Sometimes you see a movie and can’t imagine someone else playing the lead role so perfectly, but the fact is, the actor barely scored that part. There are so many actors under consideration for every role, and when choosing, the directors, producers, and screenwriters often disagree. And once the behind-the-scenes guys agree, the actor might have other ideas. Sometimes an actor’s ego or money gets in the way, or there’s a scheduling conflict, a personality clash, or there’s no romantic chemistry with the female lead. Perhaps there’s just one little scene that the actor refuses to do, but the script won’t be changed, and the actor walks out last minute.
Whatever the case may be, there’s an entire parallel cinematic universe, with the majority of major films cast with different leads. In some cases the casting change might not have made a difference. Moviegoers might have been thrilled with either option and the script was so great that it didn’t matter. But what if it had? A different actor could have brought a totally new vibe to the film, which poisoned the whole production, and sent the movie crashing into box office failure. Other casting decisions sent actors’ careers soaring into superstardom, while those who passed on certain roles sent their careers spiraling downward into a lull that they never recovered from.
It’s fun to imagine a film with another face. Deep down, we all imagine ourselves in the lead, so sometimes, changing the actor isn’t that big of a stretch. Just for a second, it’s easy to imagine even the most outrageous of casting changes, and here are some of the best.
17. Katniss Everdeen
This iconic role rocketed Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom, and its sequels made her a ton of cash. But what if Abigail Breslin scored the role instead? Breslin definitely has shown the acting chops after getting nominated for an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, but could she have pulled off the abrasive action hero toughness as well as Lawrence? Who knows, maybe the chemistry between the other leads was a factor. Another actress considered for Katniss was the hot brunette, Lyndsy Fonseca, who few may recognize from Kick Ass. Actually, this poor girl’s career has gone nowhere. Like many actors, she is still waiting for another chance at a major breakthrough role.
Shrek is a money making machine. It’s cute and funny, with jokes that make both the kids and the parents laugh. And it’s animated, so the franchise can go on forever with limitless possibilities. But one possible cast member that got away was Chris Farley. Audio was recently released which featured a Farley-Shrek talking to Donkey, and the mood is quite different. Instead of Mike Myers’ phony Scottish brogue, Farley gives the ogre no accent, and an increased sense of authenticity. The ogre’s temper tantrums are still there, and powerful, but they come on suddenly, instead of the constant moaning and groaning of Myers. But honestly, the killer script would’ve soared either way.
15. Jack Dawson
Everyone has seen Titanic, and all the girls swooned for DiCaprio the entire film. But it was Christian Bale who almost scored the lead. Bale would have brought an edgier Jack, not quite as sweet and innocent as Leo, perhaps a reason why James Cameron eventually turned Bale down. Or wait, was it Bale who did the passing? As any Hollywood gossip goes, there were two versions of this story. Bale ended up doing all right for himself, but as far as A-listers go, Leo is on the top of the heap, and wouldn’t have made it there without Jack.
14. Mace Windu
Samuel L. Jackson did a pretty good job conferring with Yoda, but what if Tupac Shakur landed the role instead? Believe it or not, Tupac was under consideration for the film’s cast in its early stages. What would a Star Wars film have done for the rapper’s street cred? And what if he was doing a script reading in LA, instead of being in Las Vegas the fateful day he was shot? Another role Shakur almost scored, which is even more shocking, was Bubba, the not-so-bright best buddy of Forrest Gump. What a difference that casting change would have made!
13. Indiana Jones
So how would Indiana Jones have looked with a big, full, beautiful mustache? Well he would have sported one if Tom Selleck had taken the role. Instead, he was too busy with scheduling for Magnum P.I. episodes and had to pass. This role could have been Tommy’s ticket into the movie business, but instead his career stayed locked in television, unless you count Three Men and a Baby, which is really no comparison. Another guy up for the role was Chevy Chase. His name seemed to have been tossed around a lot, until it was tossed away. When’s the last time that poor guy made a film?
12. Jack Torrance
Now this may be one of the weirdest casting ideas yet. Instead of Jack Nicholson rocking the role of the ax-wielding dad, it was almost the late, great Robin Williams who was cast. He even met with Stanley Kubrick who decided that Robin was not quite right for the role. If he would have been cast in The Shining, it could have changed the whole trajectory of his career. Instead, Robin did a steady stream of comedic efforts, and didn’t really show off his dramatic chops until winning an Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Nicholson also beat out Williams for another iconic role, Batman’s favorite nemesis, the Joker.
11. Lieutenant Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell
This character had about every actor you could think of considered for the role. Who wouldn’t want to be in Top Gun? Flying around like a maniac, singing to hot girls at the bar, sleeping with Kelly McGillis, playing beach volleyball with a bunch of sweaty shirtless dudes. Well maybe not that last part. For some reason this role was turned down left and right by: Scott Biao, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Swayze, Nicolas Cage, Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox, Tom Hanks and more. Robert Downey Jr., Jim Carrey and Charlie Sheen auditioned and got turned away. Tom Cruise killed it though. Good choice.
