Tim Olyphant as Tony Stark
Director John Favreau controversially cast Robert Downey, Jr., for the part of supergenius Tony Stark in the 2008 superhero film Iron Man. He told USA Today that Downey's love for comics and questionable past paired with a successful screen test compelled him to hire the actor. "The best and worst moments of Robert's life have been in the public eye. He had to find an inner balance to overcome obstacles that went far beyond his career. That's Tony Stark."
Because Downey landed the role, Clive Owen, Sam Rockwell, and Tim Olyphant missed out on the role of a lifetime. During a 2017 interview with Conan, Olyphant happily joked, "A wonderful actor, Robert Downey Jr. and I, we screen-tested on the same day. And I'm still waiting to hear back. You know, those superhero movies are huge! That could be a real game-changer!"
Jack Nicholson as Michael Corleone
If there's one movie that tops every bucket list, it's Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 adaptation of The Godfather. This series of three crime films centers around the transformation of main character Michael Corleone into a certified mafia boss with the help of his father Don Vito. The first film had numerous issues with getting people to stay on board, ranging from nailing down a director to casting disagreements. Because Paramount and Coppola argued extensively about hiring Marlon Brando for Vito, Al Pacino wasn't cast as Michael until the last minute.
Further arguments ensued because Paramount execs favored popular actors like Robert Redford or Jack Nicholson for Micahel while Coppola had his eye on unknown Italian-American actor Al Pacino. Execs initially barred Pacino for "being too short" and offered Nicholson the part. Nicholson reflects on his decision to turn down the role in a 2004 interview with MovieLine: "Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians. There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone."
Jennifer Lawrence as Bella Swan
The 2008 film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's young adult romance Twilight was much more successful than film execs anticipated. Bella Swan and her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen set the world aflame for teenagers and middle-aged women alike. Everyone was goo-goo for the high-stakes love triangle despite Kristen Stewart's blank expressions and Robert Pattinson's broken American accent. And can you blame them? There hasn't been a time so fun for teenage girls since the last film released in 2011. Looking back, Stewart's infamous role was nearly someone else's claim to fame.
Emily Browning was offered the role, but she wanted nothing to do with it and refused to read for the part. Jennifer Lawrence was a little nicer about it, admitting to Us Weekly that she auditioned for what she thought was an underwhelming part. "I didn't really know what it was... I had no idea Twilight would be such a big deal. For me, and assuming for her, it was just another audition. Then it turned into this whole other thing.” At least Lawrence didn't completely strikeout, getting her own big break in the adaptation of another YA seriesThe Hunger Games.
(Image 1 via Rich Fury/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images; Image 2 via IMDb)
Sandra Bullock as Wonder Woman
When DC Films announced that the female superhero Wonder Woman would finally receive a solo live-action film of her own, fans and actors alike were ecstatic. Not only had fans demanded such a film for years, but more than a few actresses already expressed interest in donning the shield years before production began. Rumors swirled that Sandra Bullock was in line for the role given that she received the blessing from screenwriter Jon Cohen and -- more importantly -- Lynda Carter.
Bullock attempted to squash the rumors, telling MTV, "I'm not Wonder Woman; I think even Lynda Carter said I was too old... Then that made me go, 'Maybe I will do Wonder Woman, just 'cause you said it,'' she laughed. "No, no, no. There are other people much better suited to play Wonder Woman than me. I'll just do it at home, at night, in my little Underoos." Israeli actress Gal Gadot ended up nabbing the role of the classic heroine.
(Image 1 via Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images; Image 2 via IMDb)
Katharine Hepburn as Scarlett O'Hara
Katharine Hepburn is easily regarded as one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood history, starring in everything from film to TV to stage productions. And when the role of Scarlett O'Hara popped up for the film adaptation of Gone With the Wind, Hepburn leaped for the role, telling director David Selznick, "I am Scarlett O'Hara."
