Movie characters are recast with new actors all of the time in the filmmaking business, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do. Whether it’s because a director needs to replace a star who has passed away prior to the completion of filming, or an actor declines to reprise their role in a follow-up outing, finding a worthy substitute can be a real challenge.
Indeed, sometimes finding the perfect performer to take over a part proves flat-out impossible. Maybe the original actor was just too closely associated with the part for anyone to convincingly step into their shoes. Or perhaps the filmmakers decide not to even try to fill the role – as often happens when the former cast member is now deceased.
On the other hand, there are also instances where failing to replace a cast member really isn’t an option. Typically, this occurs when an actor is unavailable to return for the latest sequel in a blockbuster franchise – especially when they play a lead or key supporting character.
In situations like these, the director and their team is faced with only two options: abandon their existing plans for the series, or commence the search for a new cast member to fill the gap in their acting roster. Given the potential cost and effort involved with the former, it’s not that hard to see why most directors opt to go with the latter, instead.
All this being said, here’s a round-up of 9 Iconic Movie Characters That Were Impossible To Recast (And 11 That Were Impossible Not To).
20 Impossible – Pavel Chekov (Star Trek Beyond Sequel)
Actor Anton Yelchin passed away at the too-young age of 27, after he sustained critical injuries in a freak car accident back in 2016.
One of the few positives surrounding this heartbreaking loss of life is that Yelchin had finished filming his scenes for Star Trek Beyond, allowing fans one last chance to enjoy his enjoyable take on animated Russian Ensign Pavel Chekov.
Director J.J. Abrams has since confirmed that the Chekov role will not be recast in the as-yet-untitled sequel to Beyond out of respect for Yelchin. Instead, you can expect a new character to serve as the navigator of the U.S.S. Enterprise going forward.
19 Impossible Not To – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter)
Acclaimed Irish thespian Richard Harris originally signed on to play Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in all the Harry Potter films. Sadly, Harris was already in poor health prior to joining the cast for The Philosopher’s Stone, and following the release of the second instalment, The Chamber of Secrets, he finally lost his battle with cancer.
As Dumbledore is one of the most important supporting characters in the series, writing the wise wizard out of the movies was never even considered.
With recasting a foregone conclusion, director Alfonso Cuarón soon picked another acting great, Sir Michael Gambon, to take up Dumbledore’s wand – a role the Olivier-winning actor filled for the remaining six movies.
18 Impossible – The Joker (The Dark Knight Rises)
Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as Batman’s archnemesis the Joker in The Dark Knight is rightly considered one of the most terrifying villainous performances of all time.
That Ledger suffered a fatal overdose prior to the film’s release not only added to the legendary status of his performance – it also put the kibosh on the character making a cameo in sequel The Dark Knight Rises.
Ledger was reportedly keen to return for the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. After his tragic demise, Nolan abandoned any plans to feature the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises – either by using a stand-in performer or utilizing existing, unused footage of Ledger – out of respect for the late star.
17 Impossible Not To – James Bond
For many fans of the James Bond franchise, original star Sean Connery is and always will be the one, true Agent 007. Connery cemented his reputation as Bond over the course of the first five films in the series, so when he handed in his Walther PPK after You Only Live Twice, the executives at Eon Productions had a real dilemma: how were they going to replace him?
In the end, they settled on unknown Australian actor George Lazenby, who donned the super spy’s tuxedo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Unfortunately, Lazenby proved unpopular with fans and critics alike, and Connery was coaxed back for the sequel, Diamonds Are Forever!
16 Impossible – Princess Leia (Star Wars: Episode IX)
Carrie Fisher’s shock passing shortly before the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi meant that she delivered her final big screen performance as the character she was best known for: Princess Leia.
At the time, there was speculation in the media that Disney/Lucasfilm would digitally resurrect Fisher in Episode IX, so that Leia could have a proper send-off in the final entry in the sequel trilogy.
However, these rumors have since been nixed by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, who has confirmed that the princess-turned-general won’t appear in the film at all, which rules out the part being recast, as well.
15 Impossible Not To – Bruce Banner / The Hulk (The Avengers)
To say that the relationship between Edward Norton and Marvel Studios turned sour during the production of The Incredible Hulk is putting it mildly. It’s no surprise that negotiations between both parties regarding follow-up The Avengers quickly fell apart.
The fallout from this was that Marvel and director Joss Whedon were left with no one to portray Bruce Banner/The Hulk, a core member of the titular superhero team.
