In 2001, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring kicked off a run that lasted the better part of two decades. The high-concept epic doesn’t struggle with good and evil as flexible or absolute, instead it dives into the ways individuals and groups struggle to instill meaning in their lives and persevere in the face of horrible adversity.
Rather than learning from the characters and plot points of the story, deriving a moral there, Tolkien's work reminds reader that the beauty is in the journey and, at the end, even though the characters save the world, they’re right back where they started, just barely worse for wear.
Peter Jackson’s initial film trilogy felt just as meandering as the books were meant to, and now, at the end of these two decades while fans have been slogging through films and waiting patiently for the release sequel after sequel, they (slowly) have learned a little of Tolkien’s appreciation for taking the time for the journey as a whole.
For everyone else who can’t stop going back and nitpicking different parts of the journey, rather than appreciating it for what it was, here are 22 Lord of the Rings Fan Castings Better Than What We Got.
22 Anna Kendrick - Arwen
Liv Tyler’s performance as the Rivendell princess, Arwen, may have divided audiences, but this fan recasting is anything but an obvious choice. Anna Kendrick wasn’t even a glimmer in the eyes of Twilight preproduction when the Lord of the Rings movies came out, but had she been at the point in her career then that she is now, Arwen would have taken on an unpredictability on screen that Tyler didn’t deliver.
Old school Rings fans may protest the face of the Pitch Perfect franchise playing the female lead in the epic fantasy trilogy, but Kendrick’s comedic timing and sharp stare could make a compelling take on the elf.
It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the actress taking over several of key scenes, just assuming that New Line Cinema were going for a far younger remake. The sequence of Arwen taking Frodo to the borders of Rivendell to save his life from the Ringwraiths has a potential to be powerfully done with Kendrick in the role. If Liv Tyler took the elves and played them like a serene detached Vulcan, Kendrick might bring a little bit more edge to Arwen, reminding audiences that she’s a warrior as well as a princess.
21 Jeremy Irons - Saruman
Before he played Alfred in Warner Brothers’ latest update on the Batman film franchise, Jeremy Irons has had a run on The Borgias, he was a musketeer in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), and he even voiced the evil lion, Scar, in The Lion King (1994). While Christopher Lee does a fine job with Saruman in original trilogy, Jeremy Irons would serve as an even more effective recast.
Lee’s Saruman is definitely scary enough to be a villainous evil wizard, but he’s almost too threatening. There are times when his evil undercuts Sauron’s a little bit. The fact that Christopher Lee was such a terrorizing Saruman may have led people to think that he was the big bad of the whole mission, resulting in some classic name confusion among average fans. Irons also brings an air of unhinged vulnerability, far more sympathetic than Christopher Lee could. Even when he was playing Count Dooku, in the Star Wars prequels, audiences could never really feel any empathy or sympathy for his character, instead just seeing a power hungry pawn. Jeremy Irons in the role has the potential to inspire fans with a greater sense of compassion for the character. Until they eventually learn that he sells out the entire Fellowship to Sauron.
20 Nicholas Cage - Aragorn
Not only was Cage a fan favorite for Aragor, he was actually in the running for the role for a time, eventually turning it down in favor of family obligations. Cage is a frequent name at the top of all lists for comic book and fantasy roles, as his personal fandom has been well documented. While this recasting may have sounded like a good idea at the time and could, conceivably, have produced a good result, this recast is a little more risky than Viggo Mortenson’s performance was.
Cage and Mortenson have the discrepancy between them that Christopher Lee and Jeremy Irons do, except in reverse. Where Lee’s wooden, stoic wizard worked for Saruman for the most part, a woody, stoic Nicholas Cage would have taken something out of Mortenson’s Aragorn, especially when it comes to his relationship with whoever is playing Arwen. Experimental film is one thing, trying to watch Nicholas Cage and Anna Kendrick produce chemistry on screen would be slightly disturbing for several reasons. Cage as Aragorn, a la Mel Gibson as a Lord of the Rings version of William Wallace, is an idea fans can be lucky Hollywood talked itself out of, for once.