Such an accomplished actress must have been a shoo-in for the part, right? Wrong. Selznick was apparently so unimpressed with the audition that he told Hepburn -- to her face!--, "I can't image Rhett Butler chasing you for twelve years." Hepburn obviously didn't end up with the part, which ultimately went to the steely Vivien Leigh.
Zac Efron as Young Han Solo
Solo: A Star Wars Story was released in 2018 before the highly anticipated release of the 2019 finale The Rise of Skywalker. If you know anything about this sci-fi fanbase, it's they're incredibly protective of the franchise's image. After The Last Jedi caused a rift between OG and new fans, people were all the more critical of who would be cast to play the younger version of their beloved space pirate Han Solo. And boy, there were plenty of actors to choose from!
From Whiplash star Miles Teller to Ansel Elgort, over 2,500 actors submitted audition tapes for the part. Even Disney heartthrob Zac Efron had his eye on the role before indie actor Alden Ehrenreich was ultimately cast. Ehrenreich might have landed the role of the decade, but his work didn't stop there. He received relentless criticism for his portrayal of Solo after being open about his struggles with the part on set. You can't win 'em all!
(Image 1 via Brendon Thorne/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images; Image 2 via IMDb)
Bill Murray as Batman
We don't feel like counting how many times Batman AKA Bruce Wayne has been brought to the big screen. From animated releases to live-action blockbusters, who hasn't played the moody orphan vigilante at this point? Robert Pattinson is up for the newest iteration to release in 2022, but what about Tim Burton's 1989 interpretation with Michael Keaton?
After seeing success with Ghostbusters in '84, comedian Bill Murray was suggested to fill the shoes (wings?) as billionaire Bruce. Despite what people have to say, he never even auditioned for the role, but apparently heavily considered by the agency. Murray joked with David Letterman on The Late Show in 2014 regarding the rumors: “You know, I’ve heard that story, too. Really, I have. And, god, I would have been an awesome Batman."
Emily Blunt as Black Widow
Famed comic book heroine Black Widow AKA Natasha Romanoff first appeared on the big screen in Marvel's Iron Man 2 back in 2010. Eleven years and over four blockbuster films later, Romanoff finally managed to score her own solo film. We all know that Scarlett Johansson was obviously set to star in her character's newest adventure, but who nearly took her place all those years ago?
Emily Blunt was the studio's first choice to play the Russian assassin and spy, but she ended up turning down the part due to scheduling conflicts. Blunt reflected on her decision with Howard Stern in May 2021, saying, "I was contracted to do Gulliver's Travels. I didn't want to do Gulliver's Travels. It was a bit of a heartbreaker for me. I take such pride in the decisions that I make, and they mean so much to me, the films that I do. For me, it's all about the part."
Britney Spears as Allie Hamilton
Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling's adaptation of Nicholas Sparks's The Notebook is the go-to tearjerker for any girl's night in. But imagine if the lead opposite Gosling wasn't McAdams but international popstar Britney Spears... Yeah, we can't picture it, either. You can't fix perfection! Nothing against Spears, but her sultry-yet-sweet reputation wouldn't have gelled well with the historical character Sparks had in mind.
According to Daily Mail UK, casting director Matthew Berry said was a close call between the two. However, he ultimately went with McAdams, an unknown hopeful at the time, because she “aced her audition." Spears said that she "would die" if she got to do The Notebook in a resurface 2000s interview because it was "the most amazing script" she'd "ever read."
(Image 1 via Gregory Pace/FilmMagic/Getty Images; Image 2 via IMDb)
Liam Aiken as Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling's magical children's series had humble beginnings in England. It was rejected by twelve publishers before finally getting picked up by Bloomsbury and launched Rowling into unprecedented success, earning the title of first billionaire author in history. Naturally, the film adaptations were a big deal, and the actor to play the titular character was an even bigger deal. Daniel Radcliffe has told his adorable audition story multiple times over, but what about the countless other Harry hopefuls?