Enter: Mark Ruffalo, who was hired to sub-in for Norton, and has been playing the part (to widespread acclaim) for the last 6 years and counting!
14 Impossible Not To – Dryden Vos (Solo: A Star Wars Story)
Things didn’t exactly run smoothly during principal photography for Solo: A Star Wars Story, with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller replaced by Ron Howard part way during filming. Not only did Howard wrap up the shoot, he also oversaw extensive reshoots to bring the Star Wars spin-off more in-line with what Lucasfilm had in mind.
Not every actor was available to participate in the reshoots.
Michael K. William’s commitments to other projects prevented him from shooting new scenes as baddie Dryden Vos.
This led to Paul Bettany (who was free at the time) assuming the role in William’s place, with the character reimagined as a scarred human and not a leonine alien.
13 Impossible – Brian O'Conner (Fate Of The Furious)
While the cast and crew of Furious 7 were on Thanksgiving break, Paul Walker perished in a car crash. In the wake of this sad turn of events, director James Wan elected to retool the existing story, and – with the assistance of a variety of sophisticated visual effects techniques – lovingly crafted a respectful farewell performance for the actor.
Walker’s final bow would also be the last appearance of his character, Brian O’Conner.
O’Conner’s narrative arc was intentionally brought to a satisfying conclusion in Furious 7, and the character was subsequently “retired” from the franchise, living out the rest of his fictional life happily.
12 Impossible Not To – J. Paul Getty (All The Money In The World)
Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World was already in the can when several accusations of assault were levelled at Kevin Spacey, who portrayed billionaire J. Paul Getty. This left Sony Pictures in an unenviable position.
The disgraced actor needed to be replaced, but there was only two months left to refilm Getty’s scenes.
Luckily, Scott was undaunted by this logistical nightmare, and he promptly recast Christopher Plummer as Getty and shot the new material in only 9 days!
The acclaimed auteur’s Herculean efforts weren’t in vain, either: All the Money in the World received generally favorable reviews from critics, and garnered Plummer an Academy Award nomination.
11 Impossible – Steven Hiller (Independence Day: Resurgence)
Most people would agree that when faced with the prospect of replacing Will Smith, you just don’t bother. Independence Day: Resurgence director Roland Emmerich certainly appears to be in that camp: when Will Smith said “no” to reprising the role of Captain Steven Hiller in the sequel to the original 1996 blockbuster, he and his screenwriting team simply wrote the character out.
Indeed, Hiller was revealed to have fallen in the line of duty during the two decades that separate the films, both in real life and within the franchise’s fictional chronology.
Hiller’s son Dylan (played by Jessie Usher) is on hand to continue the family tradition of saving Earth from aliens, but Smith’s absence is still keenly felt.
10 Impossible Not To – Rachel Dawes (The Dark Knight)
Before Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman’s big screen love interests were inconsequential to the overall narrative of the franchise. This all changed with the introduction of Rachel Dawes, who clearly had an important part to play in The Dark Knight after debuting in Batman Begins.
The only problem was, actress Katie Holmes opted not to return for the sequel, which meant that Nolan – unable to write such a pivotal character out of the story – was forced to recast the role.
Maggie Gyllenhaal was soon drafted in to cover for Holmes, and despite the pair sharing only a vague physical resemblance, the transition was largely seamless.
9 Impossible – Bruce Nolan (Evan Almighty)
Jim Carrey isn’t big on doing sequels to his own hit films. In fact, he’s only returned to the same role on the big screen twice in his career. This reticence to revisit old roles probably played a part in Carrey’s decision to pass on the sequel to Bruce Almighty, a choice which left the producers without an actor to play Bruce Nolan himself.
Rather than try to recast the part – which would be fraught with disaster, given how distinctive Carrey is as a comedic performer – director Tom Shadyac went down a different route.
The sequel elevated Steve Carell’s supporting character Evan Baxter to lead protagonist duties.
The end result was Evan Almighty, which wound up tanking critically and commercially.
8 Impossible Not To – Clarice Starling (Hannibal)
Jodie Foster nabbed the Best Actress Oscar for her turn as FBI trainee Clarice Starling in the big screen adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, The Silence of the Lambs. Initially, Foster was eager to sign-up for Hannibal – until she read the book, and realized what Harris and director Ridley Scott had in mind for Clarice’s character arc.
Foster exited the project shortly after, leaving Scott with no other option than to find a new leading lady.
