Some actors and actresses’ names are almost synonymous with the characters they play. Johnny Depp is Jack Sparrow (er, Captain Jack Sparrow). Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Anthony Perkins is Norman Bates (although we will admit Freddie Highmore is currently slaying the role). However, often times the actors who end up in these iconic roles are the director’s or studio’s second or third choice. For a great example take a look at the career of Harrison Ford. He was not the first choice for some of his greatest roles; Tom Selleck was slated to play Indiana Jones, and Burt Reynolds was originally offered the role of Han Solo. The two aforementioned actors ended up dropping out, Ford took over, and the rest is history. Heck, even his role in American Graffiti happened by accident!
Some of these missed opportunities truly would have been a treat for moviegoers everywhere. On the other hand, there are numerous ones that we’re glad never came to fruition (who on earth would have wanted to see Vince Vaughn as Donnie Darko?). Be they just a poor fit or downright earth-shatteringly bizarre, here are the 15 Most WTF Movie Castings That Almost Happened!
15 Tom Hanks as Jerry Maguire
Tom Hanks has been nominated for (and won) countless awards for memorable performances throughout his career. He can be a giant man-child in one movie and then turn around and put in an Oscar-worthy performance as a real-life hero the next. He definitely has the talent to do just about anything.
Yet, we find it really hard to picture him as Jerry Maguire. As anyone who’s seen the movie knows, Maguire is a down-on-his-luck sports agent with one shot to make it big on his own. Over the course of the film he falls in love with Dorothy, the only coworker who follows him to his new company. Hanks has definitely been down this road before; movies like You’ve Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle have shown he can do the romantic drama genre. The thing is, part of the charm of Jerry Maguire is Tom Cruise’s charisma. He’s the kind of guy you want to follow and root for just for his enthusiasm alone! Hanks, while having a certain charm of his own, doesn’t strike us as the smooth-talking ball of energy that the titular character ended up being.
14 Bill Murray or Chevy Chase as Forrest Gump
On the topic of Tom Hanks, did you know that one of his greatest roles was originally supposed to go to someone else? Allegedly, the part was Bill Murray’s, but the actor turned it down. Chevy Chase was also in the running to play the intellectually-challenged man with a heart of gold. We just… where do we even begin on this one?
Tom Hanks owns this role-- so much so that he won an Academy Award for it. He played Forrest Gump completely straight. Yeah, he delivered some laughs throughout his adventures, but he was also able to move us to tears and make us understand the struggles of the character’s life. At the time Bill Murray was known for his dry and witty sense of humor. Although he has proven himself as a dramatic actor since, having him play such a nuanced character at this point in his career could have been disastrous for the film. People might have thought Murray was playing the role up for laughs rather than inspiration. As far as Chevy Chase is concerned, need we say more? He’s comedic gold, but there is no way in hell anyone could take him seriously in an Oscar-worthy film.
13 Chris Farley as Shrek
Although the series has since declined in quality and the character has become a sort of bizarre meme on the internet, the first two Shrek movies were instant classics. They were clever, funny, and turned all the stereotypical fairy tale tropes on their heads. With rumors of a fifth entry on the horizon and the series’ influence on pop culture, it’s weird to think that Chris Farley was originally cast as Shrek.
Talk about a change in a film’s tone! Chris Farley as the titular ogre in the Shrek series would have been something to behold. If you doubt us, just take a gander at the leaked voice audio that was released a while back. The exact same scene was in the finished film, but it feels completely different. We feel bad for Farley’s Shrek because he seems like a big, lovable goofball who just so happens to be ugly. Mike Myer’s Shrek makes us feel for the character because he seems like he’s truly in pain and thinks that total isolation is the only solution for his life’s problems. The movie definitely could have been good with Farley in the role, but we doubt it would have had the same lasting impact as the one we got.
