Most iconic movie roles are intrinsically tied to the actor’s that bring them to life. There’s no Rick Blaine without Humphrey Bogart, no Ellen Ripley without Sigourney Weaver, and no Iron Man without Robert Downey Jr. The list goes on and on.
On the other hand, several actors have taken over iconic roles and successfully reinvented them. Both Roger Moore and Daniel Craig made Sean Connery’s James Bond their own, and more recently, Tom Hardy boldly reinterpreted Mel Gibson’s Mad Max.
Then there the roles that are recast without us every having seen the switch. Movie roles are cast then re-cast all the time in Hollywood. Sometimes they throw a whole production off course. Other times they end up breathing new life into a movie that would have failed otherwise.
It takes a lot of moving pieces to make a good movie. If one piece isn’t working the way it should, it can throw the whole production out of whack. Casting is arguably one of the most delicate parts of filmmaking, and it’s responsible for the success (or lack thereof) of hundreds of movies.
Here are the 10 Last-Minute Cast Changes that Saved Movies, and 5 That Ruined Them.
15 Saved: Lord of the Rings - Stuart Townsend Out, Viggo Mortensen In
Peter Jackson’s epic Tolkein adaptation almost had a very different Strider. Several big names were offered the role of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, including Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicolas Cage.
Eventually, Stuart Townsend was cast in the role and the rest is history.
Well, not quite. After filming on Fellowship commenced, Jackson decided that Townsend simply looked too young to play Aragorn, and quickly fired the actor from the movie.
Viggo Mortensen took over ranger duties from Townsend and imbued Aragorn with the rye wisdom and seasoned masculinity that Jackson was looking for.
Fifteen years later, it’s clear that Mortensen was a crucial factor in Lord of the Rings’ success.
14 Ruined: The Godfather Part III - Winona Ryder Out, Sofia Coppola In
The Godfather Part III is arguably one of the most reviled movies of all time. It’s probably not as bad as it’s reputation suggests, but it feels like a total betrayal of the two films that preceded it.
One of the movie’s saving graces might have been Winona Ryder as Michael’s daughter Mary Corleone, if she hadn’t dropped out a day into shooting to star in Edward Scissorhands.
Coppola replaces Ryder with his own daughter Sofia, and one of Hollywood’s most infamously bad performances was born.
Sofia Coppola has long since established herself as an immensely accomplished director. Movies like The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation, and Marie Antoinette have successfully brought her out of father’s shadow.
However, she may always be remembered, at least partially, for her cringe-worthy Godfather III performance.
13 Saved: Shrek - Chris Farley Out, Mike Myers In
Can you imagine Shrek without his signature Scottish accent? Had Chris Farley—the original voice of Shrek—lived long enough to complete his voice work on the movie, you wouldn’t have had to.
After Chris Farley’s passing, Mike Meyers took over the Shrek role as a favor to his late friend and fellow-SNL alum. He recorded the entire movie using a Canadian accent.
Something was off, so Meyers re-recorded the entire movie using his mother’s Scottish accent. Shrek was a huge success for a variety of reasons, but there’s no doubt that Meyers’ inspired voice work was a huge factor.
Had Meyers not decided to rework the movie’s dialogue with a new voice, the Shrek franchise may very well have been dead dead on its feet.
12 Saved: American Psycho - Leonardo DiCaprio Out, Christian Bale In
Sure, he’s been Batman, John Connor, and Bob Dylan. On top of that, he’s given us countless other memorable performances.
However, Christian Bale may always be remembered, at least in part, for his creeptastic turn as Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho— so much so that it’s strange to think how close he came to losing the role to Leonardo DiCaprio.
American Psycho director Mary Harron wanted Bale for the lead role from the start. Studio heads pushed for a bigger name, announcing DiCaprio’s involvement in the project against Harron’s wishes.
When Harron refused to budge on her vision for the part, she was let go from the project and eventually replaced by Oliver Stone.
As fate would have it, a turbulent development process would cause both Stone and DiCaprio to drop the project, and Harron was brought back to direct with Bale in the lead.
11 Saved: Predator - Jean-Claude Van Damme Out, Kevin Peter Hall In
On paper, the idea of a Predator movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme as the Predator sounds beyond awesome.