After an exhaustive search, celebrated actress Julianne Moore won the part – although her performance (and the film itself) weren’t quite on par with what came before.
7 Impossible – Vito Corleone (The Godfather Part II)
Technically speaking, the Vito Corleone part was recast in The Godfather Part II – if you count Robert DeNiro portraying the Mafia Don during scenes set several decades prior to the main setting. However, acting legend Marlon Brando was also slated to appear as the elder Vito in a flashback sequence near the film’s finale.
On the day they were shooting the scene, Brando didn’t arrive on set due to disputes he was having with executives at Paramount Pictures.
This forced director Francis Ford Coppola to hastily rework the scene, as he didn’t have the time – and let’s face it, probably not the inclination, either – to replace the absent actor.
6 Impossible Not To – The Tin Man (The Wizard Of Oz)
If you think you’ve got bad luck, try being one-time Wizard of Oz cast member Buddy Ebsen. Not only did the poor guy suffer a life-threatening reaction to the aluminium-based make-up he was coated in to portray the Tin Man, but he only wound up in that situation after agreeing to swap roles with Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow!
With Ebsen hospitalized a mere 10 days into principal photography, Jack Haley was hired in his stead so that filming could resume. As the movie’s musical numbers had already been recorded prior to shooting, Ebsen’s vocals can be heard at certain points during the finished film.
5 Impossible – Henry Jones Sr. (Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull)
Indiana Jones creator George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg originally intended for Indy’s father, Henry Jones Sr., to appear in the fourth film in the series, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, in the intervening 19 years between when Sean Connery first played the character and when cameras were ready to roll on the sequel, the screen icon had retired from acting.
Connery made it clear to Lucas and Spielberg early on that he had zero intention of going back to work. This provided the pair enough time to develop another, similar character – John Hurt’s Harold “Ox” Oxley – to take on Henry’s intended duties, avoiding the need to recast one of cinema’s most recognizable stars.
4 Impossible Not To – The Oracle (The Matrix Revolutions)
The second and third Matrix flicks were filmed back-to-back, but that still didn’t ensure everybody was able to complete all of their scenes. Sadly, Gloria Foster – whose considerable talents brought the Oracle to life – passed away from diabetes-related complications before her material for The Matrix Revolutions was locked off.
Respected stage and screen actress Mary Alice was brought in by the Wachowskis to take on the part – which makes sense, given how critical the Oracle is to the third film’s plot.
Keen to sidestep the obvious continuity issue caused by this casting change-up, the directorial duo also partially rewrote Revolutions’ script to address the Oracle’s new “shell,, and audiences barely batted an eyebrow.
3 Impossible Not To – Jennifer Parker (Back To The Future)
In the first Back to the Future flick, Marty McFly’s girlfriend Jennifer Parker was played by actress Claudia Wells. When Back to the Future Part II went into production, Wells was set to return – until her mother fell severely ill, forcing her to bow out.
With Part II kicking off during the ending of the first film, director Robert Zemeckis couldn’t have Marty dump Jennifer off-screen and introduce a new female lead.
They needed to keep the character, which is why the part was recast with Elisabeth Shue.
Famously, this required Part II’s opening scenes – which would otherwise have reused footage from the original’s finale – to be carefully re-shot, so that the only obvious difference was Shue’s inclusion!
2 Impossible – Proximo (Gladiator)
The late Oliver Reed’s brilliance as an actor came to an end during a break in principal photography on Gladiator.
He passed away with most – but crucially, not all – of his scenes as Proximo completed.
Deciding that it would be too difficult and expensive to recast Reed – especially considering most of his footage was already in the can – director Ridley Scott turned to the visual effects artists at The Mill for help.
Using (for the time) cutting edge CGI, they created a digital double of Reed, which was used to round-out Proximo’s remaining 2 minutes of screen time.
1 Impossible Not To – Sarah Connor (Terminator Genisys)
For a few brief moments in Terminator Genisys, CGI is used to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a digital face-lift, so that he can play the youthful-looking incarnation of the titular character. While the small number of scenes involved allowed director Alan Taylor to avoid recasting the Terminator, going down the same road with female lead Sarah Connor would have been wildly impractical.
Connor is on-screen for the vast majority of Genisys’ 2 hour runtime, so signing up original actress Linda Hamilton, then in her late 50s, only to digitally de-age her in every scene makes no sense. It’s therefore no surprise that Taylor picked Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke to play the movie’s fresh-faced version of Connor, instead.
Who are some other characters that were impossible to recast? Let us know in the comments!