Special Report

20 Famous Movie Roles That Had to Be Recast

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Few things disrupt a film’s production like an actor departure. But when a star drops out before shooting or isn’t working out as envisioned, recasting brings a new opportunity. Some of cinema’s most iconic roles were played by alternate actors and actresses after last-minute changes.

As the saying goes, “the show must go on.” Dozens of theater productions, TV shows, and major movies have been forced to recast major characters over the years for a variety of reasons. (See what famous actors did next after their breakout roles.)

24/7 Tempo reviewed entertainment sources like Vulture, Screenrant, and The Wrap to compile a list of high-profile film, TV, and stage roles that were recast during production, between movie sequels, or during the series run. Additional data came from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon.

Often, actors want to find a new role instead of reprising a previous character and leave a production amicably. Sometimes, though, recastings are the result of messy behind-the-scenes drama. Stars have abandoned projects over creative differences and contract disputes. Other times, performers are fired for on-set misconduct or other high-profile bad behavior that could negatively affect the movie at the box office. (These are the biggest scandals that shocked Hollywood.)

Taking over for an actor in the role that they made famous isn’t always easy. Replacement performers can sometimes seamlessly slide into the part and fans will hardly notice the change. Other times, shaking up the principal cast can throw off the chemistry that helped make a show or film successful and make the sequel feel like a cynical cash-grab by studios, rather than a continuation of a story.

Source: Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

Rachel Dawes
> From: Batman Begins (2005)
> Originated by: Katie Holmes
> Replacement: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Katie Holmes starred as Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and love interest, in “Batman Begins.” However, when the studio began work on the sequel, “The Dark Knight,” Holmes declined to reprise the role, opting instead to work on other projects. The production brought in Maggie Gyllenhaal to play Dawes, who reportedly received Holmes’ blessing before taking on the role.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

Aunt Viv
> From: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
> Originated by: Janet Hubert
> Replacement: Daphne Reid

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” had one of the most notorious and acrimonious splits in TV history, when Janet Hubert left the role of Vivian Banks after the show’s third season. Hubert later said in a memoir that “Fresh Prince” star Will Smith wanted her to be fired, and Smith also alluded to feuding with Hubert after she left the sitcom. Daphne Reid took over as Aunt Viv for the rest of the show’s time on air.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes / War Machine
> From: Iron Man (2008)
> Originated by: Terrence Howard
> Replacement: Don Cheadle

Terrence Howard played Tony Stark’s friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes in 2008’s Iron Man, the film that would go on to launch the Avengers franchise and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ahead of the sequel, it was announced that Don Cheadle would take over as “Rhodey.” Howard later said he was replaced over a contract dispute, alleging he was pressured to take a fraction of the money he previously agreed to. Cheadle has since played Rhodes, and his superhero alter ego War Machine in over half a dozen movies and TV shows.

Source: Eugene Gologursky / Getty Images

Harry Potter
> From: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016)
> Originated by: James Snyder
> Replacement: Steve Haggard

“Funny Girl” is not the only recent Broadway production forced to unceremoniously swap its lead character. In early 2022, James Snyder was fired from the lead role in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” A third party investigated misconduct allegations against Snyder from a co-star and determined he should be removed from the show. The role of Harry Potter then went to Steve Haggard, who had been part of the “Cursed Child” production since 2019.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

> From: Fantastic Beasts series 
> Originated by: Johnny Depp
> Replacement: Mads Mikkelsen

Johnny Depp starred as the evil wizard Grindelwald in the first two films in the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts series. Just after production began on the third movie in 2020, Depp announced Warner Bros. had asked him to resign from the role, which he did. The studio faced calls to remove Depp after ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of abuse during their marriage. Mads Mikkelsen stepped into the role of Grindelwald for the third film, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.”

