Celebrities Who Turned Down Iconic Roles

Published on 10/21/2018

Hollywood is definitely a place where many dreams come true and where individuals go on to become successful and famous in the entertainment world as superstars, producers, and directors, among others. It is also somewhere one mistake can turn even the most famous into a nobody, even making them go off the grid. Nowhere is this truer than with actors and actresses whose faces we see on-screen, their roles and acting clearly imprinted in our minds’ eyes.

Some actors and actresses become so deeply identified with the characters they have portrayed that people often remember and talk about them years after their appearance in these roles. However, there are also many famous actors and actresses who, for some reason or another, have turned down roles or never got parts in the movies that became box office blockbusters. Let us take a look at these actors who turned down or were turned down for these iconic roles that epitomize the phrase “close but no cigar”.

Matt Damon – ‘Avatar’

If you turn down the starring role in one of the highest grossing films of all time, then you will probably never forget it. Matt Damon was originally considered for the role of Jake Sully, the protagonist of the hit movie Avatar and he even met with James Cameron to talk about it. In fact, he read the script and planned on doing the movie. In an interview, he said he already knew that Avatar would be a big hit. However, he was in the final stages of another film, Bourne Ultimatum, which resulted in scheduling issues for him. He had to forego the opportunity of working on the movie, which he said was actually tough.

Damon told Playboy in an interview that “Having to say no to Avatar was tough because I particularly wanted to work with James Cameron, and still do because he is fantastic”. We are pretty sure that Matt Damon is doing fine, however.

Matt Damon Avatar

Matt Damon – Avatar

Liam Hemsworth – ‘Thor’

The brothers Chris and Liam initially auditioned for Thor. The people at the studio were actually looking elsewhere for the right actor to play the role and were even considering Liam for it. Chris was, at that time, shooting another movie, Cabin in the Woods, when Joss Whedon and Andrew Goddard asked him why he was not on the list of the top 5 actors considered for the role and informed him further that his brother Liam was on it. Chris just said that maybe he blew up his audition.

However, none of the 5 guys, including Liam, ended up with the part, spurring his manager to request for another audition by saying, “You know, he’s (Liam’s) got an older brother, can we bring him back in?’’ That was how Chris got a second audition in a hotel room in Vancouver. The fun thing was that Chris’ mother read the part of Anthony Hopkins. The rest is history, as we now see Chris playing the role of Thor in the past 7 years. Liam, on the other hand, went on to star in the Hunger Games series and Independence Day: Resurgence, among others.

Liam Hemsworth Thor

Liam Hemsworth Thor

Molly Ringwald – ‘Pretty Woman’

Ringwald was one of the most iconic entertainers of the ’80s thanks to her starring roles in teen flicks back in the day. We’re sure you have seen the iconic Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club! She was a teenaged acting icon who actually started her career in 1978 production of Annie in LA, where she played the role of Kate. However, Ringwald would become one of those ’80s stars who turned down legendary roles when she passed on Pretty Woman. She revealed that she actually looked at a script for a movie entitled $3,000 and that she was being considered for the lead role. However, she declined the offer and the role would go to Julia Roberts, and well, the rest is history.

Molly Ringwald Pretty Woman

Molly Ringwald – Pretty Woman

Christopher Walken – ‘Star Wars’

Can you imagine yourself as an actor who rejected the role of a lifetime? Christopher Walken is definitely doing well for himself, no doubt about it, what with The Deer Hunter which gave him an Oscar as the best-supporting-actor award, and his other major roles in memorable films like Heaven’s Gate, Catch Me If You Can, and Hairspray. However, at one point, he was considered for the role of Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise. He was actually George Lucas’ second choice for the role. Can you just imagine how Han Solo would have been like if he had gotten the role?

Christopher Walken Star Wars

Christopher Walken – Star Wars

Thomas Jane – ‘Mad Men’

Thomas Jane is most well-known for his work in The Punisher but did you know that the macho action star was once considered for the role of Don Draper in Mad Men? However, Jane at that time was said to be turning down TV roles. While the role of Draper went on to another talented actor, we cannot help but wonder how Jane would have been received in the position.

