16 Iconic Movie Roles That Were Nearly Played by Someone Else

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Characters can become historic thanks to the actors who bring them to life. Some actors are fired from a project, some leave because of a packed schedule, while others just pass up on the offer. Some actors regret turning down an offer, but others, like Christina Applegate, know that it can be the right choice, no matter how famous or revered the film might become. Here are a few of these actors.

1. Will Smith as Neo in The Matrix (1999)

Will Smith
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The Men In Black star almost played the role of the computer programmer Neo in the 1999 science fiction film The Matrix. Smith revealed that he passed up on the Matrix role to act in the Western movie Wild Wild West because he was concerned about the film’s ambition. In a YouTube video, Smith further explained he doesn’t think The Matrix would have been the same movie with him. “Keanu was perfect, Laurence Fishburne was perfect.” A user on an Internet forum agrees with Smith saying that he just couldn’t see Will Smith as Neo and Keanu Reeves was perfect for the role.

2. Scarlett Johansson as Sadie Rhodes in Ghosted (2023)

Scarlett Johansson
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Could you imagine a world in which Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans shared the screen again after their successful stints in the superhero-themed Captain America film series? Originally, Ghosted was meant to be a reunion of the Marvel co-stars as Evans and Johansson were initially cast in the leading roles in the adventure-comedy. But Johansson had to back out due to scheduling issues, and Evans got to work with his Knives Out co-star Ana de Armas.

3. John Krasinski as Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

John Krasinski
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The talented actor who famously played the role of Jim Halpert in the 2005 comedy television series The Office auditioned for the Captain America role. “They were like, let’s see who else is out there before we offer it to Chris Evans,” he told Ellen on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “And I went in and tested for Captain America. I got to wear the suit, which was really fun.” Krasinski didn’t get the role because, according to him, he walked out on it. A commenter on the platform agrees with Krasinski’s action saying he thanks God every day that John Krasinski was not cast as Steve Rogers.

4. Stuart Townsend as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003)

Stuart Townsend
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We could have had a different actor playing the role of Aragorn in the famed Lord of the Rings trilogy. Irish-born actor Stuart Townsend was initially cast to play the role but was fired shortly before the filming began. “I was there rehearsing and training for two months,” he told Entertainment Weekly, “then was fired the day before filming began. After that, I was told they wouldn’t pay me because I was in breach of contract due to not having worked long enough. I had been having a rough time with them, so I was almost relieved to be leaving until they told me I wouldn’t be paid.” One user on the forum was gutted over how the producers treated Townsend, who didn’t get paid for the two months of training and filming that he did before being replaced. Another commenter opined that the studio wanted a more mature look for Aragorn and went for Viggo Mortensen, who did quite a good job in the trilogy.

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5. Christina Applegate as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001)

Christina Applegate
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Would an Elle Woods who’s not Reese Witherspoon be the same positive and empathic character every Legally Blonde fan cherishes? One actress who could have been cast as the bubbly Elle Woods was Christina Applegate. The Anchorman star opened up saying, “The story’s been out there, but I wasn’t actually offered it, the script came to me, but at the time, I had just gotten off of Married… With Children and I felt like it was too close to what I had just been doing, and I was very interested in removing myself from that…” she said on Watch What Happens Live.

6. Rooney Mara as Eilis Lacey in Brooklyn (2015)

Rooney Mara
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The 2015 romantic drama could have seen a different actress play the role of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who reluctantly leaves her community to take up a job in America. Mara was initially tapped for the role in 2012 but was replaced a year later by the American-Irish-born actress Saoirse Ronan.

7. Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back to the Future (1985)

Eric Stoltz
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Eric Stoltz nearly had the perfect chance to play the role of Marty McFly, the brave and clever high-schooler who traveled through time in the 1985 science fiction film Back to the Future. Stolz, who broke out as Roy L “Rocky” Dennis in the 1985 biographical drama Mask, was initially selected by the director Robert Zemeckis to play the role. He was fired shortly after the filming began, with more than a month of photography already completed. The talented actor was immediately replaced by Michael J. Fox at the last minute. Fox struggled with a tight schedule working on his sitcom Family Ties and Back to the Future simultaneously. He would later go on to turn the Marty McFly role into an iconic one.

