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15 Iconic Film Roles That Almost Went to Someone Else

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.

Can you imagine characters in your favorite films being played by someone else? No? Here are a couple of "what-ifs."

Can you imagine characters in your favorite films being played by someone else? No? Here are a couple of "what-ifs."

Hard to Believe

It's hard to imagine beloved film characters not portrayed by the famous faces we know and love. However, because Hollywood is constantly plagued with casting what-ifs, it's interesting to see who almost starred in iconic film roles. This is a list of unbelievable and mind-blowing film roles that almost went to someone else.


Reese Witherspoon as Cher Horowitz (Clueless)

Alicia Silverstone not playing Cher Horowitz? As if! It's hard to imagine anyone else in the famous role, but Reese Witherspoon almost starred as Cher in the 1995 hit film. The Legally Blonde star was initially a top contender, according to director Amy Heckerling. When interviewed by Vanity Fair, Heckerling had said, "I met with Reese because everyone said 'This girl's amazing. She's going to be huge.' I saw some movie where she had a southern accent. Maybe it was on TV, a movie of the week. But I did see some scenes of hers and went: Wow. She's amazing. But Alicia is Cher."

Other actresses that were up for the role included Gwyneth Paltrow, Keri Russell, Tiffani Thiessen, and Alicia Witt. The part was played perfectly by the delightful Alicia Silverstone.


Hugh Jackman as James Bond

Hugh Jackman almost joined the impressive list of James Bond actors, but ultimately bowed out of the running and Daniel Craig was cast. Apparently, Jackman was apprehensive to take the role when he found out he'd get no say in the script. In a recent interview with Variety, Jackman had expressed, "I just felt at the time that the scripts had become so unbelievable and crazy, and I felt like they needed to become grittier and real." The actor was also concerned that he would only be known for his action roles, as he was also portraying Wolverine in the X-Men franchise.

Other actors who were considered for the role include Henry Cavill, Sam Worthington, and Dougray Scott.


Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones

It's almost unfathomable to imagine anyone else portraying the fedora wearing, bullwhip wielding archaeologist, but Harrison Ford almost didn't play Indiana Jones. Co-writer George Lucas, who also cast Ford in the iconic Star Wars franchise, didn't want the actor to appear in yet another one of his films. He had said to director Steven Spielberg, "Oh, Steven. He's been in two of my movies. I don't want him to be my Bobby De Niro." (Robert De Niro is often cast in Martin Scorsese's films). Tom Selleck was then brought in, and even did a screen test.

However, the actor had already filmed the pilot for Magnum P.I. and was unable to get out of the contract, so Selleck had to pass on the role. Enter Harrison Ford, who Lucas would later say, "He was perfect for the part. I can't imagine anybody else in that part."


Christina Applegate as Elle Woods (Legally Blonde)

Could you imagine Legally Blonde without the bubbly, Chihuahua toting Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods? Married...With Children star Christina Applegate famously portrayed ditzy blonde Kelly Bundy on the hit show, and was fearful of being pigeonholed. She ended up passing on the role, and Witherspoon famously played the lead in the 2001 film. On her decision to turn down the role, Applegate said, "I had just finished Married [...With Children] and it was, you know, a blonde who was, in that first script dimwitted but ends up going to Harvard...I got scared of kind of repeating myself."

Though the actress kicked herself for passing on the role, she has nothing but praise for Witherspoon. "Reese deserved that and she did a much better job than I ever could, so that's her life, that's her path."

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Will Smith as Neo (The Matrix)

Independence Day mega movie star Will Smith was reportedly offered the role of Neo in The Matrix, but turned it down. Smith had skepticism over the film's ambitious bullet-time special effects, and opted to make Wild Wild West instead. Upon reflection, the actor would later state he was "not mature enough an an actor" at the time, and wouldn't have been able to do the character justice. Of Keanu Reeves' ultimate casting in the film, Smith said, "That's the role Keanu was born to play. When I watch the movie and I see the choices he made, there are a hundred occasion when I think, 'I would have messed that up.'"

Actors Nicholas Cage, Brad Pitt, and Val Kilmer passed on the role, and Keanu Reeves won the part over Johnny Depp.


John Travolta as Forrest Gump

Tom Hanks portrayed the endearing titular character in the 1994 classic Forrest Gump, but he was not the original choice. John Travolta was initially offered the part before Hanks, but passed in order to star in Pulp Fiction. He has since expressed that he made a mistake in doing so. The two actors would compete at the 1995 Oscars for Best Actor, which Hanks would win. The writer of the book, Winston Groom, had been vocal about not imagining Travolta in the role.

It was reported that both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were also considered for the role, before it went to Hanks. He agreed to the role after only an hour and a half of reading the script.


Rachel McAdams as Andy Sachs (The Devil Wears Prada)

For the role of Miranda Priestly's co-assistant Andy, the studio wanted a younger A-list actress, and originally felt Rachel McAdams was perfect for the part. McAdams had just done two highly successful films (The Notebook and Mean Girls), and wanted to avoid more mainstream projects for awhile. The actress declined, and The Princess Diaries star Anne Hathaway actively sought the part and was cast after months of persistence.


