An eternity of films has come to our eyes over the years. Together they’ve formed the foundations by which good movies are built, given us our most cherished filmmakers and performers, inspired generations to dream, and even just allowed people to simply escape to another world if but only for a couple of hours.
But what if some of the most celebrated movies in cinematic history were different? What if your favorite film of all time’s main star was played by someone else? How different would everything be if just one legend never even came to be legend? These are the questions I found myself asking while bored and on an e-adventure one day; I was surprised at just how many massive characters were almost played by other actors.
After my little adventure I decided that I should share these gems with you, my favorite peoples in the whole word.
Before we begin, I came across some amusing casting close calls that probably wouldn’t have affected the film too much one way or the other, but still worth mention. Like, for instance, did you know that the studios originally wanted greatest actor in the world Matthew McConaughey for Titanic, but James Cameron wanted Leonardo DiCaprio? Did you know that Stuart Townsend was offered and Daniel Day-Lewis turned down the role of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy before Viggo Mortensen was brought in? I didn’t either. I rather enjoy thinking about a Day-Lewis Aragorn. Like Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans, but with a sweet beard, a sword, and an elven chick by his side instead of Madeline Stowe!
OK, that was fun. Now on with the show… Here’s a look at 12 of the craziest casting close-calls in cinematic history.
12. The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is an extremely cherished film and many people consider it their favorite movie of all time. While I found this one interesting, I don’t really think anything would be different had they gone another route. At one point, the studio was pursuing Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy Gale, but Temple was under contract with 20th Century Fox. Instead of leaving it at that, the two worked out a trade (like freakin’ sports teams) offering Clark Gable and Jean Harlow for a movie in order to use Shirley Temple for The Wizard of Oz — unfortunately, Harlow passed away and they eventually went with Judy Garland. Again, if Temple had been Dorothy this entire time, I think it would probably still be just as cherished, so that’s why it grabs the 12 spot. Plus, it’s probably the only “classic” that I can’t stand… don’t tell anyone.
11. Pirates of the Caribbean
Captain Jack Sparrow — like him or not — is now a hugely iconic movie character. In the early 90s, screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot pitched the idea to Disney for a movie based on the Pirates ride. At some point, Steven Spielberg even got wind of this and wanted to direct the movie with someone like Bill Murray, Steve Martin, or Robin Williams as Sparrow. Now, anything Spielberg will likely be great, but with one of those guys in the role instead of Johnny Depp, I imagine the movie would have been more like Captain Ron.
10. Men in Black
No, Men in Black isn’t the most important movie ever made, but it was a huge success and it was also a big part of Will Smith‘s now larger-than-life name. Plus, this is my damn list and I want to have some fun with it! So what if not only one of the main parts were different, but ALL the big parts were different? Imagine this: Clint Eastwood as K, Chris O’Donnel or David Schwimmer as J in a film by Quentin Tarantino. Those people were all first offered the job before turning it down allowing Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and Barry Sonnenfeld to step in. Would it have been better? A lot worse? We’ll never know.
9. The Terminator
This one upset even me. Apparently two men were considered for the lead role in The Terminator before Arnold got it. JÃ¼rgen Prochnow (the German villain dude from Beerfest!) and a one Mr. O.J. Simpson. Can you seriously imagine O.J. as the Terminator? Maybe it’s that whole murder woopsie, maybe it’s the Naked Gun thing, who knows. I just know it’s really wacky to ponder.
8. The Shining
The Shining may just be the most-loved horror movie of all time, aside for maybe The Exorcist. While it seems Jack Nicholson was always the main man for the main role, Stanley Kubrick also considered Robert De Niro and Robin Williams for the part. Apparently Kubrick chose neither because De Niro wasn’t psychotic enough and Williams was TOO psychotic. Ahh, Kubrick. Also, Stephen King pleaded with Kubrick not to use Nicholson, suggesting Michael Moriarty and Jon Voight as better choices because they appeared more “normal” and their descent into insanity would have come through better on the screen. I dunno, man, Voight’s a pretty horrifying individual.
