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Will James Gunn's Superman: Legacy casting buck the oddly fascinating Superman lead actor trend of the last 17 years?

The last three on-screen Supermen had all tried, and failed, to play the character in an earlier incarnation

Costume worn by Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Quest for Peace (1987), designed by John Bloomfield, based on an original design by Yvonne Blake.
Image credit: The British Film Institute

Screen tests are underway to discover who’ll play the Man of Steel in James Gunn’s upcoming movie Superman: Legacy, and while considering the actors who may or may not play the next cinematic Superman, there’s one qualifying question that might need to be brought up: Have they ever tried to get the role before? As unlikely as it may seem, all three of the last on-screen Men of Steel got the role after earlier failing at that very task.

This very odd coincidence comes about, in part, because of the many Superman projects that have hit the screens in the last couple of decades. Nonetheless, each of the Supermen that have been seen in the outfit in the 21st century only got the role after not getting the role for an earlier project. (Well, with the exception of certain cameos from The Flash, but that’s another story.)

For example: Tyler Hoechlin, who plays Superman in the CW’s Superman and Lois auditioned for Snyder's Man of Steel, later saying that he didn’t feel he was right for what producers were looking for. “I remember getting those sides, and because of who the character was, I went into looking at those scenes with an idea of what it was either supposed to be or should feel like. And I remember looking at the pages and going, ‘my gut instinct is telling me something completely different than what I think they’re looking for,’” he told Den of Geek in 2021. “I just decided, ‘You know what? If this is what they’re wanting and hoping that I do in this scene, I’m going to do what my gut’s telling me. I’m going to commit to that.'”

Hoechlin might not have gotten the role in 2013’s Man of Steel, but Henry Cavill did… which came years after he had been passed over the role of Superman in 2006’s Superman Returns. That time, Superman was played by Brandon Routh, who had, some years earlier, himself failed to get the Superman role in a planned-but-never-happened collaboration between J.J. Abrams and the director McG called Superman: Flyby.

Does this mean that not getting to play Superman in a project is a necessary stepping stone to actually getting to play Superman? We’re not willing to say just definitively either way, but other actors who didn’t get the Superman role from Man of Steel — a line-up that includes Doom Patrol’s Matt Bomer — or Superman and Lois might want to think about updating their resumes, just in case…

Who is in the running to play Superman in 2025’s Superman: Legacy? We have the rumored line-up right here…!

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Graeme McMillan

Staff Writer

Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.