It’s not always easy for actors to tell which films are going to be a huge success before they’re made. Sometimes a lackluster script meets outrageous talent, stunning visuals, an epic soundtrack, and suddenly you have best-picture winner, Gladiator. Sometimes you have A-list talent and a director famous for churning out critical favorites, but something gets lost along the way and you end up with The Fountain. And sometimes movies that, for every conceivable reason, should have not gone anywhere end up launching incredibly lucrative careers.
David Schwimmer is best known for his role of “Ross” on the long running NBC show Friends, and his breakout role in nothing else. He was offered the role of J in the movie Men in Black a mere three years into the running of Friends, but he turned it down. Once Friends had finally run its course, however, he made an attempt at moving to film — an attempt that was largely unsuccessful. The part of J went to the already famous Will Smith, and cemented his place as one of the most bankable-easily-replaces-a-white-guy actors in Hollywood.
Sometimes the big role an actor turns down is, in perspective, not a huge deal. After all Gwyneth Paltrow is a successful, Oscar winning actress, a Save The Children Ambassador, and maintains a bafflingly extensive knowledge of Spain. So what could possibly come close to affecting Paltrow? How about turning down the biggest role in movie history? Paltrow, in all her wisdom, decided to turn down the role of Rose in the critical and commercial smash-hit Titanic. There couldn’t have been a bigger movie to turn down. Titanic film that launched Leonardo DiCaprio from teenage heartthrob who dominated the covers of Teenie Bopper magazines to the serious and reliable actor that he is today. Not to mention Kate Winslet went from nobody to one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood. Ms. Paltrow surely regrets her decision, but the millions of 13-year-old boys who happily went to see Kate Winslet’s ample bosom painted a second time are probably happy Paltrow passed.
Aside from clawing desperately for critical respectability, spelling her name in frustrating ways and being mistaken for Katherin Heigel, Charlize Theron turned down the lead role in Pearl Harbor in 2001. This was probably an excellent decision because, while this movie was probably pitched as “Titanic meets WORLD WAR II”, it ended up being “Titanic 2 meets Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”
While Will Smith can pretty much do anything he pleases, and whatever role he chooses is most likely going to bring him at gobs and gobs of money, he turned down the lead role of Neo in The Matrix. The Matrix went on to become one of the greatest on most lucrative Sci-Fi’s in history and continues to inspire fight scenes to this day. Its huge success spawned two sequels, which were both utterly disappointing — though they made a lot of money, and reignited Keanu’s Reeves flagging career. However, Neo was a cold, sterile, inexpressive computer programmer who is forced to wake up from being a complete drone, a role–we can all agree–Keanu reeves was born to play.
What a mistake. Sean Connery turned down the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, which would have been perhaps even a bigger and more memorable role than James Bond. While Ian McKellen was arguably the perfect Gandalf, and in retrospect the role could not be played by anyone else, one can’t help but delight in imagining Sir Sean Connery in those gray robes, walking towards a giant Balrog, screaming in heavy Scottish accent: “You Sharrlll not Parrrrs!” He also turned down the role of Morpheus in The Matrix, which again was probably for the best as no one could take the words “Welcome to the deshert of the rrreal” without fits of giggling.
Although it’s not a major blockbuster yet, it’s almost assured that The Hobbit, the much anticipated prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is going to be big. Peter Jackson is returning to direct, and there’s almost no doubt that whoever takes on the role to play a young version of Bilbo is sure to be sitting pretty. Martin Freeman (that’s Martin, not Morgan), who rose to stardom in his role of Tim in the original The Office on the BBC, later took on film in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Freeman has reportedly turned down the role because he had already signed on to play Watson in the new Sherlock Holmes series on BBC, a role certain to bring him fame and fortune just like all those other series from the BBC that you’ve heard of.
Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter to famous writer Ernest Hemingway, turned down the role of Iris in Taxi Driver, which instead went to Jodi Foster. The role was a young teenage prostitute, and would rocket Jodie Foster to dramatic heights from which she has yet to descend. Taxi Driver is not only considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, but it is also considered to be the greatest film of great director Martin Scorcese. If there were any more “greats” associated with this movie it would probably crap Oscars and sneeze Best Director snubs for Scorcese. While Mariel turned down the opportunity to play a teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver, she would accept a similar role as a teenage mistress to Woody Allen in Manhattan three years later. She was nominated for an Oscar, but that’s small consolation when Jodie Foster has since won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, a Screen Actors Guild Award and even two Emmys. The most recent role you might recognize Mariel Hemingway from is this one episode of Law and Order.
