Summary

  • Jonathan Majors’ firing as Kang has sparked speculation about the future of the MCU, highlighting the volatility of superhero movie casting in 2023.
  • Steven Yeun’s departure from Thunderbolts reminds us that many first choices drop out of superhero movie roles, leaving room for new actors to step in.
  • Iconic roles like Wolverine and the Riddler had different actors initially cast, but last-minute changes resulted in Hugh Jackman and Jim Carrey giving memorable performances instead.

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Several superhero movies have had to make drastic cast changes late into pre-production. Some of the most iconic superhero actors were surprisingly late additions to their respective projects, stepping into a role after the previous actor unexpectedly left. No franchise has been safe from this phenomenon, with characters from the DC Universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and beyond being very late additions to successful superhero movies.

Several issues regarding superhero movie casting have rocked the genre in 2023. Jonathan Majors being fired as Kang has prompted speculation over the future of the MCU, while the DCU reboot has already cast its newest Superman for Superman: Legacy. Following Steven Yeun’s departure from Thunderbolts, it’s worth remembering that many first choices dropped out of roles in superhero movies.

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8 Steven Yeun Will No Longer Be Playing The MCU’s Sentry

Thunderbolt’s (2025)

Glenn sitting on a chair holding a guitar in The Walking Dead

Steven Yeun has officially left the MCU’s 2025 Thunderbolts. Yeun was slated to play the superhero Sentry, a character often regarded as Marvel Comics’ equivalent to Superman. Yeun received widespread popularity after his role in The Walking Dead franchise, which had prompted much excitement for his MCU debut. However, the actor’s busy schedule meant he had to depart the role.

Thunderbolts was one of many movies delayed by the SAG-AFTRA strikes, and once rescheduled, it did not match Yeun’s availability. Steven Yeun has addressed leaving Thunderbolts, noting that he would still be interested in joining the MCU in the future. Meanwhile, speculation has soared over who could replace Yeun in Thunderbolts.

7 Dougray Scott Was Supposed To Play Wolverine

X-Men (2000)

An injured Dougray Scott in the day of the Triffids

X-Men

Release Date
July 14, 2000

Director
Bryan Singer

Runtime
104 Minutes

It’s hard to imagine anybody other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine. Jackman has become synonymous with the role and has played him for a total of 24 years. However, another actor was originally cast in the role. Dougray Scott was originally cast to play Wolverine, but several weeks into production, Scott was still filming Mission: Impossible 2. Scott was playing the villain in the Mission Impossible Sequel, which had faced several delays, including Scott suffering a shoulder injury after a motorcycle accident (via Variety).

Faced with contractual obligations to complete Mission: Impossible 2, Scott was forced to withdraw from X-Men. This pivotal decision led to the casting of Hugh Jackman weeks into production. While the circumstances were disappointing for Scott, Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine garnered widespread acclaim, solidifying his place in the X-Men franchise and shaping the character for years to come. Scott’s departure remains a notable “what-if” moment in the history of superhero cinema.

6 Robin Williams Was In Talks To Play The Riddler

Batman Forever (1995)

Acting legend Robin Williams was in serious talks to portray the Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. Robin Williams was previously considered for the Joker, and after losing that to Jack Nicholson, was enthusiastic about joining Warner Bros. for the third Batman movie. However, Williams and the studio could not reach an agreement on compensation and the character’s creative direction.

Williams was reportedly concerned that Schumacher’s Riddler was too intellectual and not as comedic as the Riddler played by Frank Gorshin in the Batman & Robin television series. Some reports also claim that Williams was worried his villain would be overshadowed by Two-Face after Tommy Lee Jones was cast in the role. Jim Carrey was ultimately cast in the role, which ended up bearing Carrey’s signature comedic and goofy style anyway.

5 Katie Holmes Did Not Return As Rachel Dawes

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight

Release Date
July 18, 2008

Cast
Nestor Carbonell , Morgan Freeman , Ritchie Coster , Cillian Murphy , Chin Han , Gary Oldman , Eric Roberts , William Fichtner , Aaron Eckhart , Maggie Gyllenhaal , Christian Bale , David Dastmalchian , Michael Caine , Anthony Michael Hall , Heath Ledger

Runtime
152 Minutes

Katie Holmes starred in the first movie in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy as Batman’s love interest, Rachel Dawes. Holmes’ performance in Batman Begins was met with mixed reviews, but regardless, she was scheduled to appear in the sequel, The Dark Knight. Instead, Holmes decided not to reprise the role due to her desire to explore other professional opportunities. Maggie Gyllenhaal took over the role instead, delivering a very compelling portrayal in a movie brimming with iconic performances.