7. Pulp Fiction
Daniel Day-Lewis returns, but in a much more important close-call this time. Day-Lewis wanted the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, but Quentin Tarantino decided to go with John Travolta — a role that revived his career. I included this one because we all know how incredibly talented Daniel Day-Lewis is (and how fitting he probably would have been, if you think about it), but Tarantino went with his gut and everything worked perfectly. I don’t know now if even Day-Lewis could have pulled off that slight confusion and bumbling nature that Travolta was able to bring to the otherwise dangerous character.
6. Toy Story
I had to have at least one animated film on here and what better than the one that set up the computer animated movie genre to be as big as it is now? The obvious close-call here is Buzz and Woody and naturally, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else voicing those parts. So who did we almost hear voicing the main two parts in Toy Story? For Buzz Lightyear, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were considered, as they apparently were for everything ever made (you’ll find out what I mean later). Pixar apparently wanted Jim Carrey for Buzz and Paul Newman for Woody, but the film was low-budget, so they couldn’t afford them. Also, Billy Crystal was offered Buzz as well, but turned it down. Apparently after seeing the film he called it his biggest regret, which he later signed on for Disney/Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.
5. The Godfather
Because it was all just names being thrown around and not actors actually turning down the massively iconic role of Don Vito, The Godfather is a little lower than it would be on most any list it’s on. The role, made famous by Marlon Brando, did indeed have other actors talked about for the role, including Ernest Borgnine, Edward G. Robinson, Orson Welles, and George C. Scott. When Francis Ford Coppola was asked who he wanted, he offered this quote:
I wanted either an Italian-American or an actor who’s so great that he can portray an Italian-American. So, they said, ‘Who do you suggest?’ I said, ‘Lookit, I don’t know, but who are the two greatest actors in the world? Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando.
And that was that.
4. The Silence of the Lambs
One of the most recognizable figures ever portrayed in film, Dr. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs had other potential faces before his one true face of Anthony Hopkins eventually came to be; and some interesting faces they were. John Hurt, Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart, Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Duvall, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro were all considered, and Jeremy Irons was actually offered the part, but declined. As blasphemous as it would be to think of anyone else in the role, I would actually like to see Nicholson and Irons do their best impersonation… ya know, maybe at a party or something..
3. Star Wars
I think that if 97% of Star Wars fanboys even thought about anyone other than Harrison Ford as Han Solo, they would weep for a day and a half straight. Well, I’m sorry you boys… that are fans, but there’s a large list of names that were considered for the part. George Lucas was firm in his wish that no one from any of his other movies be in Star Wars. Actors considered were Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Robin Williams, Gene Simmons (What the hell?), Roger Daltrey (What the HELL?), Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and Perry King. Ford, having been in Lucas’s American Graffiti, was technically out of the running. But he read for the part anyway and eventually it was realized that he was way too perfect to pass up. Half of those names in the role intrigue me, half of them make me giggle when I visualize them, and then we know what Walken would have been like.
2. Back to the Future
Michael J. Fox was always the choice for Marty, but can you imagine this classic trilogy without him? It almost happened. Though Fox was the top choice, he was doing Family Ties and couldn’t commit to Back to the Future, so he turned down the role and Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty. This takes the two-spot because not only was Stoltz cast, but he actually filmed many of his scenes; apparently he didn’t get along with anyone because he disagreed with the “tone” of the film, so they went back to Michael J. Fox, re-shot everything, and never looked back. Honestly, if I was sipping a malt in the ’50s and fucking Rocky Dennis showed up in a Delorean, I would have Anne Frank’d it, tears falling, never to be heard from again. But that’s just me. The photo at right here is of Stoltz as Marty (click for full view).