19 Eric Bana - Boromir
Eric Bana as Boromir would hopefully result in more than heroic Hector from Troy (2004) turning into the villain Nero from Star Trek (2009), although that wouldn’t be the worst place to start. Sean Bean played the human prince in the on screen Fellowship, but a little more groundwork could have been lain for a slow decay from Boromir’s beginning to his timely end.
Unfortunately, Bean just gave it all away with those sinister eyes in the first moments of the Fellowship’s first council. When he was ultimately filled with arrows, all audiences were thinking was, “I knew he was no good from his first minute”, rather than the intended “oh dear god, the Fellowship!” No one can be sure that Eric Bana’s performance would have made the Boromir flip turn any more gently, but Bana very well may have some innocent gear that Bean struggled to find. Boromir’s betrayal sets up the true insidious nature of the Ring’s evil and flips the journey from the rote good vs. evil story to something that looks at the corruption inside of all humans. Instead of an open mouthed moment of loss at the sight of Boromir’s murder, some audience members nodded approvingly at the loss of Sean Bean. Bana might have been a bit more depressing loss.
18 Sung Kang - Legolas
All a person needs to see is Sung Kang’s work in the Fast and Furious franchise to be interested in seeing his take on the enigmatic, elven archer, Legolas. Orlando Bloom launched his career as a Hollywood megastar out of the role, so it may seem like an odd choice to shuffle the casting, but there were definitely times Bloom took over the screen a little too aggressively for the subtleties of Legolas to come through.
Bloom’s take on the the stubborn elf prince drew a lot of eyes, but he’s a hard character for audiences to relate to in any way.
Any time Legolas wasn’t staring down Orcs and shooting arrows into their faces, he seemed like a snooty, pompous loner who only cared about himself. Introducing Sung Kang’s Legolas into the Fellowship would have changed the dynamic radically. His delivery is equally terse, but inviting at the same time. This leads to an isolated, maybe damaged guy, but not one who’s interested in being a bully or putting down others. Kang may well have brought a Legolas to the screen who was capable of having fun, instead of just sitting in the corner and making fun of dwarves.
17 David Bowie - Elrond
Another choice for the role that was actually in consideration at the time. Fans and production studios alike loved it when David Bowie would act, so he was a natural choice for Elrond before Hugo Weaving finally took on the role. The prophetic elf king isn’t so different from the role he played in Labyrinth (1986), the sight of David Bowie, in full magical makeup, standing in the highest alcove in the Rivendell palace of waterfalls would have looked great in the trailer.
Bowie turned down the gig for family reasons, but proof of his acting chops can also be seen in Zoolander (2001) and The Prestige (2006). Weaving’s Elrond plays a big role in the lead up to prepare for Sauron’s latest attack and he was there at the Ring’s first escape from Mount Doom, so the role is sizeable. Acting as a King, a general, a friend, and a father would have given David Bowie the role of his lifetime, but this may be another recast with eyes bigger than its stomach. Sadly, fans will never know what the passed pop star would have done with the oldest elf king still residing in Middle Earth, but if he had been cast in the role, audiences would have probably watched that final battle in a little bit more suspense.
16 Gabrielle Union - Arwen
Union was just breaking out with Bring it On (2000), when the Lord of the Rings was hitting theaters, but she would have been another stunning choice for Arwen if so many stars had fallen into line. Aside from her turn as the adversarial cheerleading captain from East Compton High School, Union has featured in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and Cradle 2 The Grave (2003).
Adding Union to a cast that’s already all white may seem strange in terms of family relation, especially with the unanswered question of her parentage from Elrond. But this fan recasting is correct that Union deserved to get a role like this one when she was in the prime of her career. Audiences rarely got a chance to see Union’s emotional range on center stage, but she pivoted well between domineering leader and empathetic high school cheerleader in Bring it On, and she was also wise to get out of that franchise as soon as possible. On Cradle 2 the Grave, she shows promise as a lead as Daria, but after that, her career never got the chance Liv Tyler’s did to rise to the occasion on a major franchise like Lord of the Rings.
