ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

In this franchise-soaked and reboot-heavy era of movies, most actors are clamoring for the big budget roles that will lead to multiple sequels, sizable paychecks, and the kind of publicity that only comes once in a lifetime. Nowhere is this prestige more reliable than in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has something of a Midas touch when it comes to launching names into the stratosphere.

For all of the Chris's that made it to marquee, though, there are way more noteworthy names that just missed their chance to play an unforgettable superhero. Here are some of the biggest names who under different circumstances (or maybe in an alternate reality) could have been leaders in the MCU.

1. John Krasinski was almost Captain America

Originally, director Joe Johnston was pursuing a relative unknown as the lead in the first Captain America movie, so I suppose getting a TV star instead of the Human Torch was closer to this game plan.

I hope it’ll be somebody that we discover who’s probably been in something, but you won’t know who he is. You won’t recognize him.

John Krasinski apparently wowed Marvel execs with his two screen tests and beat out countless actors with more name recognition. Many thought he fully secured the part...until Chris Evans reneged on his original "no" and landed the part without even auditioning. At least John could go home to an understanding wife, Emily Blunt, who also appears on this list.

2. Sam Rockwell was almost Iron Man

As Marvel Studios was making their first foray into the movies everyone loves today, executives were still very skeptical to cast Robert Downey Jr., who was still pretty much blacklisted after his hard-partying days and subsequent arrest. During this time, director Jon Favreau had his eye on Sam Rockwell to fill Tony Stark's expensive shoes.

There were some things he would bring to the role that would have been great. Sam is very charismatic and when I was looking at the character there was a list and he had a spot on it.

Though the role ultimately (and wisely) went to RDJ, Rockwell was so close that filmmakers chose to give him a role in Iron Man 2, playing a rival to Tony.

3. Emily Blunt was almost Black Widow AND Peggy Carter

This one pretty much makes me weep. As much as I appreciate Scarlett's Black Widow, I have no doubt in my mind that Emily Blunt would have eviscerated the role as director Jon Favreau's first choice. Unfortunately, she was busy working on Gulliver's Travels of all things and had to pass due to scheduling conflicts. I sure hope she had a lot of laughs with Jack Black because that movie cost her the biggest franchise of today.

Later, Emily was pursued to play Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger and she simply turned it down. In that case,

4. Liam Hemsworth was almost Thor

Yep, you read that right. The eventual Thor, Chris Hemsworth, was actually in contention with his brother Liam during auditions. And here's the kicker: Liam actually bested his older brother during the first rounds with director Kenneth Branagh. Here's how Chris explained it to W Magazine:

I auditioned for 'Thor,' and I didn't get called back...My brother, Liam, was luckier. He was one of the final five guys up for the part.

Ultimately, none of those five guys could wield Mjolnir, but Chris's manager was able to get him back in the door because casting directors originally liked Liam.

5. Joaquin Phoenix was almost the Hulk

It wasn't just Dr. Strange that Marvel execs considered Joaquin Phoenix for. After it was confirmed that Edward Norton was getting replaced (which followed Eric Bana's shut-out), rumors swirled about who would be lucky enough to play Bruce Banner in The Avengers.

Though the reason why Joaquin was turned down in favor of Mark Ruffalo remains unclear, it could be because 2010 was right in the midst of Joaquin's rapping phase/performance art stunt. Perhaps his rambling David Letterman interview didn't inspire a lot of faith in Joss and co.

6. Glenn Howerton was almost Star-Lord

The break-out role helped make Chris Pratt a worldwide phenomenon (with a hefty bank account to boot), but he wasn't always a shoe-in for the galactic leading man. Glenn Howerton, best known for playing the lecherous Dennis Reynolds on [It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia](tag:200878), could have been the one guarding the galaxy according to director James Gunn:

Glenn came along a little bit later. But there was a good chance that, if I didn’t cast Chris, that I would’ve cast Glenn Howerton in the role.

While Pratt was certainly the right choice, I definitely wouldn't have minded seeing more of the It's Always Sunny cast break onto the big screen.

7. Channing Tatum was almost Thor

Among the small group of men that made it to the coveted director meeting, Channing Tatum made it as far as then-frontrunner Alexander Skarsgård. This was before Channing amassed the certain level of professional acclaim he has today, and his attachment to the role of Thor didn't last long.

Thankfully, Channing was passed over and eventually selected for the superhero role he was born to play: Gambit.

8. Josh Hartnett was almost Loki

Poor Josh. He was apparently Branagh's favorite during casting, and he had a master plan of going full "Heath Ledger" if he ended up with the mischievous role of Loki.

In the end, Tom Hiddleston (who was in the running for Thor, even performing a screen test that's available in the DVD's special features) was simply a force that couldn't be reckoned with, and Josh's career resurgence was put on hold.

9. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was almost Ant-Man

Remember when we were all beyond excited to see Edgar Wright bring his signature comedic spin to Ant-Man? Well, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a longtime fan of Wright's unique voice, certainly did, and he is widely believed to be in the final two for the role.

Since Paul Rudd walked away with the role (and Wright walked away from the project, but that's a whole nother story), JGL will just have to take solace in the fact that he got to be Robin at least in namesake.


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