Thomas Jane Mad Men

Thomas Jane – Mad Men

Jack Nicholson – ‘The Godfather’

Would you consider Michael Corleone one of the most beautifully casted roles in Hollywood history? Well, Al Pacino got the gig and Jack Nicholson ended up empty-handed. Nicholson already knew that The Godfather would be a big hit and that the role of Michael Corleone would be an iconic one. However, he firmly believed that Italians should play the roles written for Italians and he turned it down. Nicholson has had a fantastic career so there is actually no doubt he is one of those actors who does not regret turning down roles for too long. But, one cannot help but wonder, though, how he would have fared in the Godfather movies.

Jack Nicholson The Godfather

Jack Nicholson – The Godfather

John Travolta – ‘Forrest Gump’

The role of Forest Gump was initially offered to John Travolta who was committed to appear in Pulp Fiction. The role ended up in Tom Hanks’ lap and Forrest Gump is ranked right up there among the most powerful performances of all time. It was not a waste, though, since Travolta’s career experienced a massive resurgence with the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. This eventually became one of the classic films of all time, enjoying its own cult following. Tom Hanks, meanwhile, won an Oscar for Best Actor award, his second in his career, following his first in the previous year’s awards ceremonies.

John Travolta Forrest Gum

John Travolta – Forrest Gum

Al Pacino – ‘Pretty Woman’

Can you see Molly Ringwald at the top of the fire escape as Al Pacino climbs it to declare his love in the romantic film Pretty Woman? Yeah, we cannot either. But did you know that Pacino was the first choice for the role that would eventually go to Richard Gere? The movie was originally intended to be a darker and grittier tale. Pacino even had a reading with Julia Roberts. However, he eventually turned the role down and went as far as telling Larry King, “Sometimes it’s just not the right role for you and you don’t feel you belong in that part”.

Al Pacino Pretty Woman

Al Pacino – Pretty Woman

Lindsay Lohan – ‘The Hangover’

Lindsay Lohan has definitely fallen from grace in the last ten years. In 2009, Director Todd Phillips had been assembling the cast for his trilogy, The Hangover. Lohan was originally asked to play the role of the stripper that Heather Graham ended up playing. Actually, Lohan did not even turn down the role. In fact, according to Todd Phillips, the director of the hit movie trilogy, Lohan loved the script. However, she was just too young at 20 when casting started for the film.

Lindsay Lohan The Hangover

Lindsay Lohan – The Hangover

Michelle Pfeiffer – ‘Silence of the Lambs’

Director Jonathan Demme has said that he originally wanted to Pfeiffer to take on the iconic role of Clarice Starling. However, she thought that the film was too dark, subsequently raising her concerns about it. She had issues with the violent nature of the story and was just not ready to do it. The role would eventually be taken by Jodie Foster, who went on to win an Oscar Best Actress Award for it. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, went on to star in films like Batman Returns, Dangerous Minds, and One Fine Day.

Michelle Pfeiffer Silence Of The Lambs

Michelle Pfeiffer – Silence Of The Lambs

Jim Carrey – ‘Edward Scissorhands’

Johnny Depp was able to land the lead role of Edward in Edward Scissorhands. However, quite a few talented actors passed up the role before Depp got his chance. The actors who were considered included Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Cruise, and Jim Carrey. Carrey was a struggling actor at that time, reportedly auditioning more than once for the role. However, Carrey was considered lacking in terms of his dramatic acting experience, hence, the role went to Johnny Depp instead. We bet he would have given an inadvertent comedic turn to Edward Scissorhands if cast.

Jim Carrey Edward Scissorhands

Jim Carrey – Edward Scissorhands

Leonardo DiCaprio – ‘Boogie Nights’

Imagine a red hot Leonardo DiCaprio going from the romantic film Titanic to the comedy Boogie Nights where he would play the role of Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler, an exceptional porn star. DiCaprio loved the script but ultimately had to turn it down due to a scheduling conflict. At that time, he was busy filming Titanic but as he and Mark just came off from filming The Basketball Diaries, so he suggested Mark for the part. However, this is a situation where we think everyone involved made the right choice. Wahlberg became one of Hollywood’s major stars with the film bringing him instant credibility. Leo, on the other hand, went on to finish Titanic which went on to become the 5th highest grossing film in North America.

