Most actors will tell you the roles they play widen their perspective of life. That’s probably due to the way they investigate the method of their character’s speech, movement and thoughts.
However, when it comes to comic book adaptations such as those made by Marvel film studios, many will also tell you that playing characters from these films adds nothing to their perspective, which is why scores of big-name actors have rejected acting offers from Marvel.
But, when we consider how lucrative the films are, it is clear that while some actors reject the genre on the grounds of empty method they are also denying themselves the chance to earn a lot of money. The Avengers grossed over $620 million; Deadpool over $360 million; Thor the Dark World over $200 million.
The truth is some of the celebrity actors who have said no to Marvel are not in need of great fortunes and can therefore afford not to take on the roles. It is fun to imagine such actors as those named in our list playing starring characters such as Spider-Man and The Hulk (although that is not to say that the ones who have taken on the roles aren’t great at what they do).
We look back and imagine for instance Tom Cruise as Spiderman, but we are more than happy with Tobey Maguire’s performance; we may even imagine Olivia Munn as Copycat but Morena Baccarin fits the bill perfectly.
Take a look now at 15 celebrity actors who rejected Marvel and regretted their decision.
15 Alec Baldwin
After he appeared in episodes of the hit CBS show Knots Landing, Alec Baldwin’s reputation grew and his name spread. Owing to his roles in hit films such as Beetlejuice and The Hunt for Red October, he is now one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood and can demand a high rate of pay from producers. His role in The Cooler earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2003 and he has won lots of other awards for his television and stage work.
In 2013 Baldwin was approached by Marvel studios and offered a role in one of its films. Although the actor has not disclosed which film, or what part he had been offered, he admitted to having been interested in the offer. Baldwin’s reason for passing on the opportunity was a valid one however: his wife was pregnant at the time.
14 Dougray Scott
The 52-year-old actor Dougray Scott is a stage, television and film actor from Scotland. He appeared in the British TV show Soldier Soldier before debuting in film with his role in the 1997 Twin Town. He has since appeared in over 30 films, his most recent appearance being as Vic Hill in the 2017 TV series Snatch (about a gang of young fraudsters becoming embroiled in the dark world of organized crime).
In 2000, he was chosen by Tom Cruise to play the villain Sean Ambrose in Mission: Impossible 2 and soon after was offered the part of Wolverine in the X-Men film. However, when the filming of MI2 went beyond its forecasted completion date Scott faced a dilemma of sorts. In the end, his signing to Cruise’s film took precedent over X-Men and the Scot was forced to give up his place in the cast to Hugh Jackman.
13 Rachel McAdams
Canadian beauty Rachel McAdams was educated in theatre acting but soon took the worlds of film and TV by the ruffs of their necks with her roles in Perfect Pie and Tanino. Her big break came with Mean Girls in which film she played Regina George, a rich popular teenager and the leader of her high school clique. After this, she starred in numerous other productions in a range of genres.
When Jon Farveau was casting for Iron Man his attention was drawn to McAdams whom he considered would do well as Pepper Pots. He offered her the part but unfortunately she turned it down in order to focus on State of Play and The Time Traveler’s Wife. Farveau would have been disappointed by this but his casting of Gwyneth Paltrow might just have eased his suffering.
12 Giancarlo Esposito
Giancarlo Esposito is widely known for his role as Gustavo "Gus" Fring in Breaking Bad but the American actor has appeared in numerous other productions and garnered high acclaim for his performances. In fact, his acting credits according to movie database IMDb total 169 including Ghost Whisperer and Son of Batman. In 2012 he won a Critics' Choice Television Awards.
According to some entertainment gurus, Esposito was offered the role of Dominic Fortune in a TV show called Marvel's Most Wanted (a pilot for which was never aired). Esposito rejected the offer on the basis that should an opportunity arise for a Marvel film role his appearance in the television show would hinder his chances of success. "They came to me with something for their television department, then I realized if I did that, I'd never be able to have that same character be in the film department."
11 Mads Mikkelson
Danish actor Mads Dittmann Mikkelsen was already a highly acclaimed actor before his fame was supercharged by his portrayal of Le Chiffre in the 2006 remake of the James Bond film Casino Royale. He began his career in a Danish crime film trilogy called Pusher. Since Royale he has won roles in various other films and TV shows, one of the most notable of these being that of Hannibal Lecter in the TV series Hannibal.
Alas it was the Hannibal show that forced Mikkelsen to turn down the role of Malekith in the 2013 film Thor: The Dark World. Mikkelsen rejected Marvel’s offer on the grounds of a scheduling conflict and the part was instead taken up by British actor Christopher Eccleston. Mikkelsen may have regretted having to turn down the comic giant but on the other hand he would have been pleased with the accolades and critical acclaim of Hannibal.
10 Joseph Gordon-Levitt
American actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt began his acting career at four years old when he played the Scarecrow in an amateur production of The Wizard of Oz. He then appeared in various television commercials before landing parts in TV films and sitcoms. His acting credits amount to 79 according to IMDb with the most recent production with which he is involved as a film called 7500.
The movie zine Deadline in 2013 speculated that Gordon-Levitt had been offered the part of Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. To have been involved in Dark Knight Rises added credence to the rumor that he was best placed to take on the role. Others in the running were Joel Edgerton, Jack Huston, Jim Sturgess, Lee Pace, and Eddie Redmayne. However, Gordon-Levitt rejected Marvel’s offer and concentrated instead on his role as Johnny in Robert Rodriguez's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
9 Olivia Munn
Olivia Munn’s television career began as a reporter and sports commentator for NBC and Fox Sports Networks although the line of work was not one she particularly enjoyed. She slowly built up a reputation as an actress after starting out in small production films such as the direct-to-video horror film Scarecrow Gone Wild. It wasn’t until 2005 that Munn found herself the role of Mily Acuna in the TV drama Beyond the Break.
