People love shelling out big bucks to see muscled-up men and women punch bad guys in the face. That’s why, in Hollywood, the phrase “superhero film” is synonymous with “blockbuster” — but only if executives cast the right talent.

Without a solid lead, superhero flicks can go from Oscar-worthy to Raspberry-worthy STAT, so producers consider a lot of actors and actresses. And had these Hollywood celebs won the superhero roles they were considered for, the Marvel and DC Universes would look very different — for better or for worse.

1. Tom Cruise as Iron Man: Producers considered Cruise for the role of Tony Stark in a mechanized battle suit, but ultimately chose Robert Downey Jr. Cruise understood and was delighted for his friend. “I can’t imagine anyone else in that role,” he said.

2. Emily Blunt as Black Widow: Had Cruise won the Iron Man role, he might’ve teamed up with Emily Blunt in the Avengers, but she turned down the role of Black Widow — which was snatched by Scarlett Johansson — to do Gulliver’s Travels instead.

3. John Krasinski as Captain America: In an alternate universe, Blunt took the role and starred in The Avengers alongside her husband, Krasinski, who was considered for Captain America. He knew he wouldn’t get the role, though, after he saw the muscle-bound bod of Chris Hemsworth on set as Thor.

4. Tom Hiddleston as Thor: Krasinski might’ve landed the part, however, if Hiddleston landed the role he auditioned for: Thor. Ultimately, the producers recognized he’d be perfect for the role of Loki instead, and he was happy with their decision. “It was a gift,” he said.

5. Jaimie Alexander as Wonder Woman: She starred alongside Hiddleston and Hemsworth as Sif in the Thor franchise, but she wanted a role as DC Comics icon Wonder Woman. That role ultimately went to Gal Gadot — but there was another candidate, too.

6. Sandra Bullock as Wonder Woman: Before Gal Gadot donned the red, white, and blue, Lynda Carter — Wonder Woman in the ’70s TV show — admitted she’d love to see real-life wonder woman Bullock play the hero as rumors suggested. This didn’t happen.

7. Josh Brolin as Batman: But had Bullock played Wonder Woman, she might’ve co-starred in The Justice League with Brolin, who Batman v Superman producers considered casting as the Dark Knight. “I wasn’t the guy for” it Brolin, who played Thanos in The Avengers, recalled.

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8. Pierce Brosnan as Batman: Brolin could’ve followed in the footsteps of Brosnan, had the 007 actor not declined the role of Batman in Tim Burton’s ’89 film. He said of Batman, “Any man who wears his underpants outside his pants just cannot be taken seriously…But how wrong was I?”

9. Cillian Murphy as Batman: While Brosnan turned down a Batman role, Murphy auditioned for the part in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise. He was instead cast as the villain, Scarecrow, and awarded the honor of being choked out by Batman — played by Christian Bale.

10. Marlon Wayans as Robin: And what’s Batman without his Robin? “I was actually supposed to play Robin in Batman Returns,” Wayans said. “I was cast, I was paid and everything. I still get residual checks.” But new director Joel Schumacher re-cast Chris O’Donnell in the role.

11. Annette Bening as Catwoman: Wayans might’ve shared a screen with Bening, who turned down the role of Catwoman in ’92’s Batman Returns when she became pregnant. That part ended up going to Michelle Pfeiffer.

12. Nic Cage as Superman: Five years later in ’97, studios halted production on Superman Lives, a film starring Nic Cage that looked terrible according to those in the know. Still, though his costume looked like an action figure’s, Cage apparently nailed the part of Superman.

13. Will Smith as Superman: Just 8 years after Cage donned the S, Warner Bros. produced Superman Returns and offered the role of Superman to Smith. He turned it down because “you mess up white people’s heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”

14. Joe Manganiello as Superman: Then, when DC Studios wanted another Superman flick, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder thought of Manganiello’s superhuman abs and knew he’d be perfect for the role. True Blood producers wouldn’t let him take time off, however. 

15. Dougray Scott as Wolverine: Executives considered Dougray for the part of Wolverine in ’99’s X-Men film, but he turned down the part to play the bad guy in Mission Impossible II. Hugh Jackman eventually took the job, but his co-stars could’ve been very different…

16. Angela Bassett as Storm: She was executives’ first choice for the part that ultimately went to Halle Berry, but “her agents wanted more money than we had at the time,” a writer for the movie recalled. She still joined a Marvel movie years later as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther.

17. Wesley Snipes as Black Panther: But Bassett would’ve been starring in a Black Panther remake had Snipes got his wish in the ’90s. He wanted to make and star in a Black Panther film, but “the technology wasn’t there,” he said.

18. Brad Pitt as Cable: Before production started on Deadpool 2, director David Lieitch considered Deadpool-fan Pitt for the role of Cable. When it didn’t work out because of a scheduling conflict, the A-lister happily took a one-second cameo as Vanisher.

19. Joaquin Phoenix as Doctor Strange: In another Marvel Universe film, Phoenix almost nabbed the role of Doctor Strange, but fell short when he was “probably a bit of a snob about that.” For him, superheroes were a thumbs down. 

20. Jake Gyllenhaal as Spider-Man: After Tobey Macguire demanded more money to reprise his role in the second Spider-Man film, executives told Gyllenhaal they wanted him to play the webslinger were they unable to reach an agreement with Macguire.

