Did you know that Will Smith was originally picked to portray Neo in The Matrix? Or that Emma Watson and Miles Teller were previously attached to play the couple in the critically-acclaimed La La Land? While these few A-list actors ultimately decided to pass up on these massively successful movies, they still seem like they're doing just fine.
But what about the actors who haven’t been so lucky?
Of course, predicting the success of the next blockbuster movie or hit TV series is far from an exact science. But when the story is based on a best-selling novel series or has someone like Steven Spielberg sitting in the director’s chair, you can rest assured that your odds are looking up. However, these are the actors who decided to give these promising projects a pass — and have ended up paying dearly.
That’s not to say that they’ve always regretted the decision, or that their careers have simply ceased to exist. Just that they missed out on an opportunity that could’ve greatly expanded their notoriety, their paycheck, and their chance to be considered for more desirable roles in the future.
Here are 15 Actors Whose Careers Flopped After They Turned Down Huge Roles.
15 Nicolas Cage — The Lord of the Rings
If it’s news to you that Nicolas Cage was originally tapped for the part of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, then there’s a good chance that you’re currently exuding a bizarre mixture of feelings and facial expressions that could only be seen in… well, a Nicolas Cage movie.
However, before the actor ever became an archetype for over-acting and the fodder for Internet memes everywhere, Cage was actually a respected — albeit bizarre — actor with one Academy Award win under his belt.
Ultimately, Cage couldn't commit to the epic trilogy, citing family obligations.
Since then, you don’t need us to tell you that Cage’s career choices have been dubious at best. While the actor's performances remain mesmerizing, he continues to pop up in a number straight-to-DVD extravaganzas, which is likely a result of Cage reportedly owing the IRS around $14 million in back taxes.
14 Charlie Hunnam — Fifty Shades of Grey
After his star-turning role as Jax Teller on the hit series Sons of Anarchy, it seemed like only a matter of time before the ruggedly handsome Charlie Hunnam made a successful jump to the big screen.
In 2012, everything seemed like it was par for the course when Hunnam was cast to play Christian Grey in the hotly anticipated adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. However, the announcement incited backlash from those who wanted the actor to look more the part, and Hunnam eventually backed away from the project citing scheduling conflicts.
Since then, Hunnam’s films have failed to make their budgets back at the box office, including last year's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Lost City of Z. Meanwhile, the Fifty Shades films — while far from a critical success — have raked in over a billion dollars and counting.
13 Pamela Anderson — The X-Files
Before Gillian Anderson nabbed the part of FBI special agent Dana Scully on The X-Files, network executive at Fox had a totally different Anderson in mind for the role.
Of course, Pamela Anderson had much more notoriety on the time. While the actress may have been able to entice a larger audience upon its debut, we’re sure The X-Files wouldn’t have stuck around for very long if the executives had had their way.
Luckily for us, series creator Chris Carter pushed for Gillian to get the part instead. He even fed the actress tips on how to impress the executives during the audition process.
Since then, Pamela Anderson has taken roles in a number of tacky movies and TV shows — which has resulted in Anderson never being considered a serious actress.
12 Tom Selleck — Raiders of the Lost Ark
Even imagining anyone besides Harrison Ford in the role of Indiana Jones is borderline sacrilegious. But apparently, Tom Selleck would’ve played the part instead of Harrison Ford if not for a simple scheduling conflict.
While Ford was indeed director Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the role, executive producer George Lucas was hesitant about continuing to cast Ford, as he had already appeared as Hans Solo in the first two Star Wars films.
While plenty of other actors were considered for the role, including Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Jack Nicholson — who would have all made for a wildly different rendition of the character — Tom Selleck was Spielberg’s number two pick.
However, Selleck was already committed to his popular TV series, Magnum P.I., and as a result, Selleck never successfully made a jump to feature films.
11 Christina Applegate — Legally Blonde
Probably best known for playing Kelly Bundy on the hit sitcom Married... with Children, Christina Applegate was originally offered the lead role of Elle Woods in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde.