15 Tom Wilkinson - Theoden
Tom Wilkinson isn’t high on the name recognition list of elderly, distinguished British gentlemen, but he’s still been in just about everything, sweeping through American film and television of the early 2000s. He might be most memorable as the first American philosopher Benjamin Franklin, in the John Adams miniseries. Before that, he delved into fantasy, first as Carmine Falcone in the Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. He’s also padded his Hollywood filmography working with the biggest names on projects like Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), The Lone Ranger (2013) and The Green Hornet (2011).
With his knack for playing leaders brought low by infirmity, Wilkinson would have been a great choice for the role of Theoden and his main arc in the Two Towers.
A king brought down by a dark paralysis is exactly the kind of creeping, decrepit, anger Wilkinson’s angry old man plays so well. Looking down from his throne at the top of Rohan, Wilkinson may have brought something to the role Bernard Hill could not in the original movies. Wilkinson didn’t play the other human lead role as steward of Gondor in this set of films either, although he may also have given John Noble a run for his money. Too many distinguished, British gentlemen, not enough quasi-medieval fantasy films for them to all star in.
14 Mark Addy - Gimli
Mark Addy proves that one doesn’t have to be distinguished to be a British gentlemen. His stout body of work would have made plenty of room for the role as the sensitive, axe-wielding dwarf Gimli, but John Rhys-Davies filled the character with his booming voice instead. Addy, alongside Tom Wilkinson, got an early break in The Full Monty (1997), he’s also known for his work on A Knight’s Tale (2001) and the fantasy adaptation that he eventually did break into, Game of Thrones.
His turn as the short lived King of Westeros, Robert Baratheon, is a good example of how he would have spun the Gimli character. Fans could expect slightly better comedic timing on his jabs at Legolas, but a little less of that voice that Rhys-Davies is known for. The largest range Gimli shows in the trilogy of movies is in the first, The Fellowship of the Ring, when he and his team travel through the mines of Moria and discover all of the dwarf’s fallen kin. Imagining Addy making that horrible discovery and screaming in grief and fear for the situation that awaits them takes that scene in a whole new direction. Addy might even have brought even more balance to the Fellowship, potentially inspiring more fans to call Gimli their favorite member.
13 Daniel Day Lewis - Aragorn
Another fan hopeful that was really in the running for the part is Daniel Day-Lewis for Aragorn. Reportedly, Day-Lewis was asked repeatedly to accept the role by Peter Jackson, but kept claiming a scheduling conflict. Once Mortenson was brought on for the role, another intense method actor took on the male lead.
Day-Lewis, Last of the Mohicans (1992), Gangs of New York (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), brings a famous intensity to every character he plays, and fans might well wonder how this recasting would have improved the role. In the battles, Day-Lewis may have brought even more preparation and aggression to the role of the Ranger than even Mortenson did, but the softer scenes potentially could have suffered. Daniel Day-Lewis put his vulnerability on full display during Lincoln, but his knack for romance hasn’t been seen successfully in movies. The love story between Aragorn and Arwen was one of the most emotionally gratifying beats in the entire odyssey; it gave something for fans to root for beyond two hobbits trying to save the world. Phantom Thread may have been Daniel Day-Lewis’ final movie, but that probably won’t stop Peter Jackson from trying to cast him in in future Tolkien projects.
12 Emma Stone - Galadriel
If Lord of the Rings were cast today, Emma Stone would definitely be in the running for Galadriel, the elf queen of Lorien Wood. Cate Blanchett, star of Ocean’s 8 (2018), I’m Not There (2007), and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), played the role in the original and inhabited the character with an alienating aura of power, that conjured a serene strength. Emma Stone, best known for her roles in La La Land (2016), Birdman (2014), and Superbad (2007), has captured her generation’s niche for a thoughtfully empathetic and stoic character of feminine power. Stone’s power as an actor, as with Blanchett’s, comes from her inner satisfaction of vision.
That self contained determination is perfect for Galadriel, as it’s not a stretch to imagine Stone gliding through the forest, introducing herself to the Fellowship, or creepily reading the thoughts of Frodo and telepathically communicating all over the place. If there’s any actor plausibly capable of innate telepathy, it’s Emma Stone. Regrettably, the real movies were cast far ahead of Stone’s career, so this recasting falls in the future adaptation category. However, if a television series project based on the goings on around Middle Earth happens at Amazon (and if Stone would deign to do tv show), she’d still make a great elf queen.