Such casting changes can often lead to friction, but Nolan was reportedly very understanding, and Holmes departed the role amicably. Holmes chose instead to star in the ill-fated Mad Money, alongside Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah. Ultimately, Holmes’ departure from the trilogy showcased the dynamic nature of casting choices in the movie industry, leaving an indelible mark on the evolution of Rachel Dawes in the cinematic Batman universe.

4 Annette Bening Dropped Out As Catwoman

Batman Returns (1992)

Annette Bening was supposed to play Catwoman in the iconic Batman Returns but had to pull out when she became pregnant. Producer Denise Di Novi noted that Bening’s departure initially caused some concerns, as the movie was so far into pre-production that the costume and mask had been fitted to Bening (via Insider). Pfeiffer was instead cast in the role, but at such a late stage that many of the costumes couldn’t be altered.

While Bening’s departure was a disappointment for her and the production team, Pfeiffer’s performance as Catwoman received widespread acclaim, greatly contributing to the movie’s success. Bening continued her successful acting career, finally making her superhero villain debut as Mar-Vell in Captain Marvel. While Batman Returns remains a vital entry in Batman’s cinematic legacy, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman became an iconic cinematic portrayal and one of the most memorable aspects of the movie.

3 Emily Blunt Was The First Choice For Black Widow

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Emily Blunt wounded in Edge of Tomorrow

Iron Man 2

Release Date
May 7, 2010

Runtime
124 minutes

Emily Blunt was the first choice to play Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but was forced to drop out following contractual obligations. After Blunt appeared in The Devil Wear Prada, Blunt was contracted to appear in another movie by Fox. Fox wanted Blunt to star opposite Jack Black in Gulliver’s Travels and enacted this contracted clause. The decision was made as Emily Blunt was negotiating the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2.

Blunt’s team worked to facilitate both roles, but ultimately the schedules would not fit. Blunt was forced to step away from the role, and Scarlett Johansson was cast instead. Emily Blunt addressed the situation years later, noting that she was hoping to work with Robert Downey Jr. – which she would later do in Oppenheimer. Johansson, on the other hand, was triumphant in the role and would play Black Widow in eight MCU movies.

2 Stuart Townsend Was Replaced As Fandral In Days Before Thor’s Production Started

Thor (2011)

stuart townsend as the vampire lestat in Queen of the Damned close-up

Thor

Release Date
May 6, 2011

Runtime
115 minutes

Casting Fandral in Thor proved to be a difficult task. The swashbuckling member of the Warriors Three was originally meant to be played by Zachary Levi, who had to leave the role due to a scheduling conflict. Stuart Townsend, known for Queen of the Damned and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, was then cast as Fendral. However, Townsend left the role just days before filming on Thor was scheduled to start (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Reports claim that creative differences led to Townsend leaving Thor, with no further details proffered. Fandral was instead played by Joshua Dallas. Interestingly, Dallas was unavailable for the sequel, Thor: Dark World, and Zachary Levi finally assumed the role – also reprising it in Thor: Ragnarok.

1 Joaquin Phoenix Was In Talks To Play Doctor Strange For Months

Doctor Strange (2016)

Joaquin Phoenix wearing a crown in Napoleon

Doctor Strange

Release Date
November 4, 2016

Director
Scott Derrickson

Runtime
126 minutes

Benedict Cumberbatch was always the first choice to portray Doctor Strange in the hero’s debut solo movie. However, scheduling conflicts meant the actor was unable to appear, and negotiations with Joaquin Phoenix began instead. Phoenix’s negotiations lasted from July until October 2014 but proved unsuccessful (via Deadline). Joaquin Phoenix has stated he does not regret passing on the role, noting that he didn’t find the role creatively satisfying.

Following Phoenix’s departure, production schedules on Doctor Strange were changed entirely to facilitate Benedict Cumberbatch, and Marvel’s first choice was able to assume the role. Cumberbatch subsequently played the character on numerous occasions, while Phoenix would win the Academy Award for Best Actor for playing famed comic book supervillain the Joker in 2019. This recasting demonstrates how movies and actors can often bounce back in unpredictable ways after central cast members leave the project.

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