10. Forrest Gump
“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” When Tom Hanks signed up for this role he surely didn’t expect to get an Oscar, and neither did John Travolta, who passed on the dim-witted hero. Another actor that turned the part down was Chevy Chase. Sure, Chevy had good luck with the national Lampoons, Family Vacation and Christmas flicks, but his career was beginning to take a downturn when the Forrest Gump script hit his desk. The role launched Hanks into Hollywood legend territory, but would Chevy have followed that same path? Bets are the film would have flopped, as did Chase’s career.
9. The Terminator
This was not a difficult role to act. Shoot a bunch of guns and stomp around like a robot. There were only 16 lines for you to memorize. Anybody could have done this part… but OJ Simpson? Really? Well, he did move pretty well in those Hertz rent-a-car commercials. Not to mention a legendary NFL career. And he was hilarious in the Naked Gun. But what it comes down to is, The Terminator was fictional murderer, not the real thing. There’s a big difference there. One more odd choice considered for the role was Mel Gibson, another womanizing dirtball, but at least he didn’t kill anybody.
8. Sam Wheat
This guy had all the girls going crazy with one word: Ditto. They wanted to take some pottery classes ASAP, and get that wet, sloppy clay all over their bodies. It was a hot love scene that established Demi Moore as a definite sex symbol, and rekindled Patrick Swayze’s appeal since Dirty Dancing. The movie was a success, but first it was turned down by a ton of actors including: Kevin Bacon, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, David Duchovny, Kevin Costner and Alec Baldwin. Willis thought the ghost idea would fail, and ultimately learned from his mistake, by playing a spirit in the box office hit The Sixth Sense.
7. Bella Swan
If anyone has watched any of the Twilight movies, too bad. They were awful. The acting was bad, the script was bad, the special effects, direction, soundtrack, even the guy doing the lighting screwed up. It may just be the worst movie saga that ever existed. But would it have been different if Hollywood’s lucky charm were involved? Could Twilight have been saved by a starlet so hot that everything she touches turns to cinematic gold? Nope, Twilight failed in the casting department too. Jennifer Lawrence auditioned for the female lead and was turned away. Does that mean she would have dated that vampire dude too?
6. Johnny Utah
In Point Break, Keanu Reeves, plays the ex-college quarterback to perfection, with just enough stupidity that you might really believe he was a college athlete. His chemistry with Patrick Swayze is perfect and it’s no surprise when the two become such close friends that Keanu lets Pat surf that last killer wave. But the role nearly went to Charlie Sheen instead. Sure Sheen did well as an athlete in Major League, but how well would he have done playing an undercover cop? It would have seemed less believable for Sheen to be adopted by surfers—he seems more of the motorcycle gang type.
5. Han Solo
Long ago, when Star Wars wasn’t the biggest thing in the cinematic galaxy, George Lucas and his crew wasn’t too sure whom their renegade pilot was going to be. The role was offered to many hotshot actors of the late 1970s including: Burt Reynolds, Kurt Russell, and get this, even Chevy Chase and Steve Martin. Those last two guys are way out of left field. Maybe Chevy could have pulled it off, but Steve Martin? Star Wars was almost a comedy! Billy D. Williams was also under heavy consideration and ended up playing Lando, who is written pretty much Han’s twin.
4. Miss Vivian Ward
Now this is a role that launched a Hollywood legend. Landing the lead in Pretty Woman made Julia Roberts one of the most successful actresses ever. That big mouth, big eyes, contagious smile, and distinctive laugh all came into full bloom. So charismatic that she made prostitution seem like a legitimate option. But what if the role had gone to Michelle Pfeiffer instead? Pfeiffer’s career was already beginning to dwindle, and this film could have propelled her back into the spotlight. Michelle’s saving grace was being cast as Catwoman, but her career had peaked, never quite reaching the height of Julia.
3. Detective John Kimble
Okay, there are a lot of actors on this list that are very similar. You could have switched them out and nobody would have noticed. Like Pacino for DeNiro, or Downey Jr for Depp. But how about switching Arnold Schwarzenegger for… Danny DeVito? Seems like they had no idea who should be the detective in the action-comedy Kindergarten Cop. Bill Murray was also considered for the role and turned it down. Now that is a versatile lineup of actors. But the role did Arnold a real favor, and boosted his career. Proving that he could be funny, and even good with kids, a rare talent for a bodybuilding brute.
2. Oskar Schindler
Now there are a couple huge digs at Harrison Ford on this list. First nobody wanted him to be Han Solo, which turned out to be arguably the best badass in the whole sci-fi movie genre. Then nobody wanted him to be Indiana Jones, perhaps the coolest Nazi killer that ever graced the screen. He was awesome in both of those roles, and had fans begging for more, so much that he did Indy 4 and Force Awakens for millions. But Oskar Schindler? That’s some heavy stuff for old Harry. He turned the role down, worried that Indy fans wouldn’t take him seriously. He’s probably right.
1. Captain Jack Sparrow
Johnny Depp really nailed this role initially, and then sequels kept going and going and Depp got weirder and weirder. Maybe that disaster would have been avoided if Jim Carrey had landed the role. Jack Sparrow would have surely been goofier, and not such a dirty drunk. Jim missed playing pirate due to scheduling conflicts with Bruce Almighty. There are a ton of other iconic roles that Jim passed up including: Buzz Lightyear, Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, and Gaylord ‘Greg’ Focker. He also lost out on Edward Scissorhands and Willie Wonka, so make that three strikes, with Depp firing from the mound.