When watching an excellent performance, it can be hard to imagine anyone else portraying that character. There are people that just fit perfectly into their role: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X all come to mind. However, casting isn’t always that easy as sometimes the perfect person is just a face hidden in a crowd of options.
It happens quite often that an iconic performance wasn’t the original choice and the director actually would have preferred someone else. This isn’t necessarily anybody's fault - perhaps an executive producer wanted someone who would bring in a wider audience or a scheduling conflict made the ideal choice impossible to get. For whatever reason, over the years we’ve managed to avoid quite a few terrible casting decisions.
A perfect cast doesn’t necessarily make a great movie, but a bad casting choice can ruin a film altogether. It can have nothing to do with the actor’s ability. Sometimes excellent actors are miscast because filmmakers want to work with them.
Here are the 18 Great Movies That Were Almost Ruined by Terrible Casting.
18 Nicolas Cage as Aragorn
There were a lot of roles that needed to be cast for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There were several actors who were considered for the role of Aragorn including, Daniel Day-Lewis, Stuart Townsend, Vin Diesel, and Nicolas Cage.
The role was offered to Cage, but he decided to turn it down to spend more time with his family. Given Cage’s track record when starring in fantasy movies, it was probably for the best.
When asked by Newsweek in 2015 if there were any roles he regretted turning down the actor said, “Lord of the Rings. That trilogy. Aragorn. Or The Matrix. But the thing is about those movies, I can watch them. I can enjoy them as an audience member. I don't really watch my own movies. And so I genuinely do have the joy of watching these—especially with Lord of the Rings.”
17 Channing Tatum as Thor
Chris Hemsworth has done an excellent job as Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps only being surpassed by Robert Downey Jr. in being so intricately tied to his character. At this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone else wielding Mjolnir, but there were quite a few other actors who were considered for the role - one of whom was Channing Tatum.
At the time, Channing Tatum was best known as the star of such films as Step Up, Dear John, and a stand-out performance in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. It’s hard to say if casting the hunk would have actually ruined the character.
He’s a very talented actor, but Hemsworth is practically perfect in the role. Regardless, the decision worked out well for Tatum, who went on to star in two popular series in Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street.
16 Robin Williams in The Shining
For a movie that is now considered a classic, The Shining premiered to mixed reception. It was criticized for its slow pacing, received no recognition during award season, and was even nominated for two Razzies in 1980 for Worst Actress and Worst Director.
At the time, Stephen King probably laid some of the blame on the movie’s casting, which he disagreed with. While Jack Nicholson was Stanley Kubrick’s first choice to play Jack, King wanted more of an everyman in the role.
Robin Williams and Robert De Niro were also considered for the role but were both rejected by Kubrick. He rejected De Niro after seeing his performance in Taxi Driver, saying that De Niro wasn’t psychotic enough for the role, whereas Williams appeared too psychotic based on his role on Mork & Mindy.
15 Will Smith as Neo
The Wachowskis' directorial breakthrough, The Matrix, was a tough movie to get off the ground. It featured a high concept script and unprecedented special effects. It was by no means a guaranteed success and, as a result, pre-production was incredibly difficult.
Before finally settling on Keanu Reeves, the role was offered to several notable actors. Johnny Depp was the Wachowskis' first choice, but the role was also offered to Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Nicolas Cage, and Will Smith.
“You know, The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch,” Smith told Wired in 2004. “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.
14 Jack Black as Green Lantern
In 2004, well before 2011’s Green Lantern flop starring Ryan Reynolds, a version featuring Jack Black was in the works. The movie was written by Robert Smigel, best known for Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and was supposed to be a Deadpool-style meta-comedy about superheroes.
“When the idea was pitched to me to do a comedy about Green Lantern I did a quick review of the specifics of Green Lantern. And I thought, well, of course, this could be a comedy,” Smigel told Vanity Fair in 2011.
Ultimately, the studio lost interest and the movie was never made. “I meet with Jack and the producer,” said Smigel. “It just sort of petered out and we found out that they just changed their minds and wanted to do a serious Green Lantern.”
13 Harry Potter was almost American
For many Americans, our only connection to life across the pond is through pop culture. Our understanding of life in Great Britain is shaped (and skewed) by movies such as The King's Speech, V for Vendetta, and, most notably, the Harry Potter series.
