Certain iconic movie characters are inseparable from the actors and actresses who played them. It’s hard to think of a world in which Harrison Ford didn’t play Han Solo or Indiana Jones, and Robert Downey, Jr. wasn’t Iron Man.
But you’d be surprised at how many of your favorite movie heroes and villains were almost played by totally different actors.
Tom Selleck – Indiana Jones
You might have heard about Tom Selleck’s screen test for Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and that he supposedly turned down the role of Indiana Jones for the less iconic TV series Magnum P.I.. That’s because CBS contractually wouldn’t allow him to be in the movie.
While we have absolutely nothing against Selleck or his mustache, it’s pretty difficult to imagine a world in which Harrison Ford didn’t don the fedora. One thing is for sure: it would have sent us into a wildly different timeline wherein Ford played the lead role in Quigley Down Under.
Tom Cruise – Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton’s weird suburban fairy tale Edward Scissorhands is easily the best Christmas movie about a man with scissors for hands. But even though Burton had his sights on Johnny Depp, the studio wanted a bigger star. And in the late 80s, few stars were bigger than Tom Cruise.
Cruise wasn’t anything like what Burton envisioned for the role of Edward, but he met with the A-list actor anyway. Burton recalled that Cruise was “interesting,” but asked a number of bizarre questions. In addition to asking for a happier ending, Cruise demanded to know how Edward Scissorhands used the bathroom.
Cruise eventually decided he couldn’t do the movie without knowing this crucial detail about his character, which led to Johnny Depp being cast.
Billy Crystal – Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story
The comically stoic and clueless Buzz Lightyear seems tailor-made for Tim Allen. It’s hard to imagine any other actor playing the part. You certainly wouldn’t think of Billy Crystal, someone whose range seems way more in-line with the neuroses of Woody.
But Crystal was exactly who Pixar wanted when they first conceived the character — even doing fully-animated screen tests with the actor. Ultimately Crystal passed, but later regretted doing so, eagerly returned to Pixar to give an unforgettable performance as Mike Wazowski in Monsters Inc.
Jim Carrey – Captain Jack Sparrow
Adapting a film from the plot of a 15-minute Disney ride gives you a fair amount of artistic freedom in the casting stages. And so it’s probably no surprise to hear that the role of Captain Jack Sparrow was offered to several actors of wildly different personalities.
Before they landed on Johnny Depp, the production considered the likes of Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, and Hugh Jackman — actors who we could certainly see playing an over-the-top pirate. What might shock you is that they also looked into Christopher Walken, who would’ve delivered a performance we can only picture in our nightmares.
O.J. Simpson – The Terminator
Sports star and future murder suspect O.J. Simpson was the studio’s number one choice to play the titular evil cyborg in The Terminator. In fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally told that the part was filled, and was offered the role of the human hero instead.
Luckily for everyone, James Cameron immediately and consistently rejected the idea. He felt that Simpson was just too darn nice-looking for the role. O.J. Simpson moved on to star in the Naked Gun films, and in a high-speed chase on network television.
Liam Neeson – Abraham Lincoln
In a perfect world, we’d get two Steven Speilberg versions of Lincoln: a biography of his entire presidency starring Liam Neeson, and the delightful one we did get with Daniel Day-Lewis. The former was what Neeson had initially signed up for, spending years researching the role.
But after extensive rewrites switched the focus of the film to the 13th Amendment, Neeson decided that the role had gotten away from him. In the end, the actor actually had to convince Spielberg he just wasn’t right for the part, handing it over to Day-Lewis and helping him earn an Oscar.
Annette Bening – Catwoman, Batman Returns
Ever since she was a kid, Michelle Pfeiffer was obsessed with Catwoman. You can probably imagine her disappointment when, after approaching Tim Burton about Batman Returns, she learned that the part had already gone to Annette Bening.
Image via Warner Bros.But Bening became pregnant right before production and had to be replaced. In stepped Pfeiffer, who absolutely owned the role, taking on her own stunts after practicing tirelessly to master a whip. Bening ultimately starred in another Burton movie, Mars Attacks.
