Famous people and the famous roles they passed on.

by Happy_Evil_Dude | last updated - 14 Jul 2011 | Public

Films don't always feature the actors initially sought for the respective parts. Sometimes an actor turns down a offer, sometimes they leave the film before shooting starts, etc... Here are examples of actors and actresses who turned down landmark roles in highly successful films.


1. Al Pacino

Actor | Serpico

One of the greatest actors in all of film history, Al Pacino established himself during one of film's greatest decades, the 1970s, and has become an enduring and iconic figure in the world of American movies.

Alfredo James Pacino was born on April 25, 1940, in the Bronx, New York, to an ...

Turned down Richard Gere's role in Pretty Woman, saying the film was poorly written. Also, he wasn't interested in playing Han Solo, so he turned down Star Wars too.

2. Will Smith

Music_department | The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Willard Carroll "Will" Smith, Jr. (born September 25, 1968) is an American actor, comedian, producer, rapper, and songwriter. He has enjoyed success in television, film, and music. In April 2007, Newsweek called him "the most powerful actor in Hollywood". Smith has been nominated for five Golden ...

The Wachowskis' first choice for the role of Neo in The Matrix. Will Smith found the script too hard to follow, but did later remark he found Keanu Reeves perfect for the role.

3. Lio

Actress | Une vieille maîtresse

Lio was born on June 17, 1962 in Mangualde, Portugal as Wanda Ribeiro de Vasconcelos. She is an actress, known for The Last Mistress (2007), Itinéraire d'un enfant gâté (1988) and Jalousie (1991).

The portuguese singer was supposed to have made her acting debut in the 1983 mystery L'été meurtrier (One Deadly Summer). Frustrated that the director didn't cater to her opinions she left the film and was replaced by Isabelle Adjani.

4. Mel Gibson

Actor | Braveheart

Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson was born January 3, 1956 in Peekskill, New York, USA, as the sixth of eleven children of Hutton Gibson, a railroad brakeman, and Anne Patricia (Reilly) Gibson (who died in December of 1990). His mother was Irish, from County Longford, while his American-born father is ...

Was offered the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton's 1989 adaptation. Mel Gibson thought the film would be a flop.

5. Reese Witherspoon

Actress | Wild

Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon was born on March 22, 1976 at Southern Baptist Hospital (now Memorial Medical Center) in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is the second child of Mary Elizabeth "Betty" (Reese) and Dr. John Draper Witherspoon, Sr. Her father was a military surgeon specializing in ear, nose ...

Turned down the main role of Sidney Prescott in Wes Craven's Scream, thinking it was yet another B-horror flick. Reese Witherspoon then had to wait for another 3-5 years for her career to really get going.

6. Jean Dujardin

Actor | The Artist

In 1995 he began his first one man show, the same year he met Bruno Salomone, Eric Collado, Emmanuel Joucla and Eric Massot with whom he created the "Nous C nous". In 1999, he became "Loulou" in Un gars, une fille (1999). This part permitted him to show his talent to a larger public. Since the end ...

Turned down a role in Dany Boon's Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis, which became the most successful film ever made in France, making over 245 million dollars worldwide and spawning two remakes. Jean Dujardin felt the comedy's script was unconvincing and simplistic.

7. Emily Watson

Actress | Breaking the Waves

Emily Watson was born and raised in London, the daughter of Katharine (Venables), an English teacher, and Richard Watson, an architect. After a self-described sheltered upbringing, Watson attended university for three years in Bristol, studying English literature. She applied to drama school and ...

Turned down the titular lead role in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's highly successful Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amélie Poulain (aka Amélie), despite Jeunet having written the role specifically for her, due to her not feeling up to the French-speaking part. The role was then given to Audrey Tautou and propelled the young actress to international superstardom.

8. John Travolta

Actor | Battlefield Earth

John Joseph Travolta was born in Englewood, New Jersey, one of six children of Helen Travolta (née Helen Cecilia Burke) and Salvatore/Samuel J. Travolta. His father was of Italian descent and his mother was of Irish ancestry. His father owned a tire repair shop called Travolta Tires in Hillsdale, ...

Turned down the lead roles in Forrest Gump, Days Of Heaven and American Gigolo

9. Michelle Pfeiffer

Actress | What Lies Beneath

Michelle Pfeiffer was born in Santa Ana, California, to Donna Jean (Taverna) and Richard Pfeiffer, a heating and air-conditioning contractor. She has an older brother and two younger sisters - Dedee Pfeiffer and Lori Pfeiffer, who both dabbled in acting and modeling but decided against making it ...

