Where would the world of Marvel superheroes be without its terrific casting? It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark or Chris Hemsworth as Thor.
But perfect fits don’t fall from the sky. Plenty of actors and actresses were tested and considered for the MCU’s biggest roles before the right fit was found. And in many cases, those actors and actresses who didn’t get the part wound up making their MCU debuts in different roles.
Here are 18 names who landed different roles than the one they were first considered for in the MCU:
Sam Rockwell – Tony Stark (Justin Hammer)
It’s hard to imagine the entire MCU ever getting off the ground floor if it wasn’t for Downey bringing Tony Stark to life. But before Downey took the reins in Iron Man, director Jon Favreau contacted Rockwell about the role. However, before he even had a chance to make an impression, Downey stole the show.
“At one point, Jon had called me about possibily screen-testing for the part of Tony Stark in Iron Man,” Rockwell told A.V. Club in 2013. “And whatever happened, I think I was out of the running. Robert [Downey Jr.] just killed it, you know, and I never heard anything after that.”
Instead Rockwell played a discount store version of Stark in Iron Man 2. His character, Justin Hammer, was a fellow weapons manufacturer, but one who struggled to make working technology and cut some corners (illegally) to try and outdo Stark’s creations.
Tom Hiddleston – Thor (Loki)
Thor’s deceitful, untrustworthy, but eventually redeemed brother Loki was a major villain in the early days of the MCU. Now he’s such an integral part of the universe that there will be an entire show, Loki, dedicated to his exploits. So it’s really hard to imagine Tom Hiddleston taking on the role of Thor Odinson, instead.
On an episode of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon rolled a clip of Hiddleston auditioning for the part with Mjölnir in hand. The relatively unknown actor at the time found a much better fit in Loki, who he’s now played in six feature films.
Chris Pratt – Steve Rogers (Peter Quill)
During his time on Parks and Recreation, Pratt nailed the role of a lovable, good-hearted goofball. It’s that same wit and sassy sense of humor that has made him a perfect fit as the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
“He did an audition for Captain America; it was something so interesting, and it wasn’t quite a fit,” Marvel Studios casting director Sarah Finn said in a Disney Plus featurette. “But there’s something so endearing. He had so much heart. And I was really tracking his progress and what he was doing and seeing him growing into this leading man.”
Pratt is now a huge star who anchors the Jurassic World franchise in addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy. But Captain America still feels like it would’ve been a weird fit.
Sebastian Stan – Steve Rogers (Bucky Barnes)
Stan didn’t have many acting credits to his name (other than a run on Gossip Girl) when he auditioned for the part of Rogers. While he didn’t get the role, Stan wasn’t sent away entirely. They kept him around as Bucky Barnes, Rogers’ best friend who seemingly died in Captain America: First Avenger.
A decade later, Chris Evans has retired from his role as Rogers and Stan is still an integral part of the MCU portraying the reformed version of The Winter Soldier. In an interview with CNBC, he even called Barnes a “much better role” than the one he initially sought.
Wyatt Russell – Steve Rogers (John Walker)
The Captain America actor you love to hate once attempted to be the one you love to love. Well … sort of. Russell was fresh off a brief career as a professional hockey player when he auditioned for the role of Rogers. It was his first ever audition and Russell says he had zero belief he ever actually had a shot at getting the part.
“I think honestly that the first audition was really more just something to read to see if I was any good at acting or not,” Russell told Good Morning America. “I don’t think I was ever actually in competition for the role.”
About a decade later, Russell finally made his MCU debut as none other than Captain America in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. He was eventually stripped of that title, but Russell is primed to continue to make appearances as U.S. Agent.
Natalie Portman & Angelina Jolie – Natasha Romanoff (Jane Foster/Thena)
Scarlett Johansson is set to star as Natasha Romanoff once again in Black Widow (coming out July 9), making it eight feature film appearances for the character. But she wasn’t even the first choice for the role. Instead, director Jon Favreau was eying Emily Blunt to be the Russian secret agent. When she dropped out, a few actresses with action movie chops were considered, according to IMDb.
Portman already had the Star Wars prequels under her belt, but eventually landed the role of Jane Foster in Thor and Thor: The Dark World. She’s set to reprise the role again in Thor: Love and Thunder, where Portman’s expected to become the new Thor, powers and all.
Jolie was also considered for the role of Romanoff with Lara Croft and Mr. & Mrs. Smith among the credits on her action résumé. She will make her MCU debut at the end of 2021 when she plays Thena in Eternals.
Karen Gillan – Sharon Carter (Nebula)
While Sharon Carter, the great-niece of Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, didn’t have a huge amount of impact on the MCU early on, it turns out Emily VanCamp had some stiff competition for the role. Gillan didn’t have many acting credits at the time of her audition, but MCU casting director Sarah Finn was impressed all the same.
“Karen was someone who was an incredibly grounded and solid actor but who was also cooky and charming in the most wonderful way,” Finn said on Disney Plus. “Even though she had never played a character like Nebula, I was really interested to see her read. So, she came in and auditioned. James described Nebula as being somewhat childlike and Karen having this kind of cherubic beauty mixed with the darkness that she was able to convey.”
There are rumors that Elizabeth Olsen, who eventually became Wanda Maximoff, was among the other actresses considered for the role of Carter, although there doesn’t seem to be any confirmation that she ever auditioned.