Al Pacino – Han Solo
The deeply unserious concept of Al Pacino taking on the role of Han Solo is so over-the-top goofy that it sounds more like a standup bit than any possible version of reality. And yet, after his success with The Godfather, Pacino was offered just about everything, including the part of the space scoundrel.
According to the actor himself, Pacino recalls having absolutely no clue what A New Hope was about when given the screenplay. His confusion lead him to reject the role. This means that somewhere in the multiverse, there’s a world watching Al Pacino make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs.
Uma Thurman – Eowyn in Lord Of The Rings
Behind every huge surprise blockbuster, there’s a parade of a-list stars who feel very silly for turning down a part. Lord Of The Rings, an admittedly risky film, put out a lot of feelers before it hit production, which means a lot of famous people had to slam the door on the role of a lifetime.
The first of many on this list is Uma Thurman, who was initially offered the role of Eowyn — noblewoman of Rohan and slayer of the Witch-King. Thurman regretfully turned down the role after the birth of her first son. But her loss is the gain of many fans of Kill Bill, a film that came out the same year as Return Of The King.
Tom Hanks – Jerry Maguire
As a clueless and conceded pretty boy, the character of Jerry Maguire seems natural for Tom Cruise, who had played similar parts in Rain Man and The Color Of Money. But surprisingly, Cruise wasn’t the first choice – writer/director Cameron Crowe had specifically written it for a different Tom.
But when Tom Hanks came in to read the part, something just didn’t quite click, and Hanks opted to join the production of That Thing You Do instead. In the end it was win/win, as Jerry Maguire marked the beginning of a series of great Cruise performances, such as Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia.
Robert Downey, Jr. – Ferris Bueller
It’s seriously hard to imagine Matthew Broderick’s career without Ferris Bueller’s Day Off . Simply put, it’s one of those rare roles 100% slayed by the actor at the helm. Broderick makes the film a classic. And yet, he wasn’t the first choice.
So who was considered? Near the top of the list was John Cusack, Jim Carrey, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and even Robert Downey Jr. While they’re all fine actors with their own classics to boast, none of them would have held a candle to Broderick. It’s not every day that not hiring Robert Downey Jr. can be seen as a “near miss”.
John Travolta – Forrest Gump
The early 90s were a big time for Tom Hanks, who won two Academy Awards back-to-back, first for Philadelphia and then for Forrest Gump. And that wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for John Travolta, who was originally offered the role of Forrest Gump, only to turn it down.
And while that seems like a huge missed opportunity for Travolta, Forrest Gump came out the exact same year as Pulp Fiction, the movie that revived Travolta’s acting career and earned him an Oscar nomination of his own. Plus, it’s hard to feel bad for an actor forced to choose between two award-worthy roles.
Will Smith – Neo, The Matrix
Back in 1998, blockbuster-magnet Will Smith was approached by a pair of budding directors with only one film under their belt. They had a pitch meeting that Smith would later recall as unconvincing. During that meeting they described what would later become one of the most influential sci-fi films of the 2000s, The Matrix.
What did Smith do instead? He starred in Wild Wild West of course! That isn’t to say he regrets any of this, and in fact feels that had he taken the part of Neo, Val Kilmer would have been cast as Morpheus. Considering the combating egos potentially attached, there’s no telling what would’ve happened to The Matrix.
Emilia Clarke – Anastasia Steele, Fifty Shades Of Grey
Quite frankly, actress Emilia Clarke was tired of taking her clothes off when the offer came in to play Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades Of Grey. As she recently put it, “the last time that I was naked on camera on was a long time ago, and yet it is the only question that I ever get asked because I am a woman.”
She’s speaking of course about her role in Game Of Thrones, which lasted eight seasons — one more reason she didn’t like the prospect of appearing in a film series with several sequels ahead. Despite all the money the Grey films made, we can’t really blame her for avoiding another franchise with a rabid fan base.
Leonardo DiCaprio – Dirk Diggler, Boogie Nights
It’s very hard to imagine Mark Wahlberg being considered as a serious actor without first having appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Yet, he recently admitted to somewhat regretting his breakout role due to the film’s taboo subject. Perhaps he could go back in time and give it to Leonardo DiCaprio instead.