Julia Roberts turned down the role of Annie in Sleepless in Seattle, which would later be given to Meg Ryan. A few years later, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan would reunite in the exact same movie (with the addition of email) in You’ve Got Mail. While Sleepless in Seattle may not have been a blockbuster, it is the most frequently watched movie by lonely, overly romantic women who have nothing else to do on a Friday night. Roberts recently tried to compensate for snubbing this demographic by making Eat Pray Love.
Steve McQueen, the legendary star behind such films as The Great Escape and Bullit, turned down the role of Sundance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The part instead went to Robert Redford. The film is an absolute classic, and spawned a legendary pairing between Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who would go on to do many award-winning films together. While McQueen may have regretted this decision, it’s hard to imagine that he could grow a better moustache than Redford. And based on McQueen’s numerous attempts to upstage Yul Brenner in The Magnificent Seven, it’s probably best that he turned down this role so that The Sting could be made.
Cary Grant, who probably thought he didn’t need any more films under his belt anyway, turned down the role of James Bond in Dr. No. A little-known nobody named Sean Connery only became one of the most iconic actors in the history of movies with that role, and went on to do five other films in the same series. There’s a rumor that Grant actually said yes to the film, but because of the title of the film, his message was misread. This would seem plausible until you realize that this is the man to whom Audrey Hepburn once said: “You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing”. Cary Grant is probably one of the few men in history who doesn’t need James Bond’s dashing veneer to be any cooler.
Out of all the actors in all the world, there is not one that could maybe pull off the part of Neo more than Nicolas Cage. He turned down that role, and instead it went to Keanu Reeves–only the second most spaced out actor in Hollywood. Cage went on to bring us such gems as Face/Off, Wickerman, and most recently The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, never ceasing to dazzle viewers with his ability to play offbeat lunatics that may or may not have been based on Nicolas Cage. It’s hard to not imagine him in the final scene of The Matrix, flying past the camera, cackling like the maniac he was born to play.
Tom Hanks, the golden boy of Hollywood, doesn’t take every role that’s thrown at him. While he has had an illustrious career playing well intentioned, good men, he decided to turn down the role of Ray Kinsella in the famous Field of Dreams alongside James Earl Jones. The film was about an ordinary man’s attempts to do something special with his life, so it was probably fitting that the role went to Kevin Costner, who may have needed to do something special with his film career.
Tom Hanks also turned down the role of Jerry Maguire in the film Jerry Maguire.The role went instead to another Tom: Tom Cruise. While Tom Hanks is a versatile actor who can play almost anything thrown at him, in most people’s mind he evokes a kind, grandfatherly mien. Jerry Maguire was a frantic douchebag, which probably explains why Cruise was so good in the role he was nominated for an Oscar. Coincidentally, his other Oscar nomination comes from playing a misogynist self-help speaker in Magnolia that tells men to “Tame the Cunt!”
Morgan Freeman turned down a lead role in Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster smash hit based on the novel by Michael Crichton. The movie had it all: well built suspense, roaring, dinosaurs, and a wonderfully charming Jeff Goldblum. Jurassic Park was also one of the first movies to make expert use of computer graphics, and unlike many other films from that are, doesn’t really look dated.
Jurassic Park stands on its own as a technological marvel and a warning of man’s hubris. Of course the only other thing that could make this movie any better would be the deep, wonderfully soothing voice of Morgan Freeman behind the roars of the T-Rex. It is rumored that they even considered casting Freeman as the voice of the T-Rex, but that idea was scrapped as being way too much awesome to fit into one movie.
Tom Selleck had to drop out of the role of Indian Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, perhaps the best action/adventure movie of all time. Of all the refusals on the list so far, this one hurts the most. For some reason, it’s very easy to see Tom Selleck playing good old Indy, perhaps because of his role in Quigley Down Under. Harrison Ford defined the character though, so it’s somewhat hard to picture Selleck in the role: stealing ancient artifacts, defeating evil sorcerers, attacking Nazis with his
mustache bullwhip. Ford, of course, went on to do three additional Indiana Jones films, and was enshrined as the greatest embodiment of the word “Roguish” to ever have lived.