From the outside looking in, it’s hard to say how truly stupid some of the decisions actors make actually are. For the big stars, they must have roles being offered to them all the time. They can’t take them all so they have to choose the ones that will make them the happiest, or the richest. This can be like betting on horses. Sure, there’s going to be a horse that has a great track record and looks to be a heavy favorite, expected to do well, but sometimes betting on the long shot can pay more dividends. This happens all the time in Hollywood. Most of the time, however, these bad bets don’t hurt an actor too badly. Especially if they’re megastars.
So what are we looking at here? Well, let’s start with what we’re not looking at. We’re not looking at stars who turned down major roles that didn’t visibly impact their careers. So, no, Jack Nicholson turning down the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather won’t be on here considering he would do Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest right after, not exactly a lull in his career. No, Al Pacino turning down Han Solo in Star Wars or Daniel Day-Lewis turning down Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings are not here. Sure, these roles may have made them even more rich, but these guys did alright. Pacino would remain one of the most legendary actors of all time without Star Wars and Day-Lewis has won two of his three Best Actor awards post-Lord of the Rings. We’re looking at major negative impacts. We’re looking at decisions, either taking a bad role or turning down a good role, that changed their careers forever, probably for the worse. Here are 15 stars who made catastrophic career Decisions.
15. Molly Ringwald – Turned Down Pretty Woman
Molly Ringwald was the definition of the “it girl” in the 80s. When she first teamed up with director John Hughes in Pretty in Pink, Ringwald became an overnight sensation. She would increase her fame with The Breakfast Club and the sky was the limit. Ringwald was then offered another role in a Hughes film, Some Kind of Wonderful, which she turned down because of how closely it was linked to Pretty in Pink, which it was. She said that she would prefer to act in more adult roles, but when one came along, Pretty Woman, Ringwald turned that down too because it was too risqué. These two decisions would haunt her career. Though she would show up in the odd film after this, her fame would plummet.
14. Shelley Long – Left Cheers
Recognize the name? Maybe not. Maybe you’ve forgotten. Recently she’s played DeDe Pritchett on Modern Family, Jay’s ex-wife and Claire and Mitchell’s mom, but she was once a massive star on Cheers. In 1987, after five very successful seasons, Long left the show. She’s said that the decision was made for a few reasons, but mainly spending more time with family and not wanting to get stale on Cheers were the primary ones. Though she says she never regretted, she definitely did. After Cheers, her career was relegated to bad movies. Yeah, she played Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch modern remakes, but other than that, she did next to nothing. It’s not hard to imagine that if she was given the chance to go back and do it all over again, Long would have stayed on the Cheers, made buckets of money and had a more successful career once the show fizzled out naturally.
13. Will Smith – Did After Earth Instead Of Django
Will Smith bleeds money, so saying that he has made any bad decisions is risky, but there’s an argument to be made that Smith’s career is in a downward spiral. There’s also an argument to be made that this spiral has been spiralling for quite a while. Things could be worse for Smith. That’s for sure. But there’s a large possibility that things could be better for him as well. For all the smart things Smith has done in his life, there are some really bad decisions as well. Let’s start with him turning down the role of Neo in The Matrix to play in Wild Wild West. Say what you will about The Matrix as a trilogy, but it’s still miles ahead of Wild Wild West. Then there was the decision to turn down Django Unchained. Smith has cited a few conflicting reasons why he declined the role of Django, but the reality is he turned it down then went on to make After Earth, a colossal disaster of a movie. Bad trades Will.
12. Gwyneth Paltrow – Turned Down Titanic
As much as Gwyneth Paltrow takes a lot of criticism for her personality, she’s had a successful career. Yet, with all the success she has had, she’s scattered in some really bad decisions in there as well. There’s one that really takes the cake and that’s turning down the role of Rose in Titanic. Yeah, Paltrow’s been in some great films since 1997 and has done exceedingly well, but what could her career look like if she got the same recognition as Kate Winslet did? You say, “wait!” Paltrow won an Academy Award the next year for Shakespeare in Love. You’re right, but that was one of the most controversial award wins in the history of the Oscars. It was also an incredibly weak year for female performances. Winslet has gone on to earn seven nominations, while Paltrow has become a secondary figure in film.
