It’s the same story, whether you work in office buildings, behind a bar, or on the sets of the most famous films: when you’re offered a risky job, it’s hard to tell if it’ll pan out in your favor. No one knows the future.
Actors have very few clues about how well a project will go before they sign on for the project. These days, when an actor signs on for a film project, they usually have little more to go on than a few pages of the script and a short description for the film, usually akin to the kind of description we get on IMDB. From that, they’re expected to sign a contract (for at least one film, sometimes 3-10 films) stating that they will be in the film, regardless of quarrels with changes to the script or even major changes in the plot. Sometimes actors are released from their contracts, but that can be just as damaging to their careers and reputations as a movie that ends up getting bad reviews.
The actors on this list probably thought they were making clever career choices by walking away from certain projects or signing on for others. How were they supposed to know that these movies and tv shows and even casual conversations would change the shape of their entire careers? Unfortunately, these actors have made a few mistakes along the way and these mistakes have certainly cost them dearly. Here they are: the 15 worst career missteps in Hollywood.
14. Molly Ringwald Turned Down the Lead in Pretty Woman
No doubt, we all probably would have cringed when we got the synopsis to Pretty Woman: “a man in a legal but hurtful business needs an escort for some social events and hires a beautiful prostitute… only to fall in love.” That doesn’t sound very enticing! The role of the prostitute, Vivian Ward, was originally offered to Molly Ringwald, star of such 1980s brat-pack movies such as Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. When offered the role, she shied away from it because she wasn’t comfortable with the content in the film (there are a few risque scenes) and she wasn’t crazy about the idea of playing a prostitute. After walking away from the film, the role was offered to Julia Roberts. While taking the role could have helped Molly seem more mature in the eyes of her aging audience, rejecting it made her seem unable to handle such complex roles. Her career has never reached such heights since.
13. John Travolta Turned Down Forrest Gump
We know: John Travolta as Forrest Gump? That could have been terrible. Nevertheless, the role was not offered first to Tom Hanks. In fact, it was offered to Travolta as well as Bill Murray and Chevy Chase; it seems that directors were prepared to take Forrest Gump in a more comedic direction, which certainly would have changed the tone of the iconic film. Travolta later admitted that turning the role down was a career mistake. While Tom Hanks’ career took off after the film, Travolta hasn’t reached levels of success beyond those of his 1978 film, Grease, or the 1994 film, Pulp Fiction, which some speculate he rejected the role of Forrest Gump in favor of. However, his mistake was clear when both films were nominated the following year for best actor at the Oscars and Tom Hanks took the stage while John Travolta sat remorsefully in the audience.
12. Matthew Broderick Turned Down Walter White in Breaking Bad
Now that the series is over and the awards have been given, it’s hard to imagine anyone playing the weirdly lovable Walter White other than Bryan Cranston; however, he wasn’t the first draft pick for the role. In fact, Matthew Broderick was. When the series started, Broderick was most famous for his roles in Ferris Bueller’s Big Day Off, Glory, and Godzilla. He turned the role down in favor for a few smaller scale dramas and a more lucrative Broadway career. Meanwhile, Bryan Cranston snagged up the role and it completely rejuvenated his film career for at least the next ten years. While rejecting the role certainly didn’t blow Matthew Broderick’s career, it certainly would have done him well to take the role. Imagine if Broderick were winning over some of the roles in Cranston’s more recent movies, in which he was cast largely based on his work in Breaking Bad: films like Trumbo, the newest Godzilla, and Argo. Walter White could have saved Broderick’s film career!
11. Hugh Jackman Turned Down James Bond in Casino Royale
When studios most recently decided to revamp the James Bond franchise, the role had already been played by Barry Nelson, Bob Holness, Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Christopher Cazenove, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan. Of course, when casting the elusive and sexy role again, producers wanted an actor with sex appeal, a suave demeanor, and the ability to perform convincing stunts. Who better than actor Hugh Jackman to fill the role? At the time, he’d already been in two X-Men movies as Wolverine and had proven his mettle in the action movie world. Yet, he turned the film down because he was prepping for filming his next X-Men movie, X-Men: The Last Stand (which ended up being quite the stinker). So studios moved on to Daniel Craig, who is now iconic for the role. Surely, refusing the role has not done much damage to Hugh Jackman’s career (especially since he stars in a new X-Men movie every couple of years), but it certainly would have changed everything about the franchise.
