As we have covered before on this site, it is commonplace in the Hollywood film industry for everything from movie endings to entire scripts to become subject to change at the very last minute. Just as easily as key production details can change at the drop of a dime, casting changes happen just as fast and often. Actors can be swapped in and out of the film after filming halfway into production. Or, in some cases, after production has already been nearly wrapped up. It may seem unreasonable for those outside of the industry, but for those familiar with how the Hollywood game works, it is just one of many tricks of the trade to crafting a successful film. Filmmakers can be a persnickety pit of perfectionists sometimes. If they sense the smallest of mistake or if they think something isn’t working no matter how late it is into production, they are willing to add millions to an already inflated budget to rectify costly mistakes. An actor–yes, even the main star–can be cast into a movie early into pre-production, but by time production is halfway underway, they are switched out with another actor.
There seems to be a certain negative connotation when it comes to making such drastic changes late into production. But really, a lot of good can come out of certain productions that make last minute changes. Much like movie magic in action, we would have never seen some of film’s greatest moments and performances if certain actors weren’t replaced in iconic roles with the actors we have grown to associate them with. Here are just a few examples of some good (or depending how you look at it, not so good) instances where a last minute casting decision paid off in the end.
15. Tom Selleck – Indiana Jones
The role of Indiana Jones is all too iconic of a role to even try to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing. Before production even began, Steven Spielberg suggested to George Lucas that he should cast Ford as the character. Nevertheless, Lucas was reluctant because after casting Ford in his three prior movies—American Graffiti and the first two Star Wars films—Lucas feared that Ford would become the Robert De Niro to his Martin Scorsese. Basically, an actor who becomes overused in all of his films. Lucas asked every actor except Ford to play the part until Tom Selleck signed on. Selleck got as far as pre-production, taking screen tests in costume. Suddenly, CBS stepped in after they picked up Selleck’s pilot for Magnum PI. Because they thought filming Raiders of the Lost Ark would conflict with filming the first run of episodes of Magnum PI, they refused Selleck from doing both. In a stroke of dumb luck, production of Magnum PI ended up being delayed long enough until Raiders was finished filming. By then, it was too late and Ford was already cast as Indy.
14. Mark – The Room
Anyone who has seen Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic The Room would know just how much of a bizarre affair the whole thing is. It is the Shakespeare of bad films. It’s hard to find a film that is worse than The Room, but at the same time, it is so unapologetically unusual that it becomes increasingly entertaining the more it goes on. Fittingly enough, the making of the film is just as unusual and equally fascinating. That’s why James Franco made a movie about it called The Disaster Artist. One strange tidbit from the set is that of the casting of the Mark character. In the film, Mark is played by producer Greg Sestero, but it was a whole other story when production first commenced. At first, Mark was played by an unnamed actor who filmed on the first day of filming. However, somewhere along the way, Wiseau became increasingly annoyed with the actor’s poor performance and fired him on the spot. Soon afterwards, Sestero agreed to take his place.
13. Ryan Gosling – The Lovely Bones
Ryan Gosling can be quite the method actor. The recently Oscar nominated star of La La Land fully commits himself to every single role that he immerses himself in and his starring role in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones was no exception. When he was cast in the role of grieving father Jack Salmon, he pictured a depressed and overweight shell of a man. And that’s exactly how he arrived to the set on the first day of production, which might have been all well and good if Gosling had consulted the director on the matter beforehand. When Jackson saw his star show up to the set 60 pounds heavier with a fresh beard, Jackson was irate enough to fire the heartthrob. After putting a pause on production momentarily, Mark Wahlberg was eventually signed on to replace Gosling. While many of us still contemplate whether or not Gosling would have given a better performance than Marky Mark, most of the attention garnered for the film was directed towards the supporting turn from Stanley Tucci anyway. Gosling likely would have been overshadowed just as much as Wahlberg was.
12. Annette Bening – Batman Returns
For most audiences, the highest thing to receive praise out of Batman Returns was Michelle Pfeiffer‘s head-turning performance as Catwoman. In character, Pfeiffer was everything that Catwoman needed to be: sexy, menacing, exciting, etc. Forgive the pun, but she was purr-fect. So perfect it’s shocking to know that she wasn’t originally cast. Originally, Annette Bening was supposed to star alongside Michael Keaton in the Tim Burton superhero nightmare. Burton thought Bening would be perfect for the role after seeing her in The Grifters and she was enthusiastic to work with him. Bening had signed on to play Catwoman and everything. She was ready to get into her latex costume, until she received the sudden news that she was pregnant. For this reason, she had to drop out right before production went underway.
