Summary

  • Early Marvel projects featured potential casting choices like Angela Bassett, Robert Downey Jr. and Idris Elba for various superhero roles.
  • Many actors considered for unproduced Marvel projects later became stars in the MCU and other Marvel-related superhero franchises.
  • Seeing the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Jamie Foxx and Sigourney Weaver portray different Marvel characters would have changed the MCU significantly.

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Several actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were almost cast in very different roles in previous Marvel projects that went unproduced or were canceled. Marvel Comics (originally Timely Comics) began producing stories in 1939 with the debuts of the Human Torch android, Namor and Captain America, and soon after, these began to be developed into live-action projects. This started in 1944 with the release of Republic Pictures’ Captain America serials, while Marvel’s first live-action feature, Howard the Duck, released in 1986. Since then, Marvel’s live-action media has grown exponentially, but many potential Marvel projects have been canceled or left unproduced.

Marvel’s wide array of unproduced projects range from those featuring the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, to those in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise, including further X-Men Origins installments and a crossover with Fox’s Daredevil and Fantastic Four franchises. While some of these projects are likely better off never making it to theaters, many of them would have potentially featured actors who went on to have starring roles in the MCU and other Marvel superhero franchises. These roles would have altered many superhero careers long before the MCU existed, and therefore changed the shape of contemporary superhero cinema significantly.

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10 Angela Bassett Almost Played Storm In 1989’s Wolverine & The X-Men Movie

Angela Bassett Debuted As Queen Ramonda In Black Panther (2018)

Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda in Wakandan headdress in Black Panther Wakanda Forever

Angela Bassett debuted in the MCU’s Black Panther as Queen Ramonda, T’Challa and Shuri’s mother, and reappeared as the Wakandan royal in Avengers: Endgame and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Long before she joined the MCU, however, Bassett was considered to portray Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. the mutant Storm, in Wolverine and the X-Men. This 1989 project was set to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow, produced by James Cameron and written by Gary Goldman, with Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s Bob Hoskins as Wolverine. Bassett certainly had the screen presence to portray the powerful Storm, but this dream casting never came to fruition.

Angela Bassett was also the first choice for Storm when production was underway for 2000’s X-Men, but the role eventually went to Halle Berry.

9 Stan Lee Wanted To Play J. Jonah Jameson In A 1980s Spider-Man Movie

Stan Lee Made Many Cameo Appearances In The MCU & Other Marvel Franchises

During the 1980s, Marvel Comics figurehead Stan Lee pushed for a live-action adaptation of Peter Parker’s origin story as Spider-Man, and while this project would have seriously altered Parker’s story from the comics, there was some buzz surrounding its production. Invasion USA director Joseph Zito was attached to direct the project, and Stan Lee himself wanted to portray J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle. This casting may have been inspired, but would have made it difficult for Lee to cameo in various subsequent Marvel projects, altering one of the best MCU traditions long before the franchise began.

8 2004’s Deathlok Director Wanted Robert Downey Jr. For The Lead Role

Robert Downey Jr. Debuted As Tony Stark’s Iron Man In Iron Man (2008)

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark's Iron Man in his Iron Man costume

When a 1990s Deathlok movie didn’t pan out, Paramount Pictures bought the rights to the mechanical Marvel Comics character, and began production on a new project. This had Sherlock and Luke Cage director Paul McGuigan attached, who revealed in a 2009 Gizmodo interview that he had eyed Robert Downey Jr. for the titular role. Deathlok was later adapted for J. August Richards’ Mike Peterson in Marvel Television’s Agents of SHIELD, while Downey Jr. went on to spearhead the MCU as Tony Stark’s Iron Man, but this may not have been possible had he starred as Deathlok only four years prior.

McGuigan had envisioned Robert Downey Jr. for [Deathlok], which would have been a very different role than Tony Stark.

7 X-Men’s Toad Actor, Ray Park, Almost Played Iron Fist In The 2000s

Ray Park Appeared As Toad In X-Men (2000)

Ray Park as Toad with his tongue out in 2000's X-Men

Prior to the development of the MCU, Marvel Studios worked alongside Artisan Entertainment to produce a live-action movie focused on Marvel Comics’ Iron Fist. Back in 2001, as reported by Variety, Ray Park was hired as the titular mystical superhero, following his previous appearance as Toad in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men in 2000. This would have seen Park take on a much larger role than his appearance in X-Men, and would have introduced the Immortal Iron Fist to audiences long before Finn Jones assumed the role in Marvel Television’s Defenders Saga. This project saw multiple delays, and was eventually shelved.