That’s right: the well-endowed role of Dirk Diggler was originally going to Mr. Jack Dawson himself, who decided not to do the film because the timing interfered with some other production about a boat that he was working on at the time. Did this other 1997 film pan out for him? We might never know.
Russell Crowe – Aragorn, The Lord Of The Rings
Another name on the list of actors who had no idea that Lord Of The Rings would be a super hit is Russell Crowe. Crowe was one of the first ones courted to play the extremely important role of Aragorn. In exchange? The actor was promised 10% of the film’s gross — otherwise known as a small fortune.
It wasn’t the uncertainty of success that warded off the A-lister, but rather that Crowe simply didn’t think he was a good fit for the part. Nor did he sense that Peter Jackson was particularly excited about him joining the cast. And so, with zero regrets, the actor respectfully bounced from the production. Good call!
Gillian Anderson – Clarice Starling, Hannibal
If you absolutely can’t get Jodie Foster to return for a Silence Of The Lambs sequel, then who can you get? Honestly there’s no more perfect solution than Gillian Anderson, who had spent a decade perfecting the role of an FBI agent on The X-Files. That’s why Anderson was one of the first choices for the Lambs sequel, Hannibal.
So what stopped her? The story goes that Anderson’s contract with The X-Files actually prevented her from playing another federal agent at the time. And so, the part went to Julianne Moore instead. Considering the fairly-forgettable outcome, we would have much rather seen Agent Scully take on yet another man-eating monster.
Brad Pitt and Matt Damon – Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain, about a secret romance between two ranch workers, was a pretty big breakthrough in progressive mainstream cinema when it released in 2005. The film’s two stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, received Oscar nominations for their fantastic performances.
But before Ang Lee took the director’s chair, it was Gus Van Sant who first tried to adapt the original story. And in an interview, the director revealed that Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Ryan Phillippe all turned down the lead roles at some point during the production. In the end, we probably got the best version, but there isn’t a single combination of those names that isn’t intriguing.
Hugh Jackman – James Bond, Casino Royale
At first glance, a Hugh Jackman Bond series doesn’t sound so bad at all. But had Jackman replaced Pierce Brosnan as 007 instead of Daniel Craig, there’s a good chance that the late 2000s would have been very different for Wolverine fans. After all, would films like Logan even exist if Jackman was balancing two franchises at once?
Ultimately, casting Craig to play Bond as a blue-eyed sociopath was a far better choice for everyone. And we have Jackman to thank, who turned down the role because he wanted to shy away from traditional hero roles, favoring darker films like The Prestige and Prisoners.
Michael Jackson – Jar Jar Binks
When it comes to re-thinking the Star Wars prequels, really any decision that isn’t what wound up in the finished films should be worth considering. For example, what if they cast Michael Jackson in the role of Jar Jar Binks? Would that have been any worse?
Well, we almost got the answer to that question. According to Binks actor Ahmed Best, Jackson had lobbied hard for the role, wanting to play the part in full prosthetic makeup like he’d worn in the music video for Thriller.
But George Lucas was more interested in exploring CGI, and went with an idea that would amazingly turn out worse that putting lizard makeup on the King of Pop.
Tom Cruise – Iron Man
Listen – Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. It’s doubtful that the Marvel films would’ve become a global phenomenon if he hadn’t been cast in the first Iron Man. But at one point in time, albeit for a brief moment, that role almost went to Tom Cruise instead.
It’s easy to picture Cruise as a smug tech billionaire, and he probably would have done great in the role. But even though the studio really wanted him for his A-list star status, according to Cruise himself, this “near miss” wasn’t nearly as close as rumors would have you believe.
Sean Connery – Gandalf, The Lord Of The Rings
Man, nobody had any faith in Lord Of The Rings. Legendary actor Sean Connery turned down a whopping 15% of the film’s future gross to play Gandalf in the fantasy trilogy. Why did he refuse? According to Connery, he simply didn’t understand the story.
While it hasn’t been confirmed, rumor has it that this near-miss with box office glory led Connery to accept a role in another film that he “didn’t understand”. Only this time that movie was The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which didn’t have the same staying power as Peter Jackson’s fantasy masterpiece.