10. Tom Selleck Turned Down Indiana Jones
Tom Selleck is best known for his starring role on the 1980s television show Magnum P.I. He was quite beloved for the role, so when an offer came along for a potentially risky role in a George Lucas movie being made in the midst of the wildly popular Star Wars franchise, Selleck was hesitant. An archaeologist/adventurer hired to find a treasure before Nazis do? That sounded a bit too outlandish for this actor. Instead, the role went to one of George Lucas’ favorite Star Wars actors, Harrison Ford, and the Indiana Jones franchise became one of the most iconic in film history. After turning down the role, his career took a downturn as well; his greatest roles afterwards were in Friends, 3 Men and a Baby, and Blue Bloods. While he still acts, he’s nowhere near as iconic as he could have been had he taken the role of Indy!
9. Nicolas Cage Declaring Bankruptcy
If you ask Nick, he’ll claim that he lost all of his money because his financial manager made bad and unauthorized real estate investments. That’d be unfortunate if it were true, but it wasn’t; Nicolas had to know that his lavish lifestyle couldn’t last. At one point, his assets included fifteen estate homes around the world, two medieval castles, rare art, high end jewelry, two islands in the Bahamas, dinosaur skulls, albino king cobras, the Shah of Iran’s Lamborghini, four yachts, a famous haunted house, shrunken pigmy heads, a crocodile, a shark, an octopus, a private jet, and many other wildly unnecessary things. He thought he could afford it, after making over $150 million in such amazing films such as Leaving Las Vegas, Gone In Sixty Seconds, National Treasure, and Windtalkers; of course, he could not. Now he’ll take almost any job in efforts to pay off his vast debts.
8. Chris O’Donnell Turned Down Jack in Titanic
Chris O’Donnell seemed to burst onto the scene in the early 1990s with roles in Fried Green Tomatoes, The Three Musketeers, Batman Forever, and The Bachelor. He was rapidly building a name for himself as one of the sexiest young actors on the scene. When audition time came for Titanic, he didn’t fight hard for the leading role of Jack Dawson and turned down opportunities to become a front runner for the role. Eventually, the role went to Leonardo DiCaprio, whose career before the film was only slowly gaining traction with roles in Romeo + Juliet, Marvin’s Room, and The Basketball Diaries. After Titanic, his career blew up and in the next years, he starred in The Man in the Iron Mask, The Beach, and Gangs of New York. Though it took a while yet for Leo to win an Oscar for his sensational performances, he has become one of America’s most beloved actors while Chris O’Donnell is stuck on NCIS: Los Angeles.
7. Lindsay Lohan And Her Many Drug/Alcohol Abuses
Oh, poor Lindsay. We placed so much faith and love in her in the beginning of her career. The youngster broke onto the scene with her leading roles in The Parent Trap, and she kept relevant as she grew up with roles in Life Size, Get a Clue, Freaky Friday, and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. However, once she began to stray from Disney and kid-friendly films and into more adult audiences, our child star got into some trouble. In 2007, about the same time she starred in the troubling film Georgia Rule, Lindsay was convicted twice of drunk driving (one of those times, she was also under the influence of cocaine). Her troubles only got worse from there, with mugshots and several stays at rehabilitation clinics. Now, she’s lucky to get guest roles in TV shows with waning popularity, like 2 Broke Girls and Anger Management.
6. Mel Gibson and His Racist Remarks
For those youngsters out there born mid-90s and later, you may not remember when Mel Gibson was known as a total babe. Back in the days of Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, and Hamlet, Mel was the sexy action hero all men wanted to be and all women wanted to be with. Then, he got a little crazy. He showed his fervor for the Catholic church with his 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, and none of that was bad! It was after that when he began to show his racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and sexist true colors. He drunkenly ranted at police about how Jewish people were responsible for all the world’s wars; he threatened to rape his ex-wife because “she deserved it;” and he is one of the few douchebags left that still uses the word “gay” as an insult. As a result of his reckless and hateful behavior, the only studios that hire him seek him out for the nostalgia of the cool actor he once was, rather than the awful person he’s turned out to be.
