15 Stars Who Quit Roles Due To Controversy

Leonardo DiCaprio and Mel Gibson

No single man or woman is too big for any role, but that doesn’t stop the good and the great of Hollywood sometimes getting a little above their pay grade. With some serious money knocking around on our favorite movies, TV shows, and even plays, there is a careful balancing act involved to keep everyone happy.

Who doesn’t love a bit of drama to spice up their lives? But when it comes to actors and presenters, it can sometimes be too much to handle. Audiences have already seen the likes of Mel Gibson and Christian Bale come back from the brink of some very public debacles, but what happens when enough is enough and your star decides to walk away before they are pushed out?

In a 21st Century where everyone is on a knife's edge, all it sometimes takes is someone to look at someone else the wrong way and all hell can break loose. Despite a star’s love or even public adoration, sometimes it just doesn’t work out and we are forced to go through the messiest of all breakups - right under the scrutiny of the media.

From whitewashing scandals to pay disputes, physical violence or simply just a moral compass, there have been some huge controversies where big stars have walked away from projects.

With this in mind, here are 15 Stars Who Quit Roles Due To Controversy

15 Ed Skrein - Hellboy

Ed Skrein Hellboy

Amidst the whitewashing scandals from the likes of Aloha, Doctor Strange, and Ghost in the Shell, one actor finally did the noble thing and stepped away from a controversial role.

When Hellboy creator Mike Mignola announced that the franchise would be rebooted without Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman, eyebrows were already raised, but that was nothing compared to the casting of Deadpool alumni Ed Skrein.

Skrein secured himself the lucrative role as resurrected marine Benjamin Daimio. The only problem is, Daimio is typically depicted as Japanese, making this casting another instance of whitewashing in a Marvel movie.

Thinking of the people rather than the paycheck, Skrein decided to step down from the role and leave the character open for someone else to join. Here’s hoping that director Neil Marshall has learned from the public outcry and will cast the part properly.

14 Will Ferrell - Reagan

Will Ferrell - Anchorman

Giving the part of the 40th POTUS to funnyman Will Ferrell in a comedy about Ronald Reagan didn’t go down too well with the president’s family - in particular, his daughter Patti Davis. Seeing your father die from a horrible affliction like Alzheimer's was definitely enough of a reason for Davis and her brother to publicly slam the idea, and the media soon followed suit.

 The plot was due to center on an intern who tries to convince Reagan that he is an actor playing the president, but Farrell left the movie just two days after he was announced for the “comedy” about the disease.

The script did make it online and was dubbed an “alternate take” on Alzheimer’s, but was still branded highly offensive by others. Ferrell was also attached to produce this brainchild of comedy writer Mike Rosolio.

Despite landing on the Hollywood “Black List” of unmade screenplays, Reagan never came to see the light of day.

13 Native American Actors - The Ridiculous 6 

Adam Sandler and Native American extras in The Ridiculous Six

Adam Sandler is known for his lewd and rude stance on the comedy genre, so it was only a matter of time who someone on set was offended by his brash brand of humor.

The script to 2015’s The Ridiculous 6 contained several thoughtless jokes about Native Americans, including names like Wears No Bra and Beaver’s Breath. Due to this insulting of native women and misrepresenting the Apache culture, several Native American actors walked off the set, never to return. It may have been a spoof of The Magnificent Seven, but there was nothing funny about Sandler’s script, or in fact, most of the film.

Around 12 actors abandoned the project, and Sandler’s stunt also caused the Native American advisor to turn tail. That being said, the majority of the actors remained and some even said those that left should “lighten up.”

However, given that the film finds itself with an abysmal 30% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it would appear that actors leaving was the least of The Ridiculous 6’s problems.

12 Charlie Hunman - Fifty Shades of Grey

Charlie Hunnam in King Arthur- Legend of the Sword

He may be best known for riding on motorbikes in Sons of Anarchy, but Charlie Hunnam almost hit Hollywood heartthrob status when he was cast as the lead in Fifty Shades of Grey. The big screen adaptation of EL James’ book was always going to cause a stir, but it seems that Hunnam hadn’t expected his casting to put him under so much media scrutiny.

Hunnam said the decision was “heartbreaking” and one of the worst choices he has ever had to make in his career. There are conflicting rumors that it was to do with a schedule clash, while there are those who still maintain that the movie’s graphic sexual content was the final nail in the coffin.

That being said, Hunnam points out that only age 18 he starred in the equally sexual Queer as Folk.  Other reports claim that Hunnam was refused extensive approval of the script, but no one will really ever know.

Obviously, Hunnam was quickly replaced with Jamie Dornan and the rest is history, although that won’t stop Hunnam fans fantasizing about what could’ve been.

11 Christian Bale - Jobs

Christian Bale in Hostiles Featured Image

As a  man whose career was already mired in controversy, Christian Bale caused another movie meltdown when he left the Steve Jobs biopic. With a script by Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle at the helm, Jobs seemed to be the winning formula for a perfect biographical drama.

