There’s an old piece of improv advice a lot of actors received when "coming up." The advice was to never say no. So, when you’re on stage doing an improv bit and someone hands you a fake toy airplane to fly around, you take the toy fake airplane and you fly the heck out of it! It’s a little different in movies with contracts being what they are. Sometimes, actors have to say no and turn down roles. That usually paves the way for another actor to swoop in. We often wonder how the original actor feels about what might have been, particularly when the film becomes a massive hit and the character an icon.
Great movies have a slew of iconic roles that made actors iconic, as well as iconic actors that helped make a role iconic. Sometimes actors turn down roles because they don’t understand the role (ie: Will Smith in The Matrix). Every so often though, an actor is slated to take on a role and the world anticipates how amazing the performance will be; but they have to pull out due to “scheduling conflicts.” Those conflicts usually include being part of some other film shoot that is still going on.
The world of Hollywood could look a lot different now had certain actors took on these roles. Here are 20 Actors Who Lost Out On Iconic Roles Because They Were Trapped In Other Ones.
20 Tom Selleck (Magnum PI) – Indiana Jones (Raiders Of The Lost Ark)
With just about every role on this list, it’s hard to think of anyone else playing the part. But someone else slinging Indiana Jones’ whip seems completely unnatural. However, the part of Dr. Jones was not written with Harrison Ford in mind, in fact, producer George Lucas didn’t necessarily want to keep working with Ford.
The part was all for the mustache of machismo himself, Tom Selleck. The current NYPD Commissioner on Blue Bloods was set to take on the part. But CBS stepped in and reminded him of his commitment to the hit series, Magnum P.I.
19 Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II) – Wolverine (X-Men)
Does Dougray Scott look at himself in the mirror and curse Tom Cruise? Not only did Mission Impossible II’s shooting schedule run long, but Scott had to give up the role of Wolverine in the process, which of course went to Hugh Jackman.
If you were allowed to sue for lost wages in this scenario, then Scott has a heck-of-a case. Jackman has played Logan in a record-setting nine films and Tom Cruise has made four Impossible movies since and is gearing up for two more. Scott’s career has been consistent, but he never got to superstardom level.
18 Charlie Hunnam (Sons Of Anarchy) – Christian Grey (Fifty Shades Of Grey)
The inevitable Fifty Shades film adaption was upon us and many had dreaded their significant others drag them to the theaters to take part in their grandiose fantasy (it was only fair that those same people get dragged to Infinity War). It might not have been the reason, but it was shrewd casting to get Charlie Hunnam to play Christian Grey.
The guy was playing the popular Jax Teller on Sons Of Anarchy. The casting might have brought some extra fans out, but Hunnam was too busy gearing up for the show’s final season.
17 Emily Blunt (Gulliver’s Travels) – Black Widow (Iron Man 2)
Emily Blunt might have thought that she had hit the lotto when she was cast as Natasha Romanov in Iron Man 2. Joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have propelled Blunt’s career into the stratosphere and featured her on all kinds of media that would keep her future grandkids’ grandkids rolling in royalty payments.
But Blunt was too busy shooting Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels and had to give up the role. Does anyone remember Jack Black’s comedic take on Gulliver’s Travels?
16 Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) – Daisy Domergue (Hateful Eight)
As Quentin Tarantino was gearing up to shoot his eighth feature, a western drama – The Hateful Eight, he did what any director would do several years ago. He sought after Hollywood’s darling, Jennifer Lawrence, to play Daisy.
But the powerhouse actress was busy working on Joy at the time. Both films would net Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nods for Jennifer Lawrence and the woman who took her spot in Eight – Jennifer Jason Leigh. Tarantino said of the role, “I can see her doing a good job with this role…I’m glad I didn’t cast somebody that young.”
15 Matt Damon (The Bourne Ultimatum) – Jake Sully (Avatar)
When you become a megastar like Matt Damon is, you can’t take on every role. Perhaps if he did take on the role of Jake Sully in James Cameron’s groundbreaking Avatar, the sequels might have already been made. “Having to say no to Avatar was tough because I particularly wanted to work with James Cameron…” Damon once said.
