While superhero films have jump-started many aspiring actors' careers, not everyone the filmmakers asked were interested in the attention accepting such a role would lead to. Plenty of actors have admitted they were intimidated by taking on a superhero role. After all, with huge fandom comes enormous pressure to please the most critical of fans.
Another factor is the idea of returning to the same role for years. Having a steady income and job security might sound attractive to some, but to others that translates into a fear of typecasting and a lack of time for passion projects. The following 20 actors and actresses all turned down at least one role in a superhero movie— some still have no desire to star in them, others regretted it almost immediately.
20 Jake Gyllenhaal (Rick Flagg)
According to Variety, Gyllenhaal was offered the part of Rick Flag, the leader of the superhero team in Warner Bros.’s Suicide Squad movie, after original cast member Tom Hardy dropped out. While the studio seemed eager to get Gyllenhaal on board, the actor — who never commented on his possible participation in the movie — ended up passing on the role. Joel Kinnaman was eventually cast as a replacement for Hardy.
19 Will Smith (Superman)
Will Smith was offered the role of the Man of Steel in Superman Returns. After all, he was one of the biggest stars in the world at the time. He rejected the role because he received so much backlash for playing the traditionally white hero in Wild, Wild West, leaving him with zero interest in playing an even more iconic white character.
18 Joaquin Phoenix (Doctor Strange)
Joaquin Phoenix almost landed the part of Doctor Strange. He was in the final negotiations for the role, when, at the last minute, those negotiations fell apart and Benedict Cumberbatch got cast as the mystical superhero. During an interview, when asked what really happened, Phoenix's response was rather vague and elusive: "I think everybody was really happy with how things turned out. All parties were satisfied."
17 Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Star-Lord)
Since Warner Bros and Christopher Nolan decided not to spin off the Dark Knight trilogy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was free to search for new comic book movie roles. It came down to a choice between the lead roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For. Gordon-Levitt went for the disappointing sequel rather than the surprise blockbuster.
16 Jon Hamm (Green Lantern)
Plenty of fans want to see Jon Hamm as Batman. In an interview with Graham Bensinger, Hamm has expressed a willingness to play Batman if asked, but in the past, he's been less keen on playing superheroes. He's rejected at least two superhero roles in the past. While one role is a secret, it's confirmed the other was Hal Jordan in Green Lantern.
15 Heath Ledger (Batman)
Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight is nothing short of legendary, but he could have been the hero instead of the villain! Nolan said Ledger was on his list of actors to play Batman in Batman Begins. However, Ledger expressed zero interested in starring in a superhero film. After watching Batman Begins, Ledger realized he'd made a mistake and immediately contacted Nolan about playing the Joker.
14 Tom Cruise (Iron Man)
Tom Cruise had been attached to play Tony Stark/Iron Man ever since the late '90s when Fox held the rights to the movie. When the rights reverted to Marvel, Kevin Feige mentioned Cruise as under consideration for the role, and Marvel did approach Cruise when they decided to make Iron Man, the first movie in its cinematic universe. However, Cruise had reportedly changed his mind and turned down the offer.
13 Dougray Scott (Wolverine)
Russell Crowe recommended Scott to Bryan Singer for the role of Wolverine in the first X-Men film. Fox President Tom Rothman praised Scott in a press release, claiming "Dougray has the charisma, the physicality, and the intensity." However, Tom Cruise had personally picked Dougray to play the villain in Mission: Impossible 2, which kept running into production difficulties and delays - leaving Hugh Jackman to be cast as a replacement Wolverine.
12 Matt Damon (Daredevil)
Matt Damon rejected the offer to play Daredevil in the 2003 movie because he was a fan of the comics and the movie wasn't living up to his standards. He wasn't a fan of the script, and the director was an unknown, so he backed away. His friend and Good Will Hunting screenwriting partner Ben Affleck didn't have such concerns... which he would later come to regret.