At the time, young actor Liam Aiken was best known for his role in Stepmoms. His reputation was solid, which prompted Warner Bros to offer him the part. Barely a day passed before they pulled the rug on him. Why? He's American. Apparently, Rowling demanded an all-British cast in order to stay true to the source material.
Emily Browning as Katniss Everdeen
Jennifer Lawrence missed out on Twilight, yet scored a major success in another teenage fantasy franchise as Katniss Everdeen. Unfortunately for Emily Browning, her picky preferences made her dump major parts in both film series that could've skyrocketed her career. That's right; there was a point in time when the Sucker Punch star was too nervous to take on leading roles most actresses would've killed for.
"I read for [Hunger Games] a couple of times, but I think every single girl in Hollywood read for it a couple of times, to be honest," Browning told Indie Wire. "I was nervous about it... It's always hard for me to talk about these kinds of things, because I know there was a big deal with 'Twilight' and my involvement with people wanting me to do 'Twilight,' so I'm always like, 'Oh, people love this book so much, I don't want to get involved, I don't want to talk about it!'"
Johnny Depp as Ferris Bueller
It's hard to imagine anyone besides Matthew Broderick playing the titular role in the '86 cult classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Director John Hughes had Broderick in mind for the role from the beginning, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, "Certain guys would have played Ferris and you would have thought, 'Where's my wallet? I had to have that look; that charm had to come through. Jimmy Stewart could have played Ferris at 15...I needed Matthew."
Co-star Alan Ruck later told the AV Club in 2018 that "they had originally offered the Ferris part to Anthony Michael Hall" who turned it down, then considered Jim Carrey, John Cusack, Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, and Johnny Depp before circling back on Broderick. Depp was Hughes's first choice after Broderick, but Depp declined due to scheduling conflicts.
(Image 1 via Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images; Image 2 via IMDb)
Michael Caine as James Bond
The role of James Bond is one of the most coveted in the business. And next to Batman, there's been plenty of opportunities for a range of actors to don the superspy persona. Legendary British actor Michael Caine was one among many who was offered the role, but he declined. The part briefly passed from Sean Connery to George Lazenby.
Caine told Jonathan Ross in 2018 that he was turned off by Bond for multiple reasons. From squirming at the thought of being typecast to being "a loser," he knew from the start that he wasn't cut out for the part. "I was always much more ordinary," Caine said. "Bond was a glamorous, imaginative creation. I’ve always played real people... Because I was a loser. Until I started playing losers, I never became a success!"
Meg Ryan as Vivian Ward
At this point, Pretty Woman is basically synonymous with Julia Roberts. This cult classic rom-com focuses on a Hollywood hooker life's intertwining with the L.A. elite. And Meg Ryan nearly scored the part! The When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle actress wasn't the only one to be offered the part, either. Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, and Sandra Bullock nearly donned the blonde bob, too!
Unlike the others, Meg Ryan was director Garry Marshall's first choice to play the main character Vivien Ward. If she'd accepted, Ryan might have won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actress and that ultimately went to Roberts. Even worse, this was the second time Roberts got an Oscar nomination for a part that Ryan turned down, the first being Shelby in Steel Magnolias.
Charlie Hunnam as Christian Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey has a backstory as interesting as its reputation. The notoriously sultry series began as fanfiction written by E.L. James who was blatantly inspired by Stephanie Meyer's breakout Twilight series. James' books sold enough copies to garner a net worth of $150 million and land a movie deal. And before Jamie Dornan officially accepted the role, Charlie Hunnam was up to act opposite Dakota Johnson.
Despite initially accepting the role, Hunnam told E! that he still hasn't seen the first movie years after its release. “[It] was a somewhat traumatic experience for me," Hunnam explained. "I didn't want to open that wound. Everyone thinks it's great to be an actor and get to kiss a bunch of beautiful actresses in films, but I actually hate it. I don't want to kiss anyone but my girlfriend for my whole life." Yeah, Fifty Shades probably wasn't the best fit for him.
