If you were lucky enough to be a child of the ‘90s or ‘00s, then odds are you’ve seen the visual and aural phenomenon that is Disney’s Hercules at least 1000 times by now (and if not, then I have some serious questions about your childhood). The 1997 animated hit was released in the latter half of Disney’s Renaissance and gave audiences some of the most dazzling characters, animated sequences, and musical numbers in the Mouse House’s repertoire, some of which may still be on a certain author’s daily playlist (it’s fine).
As part of its ongoing mission to adapt its entire animated catalog into live-action blockbusters, Disney now aims to bring Hercules back to the big screen, this time with Aladdin’s Guy Ritchie at the helm. As thrilling as this is for those of us who still watch the film regularly (hi), Disney is at an Olympic disadvantage long before it even begins production. Not only is the company in the throes of a corporate restructure ⏤ resulting in layoffs and dropped Disney Plus properties and complicated by strikes and box office flops ⏤ but many of the live-action adaptations it has already released have been deemed misfires by critics and audiences alike. (Mulan? Unforgivable. Dumbo? Some of us may never recover.)
Before Hercules even has a chance of becoming the next Pinocchio (which boasts a 27% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes) or Peter Pan & Wendy, god forbid (a harrowing 11%), Disney needs to think long and hard about how it’s going to make the film an absolute smash. Part of that will entail casting the film’s characters perfectly, as the actors will be tasked with satisfying a legion of loyal fans who have adored Herc, Meg, Phil, and Pegasus since they were mere bébés. Unlike Hocus Pocus 2, which didn’t so much as drop the potion as smash it, Hercules can’t afford to fail ⏤ not if Disney wants its fanbase to continue shelling out money for its impending live-action lineup.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as much of a pay cut as Bob Iger would have to take in order to make it happen, here’s who I think Disney needs to cast in order for Hercules to go from potential zero to surefire hero.
Jacob Elordi as Hercules
I won’t lie to you ⏤ I’ve seen Jacob Elordi act in one single project, and no, it wasn’t Euphoria. From that performance alone (in the devastating 2 Hearts), I can tell you a few things about him. One, he’s preposterously handsome. Two, he’s suspiciously tall. And three, if a hundred-headed hydra was galloping toward me at full speed and I was standing between him and Taron Egerton, Elordi is the one I’d nudge forward before hauling ass in the opposite direction.
Egerton, who has allegedly already been eyed for the role of Herc, is a fabulous actor and earned every inch of his Golden Globe for Rocketman, but I can’t shake the fact that my guy comes in at 5’ 9”, maybe 5’ 10” in a sensible Greek sandal. There’s nothing wrong with being 5’ 9”, of course (or a sensible Greek sandal), but Elordi is a towering 6’ 5”. Get that guy a sword and a one-sleeved tunic and he may actually stand a chance against a hydra, five Titans, and the Lord of the Underworld. I personally think Egerton would have more success with a pair of Adamantium claws, but maybe that’s just me. (It isn’t.)
Not only was Elordi born the day before Hercules was originally released in theaters (can we talk about planets aligning for a second?!), but he has a face that no human on Earth would mind staring at for two and a half hours and is already so ripped that packing on additional muscle wouldn’t be a problem. Sure, playing both wobbly-kneed Hercules and muscular Hunkules would require the Steve Rogers CGI treatment for the first part of the film, but that’s nothing Iger’s donated millions can’t cover.
As for Elordi’s singing ability, something tells me he’d be able to handle both “Go the Distance” and its reprise after a voice lesson or two (and if not, Disney can have High School Musical’s Zac Efron on vocal standby). With that baby face and those rippling pectorals, Elordi already puts the “glad” in “gladiator” and his casting would be picture-perfect. Some would even say euphoric. And speaking of Euphoria…
Zendaya as Megara
Listen to me very carefully: There is one actress who can play Megara (sorry, Ariana) and her name is Zendaya. Why? Because she’s Zenfreakingdaya. She’s the Emmy-winning, Golden Globe-grasping, People’s Choice Award powerhouse and former Disney Channel darling who is already such a legend, she doesn’t even need a last name.
