Movie star and some iconic roles they turned down

By Jake Schroeder
Movie star and some iconic roles they turned down
Photo Courtesy: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Had it not been for the right choice of actors, the spirit of many film roles would hardly be the same. No one could portray Rose Dewitt Bukater and her burning heart in love like Kate Winslet. Similarly, the screenplay of The Godfather seemed to be written exclusively to Al Pacino to shine. Ironic as it may sound, some movie stars who defined legendary roles of the cinematic industry were not the first choice of the film producer.
Here are 30 historic movie roles turned down by famous stars who were initially approached for it. Read the list below to see whether your favourite actors and actresses skipped precious opportunities.

Joaquin Phoenix: Doctor Strange/Doctor Strange

The year 2019 witnessed millions of applauses for the extraordinary performances of Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker”. Joaquin intensely immersed into the sociopathic comedian Arthur Fleck, which spun audiences’ brains round and round. Before this success, he was offered the role of Stephen Strange by Marvel Studio, yet passed it up.

Joaquin Phoenix: Doctor Strange/Doctor Strange
Photo Courtesy: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI

Eventually, Benedict Cumberbatch undertook the role and made Doctor Strange a symbol of both physical and spiritual power. In the interview with Little White Lies, Joaquin still expressed his compliments and congratulations on the movie after its release.

Angelina Jolie: Ryan Stone/ Gravity

Sandra Bullock’s stunning performance as astronaut Ryan Stone in the sci-fi “Gravity” successfully showed humans’ deepest desire to conquer the universe. Nonetheless, at first, the movie producers did not approach her to take the role of the female astronaut.

Angelina Jolie: Ryan Stone/ Gravity
Photo Courtesy: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards

Initially, the filmmakers reached out to the high-profile actress Angelina Jolie to join the cast. Despite her interest in the screenplay, Angelina then passed up the offer to appear in Gravity. Finally, Sandra Bullock starred Ryan and turned out to be a perfect match for George Clooney, who played Matt Kowalski. Sandra’s extraordinary performance won an Oscar that year.

Al Pacino: Han Solo/Star Wars

Thanks to his impressive contribution to the success of “The Godfather”, Al Pacino became a household name all over the world. Apart from being an inborn movie stars, he was also infamous for passing up many quintessential roles. One of his most notorious rejection was the role of Han Solo in Star Wars.

Al Pacino: Han Solo/Star Wars
Photo Courtesy: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Later on, at the Toronto Film Festival, he revealed the reason why he did not audition for the iconic role. He was not satisfied with the script after reading it, and he thought that the Star Wars filmmakers did not make careful consideration while offering him the role. Despite the success of this movie, he did not regret turning it down.

Ian McKellen: Dumbledore/Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Since “Harry Potter” became one of the best-selling books worldwide, Warner Bros. decided to adapt J.K.Rowling’s masterpiece into motion pictures. For the first two movies of the Harry Potter series, Richard Harris undertook the role of wizard professor Dumbledore. Sadly, after he died in 2002, the movie producers had to urgently look for a replacement.

Ian McKellen: Dumbledore/Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Photo Courtesy: Tristan Fewings-WPA Pool/Getty Images

Warner Bros attempted to persuade Ian McKellen to join the cast of Harry Potter, yet Ian refused. Ian shared with EW on his interview that his acting style did not suit Richard Harris, so he made up his mind to turn down the role.

Sandra Bullock: Neo/The Matrix

The story behind the reverberating success of “The Matrix” contains numerous struggles and desperate moments. The script was sent to many actors and they found it rather complicated. 

Sandra Bullock: Neo/The Matrix
Photo Courtesy: JB Lacroix/WireImage/Getty Images

The filmmakers were so stuck when they reached out to Sandra Bullock to offer the role. They were even willing to modify the screenplay by changing Neo’s gender if she said yes to the film. However, eventually, Sandra did not accept to join the cast.

Christina Applegate: Elle Woods/Legally Blonde

Reese Witherspoon’s cinematic career skyrocketed after her blasting success with the role Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”. Shocking as it may sound, the movie producers initially invited Christine Applegate to cast the role, instead of Reese.

Christina Applegate: Elle Woods/Legally Blonde
Photo Courtesy: Randy Holmes/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

On answering the question from ET, Christina showed no regrets passing on the role. In addition, she spent some compliments to Reese Witherspoon for being a perfect match for the role. 

Emma Watson: Mia/La La Land

Mesmerizing scenes? Check. Catchy soundtrack? Check. Touching message? Check. Wonderful performance? Check. All these elements were the reason why La La Land was nominated for the Oscar 2017. The role Mia even helped Emma Stone to win the Oscar for Best Actress in that year. However, the first actress that the filmmakers approached was Emma Watson.