Rachel Leigh Cook as Rogue
Before Anna Paquin picked up the role, Rachel Leigh Cook was almost cast as the superpower-grabbing Rogue in the X-Men movie series. However, those close to the actress managed to talk her out of the high-profile role, and it was only after saying no that she realized what a big mistake she had made.
Cook ultimately said no to the superhero role because of all the green screen and CGI effects involved in the movie. She said that people told her that appearing in those kinds of movies would prevent audiences from taking her seriously as an actress. Cook revealed that once she saw the posters for the movie she passed on, she knew that she had "made a mistake."
Nicole Kidman as Anna Scott
We can't imagine anyone but Julia Roberts starring alongside Hugh Grant as Anna Scott in Notting Hill, but there was an Aussie actress that had her eyes on the famous role as well. In 2020, Nicole Kidman revealed that she was determined to nab the role that ultimately went to Roberts.
Kidman went on to say that she wasn't "well known" or "talented" enough at the time for the film, which we have a hard time believing. A few years after being passed over for the part in Notting Hill, Kidman almost nabbed another role in Hugh Grant's 2003 movie, Love Actually.
Claire Danes as Rose Dawson
Claire Danes didn't just audition for the lead role of Rose Dawson in Titanic—the part was actually given to her before being offered to Kate Winslet. However, Danes ultimately turned down the role, and, despite the massive success the movie had, she still has "zero regrets" about saying no to the role of a lifetime.
Danes says that seeing Hollywood lose their minds over Leonardo DiCaprio only made her more confident in her decision to pass on the part of Rose. "Everybody in the room went toward him [DiCaprio]. It was a little scary. I think I may have sensed I was courting that. And I just couldn't do it. I didn't want it."
Russell Crowe as Aragorn
Viggo Mortensen turned Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy into a timeless movie icon, but before he was given the role, it seems that Peter Jackson was considering another major Hollywood actor, Russell Crowe, for a part in his epic movie series. However, Crowe is suspicious that he was really wanted for the part.
In an interview with Howard Stern, Crowe said that "I think he [Peter Jackson] was forced into talking to me because there was a moment in time when everybody wanted me in everything. My instinct was that he had somebody else in mind, and he should be able to hire the actor that he wants."
Emilia Clarke as Anastasia Steele
The role of Anastasia Steele in 50 Shades of Grey made Dakota Johnson a household name, but there was almost another lead in this erotic thriller. Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame was originally offered the part, but she said no due to the excessive nudity that would be required of her.
Clarke was worried that, after already appearing nude in other roles, she would be pigeonholed as an actress that's only good for racy, highly sexual characters. After the success of the first film in the series, Clarke said she was still glad she said no to the role because filming movie sequels wasn't worth the hassle.
Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images, Image 2 via IMDB
Justin Timberlake as Elton John
Although you might not realize it, Justin Timberlake has a history of portraying Elton John. In 2001, the former boy band member played the flamboyant British singer in the music video for John's single "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore." He did such a good job at it that he was considered to portray Elton John in the biopic Rocket Man.
However, it seems that Timberlake was more of a pipe dream than a sure thing. Movie producer David Furnish revealed in an interview that "We never formally approached Justin because we weren't ever at a stage where it was the right time to approach him. But he did an amazing job in the video."
Meryl Streep as Patsy Cline
Meryl Streep has had more than a few iconic roles in her acting career, but one figure she's never portrayed is country queen Patsy Cline, but that's not for lack of trying! When her friend and director Karel Reisz announced he was making Sweet Dreams, a 1985 Patsy Cline biopic, Streep begged him to give her the role.
Ultimately, Reisz said no to Streep and gave the role of Cline to Jessica Lange. However, Streep did get something out of the ordeal. The movie was being filmed near Reisz's idyllic England home, and Streep managed to convince him to let her vacation there as a consolation prize. She remarked that "it was a beautiful house."
Reba McEntire as Molly Brown
Aside from Jack and Rose, the only other character in Titanic that stood out in a big way was the charming and opinionated Molly Brown, portrayed perfectly by actress Kathy Bates. However, audiences were really close to hearing Molly Brown speak with a southern twang, as Reba McEntire was originally cast in the role.