Turned down the role of Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme's landmark adaptation of The Silence Of The Lambs, finding the film too violent, dark and disturbing. The role was played by Jodie Foster and arguably remains her best-remembered performance.

10. Denzel Washington

Actor | Fences

Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. was born on December 28, 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York. He is the middle of three children of a beautician mother, Lennis, from Georgia, and a Pentecostal minister father, Denzel Washington, Sr., from Virginia. After graduating from high school, Denzel enrolled at ...

Turned down a part in David Fincher's Se7en, due to the film being too dark. He reportedly regretted his decision later on.

11. Bruce Willis

Actor | Die Hard

Actor and musician Bruce Willis is well known for playing wisecracking or hard-edged characters, often in spectacular action films. Collectively, he has appeared in films that have grossed in excess of $2.5 billion USD, placing him in the top ten stars in terms of box office receipts.

Walter Bruce ...

Turned down the chance to play a ghost husband opposite his then off-screen wife Demi Moore in, well, Ghost.

12. Kim Basinger

Actress | L.A. Confidential

Kim Basinger was born December 8, 1953, in Athens, Georgia, the third of five children. Both her parents had been in entertainment, her dad had played big-band jazz, and her mother had performed water ballet in several Esther Williams movies. Kim was introspective, from her father's side. As a ...

Turned down the role of Catherine Tramell in Paul Verhoeven's thriller Basic Instinct. If she hadn't, Sharon Stone might have never gotten her break.

13. Sean Connery

Actor | The Rock

Sean Connery is best known for portraying the character James Bond, starring in seven Bond films between 1962 and 1983. In 1988, Connery won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Untouchables (1987). His film career also includes such films as Marnie (1964), The Name of ...

Turned down the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, due to him not "getting" fantasy. He cited the film's success as his reason to do his critically-panned final film, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

14. Sandra Bullock

Producer | Miss Congeniality

Sandra Annette Bullock was born in Arlington, a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. Her mother, Helga Bullock (née Helga Mathilde Meyer), was a German opera singer. Her father, John W. Bullock, was an American voice teacher, who was born in Alabama, of Irish, English, French, and German descent. ...

Left the role of Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood's sports drama Million Dollar baby due to production delays. Replacing actress Hilary Swank won her second Oscar for the role, and Sandra Bullock starred in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous.

15. Jeremy Irons

Actor | Dead Ringers

British actor Jeremy Irons was born in Cowes, Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England. He is the son of Barbara Anne Brereton (Sharpe) and Paul Dugan Irons, an accountant. Young Jeremy didn't prove very fond of figures. He visited mainland England only once a year. He wound up ...

Jonathan Demme wanted him to play Hanibal Lecter in his celebrated adaptation of The Silence of The Lambs, but Jeremy Irons found the script to be too violent. The part instead became the defining role of Anthony Hopkins' career.

16. Warren Beatty

Actor | Bulworth

Since starring in his first film, Splendor in the Grass (1961), Warren Beatty has been said to have demonstrated a greater longevity in movies than any actor of his generation. Few people have taken so many responsibilities for all phases of the production of films as producer, director, writer, ...

If Warren Beatty had accepted to play the part of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's gangster classic The Godfather, Al Pacino, whose first film role it became, might have never had a career in film.

17. Molly Ringwald

Actress | Sixteen Candles

Molly Ringwald was born in Roseville, California, to Adele Edith (Frembd), a chef, and Robert Ringwald, a blind jazz pianist. Her ancestry includes German, English, and Swedish. She released an album at the age of 6 entitled, "I Wanna Be Loved By You, Molly Sings". She is the youngest daughter of ...

The once-popular teen star of such films as Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles was asked to play the lead role in Pretty Woman. She wasn't interested and a then relatively unknown Julia Roberts was cast. Roberts is now forever cemented as one of the biggest and best known movie stars of all time, while the only people who remember who Molly Ringwald is are 40 year olds who used to jack off to her pics when they were teens. Another role Molly Ringwald cries herself to sleep every night for having turned down is the lead in Ghost, which was eventually played by Demi Moore.