Emma Watson: Mia/La La Land
Photo Courtesy: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

At the time, Emma Watson was busy with her role in the Disney adaptation of the fairytale “Beauty and The Beast”. Her to-do list might take most of her time, so she needed to be careful with her choice. 

Michelle Pfeiffer: Clarice Starling/The Silence of the Lambs

Together with Anthony Hopkin, Jodie Foster contributed tremendously to make “The Silence of the Lambs” unforgettable for all fans of horror films. Unbelievably, the studio, at first, offered the role to another actress, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Michelle Pfeiffer: Clarice Starling/The Silence of the Lambs
Photo Courtesy: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for 21st Century Fox

Michelle Pfeiffer was then afraid that the horror theme of the movie did not suit her style. When the role was passed on to Jodie Foster, the film director doubted her acting skills. What was next? Jodie crushed the character and won an Oscar.

Lindsay Lohan: Jade/The Hangover

The Hangover is among the top American comedy movies. When the film was in the making, actress Lindsay Lohan once thought of the role Jade, who is a funny stripper. However, she decided not to participate in the film cast.

Lindsay Lohan: Jade/The Hangover
Photo Courtesy: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Later on, director Todd Phillips revealed the reason why Lindsay rejected playing Jade. Much as she loved the screenplay, it was her age which prevented her from taking the role. However, there existed some rumors, pointing out that Lindsay was not satisfied with the script.

John Travolta: Forrest/Forrest Gump

Right after its release date, tickets of the romantic movie “Forrest Gump” were almost sold out in all box offices. Forrest, played by Tom Hanks, brought both sweetness and empathy into audiences’ hearts. Yet, Tom was not the first one to receive the invitation to join the Forrest Gump’s cast. In fact, John Travolta was initially offered the role.

John Travolta: Forrest/Forrest Gump
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After the success of “Forrest Gump”, John sometimes said that he regretted rejecting the role. However, he was pleased with Tom Hanks’ performance and gave Tom a lot of compliments and congratulations as the role of Forrest matched Hanks perfectly.

Michael Madsen: Vincent Vega/Pulp Fiction

Skipping the chance to join the cast of “Forrest Gump”, in the same year, John Travolta undertook the role of Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction”. Interestingly, it was also a role for which he was not the first actor to be approached. The producers, at first, invited Michael Madsen, who was busy with another movie at that time. 

Michael Madsen: Vincent Vega/Pulp Fiction
Photo Courtesy: Luca Carlino/NurPhoto/Getty Images

After “Pulp Fiction” was released, Michael Madsen expressed his appreciation for John Travolta. According to Michael, Vincent Vega was a breakthrough in John’s career, marking a time when John stepped out of his comfort zone.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Rose Dewitt Bukater/Titanic

Do you remember the song “My Heart Will Go On” when Jack and Rose stood side by side on Titanic cruise ship? Yes! Rose Bukater transmitted the message of romance and love to all the beating hearts worldwide, thanks to the spectacular performance of the legendary actress Kate Winslet. It was not widely known that another actress, Gwyneth Paltrow, almost won the role over Kate.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Rose Dewitt Bukater/Titanic
Photo Courtesy: Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images

Gwyneth shared with Howard Stern in an interview that she put many efforts to take this role. However, she knew that there were many iconic roles out there for her to really shine. Therefore, there was no need to cry over spilt milk, wasn’t it?

Jack Nicholson: Michael Corleone/The Godfather

Thinking that the role of Michael Corleone did not suit him, Jack Nicholson skipped a precious chance to star this legendary iconic movie character. Later on, the filmmakers cast Al Pacino for Michael, making a big name in the cinematic industry.

Jack Nicholson: Michael Corleone/The Godfather
Photo Courtesy: Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

After refusing to participate in the film cast, Jack still held the book of Mario Puzo in high esteems. He also showed his respects to Al Pacino as Al seemed to be born to play Michael Corleone. 

Will Smith: Django/Django: Unchained

When Will Smith first read the script of “Django: Unchained”, he was impressed and interested in playing the role Django. However, he was not persuaded by Quentin Tarantino’s narrative style, so he decided not to participate in the film.

Will Smith: Django/Django: Unchained
Photo Courtesy: Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images

 In an interview with The Hollywood Report, Will Smith still thought highly of the storyline. Yet, the revenge-centric approach, in his viewpoints, was not suitable. A romance story would be a better idea.