For fear of continuing to be typecast as the dimwitted blonde, Applegate declined the part.
Of course, Reese Witherspoon took up the reins, and her performance as the perky Gemini vegetarian earned her a Golden Globe nomination and turned her into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading ladies.
Seeing the success of the film and the increased opportunities the role afforded Witherspoon, Applegate has since regretted her decision. Although she has continued to pop in a number of hit comedies, including Anchorman and Bad Moms, we can't help but wonder what doors a starring role in Legally Blonde could have opened for her.
10 John Cusack — Breaking Bad
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Bryan Cranston tackling the role of the lowly chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad. During the early stages of production, the studios were understandably hesitant about casting the wacky father from Malcolm and Middle at the center of their gritty crime drama.
Sony and AMC reportedly tapped John Cusack for the part, but they were ultimately declined. However, Cusack has since refuted this claim by responding to someone on Twitter with “Didn’t turn it down u crazy.”
Whether it be the studios or the actor who were mistaken, the fact remains that Cusack's career isn't what it used to be. Outside of a few gems like 1408 and Hot Tub Time Machine, Cusack has starred in a number of critical and commercial flops that most people have never even heard of.
9 Daryl Hannah — Pretty Woman
Pretty Woman was originally conceived to be much more realistic drama — spotlighting the violence and addiction that can plague the lives of real-world call girls - rather than a light-hearted rom-com.
But before Julia Roberts was given a chance to brighten the mood with her ear-to-ear smile, a number of better-known actresses were offered the role, including Meg Ryan, Diane Lane, and Daryl Hannah.
However, it was Hannah who openly expressed her distaste for the project, calling it “degrading to women.” While she may not have been wrong, you can never underestimate audiences' predilection for a feel-good, rags-to-riches story.
Pretty Woman would go on to shoot Julia Roberts to stardom, while Hannah has continued to fade further into obscurity, saved only by her performance as Elle Driver in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2.
8 Paul Giamatti — The Office
Filling the shoes of comedic genius Ricky Gervais is no easy feat. In the end, Steve Carell proved that he was more than capable of making the character of Michael Scott his own.
Of course, plenty of other actors were considered for the lead role, including Martin Short and Bob Odenkirk. Apparently, Paul Giamatti was at the top of the list.
At that time, Giamatti was hot off the success of his 2004 dramedy Sideways, which was nominated for numerous awards and established the actor as a leading man. Giamatti declined the chance to appear on The Office, and after Carrell had his own leading man success with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the sitcom quickly became a smash hit.
Since then, Giamatti has continued to turn out impressive work, but he is usually relegated to a supporting role — never quite repeating the success he had with Sideways.
7 Emily Browning — Twilight
While you may recognize Emily Browning from her appearances in A Series of Unfortunate Events and Sucker Punch, the actress isn’t nearly as well-known as her contemporary Kristen Stewart. This could have easily been true in the reverse if Browning had ended up in the lead role of Bella Swan in the massively popular Twilight series.
Purportedly, Browning was author Stephanie Meyer's first choice for the part.
Whether or not that made the actress a sure thing if she had expressed interested in the movie is unknown, as Browning ultimately decided against auditioning for the role, citing that she wanted to take some time off after filming The Uninvited.
While the role of Bella Swan would’ve made Browning more of a household name, that’s not necessarily a good thing, as Stewart has spent the last five years trying to shake her connection to the critical disaster.
6 John Travolta — Apollo 13
While Pulp Fiction is often credited with revitalizing John Travolta’s career, in reality, the actor has continued to star in a plethora of unknown and downright awful films, including the abysmal Battlefield Earth, which is often ranked amongst the worst movies ever made.
If only Travolta had followed up his 1994 Academy Award nomination with another critical and commercial success, like 1995’s Apollo 13.
Travolta was originally offered the role of Jim Lovell, which he declined, and the part ultimately went to Tom Hanks. In fact, this was the second time that Hanks swooped in to grab a role that was originally offered to Travolta — the first time being Forrest Gump.
