The Godfather was supposed to be played by who?! It is hard to imagine anyone else playing some of the most iconic and memorable characters in movie history. But it’s truly incredible how little we knew about what actually happened behind the scenes. Check out some of the most surprising roles in movie history ever to be recast, and try to imagine the alternate universe that could have been.
1. Matthew McConaughey (Titanic)
Imagine it. Rose is in a desperate moment aboard the Titanic. She runs to the front of the ship and stands on the ledge as the water rushes below her. She slips. Texan actor Matthew McConaughey catches her and brings her safely back on deck. Panting, they stare into each other’s eyes. “Alright, alright, alright,” teenage McConaughey would likely say, we assume.
Okay, maybe going with Leonardo DiCaprio to play Jack Dawson was the right choice after all. But apparently we were all so close to getting a different Dawson that actress Kate Winslet, who played Rose, later revealed that she originally did script readings with McConaughey. But once director James Cameron saw DiCaprio, he recast the role of Jack.
2. Will Smith (The Matrix)
It was the late 1990s, and actor Will Smith was riding a high. The movie Independence Day, which starred Smith, was a smashing box-office success. Directors were lining up to have Smith in their movies, and Smith was turning down offers left and right. One of those offers included a starring role as Neo in The Matrix.
While The Matrix would end up cementing actor Keanu Reeves as a movie legend, Smith went on to film the widely panned film Wild Wild West. However, Smith says he does not regret turning down the role. In a video Smith later recorded, he says the movie would not have been the same if he were to play Neo. “I would have ruined it, so I did y’all a favor,” Smith declared.
3. Anne Hathaway (Knocked Up)
Back in the mid-2000s, Anne Hathaway had made a decision that she says she went on to regret. That decision? She turned down the chance to play Alison Scott in the Judd Apatow comedy film Knocked Up. Apparently, Hathaway was skeptical about acting in the film’s dramatic birth scene.
“My issue with it was that having not experienced motherhood myself, I didn’t know how I was gonna feel on the other side about giving birth,” Hathaway told Allure. Christina Aguilera, Mila Kunis, and Leslie Mann were also reportedly offered the job. Instead, the role went to Katherine Heigl, who famously went on to pan the film as being sexist.
4. Ashton Kutcher (10 Things I Hate About You)
The legendary romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You was Heath Ledger’s first American movie, and the U.S. promptly fell in love with the Australian actor. But it almost did not turn out that way. Instead, the role very nearly went to two different young American leading men of the time.
According to multiple reports, both Ashton Kutcher and Josh Hartnett tried out for the role based on The Taming of the Shrew, but ultimately Ledger was cast as Patrick Verona. Apparently, the world was very close to seeing Kutcher dancing across a high school arena singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” as an embarrassed Julia Stiles looks on.
5. Britney Spears (The Notebook)
That’s right, the world almost got to see singer Britney Spears take on the iconic leading role of Allie Hamilton in The Notebook. Actor Ryan Gosling, who played Noah in the film, said in an interview that he had screen-tested with Spears during the casting process.
“We met with a lot of actresses, and they were all very good,” Gosling told Entertainment Tonight. On Spears, Gosling said that “she was really good, actually. She did a really nice job.” Apparently, her performance was not enough to land her the role, and the part was recast. Instead, Rachel McAdams beat out Spears — along with Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Biel, and Ashley Judd — for the coveted role of Allie.
6. John Travolta (Forrest Gump)
Taking on acting roles is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. For Tom Hanks, landing the role of Forrest in Forrest Gump meant that he landed his second Oscar for Best Actor. But for John Travolta, turning down the leading role meant that he just got to watch the movie’s success from the sidelines.
But Travolta should not be too upset that he turned down possibly the role of a lifetime. Instead, he decided to take a very different, far edgier role: as Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Travolta is not alone, actors Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were also said to have been asked to star in Forrest Gump.
7. Jack Nicholson (The Godfather)
When it came to casting for The Godfather, director Francis Ford Coppola hoped to make Jack Nicholson an offer that he couldn’t refuse. But, actually, Nicholson did, in fact, refuse. The famed actor turned down the chance to play Michael Corleone.
With something as risky as a mafia movie, Coppola wanted a big name to star in the film. So after he asked Nicholson, he went on to ask Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, and Warren Beatty. But in the end, the part went to the perfect person. “There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included,” Nicholson said. “But Al Pacino was Michael Corleone.”
8. Nicolas Cage (Lord of the Rings)
Can anyone imagine Nicolas Cage in Lord of the Rings? While it might be hard to picture, the actor was apparently approached about playing the role of Aragorn. But Cage has said that his refusal was in no way indicative about how he felt about the film. In fact, it was the opposite.
Cage claimed that he was not in a position to travel to New Zealand and be away from home for three years. But in turning down the role, Cage would be able to watch the trilogy and see Viggo Mortenson in the role. “I can enjoy them as an audience member,” he said. “I don’t really watch my own movies. And so I genuinely do have the joy of watching these — especially the Lord of the Rings.”
