The roles that got away

Some of the most famous onscreen performances could have gone a totally different direction.

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Robert Downey Jr. as J.D.



John Lithgow as Joker

John Lithgow told Vulture he was considered to play Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 film, “Batman.” “I was doing ‘M. Butterfly’ on Broadway and it was an exhausting show,” said the 71-year-old actor. “It would have meant leaving that show and going right into a movie, and I said, ‘I just don’t think I can.’ How about that for stupid? Actors are not necessarily smart people.” The role would go on to Jack Nicholson. MORE: Ranking All of the Jokers in the Batman-verse



Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in ‘Thelma & Louise?’

In the upcoming book “Off the Cliff,” author Becky Aikman claims actresses Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep were desperate to star in the 1991 film “Thelma and Louise.” “They didn’t have their agents make the call; they did it themselves. No one would have expected the two friends, box-office champs, and Oscar winners, to campaign for parts, but they showed up prepared to kill,” wrote Aikman. However, the roles ultimately went to Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis.



Joseph Fiennes as Obi-Wan Kenobi

Joseph Fiennes revealed he nearly landed the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars.” ““It was whittled down after many auditions to myself and another fine actor who I was at that time at drama school with,” Fiennes told The Wrap. The role eventually went to Ewan McGregor who went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London around the same time as Fiennes.



Connie Britton as Olivia Pope

“Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter that an insider originally thought the 50-year-old “Nashville” star would have been a good choice to play Olivia Pope. “When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, ‘This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.’ I said, ‘It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.'” Kerry Washington was ultimately chosen to take on the iconic role, which was inspired by Judy Smith, a former Bush Administration press aide turned real-life crisis management expert.



Ian McKellen as Dumbledore

Ian McKellen, left, didn’t explore the possibility of playing Dumbledore in the “Harry Potter” films after the original actor Richard Harris died because he knew Harris wasn’t a fan of his. ““When they called me up and said would I be interested in being in the ‘Harry Potter’ films, they didn’t say in what part,” he told BBC’s “HARDtalk.” “I worked out what they were thinking, and I couldn’t… I couldn’t take over the part from an actor who I’d known didn’t approve of me.” Michael Gambon, right, got the role in the end. 



Annette Bening in “Batman Returns”



Emma Watson in “La La Land”

Emma Watson, left, was supposed to have Emma Stone’s role in “La La Land,” but she opted to go film Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” remake instead. “La La Land” earned 14 Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nod for Stone. We’re guessing Watson may have some regrets. 



Andrew Garfield in “Narnia”

Andrew Garfield, left, revealed he missed out on a “Narnia” role and Ben Barnes, right, ultimately got it. “I really wanted to play…This is so silly. There was a ‘Narnia’ movie. The ‘Prince Caspian’ film…” he dished to ET. “Ben Barnes ultimately got it… I think the feedback was ‘he’s not handsome enough.’ What can you do? Hey, I’m not handsome enough for Prince Caspian.”



Eddie Redmayne in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Redmayne really wanted to play Kylo Ren in “The Force Awakens” but he lost the role to Adam Driver. Redmayne recently said he had a “catastrophically bad” audition for the part. 



Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Star Wars’

Leonardo DiCaprio revealed in a new interview that he turned down the role of Anakin Skywalker. “I did have a meeting with George Lucas about that, yes,” DiCaprio told Shortlist. “[I] just didn’t feel ready to take that dive. At that point.” The role went to Hayden Christensen instead.



Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis turned down Jack Lemmon’s role in 1959’s “Some Like it Hot” because he didn’t want to appear in drag. The comedian told director Martin Scorsese at a conversation Tuesday night at the Museum of Moving Image that he regrets his decision. “I would have had a chance to kiss Marilyn Monroe,” Lewis said according the The Post. Lewis said the film’s director called him the idiot who turned down “Some Like it Hot” and Lemmon, who earned an Oscar nom for the role “sent me chocolates every year until he died.”

(Reuters/Metro Goldwyn Mayer)


Cameron Diaz in ‘Mortal Kombat’

“Mortal Kombat” producer Lauri Apelian told the Hollywood Reporter that they originally cast Cameron Diaz in the leading role but the film’s production company was concerned that Diaz was “not a household name” at the time. In the end, they went with Bridgette Wilson-Sampras. “We were very happy with Bridgette. It was great she was available.”



