Hollywood Actors Who Turned Down Major Roles

Seldom do the main stars of a movie get cast without going through a few choices on who will play the characters. Turning it down, reading scripts, auditions, screen tests....they're all used to narrow down the search. Having the right people a film, no matter the story, can make or break the end result. Can you imagine some of favorite movie movies starring a completely different person? How would the history of the actor and the movie in question be affected?

Al Pacino- Han Solo

Harrison Ford launched his career and helped to launch maybe the greatest film franchise of all time in Star Wars, but could you imagine the iconic role of Han Solo being played by Al Pacino? Now keep in mind, this was the young Pacino that could talk in normal concise sentences (aka The Godfather)...not the "Whoaahhh!" spouting and yelling for no reason Pacino from Scent of a Woman and Any Given Sunday. He's turned into a caricature of his former self. Thinking of Al peeking his head around corners in the death star and shooting at stormtroopers makes me chuckle. I don't know if he could have dialed in the perfect mix of smarmy one-liners and thoughtful banter that Harrison Ford did so well. Good choice Mr. Pacino.

Johnny Depp- Wolverine

I couldn't believe this at first, but the legendary character-actor turned down the role of Wolverine, one of the most beloved Marvel comic book characters and definitely the most famous of the X-men. I don't see Depp as any superhero, let alone the bulked up, ferociously angry, metal-clawed, mutant. This role was made for Hugh Jackman and I can only hope that Marvel Studios never has to recast this role with someone else. You only have to look at Edward Scissorhands to see an emo Wolverine. Great at being sad and contemplative...and trimming bushes, not bad guys.

Jack Nicholson- Kindergarten Cop

He was originally offered the title role of a cop undercover, teaching and dealing with a class full of crazy kids. Let's make this happen! Where's Doc Brown and his Deloreon? I like this movie, and Arnold Schwarzenegger did a really good job in this funny classic, but come on! Who wouldn't want to see Jack show up in class for the first time wearing his trademark sunglasses, over-the-top grin, and eyebrows flaring up to the bottom of his hairline. He could have reached deep down and channeled his former self from The Shining for the perfect amount of deranged annoyance. I'm already hearing "It's not a tumor!" in his voice.

I'm more of a fan of Schwarzenegger's comedy roles when they are poking fun at themselves...sort of an awesomely bad situation. Watch Twins, Jingle All the Way, or Batman and Robin to see what I'm talking about. There's a fair amount of it here too, but again, c'mon...it's Jack Nicholson. Hell, I'd watch it if they remade it with him today.

Will Smith- The Matrix

This is the poster child for this list. In the mid-90s, Will Smith was the king of summer blockbusters. Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men In Black cemented his status of a big moneymaker. Then two scripts came along, The Matrix and The Wild Wild West. Which one would you pick? Well pick the other one because that's what Will Smith did. The Wild Wild West made some money, but is universally mocked in virtually all circles. Most would say he made the wrong decision, but the role of Neo doesn't really call for the cocky charm Smith brought to all of his movies at the time. Also, there was no need to make a kid-friendly rap album about Morpheous and Agent Smith.

Stop it Mr. Anderson, it doesn't make any sense!  What is the Miki-Miki-Miki-Matrix?
Stop it Mr. Anderson, it doesn't make any sense! What is the Miki-Miki-Miki-Matrix?

Later in his acting career, he chose films with more range, but the naïve, dough-eyed role of Mister Anderson was made for Keanu Reeves. What a lot of critics normally make fun of out of Reeves was perfect for The Matrix. It called for a more wooden, confused attitude that Keanu has done in every role since Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure...and maybe Point Break. Neo needs to have an undercurrent of having absolutely no idea what the hell he's doing...Smith is just too in control.

John Travolta- Forrest Gump

In the early-90s, John Travolta wasn't enjoying success in the movie business like he did earlier in his career or later in his career. It was a bit of a dry spell that started after making Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and Urban Cowboy...so he was kinda hoping for a good role. Travolta made a slight resurgence with supporting roles in the Look Who's Talking films starring Kirstie Alley, but a starring role was still alluding him. He eventually found a hit in Pulp Fiction that put him back on the map in Hollywood as he enjoyed box office success for the rest of the 90s.