9. Leonardo DiCaprio (American Psycho)
In an unexpected turn of events, Leonardo DiCaprio may have taken on the role of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho if it had not been for feminist icon Gloria Steinem. According to a film published by Vice News, the film’s co-writer Guinevere Turner said that DiCaprio dropped the film based on Steinem’s advice.
“I believe [Steinem] said, ‘Please don’t do this movie. Coming off of ‘Titanic,’ there is an entire planet full of 13-year-old girls waiting to see what you do next, and this is going to be a movie that has horrible violence toward women.'” Soon after that, Leo dropped out, so who knows what really happened? All we know is that Christian Bale, for lack of a better term, killed it in the role.
10. Eric Stoltz (Back To The Future)
Actor Eric Stoltz had already acted in movies like Fast Times At Ridgemont High when he was cast to play Marty McFly in Back to the Future. But things did not go as planned. After weeks of shooting, director Robert Zemeckis fired Stoltz, citing different “comedy sensibilities” and replaced him with Michael J. Fox. Oof, that one’s gotta hurt.
But in an interview with Moviehole, Stoltz said he was thankful for being recast. “In retrospect, I think just getting through that difficult period helped me realize how freeing it really was,” he said. “I went back to acting school, I moved to Europe, I did some plays in New York, and I actually invested in myself in a way that was much healthier for me.”
11. Sylvester Stallone (Beverly Hills Cop)
There are plenty of great things to say about actor Sylvester Stallone, but we are pretty sure that his roles generally haven’t showcased his funny side. So when Stallone was asked to play Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he reportedly struggled with the comedy aspects of the film.
So Stallone came up with a new idea for an action film, and basically changed the entire Beverly Hills Cop script. As anyone can imagine, this move was not received very well. Stallone was dropped from the movie. Eddie Murphy was recast in the role and the movie went on to become the highest grossing film of 1984, sparking 2 sequels.
12. Molly Ringwald (Pretty Woman)
In 1990, Ringwald was already known for starring in teenage films from Sixteen Candles to The Breakfast Club to Pretty in Pink. But when she was offered another iconic role in movie history, playing Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, she decided to turn it down. Instead, it was given to Julia Roberts, whose portrayal of Ward catapulted her to stardom.
According to some reports, Ringwald passed on Pretty Woman because she wanted to try different, more challenging roles. Others said that she did not want to play Ward’s risqué character. But between turning down this role and later turning down the chance to play Molly Jensen in Ghost (Demi Moore’s breakout role), we’d guess Ringwald might have a few regrets.
13. Ryan Gosling (The Lovely Bones)
Talk about a punch to the gut. When Ryan Gosling was cast to play a grieving father in The Lovely Bones, he fully committed to his character– and we mean fully. Gosling gained 60 pounds for the role, and even admitted to drinking melted Häagen-Dazs ice cream when he was thirsty in order to pack on the weight.
But when Gosling arrived on set weighing 210 pounds, there was just one problem. The film’s director and producer had never actually told him to put on the weight! They did not agree that the character should be overweight. Gosling was fired just days before production began and Mark Wahlberg was recast in the role. “Then I was fat and unemployed,” Gosling said.
14. Sean Connery (Lord of the Rings)
The only thing that is more difficult to imagine than anyone else in the world other than Sir Ian McKellen playing Gandalf is the idea of turning down the chance at $450 million. But legendary James Bond actor Sean Connery did just that when he passed up the opportunity to be cast as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
According to Connery himself, there was a huge problem with the script, in his mind. He “never understood the script”, he said. “I read the book, I read the script, I saw the movie, I still don’t understand it,” he said. “Ian McKellen, I believe, is marvelous in it.”
15. Lindsay Lohan (The Hangover)
What’s worse than a bad hangover? Turning down the opportunity to play in the movie The Hangover, which went on to become one of the most beloved comedies of all time. Just ask Lindsay Lohan, who was asked to play Jade, aka the exotic dancer who married Stu and was given his grandmother’s ring during their infamous blackout evening.
But director Todd Phillips wants to set the record straight. He said: “People love to attack her for everything, like ‘ha, she didn’t see how great The Hangover was going to be, she turned it down.’ She didn’t turn it down. She loved the script, actually. It was really an age thing.” Lohan was 20 at the time. Meanwhile, Heather Graham, who was later cast as Jade, was 37.
16. Terrence Howard (Iron Man)
Well, this one is pretty awkward. Anyone who has watched Iron Man and Iron Man 2 might have noticed something a bit different about Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Okay, there’s more than a little difference. The role is played by an entirely different actor in the sequel.
That is because of some behind-the-scenes drama. Actor Terrence Howard was given a huge paycheck for his role in the first movie. But by the time the sequel came around, he was offered considerably less. Howard refused to play the same role for the smaller paycheck, and did not sign on for the sequel. Instead, Marvel recast Don Cheadle to play Rhodey.
17. Mel Gibson (Gladiator)
It was very nearly Mel Gibson who would have famously yelled “Are you not entertained?” over the gasps of an onlooking crowd. Instead, it was actor Russell Crowe who kept his audience entertained in the movie Gladiator. But according to reports, Gibson was the first actor to be offered the starring role of Maximus.
