Actors Who Turned Down Blockbuster Roles

September 21, 2019 by Steven M. Peters

As they often say in Hollywood, casting is 90% of directing. And when a film is cast well, it becomes nearly impossible to imagine the characters played by anyone other than the actors chosen.

The idea of someone other than Tom Hanks playing Forrest Gump seems preposterous. It feels like Matthew Broderick was born to play Ferris Bueller. These characters are iconic and filmgoers’ perceptions of them are inseparable from the actors who play them.

Yet these roles — along with many others — came surprisingly to being played by others. In each case, the part was offered to a different actor prior to being offered to the one who ultimately played it.

24/7 Tempo has identified 30 actors who turned down roles in movies that would go on to become box office blockbusters. These are the highest grossing films of all time.

Click here to see the actors who turned down blockbuster roles.

There are many reasons that an actor may turn down a part. Oftentimes, it comes down to scheduling. If an actor has signed on to star in one film, he or she may not be able to appear in a second one at the same time. Actors may also be under contract that prevents them from doing certain kinds of work. This was the case with Tom Selleck, who was under contract for the television show “Magnum P.I.” and was forced to turn down an offer to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” In some instances, actors simply fail to recognize the potential of a great script and as a result miss out on a great opportunity.

All of the actors included on our list have had successful careers — despite turning down these roles. These are the actors with the longest careers. The actors who passed on these opportunities, however, have likely lost out on millions of dollars, potential Academy Awards, and critical praise.

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1. Christina Applegate
> Role: Elle Woods
> Movie: Legally Blonde (2001)
> Played by: Reese Witherspoon

Christina Applegate was offered the role of ditzy blonde Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” following her decade-long stint on “Married… with Children.” Applegate refused the part, fearing the character was too similar to the one she played on television.

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2. Warren Beatty
> Role: Bill
> Movie: Kill Bill (2003)
> Played by: David Carradine

Quentin Tarantino originally wanted Warren Beatty to play the titular Bill in his Kill Bill movies. Warren Beatty turned down the role so as not to spend too much time away from his family, and Tarantino reworked the part to better fit David Carradine.

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3. Emily Blunt
> Role: Black Widow
> Movie: Iron Man 2 (2010)
> Played by: Scarlett Johansson

Despite initially being turned down for the part of Russian assassin Natasha Romanoff — also known as Black Widow — Scarlett Johansson was eventually cast when Emily Blunt dropped out of the project. Blunt was reportedly contractually obligated to work on “Gulliver’s Travels,” which was filmed at the same time.

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4. Jim Carrey
> Role: Buddy the Elf
> Movie: Elf (2003)
> Played by: Will Ferrell

Jim Carrey was reportedly on board when he first read the script for holiday classic “Elf.” But by the time the movie, which was stuck in development, actually made it to production — about 10 years later — he had already starred as the Grinch in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and turned down his chance to star in another Christmas flick.

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5. Sean Connery
> Role: Gandalf
> Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
> Played by: Ian McKellen

Sir Sean Connery was reportedly offered a $10 million per film salary plus 15% of the box office gross to play Gandalf in all three Lord of the Rings movies. Connery refused and later stated, “I never understood it. I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it.” The trilogy would proceed to gross more than $2.9 billion worldwide at the box office.

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6. Tom Cruise
> Role: Ren
> Movie: Footloose (1984)
> Played by: Kevin Bacon

Tom Cruise was initially considered for the role of Ren in “Footloose” because of his socks-and-underwear-clad dance routine in “Risky Business.” Filming of “All the Right Moves” caused scheduling issues, however, and Cruise had to relinquish the role to Kevin Bacon. Cruise’s career has turned out well and he was one of the highest-grossing stars in 2018.

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7. Matt Damon
> Role: Jake Sully
> Movie: Avatar (2009)
> Played by: Sam Worthington

Matt Damon was forced to pass on the role of Jake Sully in “Avatar” due to scheduling conflicts with “The Bourne Ultimatum.” The James Cameron film went on to become the highest grossing film worldwide of all time.