18. Dave Chappelle

Writer | Chappelle's Show

Dave Chappelle's career started while he was in high school at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC where he studied theatre arts. At the age of 14, he began performing stand-up comedy in nightclubs. Shortly after graduation, he moved to New York City where he quickly established ...

Dave Chappelle turned down the role Pvt. Benjamin Buford 'Bubba' Blue in the Robert Zemeckis' celebrated Forrest Gump, and expressed stupor when the film went on to be such a huge success. However Dave Chappelle may have the last laugh here, as you'd be hard pressed to find someone who knows who the actor who eventually played the part, Mykelti Williamson, is, while Dave Chappelle remains one of the most popular comedians of all time.

19. Julia Roberts

Actress | Pretty Woman

Julia Fiona Roberts never dreamed she would become the most popular actress in America. She was born in Smyrna, Georgia, to Betty Lou (Bredemus) and Walter Grady Roberts, one-time actors and playwrights, and is of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and Swedish descent. As a child, due to her ...

Julia Roberts could have won her second Oscar if she hadn't turned down the part that eventually went to Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, in order to do Valentine's Day. However, Roberts couldn't really say no to Valentine's Day director Garry Marshall, who gave her her big break in Pretty Woman, could she?

20. Tom Selleck

Actor | Blue Bloods

Thomas William Selleck is an American actor and film producer, known for his starring role as Hawaii-based private investigator "Thomas Magnum" on the 1980s television series, Magnum, P.I. (1980).

Selleck was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Martha S. (Jagger), a homemaker, and Robert Dean Selleck, a ...

This actually isn't a case of an actor turning down a role, as Selleck was very interested, rather than one of an acotr not being allowed to play a part. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both wanted Selleck to play Indiana Jones, but a deal couldn't be negotiated with Universal Studios, with whom Selleck had just signed to star in Magnum, P.I. Had Selleck been allowed to play the part, Harrison Ford, who George Lucas was reluctant to cast and who thus wouldn't have had another strong popular role following Star Wars, might just have gone the way of Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. As for Tom Selleck, he eventually starred in his own Indiana Jones-type film, the little-known, hard-to-find, but absolutely-worth-the-watch High Road To China. Interestingly the same situation came very close to happening with Michael J. Fox and his Back To The Future role, but a deal was eventually reached between studios.

21. Ralph Macchio

Actor | The Karate Kid

Ralph George Macchio was born on November 4, 1961 in Huntington, Long Island, New York. He started out in various TV commercials in the late 1970s before appearing in the puerile comedy movie Up the Academy (1980), then a regular role in 1980 on the television series Eight Is Enough (1977) followed...

Speaking of Marty McFly, the role was turned down by Daniel LaRusso, Mr. Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio. I'm not sure if this was before Michael J. Fox was contacted or after negotiations initially broke down with his Family Ties producers and Spielberg and Zemeckis went looking for someone else, but whatever the case, who knows, if things had worked out and Macchio had the backing of two popular trilogies instead of one, he might have gone the way of Harrison Ford rather than Mark Hamill.

22. Halle Berry

Actress | Catwoman

Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, Jerome Jesse Berry, was African-American, and worked as a hospital attendant. Her mother, Judith Ann (Hawkins), who is Caucasian, has English and German ancestry, and is a retired psychiatric nurse. Halle has an older sister, Heidi Berry. Halle ...

Halle Berry turned down the role of bus driver Annie Porter opposite Keanu Reeves in the hit thriller Speed. The role went to Sandra Bullock and instantly cemented her status as one of America's most popular actresses. In the meantime, while Halle Berry did get fairly regular work, she had to wait another six years for her ball to really get rolling.

23. Edward Norton

Actor | American History X

American actor, filmmaker and activist Edward Harrison Norton was born on August 18, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Columbia, Maryland.

His mother, Lydia Robinson "Robin" (Rouse), was a foundation executive and teacher of English, and a daughter of famed real estate developer ...

Relatively early on in his career, Norton turned down the titular role in Steven Spielberg's landmark war film Saving Private Ryan. The role eventually went to Matt Damon, an actor who back then had gotten noticed in more independent films and who was propelled into the big time thanks to this part, a position which he still enjoys to this day.

24. Kate Winslet

Actress | Titanic

Ask Kate Winslet what she likes about any of her characters, and the word "ballsy" is bound to pop up at least once. The British actress has made a point of eschewing straightforward pretty-girl parts in favor of more devilish damsels; as a result, she's built an eclectic resume that runs the gamut...

