Have you ever watched a great movie and been so impressed with the lead actor or actress that you thought they were “perfect” for the role? Such casting usually doesn’t happen by accident. The movie studio, producer, director, casting agencies, agents, actors and actresses all vie to fill key movie roles through auditions, networking and other methods. Often, fate intervenes in the process. An actor everyone thinks is perfect for the role wants too much salary. Or an actress rejects the role because she doesn’t like the script.
Hollywood history is full of instances in which an actor or actress took an Academy Award-winning role that another performer passed up. Here’s a look at 10 famous movie roles rejected by other stars.
10. The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock took home an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as a Memphis socialite in the 2009 hit The Blind Side. The movie was based on the true story of a wealthy white family that takes in a homeless African-American teen and nurtures him to a college football scholarship and eventually an NFL career. Bullock dominated almost every scene she was in with her character’s forceful personality, whether facing down gang members, a clueless coach or her newly adopted son. Julia Roberts was originally offered the role as Leigh Anne Tuohy, but declined.
9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Jack Nicholson rocketed to stardom with his role as Randle Patrick McMurphy in the 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He almost never got a shot at the role. According to the Internet Movie Database, Kirk Douglas, who owned the film rights to the Ken Kesey novel of the same name, envisioned himself in the starring role, but felt he was too old by the time it was finally produced. Director Milos Forman’s first choice to play McMurphy was Burt Reynolds. Marlin Brando, Gene Hackman and James Caan were offered the role and declined. An unknown actress named Louise Fletcher parlayed her role as Nurse Ratched into an Oscar for best actress. That role was turned down by several big-name stars, including Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Angela Lansbury and Anne Bancroft.
As the autistic lead character in the 1988 film Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman endeared himself to the audience with lines such as “I’m a very good driver” and “10 minutes to Wapner.” That performance won him the Oscar for best actor that year. Now just imagine an alternate universe in which Hoffman had portrayed Tom Cruise’s character, and Bill Murray had been the Rain Man. That’s exactly how casting agents originally envisioned the film. You could almost see Murray in that role, channeling the aloofness he displayed in some of his best career work.
7. Schindler’s List
Liam Neeson earned widespread acclaim and an Oscar nomination for best actor for his portrayal as kind-hearted Nazi Oskar Schindler in the 1993 film Schindler’s List. In retrospect, he seems the perfect choice for the role — an accomplished actor, but not a superstar, with a natural ability to display concern and passion, without overacting. Neeson was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor (Tom Hanks won for his role in Philadelphia.) Among the actors who expressed an interest in playing Schindler were Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Warren Beatty.
6. Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins only had about 15 minutes of screen time in the 1991 horror thriller The Silence of the Lambs, as the cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but it was enough to win him an Academy Award as Best Actor. A number of other high-profile actors were considered to play Lecter, including Gene Hackman, who was originally slated to play the cannibal but backed out. Also considered were Jack Nicholson, Sean Connery, Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall and Dustin Hoffman. Jodie Foster’s Award-winning Best Actress turn as FBI agent Clarice Starling also attracted interest from several popular actresses, including Meg Ryan, Geena Davis, Melanie Griffith and Michelle Pfeiffer, who was offered the role but turned it down.
Roy Scheider landed the role of his career as police chief Martin Brody in the epic 1975 thriller Jaws. Director Steven Spielberg initially offered the role to Robert Duvall, who declined. Spielberg also spurned interest from Charlton Heston for the role, as the director feared Heston’s screen presence would overshadow the film’s true star – the shark.
4. The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption was a box office flop when it was released in 1994, but it has gone on to enjoy great critical and public acclaim. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards that year, including Best Picture, but was shut out on awards night. Tim Robbins played the role of Andy Dufresne in the adaption of this Stephen King novella, with Morgan Freeman in the role as “Red” Redding, Dufresne’s best friend and the film’s narrator. Noted director Rob Reiner initially made a lucrative bid to write and direct the film, but was turned down in favor of Frank Darabont. So we’ll never know what The Shawshank Redemption would have looked like with Reiner’s vision, as he’d proposed Tom Cruise in Robbins’ role and Harrison Ford in Freeman’s role.
3. Thelma and Louise
Thelma and Louise was a critical and box office hit in 1991, thanks to the fortuitous pairing of co-stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as troubled friends who team up on an ill-fated road trip. Their performance resulted in an extreme rarity in Academy Award history, as both were nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award (Jodie Foster won for her role in The Silence of the Lambs.) A long list of top-flight actresses were considered for Sarandon’s role, including Holly Hunter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Frances McDormand, Meg Ryan and Sela Ward. The role was actually offered to Diane Keaton, Sigourney Weaver, Goldie Hawn, Sissy Spacek, Tina Turner and Anjelica Houston, but all declined, leaving the iconic role to Sarandon.
2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid produced one of the greatest cinematic pairings of all-time, with Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. Of course, that pairing was too perfect to be true, right? Among the actors considered for Redford’s iconic role were Steve McQueen, who reportedly backed out when he learned he’d have to take second-billing to Newman, and Jack Lemmon, who felt he’d been too typecast in similar roles. Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty were also considered before Redford was chosen for the role that he later said changed his career.
A young, unknown actor named Christopher Reeve rose to fame for his starring role in the 1978 movie Superman. A who’s who of Hollywood actors from that era either expressed interest in the role or were considered. When DC Comics auctioned off the film rights for the superhero in 1974, they requested a list of actors who might appear as Superman. According to Wikipedia, the list included boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Steve McQueen, James Caan and Dustin Hoffman. As production neared, other actors were considered.
Can you imagine Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson or Charles Bronson wearing the suit and cape? All were considered. Also considered for the role were Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Jon Voight and James Brolin. Two other celebrities, singer Neil Diamond and body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger, expressed interest in the role, but reportedly were ignored.
One More: Jeffrey Hunter
Jeffrey Hunter is an unknown to most people today, but if not for a little better luck, he’d be a household name. Hunter enjoyed some notoriety in 1956 as John Wayne’s sidekick in the western The Searchers. A few years later, he landed the role of Capt. Christopher Pike in the pilot episode of the series Star Trek, but declined to participate in a second pilot, opening the door for William Shatner to find stardom as Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. Having missed out on playing one TV icon, Hunter then struck out on another famous role. According to the Internet Movie Database, Hunter lobbied extensively to be cast as Mike Brady in the new series The Brady Bunch, but series producer Sherwood Schwartz reportedly said Hunter was “too good-looking to be an architect.” After suffering a couple of strokes in 1969, Hunter died at age 42 just a few months before The Brady Bunch debuted.