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.
Before all of these megastars were confirmed for their roles, they had to earn them by beating out the rest of Hollywood. Even early on, some of the first roles set to be a part of the MCU were sought after by the best the entertainment industry had to offer, and there are so many that still have not gotten the opportunity to lead the way in a Marvel movie.
While some of the actors and actresses who have auditioned for Marvel ended up finding themselves in other roles, there are even more that still don't have the MCU on their resume. With that being said, The Direct now presents our look back at 31 of Hollywood's biggest stars who auditioned for Marvel Studios movies and the roles they almost played!
Honorable Castings in Other MCU Roles
The first seven stars in this list are now beloved in the Marvel world thanks to their MCU portrayals, but they all auditioned for different roles before the ones they took in the end. We analyze each one of them right here:
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.
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.
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 before he co-stars in his own Disney+ series, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
Sam Rockwell - Iron Man
Although there was a very short list of potential actors for Tony Stark, Sam 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.
Natalie Portman - Black Widow
Already one of the most sought-after actresses in all of Hollywood, Natalie Portman was in the running to play Black Widow before Scarlett Johansson came in and owned the role for a decade. Portman ended up playing Jane Foster in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World, but her best in the MCU may still be yet to come with Jane becoming The Mighty Thor in 2022's Thor: Love and Thunder.
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.
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).
Honorable Casting in the Role He Still Played
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.
Honorable Castings in DC Roles
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.
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 alongside Will Smith in Suicide Squad.
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. Fans may have rioted if Momoa's hair and ripped body would've had to have been adjusted for the role of Drax.
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, winning an Oscar for Best Actor in the process.
As Close To Being Cast as Possible
John Krasinski - Captain America
No name has been more discussed in the MCU's future recently as much as John Krasinski. He was famously a front runner for the role of Captain America before Chris Evans came on board, and as recently as April, he has once again met with Marvel Studios about potentially taking a role in Phase 4 or beyond.
Fans have filled him in as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic in fan casts for years, and it seems like both Marvel Studios and Krasinski want to link up with each other. It seems to be only a matter of time before the former star of The Office finally sees his superhero casting dream become a reality.
Actors Not Cast in The MCU by the Roles They Could Have Played
Iron Man - Tom Cruise
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe became the mega-hit that everybody knows it to be today, there was very little hope in Hollywood that this type of franchise could ever come to be, especially when news broke that the first film would be about the at-the-time B-list hero Iron Man. Looking back to a time when the role was still being cast, even though director Jon Favreau rightly had his mind set on Robert Downey, Jr., he was not the only big name to be rumored for the role.
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. It will be interesting to see if Cruise ever does take on a superhero role officially in the future.
Thor - Liam Hemsworth, Alexander Skarsgaard
Even though Thor is one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics, the world was shocked when the film's leading role was filled by Chris Hemsworth, a virtual unknown back in 2009. He spent the next decade absolutely owning the role, portraying Thor perfectly in seven starring appearances, with an eighth on the way for 2022's Thor: Love and Thunder. While a number of actors were in line to potentially play Thor at the start, including honorable mention Tom Hiddleston, two in particular stand out.
Chris wasn't the only Hemsworth going for the role, as his younger brother Liam got as far as the final rounds of auditions. He has become a star in his own right due to his success in franchises like The Hunger Games, and the stories from he and Chris about competing for the role are some of the most entertaining in all of Hollywood.
Another standout candidate was future action star Alexander Skarsgaard, who's 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. It would've been something special seeing the father and son duo act opposite each other, especially in the Thor/Selivg-heavy scenes this movie provided.
Liam and Alexander both made great runs at helping lead the MCU before Chris Hemsworth won the role, and hopefully both of these outstanding action stars will have their chance at a Marvel role in the future.
Odin - Mel Gibson
The grand and Shakesperean nature of the first Thor movie called for some excellent actors who could give a presence on set and on screen. Some of the prime examples of this included Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and the man who played their character's father, Sir Anthony Hopkins. While he brilliantly played the role of Odin, Marvel was taking a look at a much different option to take on the role.
