Tom Cruise has had more than his fair share of iconic movie roles over his nearly four-decade long acting career: from the out-of-his-element Joel Goodsen in Risky Business to the uber-macho fighter pilot Maverick in Top Gun, his name has been associated with some of the best moments in modern cinematic history.
Of course, with a body of work as prolific as Cruise’s, there are bound to be more than a few roles left on his personal cutting room floor. He’s only one man, and he hardly has time to take care of everything on his plate. Though he may appear to be an unstoppable force in films like Mission Impossible or Edge of Tomorrow, he can’t exactly keep that up at all times. Though fans would certainly love to see him take on every role that he is offered, that, much like many of the missions in which he partakes, is simply impossible.
That said, he’s turned down more than a few roles in which he may have been a shining star, and it’s amazing to see just what this action star has refused in the past. From an appearance in an ultra-famous dance flick to a leading role in a well-known Will Smith vehicle, he could have been an even more titanic force in Hollywood than he already is had he only said yes to these fifteen roles. It’s strange to think that, had he signed on to some of these projects, he may even have ruined the careers of some of his colleagues before they even started.
Hot off the sock-clad heels of his success in 1983’s quirky coming-of-age comedy Risky Business, Tom Cruise was offered a role in the dance epic Footloose. Though he was interested in the project, he was unfortunately forced to decline thanks to a pending engagement in another picture. That film was 1983’s high-school football drama All the Right Moves, which, though a decent flick in its own right, wouldn’t be nearly as well remembered as the other film in which Cruise could have taken part. Despite its relative cult status, Footloose would have been a much more impressive film for Cruise to add to his then-burgeoning acting career. Yet, had he accepted the job, he may have been considered an inappropriate choice for many of the action films in which he would later star.
Salt, an Angelina Jolie-led 2010 action-espionage film, originally didn’t have a role for a leading lady of such caliber. In fact, early in development, the titular Salt was actually going to be played by Tom Cruise, who initially expressed interest in the part. However, the actor apparently didn’t quite want to commit, and the studio was forced to seek alternative actors and actresses of equal widespread appeal. They eventually settled on Jolie, and the film’s script was altered to account for this casting change. While Salt turned out to be a serviceable crime drama, it could have potentially been a very different sort of film had Cruise officially signed on.
13 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The fantastical romantic drama The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was an awesome adaptation of a 1922 short story by Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Starring Brad Pitt as the titular Benjamin Button — a man born with a bizarre physical malady which caused him to age in reverse—the film was a total success and a great edition to Pitt’s already varied career. That said, Pitt wasn’t actually the first choice to play Button, as the role was originally intended to go to Tom Cruise. Cruise allegedly passed on the role due to a conflict with the then-upcoming film Knight and Day. All in all, Pitt may have been the better choice in the long run, as this particular role seems to be a bit outside of Cruise’s wheelhouse.
12 Wall Street
Wall Street was a 1987 corporate espionage drama which cast a light on some of the nefarious underhanded deals which occur at the epicenter of American economics. A pivotal role for Charlie Sheen, an actor who would mostly go on to be known for his bad habits, he nearly didn’t land a role in the film at all. The role was intended at first for Tom Cruise, who had become a household name thanks to the success of 1986’s Top Gun. Sheen’s role would have played well to Cruise’s talents as an actor, and his absence seems to be a bit of a missed opportunity. Of course, both actors would go on to benefit from lengthy and illustrious careers, so it wouldn’t turn out to be a totally impactful casting change.
Ghost was a 1990 supernatural romance thriller that more or less defined the career of the late Patrick Swayze. Legendary for its portrayal of a couple lost in the rift between life and death, it was a touching romantic drama like very few others. Cruise, who was originally offered Swayze’s role in the film, would almost certainly have put an entirely different spin on the movie. Though he’s been in his fair share of romantic comedies and dramas, Cruise isn’t popularly considered to have that delicate romantic touch essential to films of this nature. That isn’t to say that he wouldn’t have been great in the role, but Cruise’s influence in cinema is best felt elsewhere, and the only ghost he would go on to play would be Ethan Hunt in 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
10 The Talented Mr. Ripley
Though a quality psychological drama, The Talented Mr. Ripley is generally lost amongst the more prolific films in Matt Damon’s career. The 1999 picture features the eponymous Mr. Ripley, a man famed for his skills in the art of deception. Eventually becoming infatuated with the life of another man, he slowly morphs into his doppleganger to the confusion of the audience. Damon is, as always, spectacular in this film, though Tom Cruise may have done equally well in the role. Cruise has a noted talent for theatrical intrigue, and the role could have perfectly suited his abilities. Cruise may well have been busy with the production of Mission: Impossible 2 at the time, though, so his absence from the film is understandable.
9 Edward Scissorhands
Edward Scissorhands is a dark and surreal romance film which has the fingerprints of auteur director Tim Burton all over it. One of the film which helped to put actor Johnny Depp on the map, Scissorhands required a very unique skill set from the lead actor, and it certainly wasn’t the sort of character any actor could pull of. With that in mind, the role of the eponymous main character was originally intended to go to Tom Cruise, who initially expressed interest in the role. After trying out, however, Burton remarked that his performance was “interesting,” though he was ultimately glad that casting decisions ended up the way they did. Cruise can sometimes affect a bit of craziness in his performance, though he is by no means similar to Depp who nailed the role.
