15 Actors Who Almost Played Superman

POSTED BY Tayyab Khalil, UPDATED ON November 22nd, 2023
Actors Who Almost Played Superman

As one of the most well-known cultural icons in America and a household name worldwide, Superman stands out as the greatest comic book superhero of all time. The character has reached beyond publications to the point of animated and feature films. Casting a superhero is anything but an easy task and the following are the 15 actors who almost played Superman on the silver screen:


15. Brendon Fraser

Brendan Fraser Almost Played Superman

As a fast-rising star in Hollywood, it would not have been a surprise if Brandon Fraser earned himself the role of the last son of Krypton in the then-potential Superman movie titled Superman: Flyby under the direction of J. J. Abrams.

When the project got abandoned in favor of Superman Returns, so did Fraser’s role of a lifetime. After the movie received mixed reviews, Fraser strongly backed up Abram’s vision and even compared it with The Lord of the Rings.


14. Josh Hartnett

Josh Hartnett

Best known for his performances in epic war films such as Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down, one can only imagine the fate of the movie if Josh Hartnett became Clark Kent aka Superman.

Not just any movie, the potential Batman vs. Superman movie intended to be released in 2004 with J. J. Abrams serving as the director. However, the project was canceled in favor of Batman Begins.


13. Al Pacino

Al Pacino Almost Played Superman

At one point in his life, Al Pacino was the biggest box office draw and was considered one of the greatest actors of all time. Despite working with Marlon Brando before, the actor lost the role of Superman to Christopher Reeve in the 1978 movie of the same name.

On a side note, it is interesting to note that during his career which has spanned almost five decades, Pacino has played versatile roles such as a criminal, detective, lawyer, police officer, and football coach but never a superhero.


12. Armie Hammer

Armie Hammer

Once the casting phase for the Man of Steel began, then-26-year-old Armie Hammer was among the top contenders for the role of Superman but fate had different plans for him. Hammer explained to Vulture in 2010:

“I did talk to my people recently about that for the first time, and I think they’re going a little older with Superman. I hear they’re going 35, 40.”

However, the role went to Henry Cavill who was at the time just two years older than Hammer. On a side note, both actors will team up in the upcoming spy-fi action comedy film The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


11. James Caan

James Caan

At age 75, James Caan is still going like there is no tomorrow and that signifies his passion for the movie industry. Best known for his roles in The Godfather, The Gambler, and Thief, it is no surprise that the actor was offered the lead role for the 1978 Superman movie.

It can be assumed that pulling the role of a superhero by an actor like Caan is easy as pie but ultimately, he declined the role and Christopher Reeve came on board. Caan’s reason behind the refusal?

“I just couldn’t wear that suit.”


10. Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood Actor

Without a shadow of a doubt, Clint Eastwood is a symbol of masculinity and is a certified legend in Hollywood. The very idea of Eastwood as the Man of Steel is intriguing, so how the bullet was dodged?

Due to a strong liking towards characters more grounded in reality, Eastwood respectfully declined.

“Superman? Nah, nah, that’s not for me”.

Scheduling conflicts also played a part in the actor’s decision.


9. Zac Efron

Zac Efron Almost Played Superman

Among the numerous actors strongly considered for the lead role in Superman Returns, the teenage heartthrob Zac Efron felt confident that he may bag the role with great ease but pulled back upon the friendly advice of Leonardo DiCaprio.

However, if then-19-year-old Efron had accepted the role, the entire movie would have seemed more like a two-and-a-half-hour episode of Smallville due to the actor’s fresh face.


8. Will Smith

Will Smith as Superman

In more than a thousand publications of Superman comics, not even once has the character been depicted as an African American but that did not stop the studio from offering Will Smith the role of the Man of Steel in Superman Returns.

Will Smith thankfully declined, believing:

“you can’t be messing up white peoples’ heroes in Hollywood”.

Two years later, Smith portrayed the original superhero Hancock in the movie of the same name only to receive mixed reviews.


7. Jude Law

Superman Jude Law

No disrespect to the acting credibility of Jude Law but there is no way an actor of his stature can convincingly play the role of not only Superman but any superhero for the matter.

Director Brett Ratner approached Law for the role in the potential Batman vs. Superman movie but the latter declined after realizing that he may have to reprise the part multiple times in the future.


6. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Being a former Mr. Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger lobbied hard for the role of the man of steel for the 1978 Superman movie but unfortunately, things did not go too well for the bodybuilder-turned-actor. Ilya Salkind recalls:

“When I met [Arnold] at the premiere of the first film, he said ‘Ahhh I should’ve been Superman. With that accent… not too good.”

Six years later, Schwarzenegger got the chance to save lives by playing the Terminator in the 1984 epic sci-fi movie of the same name.


5. Ashton Kutcher

Ashton Kutcher

Do not let his comedic nature fool you! Ashton Kutcher gave a terrific audition for the role of Superman when Superman: Flyby was in the stage of early development. Potential director Brett Ratner described his audition as “very, very good” and ultimately offered the lead part but the actor declined.

Feeling superstitious, Kutcher stated:

“I think there’s a bit of a curse behind that role – the things that have happened to people. Also, I think once you’ve played that role then you’re just forever known as Superman. It’s kind of hard to play other things. I have a lot of other characters I’d rather play.”


4. Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage as Superman

How close was Nicolas Cage to playing the last son of Krypton? Apparently to the point of wearing the prototype suit and being finalized! When Warner Bros. hired none other than Tim Burton as the director for Superman Lives, expectations were high.

Seeing how the proposed plot was unusually weird, the project was abandoned for the better. On the contrary, Cage states:

“The fact that Tim and I were pretty far down the road designing the film, and I know that with Tim, and where I was going to go, we would have done something really special.”


3. Paul Walker

Paul Walker Superman role

The transformation from the rash-driving Brain O’Conner to the flash-flying Superman would certainly be interesting in terms of Paul Walker’s maturity as an actor but things did not work out as he hoped.

In 2003, Walker revealed that he was extremely close to being cast as Superman but declined once the studio made it clear that they would own him for the next ten years and the actor would be identified with the superhero until he died.


2. Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone Almost Played Superman

Once Sylvester Stallone established himself as an icon after writing and starring in the first installment of the Rocky franchise, the actor had high hopes of getting the role of Superman in the 1978 movie of the same name.

Despite having the perfect physique for the role, Christopher Reeve was chosen instead. It is safe to assume that things happened for the best as Stallone’s slurry speech would not have suited the esteem of Super-Man at all.


1. Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

You did not see him coming, did you? While British actor Henry Cavill did portray Superman in the superhero’s highest-grossing movie to date – Man of Steel – it is certainly surprising to know that he nearly played the character almost a decade before the film’s release.

The actor was hired for the role of Superman in McG’s 2004 film Superman: Flyby but the project was completely redesigned when Bryan Singer stepped in as the director and replaced Cavill with Brandon Routh in what would become Superman Returns.

Did we miss any of the actors who almost played Superman on our list? Please let us know in the comments below!

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