Once Upon a Time entertained audiences for seven years, giving us familiar characters and putting them in unfamiliar situations. Many viewers had grown up loving the Disney animated movies and eagerly tuned in to watch their favorite fairy tale characters being brought to live-action and modernized in unexpected ways.
The characters were so loved, though, that the casting of each one had to be absolutely perfect or the actor would stick out like a sore thumb. Not only are the characters iconic, but the original performances - though primarily given by voice actors - will never be forgotten by those who grew up watching them.
ABC (of course, owned by Disney) had an arsenal of iconic characters to choose from, and the network truly emptied the toy box over the course of seven seasons.
Known for bringing in fresh talent, Once Upon a Time gave a platform for fantastic newcomers to shine, but also weaker beginners to crumble. With literally dozens upon dozens of characters (and thus actors and actresses portraying them), there was no lack of both great and underwhelming performances for viewers to evaluate.
Looking back at the now-canceled drama, everyone in the cast played a vital role in the show's many successes and failures. We may not be getting an eighth season of the beloved fantasy romp, but that won’t stop us from reminiscing on what came before.
Let’s get down to business. Here are 10 Casting Decisions That Hurt Once Upon A Time (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Dania Ramirez – Cinderella 2.0/Jacinda Vidrio
After many employees of Once Upon a Time, in front of and behind the camera, decided they wouldn’t be coming back for a seventh season after six with the show, many were surprised when the network did a sort of “soft reboot.”
Bringing in Latina actress Dania Ramirez as Cinderella was a bold and terrifically progressive choice. It would have made history had reception to her have been positive; alas, it wasn’t.
Ramirez’s lackluster delivery of lines and uninspired expressions made her almost “trendy” to dislike. The actress' performance negated the daring casting, but the attempt was still noble.
19 Saved: Marilyn Manson – The Shadow
One of the strangest characters from Disney’s fund to make an appearance on the show was The Shadow. Commonly referred to as “Pan’s Shadow,” the creature isn’t exactly as its name suggests. The Shadow is a living entity (separate from Peter Pan) who resides in Neverland, though is able to cross between worlds.
Marilyn Manson was chosen to voice the mysterious and dark figure. Manson’s a world renowned musician who has garnered four Grammy nominations during his decades-long musical career.
Those familiar with the singer’s on-stage persona understood the reason for the peculiar decision to have him play The Shadow.
In a show that’s known for playing it reasonably safe with their casting of actors/actresses, it was a welcome surprise to see such an unorthodox addition, even in a single episode guest role.
18 Hurt: Liam Garrigan – King Arthur
Some may say his portrayal of the legendary king was superb as it landed him the same role in the Transformers: The Last Knight, but that’s also a Transformers film.
Liam Garrigan’s 11-episode spell in season five was met by fans with criticism. The iconic king was reduced to an emotional and underdeveloped side character.
Garrigan’s casting was by no means exceptional, but fans gave him the benefit of the doubt early on. That benefit quickly ran dry as viewers learned that the actor wasn’t able to mesh with the other performances. It's an unfortunate result, for King Arthur’s character could have been so much fun to explore.
17 Saved: Ginnifer Goodwin – Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White
Starting OUAT immediately following her five season stint on HBO’s Big Love, Ginnifer Goodwin plays Mary Margaret Blanchard in Storybrooke as well as fan favorite Snow White in the Enchanted Forest. Snow’s optimistic take on life brings a light to the show that helps establish a sense of hope; a welcomed emotion at times in the real world.
Goodwin’s role was such a breath of fresh air.
Her tenderness and courteousness gave Snow White the characteristics so many have grown to know.
Also, her real-life marriage to actor Josh Dallas (David Nolan/Prince Charming) brought an authentic take to the relationship.
16 Hurt: Greg Germann – Hades
The fifth season took us to the underworld where we met the ruler of the land: Hades.
This reveal would have been absolutely riveting had the show’s casting director found a suitable actor to play the mythological being. Regrettably they brought in someone who doesn’t hold a candle to James Woods’ exemplary performance in Disney's animated Hercules.
The actor’s portrayal, though effective at times, didn’t match the tone the show had established for the story.
The underworld was a fun and well thought-out change of scenery. It’s just a pity the show couldn’t find the right actor to rule over it.
15 Saved: Giancarlo Esposito – Magic Mirror/Sidney Glass
One of the biggest names in television to appear on the show, Giancarlo Esposito brought his powerful presence to the fantasy series. Esposito portrayed Sidney Glass, a reporter for the local paper in Storybrooke as well as Regina’s Magic Mirror.
