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Starring in a major Marvel movie seems like a cushy gig. Actually, in some respects, it's an actor's dream. It allows them to appear in immensely popular, instantly recognizable properties, seen and beloved by millions of people around the world. It also means higher awareness of an actor's brand, giving these performers a ton of projects for the foreseeable future. It's steady work with well-rounded characters that's pretty much certified to succeed — both financially and critically. What's not to like? Especially in a fickle business like Hollywood, Marvel is a sure thing.
Well, suffice to say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't for everyone. While it can seem like everyone and their brother has appeared — or tried to appear — in a Marvel movie, there are some folks who have notably missed out or skipped on the opportunity to be at the forefront of a major Marvel film. Opportunities don't always work out. Either someone else lands the job or the actors themselves move on to different projects. In either case, these are just a few of the actors who missed their chance to star in a Marvel movie. At least, for the time being. With so many movies left in store, there's always another coming down the pipeline.
Tom Cruise Could Have Played Tony Stark/Iron Man
It's hard to imagine anyone besides Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. If the studio heads and some of the producers had their way, however, it would've been a totally different actor in the part. Back in 2006-07, when Iron Man was being made and the character wasn't nearly as well-known as he is today outside of comic book stores, the financiers were concerned director Jon Favreau's top choice for the title role, Robert Downey Jr., wasn't a big enough name to adequately sell the picture. Downey Jr. had a troubled past that still haunted him at this point, and there was no guarantee of his commercial success. Therefore, the studio heads were thinking Tom Cruise would be a smarter investment, and the actor was interested in starring and producing.
Ultimately, though, Jon Favreau stuck to his guns and made a convincing case for Robert Downey Jr. to play the part, as his life seemed to mirror the arc and journey the lead character has throughout the inaugural MCU movie. It's not clear how Robert Downey Jr. got picked (Nicolas Cage was also rumored to be interested in playing the part), but no matter the reason, it's clear that the studio nabbed the right choice, as the performance was the spark through which the MCU first caught fire. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise claims he "wasn't close" to playing Tony Stark in an interview, but it's hard to know exactly where talks left off. No matter. While Cruise would've been an interesting, Marvel made the right call.
John Krasinski Could Have Played Steve Rogers/Captain America
In 2011, it was hard to imagine Jim Halpert from The Office becoming one of the biggest action stars on the planet. While John Krasinski has since proven himself in the action genre with his hit Amazon series, Jack Ryan, becoming an action star could have happened sooner, as Krasinski was pretty darn close to getting the part. He even got to wear the Captain America suit, although ultimately Chris Evans won the role. While it's hard to complain with this choice, since Evans gave an impactful performance as America's finest hero, it would have been interesting to see what John Krasinski could have done in this role.
Ultimately, Chris Evans had a leg up on John Krasinski since he was already in comic book movies like Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World before Captain America: The First Avenger threw its shield onto the screen, but Krasinski doesn't sound terribly disappointed with how it turned out. While it was a plushy gig, Krasinski believes he wouldn't have been given a chance to direct A Quiet Place or continue with The Office if he had played Captain America. It's hard to know what would have happened with his career, but I'm happy with how Cap turned out.
Emily Blunt Could Have Played Peggy Carter AND Black Widow
Evidently, Marvel had their sights set on casting Emily Blunt in one of its key roles. The actress was given a chance to play both Peggy Carter and Black Widow, but she ultimately turned down the opportunity to play both roles for two separate reasons. When it came to possibly playing Peggy, the actress ultimately found that scheduling conflicts restricted her from playing the part. Meanwhile, when it came to playing Natasha Romanova, the British actress wasn't interested in being restricted for the next decade-plus. These roles went to Hayley Atwell and Scarlett Johansson, respectively.
Similar to her husband John Krasinski, Emily Blunt has made peace with not appearing in the ever-extensive Marvel Cinematic Universe. She believes the choices she made in lieu of this growing franchise, including A Quiet Place, Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario, and several others were ultimately more befitting of her time and effort, and she holds no resentment about passing up both chances to appear inside this huge universe.