Source: Rich Polk / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Bruce Banner / The Hulk
> From: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
> Originated by: Edward Norton
> Replacement: Mark Ruffalo

Before finally settling on Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and his angry, green alter ego The Hulk, Marvel made the standalone film “The Incredible Hulk,” starring Edward Norton in 2008. Though the Norton version of the Hulk came out just a month after “Iron Man,” the movie failed to have the same critical and commercial success. Marvel alluded to creative differences behind the scenes when they announced Ruffalo would take over the Hulk character going forward alongside the rest of the Avengers.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Professor Dumbledore
> From: Harry Potter Series 
> Originated by: Richard Harris
> Replacement: Michael Gambon

Veteran actor and two-time Oscar nominee Richard Harris was the first actor to take on the role of Albus Dumbledore, mercurial headmaster at Hogwarts in 2001’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Sadly, Harris died in 2002, and filmmakers needed another Dumbledore. Michael Gambon stepped into the role for the seven subsequent Potter films.

Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

J. Paul Getty
> From: All the Money in the World (2017)
> Originated by: Kevin Spacey
> Replacement: Christopher Plummer

After Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual assault and harrassment in 2017, studios scrambled to remove him from ongoing projects. His character was written out of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” but he had also just finished playing billionaire J. Paul Getty in “All the Money in the World,” a biopic about the kidnapping of Getty’s son. Director Ridley Scott opted to reshoot all of Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer, who earned an Oscar nomination for the role.

Source: Eugene Gologursky / Getty Images

> From: Twilight Saga 
> Originated by: Rachelle Lefevre
> Replacement: Bryce Dallas Howard

The role of the vampire Victoria in the “Twilight” films initially went to actress Rachelle Lefevre. After the first two films in the saga, Lefevre was replaced with actress Bryce Dallas Howard. The studio issued a statement saying the role was recast because of a scheduling conflict. But Lefevre said in a statement she only had minimal overlap with another project, and that she was “stunned” by the decision not to accommodate her schedule.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

George McFly
> From: Back to the Future trilogy (1985)
> Originated by: Crispin Glover
> Replacement: Jeffrey Wiseman

Crispin Glover’s exit from the “Back to the Future” films is one of the messiest and most legally complex recasting choices in Hollywood history. Glover portrayed the nerdy George McFly in the first installment, but backed out of the sequel over a contract dispute.

Rather than just get a new portrayal of George McFly, director Robert Zemeckis opted to use old footage of Glover as well as another actor in prosthetics to look as much like Glover as possible. After the film came out, Glover sued the studio, claiming the look-alike portrayal violated his publicity rights. The case was settled and the Screen Actors Guild adopted new rules against using an actor’s likeness in that way.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Emperor Palpatine
> From: Star Wars saga 
> Originated by: Marjorie Eaton/Clive Revill
> Replacement: Ian McDiarmid

Sith lord Emperor Palpatine has a small role in “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” appearing briefly as a hologram to give orders to Darth Vader. In the 1980 theatrical release, Palpatine’s body was played by actor Marjorie Eaton, with actor Clive Revill voicing Palpatine’s lines. The Emperor has a much bigger part in “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi,” and the studio wanted one actor for the Palpatine role going forward, so they cast Ian McDiarmid. He has gone on to reprise the role more than half a dozen times for various Star Wars sequels, prequels, and TV shows.

Source: Michael Tullberg / Getty Images

Marianne Peters
> From: Army of the Dead (2021)
> Originated by: Chris D’Elia
> Replacement: Tig Notaro

Netflix’s zombie heist film “Army of the Dead” was almost ready to be released when Chris D’Elia, one of its lead actors, was accused of sexual misconduct. Director Zack Snyder and the studio decided to reshoot all of D’Elia’s scenes, but swap in comedian and actor Tig Notaro in his place. The extensive reshoots cost “a few million” dollars according to Snyder, and were further complicated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Evelyn Carnahan
> From: The Mummy franchise
> Originated by: Rachel Weisz
> Replacement: Maria Bello

Rachel Weisz got her big break in 1999’s blockbuster hit “The Mummy,” playing Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan. Weisz reprised the role in the 2001 sequel, but was notably absent from the third installment, when Maria Bello stepped in to play Evelyn. Though reports emerged at the time that she left over issues with the script, Weisz’s representatives blamed scheduling and family conflicts for her departure. However, director Rob Cohen said Weisz left because her character was “too old” because she had an adult son in the film.