8 Donnie Brasco
Donnie Brasco was a late-'90s crime drama centered around the exploits of a mafia jewel thief which eventually devolve into catastrophic infighting between those involved. Brasco is actually an undercover FBI agent bent on bringing the crime ring to justice, who struggles to toe the line between mobster and officer of the law. Though Tom Cruise’s specific role in the film is uncertain, it wouldn’t have been a major leap to imagine him in the shoes of Brasco himself. Cruise is by no means unfamiliar with dramatic screenplays, and Donnie Brasco would have been one of a number of crime thrillers in which he could have taken part. At the end of the day, the casting choices in this film are solid, and Cruise likely couldn’t have brought anything the likes of Al Pacino or Johnny Depp couldn’t pull off.
Starman is a 1984 science fiction romance picture directed by John Carpenter, who is most synonymous with his ultra-disturbing 1982 body horror piece The Thing. A noted fan of extra-terrestrial plotlines, Starman takes the surreal nature of man’s yearning for otherworldly adventures in a decidedly different direction. Carpenter initially considered Tom Cruise for the male lead in his film, though he didn’t want the part to overshadow Karen Allen’s role in the film. As a result, he cast Jeff Bridges, whom he believed to have a lesser profile in Hollywood. Starman isn’t all that well remembered today, though, like much of Carpenter’s work, it has a bit of a cult following. Cruise’s involvement could have greatly impacted the film’s reception, though he wasn’t quite as big of a star at the time.
6 Rumble Fish
The Outsiders was a 1983 adaptation of a beloved coming-of-age novel of the same name which was directed by Hollywood legend Francis Ford Coppola and featured the then upcoming actor Tom Cruise. Cruise’s profile was significantly raised by the film, and, when it came time to make a sequel soon after, Coppola again offered Cruise a starting role. Though he was thrilled by the prospect of working with the famous director for a second time, Cruise ultimately turned the role down because he had been offered the lead role in Risky Business. Cruise’s role in Rumble Fish could have been legendary, but it wouldn’t have been worth sacrificing his performance in one of his most notable early roles.
5 I Am Legend
I Am Legend was a 2007 post-apocalyptic horror film centered around a theoretical viral outbreak which either eliminated or mutated ninety-nine percent of those with which it came in contact. The property spent over ten years in development and was loosely based on a 1954 novel of the same name. Will Smith plays a U.S. Army virologist living in a totally abandoned New York City who happens to be among the very few immune to the virus. Though Smith was fantastic in the role, I Am Legend was originally intended to be led by Tom Cruise, among plenty of other actors. The action roots of the film would have made it a great choice for Cruise, who unfortunately turned it down.
4 A Beautiful Mind
Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind was a terrifyingly devious 2001 biopic centered around the life of John Nash, a renowned economist who suffered from schizophrenia and believed himself to be caught in a fictitious Cold War government conspiracy. The film asks audience members to question how much of what they have been told is real while empathizing with the main character, who was skillfully brought to life by actor Russell Crowe. That part nearly went to Tom Cruise, who certainly would have emphasized the dramatic, action-packed elements of the script and contrasted starkly with Crowe’s dower, sympathetic portrayal of Nash. Given that this film is one of Crowe’s best, it is perhaps better that Cruise applied his talents elsewhere.
3 The Shawshank Redemption
Based on a novella penned by notorious horror writer Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is perhaps one of the greatest pieces of revenge cinema ever created. Actor Tim Robbins steps into the shoes of Andy Dufresne, a man falsely accused of crimes which earned him two life sentences in one of Maine’s most notorious detention centers. Over the course of the film, Dufresne comes to terms with the events which led to his incarceration while simultaneously enacting a devious plot to escape and enact revenge on the duplicitous prison warden. Cruise was, at one point, considered for the role, though his unique brand of intensity likely wouldn’t have been a great fit for Dufresne’s cold, calculated nature.
2 Indecent Proposal
Indecent Proposal was a unique romantic drama based on a novel of the same name. A newly-wed couple, played by Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore, find themselves in financial trouble after gambling away their savings in Las Vegas. A remedy for these issues is found when an eccentric millionaire offers the couple $1 million in exchange for a night with Moore, which they eventually accept. This would have been an interesting film for Cruise, and it would have provided him with an opportunity to finally appear on screen with Moore, an actress he may have shared a movie with had he accepted Patrick Swayze’s role in Ghost.
1 Iron Man
First appearing in 2008’s Iron Man and reappearing in many subsequent Marvel projects, Robert Downey Jr. managed to reignite his career and embrace an all new, younger audience which wasn’t as familiar with his longtime debaucherous lifestyle. The actor is now synonymous with the silver screen eccentric billionaire, and his place in the Marvel cinematic universe will likely go down as one of his most iconic movie roles. Tom Cruise was actually considered to play Tony Stark, and it may have been a good fit for the actor, as his past experience in action flicks would have left him adequately prepared for the super hero role. He didn’t quite land the part, however, though he may regret that now given the tremendous success of the films in which the character appears.
References: imdb.com, mentalfloss.com, screenrant.com