With the rehabilitated curiosity – stemming from the footage that was recently released… albeit 25 years later! – in Eric Stoltz’s engagement as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” pre-Michael J.Fox, and of course the big casting switcheroo on “The Hangover 2” (Mel Gibson swapped for Liam Neeson), thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the could-have-been’s of the celluloid struggle.
The following list includes roles that some passed on, movies that an actor or actress was forced to pull out of for one reason or another (ultimately having to be replaced), and some, like Stoltz, that were vetoed either just before – or at the start of – a particular film’s shoot.
50. The Terminator (1984) – Sylvester Stallone as ‘The Terminator’
We’ve all heard the stories of O.J Simpson (James Cameron’s favourite to take on the role before coming to the humorous conclusion that America wouldn’t believe such a ‘nice guy’ could be a killer) and Lance Henriksen (He did a great screen test, arriving to the office in character, but wasn’t quite Terminator material. Instead, Cameron cast him as a cop in the film) being up for the T-800, but did you know Sylvester Stallone was actually offered the role of the time-travelling assassin? Sly passed not long before Cameron got wind of Arnold Schwarzenegger, actually.
49. The Hunt for Red October (1990) – Kevin Costner as ‘Jack Ryan’
Kevin Costner, who in 1990 could afford to be finicky (“Dances with Wolves” was released that year and twelve months later, would snag him a bevy of Oscars), turned down the role of C.I.A. agent Jack Ryan in the first film adaptation of one of Tom Clancy’s novels. Granted, Sean Connery wasn’t attached to co-star at the time – had he been, that might have spurred Costner (who had worked with Connery on “The Untouchables”) to take a submarine ride. Harrison Ford – who would ironically end up playing Ryan in the sequel “Patriot Games” – also passed. Alec Baldwin, it seems, was way down the list.
48. American Gigolo (1980) – John Travolta as ‘’Julian Kay”
And to think that every time we hear Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ we could be thinking of John Travolta, and not liquorice-haired Richard Gere! The former “Welcome Back Kotter” star, doused in steam at the end of the ‘70s thanks to the success of “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever”, was being offered anything and everything there for a while. Director Paul Schrader wanted him for the role of male whore Julian Kay but Travolta was of the assumption that audiences would rather see him riding a bucking bull than Lauren Hutton. Amusingly, Travolta also passed on “An Officer and a Gentlemen” and “Chicago”, both which Gere ended up doing.
47. Top Gun (1986) – Matthew Modine as “Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell”
One of the more famous dud moves made by an actor, Matthew Modine – then on the rise thanks to his performances in flicks like “Vision Quest” and “Birdy” – was Paramount’s first and only choice to play the lead role in their slick flyboy movie “Top Gun”. It was an instant pass for Modine who, unlike the guy that ended up saying yes to the film (Tom Cruise), struggled to find juicy roles post-1990.
46. Scooby Doo (1996) – Jim Carrey as ‘Shaggy’
Jim Carrey, the biggest name in comedy in 1996, had such a good time working with Warner Bros on “Batman Forever” (1995) that the studio quickly attached the Canuck to their feature film adaptation of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon. At the same time, the studio hired “Roseanne” favourite Sara Gilbert to play Velma. Didn’t get too far. The film languished in development hell for a few more years, at which time Carrey was too big a star to consider such a vanilla movie and Gilbert had booked a bed at the hotel obscurity.
45. The Godfather (1972) – Burt Reynolds as ‘Sonny Corleone’
Paramount wanted the “Smokey and the Bandit” heartthrob to play Brando’s son in the feature film adaptation of the Mario Puzo novel but Brando didn’t. You see, unfortunately for Burt, Brando carried so much weight (yes, literally) that he had final casting approval over his co-stars and he cracked the shits when he found out Reynolds was in the running to play his on-screen son. Brando seemingly always had the final say on his co-stars – you’ll recall he vetoed the casting of Sylvester Stallone as Superman, too.
44. Star Wars : A New Hope (1977) – Christopher Walken as ‘Han Solo’
How different would “Star Wars” had been with Walken as the vest-donning smuggler!? Would’ve been bloody odd if you ask me. As great as Walken is in “The Dead Zone” and “The Deer Hunter”, he’s so not Han Solo. Funnily enough, Harrison Ford wasn’t even under consideration – he was just the poor sap being paid a couple of bucks to read lines with the actresses up for the role of Princess Leia. After screen testing Walken (and a bunch of others, including Kurt Russell and Chevy Chase), Lucas realized that Ford, the young man helping him with line readings, was the best man for the job – he took a punt, the rest is history.
43. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Tom Selleck as ‘Indiana Jones’
It was a done deal. TV star Tom Selleck would play adventure-seeking archaeologist Indiana Jones in a film by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Unfortunately the pilot of a TV series that Selleck had filmed (“Magnum P.I”) was picked up and Selleck was legally obligated to it. So the moustached-hunk was off to Hawaii, and “Raiders” was a hero short. Spielberg suggested that Lucas hire his “Star Wars” star Harrison Ford to play “Raiders”’ superman, but Lucas was dead against using actors he’d used before (always has been). Lucas eventually agreed that Ford was the best man for the job.
