Whether turning down a pivotal role that later became famous meant these actors missed chances at stardom, billion-dollar franchises, or finally getting that Oscar, there are plenty of reasons to regret turning down this list of 30 blockbuster roles that ultimately went to other actors.
Can you imagine Al Pacino as Han Solo in Star Wars, Kevin Costner as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, or Leonardo DiCaprio as Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights? Read on for more surprising roles that these actors and actresses regretted passing on.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s was author Truman Capote’s masterpiece, and his preference for the iconic, pearl-clad part of Holly Golightly was the equally iconic Marilyn Monroe. Monroe’s agent, however, advised her that playing a “prostitute” would be bad for her image, so she turned it down.
Instead, the role went to Audrey Hepburn, which became one of the characters she’s best known for. Monroe, meanwhile, made The Misfits, written by her husband, famous playwright Arthur Miller. The production was such a disaster that the conflicts on set about the script reportedly ended Miller and Monroe’s marriage. She would pass away the year after it was released.
The Joker from Batman is such a great villain that Jack Nicholson reportedly was disappointed that the part wasn’t offered to him again when director Christopher Nolan brought back the character in The Dark Knight Rises (the role ended up going to Heath Ledger, who passed away shortly after filming). But Nicholson almost didn’t even get the part in the original 1989 movie.
According to John Lithgow, he was approached by director Tim Burton before the role was offered to Nicholson, but Lithgow didn’t feel he would be right for the part. “I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded,” Lithgow told Vulture about one of the first hit superhero blockbuster movies. “I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.”
Who wouldn’t want to film a sexy pottery scene with their hot wife? Bruce Willis, apparently, who passed on playing the part of the ghost in Ghost after reading the script—even though his then-wife Demi Moore would ultimately take the part of the ghost’s very-alive wife, Molly.
Willis shouldn’t feel bad for taking a chance on what was an admittedly strange script, however. Numerous actors passed on the film—including Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and Kevin Bacon—before Patrick Swayze took on the part. It would go on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and win for Best Original Screenplay.
Leonardo DiCaprio has had one of the most enviable careers of any movie star alive. But when asked by GQ in 2008 which role he turned down and wished he had taken, DiCaprio had only one reply: Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. The strange twist? The movie DiCaprio took instead was Titanic.
“I think they’re both great and wish I could have done them both,” he told GQ. But also he seemed to consider the “what ifs” if he had taken Boogie Nights instead of Titanic, the movie that made him a mega-star: “It would have been a different direction, careerwise…it would have been interesting to see if I had gone the other way,” he told GQ.
There was no star more sought-after in the early 00s than Brad Pitt, so it’s no surprise that he was offered the role of Jason Bourne, the amnesiac action hero of The Bourne Identity that launched more than a decade’s worth of sequels. Pitt had a full plate, however, and declined the role.
Instead, it went to Matt Damon, who was known mostly for his roles in Good Will Hunting and The Talented Mr. Ripley. The part changed his career, and he went on to play Jason Bourne four more times. Pitt, meanwhile, starred in the relatively forgettable Spy Game.
Stupid is as stupid does, and it was definitely not the brightest move for John Travolta to turn down the role of Forrest Gump. One of the most beloved film characters in American history, the role also earned Tom Hanks his second Oscar in two years.
Strangely, Travolta has a long history turning down roles that later went to Tom Hanks. The next year, he declined the part of astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 and later, prison guard Paul Edgecomb in The Green Mile. He also turned down Richard Gere’s memorable role in An Officer and a Gentleman.
Now they’re considered some of the most famous siblings in Hollywood, but before The Matrix, the Wachowskis were basically unknowns, having directed only one movie (Bound) that hadn’t done well at the box office. So it’s hard to blame Will Smith for saying no when they approached him about playing Neo in what became a sci-fi classic.
Unfortunately for Smith, The Matrix became…The Matrix and spawned two sequels, as well as video games, comic books, action figures and more—generating more than $3 billion in revenue and becoming one of the most successful franchises in history. And the movie Will Smith made instead? The universally hated bomb Wild Wild West.
The Silence of the Lambs was one of 1995’s most memorable movies, and Academy voters thought so too, giving the film seven nominations and five wins, including Jodie Foster for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The role of Clarice Starling wasn’t first offered to Foster, however.
Michelle Pfeiffer, known for her notable roles in Tequila Sunrise and Dangerous Liaisons, was first approached to play the tenacious detective who’s able to connect with killer Hannibal Lecter. Ultimately, she turned down the Oscar-winning part because she thought the movie was too dark…though she must have changed her mind somewhere between that decision and What Lies Beneath.
Legally Blonde is one of the most successful comedy movies ever helmed by a woman. Spawning a sequel and at least a hundred GIFs, it’s an iconic film that helped make Reese Witherspoon a household name. But Christina Applegate was first considered for the part.
Applegate, then known mostly for Married…with Children, told Entertainment Tonight in 2015 that she was afraid of being typecast as a “dumb blonde,” adding “What a stupid move that was, right?” Luckily, she had the short-lived TV show Jesse to keep her busy.
