With millions of dollars being spent on the production of a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s easy to forget that these massive films were once just words on paper and that they could’ve easily been drastically different had a few decisions gone another way during the production process. Among the many aspects of film-making that need to be juggled when making a massive blockbuster film, one of the most important decisions is getting the casting just right.
Every memorable cinematic character you’ve seen in a Hollywood blockbuster such as Neo from Matrix or Han Solo from Star Wars was only made possible after going through countless great actors and essentially taking a risk. Whilst some casting decisions seem perfect today and some would-be casting decisions would’ve improved a film, there were several instances where another actor was nearly cast in an iconic film role and the movie could’ve very well been ruined. Had a few things gone just slightly differently during the casting process, some of your favourite Hollywood blockbusters would’ve been completely different and not in a good way.
So here are 10 near-casting decisions for some of Hollywood’s biggest films that would’ve probably turned out badly.
10. Bad Boys – Dana Carvey And Jon Lovitz As The Titular Bad Boys
Bad Boys was one of Will Smith’s first major films and Michael Bay‘s first directorial effort. Whilst audiences were unfortunately introduced to Bay’s trademark ‘style over substance’ directing, the film’s shallow spectacle was mitigated somewhat by the great buddy-cop bromance that Smith had with Martin Lawrence. But the film originally wasn’t meant to be about a heap of explosions and black cops who walked with a swagger and sprouted campy one-liners. Far from it actually.
During the film’s development stage, the original script was titled Bulletproof Hearts and Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey were cast as the buddy-cop duo. That’s right, the original Bad Boys were meant to be played by a couple of SNL veterans. As funny and talented as Lovitz and Carvey are, having Tommy Flanagan from SNL and Garth from Wayne’s World being bad-ass cops would’ve reduced Bad Boys from stupidly entertaining to Transformer-levels of awfulness.
Due to issues with the script and other disagreements between studios behind the scenes, Lovitz and Carvey were eventually dropped, the film was rewritten a few more times, Smith and Lawrence were cast, and Bay was hired as the director.
9. Star Wars – Burt Reynolds As Han Solo
Before Reynolds became somewhat of a walking punchline in the acting world, he was one of the biggest stars in the world during the 1970’s. Whilst his filmography includes classics such as Deliverance and Smokey And The Bandit, he had the chance to be forever immortalized in pop culture when he was in the running to play Han Solo in Star Wars. Apparently, Reynolds was told to turn the part down by his agent. He’s regretted that decision ever since. But as history has shown, Harrison Ford is the one and only Han Solo for everyone so Reynolds turning down the role is probably the best thing that could’ve happened.
8. The Matrix Trilogy – Will Smith As Neo
With groundbreaking special effects, a unique post-apocalyptic story, and Keanu Reeves as Neo, The Matrix is one of the best science-fiction movies ever made and still continues to hold up 16 years after its release. Whilst Reeves’ performance as the stoic Neo is memorable, it would’ve been interesting to see what Will Smith could’ve done with Neo had he not turned the role down.
Smith was offered the choice between The Matrix and Wild Wild West. After some deliberating, Smith decided that The Matrix was kind of dumb and decided that the steampunk-influenced Wild Wild West was the better movie. Well, you know how that turned out.
But despite his regrets over turning down The Matrix in favour of Wild Wild West, Smith is smart and wise enough to admit that he probably would’ve completely scuttled the role of Neo. And he’s probably right. Smith’s wise-cracking and out-going Neo would stand out horribly in the bleak Matrix universe compared to Reeves’ stony-faced take on Neo.
7. Knocked Up – Christina Aguilera As Alison Scott
Knocked Up was Judd Apatow‘s take on the ‘accidental pregnancy’ story and his second directorial effort surprised everyone. Not only did critics love it and audiences splashed out over $200 million worldwide to watch it, the film also launched the careers of Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. But there was a brief period where Heigl’s role was actually offered to Christina Aguilera, proving that Hollywood never really learns from their mistakes (Britney Spears and Crossroads anyone?).
Thankfully, Aguilera turned the role down as she wanted to focus on her music and playing the role of a slightly uptight pregnant woman didn’t seem as appealing as prancing around onstage in skimpy outfits.
Based on the drama that unfolded after working with Heigl though, you can be sure that the producers did kind of wish that Aguilera had taken the role as she would’ve probably been easier to work with and she probably wouldn’t have trash-talked the film during her promotional rounds instead of, you know, promoting it.
6. Titanic – Macaulay Culkin As Jack Dawson
Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Macaulay Culkin both cut their teeth as successful child actors. DiCaprio starred in a heap of well-received indies before his fame skyrocketed when he scored the lead role in Titanic. Culkin on the other hand was wildly successful at a young age before he slowly faded away from the limelight by the time Titanic came out. But had a few things gone just a bit differently, Culkin probably would’ve been the biggest star in the world for a time and DiCaprio probably wouldn’t have become a household name.