11. Chris O’Donnell – Batman Forever Instead Of Titanic
The word on the streets is that Chris O’Donnell and Leonardo DiCaprio were connected in two ways in the mid-90s. When the guys in charge of Batman Forever were looking for a character to play Robin, the decision was said to be down to two candidates, O’Donnell and DiCaprio. Well, we know who got the role and, even though O’Donnell got a nice payday from it, the role certainly didn’t help his career. These two would be competitors once again when it came time to cast for Jack Dawson in Titanic. This time DiCaprio got the role and O’Donnell did Batman & Robin. One of these films did really well and the other did horrifically horrible. Can you guess which is which?
10. Katherine Heigl – Knocked Up Complaints
Katherine Heigl‘s catastrophic career decision didn’t come from turning down a role or ever taking a bad role, it came when she opened her huge mouth and bit the hand that fed her, twice! After earning film fame on Knocked Up, Heigl came out and criticized the film and the negative portrayal of women, yet, amazingly she didn’t return the money that she received for playing this disgusting, sexist role. Then, the next year, she withdrew her nomination from the Emmy Awards because she felt her character wasn’t up to the quality of the awards—spitting right in the face of the showrunners and writers. Surprisingly, it would take two years until she was written off the show and, since then, Heigl has been relegated to awful rom-coms, a bed she made for herself.
9. John Travolta – Did Battlefield Earth
The legend of Battlefield Earth has traveled far and wide, but despite recent claims that this stinker is “so bad, it’s good”, this movie is all bad. Every single second of it is bad. It’s said that long-time Scientologist John Travolta, wanted to make this movie for a while, but struggled to find the funding for it. Then in about 1998, they tracked down some investors, Travolta included in that, and got rolling on the film. Turning down a role in Green Mile along the way, Travolta would go on to star in this flick and look about as stupid as a man can. Since the catastrophic failure of this film and holding the title of “the worst film ever made” in many different circles, Travolta’s career has never fully rebounded and maybe never will.
8. Katie Holmes – Mad Money Instead Of Dark Knight
Remember Mad Money, the heist flick with Katie Holmes, Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah? Well, if you didn’t see it, here’s a rundown. It’s a friggin’ awful movie. The reason we’re talking about this film is because Katie Holmes turned down the chance to reprise her role as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight for this movie. Does she regret it? If you ask her, no. If you ask for a true answer, of course she does. Mad Money made about $4 million more than their budget at the box office. Not bad, but that’s pocket change compared to the over $800 million in excess of their budget in The Dark Knight. That’s a big difference.
7. Dougray Scott – Turned Down Wolverine
Imagine a world where Dougray Scott took the role of Wolverine instead of Hugh Jackman. Scott was offered the role but, unfortunately for him, couldn’t accept it because shooting for Mission: Impossible II ran over schedule. Is this Scott’s fault? Not really. But we’re putting him on here because it was a bad decision to try out for the role in the first place. If he never tried, he would have never known that he was so close to becoming a megastar. If he never tried, he wouldn’t look up to the sky every time a plane passes by overhead, thinking, “there goes Hugh Jackman in his private jet.” If he never tried, he would have never failed, a life lesson for all the kids out there.
6. Halle Berry – Did Catwoman
Halle Berry blames a lot of the people around her for the disaster that is Catwoman. Her critique of her own performance, while it does exist, was more tongue and cheek than anything serious. But, when she accepted her Razzie, she famously quipped, “I want to thank Warner Bros. for casting me in this piece-of-sh–, god-awful movie.” This is subtle, but she is pushing the blame here. It was you who chose to take the role Berry, and you who contributed to make this “piece-of-sh–, god-awful movie.” Berry’s career has never been the same since she made the decision to play a superhero and act a fool. It is unlikely that we’ll ever see pre-Catwoman Halle Berry ever again.