12 Ernest Borgnine as Vito Corleone
If you’ve ever wondered what Mermaid Man from Spongebob Squarepants would sound like as a mob boss, this is the entry for you! The Godfather is considered by many to be the greatest movie ever made. The score, the story, the acting, the cinematography; it is pure perfection to many moviegoers across the world. A large part of the film’s status comes from Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Don Vito Corleone, the head of the most powerful crime family in all of America. He was intimidating as hell but still gave off an air of sophistication not found in most “bad guys.”
Picturing television star Ernest Borgnine, who had major roles in the sitcom McHale’s Navy and ‘80s cheese-fest Airwolf, as the powerful Corleone just doesn’t sit right. How do we put this without sounding mean... Borgnine was known for his ridiculously exaggerated features. His eyebrows and buck-toothed smile played right into his comedic background; it’s hard to take his face seriously sometimes! Likewise, his voice doesn’t sound like something you’d ever think you’d hear coming out of the mouth of a Sicilian immigrant.
11 Courtney Love as Satine and Heath Ledger as Christian
Ah, Baz Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge. Like most of the director’s movies, this film was a visual spectacle complete with romance, partying, and catchy retro interpretations of modern pop songs. It’s sappy, flamboyant, and over the top. But that’s why so many people love it! Moulin Rouge was nominated for multiple academy awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for leading lady Nicole Kidman. Critics praised the chemistry between Kidman and Ewan McGregor as they acted out this tale of forbidden love.
Although it would have added to Lurhmann’s surreal style, the original casting choices for Satine and Christian were a little… out there. Heath Ledger and Courtney Love were the director’s first selections to play the leading roles. Part of the reason Christian works as a character is becaause of Ewan McGregor’s charisma and wit. Ledger was a relative unknown, most famous for 10 Things I Hate About You and his boyish good looks. Also, Courtney Love playing a sophisticated French burlesque dancer? Yeah….
10 Will Smith as Neo
The sequels may not be so hot, but The Matrix is one of the most revolutionary action films ever made. The sleek leather and shades and the slow-mo bullet time effects became staples of the genre for years after its release. The film also delivered a bunch of iconic characters-- Agent Smith, Morpheus, Trinity, and the Chosen One himself, Neo. The character of Neo reenergized Keanu Reeves’ acting career.
Now picture Neo with sarcastic wittiness and a lot more, “aw, HELL no!”s. That’s right, Will Smith was initially set to play Neo! It’s a bizarre thing to picture. Neo’s entire arc in the first Matrix movie was about him going from an introverted computer hacker to the savior of the entire universe. Smith is a great actor, but he’s been the essence of “cool” all the way back to his Fresh Prince days; we really can’t see him pulling off a convincing nerd character. Likewise, Reeves had a very stoic and commanding presence. Even in his most serious roles, Will Smith seems to always let his signature charm shine through. It just doesn’t mesh with the world The Matrix created.
9 Half of Hollywood as James Bond
Oh, boy, where do we even begin here? The role of 007 has to be one of the most coveted roles in the history of cinema. Unlike most of the other entries on this list, there is no one actor who is associated with the role. There has been a different Bond for each generation of moviegoers, each with his own set of unique characteristics and memorable films. To some people, Bond will always be Sean Connery. Others always see the character as Pierce Bronson or Daniel Craig. With rumors swirling that Craig is lukewarm on returning for the next film, there is much speculation on who could take his place.
Apparently, over half of Hollywood has been in the running to play James Bond at some point. While some of the actors make sense (like Jude Law or Henry Cavil), some are just straight up weird. At one point in time, Mel Gibson was in the running. Yes, that Mel Gibson. Also, Adams West (of ‘60s Batman and Family Guy fame) was considered for 007 during the height of the Batman craze, along with Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood. Luckily, all four of the actors turned the role down because they felt the actor who played James Bond needed to be British.
8 8. Adam Sandler as the Bear Jew
Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds revitalized the director’s career after years of stagnation and launched Christoph Waltz into the world of stardom. Following a rag-tag group of American Nazi hunters, the film dealt with World War II in a way only Tarantino could-- stylized dialogue and over-the-top violence! The film also starred Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, Eli Roth as Sgt. Danny Donowitz (aka the “Bear Jew”), and Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna. Eli Roth’s Bear Jew was one of the most gleefully brutal characters in the movie, laughing as he bashed in a Nazi’s skull or carved a swastika into their forehead.