42. Boxing Helena (1993) – Kim Basinger as ‘Helena’
Oh what a terrible film this was. Remember seeing it at the Lumiere theatre in Melbourne when it was released. It was one of the few times I’ve considered walking out of a movie – I didn’t, only because I’d paid for the film so thought I might as well endure it. Kim Basinger, seemingly realizing how shit the script was (albeit a bit too late), pulled out of the film at the 11th hour, ultimately leading director Jennifer Lynch to sue her in court. Lynch wanted $9 million for violation of a verbal contract. The award was overturned on appeal, and the case was settled out of court. Sherilyn Fenn replaced Basinger as the amputee in the box.
41. The Godfather Part 3 (1990) – Winona Ryder as ‘Mary Corleone’
“Beetlejuice” star Ryder was originally cast as Mary Corleone in director Francis Ford Coppola’s third and final “Godfather”. Depending on which story you believe, Ryder left because she was ill (physically exhausted) or wanted to do Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” with then-boyfriend Johnny Depp. Director’s kid Sofia Coppola (who would be unfairly attacked by the critics for her performance in the film) would replace Ryder at the last minute.
40. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) – Sylvester Stallone as ‘Axel Foley’
You all know this one, right? Sly was originally cast as Axel Foley in a more action-centric, less-comical “Beverly Hills Cop” movie. Sly ultimately abandoned the project (all the tinkering with the script turned him off) and the project was later rewritten for “48 Hours” and “Trading Places” funnyman Eddie Murphy.
39. Die Hard (1988) – Arnold Schwarzenegger as ‘John McClane’
“Die Hard” was originally written as a sequel to “Commando” with Arnold Schwarzenegger expected to reprise his role as arm-canoned John Matrix. Though it was ultimately decided that the project should lose all ties to the 1985 actioner, and be a stand-alone actioner, the studio still insisted Schwarzenegger headline it. The Oak ultimately decided not to do it… as did Stallone, Reynolds, Gere, Gibson and Ford. ‘Sixth choice’ Bruce Willis – then best known as the ‘charming funnyman’ on Tvs “Moonlighting” – got the job…. And the rest if history.
38. Batman Forever (1995) – Mel Gibson as ‘Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent’
Gibson had been offered the role of the scorched attorney in the third “Batman” film but had to pass on the project because of a scheduling clash with “Braveheart”. Can’t imagine Gibbo as Dent? What about James Bond? The adopted Aussie was up for that too at one stage.
37. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2004) – Warren Beatty as ‘Bill’
The “Reds” star was Quentin Tarantino’s first and only choice for the role of the villain in his two-part “Kill Bill” saga. Beatty did briefly consider the project, and for a while there it looked like Tarantino was (he’s pretty persuasive – ask Travolta!) going to be able to twist his arm, but the actor ultimately turned it down because of the violence.
36. Ghost Busters (1984) – John Belushi as ‘Peter Venkman’
Dan Aykroyd had written the role of Venkman for his good friend and “Blues Brothers” co-star John Belushi, but unfortunately Belushi died before Aykroyd could convince Columbia to make the movie.
The script underwent quite a few changes (They fought ghosts in S.W.A.T. like suits using wands instead of guns. The ghost named Slimer was known as ‘Onionhead’, and at the end of the movie the Ghostbusters franchise was all over the United States; John Candy was dropped as Louis Tully and Eddie Murphy was no longer available to play Winston) before the movie ultimately lensed in 1983.
35. Batman (1989) – Michael J.Fox as ‘Bruce Wayne/Batman’
The popular “Family Ties” star was one of the many actors considered for the role of the billionaire playboy cum shadowy vigilante. Fox was also considered the role of Robin, but director Tim Burton nixed the idea of including the Boy Wonder in the first flick. A couple of years later Fox was also on the wish-list to play another superhero, Daredevil.
34. Alien 3 (1992) – Arnold Schwarzenegger as ‘Unnamed Marine’
In one of the earlier incarnations of “Alien 3” (presumably the one set on Earth) Arnold Schwarzenegger would’ve played a space-age marine that joins Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the fight against the slimy face-huggers.
33. Candyman (1992) – Eddie Murphy as ‘Candyman’
With his career pretty much in the shitter at the time, and therefore confident they could get him, the producers of the horror film “Candyman” – based on a story by Clive Barker – considered offering the role of the film’s buzzing bad guy to Eddie Murphy! The more suitable Tony Todd was ultimately cast in the role. Murphy did, however, go on to make a horror movie (of sorts), “Vampire in Brooklyn”.
34. Batman Returns (1992) – Annette Bening as ‘Catwoman’
Most of you know this one, but it’s a frightening aide memoire that we were ‘this close’ to not getting Michelle Pfeiffer in tight-fitting buckskin. “Grifters” beauty Annette Bening was originally cast as Selina Kyle/Catwoman but fell pregnant just before the film went into production so Pfeiffer (who, I assume, would’ve been initially reluctant to take on the film considering her ex-boyfriend Michael Keaton would be her co-star), then hot off “The Fabulous Baker Boys”, was hired to replace her. Thanks Annette!