There’s a lot involved in the making of a Hollywood film that goes way beyond just the cast. For this reason, so many films end up in “developmental hell” (if they’re not canceled altogether). Now we can only dream about these cool films that will almost certainly never get made…

1. Darren Aronofsky’s The Wolverine: This 2013 flick is generally considered one of the better X-Men films. But imagine how different it would have been if Darren Aronofsky, acclaimed director of Black Swan and The Wrestler, had taken the reins. It almost happened, but Walk the Line director James Mangold ended up overseeing it.

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2. Guillermo Del Toro’s At The Mountains of Madness: As popular as H.P Lovecraft’s horror stories continue to be, there really haven’t been any direct film adaptations. Del Toro, a huge fantasy and horror guru, came close to directing At the Mountains of Madness in 2013, but he and the studio couldn’t agree on an approach.

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3. David Fincher’s Mission: Impossible: Most critics liked this Ethan Hunt adventure. However, Fight Club and Gone Girl director David Fincher almost directed what could have been a darker, grittier take before J.J. Abrams took the lead instead. It would have co-starred Kenneth Branagh as the villain, as well as Scarlett Johansson.

4. Ghostbusters III: Rumors of a third Ghostbusters film have floated around since the 1980s. Unfortunately, Bill Murray isn’t interested in returning, and Harold Ramis passed away in 2014. However, a reboot featuring a new squad, including Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, hit theaters in 2016.

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5. James Cameron’s Spider-Man: A Spidey movie helmed by James Cameron — the man behind The Terminator, Aliens, and Titanic — may sound amazing, but a few problems stopped it from ever getting off the ground. For one, the studio didn’t quite have the rights figured out in the early 2000s. Also, Cameron planned a not so family-friendly love scene.

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6. Hellboy III: Fans have waited since 2008 for a sequel to Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but as Guillermo Del Toro tweeted, it “100% will not happen.” Instead, a reboot starring David Harbour is in the works. Titled Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen, it’s meant to be darker than the previous film, and it will likely receive an R-rating.

7. Indiana Jones and the City of Gods: Many audiences felt disappointed by this 2008 Indy sequel, and they might have missed out on an even bigger treasure. Fans have speculated that Frank Darabont’s script for a planned fourth film, called Indiana Jones and the City of Gods, was much better.

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8. Peter Jackson and Neil Blomkamp’s Halo: Peter Jackson nearly produced a Halo film shortly after the massive critical and commercial success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It would have been directed by District 9‘s Neil Blomkamp, but Fox cancelled the production at the last minute.

Revenge of the Fans

9. David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi: Despite incredible box office numbers and the fact that it remains beloved by many audiences, many critics deem The Return of the Jedi the weakest of the original Star Wars trilogy. Can you imagine if David Lynch had accepted George Lucas’ offer to direct it? Jabba’s Palace would have been a whole lot weirder.

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10. Christopher Nolan’s 007: Christopher Nolan made it clear that he loves James Bond, and his Dark Knight trilogy has a lot in common with 007. Unfortunately, he’s never been chosen by MGM and Sony to direct a film. Producers likely want a Bond director who’s not as big of a name, and Nolan has grown a bit tired of franchise films.

11. David Fincher’s Rendezvous with Rama: Morgan Freeman expressed that his greatest wish is to star in an adaptation of Rendezvous with Rama, a science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Fincher tried to make it happen for more than 10 years, but the project never got off the ground — unlike the gigantic cylindrical spaceship in the book.

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12. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s The Sandman: Gordon-Levitt planned on directing and starring in the adaptation of writer Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series of comic books, but left over creative differences. Gaiman’s original series is one of the most acclaimed comic books of all time.

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13. Stevhen Spielberg’s 007: Despite the fact that Spielberg had already directed Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, producers rejected him both times he offered to take on a James Bond film in the 1970s. Fortunately, he since earned a nice pair of Oscars to cheer him up.

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14. Gore Verbinski’s Bioshock: Keeping with the aquatic theme of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Verbinski nearly directed a film based on the Bioshock video games. Unfortunately, Universal pulled the plug on the project after learning how expensive the film would be, and that Verbinski insisted on an R-rating.

15. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman: In 2005, Joss Whedon was tapped to direct a Wonder Woman film, but he dropped out two years later before even completing a script. Of course, we later saw Patty Jenkins’ acclaimed take on the heroine, while Whedon moved on to The Avengers.

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16. Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man: Edgar Wright spent several years working on Ant-Man before dropping out of the project due to creative differences with Marvel Studios. Peyton Reed replaced him, and the film was still a hit. If it’s any consolation for Wright, the final movie did retain many of his original ideas.

17. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The most talked-about script in Kubrick’s vast collection of unrealized projects, Napoleon would have told the general’s life story in a sweeping epic. Studio heads didn’t approve of Kubrick’s budget or the scope of the biopic, so the director walked away rather than compromise his vision.

18. Sylvester Stallone’s Poe: You might not place Sly Stallone as a literary type, but he positively adores horror and mystery author Edgar Allen Poe. He has repeatedly tried to shoot a biopic starring Robert Downey Jr., but studios just won’t bring this passion project to life.

19. Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness: In 1939, rising star Orson Welles turned in a massive script based on the classic Joseph Conrad novel. RKO Pictures wanted no part of the exorbitant budget or complicated production, however and instead greenlit Welles’ other idea, Citizen Kane.

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20. Shinichi Sekizawa’s Batman Versus Godzilla: An idea this nuts could have only come out of the 1960s. Sekizawa, the Japanese screenwriter behind the Godzilla films, wanted a Batman villain to control the giant lizard and fight the caped crusader. However, this idea was too ridiculous even for Adam West and co.

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