It’s the climax of Ghostbusters; Mr. Stay Puft is rampaging through New York. Peter Venkman, played by John Belushi, is cracking wise about getting the giant sailor laid. Egon Spengler (Michael Keaton) and Winston (Eddie Murphy) are awaiting the arrival of Gozer, the doors swing open and out strolls… Pee Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. Believe it or not this was the original plan when Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had finished the script and the duo were in the process of casting the 1984 classic-then called "Ghost-Smashers".
This is by no means the only film that swung in a wildly different direction than had been intended. Jim Carrey was originally cast in Meet the Parents, even coming up with the idea of the main character being named Focker. Here, we take a look at some other movies that either had a lucky escape or missed opportunity, depending on your point of view. Let us know what side of the fence you land on. Enjoy.
10 Raiders of the Lost Ark
Unlike most other films on this list, this was a done deal. Tom Selleck had accepted the role and had signed on to play Indiana Jones. Selleck’s chance to don the iconic fedora was snatched away quicker than the snap of a whip when the pilot of a TV series that he had filmed (Magnum P.I) was picked up and Selleck was legally obligated to star in the series.
Just to add further insult to injury, the star recently revealed that he didn’t actually have to turn down the role: “They held the offer out about a month. And the more they held out the offer and talked to the network, the more the network said, 'no…' So I go to Hawaii to start Magnum [P.I.], the actors go on strike, and I had given my deposit to a landlady and I couldn’t afford a security deposit. So I start working as a handy man, in Hawaii, with no job. And guess who comes to Hawaii to finish their movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I could’ve done them both.”
George Lucas - who had initially been against the idea of using an actor he had worked with previously, eventually relented to Spielberg’s choice and the role went to Harrison Ford. An unlikely team up would occur when cartoon series Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers had the titular characters don Indy and Magnum’s outfits for the show.
9 Iron Man
Has there been a more perfect piece of superhero casting then that of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man? The troubles of casting Downey in the role he has now become synonymous with are well documented. Perhaps less well known is that, for years, another A-list star was nailed on to not only star in the role, but to produce, having assisted with securing the rights to the character when they shifted from Fox to New Line. When the rights ended up at Paramount and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige got involved, Tom Cruise was still very much on the radar, commenting “There have been discussions (with Cruise) over the last several years and there are a number of factors involved. All we know is that we’re putting all the pieces in place and then we’ll find the best Tony Stark that we can get.”
Cruise ended up dropping out after being unhappy with a draft of the script that focused on Howard Stark being the movie’s villain, which he felt didn’t stay true to the character’s comic roots: “When I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work.” When Jon Favreau took the director’s seat, he overlooked bigger names for a then un-bankable Downey Jr, remarking that no one else can be such a “likeable a#@hole.”
8 Men in Black
Having been turned down by Chris O’Donnell who didn’t want to do another “new recruit” role like Robin from Batman Forever, the producers turned their eye to another up and coming actor… David Schwimmer! Yes, when the original script, which was closer in tone to its much darker comic book origins was proposed, the plan was to have Ross from Friends team up with Clint Eastwood to take on the scum of the universe. Showing staggeringly bad judgment, he turned it down in favour of starring in The Pallbearer, explaining: “This is an opportunity to grow rather than go for the quick cash.” Quite what exactly “grew” in a film where he chases Gwyneth Paltrow around a funeral is beyond me.
Schwimmer has never been able to shake his TV roots and, by contrast, Will Smith’s star went supernova. This is one I feel the artist formally known as Geller would like to have a neuralyzer for, to wipe this decision from his memory.
7 The Terminator
O.J. Simpson’s name is now forever linked to... ehh... let’s say The Naked Gun and various other more murderery stuff. He was also tagged to play unstoppable killing machine The Terminator in James Cameron’s 1984 classic.
The reason Cameron decided not to go with “Juice” was ironically that “People wouldn’t have believed a nice guy like O. J. playing the part of a ruthless killer” (let's hope Cameron is never on a jury). The studio was pushing hard for Simpson to take the role with eventual T-800 Arnold Schwarzenegger set to play Kyle Reese. Once Cameron met with the Austrian Oak, he changed his mind and offered the titular role to Schwarzenegger and Simpson was out.
Casting musical chairs would continue as Lance Henriksen, who had given an amazing audition arriving in character to add to the surprise of the casting director, would end up playing a cop in the film. The weirdness wasn’t quite over and if there is any reason to confirm that the 80s was a drug-induced haze, you need look no further then who was the film producers’ choice to step in as Kyle Reese. None other than Sting! So if everyone had gotten their way , this film would have been OJ Simpson chasing the lead singer of The Police around L.A. In 1990, Dark Horse Comics even printed a comic run with Simpson’s likeness replacing Schwarzenegger.
6 Django Unchained
For almost the entire decade of speculation before Tarantino eventually brought his western to the screen, it was nailed on that Will Smith would be his Django. The Fresh Prince, however, got cold feet after reading the script , turning it down because he “needed to be the lead.” Smith told Entertainment Weekly “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character was the lead!” referring to Dr King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz.