Joaquin Phoenix Could Have Played Doctor Strange
Before Joaquin Phoenix adopted the white face paint to play the Joker, there was a time when the acclaimed actor was considering joining the MCU. During pre-production on Doctor Strange, Phoenix expressed interest in playing the magical superhero. He was even seen inside a comic book store collecting copies of Doctor Strange comics when given some downtime during production on Irrational Man. Alas, there was a good bit of back and forth with the potential Phoenix casting, since the actor was hesitant about signing a multi-picture contract. Unlike Joker, which is currently only a one-picture commitment, it was guaranteed that Joaquin Phoenix would be appearing in several Marvel movies during his time inside the MCU. Ultimately, those restrictions caused him to pass.
Ultimately, it's hard to know what Joaquin Phoenix would've done in this role. Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job in the role, but I don't think he quite stands out among his peers. It can be hard not to compare him to Iron Man/Tony Stark, for instance. Whether or not Phoenix would've been worse or better, he probably would've had a different take on the role, especially given his generally less predictable acting choices. In any case, Phoenix has excelled in several exceptional turns in the past few years, so this is ultimately not a loss for the exceptionally talented actor.
Mel Gibson Could Have Played Odin
While Odin hasn't played a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of 2011's undervalued Thor, he has played a looming presence, most particularly since the role is played by Oscar-winning thespian, Anthony Hopkins. However, the Silence of the Lambs actor was apparently not the first person to be asked to play the part. Apparently, Mel Gibson was also considered for the fatherly role, though the troubled actor/director turned it down.
This would-be casting information came out during an interview Mel Gibson gave for his movie Blood Father with The Guardian. He ultimately didn't disclose why he didn't play the part, though his muted feelings regarding Marvel movies that he reveals earlier in the conversation suggests that they aren't entirely his bag and that Mel Gibson didn't seem to be upset that he ultimately turned down the opportunity to play the recurring supporting character.
Saoirse Ronan Could Have Played Scarlet Witch
There's no denying that Saoirse Ronan is one of the most talented and versatile actresses working in Hollywood today. The Irish actress demonstrates impeccable range and dramatic heft, and the exceptionally bright young talent continues to excel at giving high-quality performances that are wise beyond her years. Nevertheless, there is an alternate timeline where she didn't make movies like Lady Bird and Little Women and instead appeared as Scarlet Witch inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. During the making of Avengers: Age of Ultron, she was offered the part; however, she ultimately declined.
While Elizabeth Olsen does a fine job in the part, it would be interesting to see Saoirse Ronan play this growing character inside the constantly evolving Marvel Cinematic Universe. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, but Saoirse Ronan has certainly proven her talents many times over in many exceptional roles.
Glenn Howerton Could Have Played Peter Quill/Star-Lord
There were ultimately two sitcom stars in the running to play the part of Peter Quill, i.e. Star-Lord. It came down to Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Glenn Howerton. Of the two, it was Chris Pratt who got picked to play the goofball, but Howerton came quite close to getting the part. Especially when you take into account his work on shows like Sunny and A.P. Bio, you can see how he could have fared.
Alas, while Glenn Howerton does some amazing work as Dennis Reynolds in Always Sunny, his persona might've been too prickly compared to Chris Pratt. The actor has a boyish charm that makes him a natural fit for the gig, and he has done some really solid work in the role — notably in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While Howerton would probably have been good too, it does seem like Marvel and James Gunn ultimately made the right call.
Danny DeVito Could Have Played Rocket Raccoon
Apparently, writer/director James Gunn is quite a fan of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. As well he should be, of course. In addition to considering Glenn Howerton for the role of Star-Lord, there were also discussions about possibly casting his Emmy-worthy co-star Danny DeVito as the voice of Rocket Raccoon. Alas, it didn't come together. Perhaps it had something to do with DeVito's New Jersey accent over Rocket's thick New York accent?
It's hard to say, but while Bradley Cooper does a phenomenal job in the role (in my view, it's one of the more underrated MCU performances, as he completely disappears into the role), it's hard to imagine turning down Danny DeVito for any gig, let alone one where he plays a talking space raccoon who wears human clothes. Oh well. Obviously, Guardians of the Galaxy turned into an incredibly successful movie, but you also have to wonder here ...
In addition to these casting opportunities, it's worth noting that Timothee Chalamet was considered for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Amandla Stenberg was sought for Shuri, and Amanda Seyfried almost played Gamora. Each would've been an interesting choice for their respective roles, but you can't test fate. Ultimately, only Doctor Strange would know what possibilities were found in casting anyone over their respective actors. We can only guess.