Fifteen years ago, the world of cinema was introduced to Middle Earth. With The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson took one small hobbit’s journey to destroy an evil ring and forever cemented it as one of the most epic fantasies to ever grace the big screen. Now, in the wake of the first movie’s 15th anniversary, we’re left with a vivid display of J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation, full of eye-popping effects and set decorations that remain beyond compare all these years later.
With so many characters to juggle, it’s a surprise that everyone on set had so much chemistry together. Bringing that kind of magic back to such a high stake project would be a fool’s errand. Luckily, we’re just the kind of fools who are willing to give it a go. So, in order to celebrate the otherworldly adventure Peter Jackson brought to the screen, and partially because we’re curious of the outcome, we bravely ask the question What If Lord of the Rings Was Cast Today?
Note: While we couldn't recast the entire ensemble of the LotR trilogy, there is one character of note that was not included in our list. Because of the wonder that is motion-capture technology, there is no need for anyone other than Andy Serkis to play Gollum.
18 Aragorn - Daniel Day-Lewis
It’s well known that Viggo Mortensen refused to break character during his portrayal of Aragorn in LotR. The noble protagonist with the luscious locks of hair is both humble and grubby in appearance, looking more disheveled than one would expect from the future king of Gondor. Despite his last minute casting, Mortensen took the role quite seriously, going so far as to continue filming a scene after breaking some of his toes. With such an investment, it’s only right to seek an equally gifted method actor to replace Mortensen, so who better than Hollywood’s most noted in-depth performer?
Daniel Day-Lewis was offered the part of Aragorn long before Mortensen was cast, citing the film’s epic scale as a reason for turning it down. Now, after seeing the allure of the trilogy, it’s possible the right script could get him to change his tune. At 87 years old in the novels, Day-Lewis would appear as an older looking, more sophisticated version of Aragorn as he slowly readies himself for his ascension to the throne. With such a beloved character, he’s one actor who can be trusted to turn in a fine performance worthy of acclaim.
17 Arwen - Hayley Atwell
As the youngest child of Elrond and Celebrían, Arwen is described as the fairest of the last generation of High Elves. In the novels, she was more of a minor character, speaking very few lines as Aragorn’s love interest. Peter Jackson’s adaptation would shed a whole new light on the noble maiden, making her clever, insightful and ambitious. In her more prominent role, she saves Frodo from the Black Riders of Bruinen and chooses a life of mortality to be with Aragorn.
A role like Arwen demands an on-screen presence both in the looks department and in the endearing determination of the character. As someone who sees constant visions of her mortal life, the actress in charge must be able to convey the duress of foreseeing a future with a less than promising outcome. Hayley Atwell, since jumping on the scene as Peggy Carter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has wooed audiences with her knockout physical presence and audacious mentality. She’s proven to be a calming voice among the louder, more abrasive actions on-screen while showing her own grit as a heroine. With that kind of showmanship, she’d easily fit in with the other stars on our list.
16 Bilbo Baggins - Jim Broadbent
As a younger version of Bilbo, Martin Freeman turned in a rather admirable performance in the Hobbit trilogy. Sneaking into the Lonely Mountain as a burglar, he showed courage against the fiery Smaug, defeating the dragon at his own game. But at the beginning of LotR, Bilbo’s adventurous days are long behind him. After returning to the Shire, he's perceived as an oddity by the community, shunned for his sudden departure. As the adoptive parent to his nephew Frodo, he introduces the ring into the narrative as the first to be tempted by its power. (Flashbacks would later reveal others who'd fallen under its spell, of course.)
A part like Bilbo takes some fine acting chops to pull off. There must be a degree of generosity to the character while maintaining good graces to the supporting cast and showcasing a light sense of humor. With a resume that includes the Harry Potter franchise as well as an upcoming part in Game of Thrones, Jim Broadbent is a noted British actor with the versatility and wit to make a convincing addition to the cast. At 67 years old, he fits the bill in both appearance and age, making him an optimal choice if a reboot were to come to fruition.
15 Frodo Baggins - James McAvoy
Virtue goes a long way in showing someone’s true nature. In Tolkien’s writing, no other character can be said to represent the quest for finding your own identity more than Frodo. He lacks all the qualifications of a hero, but he perseveres thanks to his goodwill, general hobbit toughness, and his ability to not be swayed by the Ring. While Elijah Wood would prove to be a bit of quality casting on Peter Jackson’s part, there was cause for concern that he was slightly too young, leading us to our choice for a possible replacement.
James McAvoy has charmed his way onto the big screen with his blue eyes, wavy hair and adaptability as a performer. Standing at only 5 feet, 7 inches, he’s also noticeably shorter than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood actor, making him easy to envision as Frodo. With characters like the young Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise, he’s demonstrated a knack for taking on parts with a lot on the line. Elijah Wood called McAvoy his top choice to play Bilbo when The Hobbit first began casting. Our guess is he’d be OK with him taking over his old role in a reboot.