But before that, a script hit his desk titled Forrest Gump. About the life of a slow kid turning into a slow man at the center of pretty much everything with significance in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Travolta wasn't interested. Now he ended up turning it down because of Pulp Fiction, but there's no denying which is the bigger role here. I'm sure he was kicking himself after when he watched Tom Hanks make a ton of cash, win a best actor Oscar, and dominate the rest of the decade. Travolta is an extremely talented actor, but he's not so great at picking roles to use that talent. His filmography has a lot more Battlefield Earths than Pulp Fictions.

Hugh Jackman- Pirates of the Caribbean

Remember when we talked about Johnny Depp turning down Hugh Jackman's role? Well in the ultimate possible switcheroo, Hugh Jackman turned down the role of Jack Sparrow. Believe it or not the film's writer, Stuart Beattie, wrote the role specifically for him. It turns out the "Jack" in Jack Sparrow even comes from Jackman's name. Disney had Pirates in development for a decade before it was made and the Australian heart-throb was wanted for the role long before he ever made a name for himself outside of down under. What a different movie world it would be if Depp was an X-man and Jackman was the smart-talking pirate.

Tom Selleck- Indiana Jones

In my world, this is full-blown blasphemy. I'm a huge fan of all the Indian Jones movies (yes, even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Good thing Magnum P.I.'s schedule interfered with any possibility of Selleck taking the role of Professor Jones. Maybe it's just because I've been watching Harrison Ford swing from his whip and avoid snakes, but it's very difficult to see anyone other than him donning the iconic fedora, especially Tom Selleck. Somehow I just don't see him relic hunting for the Ark of the Covenant and escaping the Temple of Doom with "short-round."

No offense to Mr. Selleck, but I don't know what the studio saw in you as an action star. We haven't seen him in a big budget action movie ever and there's a reason for that. My favorite movie he's ever been in is Mr. Baseball, and his main selling points in that movie are that he's a hairy, tall, awkward, American. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just not Indy. I will give him one thing though, he would have looked a lot more like Sean Connery, the father in the Last Crusade.

I hope you don't think im biased here, but this would have been the worst thing to ever happen in America.
I hope you don't think im biased here, but this would have been the worst thing to ever happen in America.

Nicholas Cage- Dumb and Dumber

Nic Cage turned down the role of Lloyd, which Jeff Daniels ended up playing and did a great job playing it. The film would have ended up with a slightly creepier tone with Jim Carrey starring alongside Cage. He plays a different version of himself in every movie he's ever been in...all with manic undertones. He's been very good friends with Carrey since they were young and was offered the roll under Carrey's recommendation.

I'm not saying I wouldn't have watched the possibly legendary duo of Cage/Carrey, but it would have been one of the best or one of the worst comedies ever made. I can see why this roll of the dice would be a huge risk. Nic Cage is a lot older now, and he's proven he'll do any awful movie for a paycheck (he's in huge debt). Go ahead and make Dumb and Dumber 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Heath Ledger- Spiderman

Before Tobey Maguire became Spiderman, Sony Picture Studios offered the web-slinging Peter Parker role to an up and coming actor, the now-late Heath Ledger. It's a shame his life was cut short; he was and a great actor. Ledger was known for taking movies that were all over the map artistically. 10 things I Hate About You, First Knight, Brothers Grimm, The Dark Knight, and Brokeback Mountain just to name a few. He seemed to take pride that his movies weren't always all about making the most money. It's stated that he refused the role of Spiderman because he didn't want to be pigeonholed as a superhero.

He has a point. Tobey Maguire has yet to distance himself from the role that made him somewhat of a household name. But at the same time, it can be said that being stereotyped as a superhero isn't exactly the worst label in the business. Tobey might not be making a bunch of life changing movies right now, but he made a bounty on the Spiderman trilogy, even if it's being rebooted this year. Close to a billion dollars grossed in the franchise is nothing to sneeze at. Christopher Reeve did a pretty good job and no one exactly looked down on him because of the Superman movies, even if 3 and 4 sucked.

Ironically, Ledger's last well-known movie role was of course in a superhero movie, but as the supervillain The Joker in The Dark Knight. That wasn't his last movie, the art-house flick The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was, but in the grand scope of film history, who's going to remember that?

Why so serious?
Why so serious?