Chadwick Boseman & Djimon Hounsou – Drax the Destroyer (T’Challa & Korath)
Dave Bautista had very little acting experience when he landed the role of Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy (unless you consider his pro wrestling career). Still, he got the role despite going up against Boseman, among others.
Boseman told Jimmy Fallon that the audition was more of a way to get his foot in Marvel’s door, and Finn said they immediately knew he’d be perfect for another (much bigger) role.
“His audition is incredible because he took a character that was a bit goofy, a bit tortured, and he played him like a king,” Finn said on Disney Plus. “He absolutely played him with this ferocity and this dignity and this regalness that was not right for Drax. But when it came time to cast Black Panther, I was very sure of him for that role.”
Hounsou reportedly auditioned for Drax as well, but got the role of Korath the Pursuer instead. He was killed in Guardians of the Galaxy by, you guessed it, Drax.
Lee Pace – Peter Quill (Ronan the Accuser)
Marvel Studios is notoriously tight-lipped about everything behind-the-scenes, so it’s rare that you hear any actors talk about auditioning for a role — especially one they haven’t got yet. Dane Cook learned that lesson the hard way. But Pace didn’t have any problem talking about how hopeful he was that he’d get the role of Star-Lord.
“I go in on Monday to meet them all and audition for it, so wish me luck,” Pace told MTV in 2012. “I’m very excited about it. The script is great. The character is a lot of fun.
“I have been [reading up on Star-Lord]. You want to know what you’re doing. The character is a lot of fun. I hope it works out… I’ve got to audition. I’ve got to go get it. I actually love auditioning, so I’m happy to go meet them all and do it.”
While Chris Pratt got the role instead, Pace was cast as the movie’s villain: Ronan the Accuser. He died at the end of the film, but reprised the role in Captain Marvel, which was set a couple decades earlier.
Lupita Nyong’o – Nebula (Nakia)
It’s still unclear what the path forward is for the Black Panther franchise following the tragic death of Boseman, but a talented pair of lead actresses — Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o — will presumably serve as anchors in Black Panther 2.
But before Nyong’o took on the role of Nakia, she was considered for the role of Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Finn called her “insanely talented” and said they didn’t waste much time testing her for Black Panther instead.
Michael B. Jordan – Sam Wilson (Killmonger)
While Erik Killmonger was a villain in just one movie, Michael B. Jordan’s performance is an iconic one in the MCU. But if Jordan landed the role of Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he’d still be a part of the MCU today.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, he confirmed that he was considered for the role of The Falcon and lamented that opportunities are scarce for Black men when it comes to superhero movies.
“With superheroes, a lot of those comics were created before the 1960s, so they weren’t going to have a Black man save America,” Jordan said. “So I think it’s more of a continuity thing now. With more generic superheroes, why can’t you have a Black, Asian, Hispanic actor play the role? Hopefully, in my lifetime, we’ll see more Black superheroes.”
Anthony Mackie became Wilson instead and is set to fill the shoes of Captain America in future MCU films.
Oscar Isaac & Jake Gyllenhaal – Stephen Strange (Moon Knight & Mysterio)
By the time Doctor Strange came out in 2016, the MCU was already a behemoth. So there were no shortage of big names ready to fill the shoes of another major Marvel franchise. After Joaquin Phoenix turned down the opportunity, Variety reported Isaac and Gyllenhaal were among the actors on the shortlist to become Dr. Stephen Strange.
Gyllenhaal made his MCU debut a few years later as Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Isaac will be the lead of Moon Knight, a series which is set to debut on Disney Plus in 2022.
Rachel McAdams – Pepper Potts (Christine Palmer)
McAdams made her MCU debut in 2016 as Dr. Christine Palmer in Doctor Strange, but it came a decade after she first caught the eye of Marvel Studios. Way back in 2006, McAdams was reportedly a favorite to play Pepper Potts alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard, who were already signed on for Iron Man.
Gwyneth Paltrow instead took the reins as Potts and appeared in seven Marvel films. McAdams will reprise her role as Dr. Palmer in Doctor Strange in the Multitude of Madness.
Mads Mikkelsen – Malekith (Kaecilius)
Long before Mikkelsen was a terrifying sorcerer in Doctor Strange, he was almost a terrifying elf in Thor: The Dark World. Charlie Wen, who was head of visual development on Thor: The Dark World, shared concept art that showed Mikkelsen geared up to wreck havoc on Earth and Asgard.
Mikkelsen became a one-off villain anyway when he appeared in Doctor Strange, but he probably made a better call as Thor: The Dark World is the worst reviewed movie of the entire MCU.
Morena Baccarin – Maria Hill (Vanessa Carlysle)
We’ll count this one as a bonus, because Deadpool isn’t quite an MCU franchise … for now. Baccarin played Wade Wilson’s fiancée, Vanessa Carlysle, in the first two Deadpool movies. She’ll likely return in Deadpool 3, considering Carlysle was brought back to life through a bit of time travel in the Deadpool 2 credits.
And with Deadpool 3 set to join the MCU, voila, Baccarin is now a present/future member of the universe. That could’ve made things a little awkward and tricky if Baccarin got the role of Agent Maria Hill instead of Cobie Smulders in The Avengers.