Believe it or not, that was the original plan for the 80’s sci-fi/action classic. Unfortunately, plans don’t always come together the way you want them to.
Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator with the intention of using his martial arts skills to create a ninja-like Alien adversary. This idea was complicated by the cumbersome, and frankly ridiculous looking original Predator suit, as well as the fact that Van Damme was significantly shorter than Schwarzenegger.
Van Damme left the project, the Predator was redesigned, and the 6’5” Kevin Peter Hall took over the Predator role. In the process, a sci-fi icon was created.
10 Ruined: Batman Forever - Michael Keaton Out, Val Kilmer In
It’s unfortunate that Batman Forever is the least-remembered of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman film series. It sits at an odd place tonally, right between the comic book gothic look of the two Burton films and the all-out garish camp of Batman & Robin.
However, the result is a beautiful comic book aesthetic that current superhero movies would do well to imitate (minus the jarring 90s camp, of course).
What really makes Batman Forever somewhat forgettable is Val Kilmer’s slothful performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Kilmer was cast as a replacement for previous Batman Michael Keaton, who left the project after Burton relinquished directing duties and the tone became significantly less serious than the previous films.
Looking back, it’s difficult to imagine Keaton’s eccentric, tortured Bruce Wayne existing in the neon-soaked Gotham of Batman Forever. But there’s no question that his absence left a void that Kilmer simply didn’t fill.
9 Saved: X-Men - Dougray Scott Out, Hugh Jackman In
When production began on the first X-Men film, it had scottish actor Dougray Scott playing Wolverine. Scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible 2 forced Scott to leave X-Men, however, and the role was re-cast with then-unknown Aussie Hugh Jackman.
Since then, Jackman’s Wolverine has been a consistent presence in the comic book movie world, and the character will forever be linked to his long, fruitful, inspired tenure in the role.
To be fair, Dougray Scott probably would have been a badass Wolverine. Look at literally every other role he’s had and they all suggest as much. Would he have been as succesufl or iconic in the role as Hugh Jackman? We’ll never know.
However, given the heights that Jackman has reached with the character over the last 17 years (most notably in Logan, his bold, beautiful Wolverine swan song), it’s highly unlikely.
8 Ruined: Aladdin: The Return of Jafar - Robin Williams Out, Dan Castellaneta In
The era of straight-to-video Disney sequels began in earnest with 1994’s The Return of Jafar, an Aladdin follow-up that thought it could get away with recasting the voice that arguably made the first film a success: Robin Williams’ Genie.
For the direct-to-video sequel, Disney hired Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) to play the Genie. Williams had refused to reprise his role due to disputes with Disney over the use of his voice in Aladdin’s marketing campaign.
Castellaneta is a brilliant voice actor, but his talents were no match for the instantly recognizable voice of Robin Williams.
For Disney’s next straight-to-video Alladin sequel, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Disney was able to rehire Williams to voice the Genie, and made a big marketing push to advertise that the actor was back in the Disney fold.
7 Saved: Batman Returns - Annette Benning Out, Michelle Pfeiffer In
Michelle Pfeiffer is still the best Catwoman ever. Her twisted take on the iconic comic-book villain/anti-heroin is yet to be matched, and it probably never will. It’s almost absurd to think that she wasn’t the first actress cast in Batman Returns.
Tim Burton originally cast Annette Bening as Catwoman after seeing her in The Grifters. Bening’s pregnancy forced her to depart the movie early on, and a number of other notable actresses (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madonna, Bridget Fonda, and Susan Sarandon) were considered for the role.
Burton wasn’t really aware of Michelle Pfeiffer, but cast her in the role immediately after their initial meeting. Pfeiffer’s visceral impact on Burton clearly translated onto the big-screen, as she’s still the quintessential Catwoman for generations of fans.
6 Ruined: Hannibal - Jodie Foster Out, Julianne Moore In
Ridley Scott’s much-maligned sequel to The Silence of the Lambs really isn’t as bad as its reputation would suggest.
It’s an entirely different animal than the one preceding it, but for the most part, that’s a good thing. Granted, there are some questionable directorial choices throughout Hannibal, but nothing really drags it down more than the absence of Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling.