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.
The Lethal Weapon star has also said that Anthony Hopkins filled the role of Odin perfectly, even iterating that he's played the King of Asgard more memorably than anybody could have expected. Gibson doesn't seem to have the most glowing opinions on superhero movies in general, so it seems unlikely that he will ever take on a role in this genre, but the story is an interesting one nonetheless.
Black Widow - Jessica Alba, Emily Blunt (Peggy Carter too)
With how much time and energy Scarlett Johansson put into getting the role of Black Widow, it seems almost impossible thinking that anybody else could have even had a chance at playing her. Some of the most successful actresses in the business put their names in the hat to take on playing Natasha, with a couple of particularly big ones standing out here.
First off is Jessica Alba, who has made a name for herself over the last couple decades in a number of action franchises. She even has 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, giving her the experience necessary to take on a role like Black Widow.
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, 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 potentially for Phase 4 and beyond, as is the case with her husband, honorable mention John Krasinski.
Alba and Blunt still have some of their best years ahead of them, and hopefully there will be opportunities for both of them to take their talents to the MCU eventually.
Hawkeye - Jensen Ackles
Many times in the process of MCU casting, certain actors are offered the chance at big roles but end up having to turn them down due to prior commitments. This was the case early on in the MCU with the role of Hawkeye, one of the original six heroes to make up the core team.
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, where he has filled the leading role of Dean Winchester since 2005.
Ackles has spent most of his career on the small screen, but hopefully Marvel still has him in the back of their minds if they need another fan-favorite star.
Gamora - Amanda Seyfried and Olivia Wilde
With how unknown the Guardians of the Galaxy were before they were brought into the MCU, Marvel Studios' casting department had to make sure not only to cast the roles well, but to get some high-profile actors to help sell the movie. All five core members ended up with the perfect stars taking the roles on, but it was a long process to find the right fits. For the sole female member of the group especially, the Marvel team had a long list of potential actresses audition for Gamora, two in particular that stand above the rest.
One of the two actresses Marvel pursued heavily was Amanda Seyfried, who 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.
On that same list of actresses who turned down the Gamora role is Olivia Wilde, who has her own history in sci-fi with films like Tron: Legacy and Cowboys and Aliens on her extensive resume. She also turned down the role, but it's still unknown as to why she made that choice.
Eventually the role went to Zoe Saldana, who absolutely nailed the character in Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, continuing to make appearances in both subsequent Avengers movies. It will be interesting to see if either Seyfried or Wilde are on Marvel's extensive watch-list going forward.
Rocket - Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Danny Devito
Just as was the case with Gamora in the last entry, the role of Rocket Raccoon required a certain kind of actor to bring the character to the MCU the right way. With a complicated/unknown backstory that leaves so much mystery attached to him, even to this day, Rocket's sarcastic and sometimes abrasive nature is a lot to handle, especially mixing that with his potential for pure goodness. This role in particular had dozens of Hollywood's best actors with a chance to play the gun-wielding rodent, highlighted by three of the most famous comedic actors of our generation.
In the auditions, famous Hollywood comedy master 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. Particularly in the case of Jim Carrey, the facial expressions and physical comedy skills that he has so expertly displayed in movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask would've been a sight to behold coming out of Rocket.
All three of these actors would have been great choices to play Rocket Raccoon, even considering how fantastic a job Bradley Cooper has done with it over the past six years. Due to the ages of all three of these actors, it's a tough call predicting what kind of roles Marvel would eye them for in the future, but hopefully we'll hear their names come up again down the road. Maybe one of them will fit a future role.....like a glove!
Scarlet Witch - Saoirse Ronan
MCU fans had plenty of questions upon hearing that Scarlet Witch would be coming to the franchise all the way back in 2013, but that didn't stop the best and brightest young actresses from going for the new role. There weren't a ton of major names campaigning for this role in particular, although one of them turned out to be a very successful name in the industry over the last few years.
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 nomination coming in 2020 for Little Women. Ronan reportedly turned down the role for Avengers: Age of Ultron, although there was no reason given.
