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25 Actors Who Passed Up On Iconic Roles

The history of film is cluttered with stories
about stars who were an inch away from playing roles that got embedded into the hearts and
minds of movie audiences. When actors look back into some of their career mishaps, the
ones they’ll probably notice the most are the glaring errors they made in passing up
on important roles. Are you curious to see which memorable characters were almost played
by different actors? I’m Mike with List25 and Check out these 25 Actors Who Passed Up
On Iconic Roles. 25. Citing that he “didn’t get fantasy,†Sean Connery passed up on playing Gandalf
in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings. The role that was eventually
given to Ian McKellen earned the actor an award (Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture)
and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. 24.
Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is one of the most
popular female TV and movie characters of all time, at least in the “chick flickâ€
genre. The role was originally offered to Dana Delany. She later claimed not to regret
her decision to turn it down. 23.
Molly Ringwald was one of the most sought-after actresses in the 80’s. However, since the
90’s she’s been plagued with obscurity. Things might have been different had she accepted
the role of Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman. The movie earned over $463 million at the box
office and Julia Roberts received an Oscar nomination and became regarded as one of the
biggest movie stars in the world. 22.
Will Smith was initially offered the role of Neo in The Matrix. He turned it down on
account of the concept being too complicated, and he didn’t see the film performing
well at the box office. Well, we all know how the movie fared. 21.
Henry Winkler was approached to play Danny Zunko in Grease. When he turned it down, John
Travolta took on the role. Grease earned $694 million at the box office. 20.
Michelle Pfeiffer was offered the role of Clarice Sterling in The Silence Of The Lambs.
She turned it down because she found the movie to be too violent and disturbing. Jodi Foster
won the role, and it gave her a second Academy Award for Best Actress. 19.
Al Pacino was offered the role of Han Solo in Star Wars. He said he wasn’t interested
in playing the role. Harrison Ford took over, and the movie franchise went on to become
one of the most successful film series in history, establishing Ford’s superstar
status. 18.
Kim Basinger passed up on playing Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct and it was subsequently
handed to Sharon Stone. The film became one of the highest grossing films of 1992, earning
$352 million at box office. The role is highly regarded as the one responsible for giving
Sharon Stone her much needed break. 17.
Jeremy Irons was initially appraoched to play Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs.
Just like Michelle Pfeiffer, Irons cited the film’s violent content as his reason
for turning down the role. Anthony Hopkins took over, and it became one of the most defining
moments of his career. 16.
Tom Selleck didn’t exactly turn down the role of Indiana Jones. He was very interested.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both picked Selleck, but a deal couldn’t be reached
with Universal Studios, with whom Selleck was set to do another film. As we all know,
the role eventually went to Harrison Ford (whom George Lucas was initially reluctant
to cast). 15.
Although Hugh Jackman is now exclusively associated with Wolverine, the role was intially meant
to be portrayed by Dougray Scott. However, Scott was handpicked by Tom Cruise to play
the villain in Mission Impossible 2, and MI2’s filming overran X-Men’s filming by two months.
Scott was forced to drop out of production, which cost him a major Wolverine franchise. 14.
When Jack Nicholson was approached to play Michael Corleone, he knew that The Godfather
would be a great movie. However, at that time, he felt that “Indians should play characters
written for Indians.†In the same thread, Nicholson felt that the role of Corleone should
be played by an Italian, so he passed up on playing the iconic role. 13.
John Travolta passed up on playing Forrest Gump…huge mistake. In 1994, the film
became the highest grossing movie in North America. Tom Hanks was acclaimed for his portrayal,
giving him an award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars.
Travolta has since admitted to regretting the decision he made. 12.
Sarah Michelle Gellar turned down the opportunity to star in the 1995 sleeper hit, Clueless.
The character, Cher Horowitz, the rich, spoiled, yet sweet girl became so endearing to fans
that it brought the then-unknown Alicia Silverstone worldwide recognition. 11.
The producers of Sister Act agreed that Bette Midler was best suited for the role of “Sister
Mary Clarence”. Later on, Midler declined, expressing concerns about her fans not wanting
her to play the role of a nun. The part was eventually given to Whoopi Goldberg. The film
was widely successful, spawning one sequel and a Broadway musical. 10.
Thinking that it was just another B-Horror movie, Reese Witherspoon refused to audition
for the role of Sidney Prescott in Scream. The role was played by Neve Campbell instead. 9.
Had Jake Gyllenhaal proceeded to play the role of Jake Sully in James Cameron’s
Avatar, he would now be holding the honor of starring in the highest grossing film of
all time. 8.
When the production of Million Dollar Baby was met with delays, Sandra Bullock packed
her bags and left the role of Maggie Fitzgerald behind. Unfortunately for her, the film was
not only a commercial success, it also was universally acclaimed by critics. Its star,
Hilary Swank, earned her second Best Actress award at the Oscars. 7.
Mel Gibson was initially approached to play the role of Batman in Tim Burton’s
1989 adaptation. Thinking that the movie would be a flop, Gibson passed. In line with Tim
Burton films, Batman was criticized for being “too dark†but that didn’t
stop the film from being a massive box office success, earning a reported $411 million. 6.
Kate Winslet was offered the role of Viola de Lesseps in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love.
Had she accepted the role, Winslet might have won an Oscar for Best Actress much earlier
in her career rather than having to endure 5 losses before winning her first Academy
Award in 2009. 5.
The Twilight film series brought international attention to its stars Kristen Stewart, Robert
Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner. Stephenie Meyer has stated that Emily Browning was her “ideal
Bella.†However, she refused to even audition. In an interview, Browning said, “The
author at one point stated that I would be her ideal Bella, but I chose not to audition
because I was at a point in my career where I wasn’t sure I wanted to work.†4.
Julia Roberts might have won her 2nd Best Actress award had she accepted the role of
Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side. Roberts turned down the role to do Valentine’s
Day, a film directed by Garry Marshall– the man who gave her the career-defining role
of Vivian in Pretty Woman. 3.
When Bruce Willis turned down the role of Sam Wheat in Ghost, he missed the opportunity
to play a part opposite his then real-life spouse, Demi Moore, as well as starring in
the highest grossing film of 1990. Ghost reportedly earned $505 million at the box office. 2.
When Sigourney Weaver turned down the role of Sarah Tobias in the 1988 film The Accused,
Jodi Foster took over the role. It earned her the first of two Oscars for Best Actress. 1.
Jim Carrey turned down the role of Edward Scissorhands, and it was eventually handed
over to Johnny Depp. It turned out to be a groundbreaking roll for him. So, if you could recast your favorite movie,
who would you put in the roles and why? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet your
answer to us @List25. Enjoying our lists? Be sure to click that
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  1. Twirlyhead Author

