The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had the great fortune of featuring some of the most outstanding and highly-acclaimed actors in the business. From seasoned veterans like Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Douglas to rising superstars like Tom Holland and Brie Larson, there is no shortage of talent to bring the biggest heroes in Marvel Comics to life on the big screen.
There are, of course, numerous actors who went up to bat for Marvel roles but didn't quite make it past first base to join the MCU.
Here is a look back at 22 of Hollywood's biggest stars who were considered for Marvel Studios movies and the roles they almost played...
Actors Who Almost Got Cast in the MCU
1. Will Smith - Captain America
As one of the most popular stars in Hollywood already for 15 years at the time, it seemed like Will Smith would have been one of the strongest candidates to take on the shield and skills of Captain America. The role ended up going to Chris Evans while Smith starred in David Ayer's Suicide Squad for DC.
Smith hasn't starred in a superhero flick since, and almost had his Deadshot role replaced by Idris Elba in The Suicide Squad.
2. Joel Kinnaman - Thor
It took Chris Hemsworth more than one audition to land the role of Thor, but before he did, the DCEU's Joel Kinnaman was on a short list of actors that Marvel Studios was considering. Five years after the release of Thor in the MCU, Kinnaman finally made his own superhero movie debut when he took on the role of commander Rick Flagg in both Suicide Squad movies.
3. Jason Momoa - Drax
After making a name for himself in major projects like Game of Thrones, Hollywood hunk Jason Momoa's first potential foray into superhero movies could have come years ago when he auditioned for the role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy.
After he ended up as Arthur Curry/Aquaman in the DCEU, it's safe to say that both he and Dave Bautista landed the perfect roles. An even more perfect superhero role for Momoa may be on the way, with every indication suggesting that he will be taking on DC's Lobo next.
4. Joaquin Phoenix - Doctor Strange
Phoenix was one of the front runners for many months in the casting process for the lead role of Doctor Strange, considering his passion for movie making and his slightly eccentric personality. Benedict Cumberbatch ended up perfectly embodying the Sorcerer Supreme, while Phoenix went on to play Arthur Fleck in 2019's Joker, and will be doing so once again in the sequel, Folie á Deux, with Lady Gaga.
5. Tom Cruise - Iron Man
One of this generation's biggest action stars, Tom Cruise, was in the running to suit up as Iron Man for a brief period. Even though he has mentioned that he was very far from getting the role, fans have imagined for years what the Mission: Impossible star would have looked like as the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Doctor Strange 2 writer Michael Waldron even toyed with the idea of potentially getting Cruise in the sequel for a cameo role.
6. Liam Hemsworth & Alexander Skarsgaard - Thor
Chris wasn't the only Hemsworth going for the role, as his younger brother Liam got as far as the final rounds of auditions. While Liam Hemsworth hasn't landed an MCU role yet, one of his other brothers has. Luke Hemsworth briefly cameoed in both Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder alongside Matt Damon.
Another standout candidate was future action star Alexander Skarsgaard, whose ripped physique and Swedish background would have been a solid fit for the God of Thunder. While he didn't end up being in Thor, his name still made it in as his father, Bill, took on the role of Erik Selvig.
7. Mel Gibson - Odin
One actor who had MCU rumors swirling around him for a while was eccentric movie star Mel Gibson, who was offered the role of Odin in Thor. He turned down the role in the end, saying there just wasn't enough substance to the role to make him want to take it.
8. Jessica Alba & Emily Blunt - Black Widow
Jessica Alba was reportedly looked at for the role of Natasha in Iron Man 2. Alba already had a history in superhero movies on her resume, playing the role of Sue Storm/Invisible Woman in the Fox-produced Fantastic 4 movies in 2005 and 2007. The actress has since criticized the MCU, specifically about its handling of diversity in its heroes.
Emily Blunt, on the other hand, has been potentially linked to the MCU almost since its inception. Not only was she one of the leading contenders to play Black Widow, but she also had a good shot at playing Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger before Hayley Atwell was cast. Her name continues to be linked with Marvel Studios, most notably for Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four.