Jake Gyllenhaal: Rick Flag/Suicide Squad

In 2016, DC Universal Studio released its bombshell “Suicide Squad”, a movie with an outstanding gathering of all villains from other DC movies. Together with Joker, Harley Quinn, Rick Flag was an iconic evil member of the squad.

Jake Gyllenhaal: Rick Flag/Suicide Squad
Photo Courtesy: Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images

 Before Joel Kinnaman successfully portrayed the devious Rick Flag, Jake Gyllenhaal was contacted to discuss his participation in the film. Three years later, Jake accepted a villain role offered by Marvel Studio. It was Mysterio, who betrayed spider man in “Spider-Man: Far from Home.”

David Schwimmer: Agent J/ Men in Black

Released in 1997, Men in Black made a blasting success and reaped $1.6 billion in total. There is a fact about this film that was unknown to many movie fans. Will Smith, who played Agent J outstandingly, was not the first choice of the film producers. David Schwimmer, the “Friends”’ star, turned the role down as it did not match his style.

David Schwimmer: Agent J/ Men in Black
Photo Courtesy: FX Networks/IMDb

David did not step out of his comfort zone, which kept him stuck in his past direction. He starred some films such as “Band of Brothers” of HBO, or “American Crime Story” of Ryan Murphy, yet nothing could outshine the shadow of “Friends” series in his acting career. 

Reese Witherspoon: Sidney Prescott/Scream

In the making of the film “Scream”, the filmmakers faced a lot of struggles with the part of Sidney Prescott. The role was first assigned to actress Drew Barrymore, yet she wanted to appear at the beginning of the film. 

Reese Witherspoon: Sidney Prescott/Scream
Photo Courtesy: Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Watermark Conference for Women 2018

Drew Barrymore took on another role of the film, Casey, who was killed at the beginning of the movie. The role of Sydney was offered to Reese Witherspoon and then came to her rejection as she did not think highly of “Scream”. According to Reese, “Scream” did not stand out among a pool of horror films.

Josh Hartnett: Superman/Superman Returns

After playing superhero roles in action movies, the whole career path of an actor or actress might stick with it for a lifetime. When it comes to Robert Downey, we think of Iron Man. We mention Spider-man when talking about Tom Holland. That was the top concern of Josh Hartnett when he was invited to play the role Superman.

Josh Hartnett: Superman/Superman Returns
Photo Courtesy: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

In an interview with Details Magazine, Josh said that he did not want his acting career to be labeled by a single role. He would rather try many challenges and diversify his film legacy. At that time, he was in his early twenties, so he wanted to explore many aspects of the cinematic world.

Matt Damon: Harvey Dent/The Dark Knight

Here comes another masterpiece from DC Studio, The Dark Night. The outstanding acting skills of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart was an element of the film’s success. However, initially, Aaron was not chosen to be in the cast.

Matt Damon: Harvey Dent/The Dark Knight
Photo Courtesy: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

At first, the role of betrayer Harvey Dent was introduced to Matt Damon. Matt, later on, explained that he was really into the opportunity, yet he could not arrange his time for it. In addition, he paid many compliments to Aaron’s performance. 

Charlie Hunnam: Christian Grey/Fifty Shades of Grey

Failing to adjust his schedule, CharlieHunnam ultimately turned down the chance to star the billionaire Christian Grey in “Fifty Shades of Grey”. The role was then played by Jamie Dornan.

Charlie Hunnam: Christian Grey/Fifty Shades of Grey
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Charlie Hunnam, after that, expressed his regret on letting go of this opportunity. However, he explained that the situations were so complicated, so if he had kept holding onto the role, it might have resulted under his expectation.

Emily Blunt: Black Widow/Iron Man 2

If you are both a Marvel fan and a feminist, you may be really into the female superhero Black Widow. Without much natural strength or technological skills, her martial art moves still win your heart. Emily Blunt was originally set to take on this role before Scarlett Johansson actually starred it.

Emily Blunt: Black Widow/Iron Man 2
Photo Courtesy: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Emily explained that she was busy with many other contracts at the time, though she really appreciated this chance. Also, she told the fans not to be regretful, because Scarlett Johansson did crush the character with her spectacular performance. 

Tiffany Haddish: Unknown Role/Get Out

The movie “Get Out” was a milestone of the horror genre with a modern theme. After starring the interracial couple experiencing many twists and turns, the acting careers of two actors Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams did skyrocket.

Tiffany Haddish: Unknown Role/Get Out
Photo Courtesy: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

When the flick was in the making, director Peele did invite actress Tiffany Haddish to join the cast. However, according to Tiffany, the horror genre was not her cup of tea. Though the flick became a blasting success later, she did not show any regrets about turning down the role.

