Seventeen years ago, Bryan Singer's X-Men changed the way we looked at comic book adaptations, as it undid a lot of the damage that Batman & Robin had done to the still growing genre back in 1997. Part of that movie's success is, without a doubt, thanks to Hugh Jackman, who was then an up-and-coming actor that landed the role of a life time: Wolverine. Now, we can't picture anyone else playing the role, but in that pre-watershed era of history, there were others who were considered for the duty of popping claws and screaming out in berserker rage.
Some of the men that were sought after for the role were natural choices, while others are quite off the beaten path. All would have brought something unique to the role, and all 13 are going to be revealed throughout this list. So keep an open mind, and get ready to imagine several different futures past, as the following line-up could be considered Wolverines of alternate timelines.
We'd previously reported that X-Men comic writer Chris Claremont had a specific choice for Wolverine, and his was a rather unconventional, but still badassed choice. He thought that esteemed actor /hard case Bob Hoskins could have been a great Wolvie for the silver screen. Since Claremont wrote the X-Men during the period of 1975 and 1991, we're going to assume that his vision of Hoskins as Wolverine was more inspired by The Long Good Friday and less Super Mario Bros. Which would have been totally sweet, considering his reputation stemming from that film.
Bryan Singer must really like Australian actors, as he reportedly selected Russell Crowe as his original choice to take the part of Wolverine for 2000's X-Men. At least, that's what the trivia on IMDb has to say, and it names a lot of actors that were in the running. Though this potential casting was also mentioned by Hollywood.com, Uproar Comics, and NotStarring.com. Now keep in mind, this was peak Crowe, coming off of the era of L.A. Confidential and The Insider, which saw him go onto play Maximus in Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Of course, seeing as both projects released months apart from each other in 2000, we're to assume Crowe dropped Marvel's pet project for the Oscar-winning juggernaut. But he did win an Oscar, make friends with Ridley, and suggest Hugh Jackman for the role instead of himself. So, while the prospect could have been awesome, it clearly wasn't the end of the world.
X-Men didn't happen overnight, as it was being developed through a good portion of the late '90s at 20th Century Fox. So, with a lot of time, comes a lot of choices, and both NotStarring.com and Uproar Comics have mentioned that rocker Glenn Danzig was one of the big choices the studio had. Of course, this was before a director / producer had been decided on. But, the dealbreaker was naturally the clause in his contract that would have kept him on the set of X-Men for long enough that his touring days would have to be postponed. Which is a shame, because the dude totally could have made Wolverine his own, and might have launched his impressive physique into a slew of action franchises afterwards.
This is probably the first name on this list that'll raise some eyebrows, and stumbling upon his name both on IMDb and Hollywood.com's lists certainly threw us for a loop. It's not that Aaron Eckhart is a bad actor, or that he's a puny mortal. But if we had to choose a factor that didn't work in his favor, despite being a studio favorite, is that he was probably seen as too small for the role of Wolverine. But then again, the comparison of Eckhart to Hugh Jackman is probably what's throwing us off, because other than that factor, his quiet range and physicality should have been a good fit.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Now here's a pick that could have been pretty close to what Hugh Jackman brought to the role of Wolverine, and it's been recorded by Hollywood.com and IMDb. Jean-Claude Van Damme, the "Muscles from Brussels," could have matched the stature of Jackman's peak physique, if not exceeded them. However, if Van Damme was cast for X-Men as 20th Century Fox had wanted, we might have seen a faster moving Wolverine, rather than the brawler that Jackman's incarnation embodied. Also, his accent would have probably had everyone wishing he'd been cast as Gambit anyway, and that would have been amazingly distracting.
When it came to casting Wolverine, Fox had a bit of a wandering eye. And yet, that eye did settle on the man who would be king of Middle-Earth, Viggo Mortensen, just as he was rising in profile and stature. His running for the role has been reported on all four of the lists we've sourced. While he could have made an interesting choice, we have a feeling that he might have been a bit too "quiet" for the studio's tastes, as he really didn't have a lot of action under his belt. Though that certainly didn't stop him from getting cast in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so again, the universe worked things out for the best.