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8. Benicio Del Toro
> Role: Khan
> Movie: Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
> Played by: Benedict Cumberbatch

Benicio Del Toro was in talks with the filmmakers of “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” reportedly to play the role of the villainous Khan. The actor walked away though, due to disagreements over how much he would be paid.

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9. Johnny Depp
> Role: Ferris Bueller
> Movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
> Played by: Matthew Broderick

Depp was offered to play the lead in John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The 1986 film would have been among Depp’s earliest movie roles had the actor not turned down the opportunity, making way for Matthew Broderick’s iconic performance.

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10. Leonardo DiCaprio
> Role: Ennis Del Mar
> Movie: Brokeback Mountain (2005)
> Played by: Heath Ledger

Leonardo DiCaprio declined a starring role in “Brokeback Mountain,” according to Gus Van Sant, who was originally on board as director before the movie was handed over to Ang Lee. Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Ryan Phillippe were also considered, but each turned down the role that eventually went to Heath Ledger.

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11. Mel Gibson
> Role: Maximus
> Movie: Gladiator (2000)
> Played by: Russell Crowe

Mel Gibson turned down an offer to star in 2000’s “Gladiator” as he thought he was too old for the role. The movie would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture with Russell Crowe in the lead role.

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12. Tom Hanks
> Role: Jerry Maguire
> Movie: Jerry Maguire (1996)
> Played by: Tom Cruise

Tom Hanks turned down the role of Jerry Maguire — which was written with him in mind — because he was directing “That Thing You Do” at the time. He has since said that Cruise was perfectly cast.

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13. Anne Hathaway
> Movie: Knocked Up (2007)
> Played by: Katherine Heigl

Anne Hathaway revealed in a 2007 interview in Marie Claire magazine that she turned down the role of Alison in Judd Apatow’s comedy “Knocked Up” due to nudity in the script that she found unnecessary. Katherine Heigl, who ended up playing Alison, would later stir controversy by calling the movie “a little sexist,” in a 2018 interview with “Vanity Fair.”

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14. Charlie Hunnam
> Role: Christian Grey
> Movie: Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
> Played by: Jamie Dornan

Charlie Hunnam, perhaps best known for his work on the show “Sons of Anarchy,” called his departure from “Fifty Shades of Grey” — after he was announced to play the part of Christian Grey — “the worst professional experience of [his] life,” in an interview with “V Man.” He also referred to the decision, which he said was due to scheduling issues, as “heartbreaking.”

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15. Hugh Jackman
> Role: James Bond
> Movie: Casino Royale (2006)
> Played by: Daniel Craig

Hugh Jackman was offered the chance to play James Bond after Pierce Brosnan, but the actor thought the series had become too “unbelievable and crazy,” he recounted to “Variety” in 2017. Actor Daniel Craig stepped up to the plate instead, becoming the highest paid Bond actor ever.

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16. Michael B. Jordan
> Role: Dr. Dre
> Movie: Straight Outta Compton (2015)
> Played by: Corey Hawkins

Dr. Dre personally wanted Michael B. Jordan to play him in the musical biopic, but Jordan was unable to because of an overlap with scheduling of his role as The Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four.” “Straight Outta Compton” went on to gross more than $161 million in the U.S., while “Fantastic Four” was a flop, grossing just over $56 million.

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17. Beyoncé Knowles
> Role: Plumette
> Movie: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
> Played by: Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Director Bill Condon worked with Beyoncé in the 2006 musical “Dreamgirls.” Condon told Yahoo! Entertainment that he tried to cast the superstar in the live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” but that the part was too small for her.

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18. John Lithgow
> Role: The Joker
> Movie: Batman (1989)
> Played by: Jack Nicholson

According to John Lithgow, the actor actively talked director Tim Burton out of considering him for the role of the Joker in his 1989 version of “Batman.” Jack Nicholson reportedly earned $100 million for the role, when accounting for inflation.

