With Avengers: Infinity War premiering recently, it’s as good of a reason as any to look back at the MCU and see what makes them work so well. Beyond just the exciting characters and fantastical settings, the Marvel movies have worked so well, in large part, due to the strength of their characters. Many of the main players in this broad superhero universe are perfect mixes of charming and inspiring, quick with a joke but able to bring real pathos to the screen. That screen presence works as well as it does because of the talented cast of actors who have been brought into the Marvel fold over the years, leading to a large-scale collection of some of the biggest movie stars in the world, all under one banner.
The first Avengers was a culmination of that, giving audiences the chance to see the heroes they’d fallen in love with teaming up and bouncing off one another in a fun way. But there were some very real possibilities, throughout the formative years of what has become the biggest franchise in the world, that the team of Avengers we ended up with wasn’t what we were going to get. Sometimes, it was because an actor or actress wasn’t able to make the MCU role work within her schedule, or they couldn’t land the part. Others were even removed from their roles due to behind the scenes drama. Here are 15 actors who almost starred in Avengers, and 10 who almost starred in Iron Man.
25 Tom Cruise Was Almost Iron Man
As hard as it is to imagine now, the Avengers were once considered to be a group of characters who were impossible to sell. Even within the comics, characters like Iron Man had always been dwarfed by more recognizable characters like Spider-Man or anyone from X-Men. During that time, Iron Man was pushed around as a possible one-off movie/action series. And according to Screen Rant, the biggest fan of the concept was Tom Cruise.
Coming at a time when Mission Impossible seemed to be winding down, Cruise looked into the Marvel property as a new franchise to jump into.
But conflicts with the overall story and script between Marvel and Cruise led him to leave the project. But even after the Iron Man script got (well, mostly) defined, Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t a done deal.
24 Then Sam Rockwell Was Almost Iron Man
Once the script was further along and Jon Favreau came on board, Iron Man started to come really together. One of the director’s favorites picks for the role of Tony Stark was always Robert Downey Jr. (along with Timothy Olyphant), and the actor’s enthusiasm for the character helped him stand out during pre-production. But this was Downey Jr. before his comeback when he was still a questionable star for studios to back. So according to Cinema Blend, the director, Jon Favreau, also approached Rockwell about the role, getting him an audition for the part. But Downey Jr. came in for an audition first and wowed Favreau, to the point where he went to bat for the actor with Paramount (the company doing the MCU movies before Disney bought the Marvel rights). At least Rockwell got a role in the sequel as Justin Hammer.
23 John Krasinski Was Almost Captain America
John Krasinski might be impressing audiences now with his amazing film, A Quiet Place, but the Office actor has been on the verge of breaking out for years now. That star power was on display years earlier, and it was Marvel who really recognized that potential before he came into it.
According to Cinema Blend, the actor was one of the lead contenders for the role of Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, during the casting process, to the point where it reportedly came down to just him and the actual future Captain America, Chris Evans.
According to Krasinski, the moment that decided the casting possibility was actually Chris Hemsworth appearing in costume as Thor during the audition. Seeing someone who so naturally wore that look was apparently too much for Krasinski, and that emotion colored the rest of the audition and led to Evans getting the part.
22 Emily Blunt Was Almost Black Widow…
Following the success of the first Iron Man, a whole host of stars were trying to find a natural way to join the growing Marvel universe. But the one who came the closest to joining the superhero franchise was Emily Blunt. According to Looper, the actress was actually cast in the role of Natasha Romanov, aka Black Widow, in Iron Man 2.
She even managed to beat out Scarlett Johansson for the role in the first place. But here’s where the reality of time restraints came into play. Due to her previous engagement to Gulliver’s Travels co-starring Jack Black and Jason Segel, she couldn’t play the role.
It’s especially disappointing because she genuinely seemed excited about the role, although, Johansson has admittedly done a great job in the role of the Russian spy herself.
21 Then Eliza Dushku Was Almost Black Widow
The big thing about these superhero roles is that many actors and artists working today grew up with those characters and their comic books. Robert Downey Jr. was a huge fan of Iron Man from when he was a kid, and Tom Holland grew up loving Spider-Man. But it stands to reason that some of the people who didn’t win the roles were just as excited. When Black Widow was first announced to be joining the MCU, the internet went nuts trying to figure out who would take the role.
According to MTV, after Eliza Dushku said she would love the part and was a huge fan of the character, an internet campaign grew and fought for her to get the role.
But much like the “Donald Glover as Spider-Man” campaign, it wasn’t able to sway the executives into changing their minds.