Leonardo DiCaprio Boogie Nights

Leonardo DiCaprio – Boogie Nights

Johnny Depp – ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’

John Hughes is a 1980s directing icon and he is revered for his work on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the script of which he wrote in just six days. The title role was originally offered to the then up-and-coming Johnny Depp. The creative, very likable, and smart character could have been a perfect role for Depp. However, due to scheduling issues, he turned down the gig. This allowed Matthew Broderick to come in and become an instant ’80s legend.

Johnny Depp Ferris Buellers Day Off

Johnny Depp – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Warren Beatty – ‘Kill Bill’

Warren Beatty starred in many iconic movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Bugsy, and Reds. He also directed and produced other hit movies. Some of his performances were nominated and even won at the Oscars, Golden Globe, LA Film Critics’ Association awards. Thus, Beatty became notoriously picky with the work he would take.

When Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for his duology, he originally wrote it with Beatty in mind for the title role. However, the actor ultimately passed on Kill Bill. The movie was to be filmed in China and Beatty did not want to leave his kids since filming would take a long time. In fact, Beatty said that it might have actually been his suggestion to get David Carradine for the role. The role eventually went to David Carradine, whose career then experienced a resurgence from this movie.

Warren Beatty Kill Bill

Warren Beatty – Kill Bill

Sandra Bullock – ‘Million Dollar Baby’

When we look at an actor’s potential for regret, we start with the scope of the projects. Bullock gave up on the role after several delays allowed Hilary Swank to grab the project. The later went on to win an Oscar for her work in Million Dollar Baby.

Sandra Bullock Million Dollar Baby

Sandra Bullock – Million Dollar Baby

Will Smith – ‘The Matrix’

We will fight anyone who criticizes the work of Keanu Reeves’ in The Matrix. Surprisingly, Reeves was actually not the first choice for the role. Will Smith had been initially earmarked for the gig after his success in Men in Black and Independence Day. Smith was at the height of his popularity when the Wachowski brothers approached him for the role of Neo, the film’s protagonist, a computer programmer and cybercriminal who is set out to liberate humans from the Matrix.

However, Smith turned down the job so that he could concentrate on Wild Wild West instead. He said in an interview with Wired that “The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch”. He also said that he might have messed up the role, even the movie. Now, is this not a good idea? No, but Will Smith and Keanu Reeves are both doing pretty well with new films.

Will Smith The Matrix

Will Smith – The Matrix

Helen Mirren – ‘Precious’

Dame Helen Mirren actually does not need to do another role in her life, but it is still interesting to see what she has passed up on. Mirren ditched Lee Daniels’ award-winning Precious, allowing Mariah Carey to come in and play the role of Ms. Weiss, a drab and shabby social worker who helps an abused and illiterate teen who is impregnated by her own father twice. Lee Daniels, director the movie, originally gave the role to Mirren. However, Mirren called 3 days before shooting started to say that she cannot do it. Carey went on to take her place and win critical acclaim in the process.

Helen Mirren Precious

Helen Mirren – Precious

Sean Connery – ‘Lord of the Rings’

One wrong casting choice could have caused Peter Jackson’s epic, The Lord of the Rings to fail. The part of Gandalf was initially offered to Sean Connery. However, the famous Scottish actor turned down the part. He was reportedly offered ten million dollars for each film and a 15% share of the profits from the box office for the 3 movies. However, he turned down the offer saying that he did not understand his part. Apparently, the script did not make any sense to him despite reading it and the book. Also, the films were thought to be a risky proposition since Peter Jackson was a relatively unknown director that time and there were no big names in its cast.

The funny thing is that even after watching the movie, Connery says that he still does not understand it. Connery would go on to star in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — the famous actor’s last movie. It was so bad that it made the Scottish actor retire.