11 Anthony Hopkins - Denethor
There’s been no word if Anthony Hopkins was actually in the running for the role of Denethor, steward of Gondor, but he definitely would have added to the character if given the opportunity. Academy Award winning Hopkins, star of Silence of the Lambs (1991), Westworld (2016), and How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), would have brought a little bit more charm to the role than John Noble did, but using his Odin voice and Hannibal Lector creepiness, he could have been equally frightening. Noble, known for Fringe (2008), and The Last Airbender (2010) movie, among other things, was more than sufficient, but this fan recast would carry merit if the franchise found itself lacking any star power.
During that scene where Denethor is rueing his existence and eating his juicy tomato lunch, intimidating Pippin, Billy Boyd would have been far more scared singing that song in front of Anthony Hopkins’ intimidating, yet twinkling, glare.
In the end, Noble was still probably the right choice, even if only for his incredibly New Zealand-ish roar that terrifies everyone and confirms his madness. Still, it’s a shame Hopkins wasn’t included in either franchise any other way. He would have made a great elderly orc, for example.
10 Benedict Cumberbatch - Sauron
Along with Peter Jackson, if any of us had known about Benedict Cumberbatch earlier, we would have included him in our lives. Cumberbatch was the voice behind The Hobbit movies’ antagonists Smaug the Dragon and Necromancer, but he would have been equally terrifying as the voice of the initial trilogy’s big bad as well. The star of Sherlock (2010), Doctor Strange (2016), and Frankenstein (2011) has a heavily articulated voice talent and unique delivery style that would have well served the Master of Mount Doom.
Alan Howard’s was the voice heard as Sauron crushed the armies of all Middle-Earth in the first trilogy, screeching from that fiery eye. Cumberbatch, noting the the connection between the version of Sauron fans saw first and this primitive incarnation in The Hobbit sequels, fills the dark, booming, powerful voice with a great amount of rasp and smoke just to remind viewers that even though it’s speaking our language, this being definitely is well beyond human. Vocal effects and layers of different tones aside, Cumberbatch’s voice acting carries more intent than the original did, with the results of Smaug and the Necromancer being very direct and and aggressive. The voice emanating from Mordor tended to be more vague and ominous, but then again, vague and ominous is the tyrannical villain’s bread and butter.
9 Tom Hiddleston - Wormtongue
This recast is another one that just missed the alignment of generations. Wormtongue, the sniveling servant of Saruman who uses his position in the court of Rohan to infect Theoden and collapse the Riders of the West. Hiddleston, best known for Thor (2011), The Night Manager (2016), and Muppets Most Wanted (2014), has proven in his role as Loki that he’s capable of descending the the treacherous levels of Wormtongue’s pathetic grasp at power. If anything, Hiddleston may be too sympathetic as the rot that poisons the throne, but playing such a desperate, conniving character that well would have only added the film’s suspense.
Which isn’t to take any credit away from Brad Dourif’s performance. His turn as the character was incredibly creepy, keeping in line with the other highlights of his career as a lead in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and the man behind Chucky from Child’s Play (1988). With Dourif’s resume as a heel established, it’s easier to see how he built the basis for Wormtongue’s smoldering kindness and repressed, burning rage. Hiddleston would have large shoes to fill, but hopefully he could have brought the audience deeper into his shame spiral of self pity and hatred.
8 Jim Broadbent - Bilbo Baggins
This is a suggestion for a recast for the elderly Bilbo, not the one from The Hobbit franchise, although, reflectively, Broadbent may have been a more accurate imagining of an aged up Martin Freeman, who would go on to play the character in the prequels. Jim Broadbent, perhaps best known for roles in Moulin Rouge (2001), Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001), and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009), would bring a much different angle than Ian Holm, who played the Hobbit in the first franchise.
Holm, Alien (1979), The Fifth Element (1997), Ratatouille (2007), brought a perfect amount of crabbiness to Bilbo. His fed up, just wanting to be left alone, version of the character felt very true to the books and his derangement, on full view during that scene in Rivendell, did a great job supporting the Ring’s power. Broadbent might have brought a little softer edge to the eldest Baggins, but would still have to be able to access that cruel side, Bilbo could have. If anything, Broadbent may have brought a Horace Slughorn-esque, charming weariness that Bilbo, traveler of the globe would be sure to have. That charm may have trickled down onto audiences to give Frodo’s uncle just a little bit more likeability, but the grumpier Bilbo was equal parts hilarious and disturbing.