Which makes it really hard (and somewhat disturbing) to picture Adam Sandler in the role. Allegedly Quintin Tarantino pushed hard for Sandler to play Donowitz, but the actor had to decline due to scheduling conflicts. We just… wow. Adam Sandler can do drama, but seeing him play somebody as messed up and crazy as the Bear Jew would be a sight to behold. It would have either been a completely hilarious disaster (as someone on Youtube pointed out) or it could have made us reevaluate what we thought of Sandler as an actor while ruining our image of Billy Madison in the process.
7 Sean Connery as Gandalf
We are now approaching complete “WTF” territory with these castings. Ian McKellen is a classically-trained Shakespearian actor and activist who has appeared in countless iconic roles. Perhaps his most famous is that of Gandalf the Grey (or Gandalf the White in the later movies), the wise wizard who aids the heroes in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Although the movies are not all of equal quality, the Middle Earth franchise has become one of the most lucrative in cinema history and McKellen’s Gandalf is one of the greatest characters to ever grace the silver screen.
Thank God McKellen got the part, as Gandalf could have been a disaster. At the time of preproduction, most of the main actors Peter Jackson had in mind were lesser-known. In order to bring some star power to the franchise, producers offered the role of the wizard to Sean Connery. Yesh, Sean Connery. Hearing his hard Scottish accent coming out of the mouth of Gandalf the Grey would have been laughable. Not to mention, Connery ultimately turned the part down because he “couldn’t understand the script." In other words, we almost got a Scottish Gandalf who didn’t understand anything about the Lord of the Rings story or lore. Yikes.
6 A Bunch of Amazing Actors (and Ashton Kutcher) as Batman
Much like James Bond, everyone wants to play a superhero nowadays. Actors pine for a role within the MCU or DCEU, and with good reason: even the less-popular or critically panned films within these universes go on to make hundreds of millions of dollars. Batman is one of the oldest and most popular heroes in the world of cinema, with nine feature-length films going back as far as the ‘60s. Over time, it seems like everyone has tried out for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Funnily enough, many of the actors portraying the villains in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy ended up landing in their roles after auditioning for the Caped Crusader himself. Both Cillian Murphy and Heath Ledger (Scarecrow and the Joker) went into the casting call thinking they were going to be playing Bruce Wayne. Keanu Reeves was in the running twice; first back when Batman Forever needed to replace Michael Keaton, and then again when Zach Snyder was looking for an older, grizzled Batman for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Maybe the weirdest of all the actors up for role, however, was Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher auditioned for the part during the early days of Batman Begins. Seeing Kelso from That ‘70’s Show as the Dark Knight would have been ridiculous. That would be like casting Eric Foreman as Venom! Wait…
5 5. Nicholas Cage as Superman
This entry is one that everybody knows by now, but simply can’t be left off the list due to its pure WTF status. Years after the fourth and final Christopher Reeves Superman movie was released, director Tim Burton wanted to reboot the Man of Steel in a style similar to his Batman movies. He planned on making Superman Lives much darker than the squeaky-clean movies of the past, and would do so by basing it off of the infamous Death of Superman comic arc. The film was in preproduction before it got canned, with a script, costumes, and main cast all set to go.
And Nicholas Cage was Superman. Holy cow, would this have been something to behold. Just look at that costume! The squished “S” symbol, the weird glossy texture… and that mullet! How were we supposed to take Superman seriously here? Cage is an extremely hot-and-cold actor. If given proper direction he can turn in an Oscar-nominated performance. If not, well, let’s just say he can go off the deep end with hilarious results. Do we even need to say more about this one?
4 Britney Spears as Allie Hamilton
Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, The Notebook has become the go-to romantic drama of the 2000s, and for good reason. Yes, it was kind of sappy and overly on-the-nose at times, but the leads had great chemistry and the plot had enough substance to keep audiences invested. The film was also responsible for bringing Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams into the national spotlight.
