Nicole Sperling
March 19, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Over the past few years, Hollywood has bet big on superheroes and won, inspiring a gold rush on less-beloved comic-book characters (think the Green Hornet). The latest to make the big-screen leap: Captain America, slated for a summer 2011 release — provided Marvel Studios can nab the right actor to play him. According to the mythology, Captain America must have the athletic prowess of an Olympian and wear his patriotic suit with style. In this go-round, EW has learned, the movie will take place in a stylized WWII-era London, with Captain America battling his archenemy, Red Skull. That would all be fine, but complicating the search is Marvel’s plan to make an all-star Avengers movie for summer 2012, in which Captain America (played by said actor) leads a crew of heavyweights including Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury, and Chris Hemsworth‘s Thor. ”They’re casting two franchises here,” says a source close to the production. ”This is no easy feat.”

From the looks of the hunky twentysomethings that Marvel has been auditioning (read more below), high cheekbones and piercing eyes must also be in the job description — a decision that isn’t sitting so well with the fanboys. ”It’s so aggravating to hear this list,” says Alex Ross, the artist who redesigned Captain America for Marvel back in 2007. ”We’ve been saying for years, if you don’t sign Jon Hamm to play this part, you’re crazy. Captain America is supposed to be the patriarch of the Marvel universe. To get a guy in his early to mid-20s is only thinking about where the character began, not what he ultimately needs to become.”

Fan concerns aside, the chance to don the shield is seductive. ”There is no reason to not lock yourself up for as many [sequels] as they want,” says an insider. ”The upside is you’re a movie star.” (It’s been rumored that Marvel is only offering a $300,000 payday — not enough to lure some actors. A well-informed source says the studio is willing to pay much more, depending on the name.) But whoever the studio chooses — and a choice is expected shortly — will be scrutinized. ”This part is what every young actor wants,” says another insider. ”It’s iconic, along the lines of Superman and Batman.”
(Additional reporting by Keith Staskiewicz)

In the Running
Though John Krasinski and Chace Crawford are out, there are plenty of other candidates vying for the Captain.

Ryan Phillippe
At 35, he’s the most age-appropriate pick for the leader of the Avengers.

Chris Evans
The Fantastic Four‘s Human Torch certainly has superhero experience.

Mike Vogel
This Cloverfield star lost out on Captain Kirk. Could his time be now?

Channing Tatum
He’s got the Army cred to play Steve Rogers from his training on G.I. Joe.

Sebastian Stan
Marvel wanted an American but is eyeing the Romanian-born Gossip Girl star.

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