Nick Nolte Was In The Running To Play Superman Until He Told Producers What He'd Do With The Character

Most would agree that Superman is one of the most iconic superheroes in all of pop culture. One of the reasons the character is so visible to the masses is because he’s been portrayed in both live-action movies and TV shows. Plenty of notable stars have brought the Man of Steel to life, from George Reeves and Christopher Reeve to Henry Cavill and Tyler Hoechlin. Some may not know, however, that back in the ‘70s, Nick Nolte was eyed to play the role of beloved DC Comics staple. The veteran actor was apparently given serious consideration, but he lost it after he told the producers exactly what he wanted to do with the imposing do-gooder. 

Nick Nolte was considered for the role of Supes during the development of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (which is streamable using an HBO Max subscription). During an interview, the 81-year-old actor recalled the talks he had with the producers. Though they were interested in him, the actor explained that he threw them off when he shared his own pitch for the hero. Apparently, Nolte asked to incorporate mental illness into the story: 

Oh, they were interested in me but I turned them off by saying that I would only do it if I could play him as a schizophrenic.

That’s definitely one way to play the Last Son of Krypton, and it definitely would’ve been something very “unique” for the superhero genre, especially at that time. But based on the Superman films Richard Donner produced, it’s quite clear that he and his collaborators wanted a take on the character that was more faithful to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s comics. Funny enough though, Nick Nolte went on to say during his interview with Insider that he pitched that unconventional approach for a reason:

That's sabotage. It would have been very strange to play that.

So it sounds like the Oscar nominee tripped himself up on purpose. Perhaps he was hesitant to play the role due to the prospect of wearing the red, blue and yellow suit that Christopher Reeve would later wear. Or it could’ve been that the 48 Hrs. alum didn’t want to risk being locked into a multi-picture contract. Whatever the case, I think most fans are probably glad that it was Reeves who ultimately played Clark Kent

Nick Nolte isn’t even the most unexpected actor to have ever been tapped for Kal-El. Back in the ‘90s, Nicolas Cage was set to play the role in Superman Lives – a DC movie that was to be directed by Batman alum Tim Burton. Over the years, some have been curious as to what the star would’ve brought to the role. But these days, even Cage believes it’s better that the movie didn’t happen, as he sees it as a “win/win because of the power of the imagination.” Plus, he would eventually get to voice the character in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

These days, Henry Cavil is the Man of Steel, as he just returned to the role after a years-long hiatus. He’s indicated there are exciting things planned for Superman’s cinematic future. However, as many of us look to what’s ahead, there will always be those who look back on what could’ve been with stars like Nick Nolte.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.