11. Stuart Townsend – Lord of the Rings
For many, Viggo Mortensen was always the ideal candidate for Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings franchise. From the gritty presence he exuded to his very look, Mortensen represented exactly what J.R.R. Tolkien envisioned. Which makes it all the more shocking to think that someone else would have taken his place. Stuart Townsend was actually the original actor cast for the trilogy. Taking his role extremely seriously, Townsend went as far as to take up two months’ worth of rigorous training to get into shape for the character. Sadly, all of that hard work proved to be in vain for Townsend as he filmed on set for only a couple days before being told by director Peter Jackson that this wasn’t working out between them. Not just because Townsend proved to be more lackluster than Jackson expected, but because Jackson realized he was too young for the part. After that, Jackson had the much older and more experienced Mortensen to fill in Aragorn’s shoes.
10. Dougray Scott – Wolverine
After Logan is released in theaters, Hugh Jackman is expected to hang up his claws as the Canadian war machine, Wolverine. For 17 years, Jackman remained a constant highlight throughout the X-Men series. It’s amazing to think that Jackman’s consistently entertaining performances would have never seen the big screen if the original actor didn’t drop out of the role. Despite Russell Crowe—who was the studio’s first choice until he turned them down—recommending the then-relatively unknown Jackman for the role of Wolverine to the studio, they opted to cast Dougray Scott in the role. He actually signed on for both the 2000 film and the impending sequel, but right before filming could get underway, Scott had to drop out after scheduling conflicts arose between X-Men and Mission Impossible II. Scott chose to film the latter and in a last ditch effort, the studio brought in Jackman. The studio took a big gamble on the Australian musical singer to pull off playing the rugged mutant, but it was a gamble that paid off.
9. Jean Claude Van Damme – Predator
One may see action star Jean Claude Van Damme’s name on this list next to Predator and immediately think that he was originally meant to play Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s part in the lead, but he was actually supposed to fight Arnie’s character on set. That’s right, JCVD was supposed to be the Predator creature. Right before he found his breakout role in Bloodsport, Van Damme was just a stunt double trying to make ends meet. He was chosen to work under the then-vastly different Predator suit due to his martial arts background and agile aerobic body. Soon after production was already underway, the filmmakers and studio realized that they needed a more physically imposing actor to match the physique of Arnie and Carl Weathers. Van Damme also sealed his fate on the set after complaining that the suit was too hot and difficult to work in. Van Damme said in the 80s that he left production for the sake of his safety, although contrasting reports claim that Van Damme was fired for complaining so much. However, after his replacement spouted the same complaints, the crew decided to redesign the Predator costume into what it is today.
8. Stuart Townsend – Thor
Poor Stuart Townsend. The guy just can’t catch a break, can he? Just as he got sacked unceremoniously from the set of Lord of the Rings, Townsend also got sacked from the set of Thor as well. In this case, he was set to play Fandral the Dashing. Things changed when, suddenly, just before filming had begun, Townsend left the production (or was fired, depending on which reports you believe) due to “creative differences.” Neither Townsend or anyone at Marvel have piped up to declare what those differences may have been about, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that Josh Dallas hit the jackpot when he took Townsend’s place as the Asgardian warrior. Unfortunately for Dallas, things weren’t much better for him as he would end up dropping out as Fandral for the sequel due to commitments to his television show, Once Upon A Time. He was then replaced by Zachary Levi, who hopefully can stick around longer than both Dallas and Townsend.
7. Chris Farley – Shrek
A death can put quite a damper on a film’s production. In some cases, a late actor’s performance can remain in the film as a posthumous one if they filmed at least the majority of their required scenes. In other cases, if the actor dies early enough into production, they are usually replaced by someone else. But in other cases—especially when it comes to voice acting—things have to start from scratch no matter what. This was the unfortunate case when funnyman Chris Farley passed away after having already filmed most of his dialogue for Shrek. Mike Myers was then cast to replace him, but called for the entire script to be rewritten so that he could start anew with no traces of Farley left in the script. Myers also asked to re-record all of his lines in a Scottish accent after already recording most of the new dialogue at the cost of an extra $4 million for production. These kind of demands may seem unreasonable, but they were necessary in order for Myers to come into his own as the Shrek character without being compared to the late great Farley. Considering the positive legacy of the Shrek franchise, it all paid off.