Cameron didn’t think the movie needed him. More importantly, Damon was in the middle of production on the third phenomenal Bourne movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, and ultimately couldn’t commit to Avatar.
14 Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) – Tiffany (Silver Linings Playbook)
Anne Hathaway joined the Batman universe and turned a lot of heads playing Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises. Thanks to her commitment to the film, it was the second time in her career she had to turn down another part, one that she might have won an Oscar for.
Between creative difference and shooting commitments, Hathaway had to drop out of Silver Linings Playbook. Ultimately, that role went to Jennifer Lawrence, who would go on to win her first Academy Award.
13 Kevin Costner (Waterworld) – Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption)
The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best movies of the past twenty-five years. If you haven’t seen it yet, then go right now and watch it. We’ll wait…
Wasn’t Tim Robbins outstanding as Andy Dufresne?! The role could have been Kevin Costner’s to garner more critical acclaim. But the actor was too busy being hopelessly devoted his passion project, Waterworld.
If you’ve never seen Waterworld, don’t bother; unless you want to go watch a trainwreck happen over the course of two hours or so.
12 Sarah Michelle Gellar (All My Children) – Cher Horowitz (Clueless)
Sarah Michelle Gellar made her career for two big-time roles – Buffy and Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions. The actress, prior to achieving big-time success was achieving moderate success already on the popular daytime soap opera, All My Children.
Had she not been committed to Kendall Hart on that show, she might have had a third iconic role under her belt – she was originally tapped to play Cher Horowitz in the teen comedy classic, Clueless. It’s very hard to picture anyone else besides Alicia Silverstone in the role, but Gellar might have also been able to pull it off.
11 Angelina Jolie (In The Land Of Blood And Honey) – Ryan Stone (Gravity)
Seemingly Castaway in space, Sandra Bullock delivers the quintessential “tour–de–force” performance as Ryan Stone in the award-winning, critically-lauded Gravity. Bullock and George Clooney shine as a couple of astronauts who are stranded in space after their shuttle is destroyed.
Oddly enough, even with their collective star power, Clooney and Bullock weren’t the first choices for their roles of Matt Kowalski and Ryan Stone collectively. Originally Robery Downey Jr and Angelina Jolie were tapped for the film. Jolie was busy putting the finishing touches on her directorial debut, In The Land Of Blood And Honey. RDJ was as he has been since 2008, busy playing Iron Man.
10 Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) – Bella Swan (Twilight)
Sarah Michelle Gellar wasn’t the only actress on Buffy that had to turn down a role or two thanks to being part of another production. Michelle Trachtenberg played Buffy’s little sister, Dawn, on the popular TV show.
Trachtenberg had actually been up for the role of Bella Swan in 2008’s Twilight. But her commitment to movies like 17 Again and shows like Mercy, kept her from the role. It wasn’t the first time she had to turn down director Catherine Hardwicke – she was too busy on Buffy to take part in the critically acclaimed, Thirteen.
9 Burt Ward (Batman) – Ben Braddock (The Graduate)
Holy different career trajectory Batman! Burt Ward made his career in three quick years starring as Dick Grayson – Bruce Wayne’s ward and crime-fighting sidekick, Robin on the classic 1966 show. But bit parts in B-movies and convention circuit appearances might not have been in Ward’s future if he was allowed out of his contract.
Looking for more serious roles, Ward had been cast in The Graduate. The movie became one of the greatest in Hollywood history and made a star out of the kid who took Ward’s place, Dustin Hoffman.
8 Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries 2) – Christine (The Phantom Of The Opera)
Every so often, Hollywood drudges up a staple of the stage for a grandiose big-time movie production. In 2004, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera was released to mixed reviews. But critics lauded over star, Emmy Rossum, as Christine. The role wasn’t always hers.