1. Indiana Jones
Forget what you thought about Indiana Jones and the Kingdon of the Crystal Skull, this is about Indiana Jones as a whole. Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones and the character is the blueprint for which all action stars are built. Don’t give me that “James Bond” crap, either; he’s all pretty and well-dressed and has that adorable little accent; that’s not America’s action hero. The very thought of anyone else in this role can make any man, woman, or child sick to their stomachs, which is why it edged out the previously mentioned weeping Star Wars fanboys. Yes, names came up for this even MORE iconic role of Ford’s, but different from Star Wars, these people were actually offered the part, not just “considered” for it. The role was offered to Nick Nolte, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Jack Nicholson, with all actors turning it down; even scarier, the role was actually CAST with Tom Selleck. Let me repeat that… TOM F’n SELLECK was cast as Indiana Jones. Sigh. Thank the gods he eventually had to pull out if it to do Magnum P.I. and I’ve never ever been happier to know something in all of my life.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen; our list of some casting that almost changed some of the greatest films we’ll ever know. Obviously, this happens with pretty much every movie and I’m sure there’s some gigantic ones that I missed and many of these names were just thoughts… but when you really sit back and think about them (if you weren’t already aware), it’s quite the surreal adventure.
LOL, Chevy Chase as Indiana Jones? Genius.
Comment by Blazel — September 16, 2008 @ 2:53 pm
Good thing the films went the way they did. On another note .. Brian cox played Dr.Hannibal Lecter in the 1986 movie ManHunter (with William Petersen as Will Graham) remade in to Red Dragon (with Edward Norton as Will Graham)
Comment by JoJo — September 16, 2008 @ 3:08 pm
The entry on Pirates of the Caribbean is complete fiction. The Jack Sparrow role was not created until the Stuart Beattie written draft around 2002. Our pitch to the studios a decade earlier was shot down at the pitch stage, there was never a screenplay, and certainly there were no directors involved, nor any thought given to the possible actors.
Comment by Terry Rossio — September 16, 2008 @ 9:23 pm
Love the article!
The Terminator entry was interesting. As I’m sure you know, JÃ¼rgen Prochnow went on to portray Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2005 TV movie called “See Arnold Run.”
Comment by John — September 16, 2008 @ 11:09 pm
Go back and check the interviews with Cameron and Arnold on the special features… The original terminator was supposed to be a dark creepy “sneak up behind you and knife you” face in the crowd type. The original character JC cast was one of the detectives in The Terminator. Cameron didn’t even want Arnold in the movie but arnold was interviewing for the hero role. After they spoke, Cameron wanted arnold to be the bad guy, and arnold wanted to be the bad guy, but they didn’t want to offend each other so just kept quiet about it for a few weeks until one of them stepped forward. Cameron did a partial re-write to make the terminator a big angry unstoppable monster.
Comment by Denver — September 17, 2008 @ 2:41 am
[…] Movie Casting Close Calls: Tarantino coulda directed Dirty Harry to blow Ross Gellar’s brains out. (GD) […]
Pingback by Agent Bedhead — September 23, 2008 @ 1:17 am
Rock Hudson almost had the role of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. That would have to be number one on my list of close calls.
Comment by Michael Hunter — September 28, 2008 @ 4:26 pm
Why did every part either want Bill Murray or Robin Williams?
Comment by David — September 28, 2008 @ 8:36 pm
Stuart Townsend was originally cast as Aragorn in LOTR
Comment by ysmay — September 29, 2008 @ 12:52 am
Let’s not forget that Stuart Townsend was originally cast as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He even filmed a few scenes, and Peter Jackson wasn’t happy with how it was turning out so they cast Viggo Mortenson instead. I like Townsend enough, but not as Aragorn.
Comment by Mike — September 29, 2008 @ 4:51 pm
Wasn’t Lance Henrikson cast as The Terminator at one point?
Comment by Joseph — October 14, 2008 @ 6:44 pm
late response… but I read that Will Smith was first offered the role of Morpheus in the Matrix, but turned it down because he thought the story sounded weird, and then we went on to do Wild Wild West….
Comment by Tae — November 14, 2008 @ 12:44 am
Now the really interesting question is: how many sucky films could have been absolute classics if the right people had been chosen instead?
Comment by freemount — November 15, 2008 @ 10:38 pm
Clint Eastwood would have rocked in Men In Black. Â But I would never replace Tommy Lee Jones. Â He just should have been there somewhere.
Comment by Mr Hoopla — February 7, 2012 @ 10:07 pm
Knife you from behind?! OJ would have been perfect in that role!
Comment by JD — October 1, 2012 @ 6:33 pm
Will Smith denied Tarantino for Django Unchained…Stupid!
Comment by JD — October 1, 2012 @ 6:34 pm