Christina Applegate in ‘Legally Blonde’

Christina Applegate passed on the leading role in “Legally Blonde” because she was scared of being typecast. She told ET, “The script came along my way and it was right after I had just finished, ‘Married [With Children],’ and it was a blonde who in that first script is dimwitted but ends up going to Yale, or Harvard, I don’t remember. But I was scared. I got scared of, kind of repeating myself.” While we’re sure Applegate would have done a great job, we’re glad she passed because it’s hard to imagine anyone besides Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods.



Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Clueless’

“Clueless” director Amy Heckerling knew Alicia Silverstone was the right actress for the lead role in the iconic ’90s film, but that didn’t stop the film’s executives from exploring other options. Heckerling revealed actresses Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow and others were considered for the part of Cher Horowitz. Nearly 20 years after the film was released, it’s hard to imagine anyone besides Silverstone for the role.



Jada Pinkett Smith in ‘The Matrix’

Jada Pinkett Smith was almost cast as the female lead in “The Matrix” but lost it to Carrie-Anne Moss because she had no chemistry with Keanu Reeves. The actress told Howard Stern on his radio show that she and Reeves “didn’t, uh, really click.” While she admitted she was bummed to have lost the role in the series, she now thinks Moss was the right choice.



Timothy Olyphant

“Justified” star Timothy Olyphant told Conan O’Brien he screen tested for the role of Tony Stark for “Iron Man” on the same day Robert Downey Jr. did. “I’m still waiting to hear back,” Olyphant said. “It could be a real game changer.”



Jeremy Sisto in ‘Titanic’

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack in “Titanic,” but “Clueless” star Jeremy Sisto revealed he almost nabbed the part. Sisto eventually lost the part to DiCaprio but has since gone on to star in “Suburgatory” and had a reoccurring role on HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”



Reese Witherspoon in ‘Gone Girl’

“Gone Girl” director David Fincher didn’t feel Reese Witherspoon was right for the part of Ben Affleck’s wife in the 2014 thriller. “We had a long conversation where [Fincher] was like, ‘You’re not right for it. And this is why,” Witherspoon told The Hollywood Reporter. No hard feelings though, Reese agreed with Fincher and the role eventually went to Rosamund Pike.



Neil Patrick Harris

Belive it or not, Neil Patrick Harris turned down a role in the mega-hit series”American Horror Story” for personal reasons. He said he and husband David Burtka were offered a role after they had just played a couple that disliked each other in a movie. “…I thought, it just seems weird to do that twice… So I said, ‘No,’ that we shouldn’t do it. And David wanted to, and I said, I just don’t want us to be known as a couple that don’t like each other, that seems weird.” Click here to find out what else he had to say about the show.



Bill Murray as Forrest?



Reba in ‘Titanic?’

Country superstar Reba McEntire was director James Cameron’s first choice for Molly Brown in “Titanic.” The role, which eventually went to Kathy Bates, was turned down by McEntire due to scheduling conflicts. Although “Titanic” went on to be a huge success, we think Reba’s done pretty well for herself.



Jennie Garth in ‘Saved by the Bell?’

Before Jennie Garth and Tiffani Thiessen became BFFs on the set of “Beverly Hills, 90210” only to have a mysterious and public falling out years later, the two were up for the same role on another early 80s late 90s TV classic. Garth was up against Thiessen for the role of Kelly Kapowski on “Saved By the Bell.” Thiessen eventually won out and we can’t help but wonder if that created some tension that eventually led to their famous feud. PHOTOS: Biggest celebrity feuds ever



Katie Holmes in ‘Orange Is the New Black’

“Orange Is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan revealed she originally wanted Katie Holmes to play the lead role on her Netflix hit. “I’m a big fan of [Holmes]. I met with her originally for Piper, I believe,” Kohan told E! News. But because no one knew the show would be such a success and Holmes was “busy” with other projects at the time, Taylor Schilling (R) was cast as Piper Chapman.

(Reuters/Jill Greenberg/Netflix)


Lucy Hale in ’50 Shades of Grey?’

