Acting roles are, at their most basic level, jobs. An actor takes a part, does the work, gets paid, and then goes on to the next part. The right role, though, can transcend this basic transaction, and make an actor into an icon. This is particularly true of successful franchise roles, which means the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now, 10 years in, packed with icons.
In that context, it can be hard to imagine anyone but Chris Evans wielding Captain America's shield, or someone other than Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man armor. These actors have molded the characters to them, making them their own through years of work an adaptation, and now they're forever joined. Once upon a time, though, just about every major MCU hero we know and love now could have looked, sounded, and acted very different.
In celebration of the MCU's 10th anniversary, we look back on what might have been, rounding up a list of Almost Avengers: Actors who were considered at one time or another to play the various MCU leads, only to pass on the part or ultimately lose out to the chosen star. The characters are laid out in rough chronological order according to their first appearance, and keep in mind that we're talking about MCU only here. Sorry, Wolverine.
Take a look at the Avengers that almost were and let us know which ones you think could have worked in the MCU best.
Tony Stark/Iron Man
After a decade of seeing him in Tony Stark's armor, it's very difficult to imagine anyone but Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man, but there was a time when the role could have indeed gone to someone else. The role was famously on the respective radars of both Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage back in the pre-MCU days, when an Iron Man film was developing at New Line, but even once Marvel Studios got started Downey had some competition.
According to Ben Fritz's book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, both Colin Farrell and Patrick Dempsey were up for Tony Stark, as was Sam Rockwell, who ended up playing villain Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2. In 2015, Timothy Olyphant revealed that he actually screen tested for the role on the same day as Downey, and joked that he's still waiting to hear back. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige always had his eye on Downey, though, and he ultimately won the part.
Everyone knows that Edward Norton, the original MCU Hulk, was recast for The Avengers after considerable creative clashes over his first solo film back in 2008, and now Mark Ruffalo is firmly entrenched in the Bruce Banner character as a Marvel fan favorite. Both Norton and Ruffalo also had some reported competition for the role, though.
Back in 2006, David Duchovny was reportedly being considered to step into the role after Eric Bana and Ang Lee's Hulk, and in the days following Norton's ouster, Joaquin Phoenix was reportedly a potential replacement instead of Ruffalo.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
Black Widow's debut in 2010's Iron Man 2 made her the MCU's original superheroine, which means it's hard to separate Scarlett Johansson's version of the character from the film's now. Despite that, Black Widow is actually a character with one of the most famous Almost Avengers stories.
Before Johansson came on board, the role was offered to Emily Blunt, but she was unable to take the gig thanks to a clause in her contract with Fox that allowed them to make one more film with her after The Devil Wears Prada. So, Blunt was cast in Gulliver's Travels instead, and Marvel went looking for a new Widow.
The God of Thunder has had perhaps the most pronounced evolution onscreen of any MCU hero so far, which only underlines the ownership Chris Hemsworth feels toward the character at this point. He almost didn't have a chance to claim the hammer, though. Hemsworth's first audition for the role was reportedly bad enough to knock him out of the running, and he had to lobby Marvel to let him have another chance.
While he struggled to wield Mjolnir, the studio looked at other potential stars, including Hemsworth's brother Liam, Alexander Skarsgard, Joel Kinnaman, Charlie Hunnam, and the franchise's eventual Loki, Tom Hiddleston.
Hawkeye had perhaps the least-publicized casting process of any of the original Avengers, in part because he initially just showed up with a cameo in Thor before becoming the least Avenger-y part of The Avengers and, famously, the one who got excluded from Infinity War. Before Jeremy Renner signed on to play the Hawkguy, there was reportedly at least one other name in the running: Jensen Ackles, who the studio had interest in but who ultimately couldn't make the schedule work alongside his hit CW series Supernatural.
Steve Rogers/Captain America
Funnily enough, Almost Black Widow Emily Blunt is very close to another Almost Avenger, as her husband John Krasinski was at one point among the top actors in the running to play Captain America. Even seven years after the fact, Krasinski's chance to play the First Avenger is a well-remembered alternate possibility for fans, but he wasn't the only name in the running.
Marvel also considered Ryan Phillippe, Garrett Hedlund, Mike Vogel, Chace Crawford, Scott Porter, Michael Cassidy and Patrick Flueger. Even Sebastian Stan, the eventual Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, was a potential Cap at one point.