In the late 80s and early 90s, if you were looking for an actress to play an angsty teenager, Winona Ryder was your girl. She was played Lydia in Beetlejuice, Kim in Edward Scissorhands, and Charlotte Flax in Mermaids. But none of these movies were actually aimed at teenagers themselves.
Heathers, Michael Lehmann’s 1998 schlocky, shocking cult classic, was. And although you may not be able to picture anyone but Ryder as the protagonist Veronica (ironically, one of the few main characters to not be named “Heather”), screenwriter Daniel Waters did. Believe it or not, he originally wrote the part for actress Jennifer Connelly, but she turned it down.
It’s almost incomprehensible to picture Al Pacino playing the role that made Harrison Ford famous in Star Wars, but it almost happened. “It was mine for the taking, but I didn’t understand the script,” he told an audience at an event in London in 2013.
Ford gave the role his signature casual cockiness—and smile—and went on to reap the benefits of the most profitable sci-fi franchise in film history. Pacino, of course, was iconic in The Godfather, but who knows what an Al Pacino action figure would have looked like?
Batman Begins was one of the most successful relaunches of a movie franchise in history, spawning two more movies helmed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale. In The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, however, the part of Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart, is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, not Katie Holmes.
Although some speculated that perhaps Holmes had been fired, Nolan stated that he had wanted her back but she was unavailable. The two sequels each grossed more than double what Batman Begins had and are considered some of the best in the Batman legacy. Holmes, meanwhile, made the critical and box office bomb Mad Money.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring George Lazenby (who?) as James Bond is widely considered one of the worst Bond films ever made, with Lazenby being the only actor who’s only played 007 once. But would things have been different if Burt Reynolds had taken a shot at the role?
Then considered the biggest TV star in Hollywood, Reynolds turned down the role because he felt an American couldn’t properly play the British secret agent. It went to the Australian Lazenby instead, then was handed back to Sean Connery for one more film (Diamonds Are Forever) before Roger Moore landed the part.
No shade to Ernie Hudson, but it would have been cool to have Eddie Murphy join Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis as one of the original Ghostbusters. According to Murphy, the subject came up when he and Aykroyd were working on another 80s comedy classic: Trading Places.
Aykroyd, who was working on the Ghostbusters script with Ramis, told his co-star Murphy he was working on a film about a group of scientists who exterminate ghosts. “Sounds like a crock of shi*t to me,” Murphy reportedly told him. The role ultimately went to Hudson.
Can you imagine anyone other than Tom Cruise as Maverick in Top Gun? Believe or not, producers originally had Matthew Modine in mind for the role. It would have been a big “get” for the actor, who had yet to truly break through in any of the forgettable movies in which he had starred.
However, Modine didn’t agree with the script’s glorification of the military during the Cold War. He declined the part, and it became one of Cruise’s signature roles. Modine ended up finally getting his big break in another military film—the following year’s Full Metal Jacket—playing Private Joker.
It’s sometimes hard to remember what a star Nicolas Cage was in the 90s, a hot commodity whether you were filming action, comedy, or even deep-felt drama. (Just consider the fact that he did both Honeymoon in Vegas and Leaving Las Vegas within three years of each other.)
So it’s not as strange as it sounds when you hear he was approached to be Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Although he spoke with producers, he ultimately turned down the opportunity to be in the blockbuster movies, and the classic role went to Viggo Mortensen.
It seems strange today, but in the early 2000s, no one was particularly optimistic about superhero movies. Batman & Robin had been the biggest bomb of 1997, and no one was eager to try out the genre again. Actors were even more leery, afraid of being typecast and then unable to find work.
That’s why Josh Harnett not only turned down Spider-Man, but Batman and Superman as well. Instead, he made a string of forgettable dramas like Wicker Park and The Black Dahlia. One wonders what would have happened to his career if he had donned a cape or skin-tight costume.
In an alternate reality somewhere, when you find The Shawshank Redemption on TV, it’s Kevin Costner in the main role instead of Tim Robbins. Costner was offered the role before Robbins was, but he turned it down to appear in another film.
The film he made? Waterworld, far from being one of the year’s blockbuster movies. The movie was hated by critics and audiences alike, with the Associated Press reviewer writing, “Costner…is totally humorless and as dreary as the landscape he travels.” Shawshank, meanwhile, is often considered one of the best movies ever made.
One can be forgiven for thinking Back to the Future is a bit silly…but Ralph Macchio, who starred in the Karate Kid films? It’s hard not to laugh when you hear that he turned down the role of Marty McFly because he thought the movie wasn’t serious enough.
What would the Back to the Future trilogy have looked like with the same star as the Karate Kid? We’ll never know, but what we do know is that Macchio’s career fell flat after his trilogy, while Michael J. Fox, who ultimately played the time-traveling teen, had his choice of blockbuster movies.
Harrison Ford is known for being discriminating in what roles he accepts, which is perhaps why he’s so successful. During the course of his career, the parts he’s turned down include ones that ultimately went to Tom Skerritt in Alien, Kevin Costner in JFK, and James Caan in Misery.
