With the buzz around Marvel's 'The Avengers' reaching a fever pitch and the first reviews starting to hit ahead of the film's May 4th release (all positive, from what we've seen so far), now might be a good time to reflect back on some of the many casting rumors to reflect on a very different 'Avengers' movie.

Over the course of several years, as Marvel set its cinematic plans in motion and began developing films like 'Iron Man,' 'Thor' and 'Captain America,' various actors were rumored at one point or another for those iconic superhero roles. Even before the construction of the modern Marvel Studios that we know now, plans bounced around various studios for years regarding an 'Iron Man' movie.

So what if, as a result of that, the Tony Stark we know and (sort of) love today was not played by Robert Downey Jr.? And what if Chris Evans lost the role of Captain America to a guy who plays a paper salesman on TV? If a certain actress did not have a contractual obligation to fulfill, would we be seeing her instead of Scarlet Johansson fill out the Black Widow's black leather?

It's all interesting speculation for sure, so here for your geeky pleasure (or not) is a cast list for an alternate 'Avengers' -- perhaps this version is playing in a theater on some other Earth (and no, that's not a DC reference, just a sci-fi one):

  • Tom Cruise as Iron Man

    Cruise was rumored to play the billionaire weapons manufacturer and armored superhero as far back as 1998, with a movie about old Shellhead in development as early as 1990. It bounced around various studios before landing at New Line in 2004, with Cruise still attached. By the time Marvel got the rights back in 2006, however, Cruise had moved on. Other rumored contenders over the years included Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicolas Cage (of course) and one of 'Iron Man' director Jon Favreau's other choices, Sam Rockwell.

    Paramount Pictures
  • John Krasinski as Captain America

    A number of actors were on Marvel's short list to play the patriotic World War II super-soldier, including Chace Crawford, Scott Porter and Mike Vogel (interestingly, Chris Evans came into the picture very late in the game). But the name that stood out -- and apparently came within inches of getting the part -- was 'The Office' star John Krasinski. He did have a lot going for him, including his age, his cheerful, optimistic attitude, and his youthful 'aw, shucks' presence. But could he have made a formidable action hero? We'll never know.

  • Joaquin Phoenix as Hulk

    Once it was clear that Edward Norton was one-and-done as far as the Hulk was concerned, Marvel cast the net out to land a new jolly green giant. Rumored to be top of their list (if not actually offered the role) was the brooding Phoenix, whose trademark intensity would have no doubt played a large part in his take on the Hulk and Bruce Banner. But Phoenix was in the midst of the extended performance art piece that culminated in his pseudo-documentary, 'I'm Still Here,' and maybe a smelly, shaggy, drugged-out Banner stinking up the Helicarrier was not what Marvel had in mind.

    20th Century Fox
  • Emily Blunt as Black Widow

    British beauty Blunt (say that three times fast) was all but locked to play Natasha Romanoff in 'Iron Man 2' when Fox exercised a contractual option to have her star in -- take a deep breath -- the awful Jack Black version of 'Gulliver's Travels.' Blunt is a terrific actress and it would have been interesting to see her take on such an action-oriented role. Not that we're complaining -- Scarlett Johansson ultimately landed the role, and although her character wasn't that memorable in 'Iron Man 2,' she really shines in 'The Avengers.'

    20th Century Fox
  • Alexander Skarsgard as Thor

    It all began with a report that Kenneth Branagh was seen having lunch with 'True Blood' star Alexander Skarsgard -- but given that Branagh had been tapped to direct 'Thor' and the young Scandanavian actor halfway looked the part already, it wasn't difficult to connect the dots. We're not sure what happened, but a different Skarsgard ended up in 'Thor', namely Alexander's father, Stellan as Dr. Selvig. Also on Branagh's "let's do lunch" list at one point? Channing Tatum, who said he was passed over because they were looking for someone "more Nordic-looking."

  • Josh Hartnett as Loki

    We can't imagine anyone but Tom Hiddelston as the God of Mischief now, but apparently Kenneth Branagh was at one point looking closely at '30 Days of Night' star Hartnett, whose name has popped up repeatedly over the years in connection with superhero films (he was once close to playing Superman in the defunct 'Batman vs. Superman'). According to MTV News at the time, Hartnett was hoping to bring much of what Heath Ledger brought to the role of The Joker, to his portrayal of Loki.

    Walt Disney Pictures
  • Alice Eve as Maria Hill

    When the rumors about Eve ('The Raven') first popped up on Avengers News, the character they were supposedly up for in 'The Avengers' wasn't even named -- she was just described as an important female component of the Marvel Universe. It was eventually revealed that Maria Hill would make her screen debut, but by that time, Cobie Smulders had won the role. We still think Alice Eve would make one hell of an Emma Frost, however (same universe, different franchise).

    Paramount Pictures