20 Liam Hemsworth Was Almost Thor
In Thor: Ragnarok, there’s a scene where Thor returns to Asgard to find a play dramatizing the events of his previous movie going on. The actor playing Thor is Liam Hemsworth, the younger brother of the actual Thor star, Chris Hemsworth. It’s a funny inside joke, considering their relation, but it’s not the only subtle gag that they’re telling with that casting. During the pre-production of the first Thor, the elder Chris auditioned for the part but apparently didn’t leave much of an impression. He didn’t hear anything about the part until Liam auditioned for the part and actually made it to the final five contenders for the role, according to The Daily Mail. When Marvel ultimately passed on all five, Chris Hemsworth sent in a new audition tape. He’s said in interviews that the emotion behind Liam doing better than him initially spurred him on, and he gave a much more impressive audition.
19 Then Tom Hiddleston Was Almost Thor
As crazy as it is to consider the idea of Tom Hiddleston outside of his defining role as the trickster, God Loki, it actually came fairly close to being a reality. According to Huffington Post, Tom Hiddleston was an early audition for the role when the cinematic character of Thor was being actively redefined. Hiddleston gave an audition that (obviously) focused on the inherent nobility and royalty of the character instead of the physicality. Hiddleston has said in interviews that it was obvious to him exactly what they meant when he got to meet Chris Hemsworth. But it still worked out, as his audition impressed the creators of the movie enough that they asked him to just play the villainous Loki instead. Considering the internet’s reaction to the character, it was a good call.
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18 Edward Norton Was Almost Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is the forgotten step-child of the MCU, a simultaneously experimental but tedious early step in the growth of the connected superhero universe. It has flashes of brilliance when it embraces the monster movie aspect of the character and hints at a greater world around it without forcing it down your throat in lieu of making a memorable movie (cough cough, Iron Man 2), but it also just fails to be memorable or engaging in any real way. There were rumors of conflict behind the scenes, with the star, Edward Norton, reportedly being very particular and difficult to work with, according to The A.V. Club. While he was initially on-board to return to the role of Bruce Banner for Avengers, his differences with the creative producers left Marvel ultimately deciding to cut the actor from the film. The parting was not amicable either, with both sides throwing some serious shade at one another in their separate press releases over the matter.
17 Then Joaquin Phoenix Was Almost Hulk
Joaquin Phoenix has been one of the most interesting movie stars of the modern age, refusing to conform to the more regular aspects of celebrity, and instead, is very private and experimental. He’s had his touches with the blockbuster but he’s never gone fully into it, instead preferring to stick to the more cerebral indie pictures that he usually frequents. According to Canoe, the actor once even considered joining the MCU during the search for a replacement Hulk, but ultimately passed on the matter. He’s even admitted to being fans of the movies in an interview, and just seems happy that everything worked out with Mark Ruffalo taking the part of the Hulk. This wasn’t the last time this would happen either. He was a rumored front-runner for Dr. Strange but turned that down, too.
16 Jensen Ackles Was Almost Hawkeye
Jensen Ackles and his natural charm have bee the main ingredients that have kept Supernatural on television screens for over a decade, but he almost left all of that behind to join up with the Avengers. Ackles was one of the leading contenders for the title role in Captain America against Chris Evans and John Krasinski. But even though he lost out to those two in the decision process, the producers liked the actor and wanted him as a part of their universe. They reportedly offered him the role of Hawkeye to try and tempt him into the franchise, but scheduling commitments to Supernatural prevented him from taking the part. The fact that Supernatural airs on a channel owned by the same company that has the DC rights probably didn’t help matters either.
15 Rachel McAdams Was Almost Pepper Potts
Pepper Potts is one of the integral parts of Tony Stark’s growth as a human being, a capable but humanistic perspective on Iron Man and the growing world around him. She’s been deftly played by Gwyneth Paltrow since the very first film, but that part was actually shopped around before the star took it. Reportedly, producers were intent on another actress originally in the form of Rachel McAdams. According to Cinema Blend, the actress received the script but turned it down, leading to Paltrow taking the spot instead. But McAdams clearly doesn’t bear any ill-will to the MCU, even appearing as Christine Palmer in Dr. Strange. But it’s interesting to wonder what it would have been like to have her in the role instead, especially since it would have been her second on-screen pairing with Downey Jr. after Sherlock Holmes.
14 Emily Blunt (Again) Was Almost Peggy Carter
Man, Emily Blunt just cannot win with these guys. Despite being the internet favorite for Captain Marvel (and reportedly never even being offered the role) and almost playing Black Widow, Blunt was also at one time considered a heavy favorite for the role of Peggy Carter in Captain America.