    Almost 100% right that other actors played those roles with just couple that would have made no difference except that Jake Gyllenhaal would have been better in Avatar purely because he is a better actor but that is academic given the movie's success; though perhaps it has too much similarity to Source Code which he did do.

  2. tom simunsen Author

    here are a couple Steve McQueen as Dirty Harry (he was offered it first) Christopher Lee as the first James Bond (eventually went to Sean Connery) and George Lazenby was meant to follow on in several more James Bond movies but left as he thought the franchise would die out ………..

  3. Todd Hageman Author

    Carey Grant, James Mason, Burt Reynolds and Mel Gibson – at different times – ALL turned down the role of 007. Burt said that even years later he would wake up in the middle of the night thinking, "I could've been James Bond!"

  4. Al Anton Author

    WOW! Did you ever miss the boat on the worst ever. Here it is: James Caan could get anything he wanted after playing Sonny in the Godfather; BUT his career ground to a halt for a while when he passed on the role of McMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" which won Best Pic and Jack Nicholson won Best Actor. A couple of years later Caan passed on "Kramer vs. Kramer." That went to Dustin Hoffman. Yeah, another Best pic/best actor Oscar combo. I think it took Caan quite a while to recover. Happily, he did eventually.

  5. TX HanSolo Author

    two glaring omissions. per Clint Eastwood himself, he was offered not one but TWO iconic roles and turned them both down. after "Diamonds are forever" he was offered the role of James Bond. Turned it down because he felt a British actor should play Bond (and he knew he wouldn't sound "British"). then he was offered Superman and turned it down saying he didn't look the part. he was right both times and still had one the greatest careers on screen ever.

  6. Daniel Branconnier Author

    I always thought Brandon Lee was offered the role to play Neo in the Matrix but due to his tragic and untimely death, the role was then offered to Will Smith and then to Keanu Reeves?

  7. RJC 72 Author


  8. cre8shnguy Author

    Kevin Costner should have played Jim Lovell in Apollo 13. If you look at Costner back then he looked like a young Jim Lovell.

  9. ja maguire Author

    1:17 Molly Ringwald made a bigger mistake than turning down 1990's Pretty Woman. Around 1987 Warren Beatty wanted to make a no-holds-barred biopic of Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick. It would have included significant nudity and acting drugged-out. She declined and Beatty dropped the project for whatever reason. Such a film could have put her on the A-list for adults (just as she was exiting Hollywood's teen world).

  10. Rick Nelson Author

    It is Clarice Starling (like the bird) not Sterling .Hannibal even makes a reference to her name (as in "fly away" Starling).Kind of hard to take this list seriously when he gets the names wrong.