Time for another oddball choice, folks! Also sitting on the 20th Century Fox shortlist was none other than Edward Norton, with Hollywood.com and IMDb listing him in the running, and even NotStarring.com putting him down for both Wolvie and Cyclops. Primal Fear and American History X did a lot of great things for the man's career, and his up-and-comer status probably put him on the list due to his severely fantastic acting chops. But alas, Norton turned down the opportunity to audition, and probably for the same reason we're thinking: there's no way in hell anyone would have bought Edward Norton as Wolverine. You can only imagine someone so jacked before it becomes ridiculous, and Norton probably saw that before anyone else did (even if he would go on to play the Hulk later... sort of).
While Hugh Jackman IS The Wolverine, hearing that Thomas Jane was being considered, at least according to Hollywood.com, to play Logan in Bryan Singer's X-Men is something that just sounds like it could have been magic. With both Deep Blue Sea and Boogie Nights under his belt, the man showed to the world he could rock action moves as easily as he could grow hair. Sadly, unspecified "contract issues" prevented Jane from even trying out for the role, which might have been for the better, because he was one hell of a Punisher.
The oddball parade continues, as IMDb and NotStarring.com have both shown that 20th Century Fox was keen on signing Keanu Reeves to play Wolverine during their massive scrum to put X-Men into production. Again, the same possible problems with Jean-Claude Van Damme would have reared their head with Reeves, as his work on The Matrix probably wowed the executives, but would have inspired a more fast paced "wire fu" approach to Logan's fighting style. Plus, shades of Edward Norton would have shown themselves, as Reeves could only get so jacked before you realized it just wasn't a good fit.
When you see Johnny Depp on a casting list, it's going to be a polarized experience. There's no in-between, as Depp's casting in projects tends to be either spot on brilliant, or just plain loony. In the case of X-Men's Wolverine, you can cue up the circus music, as it would have been absolutely absurd to have cast Johnny Depp as the Canadian mutant. Perhaps the strangest thing about Depp's supposed casting is that NotStarring.com's list seems to be the only one that mentions his candidacy. Though when you think about it, he could have made an interesting pre-Alan Cumming Nightcrawler. So maybe that's how that train got started to begin with.
If there was anyone harder to evaluate than Gary Sinise for the role of Wolverine, we're having a hard time finding them. It shows in the fact that Hollywood.com, IMDb and Uproar Comics all have him named on their lists of Wolverines that could have been, and it's not a terrible fit. On one hand, he would have been a little over a decade older than Hugh Jackman when he first stepped into the role, which wouldn't have lent itself to the longevity that Jackman has had with the role. But on the other hand, we can imagine what Sinise would have looked and sounded like in full, primal rage mode, and it will remain one of history's greatest "what if's."
Now we enter what could be considered the "Hall of Fame" of Wolverine choices. As the casting search wound down, Mel Gibson's name came up in Fox's search for burly fighting men that could don Adamantium claws and wreck shop. And in the case of Gibson, he was featured in a round of concept art that the producers got their hands on, and MovieWeb made public knowledge. But, for one reason or another, Mel's Wolverine was never meant to be. Though considering he also turned down playing Thor's dad, yet somehow has entertained talks to direct Suicide Squad 2, we think that he might be more of a D.C. Comics guy.
Ok, so picture this: you're hand-picked by Tom Cruise to be the villain in Mission: Impossible 2 AND Bryan Singer wants you for his X-Men movie. Pretty sweet line-up, isn't it? At least, it would be, until you're forced to choose between the two posts, which is exactly what happened to Dougray Scott. While Scott was cast as The Wolverine, his time on the Mission: Impossible 2 set was prolonged due to a production overrun. Which lead to Scott unfortunately having to drop the role, allowing some newcomer to pick up the mantle after him. Something tells us he was kicking himself for his decision once X-Men opened to massive acclaim.