14 Boromir - Hugh Jackman
The older brother of Faramir, Boromir is perhaps the most tragic character of the LotR saga. A valiant warrior of Gondor, he’s held in high regard for his accomplishments as a skilled fighter as well as for his undying passion for his people. As the eldest son of Denethor II, he becomes an admired commander of the kingdom’s army. After falling to the temptations of the ring, he dies protecting Merry and Pippin from an onslaught of orcs, redeeming himself and following Aragorn, king of Gondor, until his fateful end.
Sean Bean, noted for dying in many of his films, left an impact as the first major departure of the film saga. Our choice for his replacement, Hugh Jackman, has not only the chiseled looks, but can pulled off brave feats and acts of recklessness. Thanks to his recurring part as Wolverine, he’s also capable of exhibiting madness in the face of hardship, a characteristic which overcomes Boromir when the Ring proves too powerful. Jackman has the experience to showcase an expression of regret, and has enough pull with audiences to leave them overwhelmed when his inevitable departure occurs.
13 Denethor - Anthony Hopkins
We’ve seen Denethor’s eldest son Boromir recast with the rugged persona of Hugh Jackman. And while we're still yet to reveal who should take on the part of the younger brother, Faramir, our choice for Denethor cannot be denied.
A morally gray character in Tolkien’s novels, the Ruling Steward of Gondor is an extremely perceptive and threatening figure whose use of power leads to his inevitable downfall. A man of pride, he unfairly judges Faramir, who he perceives as the weaker warrior compared to his older brother. Using a Palantír to probe the powers of Sauron, he is eventually driven to madness and attempts to burn himself and his youngest son alive in a funeral pyre. He's...not a very popular character.
With a long resume of films like Silence of the Lambs to brag about, Anthony Hopkins is an easy contender for the Steward, but it’s his recent roles which have us pushing for the veteran’s part in a fantasy LotR casting. With the roaring success of Westworld and his part as the Norse God Odin in Thor, he’s proven to be a forceful and stern leader with just the right touch of menace, making him the ideal actor to play the maddening father figure.
12 Elrond - Michael Sheen
The half-elven Lord of Rivendell and one of the few rulers of old still alive in the Third Age, Elrond’s personality is given little description in the novels. From what we can gather from his actions, however, he's a wise leader with a great compassion for many races. At over 6,000 years old, he's fostered many of the heirs of Isildur, including Aragorn, while also gathering many of the intelligent leaders of Middle Earth to come to his council. He took on the role of a healer to promote the well-being of all these people, making his gentle spirit one which preserves the memory of the ages through which he’s lived.
No stranger to playing fantasy characters, Michael Sheen has become more instantly recognizable for his portrayals of real-world personas in films like Frost/Nixon and the series Masters of Sex. Still, he’s played everything from an immortal vampire to a werewolf. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see the Welsh actor donning the long locks of Elrond. He’s masterfully demonstrated the role of a seasoned leader in the past, and with the right touch of makeup, the transition would be an easy one to make.
11 Éomer - Chris Hemsworth
Said to stand at six feet, six inches tall, Éomer is the third Marshal of the Riddermark when he first appears in LotR. Adopted by his uncle Théoden, king of the Rohirrim, after the passing of his parents, he is raised alongside his sister Éowyn. After being imprisoned by Théoden’s sinister adviser Gríma Wormtongue, who works for the wizard Saruman, he contributes to the success at the Battle of the Hornbug in a major way. When his uncle dies at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, he’s handed the title of King of Rohan.
Considered a kind-hearted man with skills in sword fighting and horseback riding, Éomer has the look of a warrior. Played by Karl Urban in the film trilogy (who, let's face it, looked a bit off as a blond), it would take a man of an athletic build to replace the Australian actor. At 6 foot, 3 inches, Chris Hemsworth is not only in shape for the role, but is close to the height of the character in the novels. Having already played an optimistic warrior as the Thor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hemsworth knows a thing or two about being a responsible and honorable fighter. Adding him to the fray would only increase the likeability of an already stellar cast.
10 Éowyn - Abbie Cornish
The second of two children, Éowyn is the younger sister of Éomer and niece to Théoden. Once considered a possible love interest for Aragorn, she was almost written to be his wife before being changed into a shield-maiden who cares for her sickly uncle. Tall, pale and slim, she falls in love with Aragorn, who cannot return her affections due to his betrothal to Arwen. In Return of the King, she disguises herself as a man, traveling to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where she slays the Witch-king of Angmar. Soon afterwards, she marries Faramir and lays down her sword for good.