Actress turned country singer Hale (L) recalled her “uncomfortable” “Fifty Shades of Grey” audition. “It was a two-page monologue of exactly what you would think it would be,” she told MTV News. “Very uncomfortable,” Hale continued about her audition. “But it was sort of one of those things where you just had to go for it or you’re just gonna look lame—hopefully, I didn’t look lame.” In the end, the gig went to Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith’s daughter Dakota Johnson (R).



Mel Gibson in ‘The Terminator’?

Ah-nold’s iconic role was reportedly offered to Mel Gibson, who turned it down. And thankfully so, because the words “I’ll be back” just wouldn’t have the same effect coming from Mel.




Robin Williams as the Joker?


Nicolas Cage as ‘Iron Man’

Nicolas Cage as ‘Iron Man’

It’s hard to picture the Marvel trilogy being as wildly successful without Robert Downey, Jr. starring as Tony Stark, aka “Iron Man.” But this movie was a long time in the making before Rob signed on to play the comic book character. 

Back in 1997, Nic Cage was one of the first actors to express interest in the part. Luckily for audiences, filming didn’t actually begin until a decade later and Robert Downey, Jr was there to save the day, literally.

Check out which other stars were in the running for some of Hollywood’s biggest parts.

(Reuters/Paramount Pictures)


Zooey Deschanel in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Jennifer Lawrence may have taken home the Oscar for starring as recently widowed Tiffani Maxwell, but that role almost went to Zooey Deschanel. Producers also considered Vince Vaughn for Bradley Cooper’s part. 

(Reuters/The Weinstein Company)


Tom Cruise as Salt

The 2010 spy thriller, “Salt” was supposed to have a male lead portraying the title character of Edwin A. Salt and Tom Cruise was reportedly slated to play the part. But then Angelina Jolie apparently caught wind of the script and showed interest in playing the lead, and that’s how Evelyn Salt came to be.

(Reuters/Sony Pictures) 


Thomas Jane as Don Draper?

“I started, literally, on the very, very bottom,” Jon Hamm says of getting the part of Don Draper on AMC’s “Mad Men.” “I wasn’t on anybody’s lists… The funny thing was, I think they went to Thomas Jane for it, and they were told that Thomas Jane does not do television.”

Thomas has since clearly changed his tune, as he now stars in HBO’s “Hung.”

Women everywhere are quite happy with both outcomes.



Lindsay Lohan in ‘The Hangover’?

The first two installation of “The Hangover” were wildly popular and a third will hit screens on May 23. All the stars in the movie became household names and revamped their careers with this laugh-out-loud comedy. But Lindsay was not one of them. 

She reportedly turned down the role of Jade, the stripper, which was later given to Heather Graham. Lindsay, back in 2009, apparently felt that the script “had no potential.”

Boy, was she wrong. 

(Reuters/Warner Bros.)


Lindsay Lohan in ‘The Hangover’?

“The Matrix” trilogy was wildly successful with Keanu Reeves as the star, Neo. But would it have been the same if Will Smith accepted the part? Will doesn’t think so. 

“You know, ‘The Matrix’ is a difficult concept to pitch,” he explains. “In the pitch, I just didn’t see it. I watched Keanu’s performance – and very rarely do I say this – but I would have messed it up.”

(Reuters/Warner Bros.)


Hugh Jackman as James Bond?

Before Daniel Craig was dubbed the new Bond in 2006, Hugh Jackman was approached to play the MI6 agent.

“‘I got a call from my agent saying, ‘There is some possible interest in you for Bond, are you interested?'” Hugh Jackman recalls. “At the time I wasn’t. I was about to shoot ‘X-Men 2’ and Wolverine had become this thing in my life and I didn’t want to be doing two such iconic characters at once.”

(Reuters/MGM Columbia Pictures)


Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Twilight’?

The Oscar winner tried out for the role of Bella Swan in the “Twilight” series. She was likely better off spending her time working on “Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Leave the “Twilight” series and Razzy awards to Kristen Stewart.

(Reuters/Summit Entertainment)



Emma Stone in ‘Heroes’?

The funny actress tried out for the lead in “Heroes” after starring opposite Jonah Hill in “Superbad.”

“I could hear that, in the other room, a girl had just gone in and they were saying, ‘You are our pick… On a scale of one to 10 you’re an 11,'” Emma recalls. Hayden Panettiere was the lucky gal who got the role. “I went home and just had this meltdown,” she says.

