No one wants it to happen-- not the people behind-the-camera and certainly not the actors, but every so often it becomes necessary for a movie or a series to recast a major role.
Whether because of behind-the-scenes troubles, creative issues/necessities or even something as tragic as death, sometimes a movie can't continue with the first actor who landed a role.
Recasting can be a very messy and dangerous prospect, especially if the role in question is popular and important. If an audience becomes attached to a character, the affection usually carries over to the actor. It's a difficult proposition to ask audiences to accept someone new in the same role.
Yet sometimes the recasting a role is the best thing that could've happen for the actor and the project as whole. At the same time, a significant recasting can seriously hurt the project.
This list tries to look at both examples as movie history is filled, in equal measure, with fantastic and terrible recasting examples.
The fact is that it’s a nearly 50/50 shot that a recasting is going to work and the factors that lead to success (or failure) are never the same. Like everything in the movie-making business there’s just as much skill involved in recasting as there’s luck.
So with that in mind, here are the 8 Times Movies Recast Roles For The Better (And 8 Times It Was Worst)
16 Better: Hayden Christen as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
Hayden Christen as Anakin Skywalker is hardly an award worthy performance. It’s true that most of the problems with Anakin in the prequels come down to writing and direction.
Christen didn’t do much to help himself though. However, Hayden Christen is still an improvement over the actor who he replaced.
It’s cruel to be too harsh on Jake Lloyd’s performance as Anakin in The Phantom Menace. He was, after all, a young kid and his life didn’t exactly improve after being in Star Wars.
Still, Lloyd is an example of everything wrong with child actors. He’s whiny, unconvincing, and supremely annoying in The Phantom Menace. Christen was very dry as Anakin but he was at least bearable.
The decision to recast Anakin from Phantom Menace to Clones might’ve been due to the time jump between the movies. Regardless, Anakin improved with a new actor.
15 Worst: George Lazenby as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Anyone who followed by Sean Connery as James Bond was doomed to fail. Sean Connery’s portrayal is considered the definitive version of the British superspy, both at the time and to this day.
George Lazenby had no shot when he stepped into the role right after Connery in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He tried valiantly anyway.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a fine movie and it offers a different and more mature James Bond. However, Lazenby is completely out of his depth as the character. The movie is clearly designed for Connery’s Bond and Bond just feels off.
Unsurprisingly, Lazenby’s first stint as James Bond was his last stint. Connery returned the role immediately after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and it was like he never left the role.
14 Better: Don Cheadle as James Rhodes in Iron Man 2
The first Iron Man was the definition of a smash hit for Marvel. The MCU with all its millions of dollars and countless movies and TV shows, would not exist without Iron Man. However, everything about the movie wasn’t flawless.
In Iron Man, Tony Stark’s best friend, James Rhodes, was played by Terrence Howard. In the sequel Rhodes was recasted and Howard was replaced with Don Cheadle. The exact reasons are a little bit mysterious but it’s safe to say they involve some behind-the-scenes troubles.
Whatever the reason(s) Rhodey was replaced, the right call was made. Cheadle's much more charming and has way more chemistry with Downey Jr, than Howard.
Terrence Howard is a good but very intense screen presence and he always seemed way too close to punching Tony in the face. Unlike Cheadle, whose, at worst, playfully annoyed by his friend.
13 Worst: Maria Bello as Evie in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
There’s a lot of mistakes in the third movie of The Mummy trilogy. The movie is a sad end to an otherwise fun series. It’s not that shocking the franchise was rebooted, removing everything but the name, in 2017.
There’s changes made in Tomb of the Dragon Emperor that just make it seem lifeless compared to the original two films. One of the most jarring changes, is the recasting of the leading lady.
In the first two Mummy movies, Evie is played by Rachel Weisz. For the third movie, Maria Bello took over the role because Weisz didn’t want to appear, reportedly due to her problems with the script. Weisz, as it turns out, made the right decision.
Bello tried her best but the character, but the experience was painful. Evie not only didn’t look like herself, she acted completely different. Evie, as Bello played her, was unlikable and unnecessarily brash.
12 Better: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford’s career is filled with magnificently iconic roles. Ford is responsible bring to life some of the most beloved and acclaimed heroes in cinematic history.
Even with so many to choose from, Indiana Jones stands apart. Ford’s role as the swashbuckling archaeologist catapulted him to super stardom. Yet, Indiana was originally someone else's.
Tom Selleck, the owner of one Hollywood’s most famous mustaches, was first set to play Indiana. However, due to complications with his TV show. Magnum P.I., Selleck couldn’t appear in the movie. All that really remains of Selleck in the role are some screen tests that have been released as special features.