33. X-Men (2001) – Dougray Scott as ‘Wolverine’
A widely known bit of trivia, I guess? But a reminder that sometimes things just work out for the best. Dougray Scott, of “Ever After” fame, had been hired to play the big-clawed hero in director Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” but when filming on “Mission : Impossible 2” (in which he would play the villain) went over, Fox were forced to hire another actor to play the part. While Scott was stuck in Sydney filming the Tom Cruise movie, Hugh Jackman was leaving Sydney bound for Los Angeles. No regrets Dougray?
32. The Lord of the Rings (2001) – Stuart Townsend as ‘Aragorn’
Peter Jackson let the “Queen of the Damned” actor go from “Fellowship of the Ring” because he felt Townsend looked too young and wasn’t at all right for the part. Townsend, then 29, had filmed four days of the movie when he was booted.
The slighty-older, more grizzled Viggo Mortensen was brought in to play the character.
31. Superman Returns (2006) – Anthony Hopkins as ‘Jor El’
When Brett Ratner was in charge of rebooting the “Superman” film franchise, he was quick to approach his “Red Dragon” star Anthony Hopkins about playing Superman’s pop, Jor-El. Hopkins, who does a killer Marlon Brando impersonation, was apparently quite excited at the prospect of being involved in the big-scale superhero blockbuster. Alas, Ratner soon left the project and Bryan Singer, who took over as director, decided to simply use archived material of Marlon Brando’s Jor-El rather than hire an actor to reprise the part.
30. Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Michelle Pfeiffer as ‘Clarice Starling’
Regular subscribers to the movie magazines of the early ‘90s will recall Bat-babe Michelle Pfeiffer attaching herself to a feature film version of Thomas Harris’ “Silence of the Lambs” (at the time Gene Hackman was in talks to play Hannibal Lecter). Pfieiffer ultimately decided that the material was too dark and disturbing for her liking (because “Batman Returns” is light, fluffy fun for eight-year-olds!?) so comeback kid Jodie Foster was given a shot.
29. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – Julia Roberts as “Annie Reed”
Roberts was renowned for turning down roles in the ‘90s but the one time she probably shouldn’t have been so hasty to press the ‘no’ button was when she was offered the female lead in “Sleepless In Seattle”, a romantic-comedy that would have teamed her with Tom Hanks (who she would later star with in “Charlie Wilson’s War”). Meg Ryan now thanks Roberts for giving her one of the biggest successes of her career.
28. The Matrix (1999) – Tom Cruise as ‘Neo’
Just one of the many, many movies that Tom Cruise has passed on over the years. Instead of taking a trip down the rabbit hole with Neo, Cruise opted to play a supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia”. The actor may have missed out on being a part of one of the past decade’s most successful film franchises but he scored an Oscar Nomination for his performance in “Magnolia”.
27. Back to the Future (1985) – Johnny Depp as ‘Marty McFly’
Before Eric Stoltz was cast as Lorraine and George’s boy, the producers issued a national casting call inviting all twenty-something actors (well, ones with an in-the-know agent) in to test for the role. One of the youngsters that came in to test for Marty was a then-unknown Johnny Depp. Depp had recently completed work on Wes Craven’s low-budget horror piece “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and thanks to the early buzz surrounding that film found that he was unexpectedly able to get a look-in for some of the juicier roles around town. Unfortunately for Depp, the “Future” gang didn’t think he was a good fit for the role of Marty. It’s then that Depp accepted the offer to front a new teen TV series called “21 Jump Street”.
26. Ghost (1990) – Paul Hogan as ‘Sam Wheat’
After the success of “Crocodile Dundee”, Hogan packed his bags for Los Angeles (or ‘Los Anga-lees’ as Dundee refers to in the ill-fated “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles”) where he quickly snagged a plum picture deal with Paramount Pictures. Paramount offered him a couple of pictures – one was “Almost an Angel”, a quirky dramedy about a small time crook who becomes convinced he has become an angel after a traumatic incident and resolves to perform the work of one, the other was “Ghost”, a Jerry Zucker-directed romantic thriller about a man who, upon being murdered, decides to stick around in ghost form to find his killer. Hogan, rather imprudently (but providentially for us – could you imagine the pottery scene with Hoges and Demi Moore!? Yuck!), thought “Almost an Agent” was where the gold lay.
25. Total Recall (1990) – Richard Dreyfuss as Douglas Quaid
Before Schwarzenegger inherited the exploding head, Dick Dreyfuss had been attached to handle it. Granted the film Dreyfuss had been attached to – also based on the book “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” – was far from an action picture. In the earlier incarnation, Dreyfuss’s Quaid would’ve been a Walter Mitty-like character who experiences a variety of artificially induced fantasies. It would’ve been less ‘Mars’, more ‘Majestic’.
Years later, Patrick Swayze was attached to star in a version of “Total Recall”, with producers considering shooting it on the Gold Coast, here in Australia.
…. to be continued