Anne Hathaway had been the front runner for the part. But she was contractually obligated to The Princess Diaries 2 at the time. Director Gary Marshall knew his star and mentoree wasn’t happy about being forced to make the movie and tried as best he could to make her happy.
7 Pierce Brosnan (Remington Steele) – James Bond (The Living Daylights)
Pierce Brosnan is widely accepted as one of the better James Bonds to have ever jumped behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. From GoldenEye to Die Another Day, Brosnan always gave a great performance. Because of him, those five Bond movies were all fairly well-received.
Had Brosnan has his way though, that great run of Bond movies might have started with 1987’s The Living Daylights. But the actor was unable to get out of his contract for the series that made him a star – Remington Steele.
6 Julia Roberts (Valentine's Day) – Leigh Anne Tuohy (The Blind Side)
If we look hard enough, you can devote an entire list to films that Julia Roberts turned down and Sandra Bullock came in and gobbled right up. But this one might be the biggest. The Pretty Woman star was busy filming the ensemble film, Valentines Day, and had to turn down The Blind Side.
The role made already respected actress Sandra Bullock a bonafide megastar. She won the trifecta of the Golden Globe, the SAG, and the Oscar for her performance. A year later, Forbes named her the highest paid actress. Julia Roberts not taking the role? Say it with me fans, “big mistake! Huge!”
5 Johnny Depp (Private Resort) – Ferris Bueller (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Since Johnny Depp has made a career out of playing quirky and harmed characters, it seems completely out of left field that he’d be starring in some run of the mill Eighties Comedy, Private Resort.
It also seems a little strange that he would have taken part in a mainstream teen film like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Yet, the anti-heartthrob heartthrob was director John Hughes’ first choice to play the perennial slacker. What might have been? Depp had scheduling conflicts at the time – which at that time would have been Private Resort or Platoon.
4 Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality 2) – Maggie (Million Dollar Baby)
Million Dollar Baby was a career renaissance film for director Clint Eastwood and it nabbed all kinds of accolades and awards for star, Hilary Swank. The film is heralded as one of the best boxing dramas of all time. Had she had her druthers, it might be Sandra Bullock being remembered for playing Maggie Fitzgerald.
Bullock getting a taste of what she does to Julia Roberts has been attached to star in the film for sometime before it finally got off the ground. Once it did, she was already filming Miss Congeniality 2.
3 Leonardo DiCaprio (The Beach) – Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)
If Leonardo DiCaprio had kept getting chosen or handpicked for the roles that he and Christian Bale received, then we might be living in a world where Leonardo DiCaprio played Bruce Wayne for Christopher Nolan.
But that all stopped when both actors were up for Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Bale had won the role initially, but the studio wanted DiCaprio. Then the project went on hiatus. DiCaprio went to film The Beach. By the time production started up again, DiCaprio was stuck on that movie; allowing Bale to claim the role that he won already.
2 Tom Cruise (All The Right Moves) – Ren McCormick (Footloose)
Of all of Tom Cruise’s iconic roles, his role as Stefen Djordjevic in All The Right Moves is an early forgetful one. Even at the start of his career, it was a rare misstep. It wasn’t jumping on couches bad, but the movie is never spoken about in the line of great Tom Cruise movies.
It certainly is nowhere near as memorable as the role he had to turn down – Ren McCormick in Footloose. The part went to Kevin Bacon instead. Cruise has had a great career, but Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon still sounds cooler that Six Degrees Of Tom Cruise.
1 Tim Roth (The Planet Of The Apes) – Severus Snape (Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone)
Tim Roth has had some wonderful memorable parts in his career. General Thade in Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes is fat and away – not one of them. The makeup was great, but the “reimagining” was not. Still, the actor had tried to fly back and forth between this shoot and the other ginormous undertaking he had undertaken.
He was also cast as Severus Snape in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone. The actor had chosen simians over wizards and gave up the part, paving the way for J.K. Rowling’s first choice, Alan Rickman.