We couldn’t picture her in that cheerleader uniform anyhow.



Burt Reynolds in ‘Pretty Woman’?

The actor was offered the role of Edward Lewis in “Pretty Woman” but ultimately declined. 

He later joked with Piers Morgan in 2012 that after he saw the film and the love-making scenes with Julia Roberts, that he regretted not taking the part. 




Robert De Niro in ‘Big’?

The 1988 hit wouldn’t have been the same without Tom Hanks as Josh, but that role almost went to Robert De Niro. Luckily, De Niro was too expensive and the producers gave it to Tom.

(Reuters/20th Century Fox)


Susan Sarandon in ‘Rocky’?

Susan read for the role of Rocky’s love interest, Adrian (Talia Shire), but producers thought she was “too attractive” to play the part.

(AP/United Artists)


Susan Sarandon in ‘Rocky’?

Quentin Tarantino recently told Vanity Fair that Daniel Day-Lewis was in the running to play Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.” Day-Lewis had apparently read the script and wanted in on the movie, too. But after much debate, the role eventually went to John Travolta. 


(Reuters )


Susan Sarandon in ‘Rocky’?

The 1990 mobster flick wouldn’t have been the same without Ray Liotta in the lead as Henry Hill. But if producer Irwin Winkler got his way, Tom Cruise would have starred instead. 

“Tom Cruise was discussed. Marty [Scorsese, the director] wanted Ray [Liotta],” he explains.  “Frankly I thought we could do a lot better.”

That was until Ray won him over. “My wife [and I] were having dinner one night in a restaurant and lo and behold, Ray Liotta came over to me. He said, ‘Look, I know you don’t really want me for it, but…’ And he sold me on the role right that evening.”

Let’s check out some other flicks that almost starred someone else.

(AP/Warner Home Video)

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Frank Sinatra as ‘Dirty Harry?’

The music legend was in talks to play the dirty cop, but reportedly dropped out during contract negotiations because the handgun was too heavy. He was cautious to put added stress on his wrist, which he broke on the set of “The Manchurian Candidate.”

But that wasn’t the only reason he stepped away from the script. His father had also recently passed away and he wanted to spend some time doing lighter material. 

Once ol’ blue eyes dropped out Marlon Brando and Paul Newman were considered for the role before Clint Eastwood was ultimately cast.

 (AP/Warner Home Video)

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Sarah Polley in ‘Almost Famous?’

Director Cameron Crowe had originally chosen Sarah Polley to play the enigmatic Penny Lane in “Almost Famous” but changed his mind during pre-production.  

“Sarah is like a Bob Dylan song, more ’60s than ’70s,” he says. “That’s why it didn’t work. Kate Hudson is Zeppelin.”

The 2000 hit ended up being Kate Hudson’s breakout role.

(AP/Dreamworks Video)

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Nicolas Cage as ‘The Wrestler?’

The 2008 role that revamped Mickey Rourke’s career and won him a Golden Globe, almost didn’t happen. Nicolas Cage was previously in talks to star as Randy “The Ram” Robinson.

It probably all came down to the fact that nobody wants to see Nic Cage with his shirt off. 

(AP/20th Century Fox)

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Eminem in ‘Wanted?’

Mark Millar, the writer and creator of the comic on which the movie was based, reportedly started the rumor that Eminem was attached to the flick. The illustrations of Wesley Gibson in his stories clearly look like the rapper. 

“I’m really excited about the possibility of [Eminem] playing the lead role,” Mark said at the time. “Universal have already been in talks with his people.”

Apparently that wasn’t actually true since Em’s people came back saying it was news to them. James McAvoy ended up playing the lead.

(Aftermath/Universal Studios)


O.J. Simpson in ‘Terminator?’

This one is so good it seems made up, but famed footballer O.J. Simpson was considered for the part of the “Terminator” in 1984. According to one report, producers thought he was “too nice” to be taken seriously as a killer.

Turns out a jury thought that, too.


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Haley Joel Osment in ‘Harry Potter?’

When the book series was first in negotiations to make it to the big screen, Steven Spielberg was in talks to turn it into an animated movie. He envisioned Haley Joel Osment from “The Sixth Sense” reading for Harry Potter. 