According to Cinema Blend, she was a heavy favorite for the part after she had to drop out of Iron Man 2, but scheduling conflicts proved to be too difficult for her to make work.
Gulliver’s Travels just kept ruining it for her. Blunt said she’s not comfortable speaking about the parts she almost took though, “…because it’s not fair to the actresses who ended up playing them.” Which is actually a pretty cool thing to do. And to her credit, Hayley Atwell is great as Peggy Carter and her television show is awesome.
13 Mary Elizabeth Winstead Was Almost Maria Hill
Maria Hill has one of the most thankless jobs in the MCU, serving as the right-hand to Nick Fury even after he’s apparently murdered. Cobie Smulders does well with the role (even if she has been somewhat wasted outside of the actual Avengers movies and that bit where she was a great spy in Winter Soldier) but one has to wonder if having another up-and-coming star would have affected that.
According to Comic Book Movie, Mary Elizabeth Winsted was one of the contenders for the role, although she was hesitant about the multi-film contract requirements that come with being in a Marvel movie.
Winstead was ultimately passed over for the role and didn’t seem that broken up about that. She was even considered for the role of Sharron Carter later in the MCU, but this too didn’t come to be.
12 Josh Hartnett Was Almost Loki
Of the initial slate of Marvel films, Thor was probably the biggest risk. A highly personal and mythical story of brothers turned against one another and a God learning of humility and humanity, mixed with space Norse Gods fighting monsters. It was a big movie that only worked because of the humanity that the lead actors were able to bring to their roles. Thor and Loki are two of the most popular heroes, and their casting proved to be spot on. But originally, it didn’t seem like it was going that way. According to Digital Spy, during pre-production, Josh Hartnett was actually considered for the part of Loki, right around the time that Alexander Skarsgard was seen as a potential Thor. And while both are good actors, neither feel like the right fit that Hemsworth and Hiddleston are.
11 The Wasp Was Almost In The Movie As A Team Member
There was a time, during the production of Avengers, where it seemed like those cursed scheduling conflicts were going to keep Scarlett Johansson and Black Widow out of the movies. According to Cinema Blend, to try and work around this possibility, director/writer, Joss Whedon, ended up writing a version of the script that replaced her with another comics hero, Wasp. A founding member of the team in the comics, Whedon apparently went overboard with the character even, having to rein it back in even before Johansson was able to come back to the movie for sure. Wasp would later appear in Ant-Man and get bumped up to the title for the upcoming sequel, though it’s an entirely different character than the one we almost got in Avengers. Superheroes can be confusing sometimes.
10 Alexander Skarsgard Was Almost Thor
Alexander Skarsgard is one of those guys who just looks like he’s a member of the Norse Gods. So it’s no surprise to learn that Skarsgard came incredibly close to winning the part of Thor, away from Chris Hemsworth. Skarsgard went in for multiple auditions with the director, Kenneth Branagh, and felt confident about his chances. Anyone would, considering he was even doing auditions in full costume for Marvel cinematic head, Kevin Feige. According to Looper, Hemsworth ended up winning the part in the end (reportedly due in-part to impressing Joss Whedon), even though Skarsgard was sure he was a shoo-in for the role. In interviews following the casting announcement, Skarsgard has hinted at some bitterness over how everything worked out in the end. No use crying over spilled Gods though.
9 David Duchovny Was Almost Hulk
David Duchovny has been a consistent force on television over the years, thanks to his starring role in shows like X-Files and Californication. But he’s had less success breaking into the greater cinematic world, with many of his movies failing to find broader audiences. But he reportedly came close to being a big part of one of the most successful franchises in cinematic history.
According to Looper, during the casting of The Incredible Hulk, Duchovny was reportedly a surprise favorite for the part.
The role came down to him and Edward Norton, with Marvel deciding ultimately to go with Norton for the part. It’s crazy to imagine a world where Duchovny got the part instead and kept Mark Ruffalo from taking the part instead for Avengers and Ragnarok.
8 Saoirse Ronan Was Almost Scarlet Witch
Saoirse Ronan just shot up in the public consciousness, thanks to the success of Lady Bird, but she had the opportunity to become a bigger player in Hollywood years earlier. According to Hidden Remote, Ronan auditioned for the part of Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and quickly made an impression–so much so that she was reportedly even the apparent favorite of the director, Joss Whedon, who fought for her to take the part. But Ronan ultimately turned down the part for unknown reasons. But that’s not to say Whedon was hesitant about the eventual choice for the role, Elizabeth Olsen. It was a situation where no matter what, Whedon was going to pick a winner for that part, and Olsen has done a solid job in the part of the reality warping Wanda Maximoff.