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8. River Phoenix as Daniel Molloy in Interview with the Vampire (1994)

River Phoenix in Running on Empty (1988)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

River Phoenix was slated to play the role of Daniel Molloy, a young American reporter who interviews Louis de Pointe du Lac about his life as a vampire in the 1994 horror-drama film. Phoenix, who at the time was already at the height of his career, was chosen for the role but sadly passed away before the production began. He was later replaced by Christian Slater. Slater did a solid job in the minor role. A user on the platform remarked that the film was dedicated to River Phoenix at the end of the credits.

9. Chris Farley as Shrek in Shrek (2001)

Chris Farley in Saturday Night Live (1975)
Image Credit: NBC.

Chris Farley was originally cast as the green ogre in the animated comedy film Shrek. Farley had reportedly recorded nearly all of Shrek’s dialogue before he passed away in 1997. “Originally, the Shrek character was a little more like Chris, like a humble, bumbling innocent guy,” his brother, Kevin, told Yahoo Entertainment in 2015. Actor Mike Myers was later hired to replace him. One commenter added that Myers did a great job in the role, but wonders what it would have been like if the circumstances were different had Farley finished the project.

10. Charlie Hunnam as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades Trilogy (2015 – 2018)

Charlie Hunnam
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Charlie Hunnam declined the role of Christian Grey, a young and wealthy entrepreneur in the film adaptation of the E.L. James book series. The Sons of Anarchy star turned down the role due to scheduling conflict. “I wouldn’t have signed up in the first place if I didn’t want to do it. It was a really difficult time in my life,” he told Us Weekly. Jamie Dornan would later play the role alongside Dakota Johnson.

11. Al Pacino as Han Solo in Star Wars (1977)

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After his famous roles in The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather Part II, and Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino passed on the role for Han Solo in the upcoming movie Star Wars.

“Well, I turned down Star Wars. When I first came up, I was the new kid on the block, you know what happens when you first become famous. It’s like, ‘Give it to Al.’ They’d give me Queen Elizabeth to play.” Pacino said in a 2023 interview.

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12. Jim Carrey as Buddy the Elf in Elf (2003)

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The original script for Elf was finished by screenwriter David Barenbaum in 1993. It was written with Jim Carrey in mind as the main character, Buddy the Elf. During this time, Jim Carrey had a meteoric rise to fame and did not pick up the role. It was not until Will Farrell later picked it up that the movie was produced.

13. Matthew McConaughey as Jack Dawson in Titanic (1997)

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There were rumors that Matthew McConaughey turned down the role for Jack Dawson in Titanic. In an interview with Rob Lowe, McConaughey puts these rumors to rest, saying, “I did not ever get the offer.” Leonardo DicCaprio’s iconic role in Titanic ended up launching his career forward.

14. Britney Spears as Allie Hamilton in The Notebook (2004)

Britney Spears
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Britney Spears auditioned for the role of Allie Hamilton in The Notebook. In Spears’ memoir The Woman in Me, she writes that not getting the part “was pretty much the beginning and end of my acting career, and I was relieved.”

15. Johnny Depp as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000)

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Could you imagine an American Psycho with Johnny Depp as Patrick Bateman rather than Christain Bale? Depp was the original pick for the role, but as it took too long to go into production, he ultimately declined the role. Leaving way for Bale to perform masterfully.

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16. Anne Hathway as Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Anne Hathway was originally cast as Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook. Citing “creative differences” she left the set and went on to perform in Les Miserables instead. In her place, Jennifer Lawrence was cast for the role. Lawrence won Best Actress for her role, and Hathway won Best Supporting Actress for her respective role in Les Miserables.

Source: Reddit.

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