For everything that Marvel Studios is bringing in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, none of it would be possible without the efforts of the Infinity Saga, which is made up of 2008's Iron Man to 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Making an unprecedented attempt at developing a series of interconnected films, Marvel found a way to interweave these stories while setting the stage for even bigger and better things in the future. Much of this was the result of top-notch casting, an area that the studio has made an art form of matching iconic comic heroes with the right actors to bring them to life.
Even for all the successes in this arena, it took time and brainpower to find the right people for the right roles, leading to interesting stories about portrayals that almost came to be over the years.
At one point, Robert Downey Jr. was in conversations to play Victor Von Doom in Fox's Fantastic Four movies; other rumors pointed to Zooey Deschanel not only playing the Wasp instead of Evangeline Lilly but coming into play in The Avengers instead of Ant-Man.
Now, thanks to a new book quickly rising in popularity, fans are learning of another almost casting that would have made for different MCU movies.
Benedict Cumberbatch Almost an MCU Villain
An excerpt from The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe revealed that actor Benedict Cumberbatch was almost cast as the villainous Malekith in 2013's Thor: The Dark World.
Cumberbatch admitted that he'd grown to be a fan of the MCU before an initial meeting for the role of Malekith, although he wasn't as familiar with Marvel Comics history at the time. He also had friends already succeeding in the MCU like Loki star Tom Hiddleston, describing himself as "intoxicated" with everything the MCU was bringing to the big screen.
"I had friends that I supported in the like Tom [Hiddleston], and I was as intoxicated as everybody else was with the mixture of themes, humor, and the scale of cinema, of spectacle. But I didn't grow up obsessed with any comics. I knew more about the cinematic universe than the comic universe."
Ultimately, Marvel Studios held off on casting Cumberbatch as the Thor villain, instead opting to make Christopher Eccleston the MCU's Malekith in the summer of 2012, shortly ahead of the sequel's production start.
After playing big bad Khan in 2013's Star Trek: Into Darkness, Cumberbatch met again with Marvel Studios. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige confirmed in this book's excerpt that Cumberbatch was consistently a "top choice" for an MCU role and that the team was eager to discuss potential characters with him.
Feige even specifically mentioned Doctor Strange as a part that would have fit Cumberbatch well, although the plan to start was simply to meet and find out what Cumberbatch was interested in:
"Benedict had always been the top choice because of all the things he had been doing. We were excited to meet with him. We thought, 'He would probably be a pretty good Strange, but let's not mention that right away. Let's just meet him, see what he wants to do.'"
In a somewhat shocking moment, upon meeting Cumberbatch again, the actor seemingly read Feige's mind and brought up the Sorcerer Supreme himself:
"He was talking about Star Trek. Then, I said, 'Well, we've got a lot of characters...' and he goes, 'Doctor Strange?'"
From Malekith to Doctor Stephen Strange
Even for the outstanding quality the MCU has managed to deliver over the past 13 years, many fans tend to place 2013's Thor: The Dark World near the bottom of the rankings. That placement is partially due to the reception toward Malekith as one of the MCU's most underwhelming villains, although the portrayal by former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston isn't entirely to blame.
The film certainly would have had a different feel with Cumberbatch embodying the leader of the Dark Elves, which he could have done quite well after playing solid villains in past outings like Star Trek. He even shows off a noticeable dark side to the character he ended up playing in the MCU, Doctor Strange, as he goes from arrogant neurosurgeon to humbled magician.
In the end, after fans and Marvel staff alike seemed to peg him as an excellent Stephen Strange for so long, it seemed only right that he found himself donning the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Aggamoto. He even got to interact with Chris Hemsworth's Thor long after Thor: The Dark World, and the star is set for a major role in Phase 4 and beyond as the Master of the Mystic Arts.
Thor: The Dark World and Doctor Strange are available to stream on Disney+. Cumberbatch will make his next MCU appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which will arrive on May 6, 2022.