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8 Actors Who Almost Played Famous Roles

Actors who turned down famous roles
Hulton Archive, Getty Images/Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema/Lucasfilm/Warner Bros. Pictures

For the most part, iconic movie characters become indistinguishable from the actors who played them on the big screen. But what if the actors who were originally approached to play the roles had said “yes” instead of “no?” With Jennifer Hudson’s revelation in her new book that she turned down the title role in ‘Precious’ that put Gabourey Sidibe on the map, it’s a good time to take a look at some other actors who changed the faces of movie icons.

Jean Arthur, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Imagine what the face of cinema would look like if the sweet and virginal Mary Bailey in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ had been played by comedienne Jean Arthur instead of the endearing and motherly Donna Reed. Arthur, who was known for sassy roles in ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ and ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ turned down the role because she was already committed to a Broadway show. Thankfully, this allowed Ms. Reed to make her own indelible mark on iconic motherhood.

Jean Arthur and Donna Reed as Mary Bailey
Eugene Robert Richee, Getty Images/Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Cary Grant, James Bond

Or what if Cary Grant had been James Bond as the producers wished? He didn’t want to be tied to a series, so the classic Bond face will always be Sean Connery. (And to a lesser extent, Roger Moore.)

Cary Grant and Sean Connery as James Bond
Keystone/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Sean Connery, ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Matrix’

Speaking of Mr. 007 himself, Connery declined to play the wizard Gandalf in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy. Apparently he decided 18 months of filming was a bit much for him. Connery also famously turned down the role of Morpheus in ‘The Matrix,’ claiming he didn’t understand the script. (And yet he was fine with ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’?) His loss is Laurence Fishburne’s gain.

Sean Connery and Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf
Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images/New Line Cinema

Tom Selleck, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

Of course, Connery appeared in the film ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ but can you picture Tom Selleck in the title role? Selleck was originally cast as the dashing archeologist in ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ but had to turn down the role because of his contractual obligation to his hit show ‘Magnum P.I.’ Harrison Ford, who was Spielberg’s first choice, took over, and movie history was spared an Indiana Jones with a sweet ‘stache.

Tom Selleck and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
Hulton Archive, Getty Images/Paramount Pictures

Burt Reynolds, ‘Star Wars’

It’s possible that Indiana Jones could’ve been Ford’s only iconic movie role too, if Burt Reynolds hadn’t turned down the opportunity to play Han Solo in ‘Star Wars.’ Al Pacino, Nick Nolte and Christopher Walken were all considered for the role, but it finally went to self-taught carpenter and galactic anti-hero, Ford. Can you imagine Christopher Walken asking Chewie to make the jump to light speed?

Burt Reynolds and Harrison Ford as Han Solo
Hulton Archive, Getty Images/Lucasfilm

Annette Bening, ‘Batman Returns’

Consider the pure cat-ness of Catwoman in ‘Batman Returns’ if Annette Bening, who was originally cast in the felonious feline role, hadn’t gotten pregnant leaving Michelle Pfeiffer to take over as the vixen kitten instead. Yes, Sean Young lost out on the role to two different actresses. Sean Young just can’t win.

Annette Bening and Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman
Getty Images/Warner Bros. Pictures

Will Smith, ‘The Matrix’

Because he’s had such success, you can’t really fault Will Smith for turning down the role of Neo in ‘The Matrix.’ The same goes for Ewan McGregor. Smith couldn’t see himself in the role and, frankly, neither can we, because Keanu Reeves’ “whoa” was just what Neo needed.

Will Smith and Keanu Reeves as Neo
Dave Hogan, Getty Images/Warner Bros. Pictures

Ralph Macchio, ‘Back to the Future’

You can, of course, fully fault Ralph Macchio for turning down the role of Marty McFly in ‘Back to the Future,’ because that guy pretty much went nowhere after bleeding the ‘Karate Kid’ franchise dry. He thought the movie would be lame because it was only about “a kid, a car and plutonium pills” and the role (after Eric Stoltz was dropped for being too dramatic in his portrayal of Marty) made Michael J. Fox an American sweetheart.

Ralph Macchio and Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly
George De Sota, Getty Images/Universal Pictures

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