  11. Geronimo Schmidt Author

    I believe the actor makes the role memorable (except when the script is truly terrible)
    As a huge fan of Harrison Ford and Tom Selleck, either would have been able to pull Indiana Jones, but sometimes an unknown bring some additional qualities to an iconic role…..Tom Selleck would have been Magnum PI doing Indiana Jones

  12. Dean O. Author

    If any of these actors actually landed these "ICONIC" roles these "ICONIC" roles would have never been so "ICONIC". The movies would have never been as popular as they were. John Travolta as Forrest Gump? Bah Bah Bah… Bah Barf-a-reno. Al Pacino as Hans Solo? That's out of order. That whole movie's out of order. In this Hollywood reality the only true "Iconic Rolls" belong to Oprah Winfrey. :-I

  13. John Smith Author

    I often wondered how Tom Selleck would have been as Indiana Jones. I love Ford, but I do believe Selleck would have done well. I really liked him in Quigley Down Under which is a somewhat similar character.

  14. Martha Vaughan Author

    Avatar grossing most dinero of all time? Never saw it & no desire to do so. I honestly am not aware of most of these "Blockbusters". chalk it up to dungeons and dragons I suppose.

  15. Billy Gray Author

    Ally Sheedy passed on the role of Charlie in Top Gun b/c she said " nobody wants to see Tom Cruise fly around in an airplane"……. Keith David instead of Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon and Christian Slater instead of Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

  16. ObservantHistorian Author

    This video confuses "role" with "performance." These roles did not "give" anyone an Oscar, or fame. It's the performance that makes the role iconic and wins awards, not the role itself.

  17. SteveR Author

    it's pointless to imagine what shows or films would have been like if different (more famous?) actors portrayed what became iconic roles.  A lot of the success depends on the actor's personality, how he or she approached the character, their physical appearance, etc.  Can you imagine anyone else but Don Johnson as Sonny Crockett?  What about the cast of The Big Bang Theory?  In particular, what other actor but Jim Parsons could have played Sheldon Cooper?  And does it matter?  Once the show is on the air for awhile, the public accepts this or that actor as the character and identifies with them.  Whatever it was, these actors clicked initially with the public, and the shows took off.  Did you know that the actor who played Officer John on "CHiPs" was actively considered for the role of Sonny Crockett?  What would that show have been like had he been selected instead?  Miami Vice probably would have been off the air in 13 weeks; with all the cable shows now competing for an audience, probably fewer than four weeks.  The right person at the right time auditioned for the role and was chosen.  And even that's a crapshoot, as the public has to buy into the premise of the program or film.  As with all shows, writing plays a major part; with Miami Vice, the music selections were critical to the feel of the show, and even the clothes became a part of the story.  With the way he carried himself in the role, I doubt that another actor could have played the character as convincingly as Don Johnson.  The same can be said of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, or Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca".

  18. El Diablo Author

    The thing is those movies were hits because of who played the role. Just because an actor turned down the role doesn't mean it would still have been a success.

  19. Richard Mcginnis Author

    the idea that all these movies would have come out and did the same or better at the box office is moot. these movies made their millions because of the actors that were in them not because of the actors that weren't and its doubtfull the actors who passed or couldn't make it would have had the same effect on the film. needless to say all these films did have the right actors for the parts, people don't understand that we might think we're making the choices but fate has a different idea. can anyone imagine john travolta as han solo? in 1977? come on all i can see is travolta not saying i got a bad feeling about this and just keeping to the lines word for word and star wars playing to a weekend audience for the first month with lower and lower numbers not the other way around. and that goes for ALL these movies

  20. Matt King Author

    And Pacino went on to star in perhaps the greatest movie ever made. The Godfather. Sorry Star Wars nerds, but there is absolutely NO comparison to be made here. Star Wars shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as The Godfather.

  21. Max Frax Author

    I thought I heard that Meg Ryan turned down "Pretty Woman" to do "Joe Versus The Volcano" instead. Talk about career suicide! Yikes! Lol!

  22. pierre noique Author

    #14 Nicholson is not a true story. It was never Nicholson's choice in the first place. FFC wanted an actor with Italian origins all along. Pacino. Studios wanted Ryan O'Neal. Check the Godfather Anniversary interview on Youtube…

  23. fman4234 Author

    For example, @5:45, this video suggests that the actors would have been subject to the accolades that the eventual movies received (i.e. Oscar nominations, high-grossing films, cult classics, etc.). Had these actors accepted these roles, the movies would have been different and not necessarily what they came to be. Better or worse, they would have been different.