As an actress, the role of Éowyn should bring a challenge. Whoever inhabits the part should have an elegance about her, but should also appear to be a capable fighter. The Australian actress Abbie Cornish has not only played the graceful love interest in prior roles, but has also proven to be quite the headstrong performer in films like Sucker Punch and Seven Psychopaths. With enough grit to make a convincing slayer of the Witch-king, she’s also easy on the eyes, making it easy to carry on the reputation Tolkien built for the character.
9 Faramir - Alex O’Loughlin
Viewed as the second half to his elder brother Boromir, Faramir is incorrectly perceived as the weaker, lesser of the two due to his gentle nature. He was a kind soul, who enjoyed fine music and lore. Unlike his brother, he did not seek the glory of battle, but was capable of leadership and skillful combat if there was a purpose behind it. In Return of the King, he fulfills the position of Steward of Gondor, preparing the kingdom for the coronation of Aragorn as the new king.
Compared to his brother in looks, it stands to reason that anyone cast in the role should look somewhat similar in appearance to Boromir, thus leading to our choice of Alex O’Loughlin. Having made our list of actors who could replace Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, O’Loughlin has shown range with a variety of television roles. Shows like Hawaii Five-0 and Moonlight have put him in the spotlight, but he’s still awaiting his big breakout moment. With his charming looks, six-foot tall frame, and uncanny appearance as a slightly younger Jackman, he’s the kind of casting choice that could go hand-in-hand with the rest of the actors on set.
8 Galadriel - Rachel Weisz
Called the greatest of elven women by Tolkien, Galadriel was the co-ruler and Lady of the Lothlórien. Appearing in both the LotR trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy, she is able to communicate telepathically with others while also appearing in a radiant, ghostly form. Surpassing nearly all the Eldar of Middle-Earth in beauty, knowledge, and power, her long, silver-golden hair was said to be her strongest feature, capturing the luster of the the Two Trees of Valinor.
Originally played by Cate Blanchett, Galadriel is perhaps the hardest casting decision to pin down. As a character recognized as beautiful beyond compare, there isn’t any one actress in Hollywood who can match her description perfectly, but as someone of considerable age with a wealth of understanding, compassion, and willfulness, there are a handful of names who have shown enough goodwill and courage on screen to live up to the task.
Rachel Weisz, much like Blanchett, has made a name for herself playing progressive female characters with strong moral codes. With fair features that exude confidence, she’s the kind of star that can instill goodness in her supporting cast, giving her the slightest edge over the competition to snag the part.
7 Samwise Gamgee - John Bradley-West
The first of two Game of Thrones cast members to make the cut, John Bradley-West is far from a household name. But well known or not, he’s become instantly recognizable for his portrayal of Jon Snow's lovable and loyal friend Samwell Tarly on the HBO hit series.
Much like Frodo, Sam is a character who develops over the course of his journey. Throughout the course of the saga, he continually exhibits his loyalty to Frodo while stressing his traditional hobbit sense. But much like the chief antagonist of the trilogy, he finds courage through perseverance and through the unbreakable bond he forms with his employer.
Sam’s journey is comparable to Bradley-West’s take on Samwell Tarly in GoT. Easy to cast aside as a sidekick character, Samwell is written off as an overweight outcast, viewed as a failure by his father. In the face of adversity, he proves well worth the trouble of training, bringing insight and gallantry despite not looking the part. Tolkien once described Sam as the reflection of an English soldier, a helping hand to Frodo who develops his skills on the field. Bradley-West has played that role already, making him a top contender for the part.
6 Gandalf - Sean Connery
Believe it or not, our decision to cast Sean Connery as the iconic wizard and leader of the Fellowship of the Ring doesn’t come completely out of left field. At one time, James Bond himself was the top choice to fill the role of Gandalf. Turning down the role reportedly cost the actor $450 million. The Scottish-born star didn’t agree with the script, and in the end, Ian McKellen walked away with the career-defining part. While we certainly won’t refute the ultimate casting decision of Peter Jackson and company, we can’t help but imagine how the thunderous “You shall not pass!” line would have sounded with a thick Scottish accent.
Noted for his deep-seated wisdom and his affectionate candor towards everyone with good intentions, Gandalf became the clear star of Peter Jackson’s saga under McKellen’s observant performance. Still, there are moments in which the character’s brusque speech would have benefited from an actor like Connery. Although he has officially retired from acting, we doubt he would pass up such a hefty paycheck a second time. If nothing else, he’d help pique our interests in the role while we reflect on how truly flawless McKellen was in his portrayal.
5 Gimli the Dwarf - Kristofer Hivju
A stalwart warrior with the appearance of a short and burly lumberjack, Gimli joins the fellowship on their journey as the sole representative of the dwarves. A comic relief character in the movies, his height serves as the butt of many jokes, but his fortitude as a fighter ultimately proves everyone wrong, earning him the respect of his cohorts. His prosaic way of speaking is a stark contrast to the rest of the cast, especially when competing with Legolas, with whom he shares a friendly feud.