Reba was all set to portray Brown, but she unfortunately had to drop out of the film due to scheduling conflicts. McEntire revealed that taking the role would have required her to reschedule or cancel major area tour dates, which would have thrown her crew's salaries into jeopardy, and that wasn't something she wanted to risk.
Kate Winslet as Viola de Lesseps
In the 1990s, Kate Winslet did just fine in the major movie roles department, but she almost had another big role under her belt when she was offered the part of Viola in 1998's Shakespeare in Love. Winslet ultimately said no to the part because she wanted to focus more on roles in independent movies.
What made this rejection funny was that the part ultimately went to Gwenyth Paltrow—who lost out to Winslet on the role of Rose Dawson in Titanic. When all was said and done, both of them ended up with Oscars for their performances in the films, so it doesn't seem like either actress has regrets about how things panned out.
Christina Applegate as Elle Woods
Christina Applegate rose to fame playing a "dumb blonde" on Married When Children, so when she was offered the part of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, she was reluctant to be typecast and decided to pass on the role. Thankfully, Reese Witherspoon portrayed Woods perfectly after she accepted the part.
These days, Applegate has some regrets about saying no to such a memorable part, but she seems to have a good sense of humor about the whole thing and thinks that Witherspoon played the part perfectly. In an interview, she said, "Reese deserved that. She did a much better job than I ever could, and so that's her life. That's her path."
John Travolta as Forrest Gump
There's no one in the world who could have portrayed Forrest Gump better than Tom Hanks. However, there are others who could have probably done a decent job. But John Travolta? That's just crazy! As crazy as it might sound, though, Travolta was actually offered this iconic, titular role, but he said no.
Passing on such an important part wasn't particularly devastating for Travolta, though, because soon after he was cast in Pulp Fiction, which went on to be a classic film itself. He actually went up against Tom Hanks that year at the Oscars for Best Actor, who ultimately took home the gold.
Lindsay Lohan as Jade
As strange as it sounds, Lindsay Lohan was once up for the role of Jade in the original Hangover movie. She may have garnered a bad reputation in Hollywood over the year, but, even though she eventually lost out on the part, it wasn't because she was acting like a hot mess.
Director Todd Phillips said in a 2009 interview that Lohan was simply too young for the look they were going for. "Honestly, it felt like she ended up being too young for what we were talking about...She didn't turn it down. She loved the script, actually. It really was an age thing."
Al Pacino as Han Solo
Harrison Ford was the perfect fit for Hans Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy, but casting almost took the role in a completely different direction when they considered Al Pacino for the part. While the Godfather in Space ultimately never happened, it definitely would have given the movies a very different vibe.
After reading the script, Pacino thought the movie was too "out there" and said no to the iconic role. After that, the role was offered to several other actors, from Chevy Chase to Jack Nicholson, were considered for the part. It's clear that they didn't have a clear idea for what kind of character Han Solo should be!
Anne Hathaway as Tiffany Maxwell
Jennifer Lawrence played the role of Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook and did brilliant work with the role—in addition to lots of love from critics, she also took home the Oscar for Best Actress because she did so well playing the part. While she seems like a natural fit for the role, she wasn't actually the first choice.
Anne Hathaway was actually the first person considered for the role, but she eventually turned it down due to "creative differences" (whatever that means) with the director David O. Russell. However, she actually still nabbed an Oscar that year when she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Les Miserables.
Miles Teller as Sebastian Wilder
Miles Teller was actually offered and accepted the role of Sebastian in the musical hit La La Land. However, after filming began, he got the call that no actor wants to get—the movie studio was going in a different direction and he was no longer needed. Ultimately, the role went to Ryan Gosling.
Teller was understandably very hurt when he got booted from the project, but he says that he's tried to look on the bright side. In an interview with Vanity Fair, he had this to say about the whole debacle: "I'm a pretty strong believer that everything happens for a reason."