9. Jensen Ackles - Hawkeye
Before Jeremy Renner signed on, the role of Clint Barton was offered to TV mega-star Jensen Ackles. Before this offer, Ackles had auditioned for the role of Captain America, and the producers liked him so much that they gave him a chance at the role of Hawkeye.
Ackles couldn't accept the role however due to his longstanding commitment to the CW TV series Supernatural as Dean Winchester. Luckily, Ackles has earned himself his own superhero role, playing the foul-mouthed supe, Soldier Boy in The Boys Season 3.
10. Gamora - Amanda Seyfried & Olivia Wilde
Marvel heavily pursued Amanda Seyfried for the role of Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Seyfried has had a very successful career with films like Mean Girls, Les Miserables, and Mamma Mia! among others. She ended up turning down the role due to the extensive makeup process that would be required to turn her entirely green for a whole movie.
Olivia Wilde also turned down the role of Gamora, but it's still unknown as to why she made that choice. Wilde has her own connection to the Marvel universe now though, with the director currently working on a mysterious project for Sony believed to be centered on the character of Spider-Woman.
11. Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, & Danny Devito - Rocket
Danny DeVito put forth his best effort to take on the role of Rocket. With his extensive cinema history starring in TV series, like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, voicing animated characters like Phil in Disney's Hercules, and bringing the laughs in live-action movies like Romancing the Stone, DeVito's voice would have been hysterical to hear coming out of a CGI raccoon. James Gunn ultimately said that DeVito sounded just a little too grumpy and gruff for the role.
The other combo of comedy megastars that were rumored to be in the running for the role were Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey. Either of these two would have been beyond hysterical and they were both reportedly on Marvel's list of actors to talk to about the role before it went to Bradley Cooper.
12. Saoirse Ronan - Scarlet Witch
One of the first choices to play Wanda Maximoff for both Joss Whedon and Marvel was future four-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, her most recent nominations coming in 2020 for Little Women and Lady Bird. Ronan reportedly turned down the role for Avengers: Age of Ultron, although there was no reason given.
13. Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Ant-Man & Star-Lord
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has played a multitude of different roles in the past three decades, even in one of DC's biggest movies, The Dark Knight Rises. The former Inception star has at times been linked to two leading roles in the MCU: Star-Lord in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy and Scott Lang in 2015's Ant-Man. He was even rumored to be one of the front runners for Ant-Man before Paul Rudd eventually won the role.
While Gordon-Levitt has yet to join the MCU, rumors have suggested that the actor has been contacted by Marvel Studios. Perhaps a new superhero role for the star is still on the cards.
14. Matthew McConaughey - Ego
Early on in the process, there were rumors circling around the potential of Matthew McConaughey taking on the villain role in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, which turned out to be Star Lord's father, Ego the Living Planet. He turned down the role, instead signing on to star in the Stephen King thriller The Dark Tower with MCU alum Idris Elba.
McConaughey even approached Marvel Studios about playing another massive character: Hulk. The actor explained that he threw his hat in the ring to play Bruce Banner, but was unfortunately rejected.
15. Timothee Chalamet - Spider-Man
One of the premier names in the running to play Peter Parker in 2015 was Timothée Chalamet, who has spoken multiple times about how he felt he botched his original audition for the role. He mentioned that he "read twice and left sweating in a total panic," desperately wanting to re-audition but not following through after talking to his agent.
Chalamet's connection to the MCU's Spider-Man franchise may not be over just yet though, as the trilogy's stars are intent on getting the Dune actor in for a villainous role.
16. Wesley Snipes - Black Panther
Wesley Snipes never seemed to be in contention for the current iteration of T'Challa, but back in the 1990s, he was hard at work trying to make his own Black Panther movie. He wanted to make it culturally diverse while also paying respect to the source material from the comics, and his team went through three different screenplays but could never find the right director.
Snipes went on to star in the Blade trilogy of the late 90s to early 2000s, helping to usher in the current era of blockbuster superhero movies.