One look at the Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju and you can see where this inspired choice got its start. The red-haired, bushy-bearded Hivju already has the scruffy appearance of Gimli, which is likely the reason why he landed the role of the wildling Tormund Giantsbane in Game of Thrones. As Tormund, Hivju is fiercely loyal while remaining set in his ways. He’s prideful of his rough nature and showcases his hard-headedness by attacking each situation sword-first. With Hivju quickly gaining an audience with GoT, a strong supporting role in a major blockbuster like LotR could be just what he needs to set him over the top.
4 Legolas - Alexander Skarsgård
When Orlando Bloom was first cast in the role of Legolas in Fellowship of the Ring, he was not a well-known actor. But after the film’s release, that changed almost instantly. With the addition of projects like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, he went from a relatively unknown thespian to one of Hollywood’s fastest rising heartthrobs. With someone like the Swedish-born Alexander Skarsgård taking over the reins, those charming looks and swarms of smitten fans buying tickets are guaranteed to continue.
A Sindarin Elf brought up among the cultures of the Silvan Elves, Legolas has a great respect and admiration for nature. He’s also portrayed as an expert archer, unrivaled across Middle Earth. He’s also quite the faithful friend despite his often egotistical behavior, which can sometimes get the best of him.
As a warrior described to have fair features, Skarsgård fits the bill. In projects such as True Blood and The Legend of Tarzan, he’s maintained his looks while also showing great stamina and agility. Though his age may be cause for concern at 40 years old, a little camera trickery is all that is needed to make this actor yet another fine addition.
3 Merry and Pippin - Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie
Collectively known as Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie have become a sensation outside of their native New Zealand thanks to their whacky comedy stylings and gifted singing/song-writing abilities. Together, their on-screen chemistry unfolds like two best friends unleashing their inside jokes onto the world. No other comedy pairing has ever been more destined to star in a blockbuster hit, and thanks to McKenzie’s small roles in both the LotR and Hobbit trilogies, they might have just enough connections to actually make it happen.
As two friends from the Shire, Merry and Pippin spend a majority of their time on screen together. Merry is shown to be the slightly more competent of the two, demonstrating his knowledge of many lands outside of the Shire. Meanwhile, Pippin is the younger of the two, showcasing a curiosity that can often lead to him getting into trouble. They are both courageous in the face of danger while being completely loyal to their friends. Clement and McKenzie would not only bring their own comical relief to the roles, but would have already established a rapport with one another, which would inevitably show up in the film to spectacular results.
2 Saruman - Terence Stamp
The corruption of power is an overarching theme featured in Tolkien’s books. Personal experiences with greed and jealousy take a toll on many of the characters, but none slipped more into decay than Saruman, a leader of the Istari and a wizard of considerable skill. Once a man of nobility sent to Middle Earth to challenge the evil Sauron, he ultimately succumbs to his own impatience for knowledge, decidedly forcing his will onto others and growing jealous of Gandalf’s superior abilities.
As the cunning man who becomes the architect of his own downfall, Saruman's story is a tragic one. In a tale where most characters lie in either the black or white, he was noticeably grey, having fallen from grace through his quest for control. Although it’s impossible to replace the late Christopher Lee in the role, British actor Terence Stamp is an ideal casting option thanks to his sophisticated portrayals of on-screen villains. With his smooth voice and ability to lash out in a thunderous display of emotion, he’s stood out in everything from Superman to Star Wars, making him the type of performer who can take on such a part with the right amount of gusto.
1 Théoden - Geoffrey Rush
Played by Bernard Hill in the films, the King of Rohan appeared noticeably different in Peter Jackson’s trilogy compared to the books. A victim of Saruman’s powers, Théoden is magically possessed by the wizard, causing him to age faster and appear much more fatigued. After Gandalf heals him, he is restored to his true age, appearing twenty years younger than what many fans expected.
A father figure to his niece and nephew, Éowyn and Éomer, he appears as a more callous and obstinate ruler in the films. He lives in fear that he will never live up to the greatness of his forefathers, a burden which is only made greater by his grave strategic misjudgments as a leader.
One of the few actors to ever win the “Triple Crown of Acting”, with Oscar, Emmy and Tony awards in his name, 65 year old Australian actor Geoffrey Rush is not only more age appropriate for the role of Théoden, but has tested the waters of the fantasy genre before with the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. His gravelly voice has the necessary sound of a king, while his earnest portrayals have shown he has what it takes to depict Théoden’s shortcomings.
Surely, it's far too soon to even consider remaking the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but if it were to come to fruition, would you be on board with this cast? Who would you like to see star in the remake? Let us know in the comments.