25 Actors Who Passed Up On Iconic Roles

Posted by on February 25, 2013

The history of film is cluttered with stories about stars who were an inch away from playing roles that got embedded into the hearts and minds of movie audiences. When actors look back into some of their career mishaps, the ones they’ll probably notice the most are the glaring errors they made in passing up on important roles. In 25 Celebrities Who Passed Up On Iconic Roles, we take a look at some of films most memorable characters and the stars who almost got to play them.


Sean Connery

The Role: Gandalf

Citing that he “didn’t get fantasy”, Sean Connery passed up on playing Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings. The role that was eventually given to Ian McKellen earned the actor an award (Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture) and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Gandalf was crowned the 28th greatest movie character of all time by Empire Magazine.


Dana Delany

The Role: Carrie Bradshaw

Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is one of the most popular female TV and movie characters of all time, at least in the “chick flick” genre. The role was originally offered to Dana Delany who turned it down although she later claimed not to regret her decision.


Molly Ringwald

The Role: Vivian Ward

Molly Ringwald was one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood in the 80′s, thanks to the movies she started in like Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club. However, the actress has been plagued with obscurity ever since the 90s. Her fate might have turned out differently had she accepted the role of Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman. The movie was a massive commercial success earning $463,407,268 at the box office. Julia Roberts who eventually played the character received an Oscar nomination for the role and is now regarded as one of the biggest movie stars in the world.


Will Smith

The Role: Neo

Will Smith was initially offered the role of Neo in The Matrix. He turned it down on account of the concept being too complicated and he didn’t see the film performing well at the box office. Well, we all know how the movie fared.


Henry Winkler

The Role: Danny Zunko

Henry Winkler was approached to play Danny Zunko in the musical film Grease. When he turned it down, John Travolta took on the role. Grease earned $694,589,888 at the box office. The American Film Institute listed Grease at #97 in its 100 Years…100 Passions which lists the 100 greatest love stories in American cinema.


Michelle Pfeiffer

The Role: Clarice Sterling

Michelle Pfeiffer was offered the role of Clarice Sterling in Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of The Silence Of The Lambs. She turned it down because she found the movie to be too violent and disturbing. Jodi Foster won the role and gave her a second Academy Award for Best Actress.


Al Pacino

The Role: Han Solo

Al Pacino was offered the Role of Han Solo in Star Wars. He said he wasn’t interested in playing the role. Harrison Ford took over and the movie franchise went on to become one of the most successful film series in history, establishing Ford’s superstar status.


Kim Basinger

The Role: Catherine Tramell

Kim Basinger passed up on playing Catherine Tramell in Paul Verhoeven’s thriller Basic Instinct. The role was subsequently handed to Sharon Stone. The film became one of the highest grossing films of 1992 earning $352,927,224 at box office. The role is highly regarded as the one responsible for giving Sharon Stone her much needed break.


Jeremy Irons

The Role: Hannibal Lecter

Jeremy Irons was initially appraoched to play Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of The Silence Of The Lambs. Just like Michelle Pfeiffer when approached to play clarice Sterling, Irons cited the film’s violent content as his reason for turning down the role. Anthony Hopkins took over the role and it became one of the most defining moments of the actor’s career.


Tom Selleck

The Role: Indiana Jones

Tom Selleck didn’t exactly turn down the role. He was very interested in playing the role. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both picked Selleck for the role but a deal couldn’t be reached with Universal Studios whom Selleck was set to do another film with. The role eventually went to Harrison Ford (whom George Lucas was initially reluctant to cast) and gave him another major role after Star Wars. The franchise has a total worldwide earning amounting to $1,978,055,564.


Dougray Scott

The Role: Wolverine

Although Hugh Jackman is now exclusively associated with Wolverine, the role was intially meant to be portrayed by another actor, Dougray Scott. Scott was handpicked by Tom Cruise to play the villain in Mission Impossible. The 2nd installment of MI overran filming of X-Men by two months and Scott was forced to drop out of production which cost him a major Wolverine franchise.


Jack Nicholson

The Role: Michael Carleone

When Jack Nicholson was approached to play Michael Corleone, he knew that The Godfather would be a great movie. However, at that time, he felt that “Indians should play characters written for Indians”. In the same thread, Nicholson felt that the role of Corleone should be played by an Italian so he passed up on playing the iconic role. Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, was cited by the American Film Institute as the 11th most iconic villain in film history.


John Travolta

The Role: Forrest Gump

John Travolta passed up on playing Forrest Gump…huge mistake. In 1994, the film became the highest grossing movie in North America. Tom Hanks was acclaimed for his portrayal of the role, giving him an award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars. Travolta has since admitted to regretting the decision he made.


Sarah Michelle Gellar

The Role: Cher Horowitz

Sarah Michelle Gellar turned down the opportunity to star in the 1995 sleeper hit, Clueless. The character, Cher Horowitz, the rich spoiled yet sweet girl became so endearing to fans that it brought the then-unknown Alicia Silverstone worldwide recognition.


Bette Midler

The Role: Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence

The producers of Sister Act agreed that Bette Midler was best suited for the role. Later on, Midler declined to play the role expressing concerns about her fans not wanting her to play the role of a nun. The part was eventually given to Whoopi Goldberg. The film was widely successful, spawning one sequel and a Broadway musical.