Everyone knows that Michael Fassbender eventually played the Apple entrepreneur, but that didn’t stop Bale’s exit being a topic of speculation. Apparently, it was a phone call from Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs that put Bale off, as she was uncomfortable with anyone playing the part. She had already put Leonardo DiCaprio off the role and convinced Bale that it was right to leave the biopic behind.

Given Bale’s unwavering approach to method acting, you can only imagine what his portrayal of Jobs would’ve been like. Fassbender himself later said that Bale would’ve been “perfect” to play Jobs, but it didn't stop Fassbender getting an Oscar nomination for his own version.

10 Zendaya - Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B 


The decision to turn Christopher John Farley biography Aaliyah: More than a Woman may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but Lifetime’s TV movie was doomed from the start.

Following the tragic life and times of the singer who died in 2001, X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alicia Shipp eventually starred as the titular Aaliyah, but she wasn’t the first choice. Before playing Michelle in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zendaya Coleman was going to put her talented vocals to Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B.

There was already controversy about Zendaya’s casting, and from some saying that she looked nothing like Aaliyah to her not being “black enough,” she wasn’t exactly a popular choice. That being said, none of this factored in Zendaya’s ultimate departure, and she took to social media to explain that the material wasn’t being handled correctly.

Aaliyah’s family had already snubbed the movie, and when Zendaya had reportedly tried to contact them, they weren’t interested in having anything to do with the project. This led to problems getting rights to the music, but ultimately, it was out of respect for the deceased that Zendaya abandoned the part.

9 Leonardo DiCaprio - American Psycho

Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale + American Psycho

Looking at 2000’s American Psycho, it is hard to imagine the psychological slasher being anything less than brilliant. With Christian Bale as the unhinged Wall Street madman, it was a brilliant piece of movie magic.

However, long before making it to cinemas, Lionsgate had sent the script and an offer of $20 million to Leonardo DiCaprio to star. The director at the time was Mary Harron, who had already tipped Christian Bale to play Patrick Bateman. When Lionsgate announced that DiCaprio was taking the lead during 1998’s Cannes Film Festival, it is safe to say that both Harron and Bale were a little shocked.

Harron was out, while the studio and DiCaprio searched for a new director. The actor’s shortlist included the likes of Martin Scorsese, but the job ultimately went to Oliver Stone - someone who Harron described as the “worst” person imaginable to handle Bret Easton Ellis’ novel.

Social satire wasn't exactly up Stone’s street, and the backlash was immeasurable from various feminist protestors. To add insult to injury, the lead and the director just couldn’t agree. After languishing in development hell, DiCaprio went off to make The Beach and Stone bailed for Bale and Harron.

8 Sacha Baron Cohen - Freddy Mercury Biopic

Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat

There is no denying that Rami Malek certainly looks the part as Freddie Mercury in the upcoming Queen biopic. However, developing the movie based on one of the best rock bands has been a struggle from the start.

Before Malek, it was Borat and Ali G comedian Sacha Baron Cohen who was attached to play the mustachioed marvel. Cohen isn’t best known for his careful handling of sensitive subjects, so you can see why there may have been some objections to him playing the deceased rocker.

The actor maintains that the remaining members of the band had wanted too much of the second half of the film to be about them, but also unfairly portray the happier side of the group. In particular, Brian May had other ideas and the whole movie fell apart.

To this day, May is still visibly furious at Cohen's notions of playing Freddie, and has branded the funnyman as an “arse.” Cohen’s musical talents were put to the test in Sweeney Todd, but Queen fans will never see him belt out “Don’t Stop Me Now” on their screens.

7 Leonardo DiCaprio - Berserker

This is the second entry for Hollywood’s golden boy, Leonardo DiCaprio, who memorably left Mel Gibson’s Berserker in 2010. Gibson hoped to continue his Braveheart success with a movie about vikings and DiCaprio was brought on as the movie’s lead.

Hacksaw Ridge may have redeemed Gibson’s street cred somewhat, but remember the time when he was thought of as the black sheep of the cinematic family? The director was determined to reinvent cinema with movies in different languages, and after the Aramaic of The Passion of the Christ and Mayan of Apocalypto, he wanted to round off a trilogy with Berserker in Old Norse. Then Gibson had a rather public outburst in English and tarnished his career almost beyond repair.

DiCaprio blames scheduling conflicts, but the timing was more than a little suspect. Leo split from Berserker just weeks after Gibson’s infamous racist rant was leaked online.

For a long time, Gibson continued to maintain that Berserker would be made, but it eventually sank like a leaking Viking longship.

6 Mandy Patinkin - Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Mandy Patinkin Criminal Minds

It isn’t just big-budget epics that lose their stars, and even treading the boards, there is plenty of drama before the curtain falls. Turning to Broadway show Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Homeland star Mandy Patinkin had a rather short stint in one of the title roles.

Also doing the right thing for the right reason, Patinkin took a stand and left the production after he replaced Okieriete "Oak" Onaodowan in the role of Pierre. Onaodowan’s supporters started the hashtag #MakeRoomforOak and claimed that the Nigerian-born actor was replaced with Patinkin because he was a bigger-name, Caucasian actor.

At a time that the Broadway spectacle brought in $1 million a week, it was Josh Groban who played Pierre. The arrival of Patinkin was said to drive poor ticket sales for the play based on War and Peace, but others said it stank of racism.