Esposito rose to fame on the small screen for his role as Gus in the AMC hit Breaking Bad, even earning an Emmy nomination for the part. His tenure on OUAT began immediately after his time on Breaking Bad came to an end.
Esposito’s addition to the cast was a shift from the newcomers who made up most of the cast.
Bringing the Danish born actor aboard undoubtedly brought a few of his fans with him, but also brought a proven performer to a cast that, at times, could use one.
14 Hurt: Georgina Haig – Queen Elsa
An issue with a show like OUAT is that the actors are constantly playing against many iconic performances before them; a fact that undoubtedly hurt Georgina Haig’s performance as Queen Else.
Elsa, who has no Storybrooke counterpart, wasn't given a lot of powerful scenes for Haig to show her strengths, but the actress' performance wasn’t fit for such a popula, and timely character.
It's not entirely her fault, as trying to live up to Idina Menzel’s iconic voice performance is a tough task.
Frozen is one of the biggest animated films in recent memory and bringing the most popular character from it to the ABC drama was a brilliant capitalization. Haig’s sci-fi roots weren’t bringing much of an already established fan base to the program, but everyone was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
13 Saved: Sebastian Stan – Jefferson/The Mad Hatter
Sebastian Stan’s short turn at the end of the first season was a memorable one.
Those who think Stan’s casting was just a stunt to capitalize on his MCU fame have to remember that his OUAT period was less than a year after we got to know him as Bucky in Captain America: The First Avenger.
The Mad Hatter is a wonderfully fun character that gave Stan a chance to stray from his usual tormented roles.
The native Romanian brought a fresh spirit to the show. His quick rise to fame meant that OUAT didn’t have the expenses to afford the movie star, thus not having him return after the first season.
12 Hurt: Jessy Schram – Cinderella/Ashley Boyd
It was truly shocking when Cinderella - one of the most popular Disney princesses - was only given four episodes in the history of the show, not counting the “soft reboot” of season 7.
Schram’s Cinderella/Boyd only appeared in one to two episodes in a few seasons, and didn't make much of an impact.
Schram’s act never felt authentic, nor suited to the show. Her performance was no match for some of the great acting by some of the season regulars.
Cinderella is such a household name, thathaving her as a regular character on the show would have brought it a larger audience. It’s just a shame the actress wasn’t able to shine. Then again, neither was the second Cinderella.
11 Saved: Rebecca Mader – Zelena/Kelly West
After the success of the play Wicked it was almost certain that the character of the Wicked Witch of the West would have a titillating role that any actress would be lucky to scoop up. In walked Rebecca Mader.
With a career full of guest star appearances in TV and small supporting roles in movies, OUAT finally gave Mader the break she deserved.
Her backstory, revealing a bitter jealousy of Regina, gave an already intricate character so much more room to grow as a villain. Mader would stay with the cast through the seventh season, acting as a beacon of hope that the retelling could work with some familiar faces.
10 Hurt: Parker Croft – Felix/Head Lost Boy
Parker Croft’s Felix, debuting in 2013’ Neverland storyline, made the viewers feel like Lost Boys themselves.
Constantly flat and bordering on lifeless, Felix's underwhelming presence was unfortunately highlighted by his shared scenes with the excellent Peter Pan.
His hypnotization, brought on by Pan, can somewhat explain the actor’s weak performance (along with lack of experience), but his casting isn't exactly a bright spot for a show like Once Upon a Time that featured so many stand-out rookies.
Croft’s representation of the leader of the Lost Boys could have been a fun and memorable take, if left in the hands of a more charismatic actor.
9 Saved: Elizabeth Mitchell – Ingrid/The Snow Queen
Lost alumni Elizabeth Mitchell stuck with the familiar ABC network to play The Snow Queen in the fourth season of OUAT.
Her villainy was superb, solely thanks to the actress' conservative and mesmerizing performance.
While some didn’t love the Frozen angle the show took in the 2014 season, no one could argue that Ingrid’s character was a highlight of it.
Mitchell is so confident in her performance that she was able to shine through the underwhelminmg plot. Complexity is always something truly great villains possess, in character and in performance.
The casting of Mitchell truly gave the character everything she needed to become one of the most notable antagonists on the show.
8 Hurt: Jamie Chung – Mulan
When Mulan was introduced in the premiere of season 2, true Disney fans were ecstatic. Mulan, the titular character of the 1998 animated classic,is one of the most powerful, inspirational, and independent woman in Disney lore.
Having her played by one of the cast members on Real World: San Diego wasn’t terribly reassuring to fans that the show would do justice to the character’s first live-action representation.