5. Michael Richards and His Racist Remarks
While we’re on the topic of racist actors, we may as well mention the career ruining outbursts from Michael Richards at one of his comedy shows in Los Angeles. If you don’t know Michael Richards by name, you likely know him by his most famous character’s name, Cosmo Kramer (from the popular 90s television show, Seinfeld). After the show wrapped in the late 90s, Richards went on tour doing stand-up comedy for a long time, cashing in on his famous name. In 2006, at a Hollywood Laugh Factory show, a group of late comers interrupted his stand-up routine and he heckled and verbally harassed them, throwing racial slurs. After the fact, he claimed they were meant as jokes, but no one thought it was very funny. The outburst ended his stand-up career, and he’s had very few film and television roles since. It even took years for his dear friend Jerry Seinfeld to forgive him!
4. Brian Dunkleman Walked Away From American Idol
Remember who Brian Dunkleman is? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who forgot. He’s an actor/comedian who was a co-host with Ryan Seacrest on the premiere season of the hit television show, American Idol. If he’d stayed on board with the show for the entire run, everyone would likely know his name (just like we all know Ryan Seacrest). However, after the first season, Brian didn’t have faith that the series would continue very long, so he took his modest earnings and left the show before it might tank: BIG mistake. The series continued for 14 more years, all of which Seacrest hosted and accrued massive wealth and fame for. Meanwhile, Dunkleman went back to doing standup and touring around the nation, making only a decent living. When asked if he regrets leaving the show, Dunkleman professes that he’s happy with his decision and happy with how his life has turned out; however, he’d probably be a lot happier if he had the added fame and fortune that American Idol would have given him.
3. Paul Reubens and Public Self-Pleasure
Here’s another name you may not recognize, but you’re sure to recognize his most popular character: Pee-wee Herman. Pee-wee Herman was an iconic movie and television series for children (and adults) throughout the 1980s. Pee-wee’s Playhouse was basically a 1980s version of Blue’s Clues, and he was a household name for families. What’s the one thing that can ruin the career of a kids show star? Sexual deviance. In 1991, Paul Reubens was arrested for masturbating in an ‘adult’ movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. Immediately after, Pee-wee’s Playhouse was cancelled. Can we really be surprised at the arrest, though? It was an adult movie theater – what else would go on there? Besides, Pee-wee would look up girl’s skirts on his show, too! He was never a good role model to begin with! It’s been a long and arduous road, but Paul Reubens is finally earning back some of his cache in the industry.
2. Ashlee Simpson Lip Syncing on Saturday Night Live
Jessica Simpson‘s younger sister desperately sought to reach high levels of fame and fortune; they were eager to become the next Kardashian family (you know, to become famous for doing very little). Ashlee attempted to gain that fame through her brief film and television career in 7th Heaven, Malcolm in the Middle, and Melrose Place, but pursued with more vigor her music career. Her album ‘Autobiography’ was a huge hit, especially among the 2000s teenage community, and it even earned her a performance on Saturday Night Live. Apparently, the pressure of the widely viewed performance was too much and, when her second song came on, technical issues arose and it was clear she had been lip-syncing the entire performance. SNL cast members were shocked, and the audience was appalled. It ruined any potential she had for a music career. These days, Ashlee is focusing on her family rather than fame.
1. Eddie Murphy Going for the Pay Day
Eddie Murphy was once known as one of the most raunchy and hilarious comedians out there. Some of his most popular movies when he first rose to fame and hit the film scene were Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, and The Nutty Professor. He became so famous that studios would beg him to take roles. For a while, he was selective and picky about the roles he took. Even when they weren’t gut-busting and hilarious, they were still enjoyable, like Shrek, Dr. Dolittle, and Mulan. Then he realized that, if he were taking all of these roles, he’d be making a lot more money! He started starring in some terrible films, like all the sequels to Shrek and Dr. Dolittle as well as The Adventures of Pluto Nash, The Haunted Mansion, and Norbit. Sure, he may be wildly wealthy, but the roles he’s elected to take have damaged his career a dangerous amount.