Sean Connery Lord Of The Rings

Sean Connery – Lord Of The Rings

Matthew Broderick – ‘Breaking Bad’

The role of Walter White, an emotionally broken chemistry teacher who finds out he is terminally ill with cancer, gave Bryan Cranston a second life in Hollywood. However, the career- turning job almost went to ’80s legend Matthew Broderick. He was given a copy of the script with the thought that if he liked it, the role would be his. Broderick was no doubt skeptical of AMC as a network and their history of unscripted programming. Thus, he decided to pass on the role to somebody else. And, the rest is history. Breaking Bad ran for 5 seasons, receiving numerous nominations and awards in the process.

Matthew Broderick Breaking Bad

Matthew Broderick – Breaking Bad

Hugh Jackman – ‘Casino Royle’

Hugh Jackman has had a series of movie hits under his belt and he truly does not need much more. However, he may have regrets for passing on the role of James Bond in Casino Royale. In an interview with Variety, Jackman said that he did not want to take on the part because the scripts at that time were becoming crazy and far from believable. He was also worried that between James Bond and X-Men 2, he would not have time to do other things that are different. He felt that exclusively playing a hero is becoming a bit claustrophobic and that he was afraid of being earmarked as an action-only actor. He got the chance to do so, however, by starring in films like Les Miserables, The Fountain, and The Prestige.

Hugh Jackman Casino Royle

Hugh Jackman – Casino Royle

Paul Shaffer – ‘Seinfeld’

You may remember Paul Shaffer as the bandleader of David Letterman in his talk show. But, Shaffer almost had a totally different career. Shaffer was offered the part of George by Jerry Seinfeld himself, even before the show’s debut in 1989. He was even told that there is no need for an audition and that all he had to do was to call Seinfeld back. However, Shaffer never did, saying that he was ‘too busy’ at the time. This part would have made Shaffer leave the Late Night with David Letterman show and reinvigorate his career in acting. Talk about missed opportunities!

Paul Shaffer Seinfeld

Paul Shaffer – Seinfeld

Pamela Anderson – ‘The X Files’

We can’t imagine Pamela Anderson playing FBI Agent Scully. Can you? Yeah, it is really quite difficult to do so. Gillian Anderson who plays the role of Agent Scully once said in an interview that Pamela was initially considered because ‘they were looking for someone bustier, taller, and leggier’. Pamela already her own following after starring in Baywatch, making her more familiar to the producers. Eventually, the role was offered to Gillian whose onscreen magic with her co-star David Duchovny steered the series for nine years and earning them a total of 62 nominations and 16 awards from the Emmy’s.

Pamela Anderson The X Files

Pamela Anderson – The X Files

Harrison Ford – ‘Schindler’s List’

Harrison Ford probably would have done great in Steven Spielberg’s legendary movie but we are sure glad he passed on the role, allowing Liam Neeson to take on Oskar Schindler. Whereas other actors would turn down movie roles because they are not too keen on or the scheduling would conflict with their other projects and activities, Ford totally had a different reason for turning down the role. Ford said that he does not want his star power and popularity to detract the viewers from the importance of the movie’s message.

Harrison Ford Schindlers List

Harrison Ford – Schindlers List

Paul Giamatti – ‘The Office’

Paul Giamatti was the original choice for the role of Michael Scott, the Regional Manager of one of the branches of a paper distribution company, but temporarily leaves it to form his own. At that time, Giamatti was just fresh from the success of his black comedy-drama Sideways. He would have brought a different flavor to the US-adaptation of the British show, giving Scott a more cerebral and intelligent take, but he decided to decline the offer. We are glad, though, since Steve Carell ended up with the part.

Paul Giamatti The Office

Paul Giamatti – The Office

Mark Wahlberg – ‘Brokeback Mountain’

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger seem like the perfect actors to cast in Brokeback Mountain, a film about a couple of sheep herders in Wyoming who maintain a sporadic and tortured homosexual relationship for 20 years despite their marrying their respective girlfriends. However, Director Ang Lee wanted Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg were to play the main characters in the beginning if you can believe it. Wahlberg, who actually read 15 pages of the script, said that he was ‘creeped out’ by the graphical sex scenes in the script and thus passed on the role upon the advice of their parish priest. He also said that the script was very descriptive and graphic– thus, generating a ton of controversy in the process.

