10 MCU Roles That Were Perfectly Cast (& The Actors Who Almost Played Them)

  • Big names almost missed iconic MCU roles, changing the franchise forever. RDJ's Iron Man could've been Tom Cruise.
  • Momoa could've been Drax. Krasinski nearly beat Evans for Captain America. Johansson's Black Widow could've been Blunt.
  • Hemsworth's Thor could've been Craig. Holland beat Butterfield for Spider-Man. Duke's M'Baku was nearly Abdul-Mateen II.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is beholden to its biggest names for much of its success, but the series' most famous performances were almost very different. It's no secret that the force of personalities behind the MCU's most famous actors has been a massive part of its chokehold on pop culture. It's difficult to imagine iconic comic book castings like Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man or Chris Evans' Captain America being played by anyone else.
Yet for many of these synonymous roles, the big names attached were almost very different, possibly irreparably altering the MCU and its success. In some cases, early iterations of the MCU's foundational Phase 1 movies were almost made years earlier with different scripts, with a different star attached to lead. Other times, casting came down to the wire at Marvel Studios, with last-minute casting choices being responsible for some truly phenomenal performances.
10 Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man Almost played by Tom Cruise Custom image by Debanjana Chowdhury Perhaps the pinnacle of Marvel's casting choices is Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. The flagship character of the MCU, Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark was the face of the franchise for a reason, with effortless charisma and believable struggles as the tech billionaire genius hero. At the time, casting Robert Downey Jr. was a huge gamble for Marvel, but one that paid off tremendously. However, he was far from the only actor be to considered for the role.
As far back as the 90s, an earlier draft of the script for Iron Man was iterated upon long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was ever conceived. This prototypical Iron Man movie was set to cast superstar actor Tom Cruise in the role, featuring the villainous organization A.I.M. and the cyborg M.O.D.O.K. as its main antagonistic force. Cruise's Tony Stark would've been an interesting direction to go in, but it's doubtful that he could've ever achieved the same success as Robert Downey Jr.'s utter ownership of the role.
9 Dave Bautista's Drax The Destroyer Almost played by Jason Momoa While Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson proved that actors with roots in professional wrestling could lead action franchises, Dave Bautista was able to establish a reputation as a true chameleon with his role as Drax the Destroyer. The charming, simple-minded Drax is one of the emotional pillars of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and without Bautista's impeccable comedic timing, experience with fight scenes, and ability to channel a genuine core of sadness driving the alien warrior's need for revenge, the team might not have worked as well. But Bautista nearly lost the role to another muscle-bound actor.
Interestingly, Marvel Studios initially approached Jason Momoa for the role of Drax the Destroyer, only for the Game of Thrones veteran to turn the role down. Momoa expressed a worry about being typecast as simple brute characters should he accept the proposition, something which Bautista also spoke on after concluding his time with the MCU. That being said, Momoa would go on to play Aquaman in the DCEU, a hero characterized very similarly to Drax in his own movies.
8 Chris Evans' Captain America Almost played by John Krasinski The de-facto leader of the Avengers and one of the earliest heroes for the MCU to establish, Captain America is close behind Iron Man in terms of overall importance to the series. Chris Evans' performance as Captain America is filled with subtle details that make his earnestness and inherent good-nature so believable, a type of character that isn't easy to sell audiences on. It's hard to say if anyone else would've been able to make Captain America's "I can do this all day" line hit as hard as Evans did.
That being said, John Krasinski was a close second choice in the running for the role going into auditions for Captain America: The First Avenger. At the time, Krasinski was more well-known for his comedic stylings in The Office, yet to become a major character in an action-packed blockbuster like A Quiet Place or Zero Dark Thirty. Eventually, Krasinski got to participate in the MCU with a brief appearance as Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
7 Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow Almost played by Emily Blunt Despite not getting her own solo movie until far too late in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has been an incredibly important supporting character throughout the first few phases of the MCU. Getting her start in Iron Man 2, Marvel's ultimate femme fatale seems tailor-made for Scarlett Johansson, an incredibly capable actress the wide range necessary to embody the super spy Natasha Romanoff. However, she wasn't the only one Marvel Studios had eyed for the role.
John Krasinski wasn't the only one in his family to narrowly avoid being cast as a founding Avengers member. British Actress Emily Blunt was nearly cast as Black Widow, actually being Marvel Studios' top choice for the heroine. Tragically, Blunt was unable to oblige due to scheduling constraints in filming Gulliver's Travels, a seldom-remembered adventure comedy that certainly wasn't worth giving up Marvel superstardom for.
6 Tom Holland's Spider-Man Almost played by Asa Butterfield One credit that must be given to the MCU's casting choices is their willingness to take chances on relative unknowns. Tom Holland certainly wasn't a household name before being the fourth live-action actor to take on the mantle of Spider-Man, but quickly endeared himself to audiences with his take on Peter Parker in no time at all. Holland's convincing high school performance, ability to do some of his own stunts, and genuinely incredible acting skills all earn him his reputation as one of the best Spider-Man actors.
