SECRET IDENTITY: Who Should Play Ghost Rider?

It looks like Columbia Pictures is revving up to bring “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” to the big screen, but the return of Nicolas Cage to the title role is no longer guaranteed. If the actor cannot find room in his schedule to start shooting the sequel by November, the studio will reportedly proceed without him or else risk losing the franchise to Marvel Studios.

With that in mind, it’s time to start considering the possibilities of other actors for Johnny Blaze. For my money, there are three qualities that any prospective successor should embody: rugged looks, a bone-chilling stare and a menacing voice that puts the fear of God in your heart.

After the jump, I’ve listed five candidates that could pull off all these qualities as the next Johnny Blaze.

CILLIAN MURPHY: Although the “Batman Begins” actor is admittedly a little thin for the part, Cillian Murphy nonetheless has a cold gaze and chalk-scraping voice that would work wonders for Blaze. In fact, given his skeletal frame, it’s pretty easy to imagine his face melting away to reveal the terrifying flaming skull of Ghost Rider, isn’t it?

DANIEL CRAIG: With “Bond 23” on hold, Daniel Craig could fill his time by taking the Rider’s flaming motorcycle for a spin. He’s got the perfect gritty look for Blaze, and if you’re wondering if he can be scary enough, just check out his role in “Road to Perdition,” where he offers one of the most chilling lines of all time: “Because it’s all so f—ing hysterical.”

JENSEN ACKLES: It wouldn’t be much of a leap for Jensen Ackles to go from demon-hunting Dean Winchester on “Supernatural” to demon cyclist Johnny Blaze in the “Ghost Rider” sequel. While he would have been a solid pick for Steve Rogers in “Captain America,” I think Ackles is better suited for a more horror-oriented role like the Spirit of Vengeance.

JOSH HOLLOWAY: With “Lost” nearly over, the erstwhile James “Sawyer” Ford needs a new home. Josh Holloway missed out on Gambit some years ago, but perhaps Johnny Blaze is a better match. Over the years, Holloway has perfected the precise self-loathing badass persona that one would hope for out of a tormented soul like Blaze — as long as he’s not riding around calling people “Freckles” and other assorted nicknames, I think he would work.

KIEFER SUTHERLAND: Even before Nicolas Cage assumed the role, I always thought that “24” star Kiefer Sutherland would be an ideal Ghost Rider. He’s a physical match for Blaze, but most importantly, he has one of the most instantly recognizable and thoroughly intimidating voices of any actor working in Hollywood. Of all these candidates, Sutherland is my favorite pick for the role.

Who would you cast as Johnny Blaze? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter!