Casting Lex Luthor in Superman: Man of Steel 2

by Ernie Estrella on June 19, 2013 · 116 comments

in Casting, Lists, Man of Steel, Superman


One essential story that should spin out of Man of Steel is the formal introduction of Lex Luthor to this world. Imagine Luthor using Kal-El’s lack of experience against him to show the world that Superman does more harm than good (a classic Luthorism) – especially after the destruction and mayhem Superman “caused” in his battle with General Zod (Michael Shannon). Luthor doesn’t have to be the main villain; he can pull the strings, use technology or simply instigate Superman’s next big conflict in tandem with another villain. In no particular order, here is our list of actors who we think could pull off the Lex Luthor role, along with their pros and cons.


Michael Rosenbaum
Pros: In this case, familiarity breeds comfort instead of contempt since we know his interpretation of Luthor on Smallville well, and he could further develop that on the big screen. He’s the perfect age (late 30′s to mid 40′s range) that Hollywood is probably looking for to be able to grow into a role that will possibly live on for 10 years (if Warner Bros. is able to get their DC Universe up and running). We think he’s available to be locked into a long contract to do multiple films and he understands the main motivations of the character. Rosenbaum could also draw back in all the Smallville fans who were pissed he wasn’t around for most of the last three seasons.

EDITOR’S PICK: Read our review of Man of Steel

Cons: Been there, done that. Hollywood rarely casts people again for the same role unless we’re talking about animation. Rosenbaum represents a revisit to Smallville, a show that lost its steam after season five or six. As much as he would please audiences, he could turn them off too. Sometimes we want a separation of what’s on film from television, while at other times we just want a clean break. For producers and movie studios, making movies is akin to running a sports team: each regime wants to bring in its own roster and live or die by their decision.


John Glover
Pros: We’re taking one last swipe at Smallville, but only because Glover was so good at being so evil. If there were ever a sinister shadow of Lex Luthor on Smallville, it was definitely his father Lionel. He was the hand in the puppet before Lex could stand on his own feet. Between the Smallville versions of the Luthors, other villains on the television show paled in comparison.

Cons: Glover will turn 70 soon and while we think he’s still got it with recent turns on The Good Wife and Tron: Uprising, he won’t be on Hollywood’s radar to be the antagonist to square off with the 30-year old Cavill.


Bryan Cranston
Pros: As one of the best actors working today, who better to play the manipulative, scheming mastermind than Cranston? Plus, he possesses the gravitas to deliver a show-stopping performance. Cranston does all of that and more already as Walter White on Breaking Bad. He looks the part with the head shaved, and looks sharp in suits on the red carpet, which could be his entire wardrobe for Luthor. Cranston is probably one of the more obvious choices, but certainly one that has us dreaming of a Man of Steel sequel.

Cons: Again, age is a bit of a factor as he might not be able to play that friend-turned-foe angle, but Hollywood has done the big age difference before with Kevin Spacey and Brandon Routh in Superman Returns. Scheduling might also be a problem since Cranston is one of the busiest actors today. Even though he might be wrestled down for one film, there’s no guarantee he could be available for two or three films should Luthor ever become part of a DC Universe series of films. Still, we’d almost be willing to see Luthor one-and-done just to see Cranston fulfill the role of the iconic Superman villain.

Jon Hamm
Pros: There’s no denying his acting ability and there’s also an underrated comedic side (30 Rock), which might breathe some levity into the seriousness of Man of Steel. In fact, he’s done a short Funny or Die skit playing Luthor (see the video above). Should Warner Bros. retain Snyder, he’s worked with Hamm on Sucker Punch already and would probably be an easy score to work with since Mad Men has to be winding down at some point. Hamm is in that sweet spot as far as age and ability to give us multiple sides of a man, plus he could get physical if it’s required. He acts well without speaking and on the flip side has done some memorable voice work on commercials and Archer. Scoring him for Luthor would be a big time boost for team Superman.

Cons:  There’s not much we see that would be bad, other than he doesn’t possess that classic look we think of when Luthor comes to mind. He has such great hair too, so to shave it off might be a daring move for him (clearly the skin cap doesn’t work). Then again, who says that Luthor has to be bald. John Shea played Luthor with hair on Lois & Clark with the exception of a single episode. So while hair isn’t a deal breaker, Hamm must be at least willing to cut that pretty hair of his.