Source: Courtesy of Orion Pictures

Clarice Starling
> From: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
> Originated by: Jodie Foster
> Replacement: Julianne Moore

“The Silence of the Lambs” is one of the most critically beloved films ever, becoming just the third film to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards for best picture, directing, actor and actress in a leading role, and screenwriting. However, when the studio pushed for a sequel, Jodie Foster and director Jonathan Demme backed out, saying the second script failed to honor the characters established in the first film. Anthony Hopkins returned to reprise the titular role for the sequel, “Hannibal,” but Julianne Moore replaced Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling.

Source: Courtesy of Carsey-Werner Distribution

Laurie Forman
> From: That 70s Show (1998-2006)
> Originated by: Lisa Robin Kelly
> Replacement: Christina Moore

Lisa Robin Kelly was a series regular in the first few seasons of “That 70s Show,” playing Eric Forman’s older sister Laurie. However, Kelly disappeared for season four, came back briefly the next season, but was replaced by Christina Moore in a handful of season six episodes before the character of Laurie was written out entirely. Kelly later said she was struggling with alcohol abuse at the time and had a falling out with the show’s producers. Sadly, Kelly died in 2013 as a result of a drug overdose.

Source: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images

Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane
> From: Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
> Originated by: Conan Stevens/Ian Whyte
> Replacement: Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson

“Game of Thrones” showrunners kept tinkering with some major roles even after the show started airing. Conan Stevens played the fearsome knight Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in season one, before being replaced by Ian Whyte in season two. The character’s role expands significantly in season four, so the show cast someone more fitting to play a character known as “The Mountain” – Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, a 6’9″ 400-pound icelandic weightlifter who once claimed the title of World’s Strongest Man.

Source: Courtesy of Fox Network

Meg Griffin
> From: Family Guy (1999-present)
> Originated by: Lacey Chabert
> Replacement: Mila Kunis

Actress Lacey Chabert was the original voice of Meg Griffin in the first few episodes of “Family Guy,” but Mila Kunis has voiced the character for over two decades and nearly 400 episodes since. The initial split was apparently amicable, as Chabert reportedly was not under contract for the full run of the series and wanted to work on other projects. “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane said there was “no tension” when Chabert departed and Kunis came in to play Meg.

Source: Courtesy of Viacom

Becky Conner
> From: Roseanne (1988-1996, 2018)
> Originated by: Alicia Goranson
> Replacement: Sarah Chalke

The role of Becky Conner, the daughter on “Roseanne,” is remembered as one of the most confusing recastings in TV history. Alicia Goranson played the character through season five, then left the show to focus on her education. Sarah Chalke played Becky in seasons six and seven, then split the role with Goranson for season eight, as the show confusingly decided to swap the actors back and forth in the same season. Chalke had the role all to herself in season nine. Both actors came back when the show was briefly revived in 2018 – this time with Chalke playing a different character.

Source: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

> From: Aladdin sequel
> Originated by: Robin Williams
> Replacement: Dan Castellaneta

Robin Williams’ turn as the genie from the animated film “Aladdin” was a classic, free-wheeling comedic performance. But when it came time to make a sequel, Williams refused to return after reportedly feeling Disney did not honor an agreement about not using his voice to sell merchandise. Disney swapped in Dan Castellaneta, a veteran voice actor best known for playing Homer Simpson, as the genie in “Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar,” as well as several other shows, shorts, and video games. Despite the rift, Williams did return to play Genie in the third Aladdin film.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jennifer Parker
> From: Back to the Future trilogy 
> Originated by: Claudia Wells
> Replacement: Elisabeth Shue

George McFly wasn’t the only character that changed between the first and second “Back to the Future” films – Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer Parker also swapped actors. Claudia Wells declined to return to the role due to family obligations, so Elisabeth Shue was brought in for “Back to the Future part II” and “Back to the Future part III.”

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