Matthew McConaughey: Ego/Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

There would be numerous answers if you asked a Marvel fan: “Why do you love the film ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’?” The reasons lie in the mesmerizing plot, catchy soundtracks and the high-profile cast members. However, little did people know that Kurt Russell, who starred Ego, was initially not among the cast members.

Matthew McConaughey: Ego/Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2
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Matthew McConaughey was the first choice for the role of Ego. However, between “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Dark Tower”, another offer he received at the time, he decided to pick the latter one. Despite rejecting the part of Ego, Matthew still expressed his interest in the movie when he was interviewed by Playboy.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Patrick Bateman/American Psycho

In the making of the movie “American Psycho”, the director once got into troubles with the role of murderer Patrick Bateman. She did promise the part to actor Christian Bale, yet the studio later informed that Leonardo DiCaprio would star it.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Patrick Bateman/American Psycho
Photo Courtesy: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

That was not the only constraint happening throughout the production of the flick. Some conflictsarose between Leo and Oliver Stone, the co-scriptwriter. After all, Leo decided to drop the role for his another project. As a result, the leading role went to Christian Bale.

Mark Wahlberg: Jack Twist/Brokeback Mountain

The captivating gay romance in Brokeback Mountain was portrayed appealingly by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. These roles were challenges for many actors, and Mark Wahlberg was one of them.

Mark Wahlberg: Jack Twist/Brokeback Mountain
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In his interview with Premier, he disclosed his feelings when first reading the script. The lines were just so graphic and descriptive that he felt not ready to fit in. Despite director Ang Lee’s attempt to persuade him, he decided not to join the cast.

Tilda Swinton: Professor Sybill Trelawney/Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The excellent performance of Emma Thompson did bring the soul to Professor Sybill Trelawney, the psychic half-blooded witch. The role was initially offered to Tilda Swinton, though she turned down the opportunity due to her uneased past.

Tilda Swinton: Professor Sybill Trelawney/Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Photo Courtesy: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

According to Tilda, she experienced her childhood in a lonely and isolated boarding school. The environment in Hogwarts seemed to be romanticized, which veiled the truth about stuff happening in schools in real life. 

Leonardo DiCaprio: Anakin Skywalker/Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Here came another time when Leonardo DiCaprio passed up an iconic film role. Leo and George Lucas had a meeting to discuss his appearance as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars. However, he ended up with a rejection, with the explanation that he was not ready for the role. 

Leonardo DiCaprio: Anakin Skywalker/Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
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“Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” then attracted millions of youngsters, encouraging them to maximize their imagination and creativity. Superheroes, villains and even betrayers in Star Wars were obviously out of the ordinary.

Christopher Plummer: Gandalf/The Lord of the Rings

The part of Gandalf was initially offered to Christopher Plummer before he passed it up to Ian McKellen. Christopher, after that, showed his deep regret dropping this quintessential role.

Christopher Plummer: Gandalf/The Lord of the Rings
Photo Courtesy: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

After all, Christopher still paid his innermost compliments to Ian McKellen for his excellence in the movie. In his viewpoints, Ian did bring the spirit to the role of Gandalf, which was really marvelous. Christopher agreed that Gandalf was the film role for Ian to shine in the cinematic industry.

Matt Damon: Jake Sully/Avatar

On its release day, the legendary cinematic icon “Avatar” overwhelmed all box offices. When looking for an actor to star Jake Sully, the Marine who discovered the mystery of the alien land, the movie producers approached Matt Damon. Matt was offered the commission at 10% of the film’s profit, yet his answer was still a “No”.

Matt Damon: Jake Sully/Avatar
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“Avatar” ranked the top position among the movies with the highest revenue throughout history. In an interview with British GQ, Damon was not pleased with the film producers. They did not really need him to participate in the cast, they just seemed to look for anyone to fill in the role. 

Marilyn Monroe: Holly Golightly/Breakfast at Tiffany’s

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was a milestone in Audrey Hepburn’s cinematic career. Starring a classic New York lady, Hepburn did build the spirit for the role Holly Golightly. However, before Hepburn was offered the role, the filmmakers invited the legendary Marilyn Monroe to be in the cast.

Marilyn Monroe: Holly Golightly/Breakfast at Tiffany’s
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Sun-kissed smile, blonde hair, fair complexion, and so on. Marilyn Monroe seemed to be born to star Holly Golightly. Truman Capote, the book author writing the novel from which this film was adapted, dreamt of having Marilyn starring Holly. Yet, Marilyn decided to turn down the offer because she wanted to diversify her cinematic legacy, instead of being labelled as a blonde lady.