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Movies That Would’ve Looked Completely Different If These Actors Hadn’t Turned Down Their Roles

Photo Credit: 1. murraymomo / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / MovieStillsDB 2. Alek / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB 3. GLOWWORM / Twentieth Century Fox / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: 1. murraymomo / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / MovieStillsDB 2. Alek / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB 3. GLOWWORM / Twentieth Century Fox / MovieStillsDB

When a new movie is in the works, several actors line up to try and snatch lead or supporting roles. However, they sometimes choose to actively pass on roles that are offered to them. The following is a list of films that could’ve looked a lot different if the original actors planned for these roles had actually accepted them.

Christina Applegate – Legally Blonde (2001)

Portrait of Christina Applegate + Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in 'Legally Blonde'
Christina Applegate + Legally Blonde, 2001. (Photo Credit: 1. Aaron Rapoport / CORBIS / Getty Images 2. murraymomo / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / MovieStillsDB)

Elle Woods was perfectly played by Reese Witherspoon in 2001’s Legally Blonde. The actress went on to reprise the character in two more films, and the entire franchise became so popular that it was turned into a Broadway musical. Its overall success makes it a wonder why anyone would have turned the role down, but that’s exactly what Christina Applegate did. 

Applegate received the script after Married… with Children (1987-97) finished up and realized the role of Woods was very similar to her character Kelly Bundy. Turns out, she psyched herself out. “I got scared of kind of repeating myself,” she told ET Online in 2015. “What a stupid move that was, right?”

Hugh Jackman – Casino Royale (2006)

Hugh Jackman standing on a red carpet + Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Casino Royale'
Hugh Jackson + Casino Royale, 2006. (Photo Credit: 1. George De Sota / Liaison / Getty Images 2. xpr_eito / Sony Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Columbia Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

After five movies, it’s hard to think anyone other than Daniel Craig could have carried on the torch as James Bond. From 2006-21, he portrayed the role, inheriting it from Pierce Brosnan. There were many candidates considered for the part, and when asked if he was interested in playing Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, Hugh Jackman said “no.”

“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,” he told Variety in 2017. “And the response was: ‘Oh, you don’t get a say. You just have to sign on.’ I was also worried that between Bond and X-Men, I’d never have time to do different things.”

Gwyneth Paltrow – Titanic (1997)

Gwyneth Paltrow standing on a red carpet + Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater in 'Titanic'
Gwyneth Paltrow + Titanic, 1997. (Photo Credit: 1. Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images 2. zs93 / Paramount Pictures / Twentieth Century Fox / MovieStillsDB)

Titanic (1997) is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Its Oscars sweep is proof of that, with a total of 14 nominations and 11 wins. A young Leonardo DiCaprio was paired alongside an even younger Kate Winslet, and although audiences ultimately knew what was going to happen, the star-crossed romance that ensued was easily one of the biggest tear-jerkers in Hollywood. 

Before filming began, Gwyneth Paltrow was seriously considered for the role of Rose Dewitt Bukater. Allegedly, she turned down the role to star in Great Expectations (1998), which she might be regretting now.

In an interview with Howard Stern in 2015, Paltrow explained how she feels about her decision nowadays. “I look back at the choices I’ve made and think, ‘Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?’ And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There’s a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?”

Will Smith – The Matrix (1999)

Will Smith standing on a red carpet + Keanu Reeves as Neo in 'The Matrix'
Will Smith + The Matrix, 1999. (Photo Credit: 1. Frazer Harrison / Getty Images 2. murraymomo / Warner Bros. / MovieStillsDB)

One of Keanu Reeves’ most iconic and recognizable roles is that of Neo in The Matrix (1999). The franchise saw four movies in total, all featuring Reeves as the lead. However, what seems to have been a role written for the actor was actually offered to Will Smith. Ultimately, he chose to turn it down, because, as he explained, “In the pitch, I just didn’t see it.”

Turns out, Smith has mad respect for Reeves’ work in the franchise. “I watched Keanu’s performance — and very rarely do I say this — but I would have messed it up… At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be,” he said. “Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don’t try and perform every moment.”

John Lithgow – Batman (1989)

John Lithgrow standing on a red carpet + Jack Nicholson as The Joker in 'Batman'
John Lithgow + Batman, 1989. (Photo Credit: 1. Araya Doheny / FilmMagic / Getty Images 2. Darcy / Warner Bros. / MovieStillsDB)

Ever since the first live-action Batman hit the silver screen, audiences have argued over the best actor to play the Caped Crusader and the Joker. In 1989, Tim Burton’s rendition of the comic book hero saw arguably the best there ever was: Michael Keaton. His arch nemesis, the Joker, was played by none other than Jack Nicholson, whose painted smile was something out of a nightmare. 

