Movies are the most popular form of cultural media, period. Ever since it was first possible to record moving footage, films have been the go-to medium for the vast majority of people looking for an entertainment fix.
The key elements of any movies are the characters within them. Since the very beginning, movies have contained characters that will go down in history as being iconic – and that is in no small part down to the actors who portrayed them.
From Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) to Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), or Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) to Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), it’s really hard to imagine anybody else portraying the characters we all know so well and love so much.
However, with any given role comes the retrospective knowledge that someone else could have played it – and often the people who were in line for roles are made public before, during or after the casting. This article will look at ten iconic characters – who were made famous by actors portraying them brilliantly – and ten of the actors who could have ended up playing them if things had turned out differently.
10. Mia Wallace (Brigitte Nielsen)
Mia Wallace was the cocaine addict wife of Ving Rhames‘ Marsellus Wallace in 1994’s brilliant Pulp Fiction. She was played by Uma Thurman who totally dominated the role, getting an Oscar nomination for her performance and being the cigarette-smoking face of the majority of the marketing material for Quentin Tarantino‘s classic mobster movie.
However, Tarantino’s rather surprising first choice for the role of Wallace was Sylvester Stallone‘s ex-wife and star of Red Sonja, Brigitte Nielsen. Nielsen was a friend of a friend of Tarantino’s, but wasn’t interested in taking on the role.
Selected other actors who could have played Mia Wallace: Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rosanna Arquette, Meg Tilly, Holly Hunter.
9. Freddy Krueger (David Warner)
Horror villain Freddy Krueger has been played by both Robert Englund (in the original Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) and Jackie Earle Haley (in the reboot), but Englund is obviously the most iconic. However, he wasn’t even Wes Craven‘s first choice to play the character back in 1984.
That honour went to The Omen and Star Trek actor David Warner. That’s right, Wes Craven wanted Freddy Krueger to be an Englishman (and he actually got to the stage where he donned the make-up of the villain)! Warner would have made Krueger very different to what Englund did with him and it’s really hard to imagine the franchise being as successful with him in the role – in spite of his obvious talent.
Selected other actors who could have played Freddy Krueger: Billy Bob Thornton (that was in the reboot and barely any other information about potential castings for any version is available!).
8. Indiana Jones (Tom Selleck)
Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones has been played by Harrison Ford in four movies to date – the first and fourth of which were 27 years apart. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have all been hugely successful and imagining anyone else in the lead role is difficult.
It could have been Tom Selleck, however. The moustached star of Magnum P.I. screen-tested for the role and has long since been thought to have turned it down in favour of his iconic television show, but the truth is that CBS told him he couldn’t do it.
Selected other actors who could have played Indiana Jones: Chevy Chase, Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Jeff Bridges, Steve Martin.
7. James Bond (Henry Cavill)
James Bond is a character who has been played by six actors since Dr. No got the franchise under way back in 1962. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have all played the suave, Martini-drinking secret agent and countless other actors have nearly had the honour but, given current events, Henry Cavill is one of the most notable.
The actor who went on to play Superman (and is the current Man of Steel) first auditioned for the role of Bond back in 2005 – when he was just 22 – but lost out to Daniel Craig. He is now being linked to the role again when the time comes that Craig no longer plays the elite MI6 operative.
Selected other actors who could have played James Bond: Michael Caine, Sam Neill, Sean Bean, Paul McGann, Clive Owen.
6. Hannibal Lecter (John Hurt)
Hannibal Lecter is the highly-intelligent forensic scientist who also happens to be a psychopathic cannibalistic serial killer in the Silence of the Lambs movie franchise, which was based on the books, and the recent television series. He has been played by Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins and Gaspard Ulliel in the movies, as well as Mads Mikkelsen on television.
Hopkins’ is undoubtedly the most iconic of those portrayals, but he wasn’t actually the first choice to play the role. John Hurt (who had acted alongside Hopkins in The Elephant Man in 1980) was wanted for the part – and he would have been interested in taking it on – but he had to pass on it due to illness.
Selected other actors who could have played Hannibal Lecter: Derek Jacobi, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gene Hackman, Jeremy Irons, Christopher Lloyd.
5. Predator (Jean-Claude Van Damme)
The role of the Predator wasn’t a particularly demanding one, but it has certainly become iconic. All it really required was a physical presence and that was provided amply by little-known actor Kevin Peter Hall in the 1987 movie – but the role almost went to someone who went on to be a lot more famous than him.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was wanted for the part and, in fact, was actually cast originally – the plan being to make the Predator into a ninja-esque agile hunter. However, Van Damme wasn’t keen on how limiting the suit was when it came to what he could do in it, Hall was cast and the rest, as they say, is history. Van Damme starred in Bloodsport a year later and went on to be very successful.
Selected other actors who could have played Predator: Information unavailable (possibly nobody).
4. John Rambo (Al Pacino)
Given that Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed the majority of the Rambo movies in which he starred, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he created the character and was the only man in line for the role. That’s not the case, however, as the movies were based on the David Morrell novel First Blood and a number of actors were initially considered to play the tough-as-nails soldier.
Notably, Al Pacino was considered for the part and he showed some interest, but he turned it down. Pacino felt that Rambo should be more of a madman and felt the movie’s script had lost too much of the novel’s original intensity.
Selected other actors who could have played John Rambo: John Travolta, Kris Kristofferson, Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Michael Douglas.
3. Han Solo (Kurt Russell)
Cocky pilot and intergalactic ladies’ man Han Solo is one of the most popular characters in the truly iconic Star Wars franchise. Played by Harrison Ford in three movies to date, the veteran actor is due to reprise the role in this year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While it seems Ford was born to play the role, he was actually one of a large number of actors considered for the part and one of the most notable of the others was Kurt Russell.
The actor – who went on the star in movies like The Thing, Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China – auditioned for the part and hopes were high for him, but he was actually quite awkward in his screen test!
Selected other actors who could have played Han Solo: Christopher Walken, Sylvester Stallone, James Caan, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds.
2. Forrest Gump (John Travolta)
1994’s Forrest Gump was obviously a rip-roaring success for its star Tom Hanks – he won the Academy Award for the Best Actor in a Leading Role, after all – but the star of Big, The ‘Burbs, Turner and Hooch, Sleepless in Seattle and Philadelphia wasn’t even the first choice casting for the slow-witted Alabama native.
The actual first choice for the role was Grease star John Travolta, but rather surprisingly (and perhaps demonstrating as slow a wit as the lead character himself), he outright turned the opportunity down. Given some of the awful movies Travolta has appeared in since then, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s a decision he regrets!
Selected other actors who could have played Forrest Gump: John Goodman, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Gary Sinise.
1. Ellen Ripley (Meryl Streep)
One of the most bad-ass women in movie history, Ellen Ripley is the star of the Alien franchise. Sigourney Weaver landed the role as the warrant officer aboard the commercial spacecraft Nostromo and proceeded to kick Xenomorph rear for a further three films. The role could have been played by a very different actress, however.
Meryl Streep was considered along with Weaver – an old school friend of hers – for the role of Ripley, but she ultimately wasn’t called in to audition because her partner John Cazale had just passed away. Streep is a top class actor who has portrayed the likes of Margaret Thatcher on screen, but she isn’t averse to action roles – look no further than The River Wild for proof of that.
Selected other actors who could have played Ellen Ripley: Veronica Cartwright, Kay Lenz, Katharine Ross, Geneviève Bujold.