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. Demetria Dixon on

    I can't imagine any of these people in these roles. I think things worked out the way they were supposed to

  2. Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken and Burt Reynolds as Han Solo?

    LIES!!!

    they wanted a cast of unknowns for starwars, and reluctantly chose Harrison Ford, as he had already been in American Graffiti before hand

    this list, like most of your lists are lies!

    (i bet that you'll delete this comment too)

      • McDouche…..man, I am still laughing. Thank you so much for your post. It is hilarious. Still laughing……….thank you……aAHAHRHAHRhahrharharhahrahrhar….

    • Doug E. Doug on

      Al Pacino…never heard that…I don't know what you think you know, but it was actually Kurt Russell who tried out for the part, along with Harrison Ford. Are you just pulling names out of a hat? Damn stop wasting our time.

      • Perhaps you should take the time to read the other comments first – two links were posted to sources to back this up (see August 1, 2008 – TopTenz Master) below.

  3. Hi, Jay. Wow, I'm not sure how you came up with the idea that most of the lists are lies. Most of the lists are opinions and can be subjective and are for entertainment purposes. Sorry you aren't entertained.

    As to the validity of the Han Solo role being offered to Al Pacino, I guess only he and his agent know for sure. But I did verify with several sources, here are just two:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Pacino http://www.mania.com/al-pacino-speaks-for-all-man

    And I don't delete any comments unless they are vulgar or hostile. Honest opinions are always welcome when stated in a non-hostile manner. Calling the writers of this site liars is obviously hostile and it should be deleted, but I wanted to personally respond to your attack, so I have left the comment as originally posted. Further attacks on the writers or this site will not be tolerated and will be deleted. If you wish to make a counter comment to this without resorting to an uninformed opinion I will gladly allow it.

    I wonder why you would continue to read this site when you consider it such a pit of lies? Maybe you do realize this site is only for entertainment after all?

  4. FranklyMyDear on

    Actually…….Being a major GWTW fan. Bette Davis wanted the part desperately, but was never offered it.

    • FranklyMyDear, you beat me to it! You are correct. In fact, Davis wanted the role of Scarlett so bad that – after she lost it – she made the movie Jezebel which is almost a farce of GWTW. IIRC, she was widely critized for doing so. The actress who came closest to getting the Scarlett role was Paulette Goddard, at least until Vivien Leigh showed up – thank God!

  5. Don't forget Jet Li, who turned down Chow Yun Fat's role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Li's wife was pregnant and he wanted to be there for her.

  6. Jacko Crackso on

    "thumbs down for the pop-up"

    Don, perhaps you'd prefer that we go back to web 1.0 and make people pay to read content again. If you expect content to be free online, don't complain about ads. Don't EVER.

    You see Don, one day a pretty little lady is come around here with a big bag of cash and say, we wanna take this site to the next level. We wanna give you $2 million in venture capital so that you can become the next Boing Boing. Or, hey, we're Gawker media, and we wanna assimilate you. But that ain't gonna happen if the site isn't turning any profit. And it sure as biscuits isn't gonna happen if the users complain about ads.

  7. Bette Davis did not turn down Gone With the Wind. She was very bitter that she wasn't cast as Scarlett. (And I think she would have been magnificent) She made Jezebel as a sort of consolation prize, or so the story goes …

  8. Jacko, Thanks for the defense of this site's ads. I don't have any plans for getting assimilated but you never know. I am trying to keep the ads to a minimum and make the less intrusive, but I do have bills to pay, so some ads will always be a part of this site.

  9. Are these photos REALLY photoshopped!!!! i am in disbelieve!!! who would have even known… thank you soooo much for pointing that out!

  10. I have heard that Cary Grant was considered for James Bond . But the Al Pacino one is really hard to believe. They could have used his eyebrows to make the Chewbacca suit maybe?

  11. I second the lies about the Han Solo casting. The only other "famous person" who was auditioned was Kurt Russel. They were going for unknown actors.