Given how intertwined the series is with Great Britain, it’s surprising to find out that, initially, American film studios wanted to relocate what would become the highest grossing movie franchise to the United States.
In a 2012 interview with The Independent, the series' producer, David Heyman, was quoted saying, "In some of the first talks with writers in America there was talk of moving it to the States, you know, cheerleaders and the like. Thankfully, we never got to see what that would have looked like.
12 Britney Spears in The Notebook
The Notebook is one of the most iconic romance movies ever made. While Ryan Gosling was attached to the project from the very beginning, Rachel McAdams was one of several actresses being considered and she was up against Britney Spears.
“We met with a lot of actresses, and they were all very good,” Gosling told ET in 2004. When asked if he screen-tested with Spears he said, “I did, yeah. She was really good, actually. She did a really nice job.”
“I’m sure Britney would have done a great job.” McAdams went on to say. “I’m sure it would have been a totally different movie. I was very fortunate. I was sort of at the end of the line."
11 Joaquin Phoenix as The Hulk
When it was announced in 2010 that Marvel would be replacing Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk for the upcoming The Avengers movie, there were a slew of rumors about who would take on the role. Jeff Goldblum, Tom Cruise, and Joaquin Phoenix were all attached to the project at one point.
At the time, it was said that Phoenix was Marvel’s first choice to don the iconic purple shorts, but the studio ultimately gave the part to Mark Ruffalo. It was probably a good thing that Phoenix wasn’t chosen for the role as it would have interfered with his incredible performances in 2012’s The Master and 2013’s Her.
More recently, Phoenix was reportedly attached to play Doctor Strange, but Marvel wound up with Benedict Cumberbatch instead.
10 Jim Carrey as Loki
Tom Hiddleston was able to knock it out of the park as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he originally wasn’t interested in the role. Hiddleston initially auditioned for the role of Loki’s brother, Thor. Meanwhile, Marvel was looking at other candidates for Loki.
Josh Hartnett was rumored to be a strong contender, as was Charlie Cox, but the most interesting option was Jim Carrey. While it’s hard to imagine anyone but Hiddleston in the role now, it makes a certain amount of sense that Jim Carrey would play a trickster god.
Ultimately, it’s a good thing that the studio decided to cast Hiddleston over Carrey. We could have very easily had Carrey rehashing his performance as The Riddler in Batman Forever.
9 Christopher Walken as Han Solo
Harrison Ford had a few notable performances by the time he was cast as Han Solo in Star Wars, but he was by no means a star. This iconic role was the catalyst that led him to star in such films as Blade Runner, The Fugitive, and the Indiana Jones series.
While Ford ended up getting the part, he wasn’t the only person considered for the role of Han Solo. Kurt Russell did a screen test for the role and might have been able to pull it off. He certainly has the charisma for the part and has done well in similar roles, but he opted to do a TV western after George Lucas said he wasn’t sure he would get the part.
Christopher Walken was also in the running, but his Han Solo would probably have been very different.
8 Jessica Alba as Black Widow
Following the recent success of Thor: Ragnorak, director Taika Waiti recently hinted that he would love to make a standalone Black Widow movie. Audiences were captivated by Scarlett Johansson’s debut as the character in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and since then she has appeared as the character four more times - most recently in Captain America: Civil War.
However, back when Marvel was first casting the role of Black Widow, Johansson wasn’t the studio’s first choice: Angelina Jolie, Jessica Biel, Natalie Portman, and Jessica Alba were all in the running. There were even rumors that Alba was going to replace Johansson for The Avengers.
Alba is, after all, a comic book movie veteran. She played Sue Storm in 2005's Fantastic Four and was Nancy Callahan in Sin City that same year.
7 Adam Sandler as Donny Donowitz
When it debuted in 2009, Inglorious Basterds was director Quentin Tarantino’s biggest hit at the box office. It ended up grossing over $120 million domestically and remains his widest release to date, with screenings at 3,165 theaters on its opening weekend.
Tarantino apparently knew who he wanted for the role during the casting process. Rather than Eli Roth, Tarantino originally wanted to cast Adam Sandler as Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz.
When asked by Howard Stern in a 2016 interview, Tarantino confirmed that he originally wrote the part for Sandler, but he had to cast Roth because Sandler was busy making Funny People. That was why I made the character [from] Boston. Because he does such a great Boston accent," said Tarantino.
