Iconic Movie Characters That Other Actors Almost Played

By: Stephen Thompson | Last updated: Nov 08, 2023

Ever wondered how close your favorite films came to having a completely different cast? Brace yourselves because we’re about to take a mind-boggling trip into an alternate silver-screen universe. 

Prepare to discover the jaw-dropping beloved movie roles that were almost snatched up by actors other than the ones we’ve come to know and love. So sit back, relax, and get ready to have your mind blown by these tantalizing possibilities that could have changed the cinematic playbook. 

1. Will Smith as Neo in The Matrix

Did you know that before Keanu Reeves was cast as Neo in The Matrix, Will Smith was considered for the part? That’s correct! Will Smith recently revealed on his YouTube channel that he rejected the role, something he now regrets. 


Source: @pacohoyos__/Twitter

He claimed that the movie’s concept was confusing and uninteresting to him at the time. So, instead of The Matrix, he appeared in Wild Wild West.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio in Brokeback Mountain

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were not the original choices for their parts in Brokeback Mountain. Leonardo DiCaprio was contacted for a role in the film, but he declined—and he wasn’t the only one who refused. 


Source: Getty Images

Brad Pitt and Matt Damon were also approached for roles, but declined. It’s interesting to think about how different the picture may have been with these big-name performers. In the end though, Ledger and Gyllenhaal did an excellent job.

3. Sean Connery as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings

Can you believe it? The producers of The Lord of the Rings films actually offered Sean Connery $10 million for each film, plus 15% of the box office proceeds to play Gandalf! That’s a lot of money. But Connery turned down the job because he “did not understand the script.” 


Source: Getty Images

As a result, he missed out on a hefty salary of roughly $450 million! It’s mind-boggling to consider how much money he could have made if he had taken the part.

4. Emily Blunt as Black Widow in Iron Man 2

Emily Blunt was offered the role of Black Widow, but she declined! In a 2014 interview with Vulture, she explained that it was all due to scheduling issues. Interestingly, Scarlett Johansson was the first to hear Blunt had been picked for the role. 


Source: @badpostblunt/Twitter

When Blunt declined, Johansson was given another chance and eventually secured the role in the film.

5. Charlie Hunnam as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Did you know Charlie Hunnam was first cast as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey? He even went to the movie’s rehearsals. However, due to scheduling issues, he was forced to withdraw, which he felt bad about.

Source: Getty Images

Hunnam himself acknowledged it as the worst professional experience of his life. In an interview with VMan in 2015, he stated it was the most emotionally damaging and difficult thing he had ever dealt with in his career.


6. Cher as Morticia Addams in The Addams Family

Here’s an odd fact: Cher didn’t actually reject the role of Morticia in The Addams Family film. The decision was made for her by the film’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld. 

Source: @briandetonate/Twitter

According to Sonnenfeld in an interview with The Guardian in 2018, the studio wanted Cher to play Morticia, but he had a different vision. Instead, he wanted to put relatively unknown performers in the picture.


7. Michael Keaton as Phil Connors in Groundhog Day

Did you know Michael Keaton turned down the starring role in Groundhog Day? In a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly, he admitted he didn’t grasp the appeal of the film or the character. 

Source: Getty Images

Keaton remarked that the character reminded him of the witty, cynical, and glib young men he had previously played. He later admitted that Bill Murray’s representation in the film was so excellent that he couldn’t have done it any better.


8. Angela Bassett as Leticia in Monster’s Ball

Angela Bassett was actually approached for the lead role in the movie Monster’s Ball but decided to turn it down. 

Source: @its_me_bia_/Twitter

In an interview with Newsweek in 2002, she revealed she refused the role because she felt it perpetuated a stereotype about Black women and their sexuality. Bassett made a decision not to accept the role due to her concerns about the portrayal.


9. Marilyn Monroe as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Did you know that Truman Capote, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the legendary character Holly Golightly in the film adaptation?

Source: Getty Images

The specific reason Monroe did not end up starring in the picture is unknown. According to some sources, Capote was not a fan of Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Golightly.