Chung’s acting was acceptable, but never came to the limelight in story or performance. Her time on the show was certainly not condemned, but also never applauded.
A Mulan live-action feature is currently slated for 2020 with the protagonist played by Yifei Liu, an actress actually from China.
7 Saved: Colin O’Donoghue – Captain Killian “Hook” Jones/Rogers
To call Hook a fan favorite would be a sinful understatement. Girls love him, guys want to be him, and Colin O’Donoghue brought such a fresh take to the (boring, at times, honestly) character from Peter Pan.
O’Donoghue’s charisma and charm are always on display, adding to the enjoyment we get whenever he appears.
The creators played it smart; took notice of the fans love for Hook and made him one of the essential characters. The actor’s career hasn’t been stellar except for his time on the ABC drama, but it almost seemed like it was the character he liked playing the most.
Viewers are smarted than they are given credit for, they know when an actor is enjoying their time on a show/enjoying the part they’re playing: O’Donoghue checked off both boxes.
6 Hurt: Robin Weigert – Bo Peep
One of the most out of left field interpretations OUAT has taken liberty with, was the tax-commanding rendition of Bo Peep. Robin Weigert over the top playing of the already strange character didn’t help the shows reputation of silliness at times.
Turning Bo Peep into a gangster was a peculiar choice to say the least, but what was the final straw was Weigert’s pointblank silly portrayal. Stark fans of the show point to her casting as a blemish on one of their favorite programs.
A small part in season four turned a minor character into one of the worst casted parts on the program.
5 Saved: Robbie Kay – Peter Pan/Robbie Mills
Who would have guessed that one of the greatest actors on the show would be a 17-year-old? Kay plays Peter Pan, and much like Geoffrey in Game of Thrones, a much hated villain can be sign of a great actor.
The teenaged performer transformed Pan from a good-hearted boy who can’t grow old to a sinister and exciting villain.
Starting in the third season and making appearances all the way to season 6, viewers saw Turner not only grow, but mature as a performer.
Nothing is in the horizon for the young man, but with as much charisma as he put into Pan, we hope he will soon be a household name.
4 Hurt: Merrin Dungey – Ursula
Ursula was actually first voiced by Community regular Yvette Nicole Brown in a cameo-style appearance in the third season. In the following year, Ursula appears accompanied with Cruella de Vil and Maleficent.
The daughter of Poseidon and commonly referred to as the Sea Witch, the character was one that so many fans were hopeful would become an amusing antagonist in the third season.
The trio of Disney antagonists was a clever idea, save for the underwhelming result of Merrin Dungey’s Ursula. Dungey took on an underrated Disney villain, but couldn't quite live up to Brown's powerful and memorable appearance.
3 Saved: Robert Carlyle – Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin
What to say about Robert Carlyle other than he was probably born to play Rumpelstiltskin. With films such as Trainspotting, 28 Weeks Later, and The World is Not Enough, the veteran Scotsman was loved by all from his very first scene to his very last seven years later.
Rumpelstiltskin, the dark one, is always lurking in the background causing mischief and insidious magic alike. Carlyle’s performance, was met with the reward of being one of the most loved characters on the show.
Even the harshest critics of OUAT can’t deny Carlyle’s incredible representation of Rumpel.
The deepest and juiciest role was given to the actor that the creators knew could handle the task faultlessly.
2 Hurt: Jamie Dornan – Sheriff Graham Humbert/The Huntsman
Before he stole women's in Fifty Shades of Grey, Jamie Dornan's heart was stolen - literally - when he played the Huntsman, aka Sheriff Graham Humbert, in season one and two of Once Upon of a Time. Regina held his heart hostage to control him, but despite his romance with Emma, he didn't exactly light the screens on fire.
Dornan's rising star doomed the character and, while his performance in Fifty Shades underwhelmed, he moved on from Once Upon a Time with a powerfully creepy performance in the critically acclaimed BBC thriller The Fall.
1 Saved: Lana Parrilla – Evil Queen/Regina Mills
Tying with Robert Carlyle for appearing in every episode of the seven seasons, Parrilla has been praised by critics, and downright exalted by fans. She plays Regina Mills in Storybrooke and the Evil Queen in the Enchanted Forest.
Watching her take as the Evil Queen proves that a well-constructed villain is much more memorable that a well-constructed hero.
Bringing on the actress may have been a gamble during the show’s inception, but it is now hailed as one of the great casting decisions in ABC's history.
There’s no telling if Once Upon a Time would have lasted seven years if Parilla hadn’t graced it with her flawless rendition of the show's most iconic character.
Who's your favorite actor on Once Upon a Time? Let us know in the comments!