11 Mel Gibson (Odin)
Mel Gibson was apparently very supportive of Robert Downey Jr. during dark times, and the casting people might have thought Gibson could achieve a similar return to stardom like Downey did. It's gotta be said that Marvel really dodged a bullet when Mel Gibson rejected the offer to play Odin in Thor though.
10 Amandla Stenberg (Shuri)
Amandla Stenberg was in consideration for the role of Shuri in Black Panther. She turned down the offer, saying she felt the role of an African princess with darker-skinned family members would be better served by a darker-skinned actress. She told Vanity Fair, "That was 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."
9 Jessica Chastain (Wasp)
A reason Jessica Chastain reportedly turned down the role of Wasp in Ant-Man because it was, ahem, so tiny - especially in Edgar Wright's early script. There's a lesson filmmakers can learn from this casting rejection story: If you want a big-name star to play your superhero, maybe don't save all of said hero's action scenes for the sequel!
8 Kate Beckinsale (Wonder Woman)
Kate Beckinsale was worried a Wonder Woman flop would be embarrassing to her children. It's unclear which incarnation of the Wonder Woman movie Beckinsale was offered to star in— whether it was the controversial Joss Whedon script or some other rejected version. It's doubtful that it was Patty Jenkins' movie, as Beckinsale said; "the incarnations that I was seeing were... they weren't this one", referring to the final result.
7 Pierce Brosnan (Batman)
Pierce Brosnan was almost Batman in the 1989 film! The actor revealed in a 2014 Reddit AMA that Tim Burton met with him about the role. His excuse for turning it down was; "I just couldn't really take a man who wears his underpants outside his pants seriously." Today, he admits he was wrong in his skepticism about Batman and says he was a big fan of the character growing up.
6 Leonardo DiCaprio (Spider-Man & Robin)
In the '90s, Leonardo DiCaprio would frequently find himself meeting for roles he had zero interest in early in his career. He met with Joel Schumacher about playing Robin in Batman Forever, and with James Cameron for his Spider-Man movie that never got made. DiCaprio has said that at the time he didn't feel ready for franchise roles, though he's open to playing a superhero in the future.
5 Emily Blunt (Black Widow & Peggy Carter)
Marvel Studios really wanted Emily Blunt to take part in the MCU. Emily Blunt, in contrast, was less enthused about it. She turned down offers to play both Black Widow and Peggy Carter, instead choosing the 2010 Gulliver's Travels movie. Blunt told IndieWire that if she had accepted a major MCU role; "I don’t think I would have been able to do a lot of projects that I’ve loved doing."
4 Paul Newman (Superman, Lex Luthor, And Jor-El)
The initial casting goal for Richard Donner's 1978 Superman movie was to get a big name star for the lead role. The decision to cast the unknown Christopher Reeve was due to many bigger names turning the part down. Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Redford all declined. Paul Newman didn't just reject the offer to play Superman though - he rejected to play anyone in the movie!
3 Josh Hartnett (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man)
Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are arguably the most famous superheroes, and Josh Hartnett has turned down the chance to star in all three. He was offered the chance to star in Superman Returns, Batman Begins, and Spider-Man, but didn't want to commit to sequels and feared being typecast for the rest of his career. He's later admitted to regretting turning down Batman after seeing how Christian Bale handled it.
2 Matthew McConaughey (Guardians Of The Galaxy Villain)
McConaughey is one of the few remaining A-list actors in Hollywood to resist joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As revealed by Variety, Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn wanted McConaughey to take on the role of a new villain in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. But ultimately, Gunn had to make do without him as McConaughey passed on the role— although it wasn’t specified why.
1 Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (John Wraith)
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was one of the biggest stars in MMA, which translated into Hollywood offers; in 2010, Jackson accepted the part of B.A. Baracus in The A-Team. However, the previous year, he turned down the part of John Wraith, a teleporting mutant who runs a boxing club in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Jackson was preparing for an upcoming fight at the time and the role went to Will.I.Am.
Sources: Cheatsheet, Looper, Imdb