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19. Jack Nicholson
> Role: Michael Corleone
> Movie: The Godfather (1972)
> Played by: Al Pacino

Before he ever played the Joker, Jack Nicholson turned down a major role himself. Nicholson turned down the role of Michael Corleone, thinking himself too old for the part. Today “The Godfather” is considered among the greatest films of all time.

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20. Gwyneth Paltrow
> Role: Rose Dewitt Bukater
> Movie: Titanic (1997)
> Played by: Kate Winslet

According to Gwyneth Paltrow, she was one of the last two actresses being considered for the role of Rose in “Titanic.” Paltrow turned it down and actress Kate Winslet was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in the part.

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21. Michelle Pfeiffer
> Role: Clarice Starling
> Movie: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
> Played by: Jodie Foster

Jonathan Demme originally wanted to cast Michelle Pfeiffer as Clarice Starling — ultimately played by Jodie Foster — but she turned the part down over concerns “about the darkness of the piece,” according to the director.

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22. Burt Reynolds
> Role: Han Solo
> Movie: Star Wars (1977)
> Played by: Harrison Ford

Burt Reynolds expressed his regret in 2016 at having turned down the iconic role of Han Solo in the Star Wars series. The actor also reportedly turned down an offer to play James Bond after Sean Connery had, as well as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

23. Molly Ringwald
> Role: Vivian Ward
> Movie: Pretty Woman (1990)
> Played by: Julia Roberts

Following her performances in three successful John Hughes classics — “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Pretty in Pink” — Molly Ringwald was offered the lead role in “Pretty Woman.” The part would ultimately go to the then-largely unknown Julia Roberts.

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24. Julia Roberts
> Role: Viola De Lesseps
> Movie: Shakespeare in Love (1998)
> Played by: Gwyneth Paltrow

Julia Roberts herself turned down a major role when she was offered a part in “Shakespeare in Love.” The actress made her decision upon hearing that Daniel Day-Lewis also decided not to appear in the movie. “Shakespeare in Love” went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and Gwyneth Paltrow, who replaced Roberts, won Best Actress.

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25. Ja Rule
> Role: Tej
> Movie: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
> Played by: Ludacris

According to director John Singleton, Ja Rule turned down half a million dollars to appear in the film. The part ultimately went to Ludacris, who has since starred in four additional movies in the franchise.

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26. Tom Selleck
> Role: Indiana Jones
> Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
> Played by: Harrison Ford

The famously mustachioed Tom Selleck auditioned for — and was offered — the role of Indiana Jones in the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He was unable to get out of his contract for the television series Magnum P.I., however, and had to forfeit the opportunity.

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27. Will Smith
> Role: Neo
> Movie: The Matrix (1999)
> Played by: Keanu Reeves

According to Will Smith, he turned down the lead role in “The Matrix” following a meeting with directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski that left him less than impressed. The actor has noted his mistake, while also praising the casting of Keanu Reeves in a role that required not a lot of dialogue, calling it “perfect.”

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28. John Travolta
> Role: Forrest Gump
> Movie: Forrest Gump (1994)
> Played by: Tom Hanks

John Travolta passed on a chance to play the lead in Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump.” Tom Hanks — who accepted the part — ultimately won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance. Travolta managed to find some success with his role in “Pulp Fiction,” which was released the same year.

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29. Emma Watson
> Role: Mia
> Movie: La La Land (2016)
> Played by: Emma Stone

While “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle claims that there was a moment when Emma Watson was signed on to star in the film, the actress says that it was never a settled matter. Due to scheduling issues related to her role in the live action “Beauty and the Beast,” Watson passed on the part. Replacement Emma Stone went on to win the Best Actress award at the Oscars.

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30. Reese Witherspoon
> Role: Sidney Prescott
> Movie: Scream (1996)
> Played by: Neve Campbell

Following Drew Barrymore’s decision to play the smaller role of Casey in the 1996 horror movie “Scream,” rather than protagonist Sidney, the filmmakers offered Reese Witherspoon the role. She turned it down, as did Claire Danes and Brittany Murphy. “Scream” eventually grossed $173 million worldwide against a $14 million budget.