We all make decisions that sometimes we later regret. Some decisions are minute like turning the corner of the sidewalk to find an ex in the arms of another. Some are monumental like not locking the front door and returning to find the condo ransacked and the TV gone. Yet, it is only by making such wrong choices that we learn to avoid them in the future.
Once or twice in an actor’s life, an opportunity comes their way that seems too good to miss, while on other occasions, they turn down work because of other commitments or because it just doesn’t feel right. It’s a tough one to get right, probably because an actor can’t just take anything that comes along. They must run the gauntlet of a whole army of offers every week and not every decision will be the right one.
Although hindsight is a wonderful thing, we wonder how the next 15 actors could not have known that the film they were turning down was going to make a fortune for those involved in its making. Better luck next time to all of the following big names — may the next horse be the champion.
15 John Lithgow Could’ve Been The Joker
John Arthur Lithgow is a decorated actor. His acting credits are of many popular movies, stage shows, and television appearances (which after 45 years in the business is not surprising). He's won various awards including an American Comedy Award, Drama Desk Awards, nominations for two Academy Awards, and four Grammy Awards. Lithgow has also received the coveted Hollywood Walk of Fame star and was inducted to the American Theater Hall of Fame for his contribution to the world of entertainment.
His decision in 1989 not to take the part of The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman movie would prove remarkably costly, but was seemingly of little consequence. He told Vulture in 2017: “My worst audition was for Tim Burton for Batman. I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded." In the end, Jack Nicholson was given the part and he earned $100 million from profit share of the film’s takings.
14 Jack Nicholson Could’ve Been The Godfather
Jack Nicholson may have swung the part of The Joker, but he's not immune to an errant slingshot. Nicholson has acted for over 60 years and during that time, secured roles in countless blockbusters that have been loved around the world. His “method” style is responsible for his familiar characters that will remain both lovable and frightening long after he passes. Critics have suggested Nicholson’s characters have the essence of a misfit, or perhaps a sociopath, or both, but certainly one that tends to go against the grain.
Perhaps, his only mistake was passing on the role of Michael Corleone in the 1972 Coppola film The Godfather. Despite being apparently a perfect fit for the role, Nicholson was thus gazumped by the stunning Al Pacino. Some may argue that there is something more Italian and sharp about Pacino’s presence in any case.
13 Paul Giamatti Could’ve Been In The Office
Paul Giamatti was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in Cinderella Man but is also credited with some blockbuster movies including Private Parts, The Illusionist, and Straight Outta Compton. He has also won various other awards for acting on both film and stage. He auditioned for the role of Michael Scott in the US Production of The Office (originally a Brit TV Series starring Ricky Gervais), but eventually gave the part over to Steve Carell.
Arguably, Carell brought a bigger comedy presence to the show and perhaps a greater cult following than Giamatti would have. When all is said and done, Carell seems an elegant choice and has a face that suits the awkward premise of the show. Though Giamatti would likely have kicked himself when he saw the popularity of the show soar within the first few months of its airing.
12 Julia Roberts Could’ve Been In Shakespeare In Love
One of the most famous actresses to have been “made” by Hollywood is Julia Roberts. Her combined acting credits have generated over $2.8 billion in box office receipts, according to Box Office Mojo in 2012. Roberts’s big break came with the 1990 romantic comedy Pretty Woman and after that, she starred in countless other well-known films such as Sleeping with the Enemy.
Roberts was named as the lead actor for the 1998 period romantic film Shakespeare in Love. She had requested that Daniel Day Lewis play opposite her in the film, but when he turned down the part she gave her place to Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow won an Academy Award for her part in the film and the movie itself was a box office success. Simon Callow said, “Daniel wasn't interested, so Julia withdrew and the whole thing fell through just 6 weeks before filming was due to begin."