6. Dennis Hopper – The Truman Show
One of the most captivating aspects of The Truman Show is the show stealing performance of Ed Harris. The bulk of the film’s praise gravitated in favor of Harris as he earned a flurry of awards for the award, including a Best Supporting Actor win at the Golden Globes and an Academy Award nod. It’s perplexing, yet interesting, to think that it was originally supposed to be Dennis Hopper in the role. Yes, Hopper was the man originally supposed to play the creator of The Truman Show, Christof. He even filmed a few scenes, but after filming stretched out a certain amount of time, he and director Peter Weir started to butt heads. So much so that Hopper left in the middle of production over what has only been described as “creative differences.” Harris was then brought in as a last minute replacement. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The role which Hopper threw away turned into statuette gold for Harris.
5. Tobey Maguire – Life of Pi
The funny thing about last minute casting changes is that when an actor gets removed and recast from a film in post-production, it means they essentially acted their butt off for no reason. Sure, they still get their paycheck regardless, but all of the tiring weeks of filming seems wasted after being erased entirely from the final product. Take Tobey Maguire’s role in Life of Pi for example. When he was cast in 2011, he was the only recognizable Hollywood face in a cast filled with unknown and international names. He was cast in the role of the book’s author Yann Martel. However, well into post-production after all of Tobey Maguire‘s scenes had been filmed, director Ang Lee decided he should go all the way with taking up a globally unknown cast and re-filmed all of Maguire’s scenes with virtually unknown Rafe Spall as Martel. It turned out Maguire being such a big star cost him a spot in a film, oddly enough.
4. Samantha Morton – Her
Before Scarlett Johansson became the sultry voice behind Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her, the role belonged to Jonze’s frequent collaborator, Samantha Morton. In fact, Morton had actually recorded all of the dialogue for Samantha until the very end of production. It wasn’t until Jonze began editing the film in post-production before he realized that he may have cast the wrong actress as his female lead. As he was listening to Morton’s voice again while editing the film, he decided that everything that he needed the character of Samantha to be was different from how Morton executed the role. Therefore, Johansson was brought in, re-recorded all of Samantha’s lines for the film, and that was the version of Samantha that made it into the final cut of the film.
3. Paul Dano – There Will Be Blood
In There Will Be Blood, Paul Dano pulled double duty as twin brothers Eli and Paul Sunday. Originally, the characters were not written as twin brothers and Dano was only cast in the role of Eli. The bigger role of Paul Sunday went to Kel O’Neil before production went underway. However, O’Neil had already filmed a handful of scenes, he was gone from the set. There are conflicting reports regarding why O’Neil departed halfway through the 60-day production. Some sources claim that it was because O’Neil left after being intimidated by star Daniel Day-Lewis‘ intense method acting regiment. Both Day-Lewis himself and director Paul Thomas Anderson doubt this to be true. Other sources claim that O’Neil was fired when Anderson was disappointed in the performance O’Neil had been giving alongside Day-Lewis. Whatever the case was, it worked out in Dano’s favor as his dual role as Eli and Paul Sunday earned Dano much critical acclaim, including a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
2. Frank Sinatra – Dirty Harry
The role of “Dirty” Harry Callahan proved to be such a perfect role for Clint Eastwood that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Yet, when Warner Bros. first purchased the Dirty Harry script, Frank Sinatra was signed on to play the lead. This may sound like a strange choice, but Sinatra technically fit the role more than Eastwood did. In the script, Harry was described as someone in their mid-50s and Sinatra was 55 years old when he signed on, whereas Eastwood was 41 when he took over the part. All things considered, Sinatra was perfect and ready to play the role of his career. Unfortunately for Sinatra, he suffered a wrist injury on the set of The Manchurian Candidate. It was such a bad injury that he had difficulties trying to hold Harry’s signature .44 Magnum and had to back out right before filming could commence. After the studio made several offers to big name actors—including Burt Lancaster and John Wayne—and got declined every time, they finally put the script on Eastwood’s table and he loved it. The rest, as they say, is history.
1. Eric Stoltz and Melora Hardin – Back to the Future
When production for the first Back to the Future film was underway, Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty McFly. It wasn’t until halfway into production that director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg realized how miscast Stoltz was. Stoltz was always a fine actor, but his performance throughout the set was too serious for the light-hearted tone of the film. Knowing that recasting would add another $3 million to an already bloated $14 million production, the filmmakers took that risk by firing Stoltz in favor of bringing in Michael J. Fox. Stoltz’s case is perhaps the most infamous case of a last minute casting decision, although he wasn’t the only one on set swapped out at a moment’s notice. Melora Hardin, who was the original actress cast to play Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, was kicked to the curb after Stoltz was fired. The reason being because the crew realized that Hardin was much taller than Fox and since they didn’t want the film’s protagonist to be comically shorter than his girlfriend, she was replaced by Claudia Wells.