Summary

  • Iconic supervillains in Marvel and DC movies have been portrayed by several actors who originally auditioned for superhero roles.
  • Actors like Nicholas Hoult, Tom Hiddleston, and Joe Manganiello were considered for iconic superhero roles but ended up playing supervillains instead.
  • These actors have made their supervillain characters memorable, and have contributed to the success of Marvel and DC’s franchises.

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Several actors who have previously auditioned for superhero roles in Marvel and DC franchises have ended up playing some of the most iconic and threatening supervillains instead. Stories from Marvel and DC Comics have been adapted into live-action for decades, bringing hundreds of varied and exciting characters to life on the big and small screens. Some legendary actors have been cast in these roles, bringing such superheroes such as Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman to life in vivid detail, but no good superhero film can unfold without a powerful and terrifying supervillain, though not all villain actors originally wanted to portray their nefarious roles.

Some of the most iconic live-action supervillains in Marvel and DC movie franchises have been portrayed by actors who were originally considered for the role of a superhero. Among them, Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have been hotly contested, having been three of the longest-lasting superheroes in live-action. The MCU’s Iron Man, Thor, and Star-Lord have also been vied for, as well as Kick-Ass in the self-titled 2010 movie based on the self-contained Marvel Comics character. Luckily, many of these actors helped to make these supervillains some of the most legendary and memorable characters in cinema history, and this is set to continue in Marvel and DC’s futures.

10 Nicholas Hoult Auditioned For Superman

Who He Will Play: Lex Luthor

Nicholas Hoult as Lex Luthor in DCU fan art

DC Studios co-CEO James Gunn announced the development of Superman: Legacy in the DC Universe’s reboot in 2023, starting the race for who would take over from Henry Cavill as Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superman. Nicholas Hoult, star of Skins, Renfield, X-Men: First Class, and The Great, was reportedly one of the top choices to play the Man of Steel, but was outperformed by Hollywood’s David Corenswet. Instead, it was reported by Deadline on November 20 that Nicholas Hoult has been cast as Lex Luthor in Superman: Legacy, Clark Kent’s most persistent enemy. Hoult is set to make his debut appearance as Lex Luthor in Superman: Legacy on July 11, 2025.

Nicholas Hoult was one of the frontrunners to portray Clark Kent in Superman: Legacy, along with David Corenswet and Tom Brittney. Corenswet was officially cast as Superman in June 2023.

9 Tom Hiddleston Auditioned For Thor

Who He Played: Loki

Since 2011’s Thor, Tom Hiddleston has become a household name thanks to his portrayal of Asgardian God of Mischief Loki. This has culminated in him leading Marvel Studios’ Loki on Disney+, and becoming an incredibly powerful god in the MCU. However, English actor Tom Hiddleston originally auditioned for the role of Thor, which was later taken by Chris Hemsworth. Thinking back, it would have been very strange to see Hiddleston as Thor instead of Hemsworth, particularly since the chemistry and dynamic between the pair was fantastic to see develop over their lengthy MCU careers.

8 Joe Mangianello Auditioned For Spider-Man

Who He Played: Flash Thompson

Joe Manganiello as Flash Thompson at school in 2002's Spider-Man

The role of Flash Thompson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man kicked off Joe Manganiello’s professional acting career in 2002. Flash is the high-school bully who routinely picks on Peter Parker, but idolizes Spider-Man, Parker’s superhero alter ego. While Manganiello perfectly portrayed Flash Thompson, he originally auditioned for the role of Parker himself, though was beaten by Tobey Maguire for the role. Manganiello reprised the role of Flash for several years throughout 2004’s Spider-Man 2 and 2007’s Spider-Man 3. Manganiello later screen-tested for the role of Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel, but would go on to portray the DCEU’s Deathstroke instead, as scheduling conflicts made his Man of Steel role impossible.

Eugene “Flash” Thompson was originally portrayed by Joe Manganiello in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, though Chris Zylka would assume the role in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, and Tony Revolori portrayed the character in the MCU’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, Far From Home, and No Way Home.

7 Clancy Brown Auditioned For Superman

Who He Played: Lex Luthor

Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor in Superman's animated series

Between 1996 and 2000, Clancy Brown voiced iconic DC villain Lex Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series, a role which he would later reprise in numerous animated DC projects including 2001’s Justice League series and 2009’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Superman: The Animated Series was developed by Bruce Timm, and while Clancy Brown originally auditioned for the role of Clark Kent’s Superman, Timm felt his recognizable voice was better suited to the villainous Lex Luthor. Tim Daly voiced Superman instead, while Brown’s voice turned Luthor into a villain with a combination of menacing bruteness and charming manipulation.