These are just a snippet of examples, there are many more movies/roles that were turned down by major actors that would have changed the way we see Hollywood as we know it. These don't even include the actresses that have done the same things. That'll be a part two down the line. This list grows every day. If you'd like to add to it or give your opinions about those I've mentioned, don't hesitate to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.

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Comments 19 comments

wademcmaster profile image

wademcmaster 4 years ago from Australia

That's crazy! Some of these roles are big, bu then again so are the actors who turned them down. The whole tone of these films would have been different with those actors... Would have been interesting.


rahul0324 profile image

rahul0324 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

crazzy info here man!! I seriously wonder where did you get this stuff! amazing work


Zac828 profile image

Zac828 4 years ago from England

Great list, I remember reading about Tom Selleck and he went on to make Indy-wannabe High Road to China in the late eighties. There's also the story of Eric Stoltz getting fired from Back to the Future as Marty McFly, he was too serious apparently. Hollywood is full of brilliant stories like this. Nice hub.


stessily 4 years ago

skinsman, An enjoyable reading of what was vs what could have been. I can't really imagine John Travolta in the part of Forrest Gump! It's funny to think of Johnny Depp as Wolfman and Hugh Jackman as Jack Sparrow. I read that Angelina Jolie got the part in "Mr and Mrs Smith" because Nicole Kidman turned it down! Hmmm!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Interesting hub but I can't see John Travolta as Forrest Gump. I don't rate Travolta as an actor at all and Tom Hanks brings so much to the role of Forrest that I can't imagine anyone else playing him.


skinsman82000 profile image

skinsman82000 4 years ago from Frederick Maryland Author

I've read that too about Nicole Kidman, I may do an actress version sometimes soon!


skinsman82000 profile image

skinsman82000 4 years ago from Frederick Maryland Author

Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I knew about Stoltz too. Some of the scenes he shot are on the 25th anniversary blu ray Back To The Future. He didn't bring anything great to the role.


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 4 years ago from Chennai, India

Very interesting hub on Hollywood actors who turned down famous roles in famous films! I can't imagine Hugh doing a Deep's trademark pirate role or Deep doing renowned Wolverine role! I heard that the latest James Bond role was written with Hugh Jackman but it eventually went to Daniel Craig as this film team wanted a bit lesser known actor and the audience to see him as the typical James Bond and not a big star's name!


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 4 years ago from Chennai, India

Pardon me for misspelt Depp's name! Take care.


bethperry profile image

bethperry 4 years ago from Tennesee

Skinsman, wow how fascinating! But I really could see Tom Selleck being Indiana Jones.

Maybe you can settle something for me? A friend told me that Robert Redford turned down the role of Michael Corleone in the original The Godfather. Do you know if this is true?

Thanks for posting, great Hub.


skinsman82000 profile image

skinsman82000 4 years ago from Frederick Maryland Author

thanks for the comment Beth. My friend Google and I couldn't find anything that says he was offered that role. I'd assume for that part they'd be looking for someone a bit more italian looking, but who knows, this is hollywood we're talking about.


bethperry profile image

bethperry 4 years ago from Tennesee

Well I appreciate you looking into it. I'm personally glad they got an Italian looking man, and Pacino is much sexier than Redford :)


Angela Brummer profile image

Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

Really great information! I was unaware of any of this!


Ron Hawkster profile image

Ron Hawkster 4 years ago from United States of America

Other little known auditions that didn't pan out:

Donald Duck as Luke Skywalker

Don Rickles as Obi Wan Kenobi

Rosanne Barr as Princess Leia

Mike Tyson as Yoda

Danny Devito as Chewbacca


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Really very interesting information about great movies and actors that stared in them . I think the right decisions were made .

Vote up and more !!!


shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

wow, pacino as han solo??? too much for me... I hope Simone doesn't see this.


nmdonders profile image

nmdonders 4 years ago

It's hilarious trying to picture them playing these roles. It's funny how we identify certain roles with certain celebrities.


one2recognize2 profile image

one2recognize2 4 years ago from New York

Not sure any of these movies would've been as successful if the ones that turned them down played them. Pretty glad with the choices made especially with The Matrix and Wolverine. Love both Keanu Reeves and Hugh Jackman in these roles... Nice work and voted up and interesting for sure.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

I loved this one! I can't imagine Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones. But I think that Jack Nicholson would have been great in Kindergarten Cop.

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