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
Elizabeth Olsen has added significant emotional heft to the MCU thanks to her performance as Scarlet Witch, but another acclaimed actress apparently almost got the role instead. Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon was reportedly using Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan as a kind of template for the character, and Ronan even publicly expressed an interest in possibly playing the role. Despite reports that she was offered the role and passed, though, Ronan later dismissed her involvement as a rumor.
Because Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel property relatively unknown to the general public, and the first film would largely take the point of view of Peter Quill, Marvel looked at a great many actors for the role. Chris Pratt, who was not in the shape he is now and was best known for his television work, was not at the top of director James Gunn's list at first.
In 2012 a reported shortlist for Star-Lord began to circulate that included Joel Edgerton, Lee Pace (who ultimately became the film's villain, Ronan the Accuser), Eddie Redmayne, Jack Huston, and Jim Sturgess, all of whom were apparently set to test for the part.
That's quite, a list, but it doesn't end there. Other reported and admitted potential Star-Lords include Glenn Howerton (a favorite of Gunn's), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Rosenbaum, Wes Bentley, Chris Lowell, Cam Gigandet, and even John Krasinski.
It's particularly hard to imagine Gamora being played by anyone but Zoe Saldana, particularly after the weighty events of Avengers: Infinity War, but she too had a little competition. At some point in early casting discussions, MMA fighter-turned-actress Gina Carano (who went on to co-star in Deadpool) was considered, and at one point Olivia Wilde was also offered the part, but passed.
Drax the Destroyer
Dave Bautista now has a very healthy feature film career thanks to his breakout role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, but before the WWE superstar was cast, there were other names considered, including another superhero. Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa, has said he was offered the part but turned it down, and other reported candidates included Isaiah Mustafa and Generation Kill star Brian Patrick Wade.
Bradley Cooper might not have seemed like a good fit for Rocket when his name was announced to voice the character, but his gruff, snarky take on the role has become a fan favorite. Before Cooper came onboard, though, Marvel was reportedly considered more traditionally comedic talent for the voice. Among the names: Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, both comedy legends for different reasons, who would have surely significantly altered the tone of the finished film.
Ant-Man is better known for the behind-the-scenes drama behind the film's last-minute director swap than it is for anything that happened with the casting, but while Paul Rudd turned out to be an excellent Scott Lang, he wasn't the only star in contention for the leading role. According to reports from 2015, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who'd previously been considered for Star-Lord, was also in the running.
No other MCU role to date has bred as much public speculation and debate as Spider-Man, who finally joined the universe in 2016 following a deal with Sony Pictures that allowed him to appear in Marvel films while also appearing in solo films Marvel would co-produce.
It seemed everyone had the perfect Spider-Man candidate ready to hold in front of Kevin Feige's face, and every young actor in Hollywood seemed to be vying for the part. In the end, it went to Tom Holland, but not before a short list of very high-caliber young men was assembled. Holland's final competition for the role included Timothee Chalamet, Nat Wolff, Asa Butterfield, and Liam James.
Doctor Stephen Strange
Doctor Strange is not as well-known as Spider-Man, or Black Panther, or Captain America, but he was going to be introduced to the MCU via a standalone solo film, which meant the studio needed a major star to carry his first adventure. So, several major players were considered before Benedict Cumberbatch led the role. Of those, Joaquin Phoenix was the star who seemed to get the closest to actually saying yes, but he wasn't alone.
A reported short list of actors in contention also included Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Ewan McGregor, and Jake Gyllenhaal, all of whom would have had very different takes on the Doctor than Cumberbatch's quiet, playful arrogance.
According to Kevin Feige, from the moment the idea came up to introduce Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman was the first and basically only choice. Boseman got the part, and as far as the MCU era of Black Panther goes, that was basically that. Once upon a time, though, another major Hollywood star tried, for years, to get a film about King T'Challa of Wakanda going.
Earlier this year, before Black Panther arrived to dominate the box office, the world was reminded that, back in 1992, Wesley Snipes was set to star in a Black Panther film then being developed at Columbia Pictures, but it wasn't just a development deal that fizzled. Snipes was passionate about the idea, and continued to pursue it off and on for roughly 15 years, even as he became another Marvel hero, Blade.
The timeline never quite worked, Snipes' prison sentence got in the way, and ultimately Marvel decided on Boseman. Here's hoping we see Snipes appear in Wakanda someday, though.