6 Multiple actors as Forrest Gump
Tom Hanks won back-to-back Lead Actor Oscars in 1994 and 1995 for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, respectively. Hanks was a young star on the rise in the early '90s, but he wasn’t the studio’s first, second, or even third choice to play Forrest Gump: John Travolta, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray all turned down the role.
Travolta had chosen to star in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which went up against Forrest Gump at the 1995 Oscars, but Murray and Chase had little interest in the project.
“I did have Forrest Gump conversations, I think I had the original book,” Bill Murray told Howard Stern in 2014. Murray went on to say that not only did the role not interest him, but he never ended up seeing the movie.
5 OJ Simpson as The Terminator
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator is one of the most iconic roles ever put to film, but it almost didn’t happen because studio executive Mike Medavoy wanted to cast O.J. Simpson instead.
“Medavoy came to me and Gale and he said, “Are you sitting down? You must sit down. I want O.J. Simpson for the Terminator,” said Cameron in EW’s oral history of The Terminator. Obviously, this was Simpson before the murder trial which has since overshadowed his career as a football player.
“That did come out of my mouth,” said Medavoy. “At the time, O.J. Simpson had one of those commercials for Hertz where he jumped over a counter and ran to get a rental car. It was all of that athletic stuff, which I thought the Terminator should have.”
4 Tom Cruise as Iron Man
Before it took the box office by storm in 2008 and launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man was in development hell for over a decade. The film’s rights were initially given to Universal then passed to Fox, then New Line Cinema, before finally ending up with Paramount.
During this time, a slew of actors were attached to play Tony Stark, including Tom Cruise. Cruise was interested in the role but decided to back out because of Marvel’s financial woes at the time.
“It's not happening. Not with me," Cruise told reporters in 2005, according to Syfy Wire. "They... came to me at a certain point, and you know, when I do something, I want to do it right. It just didn't feel to me like it was going to work."
3 Jared Leto as Doctor Strange
According to Scott Derrickson, the director of Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch was the only actor who was seriously considered for the role of Dr. Stephen Strange - and it almost didn't happen. At the time, Cumberbatch had already agreed to play Hamlet in London’s Barbican Centre.
“It just wasn’t possible,” Derrickson told Empire. “To his credit, he said, ‘I can’t bail out of Hamlet. I’ve given my word.’” The production team moved on to other candidates including Joaquin Phoenix, Ryan Gosling, and frontrunner Jared Leto. However, Marvel president Kevin Feige didn’t want any of them and decided the role had to be played by Cumberbatch.
“If you can’t jump on board when the ride’s going past, that’s usually it,” said Cumberbatch in the same Empire piece, “so the hugest compliment they paid me was to come back to me. It motivated me to try to fulfill their faith in me.”
2 Frank Sinatra as Dirty Harry
Clint Eastwood’s role as the vigilante cop Dirty Harry is one of the most iconic performances in cinema history - and it was almost given to one of the Rat Pack. Prior to filming The French Connection, director William Friedkin worked on a version of Dirty Harry starring Frank Sinatra.
“My producer, a guy named Phil D’Antoni, he and I were going to do Dirty Harry with Frank Sinatra,” Friedkin said on Alec Baldwin’s podcast Here’s the Thing in 2015. “And we had prepared that for about six months and then Sinatra pulled out. And the project was dead [so] we left and did The French Connection.”
According to the book Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame, Sinatra dropped out due to an old injury. He had apparently broken his wrist while making The Manchurian Candidate and wasn’t able to hold Dirty Harry’s magnum comfortably.
1 Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones
During the casting process for Raiders of the Lost Ark director Steven Spielberg and co-writer George Lucas couldn’t get the lead actor they wanted. Harrison Ford auditioned for the role, but Lucas didn’t want to include him in the movie because he had already cast Ford in American Graffiti and Star Wars.
The team moved on to Tom Selleck, who was thought to be perfect for the part. The production was ready to start shooting, but Selleck wasn’t able to get out of the contract he signed for a CBS pilot called Magnum, P.I.
"[Spielberg and Lucas] held the offer out for about a month," Selleck said on the Late Show with David Letterman. "The more they held out the offer and talked to the network the more the network said no ... so I had to kind of move on."
Did we miss any other great movies that were almost ruined by terrible casting?
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