10. Claire Danes as Rose Dawson's Titanic

Danes has previously said she was meant to be cast alongside Leo in yet another film after their undeniable chemistry in Romeo and Juliet. This film was no other than the ‘Titanic.’ She ultimately turned it down and it went to who we know as Rose, Kate Winslet.

Source: WENN / Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

However, Claire apparently has zero regrets about her decision, although the role remains timelessly iconic. She goes on to say that she just wasn’t at the place to have that soring stardom catapult her into that spotlight which is exactly what happened to Dicaprio after doing such a film.


11. Meryl Streep as Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams

Meryl Streep is a 19-time Oscar nominee and has numerous accolades for her work. It’s hard to imagine her having any regrets about her career, but even the stars have regrets. Streep was excited to play Patsy Cline in the 1985 film, ‘Sweet Dreams’ but it was only a dream for her.

Source: Meryl Streep / Instagram

Despite being a good friend of director Karel Reisz who also happened to be directing the film, he decided to cast Jessica Lange instead. Meryl was heartbroken, but I guess you can’t really have it all.


12. Julianne Moore ad Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Julianne Moore was originally cast to act in the role that Melissa McCarthy was Oscar-nominated for in the film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Source: Julianne Moore / Instagram

We aren’t entirely sure how it happened, but according to Moore, the original director of the film, Nicole Holofcener, fired her from her role in the film. Either way, we think both actresses are quite qualified to play Lee, how different it would have been though.


13. Christina Applegate as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde

Can you imagine anyone else as the beloved Elle Woods other than Reese Witherspoon? We couldn’t either but did you know that Christina Applegate almost played the role? Apparently, Applegate got wind of the script first but was hesitant to accept another role that she perceived as yet another “dumb blonde.” She didn’t want to be typecast after playing the dumb blonde on “Married with Children.”

Source: allthingsreesewitherspoon.tumblr / Pinterest

Although Christina ultimately turned down the role she is happy with how everything ended up. She is quoted praising Reese for her performance and that she isn’t sure she could have done as well as she did if she ended up in the role herself. We love this woman supporting woman moment.


14. Jack Nicholson as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

The 1972 film, The Godfather, doesn’t get more iconic. We think it’s safe to say it is partly due to the fact that Al Pacino’s role as mob boss Michael Corleone feels like a perfect fit.

Source: Screenise / Facebook

Although Jack Nicholson was almost set to play this iconic role but turned it down because he believed that quote on quote “Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians…” He has no hard feelings though, since feels Al Pacino truly embodied Michael Corleone.


15. John Travolta ad Forrest in Forrest Gump

You never know what you’re gonna get just like in a box of chocolates. Tom Hanks played Forrest in one of the most well-known and iconic films of the same name, Forrest Gump in 1994.

Source: film poster from “Forrest Gump”

While Hanks did a phenomenal job in the role, John Travolta could have ended up playing it instead. Travolta has reportedly said that giving up the role of Gump was a big mistake. You shouldn’t feel too bad for him though he went on to make waves in a different but equally iconic film that same year, Pulp Fiction. They even went up against each other for the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ in a film.


16. Lindsay Lohan as Jade in The Hangover

Lohan may have had a reputation for being challenging to work with in the past but it wasn’t her attitude that prevented her from appearing in the film, The Hangover, in 2oo9.

Source: Warner Bros. / The Hangover

Although she was considered for the role it ultimately came down to director, Todd Phillips, deciding that she may be a bit too young for the type of material talked about at the time, being only 20 years old. They say, you grow up fast in Hollywood but we guess Phillips would disagree. The role went to Heather Graham in the end who did a fantastic job, no hard feelings for Lindsay though.


17. Johnny Depp as Ferris in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Johnny Depp was reportedly offered the title character of Ferris in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, set in Chicago. Unfortunately due to mere scheduling conflicts, he had to turn down the role which then went to Matthew Broderick.

Source: Paramount Pictures / Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Depp has praised Matthew in the role and there are no animosities. We can only imagine how different the film would have turned out with this switch but we are certain it would have been equally iconic.


