Actors who turned down big movie roles

Once you have seen a movie it becomes almost impossible to see any other actors starring in it. When movies are made though, roles were not always initially offered to the star you see on the silver screen. A lot of actors turn down roles. For some movies this is a good decision (as Halle Berry turned down Gigli for example), but there some movies that became big hits and they might have been scratching their heads when they saw so.

Can you imagine the following actors starring in these movies?

The part : Butch
Who got the role : Bruce Willis

Originally offered to : Mickey Rourke

When you think of Butch in Pulp Fiction the first thing I think of is Bruce Willis saying “Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead”. His role as boxer who decides to win his match which he was supposed to lose was originally offered to Mickey Rourke. It would have been a fitting role as Rourke was an avid boxer who stopped acting to pursue a career as professional boxer. The reason he turned it down? He wanted to keep boxing instead of doing it in a movie.

The part : Vincent Vega
Who got the role : John Travolta

Originally offered to : Michael Madsen

Having appeared in Reservoir dogs as Vic Vega, Michael Madsen was supposed to reprise his role in Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to do his role as he was busy with Wyatt Earp. The role was then given to Travolta and the name of the character was changed to Vincent.

The part : Dr.Grant
Who got the role : Sam Neill

Originally offered to : Harrison Ford/Kurt Russell/William Hurt

It’s a long list of actors that were not interested in playing the leading role in Spielbergs dinosaur movie. Harrison Ford turned it down, probably because he didn’t want to play another doctor. Kurt Russell turned it down due to his salary demands and William Hurt didn’t even read the script before saying no to it. It might not have been the most iconic role, but I would have loved to see Kurt Russell doing this.

The part : Morpheus
Who got the role : Laurence Fishburne

Originally offered to : Russel Crowe

I can imagine why actors would have turned this one down as the Wachowskis weren’t big directors yet and the concept would probably be very hard to imagine. Crowe read the script but couldn’t understand it and passed on it. He’s not the only one though…

The part : Unknown (but possibly The Architect)
Who got the role : Helmut Bakaitis

Originally offered to : Sean Connery

Connery also turned down a role in the film as he said he couldn’t understand the script.

The part : Agent Smith
Who got the role : Hugo Weaving

Originally offered to : Jean Reno

For this role I couldn’t imagine anyone else but Hugo Weaving doing it. He acted as a machine (which in this case is a compliment) and was a real menace. Reno would have probably been able to do it as well, but declined as he didn’t feel like leaving France for a couple of months to shoot in Australia. He took a role in Godzilla instead.

The movie : The Matrix
The part : Neo
Who got the role : Keanu Reeves

Originally offered to : Will Smith

It’s amazing how many actors turned down roles for this movie. Will Smith was also one of them. Can you imagine him playing Neo? Somehow this role fit Keanu perfectly I think.

The movie : Apollo 13
The part : unknown
Offered to : Brad Pitt
Who got the role : Unknown

Unfortunately not a lot of details are known about this, but I am very happy that Pitt did turn down this role. Although Apollo 13 is a very good movie, the movie he decided to do instead was Se7en.

The part : Gandalf
Who got the role : Ian McKellen

Offered to : Sean Connery

After The Matrix Connery also turned down the role of Gandalf, the wizard who helps the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He thought appearing in a fantasy film would hurt his reputation. He later stated that after turning down both The Matrix and Lord of the Rings he decided to say yes to The League of Extraordinary Gentleman although he didn’t understand that project either.

Could you imagine these actors doing those roles? Do you know any other interesting ones? Leave a comment!

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36 thoughts on “Actors who turned down big movie roles

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  2. Didn’t know about Mickey Rourke in Pulp Fiction. I’d have prefered that I think.
    Another one is Boogie Nights. DiCaprio was offered the role but instead recommended Wahlberg.
    There are others that for the life of me, I can’t remember. Great post though Nostra. I love these bits of trivia.

  3. Interesting post. Its unbelievable how many great roles Mickey Rourke ‘passed on’, and ‘Pulp Fiction’ is not the only one, as he was offered roles in both ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Rain Man’ but turned them both down. Talking about bad luck. But what amazes me most is the film ‘Pretty Woman’. The role of Vivian Ward was offered to numerous ‘A-List’ actresses of that time, including Sandra Bullock, Molly Ringwald (‘Sixteen Candles’), Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer, who all turn it down (apparently playing a ‘prostitute’ is not that glamorous’). Needless to say, because of the role, Roberts rocketed to stardom in no time, leaving in the shadow all the rest.

    • Thanks. Wow, you can’t imagine what Top Gun would look like with Mickey Rourke, I guess he would play the iceman?