7 Clarke Peters - Gandalf
This recast would definitely have take Gandalf the Grey in a new direction, but Clarke Peters, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), The Wire (2002), K-Pax (2001), would have embodied the well heeled wizard and added a new dimension to his powers.
Peters’ stern eyes and straight forward affect would have likely given audiences a more grounded Gandalf, but that would have likely only added to his aura of all encompassing power and his wealth of knowledge.
McKellan, now a household representation of wizardry as a whole, thanks to this role, brought a lot to the part, definitely creating a figure larger than life. His other credits include X-Men (2000), Gods and Monsters (1998), and The Da Vinci Code (2006), along with several high profile Shakespeare productions, so he’s no stranger to playing characters with a broad scope and outrageous characteristics. Throughout his own arc, Gandalf is in and out, almost indifferent about the mission at times, doing his wizardly best, but still very much an immortal entity rather than a member of the family. While he, Frodo, and Bilbo made up a nice rapport in the movies, with Peters in that role, his essence in the team could have been delivered even more and his loss and recovery would have been even more breathtaking.
6 Sean Connery - Gandalf
If Clarke Peters’ Gandalf would bring the Fellowship together into a tighter family, Sean Connery’s take on the wizard sometimes known as Mithrandir, might cement Gandalf as the grandfather of the group. Connery, famous for his roles as James Bond, and the star of The Rock (1996), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) generally plays more hands on roles than Tolkien's Gandalf, although reports say he that was offered the role by Jackson. For his part, Connery bluntly admits that he didn’t connect with the role after reading through it and passed on the opportunity. The legendary Scottish actor has earned every right to be selective, but fans can still wonder what the movies would have done with his bombastic brogue filling up the dialogue.
Where McKellen brought a depth of sensitivity cloaked in aloof mysticism, Connery’s Gandalf would have been far more battle scarred and discerning, perhaps a little more emotionally volatile as well. Imagining his keen eyes peering from beneath a wide brimmed hat or how scornfully he would admonish Bilbo could easily highlight the character. Critics may doubt the abilities of the ‘suave action hero’ Connery is mostly known for to look after the welfare of an entire realm, but we think he'd nail it.
5 Nick Offerman - Gimli
The stern, comically gruff Nick Offerman would be a perfect recast for the franchise’s version of Gimli, if the movies were reimagined for today. Offerman is best known as Ron Swanson, the plain-spoken man of the woods who managed the office on Parks and Recreation.
He’s a bit tall for a dwarf, but the overflowing facial hair, growling voice, and dry wit would give audiences a fresh, slightly more comic take on Gimli, son of Gloin.
John Rhys-Davies played the dwarven representative for the Fellowship in Peter Jackson’s franchise and he effectively showed fans a depth of dwarf pride and honor beneath a hirsute suit of armor. Davies, known for his role in the Indiana Jones franchise, Princess Diaries 2, and a host of voice acting roles, is the second most famously established Scottish brogue on this list and it still counts as Gimli’s most endearing characteristic. For Offerman to bring something more to the character he would have to do more than just growl his way across Middle Earth, but if he could blend his humor and reveal a little bit more of Gimli’s sensitivities, like he was able to access as Ron Swanson, the dynamic between he, Legolas, and Aragorn would take on a whole new attitude.
4 James McAvoy - Frodo Baggins
It seems like McAvoy’s career just missed an opportunity to be considered for Frodo while the original trilogy was being filmed. The actor, who popped up in the rumors swirling around casting for The Hobbit, denied any involvement in the production, but did mention he’d be open to playing a young Gandalf if the opportunity ever arose. This fits inline with McAvoy’s resume to date, including leading roles in X-Men: First Class (2011), Split (2016), The Last King of Scotland (2006). In all of those projects, McAvoy’s character has been a little bit more self directed and less helpless than Elijah Wood’s Frodo sometimes came off.