18. George Clooney & Paul Newman as Noah Calhoun in The Notebook

We can’t picture the classic film, The Notebook without Ryan Gosling, can you? We wouldn’t blame you, it’s hard to imagine anyone else.

Source: Warner Bros. Entertainment / The Notebook

While at the BFI London Film Festival, George mentioned that both himself and Newman almost joined the cast of the beloved 2004 film based on the book of the same name by  Nicholas Sparks. According to Clooney he was going to play a younger version of Noah’s character while Newman was to play the older.

“We were going to do The Notebook together,” Clooney said, according to Deadline. “Basically, I was going to play him as a young man, and it was funny. We met and said, ‘This is it. It’s going to be great.’ ”

However, Clooney said he got cold feet after he went home and watched a number of Newman’s iconic films.

“He’s one of the handsomest guys you’ve ever seen. We met up [again] and I said, ‘I can’t play you. I don’t look anything like you. This is insane,’ ” Clooney recalled. “We just wanted to do it because we wanted to work together, [but] it ended up being not the right thing for us to do.”

Gosling went on to play Noah Calhoun with James Garner playing the older version. Rachel McAdams starred opposite Gosling as Allie Hamilton and Gena Rowlands acted opposite Garner.


19. Nicole Kidman as Anna Scott in Notting Hill

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant are no strangers, staring opposite each other in the series The Undoing. They have undeniable chemistry on screen, but did you know they almost starred opposite each other years ago? yes, it’s true, Grant was interviewed for Marie Claire and mentioned that she was dying for the role that ultimately went to Julia Roberts, Anna Scott in Notting Hill.

Source: Nicole Kidman / Instagram

Later on, Kidman revealed that she once again missed out on playing alongside Grant in the film ‘Love Actually,’ too. Talk about a missed connection, we are noticing a pattern here, but we are happy they still got the opportunity to work together eventually.


20. Jim Carrey as Buddy the Elf in Elf

Will Ferrell was the iconic Buddy the Elf in this holiday film, Elf. Although having Jim Carrey be considered for the role doesn’t seem like a far stretch. These two funny guys both have impeccable comedic timing and charisma that certainly embody the character.

Source: Youtube / Vic Vinegar

Even though this holiday staple only came out in 2003, the script came almost 10 years before with Carrey all set for the role, but by the time filming was underway he unfortunately or fortunately went on to other roles. This left the role open to Ferrell, giving us the Buddy we all know and love.


21. Charlize Theron as Roxie Hart in Chicago

“The name on everybody’s lips…Is gonna be Roxie…” You can almost hear Renée Zellweger already singing, but what if this iconic moment in the film ended up being entirely different? Countless films go through various changes, especially during production so when the film lost its original director, Charlize Theron didn’t quite charm the new one, Rob Marshall.

Source: charlizeafrica / instagram

Apparently, Marshall was not into having Theron playing the famous, or rather infamous Roxie Hart. There is no use to dwell on what could have been since Zellweger did a phenomenal job. We think both ladies are perfectly capable of carrying a tune. There may be more to this story than we’ll ever know.


22. Ben Affleck as Josh in Clueless

We can’t quite put our finger on why but this role switch seems very realistic to us. Ben Affleck could just as easily be Josh from Clueless. Paul Rudd and Alicia Silverstone seem like a great pairing and the Clueless casting director initially had the same thought but sometimes things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes surprise turns are equally as great, like Paul Rudd in the role. Just make sure Cher isn’t driving.

Source: Paramount Pictures / Clueless Film

Paul does give us some pretty iconic moments in the film after all, have you ever paid close attention to his sandwich scene? Rudd awkwardly puts the mayo on the meat instead of the bread and it still haunts him to this day, but it does give all of us a nice easter egg to look out for while watching.


23. Madonna as Cristal Connors in Showgirls

Sometimes films, as they come out, flop and don’t rise to the occasion. Although in some instances these films suddenly gain popularity and a cult following years after the fact. That is exactly what happened with the film, “Showgirls.”

