10 Actors Who Stupidly Turned Down Iconic Roles

When actors reach the end of their careers and look back on all that they achieved, it’s unlikely that many of them will be able to look out without at least a couple of mistakes rearing their ugly heads (unless we’re talking about Gary Oldman of course).

For various reasons actors occasionally have to take on roles that end up being stinkers – to pay their mortgage perhaps, or because of the substances they might have taken to make their nights more entertaining, or simply because their agent was a filthy liar who convinced them of the most ludicrous of things – but it’s the roles that they missed out on that will probably really stick with them.

The annals of cinema history are riddled with stories of actors who almost played infamous roles, only to be dropped at the last minute, or during filming, or who chose consciously to pass on the roles because of either schedule conflicts You can’t say yes to them all – but this lot should probably have said yes to these films, considering how popular they subsequently went on to be (even if some of the actors chosen aren’t exactly on the bread line)…

10. Tom Hanks – The Shawshank Redemption

Columbia Pictures

The Role: Andy Dufresne

Tom Hanks isn’t short of an award or two, and in three decades as an actor he has made some wonderful films, winning hearts and critical acclaim thanks to an everyman appeal and disarming charm that made him one of Hollywood’s leading men not so long ago. He continues to star in huge projects like Cloud Atlas and Captain Phillips, but in truth his work hasn’t been universally loved since he scored a double-header success with Road To Perdition and Catch Me if You Can back in 2002.

When Hanks looks back at his career after he’s put the lid on it, chances are he won’t have too many regrets – turning down Field Of Dreams was possibly wrong, but he did the right thing passing Jerry Maguire to Tom Cruise – but one that might stick out for the Big star is his inability to accept the role of Dufresne, thanks to a scheduling conflict on Forrest Gump.

Yes, that decision won him an Oscar, but Tim Robbins has pretty much been able to dine out on Shawshank since 94 (albeit apart from good cameos in War Of The Worlds and High Fidelity, and the excellent Arlington Road and Mystic River), and Hanks would probably be viewed with an awful lot more credibility had he played Dufresne.

9. Molly Ringwald – Pretty Woman

The Role: Vivian Ward

For a while there in the 80s, Molly Ringwald was the princess of Hollywood, thanks to her performances in classic fare like Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club before the tail-end of the 80s brought less successful films, followed by obscurity for the best part of the past two decades.

it would have been an awful lot different for Ringwald if she had decided to accept the role of Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, which eventually led to an Oscar-nomination and a sparkling career for Julia Roberts, who didn’t turn it down. Perhaps the chance to play a prostitute made Ringwald balk, given her family’s sensibilities: David Lynch had apparently sent her the screenplay of Blue Velvet to try and get her interested in playing Sandy, but Molly’s mother read it first, and refused to show it to Molly because she was disturbed by it.

Who knows, if she’d accepted the role, Molly could have went on to have greater longevity in her career, going on to make important films like Erin Brockovitch, rather than becoming a footnote from the 80s and a figure of fun in Family Guy.

8. Matt Damon – The Dark Knight

The Role: Harvey Dent When interviewing for the release of Invictus with MTV News, Damon apparently confirmed that he had been forced to turn down the opportunity to play Harvey Dent in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight, thanks to a scheduling conflict, which meant he never actually got to sit down with the director to discuss the role:

I couldn’t €” there was aschedulingthing,” Damon replied. “I never spoke to Chris Nolan. I’m a big Chris Nolan fan, but I never spoke to him. Look, Aaron is a great actor, so the movie didn’t suffer for it.”

To his credit, Damon isn’t bitter:

“Look, Aaron is a great actor, so the movie didn’t suffer for it. Every now and then you get one and you can’t do it.”

He probably didn’t need the career boost, but Damon could probably have enjoyed a huge boost in his profile had he been able to take the gig, and it would have been great to see the actor playing a darker role when the film took the character in the dark direction for the climax.

7. Chevy Chase – American Beauty

The Role: Lester Burnham

Chevy has a habit of missing out on pretty incredible roles, either by choice or because he didn’t quite make the cut, from Forrest Gump, through Animal House and Ghostbusters to American Gigolo, but arguably the biggest missed opportunity for the comedy “legend” was the chance to play Lester Burnham in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty.

Provided he could have matched Kevin Spacey’s exceptional performance, American Beauty could have been Chevy’s crowning glory in an otherwise not so great career, and could well have picked him up an unlikely Oscar nomination. But then who is to say that Chevy would have been as masterful in that role as Spacey?

Chances are Chevy won’t be getting these kind of offers any time soon, thanks to his notoriously difficult attitude, but American Beauty would have been a major deal for the paycheck-hungry Community star.

6. Will Smith – The Matrix

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Role: Neo

The fact that Will Smith passed on the opportunity to play Neo in order to make Wild Wild West makes his decision not to star in The Matrix even worse, but his initial choice – based on the fact that he couldn’t see the film doing well – seems like a fairly big mistake even without that nasty little caveat.