Yes, some of her characters have needed to be saved a few times (thank you, Andrew Garfield), but you know she’d never play Meg as a damsel in distress. Zendaya’s a fighter, and we know from Euphoria that there’s no dramatic depth she won’t mine for treasure. (Speaking of treasure, Disney, we wouldn’t mind a live-action Treasure Planet, please and thank you, nor would we discourage an Atlantis adaptation starring Andrew Garfield. Think about it.) The best part about Zendaya playing Meg? Her vocals are as fierce as her acting, meaning she would annihilate “I Won’t Say I’m in Love,” the definitive power ballad of our time. Just like Elordi, her casting would go down as smooth as sweet vermouth, and I believe her 184M Instagram followers would agree. In chess terms, Disney, this is what we call a checkmate.
Danny DeVito as Philoctetes
Look, I’m not saying every Disney adaptation needs the James Earl Jones treatment, but you have to admit that even though the live-action Lion King was as enjoyable as Pumbaa’s farts, hearing Jones voice Mufasa again was the best kind of déjà vu. National treasure Danny DeVito is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Hercules and I don’t think Disney needs to reinvent the wheel by recasting him.
He’s got that instantly recognizable voice and both the comedic timing and dramatic acumen to physically embody the character fans already know and love him for. No other actor is going to top his work in the original, so why bother trying? Get DeVito back in there, give him some goat legs and horns, and watch him once again lend a welcome sprinkling of heart to the film as Herc’s biggest cheerleader. DeVito would bring welcome reliability to the cast and offer a nostalgic nod to the original while also looking like an authentic satyr next to skyscraper Elordi. I’m not gonna lie, I’m also kind of curious to see what DeVito cutting grass with his teeth would look like.
Robert Downey Jr. as Hades
It goes without saying that James Woods had the breakout performance in the original Hercules, bringing delicious comedy to the fiery Hades and having so much fun with the role that he instantly created one of the best Disney villains of all time. While it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, it’s been suggested that Woods has said some deeply problematic things in the past, which makes a reprisal that much harder to champion.
Enter Robert Downey Jr., who for over a decade played one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and is officially ready for his villain origin story. After 10 years as Tony Stark, he’s completely prepared for Hades’ fast-talking diatribes, and we know from his work in Sherlock Holmes, Doolittle, and Tropic Thunder that he possesses chameleonic vocality and could either replicate Woods’ tonality or give us an entirely new spin on the Lord of the Dead. After so many years of Marvel heroics, I’m certain Downey is ready for a challenge, and what better way to do a total 180 than to slap on some blue paint and attempt to take over the cosmos? Downey would eat this role up and finally give us the live-action Disney villain we’ve been craving (go lay down, Jafar).
Jeff Bridges as Zeus
Speaking of Iron Man icons, how fun would it be to see Jeff Bridges play the heroic foil to Downey’s scoundrel? Bridges is well-known for the subtle nuance he lends his typically dramatic characters, but we’ve also caught glimpses of a much bigger personality shine through in his work, making him the perfect actor to bring Rip Torn’s larger-than-life Zeus, well, to life. Anyone who’s seen Bridges give so much as an acceptance speech knows how easily he can command a room, and the wisdom he’s amassed over the course of his 72-year career would lend Zeus that all-knowing fatherly quality needed during those “true hero” conversations with young Herc. Never mind superhero fatigue being at a peak right now ⏤ a role-reversed Bridges/Downey showdown would be the best kind of cinematic whiplash for every Marvel fan out there, this one included.
Patrick Warburton as Pegasus
I know what you’re thinking: Why not just use real horse sounds for a live-action Pegasus? Well, my young demigods, the answer is because Patrick Warburton exists and it would be a terrible shame not to take advantage of his otherworldly comedic gifts. Warburton has voiced dozens of memorable characters over the years ⏤ Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove being the obvious standout ⏤ but what would happen if all he had to work with was the huffing and whistling sounds of a birdlike horse crafted from a little cirrus, a touch of nimbostratus, and a dash of cumulus? The answer is hilarity, and I have no doubt that Warburton would be able to put a refreshing spin on Herc’s lovable, damsel-loathing steed. We’ve already seen Jim Cummings, Frank Welker, and Alan Tudyk play these kinds of roles in countless other Disney projects. I want to see Warburton’s Peggy, and if Disney made the mind-blowing decision to give Herc’s sidekick an actual voice this time around, well, then I need Warburton’s Peggy.