As part of the original company of Hamilton, Oak’s announcement as Pierre was lauded as a great choice to take over from Groban. Patinkin took one for the team by recusing himself shortly before Ed Skrein did the same.

5 Nick Cannon - America's Got Talent

Nick Cannon America's Got Talent

Season 12 of America’s Got Talent underwent something of a revamp - host Nick Cannon was out, replaced by Tyra Banks. While many people love the smizing America’s Next Top Model judge and meme-worthy celebrity, it is only right to question what happened to Cannon.

It all went wrong with Cannon's Showtime special called Stand Up, Don’t Shoot - a riff on the Black Lives Matter slogan. During the one hour performance, Cannon made several jokes at the expense of race relations and sparked controversy across the board, even name-dropping America’s Got Talent.

After this, NBC threatened to sack the host from the reality show, but even this didn’t stop Cannon. Claiming that he would not be “silenced,” Cannon jumped before he was pushed and announced his departure from AGT in a lengthy Facebook post.

He said that his friends had warned him that something like this would happen, but Cannon remained defiant that he was in the right for speaking his mind.

After hosting for a whole eight seasons, Cannon will certainly be missed. 

4 The Wiggles

The Wiggles

Even fun-loving kids entertainers can get embroiled in behind-the-scenes scandals from time to time. The colorful Australian quartet The Wiggles found themselves parting on less than amicable terms with their fans.

With red shirt Murray Cook, yellow shirt Greg Page, and purple shirt Jeff Fatt all declaring they were out in 2012, The Wiggles lost three of its four founding members. This left only the blue-shirted Anthony Field and a host of newcomers, including the band’s first female Wiggle.

The departing members said it was to see more of their family, but the real reason was actually much more scandalous. When Page briefly left the band due to poor health, he was replaced by a much younger musician called Sam Moran. Dubbed “the salaried Wiggle,” Moran was pushed out by the other three members and even nicknamed “moron.” Page eventually felt well enough to rejoin, but all of this was without the knowledge of Moran.

There was a fair amount of backlash in Australia, so the three founders decided that now might be a good time to hide their heads in the sand. Although a new era of The Wiggles still tours, it isn't quite the same.

3 David Duchovny - The X-Files

David Duchovny as Fox Mulder in the X Files

Going off that famous Catatonia song, everyone knows that it should always be Mulder and Scully. However, heading back to 2000, there was the time that The X-Files lost David Duchovny. As season 7 of the sci-fi puzzler wrapped up, Fox Mulder was written out during a convoluted plot where he was abducted by aliens.

Robert Patrick joined as Scully’s new partner John Doggett and the series limped on, but things weren’t quite the same. Most of season 8 involved the new pairing's search for Mulder, and although the duo eventually found him, Duchovny didn’t fully return until the season 9 finale.

Duchovny sued Fox in 1999, saying he was a “victim of corporate synergy.” Basically, the actor claimed that the network was making more money off reruns while cutting his royalties. It was all very hush hush, and the two parties managed to settle out of court in 2000.

These days, everyone seems to be getting on nicely, but for die-hard The X-Files fans, there is still a faction who think Duchovny ruined the final two seasons of the “original” run.

2 Daniel Dae Kim And Grace Park - Hawaii Five-O

The Cast of Hawaii-Five-O

Pay disputes and unfair salaries are one of the biggest talking points in Tinsel Town at the moment, and while a gender divide is bad enough, what about a race divide?

After seven seasons of solving crimes on Hawaii Five-0, both Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park decided it was time to put their feet down. After starring in seven seasons and 168 episodes, both actors were a huge part of the show and entered pay negotiations for the same salaries as their white co-stars, Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan. 

Five-0 boss Peter M. Lenkov maintains that both actors were offered unprecedented salary raises, but reports state that they would still be earning 10-15% less O’Loughlin and Cann. The show will continue into season 8, with the departures explained in the premiere episode, but only time will tell how fans take to newcomers Meaghan Rath and Beulah Koale.

Although Kim was clearly sad to end his time on the show, he did congratulate CBS for creating a well-rounded character like Chin Ho, and thanked the network for giving opportunities to Asian American actors.

1 The Cast Of Top Gear

Top Gear

TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson isn’t known for holding his tongue, but even he seemed to bite off more than he could chew with a public brawl back in 2015. While filming for the 22nd season of the BBC’s Top Gear, a frayed Clarkson was involved in a “fracas” and punched one of the show’s producers after being told he couldn’t have a hot meal.

Even though Clarkson was already on a final warning, surely the Beeb wouldn’t let go of arguably its biggest star? Well, it did, and shortly after, Clarkson was given the boot.

Clarkson had starred alongside Richard Hammond and James May, with the trio of bumbling Brits being a staple of the show, but Hammond and May soon left in solidarity. Top Gear carried on with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, although the new era still isn’t impressing fans of the car show and Evans has already left.

Don’t worry too much though, Clarkson and co. soon landed on their feet when scooped up by Amazon to headline their even flashier show, The Grand Tour.


Who do you think had the most controversial departure? Sound off in the comments below!

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