Even worse it robbed us of the chance to see Smith flexing his muscles in that role rather than Keanu Reeves, who played the numb modern malcontent well, but whose “skills” were found more wanting when the role changed for the second and third films. But then even Smith probably couldn’t have saved the Matrix sequels.

He spoke to Wired to state he was fine missing out on the role in retrospect:

€œYou know, The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch. In the pitch, I just didn€™t see it. I watched Keanu€™s performance €“ and very rarely do I say this €“ but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point I wasn€™t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. 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.€

I beg to differ Will. Unless by letting the movie be you mean Keanu offered as little as possible, then I perhaps agree in that regard.

5. Nic Cage – The Wrestler

The Role: Randy “The Ram” Robinson

Despite making some intelligent decisions in his career – okay, so they’re few and far between – like Adaptation and Kick-Ass, Nic Cage has largely made himself a terrible reputation to wear in the past ten or so years, and he shows no signs of stopping, churning out unwatchable action dross that completely ignores the indie appeal he managed to build earlier in his career.

Had he followed through with his initial involvement with Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, that might have been an awful lot different, since Cage was attached to the role of Randy The Ram before Mickey Rourke (who the role was actually written for) stepped in and made it his own.

Cage bowed out of the project when he realised that there was no way he had the time to bulk up to the necessary size to play a steroid-using wrestler, missing out on the chance to relaunch his image the way Rourke did, and becoming the darling of the critics. Here’s Cage talking about passing on the role…

4. Tom Selleck – Raiders Of The Lost Ark


The Role: Indiana Jones

This one we can’t really blame on the actor, as it was the producers of Magnum PI – the show which gave Selleck his big break – who refused to allow their star to be released to film what would have been an even bigger break for him as the all-action archeologist.

Selleck was reportedly torn on the choice, and he ultimately decided to be the good guy and honour his first contract with Universal Studios. was the career-savvy direction. But it was a close-run thing. There was even test footage shot of Selleck, which George Lucas admits he was impressed with…

Irony of ironies in the end the shooting of the Magnum PI thing was delayed for more than six months, which would have allowed him to film Indiana Jones anyway. Now that’s got to be a bitter pill to swallow. So, now we know what it was that Indiana Jones was missing after all these years: a fine, thick moustache.

3. Dougray Scott- X-Men

The Role: Wolverine

Despite Hugh Jackman owning the role for many people, Wolverine was never initially meant to be his role – it was originally given to Scottish actor Dougray Scott, who had previously featured in the wonderful, under-rated Regeneration, and Twin Town, and who was largely as unheard of as Jackman when he eventually took the role on.

Unfortunately for Scott, he had also been hand-picked by Tom Cruise to play the villain in Mission: Impossible II – another potentially career-making role that he would have been silly to turn down – and that ultimately cost him his big chance for a Jackman-sized profile with X-Men. Scott was eventually forced to drop out of X-Men when the filming of Mission: Impossible II over-ran by two months, and Jackman was brought in to make the role his own.

Massive error: in an ideal world it should have been the M:I sequel that was dumped, and Scott could now be known as more than just that Scottish actor who was almost Wolverine that people vaguely remember from Mission: Impossible II.

2. John Travolta – Forrest Gump

The Role: Forrest Gump

These days it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Tom Hanks in the role of the lovable and slow-witted hero of Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Winston Groom’s book, but it was almost a lot different as Grease star John Travolta turned the role down.

He has since admitted that the decision was a mistake, but the same year, he did make Pulp Fiction for Tarantino, and re-announced his cool in a way that Forrest Gump would probably never have managed. But then, when the role you turned down ends up landing its eventual star an Oscar for Best Actor ahead of your own nominated performance, as happened to Travolta in 1994, it’s probably a lot easier to just accept that it was a mistake.

You would have thought John might have learned from his experience during the 80s – a decade of waste for the actor, who couldn’t seem to catch a break, and managed to turn down both An Officer And A Gentleman and American Gigolo during his so-called downturn. But no.

1. Sean Connery – The Lord Of The Rings

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Role: Gandalf

Connery remains a legend of the British and worldwide industry, mostly thanks to his earlier work (and most iconically as James Bond), and he will probably long be considered as much, despite having retired from the industry in 2004.

But before he announced his intention to stop making films thanks to his disillusionment with the “idiots now making films in Hollywood,” Connery did make arguably the worst decision of his career, turning down the role of Gandalf because he apparently didn’t understand the script. CNN have subsequently reported that Connery was offered up to 15% of the worldwide box office receiptsto play the wizard, which would have made him about $400 million for the trilogy, and a very happy man. So that’s the price of not understanding a script then…

Sadly the experience helped convince Connery he should sign on to The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, despite not understanding that script either, but unfortunately that was clearly for different reasons. And now instead of him retiring on a high as Gandalf, we have to remember the final years of Connery’s career as including both Gentlemen and the despicable The Avengers. Good call.

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