While many would say Nicholson’s portrayal of the villain might not have been top-tier, it could have never even happened at all. John Lithgow was once up for the role, but after his audition had to convince Burton to go with someone else. “I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded,” the actor told Vulture in 2017.

Sarah Jessica Parker – Beetlejuice (1988)

Sarah Jessica Parker standing on a red carpet + Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz in 'Beetlejuice'
Sarah Jessica Parker + Beetlejuice, 1988. (Photo Credit: 1. Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images 2. lindsaylohanslastfan / Warner Bros. / MovieStillsDB)

Beetlejuice (1988) is a dark fantasy horror comedy that needed the right cast to make it work. With Michael Keaton at the reins and Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara in supporting roles, the film was destined for success.

However, one character, Lydia Deetz, might have looked a lot different if the role had been accepted by the actor it was originally offered to, Sarah Jessica Parker. The part was ultimately played by Winona Ryder, and it served as her gateway into the world of science fiction. She perfected the dark and dismal personality of Lydia, while Parker went on to play the bright and bubbly Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City (1998-2004). 

Sean Connery – The Lord of the Rings (2002)

Sean Connery standing on a red carpet + Ian McKellen as Gandalf in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'
Sean Connery + The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001. (Photo Credit: 1. Stephen Shugerman / Getty Images for AFI 2. Fingolfin / New Line Cinema / MovieStillsDB)

It’s hard to picture anyone other than Ian McKellen portraying Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings franchise – it’s as if the role was written exactly for him. However, he wasn’t director Peter Jackson’s first choice. The actor wasn’t even his second! As he shared with Variety in 2023, two others were considered for the role before him.

“I don’t think you’re ever the first choice. I certainly wasn’t the first choice for Gandalf,” he said. “Tony Hopkins turned it down. Sean Connery certainly did. They’re all coming out of the woodwork now, and I hope they feel silly.”

John Travolta – Forrest Gump (1994)

John Travolta sitting in a chair + Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in 'Forrest Gump'
John Travolta + Forrest Gump, 1994. (Photo Credit: 1. Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images 2. Alek / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Another role that’s always felt like it was written for the actor who played them is Forrest Gump, portrayed by Tom Hanks. However, as it turns out, Hanks wasn’t originally intended for the part. Director Robert Zemeckis had his eyes set on John Travolta when looking to cast Gump, but wasn’t able to bag the actor for the job.

Travolta turned the film down in favor of Pulp Fiction (1994), which went on to be a major success, later becoming a cult classic among movie fans. Forrest Gump (1994) didn’t hurt for success either, winning six Oscars at the 67th Academy Awards. One of those was awarded to Hanks, who won for Best Actor. 

Al Pacino – Star Wars (1977)

Al Pacino sitting while wearing a suit + Harrison Ford as Han Solo in 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope'
Al Pacino + Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1977. (Photo Credit: 1. Art Zelin / Getty Images 2. GLOWWORM / Twentieth Century Fox / MovieStillsDB)

Before the Indiana Jones franchise, Harrison Ford’s early acting career saw a lot of television roles. It was 1973’s American Graffiti that really started his film career, bagging him a gig that would break him into the Hollywood scene; it led George Lucas to offer him the part of Han Solo in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

However, the role of the daring smuggler with sass and wit was actually passed on by Al Pacino. Ford’s portrayal as Han Solo was his biggest role until the first installment of Indiana Jones was released in 1981. Who knows what would have happened to his career if Pacino had chose to accept it?

Michelle Pfieffer – Basic Instinct (1992)

Portrait of Michelle Pfeiffer + Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in 'Basic Instinct'
Michelle Pfieffer + Basic Instinct, 1992. (Photo Credit: 1. Sunset Boulevard / CORBIS / Getty Images 2. murraymomo / Sony Pictures / Carolco Pictures / TriStar Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Released in 1992, Basic Instinct is Sharon Stone’s most successful movie to date. She played the murderous antagonist Catherine Tramell alongside Michael Douglas‘ Detective Nick Curran. The film broke a lot of barriers and was a commercial success.

More from us: Michael J. Fox Almost Lost His Life Performing Stunt On Set of ‘Back to the Future’

The role of Tramell was once offered to Michelle Pfeiffer. She ended up turning it down, which was both a good and bad thing for Stone. Sure, it afforded her Hollywood success, but it also brought her troubles with her children later on in life. 

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!