Smith instead took a role in After Earth which could be argued he wasn’t the lead in either. While Waltz ironically won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Smith has since followed up the disastrous After Earth with cameos in the equally disappointing Anchorman 2 and A Winter’s Tale, suggesting that his need for lead is cooling. The role would, of course, end up being played by Jamie Foxx but only after he had seen off competition from The Wire alumni Idris Elba and Michael K Williams. With Williams impressing Tarantino so much he says he almost wrote an entirely new character into the movie just to accommodate the actor. Williams however passed to take on a role in Snitch starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
This was not the only change as Kevin Costner who had previously dropped out of the titular role in Kill Bill was unable to take the role of Ace Woody in the film due to scheduling conflicts. He would be replaced by Kurt Russell, who himself would be forced to drop out before Tarantino eventually ended the casting merry go round by merging the character with Walton Goggins role as Billy Crash. Goggins who found himself holding the character equivalent of pass the parcel when the music stopped once Joseph Gordon Levitt dropped out to direct Don Jon.
5 Southpaw and Elysium
Despite being no more than passable at playing himself in 8 Mile and Funny People, Eminem continues to be offered A-list movie roles. After being offered the lead in Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, the rapper turned down the role due the fact the movie wasn’t going to be shot in his native Detroit. The role ended up being given to Matt Damon, who seems a bizarre second choice to a man with very minimal acting experience.
With Southpaw being shot in Detroit this obstacle was removed and Slim Shady agreed to sign up to the role which had been partially based on his own custody struggles with his daughter. However shortly before filming the producers were told that “he really loved it, but that he feels he’s a musician first and an actor second and he had a lot of inner energy going on for his next album and that’s where his muse was taking him.” With Eminem out, producers turned to Arron Paul (Breaking Bad), before eventually settling on Jake Gyllenhaal.
4 The Lord of the Rings
Turns out justifying hitting women isn’t the only bad decision that Sean Connery has made. Having already passed on the role of Morpheus in The Matrix, Connery would slip up again when Peter Jackson offered him the part of Gandalf. In addition to a $10 million (£6 million) per film salary, they offered Connery 15 per cent of the box office for all three movies. Apparently, Connery declined because he "didn't understand the script."
After The Lord of the Rings' runaway success, Connery then decided to accept the lead role in the next movie script he didn't understand: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Connery continued his trend of terrible decisions by acting like a diva on set and even, at one point, punching director Stephen Norrington. This would turn out to be Connery’s last role before his retirement.
Before Hugh Jackman was cast as the feral bundle of fury, names like Gary Sinise, Russell Crowe, Viggo Mortensen, Aaron Eckhart and even Jean-Claude van Damme were said to be on the shortlist. However, director Bryan Singer decided on Scottish actor Dougray Scott. Scott was finished shooting Mission Impossible 2 and prepping for the role when director John Woo summoned the cast back to Australia for reshoots, forcing Scott to bow out and leave the role free for Jackman to become a huge A list star.
Jackman is currently shooting the 3rd Wolverine spin off, while Scott is third-billed on a Jonathan Rhys Meyers movie. It's not all doom and gloom though, as Mission Impossible 2 did win the MTV award for best film. So every cloud and all that.
2 Jerry Maguire
Perhaps Tom Cruise’s best known role was actually written for sickeningly likable Tom Hanks (seriously, find one person who hates Tom Hanks). Hanks was busy about to shoot his directorial debut That Thing You Do! and had to pass on the role of the agent who develops a conscience. Hanks has no regrets on passing and the role and remarked that "I think you look at it now and it couldn't have been anybody other than Tom Cruise. It's the way the movie's operated. I don't think anybody would look at that now and say that movie was not perfect.”
Hanks was not the only actor who would end up with the script, as a copy was mistakenly sent to Hugh Grant. When asked about the mix up Grant humorously remarked “I do remember them sending me the script for Jerry Maguire and I rang up my agent and said there must be some mistake because you sent me a good script. They said, 'Sorry, there has been a mistake. It was meant for Tom Cruise.'"
1 The Lord of the Rings
Yes two The Lord of the Rings roles in one list, but this one is too bizarre to let go. Most fans of the series will know that Stuart Townsend was hired to play the part of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, but was replaced by Viggo Mortensen the day before shooting began. However, did you know that Townsend wasn’t the original choice for the role?
That honour goes to the new king of straight to DVD Nicolas Cage!!! Yes, the man who, of his last twenty movies I have heard of two and seen precisely one (damn you, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance). The most interesting part is the man who said "yes" to such cinematic milestones as Left Behind, the film where God takes all his followers to heaven but leaves the Castor Troy behind, said “no” to one of the biggest franchises of all time.
Cage explained turning down the role by saying “There were different things going on in my life at the time that precluded me from being able to travel and be away from home for three years. And I do mean it. I get to enjoy the movies as an audience member, because I don't watch my own movies.” On the bright side, if he had accepted the role we never would have gotten the sublime remake of The Wicker Man.