After producers began to cast for the 2016 film Deadpool, Munn was named in the running for the role of Copycat. Munn refused the role for artistic reasons stating that she believed the character to be more a symbol than a stereotype. This differed from the opinion of producers who decided in the end to give the part to Morena Baccarin.
8 Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson must invoke envy of actors the world over who have not yet reached the pinnacles of their careers. His track record of such iconic films as Mad Max, Gallipoli and The Passion of the Christ has not only earned him a fortune but also allowed him to command exceptionally high rates of pay from productions.
But according to some, a Marvel movie was one type of flick Gibson refused to be a part of. The reasons are unclear as to why he rejected the part of Odin in the studio’s series of Thor movies but speaking to The Guardian in 2016 he said, ““Yeah, [I was approached] long time ago to play Thor’s dad. But I didn’t do it.” It is possible the role was in Gibson’s mind too old for him. Eventually the character was taken over by Anthony Hopkins.
7 Jessica Chastain
American actress and film producer Jessica Chastain has the reputation for playing characters that are hard-nosed, strong-willed and feminist. That being said, her style of acting and the realism of her characters seem to strike a chord with audience and critics. She has been nominated and has won numerous awards including two Oscars and a Golden Globe Award.
Marvel approached Chastain with a part in their Iron Man movie. They offered her the part of Maya Hansen but unfortunately Chastain was unable to accept, something she would no doubt have regretted when we consider the success of the movie. She said on Facebook that she was too busy to accept the role and wrote: “"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."
6 Joaquin Phoenix
The Master, released in 2012, was given high praise by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, stating that the film showed, “Joaquin Phoenix in the performance of his career. Phoenix wears the role like a second skin; he's a volcano in full eruption. You can't take your eyes off him." The star of The Master has appeared in over 50 other movies, written soundtracks and produced other movies.
It was only natural that Marvel should want Phoenix’s talents on board for their character of Doctor Stephen Strange. Despite the long list of hopefuls for the challenging role which included Jared Leto and Ryan Gosling, Marvel opted to take on Phoenix however to their surprised he turned down the offer. His reason was that he was not interested in the subject matter nor the superhero genre.
5 Matt Damon
Matt Damon has been involved in his fair share of anti-hero crime drama and sci-fi movies. At 47 years old he has over 75 acting credits to his name including for films such as Jason Bourne, Promised Land, and Invictus. It is little wonder that an actor of Damon’s calibre should be considered by Marvel’s producers.
He was offered the role of the superhero Daredevil in 2014 but turned it down because he was not impressed with the script nor was he familiar with the director. That may sound petty to some of us but many actors prefer to work with directors they have known before and who they have been able to get on with. In the end Damon’s long-time friend Ben Affleck took up the role. Although he was praised by critics for the portrayal of the character the film itself was slated.
4 Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Quinton Jackson is a retired professional wrestler and boxer and continues to engage in mixed martial arts. On the face of it, Jackson would be the ideal choice for a role with Marvel. He has appeared in over 20 films including Jackass and the A-Team. With the rise of the Marvel movie genre Jackson would not have been surprised that he was asked to join the production company in 2008.
Ultimately it was due to his training regime that Jackson turned down a part in the movie Wolverine in X-Men Origins. He was asked by Marvel to play mutant John Wraith because they thought he would be perfect for the storyline which revolved around a boxing club owner. Jackson would have been disappointed that he couldn’t have responded favorably to Marvel’s request but his regimen pre-bout would have left him no time on set.
3 Emily Blunt
Most of the films English-American actress Emily Blunt stars in are critically acclaimed. Take for instance The Five-Year Engagement, The New York Daily News remarking that "Blunt has never been more relaxed, and she and [Jason] Segel have a believably warm chemistry." She has starred in over 20 other films including Looper and Arthur Newman.
In fact, Blunt has already starred in various action movies and was a natural choice for Marvel. They offered her the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and were confident that she could bring to the role something others couldn’t. Unfortunately for Marvel, Blunt had to decline the invitation because she was already tied into the production of Gulliver’s Travels. The success of Iron Man 2 must have been a bitter pill for Blunt to swallow.
2 Tom Cruise
American actor and producer Tom Cruise began his career at the age of 19 in a film called Endless Love. There is no doubt, whether loved or hated, of Cruise’s supreme acting talents and it is by virtue of his dynamism as an actor that he has enjoyed so many varied roles. He has won three Golden Globes and been nominated for as many Oscars.
It was 1996, when Ethan Hunt was introduced again to the world. Mission: Impossible was released in that year and has continued a strong run of blockbuster films. Early Marvel producers saw the potential in Tom Cruise’s energy and sought to have him play the role of Spider-man. Albert Pyun of Cannon pictures was set to film with Cruise in the lead but a shortfall in payments for the rights of the film meant that it was shelved.
1 Olivia Wilde
Irish-American Olivia Wilde is known for her outspoken views and direct manner but she has also gained a huge following with her portrayal of characters in films such as Cowboys & Aliens, Butter, The Lazarus Effect, and Meadowland. Films are not her only acting platform: she is also a talented and acclaimed stage actress debuting on Broadway in 1984.
Marvel were taken with Wilde’s talents and considered her for the role of the assassin Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. Wilde was adamant she would not take the part however stating that the women in the superhero movies were expected to be an unrealistic representation. They symbolized an unobtainable perfection according to Wilde and she passed. Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be a critical success and grossed $333.2 million in North American box-office receipts alone.