When the lead role of Jack Dawson was being cast for Titanic, Culkin was actually considered for the part. Not to diss the guy’s talent, but there’s something very wrong about having the kid who constantly screamed at the camera in Home Alone also being the one to shout out “I’m the king of the world!”
James Cameron eventually cast DiCaprio for the role and the rest has since become movie history as DiCaprio rode the wave of fame to being one of the industry’s most respected actors whilst Culkin does whatever he feels like and performs with his Velvet Underground parody band, the Pizza Underground (not a joke).
5. Thor – Tom Hiddleston As Thor
The two Thor films aren’t exactly Marvel’s best efforts, but regardless of all the plot-holes and their general mediocre-ness, audiences lapped it up whilst Chris Hemsworth‘s and Tom Hiddleston‘s performances as Thor and Loki, respectively, have since become their signature roles. But this could’ve went in a completely different direction had the producers went with one of their original choices: Tom Hiddleston as Thor.
Before he was offered the role of the charismatic and mischievous Loki, Hiddleston had actually auditioned for the part of Thor. And based on his leaked audition tape, boy did he go full out for the role. Hiddleston stacked on 20 pounds of muscle, donned a blonde wig, and immersed himself into Thor’s world. Despite his efforts, Hiddleston was turned down (thankfully) in favour of Hemsworth, but the producers liked him so much that they offered him the part of Loki as a consolation prize.
Still, had the producers not stumble across the epitome of manliness that is Chris Hemsworth, Thor might well have been a scrawnier leading hero who spoke with an English accent and could go toe-to-toe with Tony Stark in the banter department.
4. Ghost – Bruce Willis As Sam Wheat
If someone mentioned the movie Ghost to you, chances are that you’ll know of Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and their infamous ‘making a pot’ scene. Well, that romantic scene could’ve taken a whole new level of meaning had Moore’s then-husband, Bruce Willis, been cast in Swayze’s role as it was originally planned.
Apparently Willis was offered the chance to star alongside his wife but he turned it down because he “just didn’t get it” and he thought that the whole dead husband romance schtick would never work. It definitely was for the best when Swayze was cast instead as Willis’ acting range seems to be limited to gruff and angry, and getting him to do a romantic movie would’ve stretched Ghost’s already-unbelievable premise to an area where the sun doesn’t ever shine.
It all worked out in the end though. Ghost became a massive hit that is still one of the most referenced films in pop-culture, and Willis got to star in his own ghostly story when a chap named M. Night Shyamalan wasn’t a walking punchline just yet.
3. Alien – Meryl Streep As Ellen Ripley
With an innovative premise, an unforgettable alien antagonist, and a kick-ass leading lady in Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, it’s easy to see why Alien continues to be considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. Had the stars aligned just a bit differently however, the great Meryl Streep would’ve been the one battling the Xenomorph instead of Weaver.
During the casting phase, Ridley Scott was due to meet with the final two front-runners for Ellen Ripley: Streep and Weaver. However, Streep’s long-time partner had just passed away and apparently the producers thought that it wouldn’t seem right to have her come all the way to New York for an emotionally draining film, so they decided to cast Weaver instead.
It almost seems almost sad that one of the greatest horror films ever just missed out on having one of the greatest actresses of all time. But no disrespect to Streep, who probably would’ve given a new and Oscar-winning take on the Ellen Ripley character, she lacks that hard edge and iron will that Weaver has and what the Ripley character is best known for. Besides, it’s not like Streep needed another great film on her envious filmography, unlike the next actor…
2. Forrest Gump – John Travolta As Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump has become one of pop culture’s most recognizable characters due to his sweet sincerity and Tom Hanks‘ ability to play the role of a mentally-challenged man without becoming a walking punchline. But proving that life really is a box of chocolates, Tom Hanks wasn’t the first choice for the role and the chance to play Forrest Gump was initially given to none other than John Travolta.
Upon being offered the role, Travolta turned it down but has since regretted that decision. Well it seems like he’s the only one who regrets that choice as it’s hard to picture anyone other than Hanks as Forrest Gump. Travolta has made a career playing cool and suave characters so having him play a mentally-challenged character would’ve been difficult to take seriously.
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Sean Connery As Gandalf
Ian McKellen‘s take on Gandalf is probably his most well-known role and one that has netted him accolades and fans everywhere. But Gandalf’s famous “you shall not pass!” line very nearly took in a distinct Scottish flavour when Sean Connery was offered the role.
Connery was reportedly offered a multi-million dollar payday and a 15% stake in the films to take the role of Gandalf. After reading the books and the script, Connery turned down the role because he just “didn’t get it.” With the benefit of hindsight, Connery’s decision meant that he lost out on a potential $400-million payday. However, McKellen is Gandalf and it would’ve been difficult to see what Connery could’ve brought to the Gandalf role other than a thick Scottish accent.
When he saw how big and massive the LOTR films became, Connery decided that maybe the fantasy genre is worth having a look at and signed onto A League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen because he thought ‘hey, it’s the same thing, right?’ Well you know how that film turned out. Connery decided that retirement was a more attractive prospect than donning some wizard robes and playing make believe.