The biggest new star of 1976 wasn’t an actor, but an athlete. Before identifying as Caitlyn Jenner, Bruce Jenner won the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics—and along with it the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete.” Hollywood bigshots made a play for Jenner, even offering the role of Superman in Superman. Ultimately, Christopher Reeve got the role in 1978’s Superman: The Movie (even though he was also an untested screen presence). Instead, Jenner decided to host Battle of the Network Stars and appear in the 1980 Village People musical Can’t Stop the Music.
Superman is the property of DC Comics, and before the 1978 Superman movie entered production, the publisher sent to the film’s producers a list of pre-approved stars. On that list: world famous champion boxer Muhammad Ali. The idea got as far as Ali’s promoter taking Superman‘s producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind out to dinner to sell them on his client. Alexander Salkind had somehow never heard of Ali, and the promoter sold him on the idea…until it came up that Ali was African-American.
Neil Diamond is a singer of course, but also a songwriter (he wrote a lot of the Monkees’ early hits) and an actor (he starred in The Jazz Singer in 1980). And he was so popular in the ’70s that he was up for the part of Superman. He met with producers, but he ultimately took himself out of the running because the months-long shooting schedule of the big-budget movie would take him away from his lucrative concert dates.
Also in the running for Superman back in 1978: Sylvester Stallone. Fresh off of a starmaking turn in Rocky, producers were interested, but co-star Marlon Brando (who signed on to play Superman’s father, Jor-El) had it in his contract that he could approve or reject the film’s other actors. At the time, Stallone was earning comparisons to a young Brando, and Brando was reportedly so miffed that he didn’t want to star in a movie with the guy who he thought was his up-and-coming replacement.
Ben Affleck / Nicolas Cage
On the strength of his comic book-reference-laden movies such as Mallrats and Chasing Amy, writer-director Kevin Smith was hired by Warner Bros. in 1996 to work on a screenplay for Superman Reborn, a potential reboot of the Superman movie series. Smith suggested up-and-coming young actor Ben Affleck for the role of Superman/Clark Kent…but when Tim Burton was hired to direct Superman Reborn, Affleck was out in favor of his choice, Nicolas Cage. Ultimately, the movie fell apart before it could even get made. Both Affleck and Cage would go on to play superheroes on-screen: Cage in the title role of Ghost Rider, and Affleck as Batman in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Affleck also did wind up playing Superman…sort of. In the 2006 biographical mystery Hollywoodland, Affleck played George Reeves, the actor who starred on Adventures of Superman in the 1950s who died under mysterious circumstances.