Hannibal had a long, troubled pre-production. Foster was signed onto the project at different times, but eventually left it due to disputes with the way her character was handled in the source material.
With Hopkins still involved, Hannibal's production moved forward with Julianne Moore as Clarice. As great an actress as Moore is, the Hannibal/Clarice relationship simply didn’t work without Foster, and the rest of the film fell apart as a result.
5 Saved: There Will Be Blood - Kel O’Neill Out, Paul Dano In
Daniel Day-Lewis’ career is paved with the sweat of his intimidated co-stars. Whether it’s due to the reputation that precedes him, or the actor’s actual mad chops, the prospect of acting alongside Day-Lewis is something no actor takes lightly.
Paul Thomas Anderson has directed Daniel Day-Lewis twice, most recently in last year’s best picture nom Phantom Thread. In both cases, Anderson managed to cast co-stars who rose to the challenge, and even stole the show from Day-Lewis in some scenes.
In There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis starred alongside Paul Dano as mad-preacher Eli Sunday.
Dano was originally cast as Eli’s brother Paul (a very small role at the beginning of the movie), but also took over the role of Eli when original actor Kel O’Neill left the film two weeks into shooting. Dano’s performance was revelatory, proving O’Neill’s departure a blessing in disguise.
4 Ruined: The Mummy 3 - Rachel Weisz Out, Maria Bello In
It’s always a huge risk to recast a role previously inhabited by another actor. Sometimes it works, but it usually doesn’t. In the case of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, replacing Rachel Weisz with Maria Bello was kind of a disaster.
Rachel Weisz was brilliant as Evelyn Carnahan in the first two Mummy films. In every one of her scenes, she pretty much stole the show from her male co-stars.
The same unfortunately could not be said for Bello, who played Evelyn in the third Mummy film after Weisz declined to return.
Granted, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was significantly worse than its predecessors in virtually every way, but Weisz’s sudden absence was certainly a blow to the mojo of the whole movie.
3 Saved: Raiders of the Lost Ark - Tom Selleck Out, Harrison Ford In
We were this close to life with a mustachioed Indiana Jones. When George Lucas and Steven Spielberg began casting their now-iconic hero for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg immediately suggested Ford for the role.
Lucas was hesitant, eager to work with new talent after already having worked with Ford on American Graffiti and Star Wars.
Lucas and Spielberg eventually cast Tom Selleck, only to lose him to a contract with CBS to do Magnum, P.I. Perhaps out of desperation, Lucas relented and cast Ford in what arguably became his most iconic role.
Tom Selleck had the kind of classic Hollywood machismo that undoubtedly would have worked for the Indy franchise. It’s not difficult to imagine that Raiders would still have been a sweeping success with him at the center of it. But there’s also no doubt that Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones.
2 Saved: All the Money in the World - Kevin Spacey Out, Christopher Plummer In
Ridley Scott’s 2017 true-crime thriller All the Money in the World was almost another victim of the Kevin Spacey scandal. Spacey originally played real-life oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in the movie, which was slated to be released a mere month after news broke of Spacey’s long history of harassment.
In order to save the film, Scott recast the Getty role with Christopher Plummer (Scott’s original first choice) and reshot all of the necessary scenes in time for the film’s Christmas release.
Plummer not only literally saved All the Money in the World by replacing Spacey, but his performance was easily the visionary focal point of the movie.
We can only imagine what Spacey had done with the role, but scandal notwithstanding, Plummer’s performance was pure gold.
1 Saved: Back to the Future - Eric Stolz Out, Michael J. Fox In
For whatever reason, Back to the Future’s production has become the stuff of Hollywood legend. Much like All the Money in the World, a huge chunk of the movie had already been shot when the film’s lead actor—Eric Stolz—was fired from the movie.
Stolz was a serious method actor, and his approach to the role of Marty McFly was throwing a wrench in the humorous tone that director Robert Zemeckis was trying to achieve.
Luckily for Zemeckis, a deal was worked out with actor Michael J. Fox to take over the role, shooting the film at night while still filming his sitcom Family Ties during the day.
Fox completely embodied the humor and charm that the film was going for, and a cultural phenomenon was born.
What are your favorite re-cast movie roles? Are there any big casting “what-ifs” you think we missed? Let us know in the comments!
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