Dean Norris
Pros: If we’re considering Cranston, we have to give Norris a shot too. Norris currently plays Hank Schrader on Breaking Bad and will be on the new CBS Stephen King show, Under the Dome. While Cranston has perfected the art of speaking out of both sides of his mouth, the thought of Norris as Luthor makes us imagine another side of the character, one that says, “never trust me.” We’ve seen his character on BB turn from the one-note wiseguy to the smartest guy in the room. Norris can quickly get under your skin with a performance, give off slimy charisma and he’s got a great “deep thought” look (even while sitting on the toilet with his pants down). He has a terrific evil laugh and gives off the Luthor-look without much effort.

Cons: Like Cranston, Norris is starting to exit the ideal age range that could live with the role for several years if the Justice League franchise should ever get off the ground. Also, he is starring in a new series that could potentially make his availability more difficult.


Michael Chiklis
Pros: Has very similar physical qualities to Norris but also has the resume to lay out an intense performance if the design of Luthor is to get his hands dirty–like we’ve seen him do on The Shield and Vegas. We think Chiklis has a splendid evil streak in him and can blur that line of cutthroat executive and misunderstood vigilante (again from Luthor’s point of view). Luthor sees himself as the good guy doing bad things and Chiklis could do that very well.

Cons: Chiklis has been around the superhero wagon already as Ben Grimm AKA The Thing on Fantastic Four, plus on No Ordinary Family, which was hit or miss for comic book fans. Lots of actors have been able to work on both Marvel and DC films, but there is that stink some believe that you shouldn’t do both (let’s not bring up Ryan Reynolds who made the jump from Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Hal Jordan in Green Lantern). Like many of our choices here, he’s just eclipsed that age range to make a long run, but no one can deny his skill as an actor. It really depends on what Warner Bros wants to accomplish with a Luthor character since it would be a waste to merely use Chiklis as the puppet master.


Peter Dinklage
Pros: Nobody has taught the world the power of words and negotiation better than Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. Perhaps he doesn’t have the look, and the comic book world can’t wrap its collective brain around the height difference. However, when casting and channeling Lex Luthor any actor would do well to take a lesson on cunning and shrewdness from Dinklage’s performance as Tyrion on GoT. Sure he’d make a great Mr. Mxyzptlk, but doing a successful Luthor is well within his talent as well.

Cons: Like we said, no one is thinking of Dinklage as Luthor until you think about what he brings as an actor.  When it comes to casting Dinklage, he is the out-of-the-box choice, but despite his mad skills, there is the dilemma of fitting an expected image. Comic book nerds might have a conniption fit since they freak out when the race of one their beloved characters is changed. We don’t believe in it, but know how Hollywood operates; studios often execute many decisions solely based on looks over talent, fair or unfair. Game of Thrones and other film roles (such as X-Men: Days of Future Past) are currently keeping him busy and not knowing when a sequel would begin production makes his availability a guessing game. George R.R. Martin still writing the books doesn’t help.


Joaquin Phoenix
Pros: Speaking of unconventional and wild, Phoenix could take Luthor to all sorts of strange places. He fits the right age and possesses a range of emotions in his acting to play a master villain who “means well.” Each of Luthor’s moves is calculated and whoever plays Luthor has to believe he is doing the right thing for mankind. Once one accepts that, then Phoenix becomes a likely candidate to pull that off. Phoenix has also starred in two films with Amy Adams, The Master and Spike Jonze’s new sci-fi romantic comedy Her to be released in November. Knowing he would be acting with Adams again could help in wooing him to a commercial role.

Cons: Phoenix can be wildly unpredictable with his career choices (I’m Still Here), but the ones he does accept are always rich with material. He rarely takes on roles in mainstream films so this could be a difficult score. This would be his biggest commercial movie since Gladiator so it would be a shock to hear his name in the running.


Mark Strong
Pros: We’ve chosen a lot of TV actors to portray Luthor but that’s partly because of the strength of television right now; we can see what actors can do with their characters over multiple seasons of a show. Strong is one actor who makes an impact on film no matter if it’s a leading role or in support of another, and he’s made a career playing memorable villains.

Cons: He’s been in the playground of superheroes before when he played Sinestro in Green Lantern and Frank D’Amico in Kick-Ass. Strong was actually one of the bright spots of Green Lantern, John Carter too, but who knows what flops like that could do to shape one’s view of this genre when weighing jobs. Would he give superheroes another shot if it came knocking? Strong’s availability could be another variable based on the success of his new AMC show, Low Winter Sun.


Aidan Gillen
Pros: A veteran of film, television and theatre, Gillen could play Luthor in a way that would excite fans about the new direction in which the Superman franchise is going. His Peytr Baelish on GoT and Tommy Carcetti on The Wire, stand atop a very accomplished resume. That’s enough to show us that he could play all of the sides in Luthor we are looking for.