Mark Wahlberg Brokeback Mountain

Mark Wahlberg – Brokeback Mountain

Tom Selleck – ‘Indiana Jones’

You can just imagine our favorite P.I. playing the role of our favorite crusader. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg both believed that Selleck perfectly fit the role of Indiana Jones. He even did a screen test for it and both Spielberg and Lucas were ready to start shooting the movie with him as lead. However, Tom Selleck had to decline the opportunity to play Indiana in Indiana Jones because he was tied down by contractual obligations for Magnum P.I. and therefore had to pass. He has already filmed the pilot episode the CBS detective show by then.

The role then went to Harrison Ford and the movie ended up becoming a 1.8-billion-dollar franchise. On the other hand, filming for Magnum P.I. was delayed by six months. This would have meant that Selleck could have played Indy, but it was too late by this point! Harrison Ford was already the lead.

Tom Selleck Indiana Jones

Tom Selleck Indiana Jones

Emily Blunt – ‘Iron Man’

In 2010, Emily Blunt was already prepared to play Black Widow in the film Iron Man. You can never actually say no when Marvel comes knocking at your door, right? It is widely known that having a part in one of Marvel’s superhero blockbusters can propel you to the A-list, making your name a household buzzword. However, Twentieth Century Fox decided to call in their contract with Blunt which she signed a few years ago. She, therefore, had to star in the Jack Black comedy Gulliver’s Travels instead. Due to scheduling conflicts, she decided to forego the Black Widow role. Although Blunt could have chosen to star in both films at the same time she did not want to fly from the US to the UK all the time for half a year. The role went to Scarlett Johansson who went on to star in 6 movies and is now set to star in her own stand-alone film centering on the superheroine.

Emily Blunt Iron Man

Emily Blunt Iron Man

John Krasinski – ‘Captain America’

On the other hand, Emily Blunt’s husband John Krasinski disclosed that in 2016 he was already this close to landing the role of Captain America. He auditioned for the part and even got far as a costumed audition where he wore the suit. He shared this funny anecdote when he guested on Conan O’Brien’s talk show: “The only bummer of [the audition] was, I was putting on the suit… and I got to right about my waist, I was still shirtless, feeling pretty good about myself, but I felt pretty good,” he revealed, “and all of a sudden Chris Hemsworth walked by as Thor and he’s like ‘Hey, mate,’ and I went, ‘I’m good. This is stupid. It’s okay. I’m not Captain America. It’s fine.’”

John Krasinski Captain America

John Krasinski Captain America

Adam Sandler – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

You cannot deny it, the cute and bitter space critter, Rocket Raccoon, is everyone’s favorite character from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The Marvel bosses wanted a comedian in the A-list to provide this major character’s voice. The role might actually need little work, but, the actor providing the voice will have to do some appearances on the promotional trail. Apparently, Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler were keen to voice the character. However, the role went to Bradley Cooper, fresh out of his first Oscar nomination.

Adam Sandler Guardians Of The Galaxy

Adam Sandler Guardians Of The Galaxy

Amandla Stenberg – ‘Black Panther’

There is no denying that Letitia Wright became one of the major standouts in this year’s Black Panther, where she played the title hero’s technologically-advanced and witty little sister. However, the part was not hers at the beginning. Instead, the rising actress and activist Amandla Stenberg was very close to snagging the role of Shuri. However, she decided to pull out at the last minute because she felt that she was not right for the role. The reason was that she believed that her ethnicity would have proven to be a distraction. Stenberg is biracial, her father is Danish, while her mother is African American. She believed that the role is best played by an actress who is darker skinned and that the role should be fulfilled by someone who is right for it.

Amandla Stenberg Black Panther

Amandla Stenberg Black Panther