Gwen Stefani – Mr. And Mrs. Smith
Mr. And Mrs. Smith was a charming if forgettable mid-00’s action movie, but there’s no denying the film’s importance in the history of tabloid romances. It marked the first working relationship between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, a relationship that turned romantic during the production.
But according to No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, she was also in the final running for the film, having been called back to multiple auditions for the part of Mrs. Smith. Had Stefani landed the part instead of Jolie, it’s entirely possible that the world would have never been introduced to “Brangelina.”
David Schwimmer – Agent J, Men In Black
Let’s be clear: no one wants to see David Schwimmer replace Will Smith in Men In Black. It’s hard to picture the movie turning into a million-dollar franchise by matching Schwimmer’s nervous-guy persona with the living statue that is Tommy Lee Jones. It would be a horror to watch.
Schwimmer himself is on our side here – he would’ve had to give up a smaller movie he was directing in order to star in Men in Black. And so, instead of forcing his cast of personal friends to find new work, Schwimmer did the right thing (for everyone) and turned it down.
Nicolas Cage – Green Goblin, Spider-Man
There’s no denying that Willam Dafoe crushes the Green Goblin role in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Partially because of his intensity, and partially because he resembles a goblin. But how would you feel about the same role, as played by Nicolas Cage?
It’s impossible to know whether Cage would’ve made Spider-Man more or less successful, but it’s undeniably the perfect Cage role. You can both perfectly imagine in your head, while also having no idea what the end result would actually be. The idea of it is almost worth another Spider-Man reboot.
Robin Williams – Jack, The Shining
The Shining is a horror masterpiece, so it’s tough to imagine changing anything about it. But did you know it nearly starred Robin Williams in the Jack Nicholson role? As we later learned with films like Insomnia and One Hour Photo, ol’ Mork could be downright terrifying when he wanted to be.
Along with Williams, other casting considerations were Harrison Ford and Robert De Niro — the latter claiming that the resulting film gave him nightmares to watch. In the end, however, Nicholson turned out to be exactly what was needed for The Shining to go down as possibly the best horror movie of all time.
Matthew McConaughey and Gwyneth Paltrow – Titanic
Imagine looking at the scummy guy hitting on high school girls in Dazed And Confused and thinking, “that’s exactly who I need for my $200 million Titanic movie”. This was apparently something that went through James Cameron’s head when he auditioned Matthew McConaughey for the part of Jack.
And rather than auditioning scenes with eventual Titanic star Kate Winslet, McConaughey was paired up with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s impossible to know whether Titanic would have been the same global smash with these two actors in the lead roles, but one thing is for certain – there definitely would’ve been more holistic medicine involved.
Robin Williams – Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The world would be madness without a few rules. And no bigger fans of sticking to that mantra are the British — as evidenced when first casting Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In order to keep things authentic, the studio maintained a strict “Brits only” rule when casting the film.
How strict? Well it turns out that none other than Robin Williams approached the casting director with extreme interest in playing the role of Hagrid. But Williams was turned away in favor of the all-Brits rule. Because where would we be with rules to keep us in check?
Alec Baldwin – The Fugitive
If this list has taught us anything, it’s that every role Harrison Ford ever had was nearly given to a not-quite-right actor. In the case of The Fugitive, that actor was Alec Baldwin, who was initially offered the role of Dr. Richard Kimble.
While Baldwin would have certainly fit the part of a brooding man on the run for a murder he didn’t commit, we’re glad Ford landed the role. Not only does he give a great performance, but had he not starred in The Fugitive, Ford might have considered taking a role in a certain dinosaur movie offered to him in the same year.
Harrison Ford – Dr. Alan Grant, Jurassic Park
It’s hard to imagine Jurassic Park being any better than it already is. But when we tell you that it nearly starred Harrison Ford as Alan Grant, it’s easy to see it as a “missed opportunity”. However, Ford’s A-list presence might have actually detracted from the movie’s ensemble cast.
Along with Ford, some of the other actors considered were Christina Ricci, Sandra Bullock, Jim Carrey, and Sean Connery for the roles of Lex, Ellie, Malcolm, and Hammond. Carrey in particular came very close to landing the role that would make Jeff Goldblum a household name.
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