Would you turn down the chance to play a superhero in a movie? I know I probably wouldn’t (can you imagine the money?!), but there are plenty of very good actors that have. There are many reasons someone could do something like this: they don’t like the script, they’re not a fan of superheroes, they’re busy working on another movie, etc.
Here are 14 actors who refused to play superheroes!
Joaquin Phoenix (Doctor Strange)
Joaquin Phoenix is acting as the Joker now, but back in the day he actually turned down the role of Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It all turned out great for us (the fans), because we got Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, but in a parallel universe that role was played by Joaquin Phoenix. The reason he turned down the role hasn’t been made public, but according to Joaquin himself, everyone involved with the negotiations ended up being happy with the end result.
Jon Hamm (Green Lantern)
When Christian Bale retired from being Bruce Wayne, the speculations about who’d play the next Batman started. I didn’t really care, but when someone suggested Jon Hamm I started paying attention! Hamm himself has said that he’d be happy to act as the caped crusader, but he also revealed that in the past he’s been less enthusiastic about playing superheroes. As a matter of fact, he turned down the role of Green Lantern! I don’t blame him. I bet his agents could feel that the movie would be a catastrophe, and that Hamm’s career wouldn’t survive the blow. He doesn’t have the same level of self-irony as Ryan Reynolds.
Tom Cruise (Iron Man)
What is it with short people being offered the role of Tony Stark? I mean, I can’t possibly imagine Tom Cruise in the role of Iron Man, but turns out he got offered the role and turned it down. He even said yes at first, but then changed his mind. And that’s how we got the absolute perfect Tony Stark by way of RDJ being cast for the role.
Matt Damon (Daredevil)
In 2003 Matt Damon chose not to play Daredevil because he was a big fan of the movie and the script for the film didn’t live up to his high expectations. But Ben Affleck didn’t turn the role down. In the end, the movie was kinda disappointing (by no fault of Ben, who was great!).
Amandla Stenberg (Shuri)
Some actor’s reasons for turning down roles are very socially-conscious. For example Amandla Stenberg turned down the role of Princes Shuri in Black Panther because she felt that the role should go to someone who has darker skin. She later told Vanity Fair that it was a “really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets. I recognize 100 percent that there are spaces that I should not take up.”
Kate Beckinsale (Wonder Woman)
Kate Beckinsale was worried that Wonder Woman would be a box office flop. BOY was she wrong about that. Can you imagine the level of regret she feels now that Wonder Woman is a huge hit and Gal Gadot will forever be associated with the Amazon Princess? However, when the rumors of this rejection surfaced, it wasn’t clear whether she turned down the role in Joss Whedon’s version of the movie or Patty Jenkins’ movie. In a later interview she clarified that the scripts that she got to see were very different from how the final movie turned out.
Leonardo DiCaprio (Spider-Man & Robin)
In the 90s Leo turned down quite a few roles in superhero movies. This included Robin in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (terribly camp movie), as well as James Cameron’s Spider-Man movie (which ended up never being made). DiCaprio said that he didn’t feel like he was ready for franchise roles, but I can’t help but wonder — would that kind of exposure in the 90s helped him score an Oscar earlier in his career?
Jake Gyllenhaal (Rick Flagg)
We’ve all seen Gyllenhaal in Spider-Man, but before that he turned down the role of Rick Flagg in the first Suicide Squad movie. Good. I like reading stories about great actors turning down roles in terrible movies.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Star-Lord)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt already has some experience playing superheroes. He played the Robin-to-be in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and when Nolan announced that there would be no spinoff movies, casting agents started reaching out to Joseph for roles in other superhero movies. He ended up turning down playing Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy in favor of Sin City 2 (a movie that even I didn’t go see, despite being a huge fan of the first Sin City movie and the original comic books).
Emily Blunt (Black Widow & Peggy Carter)
Here’s someone who turned down not just one, but two roles in the MCU. Emily Blunt was very unenthusiastic about being an MCU character and turned out the roles of both Black Widow and Peggy Carter. Now, mind you, this is at a time when it was already absolutely clear that every single MCU movie was going to be a huge hit. Instead, she chose to star in the 2010 movie Gulliver’s Travels.
Mel Gibson (Odin)
To be honest, Mel Gibson would have made a great Odin. I don’t like him as a person (because of… well… his behavior), but he really has a face cut out to play an old god, the father of Thor, and king of all Asgard.
Will Smith (Superman)
Will Smith turned down a role in Superman Returns because he’s already gotten a lot of backlash for his role in Wild, Wild West. Back in those days it was a huge “scandal” that he played a role that was traditionally supposed to be given to a white actor. Since then, he avoids those kinds of career decisions.
Heath Ledger (Batman)
That’s right. The world’s most iconic Joker originally turned down the chance to play Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. When he saw how good Batman Begins turned out, he contacted Nolan to ask for a role in his next movie, and ended up being cast as the Joker — a role that he absolutely nailed.
Matthew McConaughey (Guardians Of The Galaxy Villain)
Matthew McConaughey was supposed to play the villain in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. However, he turned down the role in favor of playing the villain in Dark Tower. Seems to me like he made the right choice as an actor who’s always going after roles that are more challenging and allow more room for experimentation and creative approaches in acting.