Luckily for Daniel Radcliffe that plan didn’t work out. 

(AP/Warner Home Video)

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Kate Winslet in ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary?’

Lots of ladies were considered for the leading role of Bridget Jones. 

British actresses Kate Winslet, Helena Bonham Carter and Rachel Weisz were all in the running to play the British singleton. Ultimately Renee, a Texas native, snagged the part that would forever change her career.


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Eric Stoltz in ‘Back to the Future?’

Fans of “Back to the Future” almost didn’t get to see Michael J. Fox in the starring role as Marty McFly. 

When he was first offered the part, Michael was busy shooting “Family Ties” and had to turn down the role. So producers began filming the trilogy with Eric Stoltz.

They reportedly weren’t happy with how things were going and eventually found a way to make it work with Michael J. Fox by having him film at night after “Family Ties.” 

Who knows if the movie would have been the cult hit it is without Michael as the star. 

(AP/Universal Studios)

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Molly Ringwald in ‘Pretty Woman?’

Molly Ringwald was a star in the ’80s and reportedly the first choice to play Vivian Ward in “Pretty Woman” (1990). Some other actresses considered for the part? Meg Ryan, Kim Basinger, Sandra Bullock and Heather Locklear. 

Oddly enough, Richard Gere wasn’t the first choice to play Edward Lewis either. Al Pacino and Christopher Reeve were reportedly originally considered for the part. 


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Val in Dirty Dancing?

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner” was almost uttered by tough guy Val Kilmer.

He reportedly turned down the role of Johnny in “Dirty Dancing” because he didn’t want to be viewed as a heart throb. 

You definitely don’t have to worry about that, Val!

(AP/Lions Gate)

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Nicole Kidman in ‘The Reader?’

The lead character in “The Reader” was originally supposed to be played by Kate Winslet, but she was replaced by Nicole Kidman due to a scheduling conflict with “Revolutionary Road.”

However, it seems as though Kate was meant to play the WWII vet in “The Reader” since Nicole Kidman had to bow out when she became pregnant. 

Kate ultimately got the role back and it earned her an Academy Award.

(AP/The Weinstein Company)

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John Travolta in ‘Forrest Gump?’

John Travolta reportedly still regrets turning down the title role in “Forrest Gump.”

But fans of the movie couldn’t picture anyone other than Tom Hanks playing the slow-talking Gump.

Tom did such a good job that it snagged him his second Oscar win.

That’s all I gotta say about that…


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John Travolta in ‘Forrest Gump?’


Katherine Heigl’s big film debut in “Knocked Up” only happened because other leading ladies turned down the part.

“I turned down another movie because it was going to show a vagina–not mine, but somebody else’s,” said Anne Hathaway at the time. “And I didn’t believe that it was actually necessary to the story.”


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Tom Cruise in ‘Shawshank Redemption?’


The 1994 movie seemed practically made for Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. But if Rob Reiner was in the director’s seat he would have had it differently.

He wanted Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford to star as Andy Dufresne and “Red” respectively. Luckily Frank Darabont directed the cult classic instead. 

(AP/Castle Rock)

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Christopher Walken in ‘Star Wars?’


Harrison Ford may be an awesome Han Solo, but he wasn’t the only one considered for the part.

Nick Nolte, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken were all considered to play the lead in “Star Wars.”

(AP/20th Century Fox)

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Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Titanic?’


Can you picture Gwyneth Paltrow posing for her portrait in the buff, just wearing a necklace?

Neither can we. 

But she was apparently considered for the lead as Rose Dewitt. 

The studio also wanted director James Cameron to consider Matthew McConaughey for the part of Jack, but he wanted Leonardo DiCaprio.


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Mark Wahlberg in ‘Brokeback Mountain?’


Tough guy Mark Wahlberg was reportedly “creeped out” by the graphic sexual nature of “Brokeback Mountain” and turned down the part of Ennis Del Mar that was ultimately played by Heath Ledger. 

Joaquin Phoenix was also considered to play Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Jack Twist. 


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Mark Wahlberg in ‘Brokeback Mountain?’

The 1981 movie was almost made with Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones instead of Harrison Ford.

Unfortunately Tom had to turn down the role due to his recently signed contract to star as “Magnum P.I.”


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