11 Michelle Pfeiffer Could’ve Been In Silence Of The Lambs And Basic Instinct
Michelle Pfeiffer began her career with a part in Grease 2 in 1982 and quickly became a worldwide sensation. She has since received three Academy Award nominations, as well as BAFTAs and Golden Globes. Some of her more memorable movies are The Witches of Eastwick, Dangerous Liaisons, and I Could Never Be Your Woman. It was her performance in Brian De Palma’s thrilling crime drama Scarface that really caught the public’s attention.
Pfeiffer was offered the parts of Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs and Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct but in the end turned down both. She felt the subject matter of the former was too dark and that there was too much nudity in the latter. It seems a shame for Pfeiffer at least but Jodie Foster’s portrayal is stunning, with a child-like edge that comes with Foster’s natural demeanor.
10 Mel Gibson Could’ve Been In Gladiator
Because we associate Mel Gibson with big-budget action films his decision to turn down the role of Maximus Decimus Meridius in the 2000 film Gladiator was surprising. But it was apparently made on the basis of his age. At the time of filming he would have been in his 40s and he felt that was too old to play the part (although Russell Crowe was himself in his late 30s). Having given up the part Gibson would more than likely have rued the day he said no. Gladiator was a box-office sensation and won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2001.
Gibson recovered from the ego slap though. Since then, he has been involved in more than 10 other hit films including the controversial The Passion of the Christ which was nominated for three Academy Awards.
9 Tom Hanks Could’ve Been Jerry Maguire
Tom Hanks is one of our most recognized actors and has featured in over 80 films; he has also produced over 50 and directed 8. With stunning regularity he is assigned to blockbuster titles such as Turner & Hooch, Apollo 13, Larry Crowne, and Sully, all of which have either been nominated or have won Academy Awards.
When Hanks was approached to play Jerry Maguire in Cameron Crowe’s eponymous drama he was directing That Thing You Do and was therefore unable to accept. Seeing how popular the film was he might have been disgruntled, but he was perfectly civil about it. Speaking to Access Hollywood in 2013, Hanks said, “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.’”
8 Sean Connery Could’ve Been Gandalf
Achieving worldwide fame for his role as James Bond in the early days of the franchise Sean Connery has appeared in countless other films. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Untouchables, and his other films have included Marnie, The Name of the Rose, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, and Murder on the Orient Express.
Connery was offered the role of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings but turned it down apparently because he didn’t “get” the premise of the movie. According to HuffPost in 2012 Connery said of the script, "I never understood it. I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don't understand it." His replacement, Sir Ian McKellen, was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the white wizard.
7 Emma Watson Could’ve Been In La La Land
Sometimes being “attached” to a film production doesn’t guarantee an actor the role. This was the case with Emma Watson and her prospective accreditation to the movie La La Land. A well-respected actress, Watson was publicly named as the lead in Damien Chazelle's romantic musical but for various reasons didn’t take the role (it was handed to American actress Emma Stone instead).
As Stone revealed in an interview with Uproxx.com in 2016, “The casting of this movie during the 6 years it took to get made went through lots of permutations, and it’s true there was a moment where Emma Watson and Miles Teller were doing it. And neither of those casting things wound up lasting or working out.” As it happened, Stone had worked with Miles Teller previously and both had acknowledged the ease of their relationship; naturally that boded well for the outcome of La La Land.
6 Molly Ringwald Could’ve Been In Pretty Woman
After being spotted in a small stage production of the musical Annie, Molly Ringwald was offered a part in the TV series The Facts of Life. She then went on to star in over 15 other TV productions including The Outer Limits and Raising Expectations. Her film work also grew in tandem with her TV work and she is credited with films such as Not Another Teen Movie and King Cobra. She won a special MTV Movie Award, the Silver Bucket of Excellence, in 2005 for the 1985 film The Breakfast Club.
Lined up to play Vivian Ward in the 1990 comedy Pretty Woman, Ringwald instead left the United States and settled in France, withdrawing from public life and hanging around cafes. Had she taken the part she would have been remembered for one of the biggest blockbusters of the millennium and we assume would have reaped the financial rewards too.