The celebrated British actress turned down the part of Viola De Lesseps in Shakespeare In Love. The actress who replaced her, Gwyneth Paltrow, won an Oscar for her performance while Winslet had to wait till 2009 to receive hers, despite having been nominated 5 times beforehand. Kate Winslet also turned down the part of Anna Leonowens in Anna And The King, a role eventually played by Jodie Foster.

25. Michael Madsen

Actor | The Hateful Eight

Michael Madsen's long career spans 25 years and more than 170 films in which he has played memorable characters in myriad box office hits, including: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) Sin City (2005), Hell Ride (2008), Die Another Day (2002), Donnie Brasco (1997), Species (1995), ...

Madsen and director Quentin Tarantino have collaborated numerous times. Twice strictly speaking, buth thrice if you count Kill Bill as 2 films and five times if you count Sin City and Hell Ride. As such it should come as no surprise that Tarantino had a role ready for Madsen in what remains his most famous film, Pulp Fiction. However Madsen was stuck with rehearsals for the western Wyatt Earp, and regularly expresses regret at not having played the part that was eventually renamed Vincent Vega, rewritten as a brother to Madsen's character Vic Vega from Reservoir Dogs, and given to John Travolta who, if Madsen had not been available, might never have enjoyed a much-needed carrer resurrection.

26. Melanie Griffith

Actress | Working Girl

Melanie Griffith was born on August 9, 1957 in New York City, to then model/future actress Tippi Hedren and former child actor turned advertising executive Peter Griffith. Her parents' marriage ended in 1961 and Tippi brought Melanie to Los Angeles to get a new start. Tippi caught the eye of the ...

Turned down either Thelma or Louise in Thelma & Louise. I don't know which.

27. Sarah Polley

Actress | Dawn of the Dead

Sarah Polley is an actress and director renowned in her native Canada for her political activism. Blessed with an extremely expressive face that enables directors to minimize dialog due to her uncanny ability to suggest a character's thoughts, Polley has become a favorite of critics for her ...

If Sarah Polley hadn't turned down the part of Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, Kate Hudson might have remained Goldie Hawn's unknown slutty daughter while Polley might be starring in two uninspired romantic comedies a year.

28. Jake Gyllenhaal

Actor | Nightcrawler

Jacob Benjamin Gyllenhaal was born in Los Angeles, California, to producer/screenwriter Naomi Foner (née Achs) and director Stephen Gyllenhaal. He is the brother of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who played his sister in Donnie Darko (2001). His godmother is actress Jamie Lee Curtis. His mother is from...

Hollywood experienced a Sam Worthington boom starting in 2009 with Terminator Salvation, Avatar and Clash Of The Titans, however the Australian actor may never have gotten his American dream if Jake Gyllenhaal hadn't turned down the Jake Sully role in Avatar.

29. Henry Winkler

Actor | The Waterboy

Henry Franklin Winkler was born on October 30, 1945, in Manhattan, New York. His parents, Ilse Anna Maria (Hadra) and Harry Irving Winkler, were Jewish immigrants who avoided the German Holocaust, moving to the US in 1939. His father was the president of an international lumber company while his ...

Turned down the male lead in Grease, which dfamously went to John Travolta

30. Bette Midler

Soundtrack | The First Wives Club

Multi Grammy Award-winning singer/comedienne/author Bette Midler has also proven herself to be a very capable actress in a string of both dramatic and comedic roles. Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on December 1, 1945. She is the daughter of Ruth (Schindel), a seamstress, and Fred Midler, a ...

In what would undoubtedly have been a very different film, Midler turned down the lead role in the hit comedy Sister Act. Whoopi Goldberg was wisely cast instead, thereby giving a whole new meaning to the word "sister".

31. Tom Hanks

Producer | Cast Away

Thomas Jeffrey Hanks was born in Concord, California, to Janet Marylyn (Frager), a hospital worker, and Amos Mefford Hanks, an itinerant cook. His mother's family, originally surnamed "Fraga", was entirely Portuguese, while his father was of mostly English ancestry. Tom grew up in what he has ...

Tom Hanks might be one of the most loved actors of this day and age but he could have added another feather to his cap had he not turned down the lead role in Field Of Dreams, now instead regarded as one of Kevin Costner's finest films.