Gibson eventually turned down the offer, citing his age. He felt he was getting too old to star in such strenuous action movies anymore. In hopes of not pulling his back out, Gibson backed out of the film. That was good news for Crowe. This breakout role won Crowe an Oscar for his portrayal of Maximus.
18. Jennifer Hudson (Precious)
Jennifer Hudson had just won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie in Dream Girls when she was contacted by director Lee Daniels. He asked if she wanted to take another leading role, this time in the movie Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. But for Hudson, this type of gritty role was not what she had in mind for her next film.
Hudson said that her reasoning was simple: she did not want to gain the weight necessary for the role. “I had done that with Effie…and as much as I was moved by the film, I wanted to try a role that had nothing to do with my weight whatsoever,” she wrote in her book. Daniels went on to cast Gabourey Sidibe, who would be nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
19. Tom Hanks (Jerry Maguire)
Long before Tom Cruise was even considered for the leading role in Jerry Maguire, the writers had pictured another actor playing the part. In fact, according to director Cameron Crowe, the movie was written with Tom Hanks in mind. That hope would eventually be squashed, because Hanks at the time was working on the movie That Thing You Do!.
Once Hanks turned it down, the mission was on to find a new actor. Cameron said he immediately thought about Cruise. And the idea worked; Cruise loved the script so much that he offered to fly out for an audition before Cameron even had to ask.
20. Annette Bening (Batman Returns)
Try as many actresses might, no one will ever play Catwoman quite the way Michelle Pfeiffer did in the movie Batman Returns. But if it was up to the director, Pfeiffer may have never had the chance. That’s because acclaimed actress Annette Bening was originally the first choice to play Catwoman in the film.
Originally, Bening accepted the part. But shortly before filming began, the actress was forced to drop out of the movie after learning that she was pregnant. Instead, casting directors went on to consider people like Madonna, Cher, Bridget Fonda, and Susan Sarandon, before eventually choosing Pfeiffer to play the famous part.
21. Liam Neeson (Lincoln)
Ten years before filming, director Steven Spielberg got actor Liam Neeson to agree to play the leading role in a movie he wanted to direct called Lincoln. But a decade later, Neeson said he could not deliver on his promise. “We started reading this, and there was an intro, and then I see ‘Lincoln:’ where I have to start speaking, and I just — a thunderbolt moment,” Neeson told GQ magazine.
“I thought, ‘I’m not supposed to be here. This is gone. I’ve passed my sell-by date. I don’t want to play this Lincoln. I can’t be him.'” Neeson immediately told Spielberg he would need to recast the film, which led to Daniel Day-Lewis landing the role that won him his third Oscar, making him among the most decorated actors of all time.
22. Harvey Keitel (Apocalypse Now)
It was considered to be one of the most brutal and widely-talked about recastings of all time. After Francis Ford Coppola saw Harry Keitel’s acting in Mean Streets, he knew he wanted him to play the lead of Willard in Apocalypse Now. Or so he thought.
A few weeks into filming, Coppola was not happy with what he was seeing out of Keitel, claiming the actor “found it difficult to play [Willard] as a passive onlooking”. While the lead was eventually recast to be played by Martin Sheen, Keitel can actually still be seen in one shot in the film sitting at the front of the boat.
23. Lori Petty (Demolition Man)
In 1993, Warner Brothers sent out a press release. For their upcoming film Demolition Man, Lori Petty, who was supposed to play Lieutenant Lenina Huxley, had been fired. At the time, the announcement cited “creative differences”. But later rumors circulated that she had bad-mouthed her character to a producer so harshly that she was kicked out of the film. Sounds awfully…Petty?
Two days later, the producers announced that they had replaced Petty with a little-known actress named Sandra Bullock. This movie was widely considered to be her big break. But beyond not originally getting the part, Bullock’s character was not originally supposed to be such a success. “It’s not a gigantic role,” the producer said at the time.
24. Colin Firth (Paddington)
It seemed that everyone was excited when they heard that Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth was going to be the voice of the beloved Paddington Bear for the 2014 movie Paddington. But then, after Firth had voiced over the entire movie, the world received surprising news.
The actor put out a statement that after amicable talks, it was decided that he was not perfect for the role. “It’s been bittersweet to see this delightful creature take shape and come to the sad realization that he simply doesn’t have my voice,” Firth told Entertainment Weekly at the time. Skyfall actor Ben Whishaw was later chosen for the role.
25. James Purefoy (V for Vendetta)
There’s a rumor that has floated around when it came to why James Purefoy dropped out of his leading role in V for Vendetta. At the time, some said that Purefoy was unhappy with having to wear a mask throughout the entire movie. But in an interview, Purefoy said he left due to “creative differences” about how to portray his character.
The main character’s mask ended up benefiting editors and producers. Once Purefoy was replaced by Hugo Weaving, Weaving’s voice was dubbed over Purefoy’s previously-filmed scenes so that filmmakers could save time and money. So technically, Purefoy still does act in some scenes in V for Vendetta.
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