The one role Ford is on the record as being regretful he didn’t take, though, is Bob Barnes in Syriana, which ultimately went to George Clooney. Ford didn’t like an earlier version of the script but loved the final product, for which Clooney won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Disney is known for its family-friendly movies, so it’s perhaps no surprise that when they were developing their first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, their first pick for the part of Jack Sparrow was Jim Carrey, who was currently riding high as America’s comedy king du jour.
However, Carrey turned down the part to play a man who has Godlike powers in Bruce Almighty. Johnny Depp ended up with the role, as well as one of the highest-grossing movie franchises in history. Who knows if it would have been successful if Jack Sparrow had Carrey’s characteristically goofy touch?
Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction was a comeback for John Travolta, but what if it had also been a comeback for another star—Mickey Rourke? Originally known for movies from the early 80s like Angel Heart and Year of the Dragon, Mickey Rourke is better known for his comeback in 2008’s The Wrestler. But it could have been much earlier.
Tarantino had originally wanted Rourke for the part of Butch, a washed-up boxer. He even sent the script to Rourke, but Rourke didn’t even read it. The part ended up going to Bruce Willis instead, who was in need of a bit of a comeback himself after a recent string of flops starting with 1991’s Hudson Hawk.
In 2007, Michael Clayton was the sleeper hit of the year and was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for George Clooney for playing Clayton. But did you know Denzel Washington was originally up for the role? Washington passed on the part and later regretted it.
“It was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director,” he told GQ. “I was wrong. It happens.” Writer/director Tony Gilroy went on to write and direct Duplicity and The Bourne Legacy, as well as writing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
It’s no surprise for someone with a career as long as Tom Cruise’s that he’s said “no” to a lot of movie roles. Cruise has turned down Footloose, Ghost, and even Iron Man. But his biggest regret may be turning down the part of professor John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.
That’s because Cruise has never won an Oscar, even after appearing in more than forty films. A Beautiful Mind was nominated for eight, including Best Actor in a Leading Role (and won for Best Picture). Meanwhile, the movie Cruise appeared in instead, Vanilla Sky, was nominated only for Best Score.
Friends’ David Schwimmer was apparently “on a break” from good career moves when he turned down the part of Agent J in Men in Black. The part, of course, went to Will Smith, and the films spawned two sequels and have grossed more than $1.6 billion worldwide.
While the film launched Smith’s career into the stratosphere, Schwimmer starred in a series of regrettable films including The Pallbearer and Kissing a Fool. Smith finally shed his Fresh Prince persona for good, but Schwimmer’s film career never quite made it out of the 90s.
Playing McMurphy, the petty criminal in One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest who decides doing time in a mental institution will be easier than doing it in prison (but finds out otherwise), was a pivotal moment in Jack Nicholson’s young career, and still one of his best-known roles.
If author Ken Kesey had had his way, however, McMurphy would have been played by Gene Hackman, who had recently starred in The French Connection. Hackman turned down the part, however (along with Marlon Brando) so it went to Nicholson, who made it his own.
The Hangover is one of the most successful comedies of all time, taking in more than $450 million at box offices worldwide in 2008 and spawning two successful sequels. But when Lindsay Lohan was offered the role of Jade, the stripper who Ed Helms wakes up married to, she turned it down.
Lohan reportedly said the script “had no potential” and passed on the part. It ultimately went to Heather Graham, who reprised her role as Jade in The Hangover III—except now Jade isn’t a stripper, but a stay-at-home mom. Lohan is still waiting for her comeback.
After Henry Winkler’s two seasons portraying Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli in Happy Days, it’s no wonder why Paramount Pictures wanted him for the role of Danny, the singing and dancing Thunderbird in Grease. Winkler was afraid of being typecast as a character from the 50s, however, so he passed on the part.
Of course, the job ended up going to John Travolta, who had his second big hit after the previous year’s Saturday Night Fever. Winkler, meanwhile, played the Fonz for a whopping nine more seasons, literally inventing the term “jumping the shark” in the process. He is remembered almost solely for the role.
Inconceivable! One of Broadway star Wallace Shawn’s best-known movie roles was as Vizzini in one of the biggest fantasy blockbuster movies ever, The Princess Bride, a.k.a. The villain who tries to poison The Man in Black at the top of the mountain. But the role was originally offered to Danny DeVito.
Shawn once told Entertainment Weekly that he confronted DeVito about DeVito passing on the part making that made him movie-famous: “I said, ‘You know, of everything that I have ever done since birth, the thing that is most well-known is a part I had because you were unavailable.’ He might have laughed nervously when I said that.”
Who’s Don Johnson, you ask? Well, no one would be asking that question if he has accepted the part of John McClane in Die Hard. But back in the 80s, Johnson was a bonafide Hollywood heartthrob, starring in the stylish cop show Miami Vice. He clearly didn’t think much of the Die Hard script and passed.
Instead, the movie went to Bruce Willis, a relative unknown whose biggest role was as the star of the mildly popular show Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd. Johnson shouldn’t feel too bad though. At least five other actors passed on Die Hard, including Richard Gere, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.