  12. I think you might be confusing the SNL skit with the actual actors who auditioned for Han Solo. Sir Alec Guiness was the only seasoned actor that Lucas wanted in the film. Every one else was to be unknowns.

  13. No major picking, just that in countless interviews tarentino points out that he wrote Bill with David Carridine in mind so i very much doubt it was offered to Costner

  14. Oh and the Hans Solo thing is a famous for being true people, Lucus ended up going with unknowns because he quit the Directors guild and at the time the Screen Actors Guild wouldn't let its memebers work with no guild directors

    • George Lucas did not leave the Screen Actors Guild until after The Empire Strikes Back

    • Harrison Ford was one of the carpenters on the set; £ucas asked him to stand in for a test to read lines because the other dude didn’t show… bonus features on da dvd

  15. You're totally missing one of the most important roles that was passed on…

    Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones!

    Steven Spielberg wanted him to play Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), but he was still under contract for the "Magnum, P.I." (1980) TV-series, so he had to pass on the role.

  16. Lol Danny, I was just thinking that.

    Good list, I like it, and you did a good job with the photoshopping of the pictures. Hell I hardly ever leave comments on anything too lol.

  17. The SNL skit(s) based on Star Wars' casting couch is/are hilarious. Kevin Spacey plays Walken reading for Han Solo in the Kessel Run speech. Priceless. True or not, I laughed. This list just goes to show you how delicate a movie's chemistry can be. The characters are memorable "as cast" and there's no guarantee that different actors would have had the same effect. What if Keanu Reeves had never done "Bill and Ted"? How could he play the exact same character in every role since then…? Think about it.

  18. If it was possible I think it would have been cool if Will Smith played Han Solo, Then he could pimp Princess Leah like nobodys business!

  19. "He opted instead to direct Open Range in yet another poor career choice…cough, cough Water World."

    Huh?

    Was there something wrong with Open Range?

    Its 78% approval rating on RottenTomatoes is more than adequate; its 7.5/10 rating on IMDB is on the verge of being in the Top 250 (which extends to films with a rating of 8.0); it received moderate critical acclaim–Roger Ebert gave it 3.5/4 stars. While Open Range was not a "smash" hit at the Box Office, the film did take in nearly $70m in worldwide gross, compared to a $20m production budget.

    Now, one may say that Kill Bill would have been a BETTER career choice … but I hardly think that Costner's decision to direct Robert Duvall (you know, Gus from Lonesome Dove?) and Annette Benning in a classic, Biblical Western was a "poor" choice.

    Food for thought.

    • Amen. great movie. Waterworld is one of those movies that gets better with age , as well.

      • Charley Waite on

        Open Range is 100x better than either Kill Bill. Poor career choice? More like poor job of writing this article full of nonsense.

        • I agree, Open Range is a great film. Perhaps in the few years after it was made people didn’t recognize it for the film it was. That tends to happen. And, Costner has always been “cool” to bash on, in the movie geek sense, while completely ignoring his excellent contributions to American cinema. Costner makes classic career choices. Kill Bill was passable, and I have no intention of decrying Tarantino’s efforts too hard, but it is his second weakest picture — Deathproof being the worst. Open Range just so happens to be Kevin Costner’s third best western. I’d say “well done, Mr. Costner.”

  20. Let's not forget that the lead role for the Indiana Jones series was supposed to be for Tom Selleck but he was already committed to Magnum P.I. so the role went to Harrison Ford instead.

  21. Charles Grodin turning down Dustin Hoffman's role in 'The Graduate' over money. Bad as Costner's boner decision.

  22. i like what will smith said about playing neo in the matrix. much as i love him, he would never have been able to pull it off. keanu does a fantastic job!!

  23. Ronald Mcdouchebag on

    no one, and i mean NO ONE can play John Bender like Judd Nelson did. Dont get me wrong, Cusack is one of my favorite actors, but, Judd was born to play Bender