Kumail Nanjiani and John Mulaney as Pain and Panic
Hades’ henchmen can’t be played by just anyone, which is why we need some finite funnymen to make us cackle while they do his evil bidding. I don’t know about you, but anytime I see that Kumail Nanjiani is attached to a film, I know I’m going to enjoy it, and the guffaws I’ve unleashed during John Mulaney’s Netflix specials have likely made my neighbors contemplate their lease renewals. These two would make a killer team, and since Pain and Panic do a fair amount of shape-shifting role-play, this would be a fun opportunity for both actors to flex their vocal muscles in ways we haven’t seen (or heard) before.
Can we also take a moment to appreciate that, alongside Downey, this casting would give us the opportunity to witness three Marvel heroes transform into Disney villains? (Yes, Spider-Ham counts as a hero, Karen.) When you wish upon a star, you get Nanjiani and Mulaney as Pain and Panic. Nothing would help me sleep better at night.
Ken Jeong as Hermes
I’m gonna be honest, I’m pretty proud of this casting choice. The fact is, whether I’m watching a new season of The Masked Singer or rewatching Crazy Rich Asians, Dr. Ken is always making me giggle. I’ll be the first to admit that Paul Shaffer’s casting in the original was absolutely inspired, but the idea of Jeong flying around in a Greek tunic is already making me grin, and his gift of gab makes him a literal shoo-in for the speedy messenger god.
As if DeVito, Downey, Nanjiani, and Mulaney wouldn’t already be bringing plenty of comedic fodder to the table, Jeong would inevitably add his own signature flair to the role and steal every scene he appears in. The only thing left for Disney to do after casting him would be to find the perfect counterparts for every other Greek god in attendance at Hercules’ birthday party, and if the casting is spot-on, do I smell a Gods of Olympus spinoff? Step aside, Percy Jackson.
Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy as the Fates
It’s been well over a decade since the leading ladies of Bridesmaids all appeared in a film together, which means we’re due for a reunion. I’m not implying that Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy are entering their crone era, but tell me you can’t hear McCarthy saying, “Indoor plumbing ⏤ it’s gonna be big.” These three would positively chew on the scene in which the Fates warn Hades about Hercules’ heroic ascent, which is a crucial one given that it kickstarts the entire plot.
One could argue that anyone can play the Fates, but if Disney is smart, it’ll give us these fall-down funny ladies and force them to share a single eyeball. With McCarthy and Rudolph having just taken evil turns in The Little Mermaid and Disenchanted, respectively, it’s time for Wiig to have a Mouse House initiation of her own. I can’t think of any other actress more likely to have a spider inhabiting her left nostril, but I’ll keep Kate McKinnon as a backup just in case.
Amber Riley, Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, and Cynthia Erivo as the Muses
Listen, honey ⏤ Hercules will not be complete without a rockstar lineup of Muses, and the casting of these five fabulous ladies would be worth the price of admission alone. Every single one of them has the star power and vocal chops to slay the Muses’ many musical numbers ⏤ which will not only help tell the story but essentially carry it ⏤ and since they have the most demanding songs in the entire production, we quite literally need voices of their caliber.
I once had the opportunity to ask Lillias White, who played Calliope in the original film, if she’d ever reprise her role in a Broadway adaptation, to which she said, “Hell no ⏤ not seven times a week.” That should tell you everything you need to know about how difficult the Muses’ songs are and why we need top-notch talent to deliver them. Oscar winner Hudson, Tony winner Erivo, SAG winner Riley, Grammy nominee Monáe, and Grammy nominee Noni Rose (who also gave us Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, thank you very much) have already proven in everything from Dreamgirls to The Color Purple what stunning voices they’d bring to our Muses. All we need now is for Disney to trust what these remarkable artists can do if given the chance to come together and bring the glory of Hercules to a whole new generation.
The company has one chance to get it right, and with this cast, it has a chance to prove to the world that it can still go the distance ⏤ and maybe even give us its first truly fantastic live-action adaptation in the process.
Your move, Disney.