10 Actors Who Passed on Iconic Movie Roles

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Sometimes we can’t imagine another actor or actress in the starring role of our favorite films. Believe it or not, many of the most famous and beloved roles in some of the biggest movies belonged to another actor before they had to drop out or pass on the role. Some of these missed opportunities seem like good ideas, while others will make you cringe. Camera, Lights, List!

10. Will Smith – Neo, The Matrix

Will Smith passed on the role of Neo as did Ewan McGregor. Will Smith said, “You know, 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. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don’t try and perform every moment.” Will Smith went on to star in I, Robot.

9. W.C. Fields – Wizard, The Wizard of Oz

Image result for W.C. Fields - Wizard, The Wizard of Oz

The part of the Wizard was written for W.C. Fields and it seems that it was perfect role, a traveling con man. He turned down the role for the most famous of reasons…money. He was only offered $75,000 by MGM but he wanted $100,000. Other sources say he turned it down to write You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man. The role went to Frank Morgan.

8. Cary Grant – James Bond

Cary Grant <3 lookin' all James Bond

The producers of the James Bond films originally approached Cary Grant about playing the role of Britain’s 007 agent. Cary declined the role because he didn’t want to be tied to a film series. The role went to Sean Connery starting with Dr. No in 1962. Fleming wasn’t entirely happy with the choice. “He’s not exactly what I had in mind,” said Fleming.

7. Bette Davis – Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

Image result for Bette Davis - Scarlett O'Hara, Gone with the Wind

Bette Davis turned down the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. The role went to Vivien Leigh. Davis decided to pass on the role when she thought Errol Flynn would by playing the part of Rhett. She had refused to work with him earlier.

6. Sean Connery – Gandalf, Lord of the Ring Trilogy

Amazingly, Sean Connery turned down the role of Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. His reason for passing on the role was due to the length of time for filming – 18 months. Sir Ian McKellan won the role and everyone couldn’t be happier. Mr. Connery said he had never read Tolkein and when he read the script he referred to the hobbits as bobbits.



5. Daryl Hannah – Vivian, Pretty Woman

Image result for Daryl Hannah - Vivian, Pretty Woman

Daryl Hannah turned down the role of the hooker, Vivian, because she felt it was demeaning to women. Strangely, she later appeared in Dancing at the Blue Iguana in the role of a stripper. Even more unbelievable, Molly Ringwald also passed on the role of Vivian. Vivian’s role was soon nabbed by Julia Roberts.

4. Kevin Costner – Bill, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

Mr. Costner turned down the role of Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2. He opted instead to direct Open Range in yet another poor career choice…cough, cough Water World.

3. John Cusack – John Bender, The Breakfast Club

I think John Cusack is one of the finest actors of my generation and I’m very disappointed that he didn’t get to be part of The Breakfast Club. Of course, he was a mainstay in the teenage angst movies of the 80s, so I’m happy. He was originally the actor chosen to play John Bender. Unfortunately he was unable to fit it into his schedule and Judd Nelson ended up in the role.

2. Bruce Willis – Sam Wheat, Ghost

Image result for Bruce Willis - Sam Wheat, Ghost

Bruce Willis turned down the role of Sam Wheat in Ghost “because he didn’t think the plot would work and that playing a ghost would be detrimental to his career”. Ironically, he played a ghost in The Sixth Sense and he would have played opposite his now ex-wife, Demi Moore.

1. Al Pacino – Han Solo, Star Wars

10 Actors who passed on fabulous film roles

Al Pacino, Nick Nolte and Christopher Walken were all considered for the role of Han Solo. Even harder to imagine, supposedly Burt Reynolds turned down the role. Harrison Ford took the part and the rest is box office history.


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57 Comments

  1. Regarding Kevin Costner — OPEN RANGE is very highly regarded as one of the great Westerns made in the last 20 years. The fact that it didn't fit your criteria does not make it a bad career choice….now WATERWORLD, on the other hand, would have been a bad choice for Flipper…

  2. What about Back to the Future.
    Well I guess Eric Stolz actually didn’t pass on the roll, but just think of how different the movie would have been without Mchael J Fox!

  3. Kevin Costner made a poor choice to direct, “Open Range”, instead of taking the role of Bill in “Kill Bill”?
    Are you serious? “Open Range’ is a great film and one of Costner’s BEST. Things worked out perfectly….and NO, Costner did not make a poor choice!!!!

  4. Other worthies-

    Peter Boyle turning down the Oscar winning role of Popeye Doyle in the French Connection (he fired his agent after that).

    One of the strangest was Anthony LaPaglia turning down the role of Tony Soprano (yes I know it’s TV but stil it’s a biggie). Can’t imagine anyone but James Gandolfini in the role.

    Another winner – Jack Lord as James Bond. He had the role but had to bow out because he was already in contract for Hawaii 5-0 so he took a smaller role in the movie Dr. No

  5. Bette Davis didn’t turn down GWTW. She wanted it badly and made Jezebel as a kind of you know what to David Selnick when he didn’t cast her in the role. Paulette Goddard almost was cast and maybe would have played the part but Vivien Leigh came along. Selnick had issues with Goddard and her relationship with Charlie Chapman – also, in my opinion, her screen tests (that can be seen on the DVD special features) were just not quite right.

  6. Charles Diggie on

    Vivien Leigh ?? You mean Janet Leigh, don’t you ????

    On a related topic, why wasn’t/isn’t there a woman “Han Solo” considered?????

    Last, to me, Harrison Ford was/is the perfect person for the role of Mr’ Solo.

    And, I would’ve really loved it (the movie) if there was more romantic action in ‘the alien bar.’ Can be a same sex liaisons.

  7. 1. Al Pacino – Han Solo, Star Wars

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOO……………….

    Can you imagaine? There might have never been an Indiana Jones after that.

  8. Timothy Miller on

    There are six they have forgotten on hear, A. Tom Selleck was originally chosen as Indiana Jones but do to his Magnum P.I. Committment he declined. B. Clint Eastwood was considered for the part of Superman before Christopher Reeve. C. Richard Geere was considered to play John Macclain ( did I spell that right?) but the producers wanted a blue collar look. Here are two from The Rocky series: D. Stallone originally wanted James Caan to play Rocky not himself, what happens I am not sure… E. Stallone originally wanted Joe Frasier to play Clubber Lang in Rocky 3 but during a try Frasier gave him a head butt that split Stallone open and after Stallone chose Mr. T and the rest is history. Finally, Blazing Saddles: Mel Brooks originally wanted co-writer Richard Pryor to play Sheriff Bart, but Pryor said: ” No, I have good drugs and good women you have your movie, see ya.” That last part is an embellishment and I know it is a bit different but is a nice supplement….

  9. people only think these actors would have made things odd after the fact of seeing the roles already played. i would have liked to see will as neo..sophia stewart had a man of color in mind to play the lead role.

  10. Speaking of “The Wizard Of Oz”, Judy Garland was the third pick. MGM originally wanted Shirley Temple as Dorothy, she refused. The second choice for the role of Dorothy was Deanna Durbin and she refused. So Judy Garland took the role and the rest as they say, is history……..

    • Good point. Garland was actually a little old to play Dorothy, but I can’t imagine an actress with a better voice for the part. IIRC, the studio thought she was too heavy & made her lose weight for the part. That’s the reason her clothes are particularly loose, because they thought she was too fat. I thought she was beautiful, but what do I know.

      • Hello Stephen. Thank You for responding and yes, I am familiar with the anecdote of her loose fitting clothes. She took “uppers” to lose the weight but then turned to Barbituates so she could get to sleep. It eventually led to her untimely death of an overdose in 1969. There was a made for TV movie entitled “Rainbow” which I believe came out in the late 70’s. The Broadway Star Andrea McArdle (of “Annie” fame) portrayed Judy and its very hard to find. The movie primarily focuses on her youth growing up. Her actual name was Frances Gumm.

  11. I’ve heard about Cary Grant considered for Bond, but the guy was nearing 60 when the film series started… Way too old for a character who was meant to be in his early 30s.

    Walken and Pacino would’ve been interesting Han Solos, but I think the only other guy ( besides Harrison Ford ) to play him would’ve been Kurt Russell.

    Maybe he was thought to be too young ( 25 at the time ) for the role.

  12. a famous film role refusal..lee marvin was spielbergs first choice to play quint in Jaws, he turned the role down as he was already going on a fishing holiday..so robert shaw got the role..the rest is history!

  13. IDK, I bet Burt Reynolds could have done well as Han Solo. Think “the Bandit” in space. Cool means of transport, cute chick by his side, a history of smuggling and evading the law, big ugly ass-kicking sidekick.

  14. Wendy Louise Sells on

    with all of the Ghost ships I(WENDY SELLS) think that the Movies of the Ghost Ships would be a great movie to show to the Public for every-one to see from Wendy Sells