5 John Travolta Could’ve Been Forrest Gump
John Travolta’s big breaks came with lead roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease but a few years later, his success slumped, perhaps because of the stereotyped image producers had of him and their want of something more in keeping with the culture of the '80s. Nevertheless, throughout the '90s and 2000s, Travolta enjoyed a career revival and has appeared in several blockbusting films such as Pulp Fiction and Swordfish. In 1995, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in Pulp Fiction.
In 1994, he was offered the role of Forrest Gump in the eponymous film by director Robert Zemeckis but turned it down to work on Pulp Fiction. He may still be regretting his decision. The box office gross for Forrest Gump was $677 million compared to Pulp Fiction’s $213 million. The former film also won six Academy Awards. But still, he was in Pulp Fiction, so there's that.
4 Warren Beatty Could’ve Been In Kill Bill
Warren Beatty has been nominated for no less than 14 Academy Awards and countless others, including awards for his stage performances. Beatty was also nominated for his direction and writing of two films: Heaven Can Wait and Reds. He began his career proper in the 1950s and has since appeared in 33 films, has written the soundtracks to 8 films, and has directed 6.
Beatty refused to join the cast of Kill Bill with reservations about its impact on his family life. "I didn't want to leave my kids," Beatty explained in an appearance on MTV's Happy Sad Confused podcast in 2014. Tarantino felt Beatty was right for the role and told the BBC in 2004, "Warren was a good choice and would have been wonderful in the movie.” With David Carradine on board instead the film became an instant success and achieved cult status, something Beatty had always prided himself on.
3 Julia Roberts Could’ve Been In The Blind Side, The Proposal, And Sleepless In Seattle
Here are another three big films that Julia Roberts passed over but, really, did such decisions affect her acting career in any way? We don’t think so, especially when we learn that she has amassed over $464 million in production profit from Pretty Woman alone. It would be interesting to have known from an aesthetic point of view how Roberts might have fared in these three films.
Three years after Pretty Woman, Roberts passed over the role of Annie Reed in Sleepless in Seattle which ended up being a hug box-office success. Meg Ryan seems more suited to the role and is more hard-edged than Roberts. Roberts also passed on two roles taken by Sandra Bullock, including the part of Leigh Anne Touhy in The Blind Side. Roberts wasn't too short of major movies however, given the success of, among others, her leading role in the movie about Erin Brockovich of the same name.
2 Nicolas Cage Could’ve Been The Wrestler
Nicolas Cage was born in 1964 and began acting in 1983 in the film Valley Girl. He then went on to achieve wider recognition for his portrayals of characters in films such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Moonstruck, and Red Rock West. In his time, he has received Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and in 1995 a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance as an alcoholic Hollywood writer in Leaving Las Vegas.
After Mikey Rourke was sidelined for the film The Wrestler, director Darren Aronofsky approached Cage as the stand in. However, Cage was not keen on the idea of playing a wrestler who was battling with addiction to steroids and believed he would not attain the stature needed for a realistic portrayal. He therefore declined the part. Aronofsky was able to secure Rourke after all and the film was released to critical acclaim.
1 Tom Cruise Could’ve Been In Footloose
Tom Cruise has been nominated for three Academy Awards and has won three Golden Globe Awards. He began his career in 1981 at the age of 19 in the film Endless Love and has since been credited with over 46 hugely successful titles. These include Mission: Impossible, Vanilla Sky, War of the Worlds, and Jack Reacher to name but a few. He is also credited with singing nine of the songs on the soundtrack of Rock of Ages.
Cruise was offered the part of Ren McCormack in the 1984 film Footloose but turned it down reluctantly due to scheduling conflicts. Luckily, the charismatic Kevin Bacon stepped in and the film turned out to be a huge success earning over $80 million at the box office. Although critics gave mixed impressions of the flick, Bacon came out glowing. “Bacon gives a cocky but likeable Mr. Cool performance,” wrote the New York Magazine in 1984.