6 Bruce Campbell Was Going To Be Revealed As Mysterio In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4

Bruce Campbell Appeared As Pizza Poppa In Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (2022)

Bruce Campbell's cameo as Pizza Poppa in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Bruce Campbell has been a regular collaborator with director Sam Raimi since the pair worked on the short films It’s Murder! and Within the Woods together, though this really began with the release of 1981’s The Evil Dead. Campbell made cameo appearances in each of Raimi’s Spider-Man projects, and was set to reappear in Spider-Man 4, where he would’ve been unveiled as the villainous master of illusion Mysterio (via Gizmodo). After Spider-Man 4 was scrapped to make room for Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, Campbell reappeared as Pizza Poppa in the Sam Raimi-directed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

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5 Laurence Fishburne Was Almost Luke Cage In A Quentin Tarantino Movie

Laurence Fishburne Debuted As Bill Foster In Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018)

Laurence Fishburne as Bill Foster looking worried in Ant-Man and the Wasp

1991 saw acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino begin work on a project focused on Marvel Comics’ Luke Cage, the hero of Harlem with unbreakable skin. This project would have starred Laurence Fishburne in the titular role, as noted by Tarantino during an interview with MTV (via Screen Rant). Not much is known about Tarantino’s plans for Luke Cage, as he departed to focus on Pulp Fiction, but seeing Fishburne in the role years before joining Ant-Man and the Wasp as Bill Foster would have been fantastic. Fisburne’s role expanded with 2023’s What If…?, however, so his MCU future does seem bright.

After ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ I had considered doing a ‘Luke Cage, Hero for Hire’ movie. [Producer] Ed Pressman owned the rights at that time, and we talked about it. I talked to [Laurence Fishburne] about being Luke Cage, and he really liked that idea. Then I ended up writing ‘Pulp Fiction.’

4 Jamie Foxx Wanted To Portray Luke Cage In John Singleton’s Movie

Jamie Foxx Appeared As Max Dillon’s Electro In The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) & Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon's Electro with a new look in Spider-Man No Way Home

After Tarantino’s departure from the Luke Cage project, a different adaptation of the character’s Marvel Comics stories went into production with Boyz n the Hood and 2 Fast 2 Furious director John Singleton attached. Several actors, including Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne Johnson and Isaiah Mustafa expressed interest in the role, but Jamie Foxx revealed to IGN in 2014 that he’d been approached about playing Luke Cage. While this didn’t pan out in the 2000s, Foxx went on to appear as Max Dillon, a.k.a. Electro, in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and made his MCU debut in 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.

3 Idris Elba Was Also Almost Luke Cage After Tarantino’s Departure

Idris Elba Debuted As Heimdall In Thor (2011)

Along with several other actors, English actor Idris Elba expressed interest in portraying Luke Cage in John Singleton’s project (via Comicbook.com). This would have brought huge star-power to the role, as Elba achieved international acclaim after starring as Stringer Bell in HBO’s The Wire between 2002 and 2004. While Elba’s casting as Luke Cage didn’t occur, the actor went on to debut as Heimdall, the all-seeing Asgardian God, in 2011’s Thor, and returned in Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Thor: Love and Thunder, which created the opportunity for Heimdall’s MCU return.

I think, you know, someone like Luke Cage, he’s a normal man that has an extraordinary ability. I think that works for me. I think that could get pretty dark and pretty sexy.

2 James Franco Was Almost Multiple Man After Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy

James Franco Appeared As Harry Osborn In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007)

James Franco as Harry Osborn looking worried in the Spider-Man trilogy

James Franco had a major role in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy in the early 2000s as Harry Osborn, the best friend to Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, and son of Willem Dafoe’s villainous Norman Osborn. In 2017, however, according to Deadline, James Franco was set to star in a 20th Century Fox-produced Multiple Man project, reinventing Marvel Comics’ mutant Jamie Madrox after Eric Dane portrayed the character in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. This seems to suggest that Franco is still up for a role in a superhero franchise, though this likely won’t be as the MCU’s Multiple Man.

1 Emma Frost Was Intended For Sigourney Weaver In Bryan Singer’s X-Men 3

Sigourney Weaver Appeared As Alexandra Reid In The Defenders (2017)

Back in 2004, Bryan Singer, who had directed Fox’s X-Men and X2, departed the production of the then-called X-Men 3, which transformed into X-Men: The Last Stand under the direction of Brett Ratner. Prior to his departure, however, Singer revealed that the mutant Emma Frost would have appeared in X-Men 3, and this role was intended for Sigourney Weaver (via SuperheroHype). Acclaimed actor Sigourney Weaver would have been the perfect choice for Emma Frost back in the 2000s, as proven by her eventual Marvel Cinematic Universe role of Alexandra Reid, the leader of the Hand, in Marvel Television’s The Defenders.​​​​​​​

We were going to do X-Men 3 for a little while and our big secret or coup was – and it’s not going to happen so it’s OK – we wanted to have a character that was Emma Frost, a famous X-Men character. She’s called the White Queen. We were going to ask Sigourney to be it. She was an empath in our version of the movie which means she could control people’s emotions.

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