      I can understand why so many passed on Pretty Woman. In hindsight it became a success, but it was a risky gamble…

  4. another thing……sandra bullock was originally offered the role of trinity. and she didn’t have any problems with understanding the script. she loved it. however, once she found out that the role of neo was being offered to will smith? she passed. she passed because she refused to play a role that involved romantic interaction between her and a black man. and for this? she’s not a real actor. she’d rather play parts where she sells sex, she offers sex, she hints at sex, but when it comes down to it? she doesn’t deliver sex. she only uses it to tease and to lure you into watching her movies. in short, she just wants to be cute, desired, and persued (but never caught) by men. will smith, to his credit, turned down the part of neo because in his opinion, he was unable to carry that serious of a role. instead, he took the part of james west in the wild wild west. i don’t think he would’ve refused the role if he had found out that he would have to be smooching on sandra bullock and then said…..”ewwww…yucky… thanks”. sandra bullock plays the same role, over and over. ad nauseam. she might be cute and smart, but don’t call her a true actor. she either refuses or cannot stretch herself to embody a character that is too far from her real life persona.

    • Well, I couldn’t find much information about the claim you make, but it would have been interesting to see what she would have done with the role. As for her not stretching herself to do different type of roles, she actually did by acting in Crash, which was something very unlike her other movies. I never had the feeling that she’s someone who sells sex, everything always feels very innocent with her in my opinion.

  5. Good article – it’s a bit hit and miss in terms of actors who could have taken parts. For example, Mickey Rourke would have done well in Pulp Fiction and it’s a massive shame Michael Madsen couldn’t turn up as Vic Vega. Connery would have been great as the architect in the Matrix and it was very much Keanu’s role – his career high point. Jean Reno as Agent Smith is intriguing. For Lord of the Rings I wouldn’t have liked Connery as Gandalf, he’s always Connery in whatever he does – Mckellen was perfect.

    • Thanks Michael and you make some interesting points. For some movies I’d rather have seen the original choice, but for some it turned out for the best, like you say with Gandalf.

    • Despite the opinion of this list, the part that Sean Connery was offered in The Matrix was Laurence Fishburne’s role of Morpheus.

  6. Hi Nostra – Most enjoyable post. I read your response to the coment about Mickey Rourke turning down a role in Top Gun – and you offered that maybe it was for Iceman.

    Couldn’t be Iceman.

    Rourke was born in 1952 making him 34 years old in 1986 when Top Gun came out. He would have been too old to play a pilot going through the Top Gun training. The role that fit him was the role that went to Michael ironsides – Jester – who was second to Tom Skerritt’s Viper.

    Ironside was born in 1950 – so he was just two years older than Mickey.


    • Nice post but your wrong. Jester?? lol He’s in the movie for like 5 minutes. We see 30 year olds cast as high schoolers all the time. If a director or producer want an actor, age for the role is not a requirement,they’re actors so they can act as if they were a 23 yr old. The age requirement for a pilot to begin school is 30, not far off. It wouldn’t be weird for Mickey to be playing someone 5 years younger, happens all the time. And plus the major reason why your wrong is because he was cast for the lead Maverick, not for the 12th billing charactor Jester. Do your research.

  7. Often times you wonder what could have been. I mean it’s really hard to imagine how the film would look had the actor they wanted accepted the role. I heard somewhere that when “Watchmen” was on works in the 1990s, they wanted Arnold Swartzenegger to play Dr. Manhattan.

    No idea if Arnold would have accepted the role if the production haven’t gone under the development hell for over a decade.

    I know about Will Smith turned down the role as Neo but Connery for Smith? Whoa.

    • Thanks for your comments, somehow they ended up in the Spam filter (which I normally don’t check). Schwarzenegger in Watchmen would have been a bit strange 🙂

  8. Alan Rickman was supposedly the actor in mind instead of Charles Dance in Last Action Hero. The lines sounded like Rickman, though Dance did quite well.
    Fun post. I like background to movies and usually watch with Imdb tuned up. Thanks for the stop by.

    • Yeah, I think I mentioned that in my Last Action Hero review…it’s a shame, but Dance was one of my favorite chracters out of the movie so he did a great job.

  9. Really interetsing, I didn’t know any of these. Sean Connery must surely regret not being in two of the biggest franchises of all time. And Michael Madsen….poor guy!

    • Yeah, he really must regret those decisions. I guess it’s time to do another one of these posts as people seem to love reading about facts like this.

  10. I never liked Michael J Fox in the Back to the Future movies. He was a brilliant actor, don’t get me wrong, but I felt he had already been typecast due to having worked in the TV show Family Ties. If anything an un known character would have been able (I feel) preferable. Again, he was brilliant in the movies and the films were fantastic to watch even still today they could win an award, since we have so much rubbish showing these days, but it does explain why actors and actresses that worked in shows, ect were rarely offered other roles and if they were the transition needed to really work, such as with Harrison Ford.

    • You didn’t? I thought he was great in that role. Originally someone else was cast in the role and if you google it I am sure you can find the footage. The studio felt it did not work though and replaced him with Fox.

  11. Leo wasn’t offered a role in Boogie Nights, it was Fear and he told them to check out Wahlberg instead… Which is great because Leo couldn’t pull off that role I think, especially back then!! And Matt Damon got lucky with some of his roles, Brad Pitt was offered his roles in Legend of Bagger Vance and as Jason Bourne in the Bourne Identity but turned them down…

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