Casting directors are the unsung heroes behind big Hollywood successes – but they're also typically the first public scapegoats when movie-goers don’t agree with a major decision. Think back to audience’s initial response when Heath Ledger was announced as The Joker in The Dark Knight, or more recently, people’s mixed feelings about the “Batfleck.”
Typically, when an A-list actor gets a call for a major movie, it’s a fair bet that at least two or three other big names are also in the running. Whether it’s a Hollywood tactic to keep the pressure on or a creative decision to explore several unique takes on a role, many of us would be surprised by some of the names that were considered for our favorite roles in movie history.
It’s not unheard of for an actor to begin work on a project, only for filmmakers to decide it’s just not working out – and major casting decisions can disrupt filming right in the middle of principle photography. Regardless, looking at the names and characters on the list below, it’s easy to see how casting decisions can make or break a movie. These are ten insane behind-the-scenes possibilities that could have changed movie history – for better or for worse, but our bets are on 'worse' – if the studios had gotten their first picks.
12 12.Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly
You know him from Mask, The Butterfly Effect, Pulp Fiction and a long list of other famous films. However, if things had gone according to plan in 1985, movie-goers all over the world would know him as the scrappy and lovable time-traveling teenager from Back To The Future, Marty McFly.
Stoltz was originally cast in the role and even completed five weeks’ worth of scenes as Marty before director Robert Zemeckis and executive producer Steven Spielberg decided it just wasn’t working out. While both agreed his performance was “admirable,” it was obvious that Michael J. Fox’s comedic timing and on-screen presence were simply meant for the role.
11 Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones (and Batman)
At the height of his Magnum P.I. fame, Tom Selleck got the call for a number of major Hollywood roles that could have launched him into superstardom. Most famously, he made it to the final stages of casting for the role of archaeology professor/treasure hunter Indiana Jones – even shooting some test footage for producers – before the show runners of P.I. pulled the plug, citing contractual conflicts.
Selleck was also considered for the role of Batman in Tim Burton’s reboot of the franchise. While Selleck's signature 'tache would’ve been an impressive addition to Bruce Wayne’s playboy image, it probably would have been a dead giveaway as far as keeping his alter ego a secret goes.
10 John Travolta as Forrest Gump
In 1994, Forrest Gump launched Tom Hanks to Oscar-stardom, and his portrayal of the lovable title character helped him win the hearts of movie-goers all over the world. However, the original – potentially terrible – choice to sit on that park bench talking all day about boxes of chocolates and shoes? John Travolta.
The iconic role was also turned down by Bill Murray and Chevy Chase before eventually going to Tom Hanks. While Travolta admits that passing on the role was one of the biggest mistakes of his career, it’s hard to imagine anyone else cementing the character in movie history the way Hanks certainly did.
9 Pamela Anderson as Agent Scully
According to Gillian Anderson, the original casting call for Agent Scully of The X-Files was for someone a little closer to the look of another famous Anderson: they wanted a tall, busty woman with plenty of curves. Since Pamela Anderson had already reached megastar status with her role on Baywatch, producers originally approached her to play opposite David Duchovny. Fortunately for us, Gillian’s take on the character as a darker, more cerebral field agent won, and we got to see a strong, independent and intelligent female lead as a staple of network TV for nearly a decade.
8 Matthew Broderick as Walter White
Vince Gilligan famously wrote the character of a meth-cooking chemistry teacher turned big-time drug lord with Bryan Cranston in mind to play the role – but studio executives, who had only seen him as a goofy sitcom dad, weren’t on board at first. “We all still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcom In The Middle. We were like, ‘Really? Isn’t there anybody else?’” After first offering the role to Matthew Broderick and John Cusack, Cranston stepped in and carved out his rightful place in television history.
7 Aaron Paul as Francis Wilkerson
Speaking of Malcolm In The Middle, here’s another terrible casting decision that could have derailed TV history as we know it: In 1999, Bryan Cranston had already been cast as the dad on Malcolm in the Middle, and Aaron Paul auditioned for the role of the oldest Wilkerson son, Francis. If he had gotten the part, Paul admits he definitely wouldn't have gotten his career-making role as Cranston’s future meth cooking crony on Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman. Fortunately for us, producers never called him back, and Christopher Masterson stepped into the role.
6 Bill Murray as Batman
Before Tim Burton’s kooky Gothic reboot of Batman, producers considered taking the franchise back to its roots, imagining a truly campy Ka-Pow!-packed throwback to the early Adam West series. The natural choice to play this take on The Dark Knight? Bill Murray.
Additionally, the movie would have cast a young Michael J. Fox as Batman’s trusty sidekick, Robin, and David Bowie as The Joker... OK, this movie actually sounds awesome. Unfortunately, producers couldn't agree on the script, and it underwent about 10 rewrites before eventually fizzling out.
5 Britney Spears as Allie Calhoun
After her performance as Lindsay Lohan’s ruthless high school frenemy in Mean Girls, Rachel McAdams made a complete 180 to play a sweet Southern Belle in The Notebook. Her performance and onscreen chemistry with Ryan Gosling made her a superstar and an idol to teen girls everywhere – but the role could have gone to someone who'd already cemented her fame as a teen idol: Britney Spears.
4 Al Pacino as Han Solo
In 1976, George Lucas was right in the middle of casting his outer space epic, Star Wars. For the role of the fast-talking, sarcastic smuggler Han Solo, Lucas had one man in mind to play the part: Al Pacino.
Pacino had already made a name for himself as Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), and has said the role was his for the taking if he'd wanted it. Everything was perfectly in place for Lucas, except for one small problem: Pacino didn't understand the script, and so he passed it on to relatively unknown actor Harrison Ford, who snapped up what would turn out to be the role of a century.
Lucas shouldn't have taken Pacino's rejection too hard – Pacino has also said of the Godfather trilogy (you know, the films that put him on the map) that it’s a “long, awful, tiring story.”
3 Nic Cage as Neo
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Keanu Reeves as The One in The Matrix, but in 1999, that honor almost went to Nicolas Cage. While we can all agree Reeves was probably a better fit for the part, we can't help but think that if Cage had played Neo not only in the first – groundbreaking, record-smashing – film but in the following sequels, we wouldn't be stuck watching him in every other new release as he tries to make a living/pay for his multi-million dollar mansion and ridiculous comic book collection.
2 Sean Connery as Morpheus
Speaking of terrible casting mistakes that would have ruined The Matrix, producers originally offered the part of Morpheus to Sean Connery. All due respect to the former James Bond, we can’t imagine his signature accent delivering the iconic “red pill/blue pill” speech anywhere near as hypnotically as Laurence Fishburne.
1 Matthew McConaughey as Jack Dawson
Titanic was no doubt Leonardo DiCaprio’s catapult from child star to smoldering, grown-up heartthrob. However, if the studios had gotten their way, Matthew McConaughey would have won that fateful ticket. As it happened, both director James Cameron and already-cast female lead Kate Winslet fought for Leo to get the role.
Another casting role that could have sunk Titanic? Reba McEntire was originally offered and accepted the role of larger-than-life American socialite, Molly Brown, but ended up dropping it before the inimitable Kathy Bates stepped in.