6 Cillian Murphy Auditioned For Batman

Who He Played: Scarecrow

When developing his 2005 Batman Begins reboot, Christopher Nolan approached Irish actor Cillian Murphy to audition for the main role of Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman. Murphy noted that he didn’t imagine himself having the physique of a superhero, but auditioned nonetheless to connect with Nolan, an admired filmmaker. While the lead role instead went to Christian Bale, Murphy was cast as the recurring villain Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. Scarecrow. Murphy fully embodied this sinister role, making Scarecrow one of the most persistent thorns in the side of Batman, as he returned in 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.

5 Christopher Mintz-Plasse Auditioned For Kick-Ass

Who He Played: Red Mist

Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D'Amico in Kick-Ass

Although not directly tied to any expansive Marvel franchise such as the MCU or SSU, 2010’s Kick-Ass was based on Marvel Comics’ Kick-Ass: The Dave Lizewski Years, which ran between 2008 and 2014. The titular role of Dave Lizewski, a.k.a. Kick-Ass, ended up going to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse actually auditioned for the lead role before being cast as the film’s villain, Chris D’Amico, a.k.a. Red Mist, who became the Mother F*cker in the 2013 sequel. Mintz-Plasse initially doubted his role as a villain in the Kick-Ass franchise, but his portrayal of the awkward and egotistical younger D’Amico was brilliant.

4 Heath Ledger Was Approached For Batman

Who He Played: The Joker

Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Dark Knight’s Joker is widely regarded as one of the strongest iterations of the character in cinema history. Ledger delivered a sinister, menacing, and captivating performance as the Joker, earning him a number of posthumous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. While it’s hard to imagine Ledger in any other role, he was originally approached by Christopher Nolan to audition for the role of Bruce Wayne back during the development of Batman Begins. Ledger was reluctant to join a superhero franchise, but after watching Batman Begins and seeing its success, he lobbied hard for the role of the Joker in the sequel.

The Joker has been portrayed in live-action by a number of high-profile actors over the years. These include Cesar Romero in the 1960s Batman series and 1966’s Batman, Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman, Roger Stoneburner in 2002’s Birds of Prey series, Heath Ledger in 2008’s The Dark Knight, Jared Leto in the DCEU, Nathan Dashwood in 2019’s Batwoman, Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker and its upcoming sequel Joker: Folie á Deux, and Barry Keoghan in 2022’s The Batman.

3 Lee Pace Auditioned For Star-Lord

Who He Played: Ronan The Accuser

Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser with the Power Stone in Guardians of the Galaxy

Prior to portraying Power-Stone-empowered Kree Ronan in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Lee Pace of The Hobbit, Pushing Daisies, and Foundation fame actually auditioned for the role of Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord. James Gunn and Marvel Studios casting directors were so impressed with Pace’s audition that they cast him as the Guardians of the Galaxy’s powerful villain, with Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt taking the role of Star-Lord instead. Pace reprised the role of Ronan the Accuser in the 1995-set Captain Marvel, revealing a little more about the character’s backstory, though it’s unclear whether Pace will return as Ronan in any future MCU projects.

2 James Franco Auditioned For Spider-Man

Who He Played: Harry Osborn

James Franco's Harry Osborn as the New Goblin in Spider-Man 3

During the development of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, which released in 2002 and saw Tobey Maguire portray the first mainstream version of Peter Parker in live-action, James Franco screen-tested for the titular wall-crawler before being cast as minor antagonist Harry Osborn. In Spider-Man, Osborn was Parker’s best friend and competition for the attention of Mary Jane Watson, but after his father’s death, Osborn was started on a villainous path in Spider-Man’s two sequels. Spider-Man 2 saw Harry become Oscorp’s CEO, while Spider-Man 3 completed his transformation into the New Goblin, though he would meet his demise at the end of the 2007 film.

1 Sam Rockwell Auditioned For Iron Man

Who He Played: Justin Hammer

Despite only having appeared in one MCU project so far, Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer certainly made his mark, becoming one of the most memorable villains to face Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. Rockwell had been on the shortlist of actors for Tony Stark in the MCU’s first project, 2008’s Iron Man, but was instead cast as Justin Hammer, Stark’s business rival who uses Ivan Vanko in 2010’s Iron Man 2 to try and bring down Tony Stark. There is speculation that Rockwell could return as Justin Hammer in the MCU’s future, setting him up to be one of the longest-running villains in any Marvel or DC franchise.

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