddie’s career would lead him to the role of Fred in the Scooby-Doo movie, which came out the same year as Raimi’s first Spider-Man flick.
10 Jamie Bell
After Sony Pictures scrapped Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 and decided to move on with a reboot series instead, they’re next task was to cast someone who could not only play Spider-Man but also top Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. Of all the actors who auditioned, Jamie Bell seemed to come closest to nabbing the role before it finally went to Andrew Garfield. And say what you will about those films, but I think Garfield knocked it out of the park as Peter Parker. Jamie Bell, best known for his roles in movies like Jumper and Defiance, even screen-tested as Spider-Man and got very, very far in the process. There was also a time when some news outlets pretty much confirmed Bell as the new Spider-Man before the studio disputed their claims. No one is still sure to this day if Jamie Bell was confirmed and then quickly booted for Andrew Garfield, or if the role was never his to begin with.
While Bell may not have gotten the chance to play the iconic web-crawler, he did get to play another superhero in another movie. Jamie Bell was cast as Ben Grimm aka The Thing in Josh Trank’s 2015 Fantastic Four reboot, a movie that was unanimously hated by fans and critics alike. Yikes!
9 Jake Gyllenhaal
Did you know that Tobey Maguire came this close to not being Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2? That’s right… he almost couldn’t reprise his role in what is now considered one of the greatest superhero films of all time, due to an injury on the set of Seabiscuit. And who did studios look to when they were unsure of Maguire’s recovery? Someone who fans had been clamoring for as Spidey: Jake Gyllenhaal! Spider-Man 2 was due to start filming at the tail-end of 2002 and into the early months of 2003. Tobey Maguire was filming Seabiscuit shortly before that and sustained a nasty back injury on set, forcing him to enter immediate medical rehabilitation. Sony Pictures were forced to make preparations to replace Maguire in the event he couldn’t heal in time, and that’s when they entered negotiations with Jake Gyllenhaal.
But as fate would have it, Tobey recovered just in time to shoot his scenes for Spider-Man 2, and Jake Gyllenhaal never got to be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. To be honest, as sentimental as I am towards Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to see an actor like Jake Gyllenhaal in the role instead.
8 Alden Ehrenreich
He may be busy filming the Han Solo film as we speak, but at one time Alden Ehrenreich was auditioning for the role of Peter Parker in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. And like Jamie Bell, Alden got pretty far into the process. Obviously he didn’t get the role, but when production was gearing up again for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Alden auditioned with the crew again… this time for the role of the notorious Harry Osborne. That role slipped through Alden’s fingers as well and went to the very talented Dane Dehaan, which some would call a good thing for young Ehrenreich because that movie is considered a critical bomb in the eyes of most people. It also marked the abrupt end of the Amazing Spider-Man franchise when not long after, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures entered negotiations to have Spider-Man cross over to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
We’ll have to wait and see if Alden Ehrenreich can nail the role of Han Solo when the movie debuts next year. He has the weight of one of pop culture’s most revered icons resting on his shoulders, but if he pulls this off it could pretty launch his pop-culture status into hyperdrive!
7 Scott Speedman
Scott Speedman was yet another actor who screen-tested for the role of Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, and according to numerous reports, he may have come relatively close to nabbing the role, before Tobey Maguire swooped in and picked it up for himself. Back in the early 2000s, Scott Speedman was gaining a lot of popularity by playing Ben Covington in Felicity, a TV series created by Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams. The show went on for an impressive four seasons and became a cult hit in the geek universe, which made Speedman somewhat of a fan favorite for the role of Spider-Man.
Scott Speedman would audition with the likes of James Franco in the hopes of playing Peter Parker in this promising franchise, and although both actors didn’t end up getting to play the iconic superhero, their careers recovered pretty well. Just one year after Spider-Man was released, Speedman showed up in the first Underworld movie, which turned out to be a commercial success. Speedman reprised his role as Michael Corvin alongside Kate Beckinsale in the sequel to Underworld, Underworld: Evolution. He also starred in xXx: State Of The Union and the frightening as f*ck thriller, The Strangers.
6 Asa Butterfield
Not too long ago, Sony Pictures was hard at work trying to craft their own Spider-Man cinematic universe. They were all set to launch a Sinister Six film as a prelude to The Amazing Spider-Man 3, before everything came to a screeching halt and all plans were canned for good. Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios had reached an unprecedented agreement that would allow Spider-Man to crossover into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which meant that they needed to look for someone to play a younger, high school-aged Peter Parker.
One actor who managed to get pretty far into the audition process and even screen-test next to Robert Downey Jr. was Asa Butterfield. Asa is no stranger to headlining and carrying major tentpole productions. He played Hugo Cabre via motion capture in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and he also played Ender Wiggin alongside the legendary Harrison Ford in Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game. The latter didn’t do very well at the box-office, but Asa gave a solid performance as Ender. Asa Butterfield became one of the three final frontrunners before the role went to Tom Holland. And no offense to Asa, but it couldn’t have been a better choice because Tom Holland owned the role in both Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
5 Charlie Rowe
Charlie Rowe may not be a household name, but according to reports from numerous news outlets, Rowe was the only other actor besides Tom Holland who screen-tested twice next to Robert Downey Jr. That’s how close this kid was to becoming our definitive Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios reached a landmark crossover agreement, both parties made it clear that they wanted their next Peter Parker to be a young, high school-going kid, no more than 15 years old. Numerous auditions and hundreds of tapes, files, and in-person tests later, Marvel and Sony settled on Charlie Rowe and Tom Holland. Rowe, also an English actor like Holland, played Billy Costa in The Golden Compass… although he’s best known for his time in a short-lived TV show called Red Band Society.
Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures held one final round of tests, and Tom Holland was given the web shooters and named our new Spider-Man. Don’t feel too bad for Charlie Rowe though. The actor congratulated Tom Holland via Twitter, and he did jokingly add that he felt he could have been a good Spider-Man, while also tagging a pic of himself as a toddler in a Spidey costume.
4 Logan Lerman
Logan Lerman was considered not once, but twice for the role of Spider-Man in two different iterations of the character! Back when Sony Pictures hired Marc Webb to direct their Amazing Spider-Man film, Logan Lerman was one of the first actors considered for the role. In fact, many believed Lerman would end up being Spider-Man because of the amount of support he was getting from the fans. Plus, he fit the bill as a young, high school-going Peter Parker. For whatever reason, Lerman slowly dropped out of negotiations and Marc Webb and Sony Pictures decided on Andrew Garfield.
As good as Garfield was cast as Peter Parker, his tenure lasted for a quick two-movie stint, before Sony Pictures once again rebooted the franchise and were on another lookout for hopeful superheroes. Cue Logan Lerman again, who was heavily considered for the role yet again as Spider-Man, this time for an iteration that would crossover to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and have way more than just three movies. For better or worse, Lerman didn’t land the role. His career is doing fine though. With movies like Percy Jackson and David Ayer’s Fury on his resume, it’s only a matter of time before Logan Lerman makes a solid name for himself for good.
3 Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Ever since he played the eponymous teenage hero Kick-Ass in Matthew Vaughn’s claim to fame, fans had been clamoring for Aaron Taylor-Johnson to be cast as Spider-Man in Sony’s rebooted series, The Amazing Spider-Man. Aaron did actually make it onto the shortlist and lots of fans thought he was a shoo-in for the role, but talks soon fell apart and Aaron Taylor-Johnson went back to playing Dave Lizewski in the sequel to Kick-Ass that no one saw, before headlining the first film in the shared monsters universe, Godzilla.
But, just like Jamie Bell, Aaron Taylor-Johnson did eventually get called up for a role in a Marvel film. Unlike Bell though, the movie Aaron starred in wasn’t critically panned. Aaron played Quicksilver in the second Avengers film, Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Sadly, his role wouldn’t be as recurring as most of the other characters in the series, for obvious reasons. Even though Aaron Taylor-Johnson has said that he would like to reprise his role as the speedster, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe again, barring a brief cameo in an alternate reality created by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, or in a mind game played by the Mad Titan.
2 Josh Hutcherson
Probably the closest anyone has ever come to practically being Spider-Man within an inch of their careers (besides Scott Leva, see above) is Josh Hutcherson of Hunger Games fame. His work in films like Bridge To Terabithia and Journey to the Center of the Earth gained him a lot of popularity among fans and studio execs alike, and before he knew it, Hutcherson was screen-testing for the role of Peter Parker for The Amazing Spider-Man. His screen-test was so good that fans pretty much accepted him as their new Spider-Man. As you’ll see above, the screen test footage can be found online, in which Josh Hutcherson fends off a group of thugs and bullies in a classic Spider-Man scene. He seems almost perfect for the role, too!
For reasons unknown, Sony Pictures continued looking for their new Spider-Man despite having Hutcherson almost locked in, and the studio finally decided on Andrew Garfield instead. But don’t feel too bad for Hutcherson. He went on to headline the Hunger Games series as Peta, alongside Jennifer Lawrence. The first of four films went on to dominate the box-office and raked in a billion dollars, making Josh Hutcherson a pop-culture sensation. When asked, Hutcherson still admits interest in playing Peter Parker should the opportunity arise. I mean who wouldn’t, really?
1 Leonardo DiCaprio
Speaking of actors who almost became Spider-Man because of their simmering hot success at the time, at one time Sony Pictures made an offer to newcomer Leonardo DiCaprio to be their new Spider-Man! DiCaprio was enjoying immense success thanks to James Cameron’s blockbuster film Titanic – a movie that would go on to become the most successful film of all time until another one of Cameron’s films, Avatar, would break its record 12 years later. Sony Pictures saw that DiCaprio was young enough to play Peter Parker, and his name on a poster would definitely help the studio garner some attention from mainstream moviegoers. Remember, superhero films back then weren't what they are today. They were risky ventures and not the surefire blockbusters that they are today.
Furthermore, Leonardo DiCaprio had worked with director Sam Raimi before on films like The Quick And The Dead, so it made sense to pair the two up again. For better or worse, DiCaprio felt he wasn’t ready to put on a superhero suit at the time and declined the offer. Oddly enough, his real-life best friend Tobey Maguire produced a stunning audition reel for the role and was immediately hired to be Spider-Man! And the rest, as they say, is history.