7 Jim Carrey Was Almost Loki
Yeah. So, when Marvel was first trying to get the ball rolling on the MCU, they needed a minute to try and figure out exactly how they wanted to play the (admittedly pretty silly) concept of Norse Gods from space getting into fistfights. But one of the earliest concepts would have probably taken the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a completely different manner. According to Suggest, Jim Carrey was actually Marvel’s very first pick for the part and they seriously considered him for it, citing the kind of work he’d been able to do just with his physicality. But the direction of the MCU soon changed, taking the film in a different direction and losing Carrey along the way. Considering we got Hiddleston for it instead, it all worked out.
6 Johnny Depp Was Almost Dr. Strange
After the success of the Avengers, Marvel decided to adopt as many of their remaining characters as they could. One of the more successful choices was Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme who becomes one of the biggest heroes of the universe. But trying to cast the actor proved more difficult than Marvel ever expected, especially when their first choice didn’t work out.
According to CBR, Marvel was reportedly very interested in getting Johnny Depp to sign onto the part, but his commitment to the Pirates of the Caribbean films kept him too busy to join the Avengers.
But given the problems he’s been facing publicly in recent years, it’s probably for the better that he didn’t become the mystical hero. But the casting troubles for the part weren’t done there…
5 Nicolas Cage Was Almost Iron Man
As crazy as it is now to imagine a world where the weirdest guy in Hollywood, Nicolas Cage, became the star of the Iron Man franchise. But this was back in the 1990s when Marvel wasn’t anywhere near the level it’s reached today and Nicolas Cage was at the height of his popularity and success.
Cage is a noted comic book nerd, almost even starring in a Superman film with Tim Burton because the ’90s were weird. But when that fell through, Cage looked at other comic properties that were available and actually came pretty close to getting Iron Man.
According to Clipd, Marvel, at the time, was trying to bounce back from bankruptcy and was looking at film as a potential new avenue. But the plans fell through, eventually leading to Blade and not Iron Man to become the first Marvel movie of the time, quickly followed by X-Men and Spider-Man.
4 The Mandarin Was Almost In Iron Man
In the original comics, The Mandarin was probably the biggest recurring threat to Iron Man. While the character was an intimidating and clever threat to the hero, he also has most definitely not aged well. If you need evidence for that, just look at his name. But he’s been such a consistent villain for the character that it’s not surprising to learn that he was originally considered for the villainous role in the first Iron Man. But according to ScreenCrush, after speaking to some of the writers at Marvel (most notably, Mark Millar, the writer who eventually brought us Kick-Ass and Civil War), director Jon Favreau was convinced of the unfortunate implications of having the “Yellow Peril” villain would cause. So instead, the Mandarin was left out until the third movie where he was transformed into a great plot twist instead of being played straight.
3 Jeff Bridges Was Almost Left Alive
One of the overarching complaints about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the overall lack of strong villains. While recent movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther have been better about it, for a lot of fans the only villain worth revisiting from the first couple movies was Loki. According to Digital Spy, we almost had Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane as a recurring threat. The antagonist of the first Iron Man, Bridges eventually gained his own suit (called the Iron Monger) and battled Tony on top of the factory. Eventually, Stane falls into a reactor and is killed by the resulting explosion. But in the original version of the script (at least according to Bridges during an interview), Stane was discovered to have escaped the suit and disappeared. He could have returned to threaten the heroes, which Bridges at least seemed intrigued by.
2 Jessica Chastain Was Almost Maya Hansen
Jessica Chastain has been one of the most interesting stars of the last few years, willing to throw herself into a wide variety of roles and always managing to bring a sense of poise and internal strength.
She’s taken bland parts and turned them into something bigger and better. So, it’s sad that we have yet to see her bring life to a superhero universe.
But she actually ended up just missing the films, and apart in the third Iron Man film. According to Hollywood Reporter, she entered talks with Marvel about assuming the role of Maya Hansen, the inventor of Extremis, ex of Tony Stark, and one of the villains of the film. But talks fell through, and Chastain ended up passing the part by.
1 Maya Hansen Was Almost A Way Bigger Threat
Jessica Chastain may have dodged a bullet though by not being cast as Maya. Rebecca Hall has complained about how the part was changed during the production of the movie, and that the character she signed on to play didn’t end up being the character she played in the movie, according to the Toronto Sun.
As in the comics, Maya was initially much more threatening in her own right and could be considered the main villain of the story. But Marvel balked at the idea of a female villain because they feared that she wouldn’t sell as many toys as a male villain–seriously.
It’s interesting to look at them from that perspective and to imagine how the MCU could have looked if they had made those other casting and story ideas instead.
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