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The 10 best Superman actors we almost had, ranked

Ranking the many Men of Steel who never got to fly.

Brendan Fraser/Will Smith/Sylvester Stallone
Images via Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Superman returns, and he looks like David Corenswet. James Gunn has officially found his new Man of Steel in the form of Hollywood and The Politician star Corenswet, with the 29-year-old Superman: Legacy star being the latest to don the red and blue and follow in the footsteps of such iconic performers as Christopher Reeve, Henry Cavill, George Reeve, and many more.

And yet while I am one of the many DC fans out there ecstatic at Corenswet’s casting, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the Supermen that never were. To land this role, Corenswet managed to beat out both Nicholas Hoult and Tom Brittney, both of whom could’ve been spectacular Supes in their own right. And they aren’t the only ones, as the annals of DC film history are littered with would-be Kal-Els.

For the best portrayals of Superman, you can look elsewhere, but for now let’s celebrate the very best of the actors who were almost cast as the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Honorable mention: Nicolas Cage

If this article had been compiled just a short while ago Nicolas Cage would’ve easily topped this list. And yet, thanks to his uncanny cameo in The Flash, Cage has now legitimately played Superman so he no longer qualifies. Nevertheless, the death of 1998’s unmade Tim Burton movie Superman Lives remains one of superhero cinema’s most famous what-ifs.

10. Arnold Schwarzenegger

arnold schwarzenegger the expendables
via Lionsgate

Superman with an Austrian accent? Hey, it nearly happened. When looking around to find someone who could bring the might of the Man of Steel to life in 1978’s Superman: The Movie, producers naturally turned to a then-upcoming European bodybuilder by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s fair to say if Arnold had got this gig, the whole of cinema could’ve been different. The Terminator franchise? Hasta la vista, baby.

9. Sylvester Stallone

Photo via Disney

Ironically, Arnold’s old nemesis Sylvester Stallone was likewise touted as a potential Supes in ’78 before the role quite rightly went to Christopher Reeve. Like Schwarzenegger, Stallone’s distinctive voice make it almost impossible to imagine him as the Last Son of Krypton. And yet Stallone’s been such fun in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad films that I can’t help but wonder if he might’ve surprised us.

8. Will Smith

Image via DC Films

Long before there were rumors of Michael B. Jordan potentially playing a Black Superman, Warner Bros. offered Will Smith the opportunity to play the hero in an early form of what became Superman Returns. Smith has admitted that he turned down the opportunity as he didn’t want to deal with the backlash from the white community against a race-swapped Supes. But just imagine if he’d said yes.

7. Glenn Howerton

Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds in season 16 of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'
Photo via FXX

There’s an alternate universe out there where Glenn Howerton literally pulled a Chris Pratt, as the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star was one of those who auditioned to play Star-Lord. Many years prior to that, however, he also tried out for Clark Kent in Superman Returns. We all know him so well as Dennis Reynolds that it’s hard to picture him as Kal-El, but he may have been an intriguing left-field casting.

6. Jude Law

Image via Marvel Studios

Jude Law was one of several actors who circled Superman: Flyby, the aborted early 2000s film from Brett Ratner and J.J. Abrams. In Law’s case, he was so close to landing the lead role that he actually got to try on the Superman suit, but one look at himself in the tights and the cape convinced him he was not ready for the way such an all-consuming role would change his life, and so he declined.

5. Robert Redford

Image via Marvel Studios

Yes, it seems like basically every iconic actor around in the 1970s was considered to play Superman in Richard Donner’s movie. Even more so than either Schwarzenegger or Stallone, however, Robert Redford would’ve been a fascinating Superman with a lot of gravitas. It’s hard to get past his distinctive red-blonde hair color, but if he’d died it black a young Redford could’ve been a dead ringer for the hero.

4. Josh Hartnett

black mirror season 6
Image via Netflix

Josh Hartnett is one of those famous cases of an actor who could’ve been one of the biggest stars of Hollywood if they hadn’t stepped out of the spotlight. On top of turning down Batman, Hartnett also rejected the lead in the Superman: Flyby project, even though he was offered a three-movie deal worth a cool $100 million. Hartnett’s proven himself to be a versatile performer and he really could’ve worked wonders with the part.

3. DJ Cotrona

Image via Warner Bros

Not since Nicolas Cage has anyone got closer to playing Superman before losing out. DJ Cotrona was among the starry cast of upcomers hired for George Miller’s Justice League Mortal in 2007, before a combination of the writers’ strike and the success of The Dark Knight convinced WB to shelve the ambitious, ahead-of-the-MCU crossover flick. Cotrona would’ve been the world’s first Latino Supes, but at least he eventually got to join the DCU in Shazam!.

2. Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser as Elliot in 'Bedazzled'
Photo via 20th Century Fox

DC has really done a number on Brendan Fraser over the years, hasn’t it? Doom Patrol was cancelled, Batgirl is doomed never to be seen, and The Mummy icon has admitted his audition for Superman: Flyby was affected by some uncomfortable studio politics. If anyone would’ve been the perfect Superman for the early 2000s, though, it’s Fraser, who no doubt would’ve brought his customary warmth and charm to the part. James Gunn, can you finally do right by Brendan, please?

1. Matt Bomer

From one Doom Patrol veteran to another. Matt Bomer has long been a fan-favorite casting for Superman because, well, I mean just look at the guy. No one looks more like the comic book character come to life, excepting David Corenswet. According to Bomer himself, he beat out Fraser and Paul Walker to be cast in Superman: Flyby, potentially opposite future Lois Lane Amy Adams, before the film fell apart (although at least he got to play Supes in a Prius commercial). 20 years later and we’ve still yet to have an openly gay actor cast as Superman.

About the author

Christian Bone

Christian Bone is a Staff Writer/Editor at We Got This Covered and has been cluttering up the internet with his thoughts on movies and TV for a full decade, ever since graduating with a Creative Writing degree from the University of Winchester. He can usually be found writing about anything Marvel or DC. And yet, if you asked him, he'd probably say his favorite superhero film is 'The Incredibles'.