When a movie role becomes iconic, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. The tales of famous movie roles that almost went to other actors are legendary. Try to imagine Shirley Temple in The Wizard of Oz or Ronald Reagan in Casablanca. These examples almost happened!
But Hollywood “What If?” casting is not just the stuff of legend. Here are 23 iconic movie roles that were almost played by other actors.
Will Smith | Django Unchained
It’s well known that Will Smith passed on the chance to play Neo in The Matrix because he wanted to make Wild Wild West instead. But did you know that he also was asked to play the lead in Django Unchained? He turned that role down too, and Quentin Tarantino cast Jaime Foxx.
Tom Hanks | Jerry Maguire
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Tom Cruise yelling “Show me the money!” But the lead in Jerry Maguire was actually intended for another Tom: Tom Hanks. But Hanks was working on That Thing You Do, which he wrote, directed, and starred in, so he had to turn it down.
Ryan Gosling | Suicide Squad
Ryan Gosling was the first choice to play the iconic DC Comics villain the Joker in Suicide Squad. He turned it down because, and we’re not making this up, he didn’t want to sign on to multiple movies. Instead, the part went to Jared Leto. Ironically, the film was so poorly received by audiences that Leto did not get to play the Joker again anyway.
Jessica Simpson | The Notebook
Believe it or not, Jessica Simpson could have been one of the romantic leads in The Notebook. But she declined because she didn’t like her co-star (Ryan Gosling) and didn’t want to perform an intimate scene with him. The role of Allie ended up going to Rachel McAdams.
John Travolta | Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump was the biggest live-action film of 1994, and one that netted Tom Hanks his second Oscar. But it could have been John Travolta in the role of a lifetime. Travolta now considers it a career mistake to have passed on the role. But he didn’t do too badly, as he got rave reviews for that other 1994 movie, Pulp Fiction.
Molly Ringwald | Pretty Woman
Molly Ringwald was one of the most popular teen actors in the ’80s, starring in such classics as Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. But she almost got the role that put Julia Roberts at the top of the list: Pretty Woman. Ringwald decided against taking the role because she didn’t want to play a call girl.
Matt Damon | Avatar
Matt Damon could have been the lead in one of the highest grossing films ever, Avatar. But he had the Bourne films on his plate already, so he had to turn it down. The role of Jake Sully ended up going to Sam Worthington. More bad news for Matt Damon: he also lost out on playing Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight.
Lindsay Lohan | The Hangover
When The Hangover was in production, Lindsay Lohan was offered the role of Jade, mother of the iconic Hangover baby. But Lohan, then 20, thought she was too young for the part and turned it down. The role went to Heather Graham, who also reprised Jade in The Hangover III.
Jennifer Lawrence | Twilight
Can you imagine the same actress playing Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan? Neither can we, but it almost happened. Jennifer Lawrence was in the running to star in the Twilight series but lost out to Kristen Stewart.
Matthew McConaughey | Titanic
This is a sad one. McConaughey thought for sure he had the lead role in Titanic sewn up but lost out to Leonardo DiCaprio. So we never got the chance to hear Jack tell Rose it would be all right, all right, all right.
Liam Hemsworth | Thor
Poor Liam is the unluckiest of the Hemsworths. His divorce to Miley Cyrus was finalized in January 2020. He also lost the role of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to his own brother, Chris Hemsworth. Ouch.
Jennifer Hudson | Precious
Oscar-winning singer/actress Jennifer Hudson was offered the lead role in the movie Precious, but she declined it. The role went instead to Gabourey Sibide and launched her career. Hudson went on to do more stage and Broadway work to add to her catalog.
Sean Connery | The Lord of the Rings
Sean Connery was the first choice to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but turned it down because he “didn’t understand it.” The part went to Ian McKellen, who became forever Gandalf. Connery went off to do League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and after that, retired from acting altogether.
Julia Roberts | The Blind Side
Julia Roberts was the first choice to play Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, but turned it down to make Valentine’s Day with director Garry Marshall (who had also directed Prettty Woman). Sandra Bullock turned the role into an Oscar winner and Roberts’ film sank like a rock.
Julia Roberts | Sleepless in Seattle
Can an actress turn down two iconic parts? Of course she can. Roberts was also slated to be the lead in Sleepless in Seattle but she passed. Meg Ryan turned the part and the movie into classics.
Angela Bassett | Monster’s Ball
Angela Bassett was the first choice for the drama Monster’s Ball, but she declined the role because she thought the part was “demeaning.” The role went to Halle Berry instead, who made history as the first black woman to win an Oscar for lead actress. Nothing demeaning about that.
Mel Gibson | Gladiator
Mel Gibson was going through a dry spell when he was offered the role of Maximus in Gladiator. But he turned it down, thinking himself too old for the role. Fellow Australian Russell Crowe took the part and, what do you know, an Oscar.
Bruce Willis | Ghost
Bruce Willis didn’t just turn down the role of Sam in Ghost, but he turned down a chance to act with his then-wife, Demi Moore. Patrick Swayze went on to make the role iconic, and Willis divorced Moore so perhaps it’s for the best anyway.
Emma Watson | La La Land
Emma Watson and Emma Stone have a history of switching roles with each other. Watson was originally supposed to play the lead in La La Land, but had to turn it down when scheduling conflicts arose with Beauty and the Beast. Then, Stone had scheduling conflicts of her own with The Favourite, and had to turn down the role of Meg in Little Women, which ended up going to Watson.
Tiffany Haddish | Get Out
This comedic actress from Girls Trip turned down a role in Jordan Peele’s Get Out because she has a policy of never appearing in horror films. So the role went to Betty Gabriel instead and Haddish concentrated on her Netflix animated series Tuca & Bertie.
Johnny Depp | Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Johnny Depp has so many iconic roles it’s hard to believe he was the first choice to play another one, the lead in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Due to the dreaded scheduling conflicts Depp declined the role, and Matthew Broderick made the role his own forever.
Another “could have been” from The Lord of the Rings series, Russell Crowe was almost was cast in the role of Aragorn, which eventually went to Viggo Mortensen. Reportedly, Crowe was offered 10% of the gross for the films, which would have been in the realm of $100 million.
But Crowe turned down the role because he could tell Peter Jackson was being forced to offer it to him. “I just knew that my instinct was that he had somebody else in mind, which turned out to be Viggo, and he should be allowed to hire the actor who he wants,” Crowe told Howard Stern.
After the first X-Men movie, Hugh Jackman was offered one of the most iconic roles ever: James Bond. He would have premiered in Casino Royale but he decided against it, opting instead to continue playing Wolverine. Instead Daniel Craig became the new Bond, and both franchises were the better for it.