Wood, who’s filmography includes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Happy Feet (2006), The Faculty (1998), pours his character’s fears and emotional tension out onto the screen so effectively that audiences were feeling every minute of the pain the Ring was causing. Every time his face flashed on screen, audiences could check in on how the Ring’s corrosive power was affecting him. McAvoy’s Frodo might have been a little bit more reserved, more inward and contemplative. It’s possible that his take on the character would have resulted in a more hesitant Hobbit. But while McAvoy’s neutral gear is a bit quieter than Wood’s, that could make his mood and character swings that much more exhilarating.
3 Liam Neeson - Boromir
This is a fan recast that wouldn’t have compromised any parts of the character. If Liam Neeson had been cast as the potential savior for all of Middle-Earth’s humans, Boromir would have stolen the show throughout the The Fellowship of the Ring and audiences would have felt a lot more conflict around the friend turned enemy. Neeson, unlike Bean, wouldn’t have telegraphed betrayal from instant one, resulting in a far more depressing ultimate collapse and even more heartbreaking death at the end of that first movie.
Sean Bean, who’s abridged resume includes GoldenEye (1995), National Treasure (2004), and Patriot Games (1992), has played a villain in each of those movies. Instantly when he came on screen, audiences sided with Frodo, getting a creepy vibe from the moment of his greedy outburst at that first council of Elrond. Neeson’s snapshot of roles includes some villainy, like Batman Begins (2005) and some warrior mentality, Taken (2008), but also deep sensitivity, Schindler’s List (1993). Viewers (not readers) would have been confounded, trying to figure out which of those Neeson’s this movie was putting forward. Bean’s Boromir set up Aragorn really well to storm in a reclaim the throne, but if the goal in that first movie was establishing the necessity of the Fellowship, a sharper decline from a Neeson Boromir might have driven that message differently.
2 Eddie Redmayne - Young Bilbo
For audiences who have gotten a little screen tired of Martin Freeman, who’s guy-down-the-street ubiquity has gotten him into dozens of leading roles as one of Hollywood’s current favorite British actors, another star swiftly joining those ranks is Eddie Redmayne.
Best known for his leading role as Newt Scamander in the new batch of Harry Potter movies, Redmayne is a hair younger than Freeman, but both of them are fully capable of the determined befuddlement Bilbo Baggins is best characterized by.
Freeman played a similar role as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), a similar role in Love Actually (2003), and a similar role in BBC’s Sherlock, but he’s admittedly great at it. Freeman’s gears are turning on screen as you can see him wrestling with every situation that appears in front of him. His dismay at a dozen dwarfs entering his home plays to this skill remarkably. But fans are right to think that Redmayne might have brought a new look to Bilbo. The younger actor’s filmography, in addition to that Harry Potter prequel franchise, includes The Theory of Everything (2014) and Les Miserables (2012). Redmayne’s vibe is more specific, capitalizing on the appearance of hidden wisdom and insight, and that predestined quality that imbues Redmayne’s performances would work well for the origin story of how a humble Hobbit saves his world.
1 Samwise Gamgee - John Broadly-West
John Broadly-West, better known to all as Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones, is a natural thought experiment for the Samwise Gamgee recast, even though about two decades separate West’s career from Sean Astin’s. In addition to greatly improving the accent for Sam’s character, Broadly-West would have taken the character in a far more circuitous direction, either succeeding in turning Samwise into a hero in an incredible transformation, or subverting that dynamic duo relationship somehow and complimenting Frodo in another way.
Astin, who, in addition to winning hearts originally in The Goonies (1985) was also the struggling Notre Dame football player, Rudy (1993), so his type as underdog rising from beleaguered toil was foreshadowed by his career. That said, he played it amazingly, gritting out the journey to Mount Doom even when it seemed like it was the most difficult and thus completing a hero’s journey of his own. As stunning as that journey was, if John Broadly-West had made that same turnaround, the movie would have been even more jaw dropping. If there’s a role for an unlikely hero in future Middle-Earth adventures, look out for some mythical, medieval British fantasy crossover for Broadly-West to show us more of his talent as the downtrodden, second-glance, best friend.
Which of these would you have liked to see? Let us know in the comments!