Source: madonna / Instagram

It is interesting to note that instead of Elizabeth Berkley, Madonna almost played Cristal Connors. She allegedly wasn’t hired because of her desire to have a full overhaul of the film’s script.


24. Tom Hanks as Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally

Director Rob Reiner has said that he considered various actors for the role of Harry Burns in his film When Harry Met Sally. The film is widely considered one of the most iconic love stories of all time. He even talked to some pretty famous actors for the role like Tom Hanks, Richard Dreyfuss, and Michael Keaton before deciding on Billy Crystal for it after Hanks ultimately got offered the role and turned it down.

Source: You’ve Got Mail (1998) / Warner Bros. / The Donners' Company

Hanks going through a divorce at the time reported that played a big factor in not accepting the role. It also didn’t hurt that Crystal and Meg Ryan hit it off right away. This pair made for some major on-screen chemistry, giving some pretty iconic scenes like the one with the sandwich. Don’t know what we are talking about? You should start watching now.


25. Reese Witherspoon as Cher Horowitz in Clueless

Just like Ben Affleck almost played Josh instead of Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon almost played Cher instead of Alicia Silverstone. What would have happened if Reese and Ben were indeed Cher and Josh? We are kind of curious to find out.

Source: Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. PHOTO: EVERETT

As If! Alicia will always be our Cher although according to director Amy Heckerling, Witherspoon was indeed considered for the role before Silverstone for the project. Apparently, Kerry Washington was almost Dionne as well. Wow, what a movie! Alternate remake anyone?


26. Katie Holmes as Annette Hargrove in Cruel Intentions

It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Annette Hargrove, other than Reese Witherspoon, but indeed there were many disagreements on who would play this character in Cruel Intentions. Katie Holmes was just starting out and was considered for the role but ultimately they thought they needed an actress with a bit more strength. Whatever that means.

Source: Cruel Intentions / Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing

Ryan Phillippe was already cast in the film, he was dating Reese at the time, and director Roger Kumble asked him if she would be interested in the role. Ultimately these two helped each other, both begging her to play the part when they took her out to dinner, the rest is film history. She just couldn’t say no.


27. Sir Ian McKellen as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter

It doesn’t get more iconic than Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise, but when he, unfortunately, passed away after the second film, producers had someone in mind to fill the role. The actor in mind was  Sir Ian McKellen. McKellen was flattered but respectfully turned down the role saying that although the character was a great one he didn’t feel it was right to take over the role from Harris

Source: Sir Michael Gambon (R) played Dumbledore for the rest of the film series after Sir Richard Harris (L) died.(Reuters/Warner Bros) / https://www.abc.net.au/news

McKellen was still insulted by a remark Harris had made saying that McKellen was, “technically brilliant, but passionless.” There may be a bit of a grudge here but we don’t want to speak ill of the dead. We will leave you with Sir Michael Gambon, who stepped into the role and filled it perfectly.


28. Tom Cruise as Ren McCormack in Footloose

When the producers of the film Footloose were trying to cast their film, they vividly had Tom Cruise on their minds to bring Ren McCormack to life. Cruise was already committed to filming All The Right Moves, so this ended up not working out, but er are glad we still got to see his dance moves in another cult classic film, Risky Business.

Source: 1984 Paramount Pictures / Footloose

All in all, things worked out because Kevin Bacon completely transformed the role and was without a doubt up for the task of dancing his heart out and helping all of us fall in love at the theater.


29. Jessica Simpson as Jamie Sullivan in A Walk to Remember

Nicholas Sparks’ novel A Walk to Remember was later adapted into a very successful film, starring Mandy Moore and Shane West. We love the interactions between Moore and West’s characters and they skillfully bring their stories’ emotions to life. Although there is little known fact about this film, the role of Jaime almost went to someone else.

Source: Mandy Moore / Instagram

It was no other than, Jessica Simpson, apparently, it was down to two girls when it came down to casting the role of Jaime Sullivan, Mandy, and Jessica. West recalls not being too keen to have Simpson in the role so he is happy that it ended up going to Mandy, only because he thought it was a better fit.