Cons: As we mentioned for Dinklage, openings in Gillen’s schedule could be tricky to coordinate. He is on the wiry side. So if Luthor were to get physical, Gillen would probably be forced to don the green and purple Super Powers battle armor to fight Superman (see top photo). That isn’t too bad of an issue, but it’s not that good either.

Did you like any of our picks for Lex Luthor in a potential sequel to Man of Steel or recurring villain in a DC film universe? Maybe you’ve got a choice that’s better than ours. Share your thoughts below.

  • rogerscorpion

    OK. I like that they kind of make Luthor an ‘Earthist’–an exaggeration of ‘nationalist’, rather than JUST an evil genius planning to rule the Earth. Or just a criminal. Lex thinks he knows better than anyone else. I’m not sure how much it irritates Clark. Are they going to use the name ‘Superman’ this time, I wonder? They might have to toss Jerry’s family a few pennies.

  • Pat Kolp

    No I know that. I’m just saying what Snyder came out and said awhile go.

  • rogerscorpion

    Then, we need Tom Welling!

  • rogerscorpion

    Pat, Luthor’s been calling him that, in the comics, for a few years. I think DC decided that’d be a more rational reason for Luthor to dislike Superman, than the earlier justifications. Actually, there’s now a comic called ‘Superman: Alien’.

  • Pat Kolp

    And Zach Snyder has said that in MOS2, Luthor likes to call Superman ‘Alien’ just to get under his skin.

  • Orkindorf

    Michael Rosenbaum would be best for the role with his evil look and experience playing Lex Luthor. He is the best choice by far.

  • Rye

    MICHAEL ROSENBAUM for Lex Luthor! You dont get it, if you have watched all superman and read it all and then suddenly came across Lex Luthor of Smallville, you would realize that he was born to immortalize Lex Luthor, he was born to do it. He has grown now and is 40 plus he could just be an even better Lex Luthor than he already amazingly was.

  • rarebird

    If anyone else but Rosenbaum plays Lex the Superman nation should boycott the movie…none of the actors they have listed as possible could possibly come close…I think that Cavill played a decent Superman but Would have liked to see Welling on the big Screen His Clark Kent/Superman was superb.

  • Elle

    How is this even a debate? After Michael Rosenbaum played Lex Luthor in Smallville, his fate was sealed. He is the one true Lex. We NEED him in this movie! In fact, I don’t even think I’ll be able to bring myself to see it if he isn’t given the part.

  • rogerscorpion

    The idea of Lex & Clark being childhood friends, was never in the original concept of Luthor. That was invented when DC created the ‘Superboy’ comics, and made Superboy causing his hair loss, as his reason for hating him.

    It’s been handled much better in recent comics & the films. In the comics, Luthor refers to Superman as ‘The Alien’. Luthor is a corrupt businessman, but is also very ‘Earthist’–if you will.

    Spacey was a good age. Cranston will fit well. Chiklis is an interesting choice. As Vic Mackey, he was, in his mind, a good guy, who necessarily bent rules. I could see him as Luthor.

  • SAND

    Rosenbaum or someone else have the evil look,the evil smile and the evil way of talking will be cool

  • Ann

    Rosenbaum is the only Lex I Ever want to see, in or out of Smallville! He added so many layers and so much depth to the character, I can never get enough of seeing Rosenbaum as Lex! I am absolutely fascinated by his portrayal of Lex, and I don’t even care who plays Clark Kent, as long as Rosenbaum plays Lex Luthor!

  • Rose

    Rosenbaum all the way! He’s beyond fantastic for the role.

  • Ken

    Should definitely just be Rosenbaum.

  • Matt Segal

    I Feel that Rosenbaum would be the perfect big screen Lex. He never had the chance to really spread his wings as Lex as the bad guy on Smallville. his soul piercing stare and villainous aura would trump any other actor at this role

    Rosenbaum is the lex luthor that the audience could love and hate at the same time

  • hb

    Gillen, Gillen. IMO this guy is sooo underated. 1 really high-profile part & this will explode in the US market.

  • DingALing

    Haha Nicolas Cage or Michael C. Hall :D

    (But out of the list Bryan Canstron)

  • RLDP

    Bryan Cranston without a doubt would be the absolute perfect choice!

  • Ross

    However, I would be far from upset if Joaquin Phoenix played him, ahaha.

  • Ross

    I think Michael Rosenbaum would be a great pick. I know he has played Lex Luthor before, but that means he has a lot of experience in that field. Also, he was by far the best actor out of the whole cast and he has done a lot of other work with DC Comics, meaning that he has a clear understanding of how he should be played (also, he has a very menacing voice, aha.)

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