Fellow Englishman Asa Butterfield narrowly lost to Tom Holland in auditions for Spider-Man: Far From Home. Known for his breakout role as a child star in the World War II period piece The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Butterfield went on to star in Netflix's Sex Education, making a name for himself on streaming. Butterfield is certainly a talented comedic actor, but it's hard to imagine he'd be able to outmaneuver Tom Holland's success as Spider-Man.
5 Chris Hemsworth's Thor Almost played by Daniel Craig Custom image by Yeider Chacon Another relative unknown to be thrust into superstardom by their excellent Marvel performance, the MCU owes just as much to Chris Hemsworth as he does to it. After getting his start in Australian soap operas, Chris Hemsworth's performance as Thor managed to evolve alongside the God of Thunder's journey throughout the films, going from a Shakespearean fantasy protagonist to a comedic hero. Without Hemsworth, it's very possible that Thor might not've had such a dynamic journey through Marvel's many phases.
Marvel had actually approached Daniel Craig with the notion of playing Thor before seeking out Hemsworth. The 007 star was no stranger to carrying an action franchise, but ended up declining to continue focusing on his career as James Bond. With the release of Knives Out, Craig has since proven he can do comedic as well as serious roles, making him one of the few actors who could've stood a chance of replicating Hemsworth's success.
4 Winston Duke's M'Baku Almost played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Occasionally, an actor's performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can raise the popularity of a relatively unknown Marvel character to new heights. Such was the case with M'Baku, appearing in Black Panther as played by Winston Duke. Duke's bombastic charisma, effortless West African accent, and impressive physique all helped solidfy M'Baku as a fan favorite in the Marvel movies, stealing whatever scene he was in with a smile on his face.
Winston Duke had to beat some fierce competition in the auditions for M'Baku, including one Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. While Abdul-Mateen II lost out when it came to the Black Panther character and his subsequent appearances in three other MCU films, he still got to act in a major superhero film series as Black Manta in the DCEU. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has gotten another chance at MCU glory, however, set to star as the titular character of the upcoming Wonder Man series.
3 Evangeline Lilly's The Wasp Almost played by Zooey Deschanel Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp ranks among some of the most underrated MCU performances. While the character has only appeared in a modest four films, Lilly is able to exemplify Hope Pym's toughness and cynicism while alluding to a soft interior that Scott is able to slowly break into. Originally, Marvel's plans for The Wasp were very different, including a different actress being in mind for the role.
Before it was a sure thing that Scarlett Johansson would return for The Avengers after Iron Man 2, writer Joss Whedon was keen on the idea of replacing the sole female member of the original team with The Wasp. Whedon's favorite for the role was Zooey Deschanel, more famous for her work in comedies like Elf and New Girl. Imagining The Wasp as run through the often quirky performances of Zooey Deschanel makes for an incredibly bizarre thought experiment which, while an interesting idea, likely wouldn't have worked as well as Lilly's take on the character.
2 Zoe Saldaña's Gamora Almost played by Amanda Seyfried Another character with an arduous journey throughout the Marvel films, Zoe Saldaña's Gamora held down an incredibly integral part of the Infinity Saga. Feisty and closed off but deeply caring for those closest to her, Saldaña was able to give incredible depth to what could've easily been a more one-dimensional assassin character in the hands of any other actress. Hopefully, her success in the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy can land Saldaña a role in James Gunn's DCU.
Originally, Amanda Seyfried of Mean Girls fame was offered the role of Gamora, but turned it down due to not wanting to be painted green. Having already acted through layers of special effects in Avatar, it's easy to see why this was a non-issue for Saldaña. Seyfried's comedic chops would've felt right at home in the Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's unlikely that she could've given Gamora better treatment than Saldaña did.
1 Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange Almost played by Joaquin Phoenix Benedict Cumberbatch had already carried a pop culture icon as Sherlock in the BBC series of the same name well before the first Doctor Strange was released. While there were some initial doubts as to whether he could pivot into success as an American comic book character, Cumberbatch embodies Doctor Stephen Strange with flying colors, crafting his performance with arrogance, neuroticism, and an enriching emotional core. With cameo appearances in Spider-Man and Thor solo films, Cumberbatch's Sorcerer Supreme is one of the most prevalent Marvel heroes currently active.
Cumberbatch wasn't the MCU's number one pick for Doctor Strange, despite his success, with that honor going to none other than Joaquin Phoenix. A notoriously picky actor, Phoenix ended up turning down the character due to his hesitance to commit to numerous Marvel projects. While Phoenix turned in a brilliant comic book performance in 2019's Joker, his style may have felt a little bit incongruous with the more lighthearted MCU.
Upcoming Marvel Movies Release Date Deadpool & Wolverine July 26, 2024 Captain America: Brave New World February 14, 2025 Thunderbolts* May 2, 2025 The Fantastic Four July 25, 2025 Blade November 7, 2025 Avengers: The Kang Dynasty May 1, 2026 Avengers: Secret Wars May 7, 2027


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