While it’s near impossible to imagine Travolta tackling the role of Forrest Gump, it's not hard to imagine him starring in this space epic. He did go on to make Battlefield Earth, after all.
5 Sean Connery — The Lord of the Rings
While Sean Connery may always be considered the best James Bond, the actor has such a distinct accent and cadence that no matter how strong the performance may be, there’s always part of your brain that is undeniably are it's watching Sean Connery.
Despite this, Connery was originally offered the role of Gandalf the Grey in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, on top of a $10 million salary per each picture, Connery was even promised 15% of the box office sales — which went on to collectively grossed $2.9 billion worldwide.
Why did he decline the opportunity? In his own words, Connery said “I never understood it. I read the book. I read the script. I watched the movie. I still don’t understand it.”
Apparently, Connery did understand The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which he headlined in 2003 before beginning his transition into retirement.
4 Julia Roberts — The Proposal and The Blind Side
As mentioned above, it was Julia Roberts who snatched up the star-turning role of Vivian in 1990’s Pretty Woman, and she spent the next 15 years turning out a string of hits, including My Best Friend’s Wedding, Ocean’s Eleven, and Erin Brockovich.
In the last decade, the actress' ability to predict possible blockbusters has been faltering.
Roberts reportedly turned down roles in The Proposal and The Blind Side — which would both coincidentally be taken over by Sandra Bullock. Bullock even earned an Oscar for her performance in the latter, which no doubt made her a top pick for subsequent hits since, including The Heat and Gravity.
Meanwhile, Roberts has starred in a number of critical and commercial flops, including Mirror Mirror, Secret in Their Eyes, and Money Monster.
3 Thomas Jane — Mad Men
Back in the mid-2000s, Thomas Jane enjoyed a number of leading roles in genre films like Dreamcatcher, The Punisher, and The Mist. It was around this time that Jane was also sought out to play the lead role of Don Draper in the upcoming period drama Mad Men.
The show would go on to turn Jon Hamm into a household name, and Ham later reported that Jane originally declined the role because he “doesn’t do television.”
While it may be easy to scrutinize Jane’s decision now, at the time, AMC was probably best known for their weekend marathons of schlocky B-movies — making the success of Mad Men far from a sure thing.
However, Jane has had few notable leading roles since. Even his HBO show, Hung, was canceled after two seasons. On the bright side, it looks like Jane finally came around on the whole TV thing.
2 Warren Beatty — Kill Bill
Quentin Tarantino is known for taking a once iconic star and reintroducing them to a whole new generation of movie-goers — which looked like he was on track to do for Warren Beatty when he offered him a role in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2.
Tarantino had originally written the role of Bill with Beatty in mind, and considering that Beatty once pioneered the excessive use of violence in film with 1976’s Bonnie and Clyde, the duo felt like a match made in heaven.
For whatever reason, Beatty and Tarantino couldn’t seem to make things work, and it was reported that Beatty even suggested casting David Carradine in the role instead -- a seemingly better fit considering Carradine's martial arts background.
Since then, Beatty has mostly been absent from the film world - save for his 2016 picture Rules Don't Apply, which was a massive box office bomb.
1 Josh Hartnett — Spider-Man, Superman Returns, and Batman Begins
When it comes to turning down career-making roles, Josh Hartnett undeniably takes the cake. Reportedly, the actor was offered to play Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman during the early and mid-2000s, at a time when his career as a leading man just seemed to be ramping up.
Although superhero movies weren’t as ubiquitous then as they are now, Hartnett was still afraid that becoming synonymous with such an iconic character would overshadow the rest of his career.
Around this same time, a number of commercial flops — including Wicker Park, The Black Dahlia, and Resurrecting the Champ — caused Hartnett to slip from his leading man throne.
Since then, Hartnett has been outspoken about his regret over turning down these opportunities, particularly his chance to work with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight trilogy.
Do you think these actors missed out on career-making opportunities? Let us know in the comments.