Whenever you think about certain actors, say Robert Downey Jr, we get the immediate mental image of them in their most iconic role, in this case RDJ as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump, Al Pacino is Michael Corleone, Harrison Ford is Han Solo. But what if, for a split second, they weren’t? What if these characters were played by someone else Unthinkable, right? You just can’t imagine it. But at one point, characters from movies you know and love were supposed to be played by other actors. But unfortunately for the actors, they turned the role down and missed a shot at greatness. Let’s take a look at 10 big roles/movies rejected by Hollywood stars. Get ready to say, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!”
1. Matt Damon in Avatar (2009)
So Matt Damon turned down the role to play the lead character Jake Sully in James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar. The movie went on to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Oh, and it also became the highest grossing film of all time. I’m guessing Matt Damon might’ve regretted turning it down.
2. Emma Watson in La La Land (2016)
Turns out it was another Emma who was originally attached to play the female lead in Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, alongside Miles Teller instead of Ryan Gosling. But in the end, it was the duo of Stone and Gosling that got through. Emma Watson still got her chance to dance and sing in another musical, the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Meanwhile, Emma Stone went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress.
3. Christopher Walken in Star Wars (1977)
Harrison Ford WASN’T George Lucas’ pick to play Han Solo. It was Christopher Walken. You’re now excused to think about how Han Solo would be like if Christopher Walken was cast. For my part, I would’ve LOVED it. I would’ve laughed my socks off. The impressions would be endless. God, it’s hilarious when you think about it.
4. Tom Selleck in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I can’t imagine Indiana Jones with a moustache. Can you? Tom Selleck turned down the role so he could do Magnum PI. A win-win situation for me.
5. Jack Nicholson in The Godfather (1972)
No, no, no,no, no. No. Just no. As good an actor as Jack Nicholson is, I simply CANNOT envision anyone else taking up Al Pacino’s role of Michael Corleone. Jack Nicholson is one of the greatest actors of all time, but Al Pacino is Michael Corleone.
6. Nicholas Cage in The Wrestler (2008)
Mickey Rourke was Darren Aronofsky’s first choice to play Randy “The Ram” Robinson – a wrestler past his prime trying to relive his glory days. Rourke happened to be box office poison at the time, and the role was offered to Nicholas Cage instead. Cage had second thoughts about the role, however, due to the fact that the look the role would require the use of steroids, which he would never use. Rourke got the part eventually, and with it came a Golden Globe, a Bafta and an Oscar nomination.
7. Warren Beaty in Kill Bill (2003)
Tarantino persuaded Warren Beaty to star in his cult classic, Kill Bill, but he was unsuccessful. Beaty had reservations about shooting the film in China and being away from his children for a prolonged amount of time. And therefore, withdrew from the project. David Carradine stepped in and took the role instead. Tarantino himself stated that Beaty “would have been wonderful in the movie.”
8. Sean Connery in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Gandalf says, “You shall not pass!” Sean Connery did the exact opposite when he passed on the role to play Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s legendary fantasy trilogy set in the world created by JRR Tolkien. Turns out Connery was confused by the role of Gandalf, even after he read the script and the books. We would’ve seen a very different Gandalf if Sean Connery was cast. But as it turns out, it was Ian McKellen who benefited from Connery’s confusion as he bagged an Oscar nomination for his efforts.
9. Will Smith in The Matrix (1999)
Will Smith regrets letting The Matrix slip by to this day. In an interview with Wired in 2004, Smith said, “The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch. In the pitch, I just didn’t see it. I watched Keanu’s performance – and very rarely do I say this – but I would have messed it up. At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be.” To be fair, I can’t see Will Smith as Neo. No disrespect to Smith, but I am unable to see another actor as Neo. That’s how much of an influence Keanu Reeves has had on the character.
10. John Travolta in Forrest Gump (1994)
This is probably the most outlandish and plain weird one on this list. Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I definitely didn’t know we might have gotten John Travolta of all people saying that dialogue. Hanks eventually got the role and became a legend in the process. But all was not lost for Travolta as he starred as the equally iconic Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. Forrest Gump ended up beating Pulp Fiction to the Best Film Oscar that year. But both those movies and characters are now two of the most recognizable and legendary characters in the history of cinema. So I guess everything worked out in the end.
Where to Watch: Netflix
I'm an engineering graduate trying to make the most out of what life throws at me. Currently working as a Brand Strategist at Mitsogo Inc, Chennai. Outside work, you can find me on a football pitch, a basketball court, or in front of a tea stall - still trying to make the most out of what I get.