Robert Redford as Benjamin Braddock (The Graduate)

Though Robert Redford was eager to play the role of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, director and friend Mike Nichols thought the actor was too handsome to play the awkward character who struggles with women. Nichols argued he did not possess the underdog quality, stating, "I had said [to Robert], 'You can't play it. You can never play a loser,' he had told Vanity Fair. Redford responded, 'What do you mean? Of course I can play a loser.' The director than asked, "OK, have you ever struck out with a girl?' The actor didn't understand the question, and Nichols knew he couldn't play the part. The role would therefore be given to Dustin Hoffman.


Jim Carrey as Buddy (Elf)

Back when the film was in its early stages, nearly 10 years before its release, Jim Carrey was initially slated to star in the role of Buddy. However, by the time production actually began in 2003, Carrey was busy with other projects and unable to star in the movie. Will Ferrell then nabbed the hilarious role, and helped make the film a holiday staple. Carrey famously portrayed his own Christmas character, having appeared in 2000's How the Grinch Stole Christmas.


Michelle Pfeiffer as Clarice Starling (The Silence of the Lambs)

Actress Michelle Pfeiffer was The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme's first choice to play the role of Clarice Starling. However, Pfeiffer had issues with the dark subject matter and was slightly offended to be offered the role. She would later reflect, "It was a difficult decision, but I got nervous about the subject matter." Pfeiffer has since expressed her regret at having passed on the iconic role. Clarice was then awarded to Jodie Foster, due to her strong passion towards the character.


Henry Winkler as Danny Zuko (Grease)

It's hard to picture anyone but John Travolta as bad-boy T-Bird Danny Zuko, but Happy Days star Henry Winkler almost starred in Grease. He was originally chosen to play the lead, but his lack of singing experience and overall fear of being typecast led to Winkler dropping out. Enter John Travolta, who had previously worked with Grease producer Robert Stingwood on Saturday Night Fever. The actor even recommended Oliva Newton-John as Sandy.


Jack Nicholson as Michael Corleone (The Godfather)

Jack Nicholson was offered the role of Michael Corleone in the epic mafia film The Godfather. However, Nicholson didn't feel he was right for the part. While he knew the movie would be extremely successful, he felt the role should go to someone who was actually Italian. Of his choice, Nicholson said, "At the time I believed Indians should play roles written for Indians and Italians should do the same." The lead went to the then relatively unknown actor Al Pacino, who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal.


Marilyn Monroe as Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

Back in the 1950's, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn were both hot commodities, appearing in countless films. The A-listers were often both courted for the same roles, and the character Holly Golightly was no different. The author of the book the movie was based on, Truman Capote, wrote the part with Monroe in mind and described her perfectly. At the time, the Some Like It Hot starlet's acting teacher Lee Strasberg advised against playing "a lady of the evening", and when Monroe declined, Hepburn was cast. Capote had been angry by the decision, having bitterly said, "Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey."


Johnny Depp as Ferris Bueller

Tom Hughes' cult classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off is known for Matthew Broderick portraying the legendary high-school slacker. Things could have been much different if Johnny Depp, who had been offered the title role, had accepted the part. The actor was unable to commit and accept the role, opening the door for Broderick to step in. Depp's film career certainly took off regardless of not starring in the film, and he had commented that Broderick did a "great job" with the character.


Matthew McConaughey as Jack Dawson (Titanic)

Leonardo DiCaprio stole the hearts of women across America with his dazzling portrayal of artist Jack Dawson in the massively successful Titanic. Surprisingly, hunky actor Matthew McConaughey almost starred in the role. During an appearance on The Late Show with Steven Colbert, Kate Winslet (who famously portrayed Rose) revealed she read her lines with McConaughey. "It was completely fantastic. It just wouldn't have been the whole 'Jack and Rose, Kate and Leo' thing." However, director James Cameron felt the actor was too old to portray 20-year-old Jack, and the lead role went to heartthrob Leonoardo DiCaprio.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2018 Rachel M Johnson


Rachel M Johnson (author) on August 31, 2018:

Hi Dina, thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed the article and I appreciate you following me!

I would have loved to have seen Marilyn Monroe in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’m a huge Marilyn fan and knowing the author created the character with her in mind makes me even more curious!

I also think it would have been fun seeing Johnny Depp as Ferris Bueller, since he’s such a diverse and quirky actor. I agree with you about Reese in Clueless, she could have filled the shoes of Cher well!

I hope you continue checking out my hubs!

Dina AH from United States on August 31, 2018:


This is such a brilliant hub! I loved it. So many of the possible castings made me cringe a bit. However, I do think Reese Witherspoon and Alicia Silverstone's characters would have been great in the same movie together.

Out of all these movies, which character cross-overs would you have liked to see? (Also, I am off to geek out over your hubs and subscribe/follow while I am there. I am so excited to see your pop culture hubs!).

Keep up the epic work.

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