Selleck seems fine and he probably would’ve been a good Indiana. It’s just impossible to think of anyone but Ford doing the best job.
11 Worst: Emila Clarke as Sarah Connor in Terminator Genysis
There was clearly no ideal situation for Terminator Genysis and its casting. The movie was doomed from the start with a complicated premise, even for the franchise.
Still, Emilia Clarke was almost hilarious miscast playing Linda Hamilton’s most famous role, a young Sarah Connor.
It’s true that Genysis couldn’t have brought Hamilton back without it being strange. (Although the movie did have Arnold Schwarzenegger in his famous role and aged him down with CGI.) Clarke, a decent actress in her own right, just wasn’t at all believable as the gruff and rough Sarah.
It’s not as if no one but Linda Hamilton can play Sarah Connor. Another Game of Thrones actress, Lena Headey, did an excellent job in the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Clarke just didn’t manage to capture any of Hamilton’s charm or grit.
10 Better: Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal in The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins is synonymous with the most famous fictional cannibal of all time, Hannibal Lecter. However, Hopkins is far from the only, or even first, actor to play Hannibal.
The first cinematic Hannibal was Brian Cox in 1986’s Manhunter. A movie that is a prequel, at least in terms of chronology, to Hopkins’ debut in Silence of the Lambs.
Cox was great as Hannibal but Hopkins is spectacular as the menacing serial killer. Cox’s interpretation of the character is more understated. Meanwhile Hopkins’ just jumps off the screen and into everyone's nightmares. He's campy but in the best way possible.
Cox’s Hannibal is scary but with Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs (and every movie that followed) Hannibal's both terrifying and magnetic.
9 Worst: Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling in Hannibal
If Anthony Hopkins is an example of great recasting in the Hannibal franchise, Julianne Moore is an example of a dreadful decision. 2001's Hannibal is the direct sequel to Silence of the Lambs but instead of Jodie Foster in the role of Clarice, Julianne Moore was cast in her stead.
Foster simply didn’t want to reprise her role and thought Silence of the Lambs should’ve stood on its own. Given the movie’s success, however, the studio went ahead with making the sequel and felt Anthony Hopkins returning as Hannibal would be enough to grab audience.
In a way, they were correct. Hannibal was successful enough to get yet another movie with Hopkins in the role.
Quality-wise, the movie is nothing next to Silence of the Lambs. Julianne Moore can do many things as an actress but a Jodie Foster impression is not one of them.
8 Better: Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly in Back to the Future
Everyone loves Back to the Future. Well maybe everyone except the actor who was originally slated to Marty McFly, Eric Stolz. For most people, Michael J. Fox and Marty are intricately linked but Stoltz was first cast as the time-traveling teen.
Stoltz is a rather obscure actor and that’s largely due to him losing out on Marty, which was meant to be his big break.
The movie made it through several weeks into production before everyone behind the camera, realized that Stoltz was the wrong fit. Stoltz, reportedly, was way too intense as Marty and failed to be the comedic linchpin the movie needed.
If true, Back to the Future obviously made the right choice. A Back to the Future with a serious and unfunny Marty is as horrifying as your entire family fading slowly out of a photograph (and existence).
7 Worst: Dan Castellaneta as The Genie in Aladdin: Return of Jafar
The direct-to-video Disney sequels are typically of a lower quality. While nowhere as great as the original, Aladdin: Return of Jafar manages to be a passable follow-up.
This is mostly because the movie managed to get most of the original voice actors back to reprise their roles. A rarity since most direct-to-video sequels make an effort to ditch the original voice cast to cut corners.
Sadly, even if the voices of Aladdin, Jasmine and Iago were back, Return of Jafar couldn’t land, arguably the most important talente. Robin Williams didn't reprise his role as a The Genie and as a result the character was a lot less magical.
Dan Castellaneta, of The Simpsons fame, was brought in to play The Genie instead and it didn’t work. Genie is imbued with so much of Robin Williams and his maniac personality. Without him, The Genie was a like a car with no wheels.
6 Better: Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight
Batman Begins is a tad long, like most of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies. It still manages to be the best live-action Batman origin story. The movie even overcomes it’s biggest short-coming, a half-baked love story between Bruce Wayne and childhood friend, Rachel Dawes.
Thankfully for the superior sequel, The Dark Knight, the decision was made to recast Rachel. Katie Holmes was removed from the series and Maggie Gyllenhaal was brought into her place.