  24. Stephen Mcallister Author

    A lot of the actors who ended up playing the role were part of reason it was so popular. Will Smith as Neo? I grew up in the times of Happy Days and Grease and the the thought of The Fonz playing in something that maybe only Travolta could have pulled off actually is making me want to gag. Travolta as Gump? Why was that even potentially a thing? Hopkins and Foster had one of the most engaging chemistries ever in movies. But this is all just my opinion i don't make vidoes

  25. Lee Hubbard Author

    I know he didn't pass up the role,but here's a nod to Eric Stoltz,who was the original Marty McFly in Back to the Future,can't imagine that role without Michael J Fox.

  26. lurch321 Author

    I know these don't count (they weren't roles that were turned down) but anyway: Lena Olin reported wanted Sharon Stone's role in Basic Instinct, but refused to work with Paul Verhoven.  Also, Robert De Niro and Bruce Willis were briefly considered for Denzel Washington's role in Man On Fire.

  27. snakeguy76 Author

    I think some of these turndowns worked out for the better, but I would have loved to see Jeremy Irons play Hannibal Lector. Especially on the heels of 'Reversal of Fortune'.

  28. Lavern Merriweather Author

    They wanted Reese Witherspoon to be in The Crush but it went to Alicia Silverstone instead, John Carpenter BEGGED Christopher Lee to be in Halloween and he said no, Billy Crystal said he was pissed he turned down Buzz Lightyear. I can't believe they wanted Molly Ringwald in Pretty Woman WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!! Julia ain't all that hot either but damn Molly is the FUGLIEST bitch I ave ever seen.

  29. Bob Conrod Author

    How well the actors that actually did play the roles did and what awards they received only says something about them as actors. Nothing says that anyone else playing the same part would’ve done the same so stating that is completely immaterial. They’re all good actors but who knows, they could have sucked in those parts and the now famous movie could have bombed for all anyone knows. Sean Connery makes a great spy, but as a wizard? Who knows

  30. Henchman Twenty1 Author

    Moral of the story: Things usually have a way of working out for the best. And I just cannot see Connery as Gandalf, but it probably would have been funny as hell. Just imagine him playing Gandalf as a drunken and irritated Sean Connery. "What are you little bastards up to now? You can take that blasted ring and shove it up Sauron's ass for all I care. I'm going to the pub!" And he turned it down because he "didn't get fantasy"? Uh, have you seen Zardoz? Weird. As. F**k!

  31. jamest1148 Author

    Just because one actor nails a performance in a film and receives an Oscar, doesn't mean that other actors that have received Oscar's are suitable for the role.
    Just as some actors declined roles in movies they thought were to violent, only to have that movie win awards. Whether it won awards or not, it still didn't affect that actors beliefs.
    If someone told me to be a pornstar in a movie and I refused because of my religious beliefs, whether that movie became popular or not, would not affect my convictions.

  32. I am the one called Steve Author

    Christopher Walken as Han Solo
    Richard Dreyfus as C3P0
    Barbara Streisand as Princess Leia
    Burt Reynolds as Darth Vader
    Classic 😂😂

  33. tearl Author

    The actors who played the roles made the characters. The ones who declined the roles might not have done as well or may have done better. Coulda, woulda, shoulda is all speculation.

  34. John C Author

    Just because they turned it down doesn't mean the movie would fair as it did with the next actor/actress picked… Molly Ringwald, pretty woman, nahh

  35. mdteletom 1 Author

    Except for Molly Ringwald I don't see any of these actors' careers having suffered horrible consequences from turning down these roles. How about a video of roles we wished the actors had turned down.

  36. dopeydad1221 Author

    Will Smith couldn't have done The Matrix as the preparation included over 6 months in China and Australia learning fighting techniques and wire work. Smith was the biggest box office star at the time and couldn't have taken this amount of time out

  37. Ruby Author

    Burt Reynolds was originally picked for the first "Die Hard"…he turned it down, I believe he thought it not worthy choice. haha. He had a 'choice reaction' to Willis getting it!! And, can you believe…..Frank Sinatra, or John Wayne for "Dirty Harry"?? (True). No….. neither can I !! 🤣😂


    Sometimes,… the original choice would have done a fine job. But I have noticed that the actor or actress who ends up with the part usually nails it. Can one see anyone other than Sean Connery playing Captain Ramius in "The Hunt For Red October",.. and lets not forget that he set the standard for playing James Bond. Had Roger Moore been able to take the part when offered,.. the Bond movies would not have been the same.

  39. roger gomez Author

    just because an actor turns down a role that is made famous by someone else is no guarantee the actor who turned it downwould make it a success

  40. Stan Long Author

    Apparently and before the 1990's, no actors ever turned down any roles offered to them.
    I'm referencing some all time biggies and not some actors mentioned in this video who have turned down roles and that are distant memories now.

  41. Tupac Shakur Author

    Al Pacino was also considered for the role of Santana in American Me (1992) but actors had to be recast & Edward James Olmos ended up playing Santana.


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