17. Jessica Chastain - Wasp
Jessica Chastain was reportedly sought after for the role of Hope Van Dyne in 2015's Ant-Man, but she turned it down due to the fact that she wanted to play a superhero. Little did she know that she would've had that chance by signing on for Ant-Man, where the sequel would turn Hope into the Wasp for the first time.
She was also offered the role of Christine Palmer in 2016's Doctor Strange but turned it down for the same reason. Chastain would go on to star in another Marvel franchise, that being through X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Despite the lukewarm reaction to the X-Men installment, Chastain is still open to starring in a Marvel superhero role down the line.
18. Tom Hiddleston - Thor
The man who made Loki a household name has one of the most famous casting stories in MCU history after originally auditioning to play the lead role in Thor. While that ended up going to Chris Hemsworth, the studio loved Tom Hiddleston enough to have him take on the God of Mischief, which is still regarded as one of the best casting moves to date.
19. Chadwick Boseman - Drax
Before suiting up in the vibranium claws of the Black Panther, Boseman was part of a huge group that auditioned for the role of Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. This ended up as yet another perfect casting in two cases, both for Boseman and eventually Drax actor Dave Bautista, whose completely dry sense of humor made the alien warrior one of the highlights of every movie he's been in so far.
20. Sebastian Stan - Captain America
The role of Captain America had a number of big names audition that will show up on this list, but the one that found a role in the very same franchise was future Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier Sebastian Stan.
Finding a place as one of the most important villains/redeemed characters in all of the MCU, Stan's journey as Bucky has been one of the most memorable character developments of the franchise. The actor is set to return in Phase 5's Thunderbolts, though could have a smaller role in the upcoming Captain America 4 as well.
21. Sam Rockwell - Iron Man
Sam Rockwell was on a very short list of potential actors for Tony Stark in Iron Man 1. Rockwell managed to make such a good impression on Marvel that they made him an important part of Iron Man 2, Justin Hammer.
The complete mirror image of Tony, Rockwell did an amazing job playing the snarky and devious counterpart to Robert Downey, Jr's starring hero. While Rockwell has been absent from the MCU for over a decade, he's not opposed to coming back for one of Phase 5's upcoming projects.
22. Natalie Portman - Black Widow
Portman ended up playing Jane Foster in the Thor franchise, and got a chance to return more recently through Love and Thunder.
23. Chris Pratt - Captain America
Another contender to play Captain America was future Peter Quill actor Chris Pratt, even as his starring days as Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation were just beginning. While Cap was still played by an action star named Chris, Pratt found a home as Star-Lord and helped turn Guardians of the Galaxy into one of the biggest superhero franchises ever.
Now, fans are hoping that the actor will make the jump to DC alongside James Gunn, potentially in the role of Booster Gold.
24. Karen Gillan - Sharon Carter
While Karen Gillan did end up in the MCU in 2014, there was a chance her debut could have come four months earlier with the fact that she had an audition to play Sharon Carter/Agent 13 in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Emily Van Camp ended up filling that role, but both ladies have excelled in their MCU appearances and they are both set for future projects like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (Van Camp) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Gillan).
25. Mark Ruffalo - Hulk
This is one of the most interesting non-castings in the MCU's history, as Mark Ruffalo was the original pick of director Louis Leterrier to play Bruce Banner in 2008's The Incredible Hulk. Marvel Studios seemed to want more star power for the second film of the franchise, which is why the role ended up going to Edward Norton. After the notorious disputes between Norton and Marvel, Ruffalo still ended up playing Banner in 2012's The Avengers and has continued in the role ever since.
26. John Krasinski - Captain America
John Krasinski was famously a front-runner for the role of Captain America before Chris Evans came on board.
While Krasinski never got to play Steve Rogers in the MCU, he did have a brief cameo in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness as Reed Richards. It is currently unclear if Krasinski will continue the role of Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four movie, though the actor did confirm that no active discussions about his return are being had.
27. Shuri - Dominique Thorne
Before her landing her own Disney+ series, Ironheart, Dominque Thorne actually auditioned for the role of Shuri in the original Black Panther movie. While the role eventually went to Letitia Wright, Dominique's audition impressed Marvel execs so much that they cast her as Riri Williams in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.