Great casting has been behind some of the most beloved characters in movie history, but some iconic roles almost looked very different. Casting is one of the most subtly important aspects of movie-making. The right actor can define and elevate a film, perfectly embodying the character or even bringing an entirely new dimension to the part. Likewise, the wrong actor can prove disastrous. There are plenty of cases of poor casting, even with capable actors, resulting in a role being sapped of all its potential power. Some great movies and franchises came dangerously close to this latter case.
There’s always a degree of dice-rolling when it comes to film casting. On paper, an actor can appear perfect for the part but can fail to materialize the necessary charisma or chemistry with their fellow cast members. Furthermore, films which schedule to shoot months or years in advance can often suffer from unforeseen forces that send the intricate plan into disarray. Some initial film castings would have made for a dramatically different lead performance. While it’s easy to appreciate the performances that these iconic films ultimately saw, it’s impossible to know for sure if the productions were right to change their minds.
10 Margot Robbie In Barbie
It may be early days for Barbie, but given that the film has already made history as Warner Bros’ highest-grossing movie ever, it feels safe to congratulate the film on its icon status. One of the film’s strongest elements is the hilarious and deeply empathetic work of Margot Robbie in the lead role. Yet as a producer on the film, Robbie herself wanted Gal Gadot to play the main role of Barbie, explaining “Gal Gadot is Barbie energy. […] so impossibly beautiful, but you don’t hate her for being that beautiful.” The Wonder Woman actress was unavailable, clearing the way for Robbie to step into Barbie’s heels.
9 Viggo Mortensen In The Lord Of The Rings
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Viggo Mortensen as the sword-swinging heir to the throne of Gondor. The actor carries off the part with a quiet charisma and nobility that renders him endlessly watchable in the role. One person who imagined a different actor in the role, however, was director Peter Jackson, who fought for the casting of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen star Stuart Townsend. Townsend was with the film for months of pre-production training before Jackson, noticing an unhealthy blend of insecurity and overconfidence, chose to replace him with the older and more experienced Viggo Mortensen (via Cheatsheet).
8 Samuel L. Jackson In Pulp Fiction
The burger-loving hitman Jules Winfield is one of the most iconic characters to ever appear in a Quentin Tarantino film. Samuel L. Jackson performs the role with a sense of menace that feels grounded in lived humanity. The appearance was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration for Jackson and Tarantino, but the filmmaker originally intended for Laurence Fishburne to play the part. In an interview with Vulture, Fishburne explains that the part was originally written for him, but he turned it down due to issues with the larger script, including the free use of heroin and the unpleasant fate of Marsellus Wallace.
7 Martin Sheen In Apocalypse Now
It’s easy to forget about Martin Sheen’s protagonist Willard amid the chaos of Francis Ford Coppola’s war masterpiece Apocalypse Now, but that’s exactly what makes the performance great. Willard underscores the madness of the war by the quiet intensity with which he observes it. Originally, Coppola cast Harvey Keitel in the role of Willard but decided to replace him after a week of shooting. The director would later explain (via Far Out) that Keitel “found it difficult to play him as a passive onlooker.” Given the notorious catastrophe that the Apocalypse Now production would go on to become, the star probably counts himself lucky for the firing.
6 Reese Witherspoon In Legally Blonde
Reese Witherspoon’s iconic Elle Woods role came in 2001 when the actress made a star-making turn as the fashion-focused lawyer in Legally Blonde. Witherspoon plays Elle with a bubbly demeanor and underlying sincerity that’s hard to resist, but the film’s writers and producers wanted to go a different way for the role. Anchorman star Christina Applegate was initially offered the part but turned it down out of fear that it was too similar to her character in the hit sitcom Married With Children, which had recently ended. She recently reflected (via ET) “what a stupid move that was, right?” However, both actresses have since seen thriving careers.
5 Jamie Foxx In Django Unchained
Another Quentin Tarantino part that was written for a different actor is that of the slave-turned-bounty hunter Django in Django Unchained. While the part is now synonymous with the charisma and brutality Jamie Foxx brings to the role, Tarantino first offered Django to Will Smith. While Smith was excited about the role, he eventually turned it down due to issues with the script. The Men in Black actor insisted that the part of Django didn’t feel enough like a lead, requesting that the film be fleshed out into more of a love story between Django and Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and that it be Django, not Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) that kills Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
4 Kate Winslet In Titanic
Kate Winslet was launched into megastardom overnight when she starred as Rose in one of the biggest movies ever made, Titanic. The film may portray the titular disaster, but it lives and dies with the love story between Rose and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack. The part of Rose was originally offered to DiCaprio’s Romeo + Juliet co-star, Clare Danes. The actress recalls (via Elle) turning down the part, citing a discomfort with the level of fame it would bring: “it was going to propel me towards something that I knew I didn’t have the resources to cope with.”
3 Michael J. Fox In Back To The Future
Michael J. Fox’s performance as Marty McFly is essential to selling the high-concept premise of Back to The Future. The actor’s wild-eyed, often frantic delivery expertly ties together the humor and the stakes of the time travel caper. However, Back to The Future made it fairly far into production with Eric Stoltz cast as Marty McFly. Director Robert Zemeckis decided Stoltz’s serious take on the character wasn’t working, so when his first choice, Michael J. Fox, suddenly became available, Stoltz was let go. However, some footage of Stoltz’s Mcfly survives to this day, providing a glimpse at what the original Back to The Future would have looked like.
2 Mike Myers In Shrek
For many, Mike Myers is now synonymous with Shrek. While the actor’s Scottish-accented vocal performance gives the titular ogre his famous rough-but-lovable charm, Myers’ participation in the project was a late decision brought on by tragedy. Shrek was initially planned to star Chris Farley as a sensitive, teenage ogre in the title role. Nearly all of his lines had been recorded before the actor suddenly passed away. When Mike Myers was bought on board to replace his fellow SNL alum, the production dramatically rewrote the character to match his distinctive vocal performance, resulting in the grizzled, adult Shrek the franchise knows today.
1 Hugh Jackman In X-Men
Hugh Jackman’s turn as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise has proved so enduringly popular that the actor now holds the record for the longest career as a Marvel Comics superhero actor. However, the X-Men films nearly missed out on their golden goose. Dougray Scott was originally cast in the role, but his villain role in Mission: Impossible 2 ended up costing Scott Wolverine. M:I 2 suffered from major delays that resulted in Scott being unable to join the X-Men film in time for shooting. After a last-minute replacement audition, Jackman ended up securing the part, and the rest is history.