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From She-Hulk to Black Panther, 12 Marvel Movies That Never Made It

Years before the MCU, George Clooney, Wesley Snipes and Tom Selleck came close to being superheroes.

Richard Trenholm
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Richard Trenholm
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1 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholmn' Rich Trenholm

She-Hulk

Marvel movies like Avengers: Endgame and Thor: Love and Thunder gather multiple comic book heroes together for guaranteed hits. But there were also a number of bizarre and hilarious near-misses over the decades before the Marvel Cinematic Universe became the biggest thing at the box office.

The delightful book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe reveals how a galaxy of stars considered donning capes and tights in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, but for various reasons these films and TV shows never happened. Click through our gallery to see what those movies could have looked like.

She-Hulk was hastily created in the pages of Marvel comics, for example, to stop the makers of the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show from calling dibs on a female version of the angry green giant. In 2022, Orphan Black and Perry Mason star Tatiana Maslany will play She-Hulk: Attorney at Law in a new Disney Plus TV series. But years before that, statuesque star Brigitte Nielsen was rumored to be going green for the role.

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2 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch owns the role of Doctor Strange in the current Marvel Cinematic universe. But there were several previous attempts to bring sorcerer supreme Stephen Strange to theaters: At one point a script was drafted by Back to the Future writer Bob Gale, and later Wes Craven was set to direct it. Meanwhile, another film company lost the rights to the character while developing a movie version, so they just changed the name to "Doctor Mordred" and made it anyway.

Best of all, in the early 1980s there was talk of the sorcerer supreme being played by none other than Tom Selleck. His mustache was certainly magical.

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3 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholmsslin' Rich Trenholm

Luke Cage

At one point in the 1980s, Carl Weathers was set to step from the ring of Rocky III to the streets to play Luke Cage, also known as Power Man. Cage finally got his own series on Netflix, played by Mike Colter.

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4 of 12 Getty Images

Black Widow and Daredevil

Black Widow is now an established Avenger with her own movie, and Daredevil headlined a Netflix show in 2015. But an altogether weirder version almost happened decades ago in 1975. Angie Bowie, then married to David Bowie, bought the rights to both Black Widow and Daredevil. Sadly the project got no further than a photo shoot in which Bowie and actor Ben Carruthers dressed as the characters for photographer Terry O'Neill. Admit it: This would have been glorious.

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5 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

The Human Torch

Disaster movie mogul Irwin Allen once owned the rights to the Human Torch, a fiery hero and member of the Fantastic Four.

We don't know who might have played the title role. But we reckon Paul Newman, smoldering star of Allen's other flaming hit, The Towering Inferno, would have set the screen alight.

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6 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Blade

In 1986, film company New World bought Marvel. The relationship got off to an inauspicious start -- one exec thought they'd bought the rights to Superman -- but it did yield a movie starring Dolph Lundgren as the Punisher.

The plan was to film other lesser-known Marvel heroes, and so, long before Wesley Snipes took on the role, Shaft star Richard Roundtree was slated to play badass vampire hunter Blade in a Mexico-set western.

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7 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Captain America

Director Michael Winner could have recruited his Death Wish star Charles Bronson for a proposed Captain America film. A script was written (in the UK) by Winner, TV writer Stan Hey and a chap whom Hey later described as "some quaking, black-tee-shirted geek from [comic shop] Forbidden Planet."

The trio spent just six weeks knocking out a script in which the Statue of Liberty was kidnapped. Marvel's boss said it was "bloody awful."

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8 of 12 Ron Galella/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Iron Man

Nicolas Cage is a huge comics fan -- his copy of the prized Action Comics No. 1 was infamously stolen from his home -- and in the 1990s his name was linked to an Iron Man film.

As Robert Downey Jr. can attest, Cage never donned the armor. And Cage's comics-related bad luck continued when his starring role in a notoriously troubled Tim Burton Superman film also fell through in the late 1990s.

Happily for Cage -- if not for viewers -- he finally got to play a Marvel hero in two Ghost Rider movies.

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9 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Black Panther

Before he appeared as relatively little-known Marvel hero Blade in a surprise hit movie series, Wesley Snipes was connected to a possible Black Panther movie in the early 1990s.

The character finally made it to the big screen with a smash hit movie in 2018, played by the late Chadwick Boseman.

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10 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Nick Fury

David Hasselhoff had already played one-eyed superspy Nick Fury in 1998, but George Clooney later decided against taking on the role.

You might think his experience in superhero fiasco Batman and Robin put Clooney off another comics role. But in fact he was concerned that a then-recent 2001 Fury comic series was too violent.

Around the same time, Marvel's Ultimates line of comics depicted Nick Fury looking rather more like Samuel L. Jackson... and the rest is box office history.

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11 of 12 Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Ant-Man

Ant-Man first made it to movie theaters in 2015, played by Paul Rudd. Years earlier, Marvel had rushed a different version of the bite-size hero into production. The goal was to compete with a similar movie about shrinking people from a rival studio, which was to be called called Teenie-Weenies.

The Ant-Man movie ended up shrinking from sight. But the rival film, starring Rick Moranis, was a smash -- retitled Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

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12 of 12 ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images/Illustration by Richard Trenholm

Spider-Man

Shortly after the huge success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron planned a Spider-Man movie. He was reportedly paid $3 million for a 47-page treatment that never reached the screen, partly because the project was mired in legal disputes over the rights to the characters.

Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger was linked to the role of bad guy Doctor Octopus, who attempted to get his tentacles around a Spider-Man played by none other than a young Leonardo DiCaprio (center).

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