5. Sean Connery – Turned Down Gandalf
Sean Connery was a brilliant actor in his heyday. There’s no doubting that. What we do doubt is how Connery would have done in the role that he famously turned down because the script confused him, that being the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. It’s impossible to picture Gandalf not being played by Ian McKellen anyways. The man seems like he was born to play the role. Connery would not do much else in acting after he turned down the iconic role, a decision that he says he regrets, if only for the money. Maybe we’re alone in this, but Connery’s voice is too Conneryish to play Gandalf anyways. It would be distracting hearing him say “Hobbitsh” over and over again. Or, better yet, imagine him saying Gandalf’s most famous lines: “you shall not pash” or “fly you foolsh.” It just wouldn’t have the same appeal.
4. Emily Browning – Turned Down The Role Of Bella Swan
After Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight books, said that her first choice of actresses to play Bella in the series would be Emily Browning, people began to question why Browning never took the role. Well, it turns out that Browning didn’t technically turn down the role, but she did turn down the audition. Perhaps, as the favorite of the author, she had a good chance to land it and become a megastar, and perhaps the series would have actually been decent with Browning instead of horrendous with Kristen Stewart, but who knows such things. All we know is that Browning turned down a lot of cake by saying no to the role, and her career since the decision hasn’t been anything to write home about, though she is very talented.
3. Michelle Pfeiffer – Turned Down Pretty Woman & Lambs
Michelle Pfeiffer took time off acting to be with her family more, but before that, she turned down some iconic roles which would have done a lot for her career. That’s not to say that Pfeiffer’s career struggled, just that it never became would it could have become. The two big ones that she turned down were the leads in Pretty Woman because she didn’t like the character and how it would look on her and Silence of the Lambs because she didn’t like the excessive violence in the film. Though Pfeiffer has voiced some regret about these decisions, she did have a successful career after them. If she would have done either of these roles though, she may have become one of the biggest stars on the planet as she was already a big name in the industry. Look at what those two movies did for the stars who did take the roles, Julia Roberts and Jodie Foster.
2. McLean Stevenson – Left M*A*S*H
When an actor makes a massive, career-destroying decision in Hollywood, they often connect it to McLean Stevenson. Stevenson will go down as the model for what it means to have it all and throw it away betting on yourself. Stevenson was cast as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake on the TV series M*A*S*H, and his career blew up. He was one of the most popular cast members in a very talented ensemble. Then, after the third season of the insanely successful TV show, one of the most successful television shows in the history of show business, Stevenson asked to be written off because he was tired of playing second fiddle to Alan Alda. Before he left, he said, “I know I will not be in anything as good as this show, but I have to leave and be number one.” He was right. He would never again act in a show even close to as good, and he would live to regret this fateful decision.
1. Paul Giamatti – Turned Down The Office
When the American adaptation of The Office was first being discussed, the iconic role of Michael Scott was offered to Paul Giamatti. At the time, Giamatti was coming off of his role in Sideways and was earning a ton of recognition for his acting chops. Turning down the role because he wanted to focus on film would certainly be a poor decision for Giamatti, but not career-ending. Giamatti, on the one hand, though he would struggle to find the heights he had with Sideways (until Barney’s Version at least), has remained a force in Hollywood, albeit more of a side character than the main star. Steve Carell, on the other hand, the guy who would take the starring role on The Office, became one of the most recognizable comedians in the world. That being said, it’s tough to imagine anyone else other than Carell playing Michael Scott. It’s not crazy to suggest that if Giamatti takes the role, the show doesn’t take off as it did, and this article is about Giamatti making a catastrophic decision by accepting the role and not turning it down.