Ever since Johnny Weissmuller took over the Tarzan role from the silent era’s Elmo Lincoln, iconic movie characters have been getting recast. While roles like Tarzan lend themselves to the Shakespearean treatment and often need to be recast because they are bigger than any one man (or woman), other roles should live and die with the stars who made them famous.
Since Hollywood has been infected with a bad case of reboot-itis over the years, we felt it was time for us to offer them advice they will promptly ignore and edict the 13 Movie Characters Who Should Never Be Recast. Seriously, filmmakers, if you come anywhere near these legendary characters, we’ll be picketing theaters on opening week. Let’s get started.
12 Jeff Bridges as The Dude
Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (or just “The Dude,” since there are two Jeff Lebowskis in the Coen Brothers cult comedy The Big Lebowski) has only four loves in life: White Russians, bowling, CCR, and marijuana. He would be content to think of nothing else beyond those things and his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). Unfortunately, he is pulled away from this into a kidnapping plot due to a case of mistaken identity.
The Coens could not have picked a better protagonist for their Raymond Chandler-esque crime caper, nor could they have done a better job casting the part. In fact, the Coens wrote it specifically for Bridges, who brings a lovable loser vibe that is hard to compute when you stack it against his later turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit or the grievous quality of his character in Arlington Road. Bridges fits this part well. He never deviates from the Dude’s warm stoner heart even when the stakes get high. His manchild innocence is so embraceable that you wonder how even the bad guys can have a problem with him.
Kill Bill in the hands of any other star-director pairing would have been too cheesy to release. It’s some kind of anime-kung fu-revenge-spaghetti western hybrid with the unlikely story of a beautiful bride gunned down on her wedding day, shot in the head by her husband-to-be and his gang of killers, only to somehow recover and go on a killing rampage. With credentials like that, it seems like nothing but grindhouse material. But when it is written and directed by QT and in the hands of an actress like Uma Thurman, you can’t help falling for every piece of it.
What works about Kill Bill is that neither Thurman nor Tarantino make any apologies for their film being a big-budget mishmash of what are typically considered “B-movie” genres. They double down on all the tawdriness of plot and character found in those lesser films to produce something that is of the same pedigree, but at the same time epic in scope and worthy of taking seriously. Thurman approaches her role as if she’s Meryl Streep and it gives the two parts of Kill Bill their fire, heart, and soul.
11 Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
The 2010 remake of 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is a lesson learned when it comes to recasting the part of Freddy Krueger. Now we know some of you will be thinking, “That movie sucked on its own. There was nothing replacement-Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) could have done to save it!” That’s where you’re wrong. It is because that movie sucked that Haley proved he (and likely no one else) has any business taking over the role.
You cannot tell us that every movie in the Elm Street franchise was gold. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Freddy vs. Jason — all beyond stupid and just as bad as the 2010 remake on paper. Yet we don’t mind watching them again and again because Robert Englund is a tour de force in the part. Every time he puts on the glove, you get to see a man loving what he does rather than one trying to do their best Robert Englund impression.
10 Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator
The Terminator series peaked with 1991’s sequel T2: Judgment Day. That’s when star Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron’s original story, and the special effects were at their best and most cutting-edge. Since then, we’ve suffered through the Arnold-led Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Genisys with one Arnold-less Terminator: Salvation and a two-season television series thrown in for “good” measure.
The series has become so convoluted at this point that not even Arnold can save it, and with each of the sequels driving the story integrity into the dirt, it’s hard to get excited about a full-scale reboot, which, by the way, isn’t in the cards. No, instead there is talk of two additional Terminator films (on hold for now) and a second television series being in development, so this one isn’t going away any time soon, though it probably should.
9 Bruce Campbell as Ash
For years after Army of Darkness wowed every college kid in America on home video and became a well-deserving cult classic, fans of the Evil Dead series have wanted to see Bruce Campbell return to the role of wise-cracking, empty-headed hero Ash. Unfortunately, the prospects did not look good amid 15 years of speculation. When Sam Raimi produced a remake of his original Evil Dead, the books appeared to be all-but-closed. But then, we stayed after the credits and saw our hero for a brief moment telling us how “groovy” things still were. From there, momentum built on a possible crossover film between the new Evil Dead universe and the old with Campbell reprising his role.
While we Deadite fans were left hanging on that idea, we did get something even better thanks to the folks at Starz — a 10-episode run with Ash vs. Evil Dead. Then, a greenlight on season two followed. It has all been so gloriously unexpected that we’re precious thankful no one every pulled the trigger in the intervening years on an Ash recast. Long live the King!
8 Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as Marty McFly and Doc Brown
We live in a more cynical age than the one in which Back to the Future opened in theaters. Today, if you think about a teenage boy and a much older man spending most of their free time together, creepy-crawly thoughts of priests and altar boys come to mind; but in 1985 when the original blazed across the big screen at 88 miles per hour, we didn’t think anything of it.
Most of that is because the chemistry between Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is spot-on perfect. Despite their age gaps, they create a relationship that is both fun and believable as they work together in two different eras. Fox deserves a lot of credit, too, for playing McFly in such a fully-formed manner. Many young stars of today struggle to bring the same personality to their parts that Fox does to this character. Rather than playing a role, he seems to actually buy into his identity, his supporting cast, and the film’s extraordinary events.
7 Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
Kids of the 1980s know just how unusual it was to see a female action star back in the day. We had Dirty Harry, Rambo, Indiana Jones, tons of buddy-cop movies with nary a female in sight — at least an ass-kicker female. Then Ellen Ripley came along in Aliens (1986), James Cameron’s sequel to the Ridley Scott classic Alien from seven years earlier.
While Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was in Scott’s film and did prove to be the only survivor, you got a sense she was hanging on by the skin of her teeth in that effort. There weren’t any signs of her being a woman ready to take the fight to the Xenomorphs. But the moment we saw her in that dock loader growling, “Get away from her, you bitch!,” we knew movies would never be the same. While we’re more than happy to welcome more female action stars to the party, there will never be another Ellen Ripley, nor should there be. Weaver was grade-A perfection.
6 Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller
In spite of the Internet’s attempts to ruin Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for us — come on, Ferris is a figment of Cameron’s imagination? Please! — we still think that Mr. Bueller is one of the coolest guys to ever skip his way through high school. He inspired generations of senior skip day participants, and in Matthew Broderick’s able hands he has conned his way onto many a “Greatest Movie Character” lists across the Internet.
As for recasting the part, it’s not so much that Matthew Broderick is irreplaceable as it is the character of Ferris belongs at a point in time that doesn’t need to be revisited. Broderick himself said as much when declining an offer to return to the part for a scrapped sequel. Plus, the one time someone else did play the character — Charlie Schlatter in the Ferris Bueller TV show from 1990 — it did not turn out well.
5 Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry
“Dirty” Harry Callahan gets every dirty job the city has to offer, and instead of retreating, he hits back hard and makes the bad guys fear him. While a number of tough hombres have graced the silver screen over the years, Clint Eastwood is the only one, who could ever truly embody the quiet rage and dry sense of humor that is Dirty Harry.
To think the part almost went to Frank Sinatra, to the point that film posters were produced with Ol’ Blue Eyes in the role! While it likely would have been a fine thriller had they gone through with it, it’s doubtful that Harry would have become the icon that Eastwood created. While sequels and reboots have been discussed over the last several years, it appears that, for now, all parties are content to let the character die with Clint. Let’s hope it stays that way.
4 James Stewart as George Bailey
Jimmy Stewart once remarked that George Bailey was his favorite character of all those he portrayed in a career that spanned 57 of the actor’s 89 years. There’s a reason for that. For all Bailey’s blunt and selfish talk, he is one of film’s most selfless characters in action. He does the right thing even when it isn’t to his benefit — even when he doesn’t see the upside. Why? Because George Bailey cares more about people, welfare, and compassion for others than he does himself.
In many ways, Bailey and Stewart were the same person. He left a promising career in Hollywood to serve in World War II and even had to talk his way into being accepted because he was considered too underweight to meet United States Air Force requirements. He repaid the USAF’s leniency in accepting him by becoming an active-duty Colonel and later a Brigadier General and earning the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre, and 7 battle stars. He was also one of those rare Hollywood men, who was faithful to his wife Gloria for the entirety of their 45-year marriage until her death in 1994. When he passed three years later, his last words were reportedly, “I’m going with Gloria now.” Stewart was the only man decent enough to play George Bailey, so let’s put a moratorium on any talk of an It’s a Wonderful Life remake, shall we?
3 Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
To be frank, Disney blew their one big chance to recast this part in a way we could all accept. The company was flying high from its success with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so many of us would have entertained a new Dr. Jones. Unfortunately, the House of Mouse felt it could somehow make Indy work as a sequel despite Harrison Ford’s haggard, aged, plane-crashed look. The man has noticeably lost a step when it comes to the physicality needed for the role of Indiana Jones, and having him hand over the reins to a younger protagonist makes no sense because Indiana Jones doesn’t lend itself to an expanded universe in the same way Star Wars does.
So now that Disney has mishandled the Indiana Jones character and will likely own him for the foreseeable future, let’s go ahead and call it a day. No Chris Pratt. No Anthony Ingruber. No Norman Reedus. Just hang the fedora on a hook and call it a day because we have no faith in Indiana Jones 5 and no faith in a studio that thinks it’s a good idea. Blessings are still there for Marvel and Star Wars, though.
2 Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa
A character is seriously deserving of reverence when it can take the man responsible for Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and turn him into an Oscar-caliber performer. Rocky Balboa has done that twice for his star, Sylvester Stallone. While Stallone won neither of the Academy Awards for which he was nominated, he certainly belonged in the discussion. Contrast that with some of the wrong-headed performances he gave in-between Rocky films, and the Balboa Effect is undeniable.
Unlike his other iconic character, John Rambo, Rocky could never be recast in a way that would work. As much as we love him, Rambo is, at heart, a killer with ice blood in his veins. It’s what he does best, and there are a number of talented actors, who could meet those demands. But Rocky Balboa is too deeply personal to Stallone. He embodies all the best qualities of his creator and of the human spirit, to a degree that what comes out on the screen feels almost supernatural. That’s nothing you can recreate with an open casting call. Plus, even when the Rocky films were at their cheesy worst, Balboa always got us through with the same amount of goosebumps and optimism that made them all re-watchable.
1 Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone
Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) actually was recast successfully in The Godfather Part II (Robert DeNiro), but that doesn’t count as we were looking at a younger version of the man. The film used the Don’s past and spliced it with scenes from the present day and the dealings of his son Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). In that sense, Young Don Vito and Old Don Vito are really two different characters.
The idea of recasting the older Don Vito Corleone for a Godfather remake actually makes us physically ill, but with it being a classic, his performance one of the most iconic in motion picture history, and Hollywood’s comfort level with familiar brand names, we know it’s a distinct and unwanted possibility. If that (dark) day does ever come, let’s hope whoever takes over doesn’t just try to do a paltry Brando imitation.
Well, there you have it, good reader: the 13 movie characters that Hollywood shouldn’t come within a square mile of recasting. We’re sure there are some other greats we’ve left off the list, though. What would you include/exclude? Sound off in the comments section below!