So why on earth did the producers ever consider Britney Spears for Allie Hamilton!? Recently Gosling admitted that he had done screen tests with his former Mickey Mouse Club costar while helping the director search for his costar. This is just so mind boggling to us. Spears doesn’t have many acting credits in the world of film in which she doesn’t play herself. She has a few minor roles in TV, but that’s it. It’s next to impossible to see Britney Spears eliciting the same type of response out of us that McAdams was able to. Spears’ inclusion would have most likely tanked the movie and stifled (if not prevented) McAdams's rise to stardom.
3 Robin Williams as Jack Torrance
It’s been ingrained in our head for as long as we can remember: the image of Jack Nicholson breaking down the door with an axe and then uttering the terrifying line “Heeere’s Johnny!” It’s one of the greatest scenes in horror movie history, made even better by Nicholson’s downright terrifying performance. As Jack Torrance in The Shining, Jack Nicholson delivered one of the greatest performances ever put on the silver screen. He was subtly creepy at some points during the film and purely off-the-wall insane at others.
Now, let’s imagine Robin Williams in this role. Stanley Kubrick told the actor that the part of Torrance was his, but Williams turned it down. Although he is mostly remembered as a comedic actor, Williams has done dramas and thrillers over the years with highly-acclaimed results. One of these films included him as a creepy photo-developer that became obsessed with one of his customer’s family. It was creepy, but it was also praised by critics everywhere. That’s the worst part about this whole potential casting-- it’s not a stretch to picture Williams in the role. Childhood ruined.
2 OJ Simpson as the Terminator
James Cameron’s Terminator movies are, without a doubt, two of the greatest sci-fi action movies ever made. Although everything after T2 has been sub-par at best, the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicles completely changed the game when they came on the scene. In the titular role Schwarzenegger was ideally employed; his voice and demeanor were perfect for a lumbering robotic killing machine. He was absolutely terrifying in the first movie, and his performance in the second movie as a machine learning to become human is the stuff of legends.
Of course, James Cameron didn’t have Arnold in mind when he started in on the movie. Instead, he had pegged football star and actor O.J. Simpson as the T-800. Let’s back up a step here… O.J. Simpson as the Terminator would have been interesting, to say the least. For starters, the franchise would be dead right now for sure. T2 came out in 1991, and O.J. Simpson had his famous trial in 1995. There is no way that this wouldn’t have tarnished the franchise, resulting in the cancellation of any and all sequels and retroactively hurting the first two entries. Cameron said that in the end he didn’t go with Simpson because “…people wouldn't have believed a nice guy like O. J. playing the part of a ruthless killer.” We’re not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole…
1 Arnold Schwarzenegger as King Koopa
You wanted “WTF casting decisions?” Well, here is one that makes you say “WTF” for a different reason: Arnold Schwarzenegger was the director’s first choice to play King Koopa in 1993’s Super Mario Bros. movie. Just let that sink in. The big, brawny Austrian actor would have completely changed the movie in a completely amazing way! He looked more the part than Dennis Hopper ever did; he was big, intimidating, had a cool voice, and yet was the master of cheese when he wanted to be. Hopper reportedly phoned it in during production, but we just know in our hearts that Arnold would have given it his all.
Super Mario Bros. was a pretty awful movie. But maybe, just maybe, Schwarzenegger as Koopa could have pushed it into the “so bad it’s good” territory. We can hear it now, his thick accent saying the oh-so-awful quotes like “Where’s my pizza?” (an actual King Koopa quote) or some new corny one-liner like, “Hasta la vista, Plumber.” It’s also funny to think about how he would have played off of the crotchety Bob Hoskins and sarcastic John Leguizamo (who portrayed Mario and Luigi). This is one that leaves us scratching our heads over why it never came to fruition.
There have been a huge number of dodged bullets in the world of film casting throughout the years, and we know we didn’t hit them all! Let us know who we missed in the comments!