Paul Newman, the late screen legend who starred opposite Robert Redford in the cinematic classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among other notable roles, turned down Superman not once, not twice, but three different times. He was offered the lead role, as well as the roles of Lex Luthor and Superman's dad, Jor-El.
Robert Redford, A-list star and future founder of the Sundance Film Festival, was offered the Superman role, but turned it down reportedly because the script wasn't finished. He did eventually show up in a superhero movie, 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as S.H.I.E.L.D. leader and secret Hydra agent Alexander Pierce.
Yes, riding high on the success of his breakout role in Rocky, producers thought about offering Superman to Sylvester Stallone, who certainly wouldn't have needed fake muscles shoved into his suit. Rumor has it that screen legend Marlon Brando, who signed on early as Superman's dad, Jor-El, was the guy who vetoed Sly as Clark.
Warren Beatty has been nominated for 14 Academy Awards, one of which, he won, so clearly there's not much to regret about his film choices, Ishtar notwithstanding. But the list of movies he's turned down is no less impressive than the ones he made. Beatty passed on The Godfather, Boogie Nights, Kill Bill, and yes, 1978's Superman. In 2016, he told MTV's Happy Sad Confused podcast that he had an assistant go out and get him some long underwear. "I take off my pants and put on the long underwear and open the full-length mirror and I went to the telephone and I said, 'Look, just forget about Superman, it ain't going to happen.' And then the movie was terrific."
A few years before The Jazz Singer, Superman producers met with singer Neil Diamond, already a major star. He'd composed the music for a 1973 adaptation of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but he had no real acting experience. Ultimately, the folks behind Superman decided they wanted an unknown in the lead role.
Years before he squared off against Superman as Batman, Ben Affleck was Kevin Smith's ideal choice to play the Man of Steel in what would have been Superman Lives, a '90s attempt at rebooting the character based loosely on the Death of Superman story from the comics. Affleck was a veteran of View Askewvinerse movies like Mallrats and Chasing Amy. Of course once Tim Burton came onboard and discarded Smith's script, the Clerks filmmaker's casting ideas went by the wayside as well.
That's right, Tim Burton nearly made Superman Lives and in what is probably the most famous bit of "almost was" casting in superhero lore, he cast superfan Nicolas Cage. As beautifully chronicled in the documentary The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?, the Nicolas Cage Superman came very close to getting made. Burton and Cage were reportedly given play-or-pay fees when Warner shut it down.
Yes, we know Henry Cavill did in fact end up becoming Superman, but there was an "almost" in his career several years before. Cavill nearly played Superman for Charlie's Angels director McG, from a script by J.J. Abrams. Long before his Star Trek and Star Wars reboots, Abrams was a television show runner taking a crack at rebooting Superman, in the aftermath of Burton's false start. His script for Superman: Flyby, which leaked out to a then-burgeoning online movie press, was full of wacky ideas, like Lex Luthor as an alien. After McG left the project, Cavill was in the running for everything from James Bond to Twilight to Batman Begins.
In a 2014 interview with Details magazine, Josh Hartnett revealed why he walked from a three-picture deal worth a reported $100 million. "I didn't want to be labeled as Superman for the rest of my career," he said. In the same interview, the Black Hawn Down star said he'd been considered for both Spider-Man and Batman as well.
Brendan Fraser screen tested for Rush Hour director Brett Ratner after McG left Superman: Flyby. In a 2008 interview with MTV at New York Comic Con, The Mummy star revealed he'd tried on the suit. "First they offered it to me, then they didn't offer it to me," he admitted with a laugh. "Everybody in town was up for this."
Ashton Kutcher screen tested for Brett Ratner after McG left the project. McG wound up back on Superman: Flyby and convinced Kutcher to screen test again. Kutcher tested alongside McG's potential Lois Lane, Keri Russell, who starred as the title character on J.J. Abrams breakout television series, Felicity.
David Boreanaz is another television actor who turned down Superman: Flyby, due to his commitments as the star of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, Angel.
In 2008, Will Smith explained to MTV why he turned down Superman at some point after Wild Wild West. "The last 'Superman' I got offered, the script came, and I was like, 'There is no way I'm playing Superman!' Because I had already done Jim West, and you can't be messing up white people's heroes in Hollywood," he joked. He did eventually join the DC Universe, as villainous assassin Deadshot in Suicide Squad.
Jude Law came close to playing Superman for Ratner, but he reportedly wasn't into the idea of a long commitment to three movies without script approval over the sequels. Ratner ended up swapping franchises with X-Men director Bryan Singer, who ended up getting Clark Kent back off the ground with Superman Returns, while the Rush Hour director moved over to Fox where he made X-Men: The Last Stand.
Justice League Mortal would have united DC's greatest heroes eight years before the Justice League movie starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Henry Cavill. Mortal would have paired Armie Hammer as Batman with Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as The Flash, and Common as Green Lantern, among others. D.J. Cotrona was lined up to play Superman, who would have battled Wonder Woman in one scene. After the movie fell apart, director George Miller moved forward with Mad Max: Fury Road.