Gyllenhaal’s Rachel was still put the stereotypical damsel-in-distress role way too much and was "fridged" to facilitate Harvey Dent’s transformation to Two-Face.
Those are writing and plotting problems. Gyllenhaal gave Rachel an internal strength and fire that elevated her status as a love interest. This is different from Holmes, who did next to nothing to make Rachel interesting or strong.
5 Worst: Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in The Crimes of Grindelwald
This recasting is a bit different and more complicated. The big twist of the first Fantastic Beasts movie is that the villain played by Colin Farrell, Graves, is actually Gellert Grindelwald in disguise by means of Polyjuice Poition. At the end of the film, Grindelwald’s real face is revealed and he’s “recast” as Johnny Depp.
It’s effective as a twist but it’s disappointing as a casting decision. Given what’s known about Grindelwald from the original Harry Potter movie series and books, Colin Farrell seems like the way better choice to play Grindelwald.
Farrell, throughout his career, has played character who can be equal parts charismatic and menacing. The perfect template for Grindelwald.
Depp, meanwhile, is currently embroiled in a messy sexual abuse scandal and has spent the past decade playing virtually the same character, an off-putting weirdo. Fantastic Beasts would’ve been better off just keeping Farrell or having him play the “real” Grindelwald.
4 Better: Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in The Avengers
The Hulk’s cinematic history is a very rocky one. Yet when Edward Norton took on the role for The Incredible Hulk, it appeared that the movies had cracked the code. The movie balanced the nerdy Bruce Banner and the monstrous Hulk.
It was therefore concerning when it was announced that Norton wouldn’t reprise his role of The Avengers and would be replaced with Mark Ruffalo.
Thankfully, any reason to worry turned out to be unfounded as Ruffalo captured nearly everyone hearts in the first Avengers. The actor has continued to be a delightful presence in the MCU ever since that appearance playing Banner and Hulk to perfection.
Norton, since he’s a great actor, probably would’ve done a fine job but Ruffalo has cemented himself as The Hulk.
3 Worst: Val Kilmer as Batman in Batman Forever
Ben Affleck’s tenure as Batman has been plagued by recasting rumors for years. However, he’s hardly the first Batman to have a rocky behind-the-scenes story. The first big cinematic series of Batman movies, beginning with Tim Burton’s Batman is a saga of recasting and replacements behind and in front of the camera.
The series was a sad case of diminishing returns. The last of them, Batman & Robin, nearly killed Batman movies forever because it was such a bomb. While that’s the low point, the series really went downhill when Michael Keaton was recasted with Val Kilmer.
Burton exited the series alongside director Tim Burton and Kilmer stepped in. While better than his own replacement, George Clooney, Kilmer was a pale imitation of Keaton. Keaton defined the role of Batman for a whole generation. Kilmer was just OK.
2 Better: Ian McDiarmid as The Emperor in Return of the Jedi
Star Wars fans over a certain age, probably have no idea that Ian McDiarmid isn’t the original Emperor. In the cinematic release of Empire Strikes Back, which is the Emperor’s first appearance, the character was played by a combination of Marjorie Eaton and Clive Revill, not McDiarmid.
Marjorie Eaton gave the original Emperor his look as her face (with heavy make-up and superimposed Chimpaneze eyes) were used. In addition, Revill’s voice was used for the Emperor's in the original cut of Empire Strikes Back.
Yet when The Emperor gets his much more sizeable role in Return of the Jedi, Ian McDiarmid was cast instead. Presumably because the original just looked ridiculous. (McDiarmid has since gone back and redone the part in Empire.)
It was obviously the right move because McDiarmid did a tremendous job as the Emperor, chewing the scenery with abandon, in Return of the Jedi and the prequels.
1 Worst: Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Most of these recastings are due to creative differences or behind-the-scenes drama. The biggest recasting in the Harry Potter movies is down to something much more tragic, the death of the original actor.
Shortly before the release of Chamber of Secrets, Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore, died. In his stead, Michael Gambon was cast to continue the series.
While Gambon is a terrific actor, his portrayal of Dumbledore left a lot to be desired. Rather than the kind and welcoming Dumbledore Harris played, Gambon’s Dumbledore was grungy and gruff. He was less likely to nurture Harry and more likely to (literally) throw him into a wall.
By the end of the series, Gambon became much softer but he never quite captured Harris’ vision. Gambon was a more active Dumbledore, as he wasn’t a dying man, but overall Harris seems like the better actor for the part.
Do you agree with this list? What are some of your favorite and most hated recastings from movies? Sound off in the comments!