Elizabeth Olsen earned the role of Scarlet Witch in the end, going on to star in three Avengers movies and Captain America: Civil War; she will also star in the upcoming Disney+ mini-series WandaVision before following that up with an appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Ronan is still very young in the movie industry, and hopefully Marvel Studios will keep someone as accomplished as her in mind for the future.
Ant-Man and Star Lord - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Often times with Marvel Studios, there is an actor that the team sees as a potential fit for multiple characters planned out for future movies. Similarly to honorable mentions like Chadwick Boseman and Chris Pratt, sometimes it just takes a while to find the right fit. This is something that may be the case with the list's next entry, who has been linked to two different MCU roles in the past.
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.
There has been no mention of Gordon-Levitt's name over the past few years for any future MCU roles, but he is still putting the work into some of the most well-reviewed and popular movies the industry is putting out. He's also right at the age that many other MCU stars have gotten their start in the franchise, so it may only be a matter of time until we see him take on a role with Marvel Studios.
Ego the Living Planet - Matthew McConaghey
As coveted as most of the heroic roles in the MCU are, there is just as much hype surrounding the dozens of villains that Marvel brings to the big screen. The studio has gotten acting icons like Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, Josh Brolin and more to go against the heroes of the MCU, and sometimes their performances are praised more than anybody else (see Michael B. Jordan). This next entry had the chance to join the ranks of iconic Marvel villains for one of the most anticipated Phase 3 sequels.
Early on in the process, there were rumors circling around the potential of Matthew McConaghey 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.
Even though he turned down the role of Ego, it seems like McConaghey would be open to joining the superhero movie genre if the right opportunity presents itself going forward. Many are fan casting him already as a villain like Norman Osborn or Dr. Doom, but fans hope to see him in the MCU sooner rather than later!
Spider-Man - Timothee Chalamet
When it was finally announced that Spider-Man would swing into the MCU for 2016's Captain America: Civil War, cheers could be heard from every corner of the globe. With the web-slinger getting the chance to interact with all of the MCU's most popular heroes, the casting process would be not only one of the quickest in the studio's history, but also one of the most hotly contested.
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 has since gone on to become an Academy Award nominee and Tom Holland has filled the role of Spider-Man perfectly in his four years in the MCU thus far. Hopefully there will be another opportunity for Chalamet in the future to make his own mark as a Marvel superhero.
Black Panther - Wesley Snipes
Although it took going through some hurdles behind the scenes, fans were beyond excited when Black Panther came in as a part of the massive Phase 3 slate announcement at the El Capitan theater in 2014. The announcement for the movie was joined by the announcement that Chadwick Boseman had been cast in the lead role. As usual, the role was highly contested by a number of qualified actors, although the story of this next star is a little different from the rest of the entries.
Wesley Snipes never seemed to be in contention for the current iteration of T'Challa, but back in the 1990's, 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 90's to early 2000's, helping to usher in the current era of blockbuster superhero movies. With Blade being rebooted for the MCU and a Black Panther sequel on the way in 2022, fans everywhere are hoping to see Snipes take up a new superhero role in the most successful superhero franchise currently going.
Wasp - Jessica Chastain
Sometimes, the heroes of the MCU take a while to come into their own or evolve into their fully fleshed out form. Playing the long game as much as Marvel Studios does, there are a handful of characters that don't end up turning into full-on heroes until two or three movies into their story. This fact is what led the next entry to turning down a potential role in the MCU six years ago.
Jessica Chastain was reportedly sought after for the role of Janet Van Dyne in 2015's Ant-Man, but she turned it down due to the fact that she wanted to play a superhero. She was also offered the role of Christine Palmer in 2016's Doctor Strange but turned it down for the same reason. Little did she know that she would've had that chance by signing on for Ant-Man, where the sequel would turn Janet into the Wasp for the first time.
With plenty of female heroes likely on the way in the MCU, there should be a good number of potential characters for Chastain to take on should she want to be a part of the franchise in the future.