It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford flying the Millennium Falcon, or Robert Downey, Jr. donning the Iron suit. The most iconic roles in Hollywood often seem tailor-fitted for the actors who play them. But, naturally, this is rarely the case.
Producers and casting directors are forced to make difficult choices when faced with dozens, even hundreds of actors that audition for a chance to lead films with the potential of changing the industry. Here’s a list of your favorite film characters, and a shocking amount of stars you didn’t know almost played them.
1. James Bond (007)
It’s not surprising to learn that hundreds of dashing young men have tried out for a role that’s shined for over fifty years. However, considering that Bond is typically portrayed by a little-known actor, you may be surprised to learn how many household names almost landed the role.
In the early 1970s, as Sean Connery wrapped up production on his last Eon Bond film, (Diamonds Are Forever) the producers considered many American superstars, including Clint Eastwood, Adam West, and Burt Reynolds to play 007, eventually deciding to keep the series closer to its British roots.
After Roger Moore’s long-running stint as Britain’s top secret agent, Mel Gibson and Sam Neill were both approached before Timothy Dalton was cast in The Living Daylights. Before Pierce Brosnan stole the show as the one and only ‘90s Bond, the then-unknown Liam Neeson turned down the role, and Sean Bean was considered before eventually being cast as the antagonist in Brosnan’s first outing, GoldenEye.
Daniel Craig, the most recent iteration of Bond, beat out many well-known names for his role, including Clive Owen, Alex O’Loughlin, Ewan McGregor and Henry Cavill. With the release of Spectre, the latest 007 adventure, many names have been thrown around the rumor wheel, including Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba.
2. Dr. Indiana Jones
While Harrison Ford was Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the adventurous archaeologist, his friend and collaborator George Lucas was rather reluctant to cast the superstar-to-be. After all, Ford had appeared in Lucas’s American Graffiti and the Star Wars trilogy. Lucas stated he did not want Ford to “be his De Niro,” referring to the frequent collaborations of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese.
Among those considered to don the fedora and the bullwhip were Nick Nolte, Sam Neill, and Jack Nicholson. A rather surprising number of comedians were also considered for the role, including Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Bill Murray, who may have actually stolen the show if he hadn’t had scheduling conflicts with Saturday Night Live.
The role was eventually accepted by Tom Selleck, who did not expect his recently-finished television pilot to go anywhere. But when the pilot evolved into what would become the beloved classic Magnum, P.I., Selleck was forced to drop out of Dr. Jones’s shoes. Less than three weeks before principal photography began, the producers contacted Harrison Ford and offered him the role.
Kathleen Kennedy, the current President of Lucasfilm, announced in 2015 that another Indiana Jones film is coming, but neglected to share a date or any details concerning the cast or crew. Moviegoers approach the idea of Indiana Jones 5 with a great deal of skepticism, (especially after the disaster that was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) though many have speculated that a reboot is on the way and big names, most notably Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper, have been contemplated for the role.
3. Tony Stark/Iron Man
Let’s be honest: Robert Downey, Jr. IS Tony Stark. He’s a charming devil with billions in the bank, he works hard, and he plays even harder. You may not be surprised to learn that he wasn’t the first actor considered for the role, but you’ll be shocked to learn how long it took to cast the self-proclaimed genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist — 18 years!
That’s right! Ideas for the first Iron Man film were first pitched in 1990, and Nicolas Cage was the first actor approached with the role. The project still had not reached fruition in 1998, when Tom Cruise, who had just reached another level of super stardom with Mission: Impossible, took interest in the project, even assuming a role as a producer.
The hero’s film debut spent nearly another decade in development hell, with various writers being hired for rewrites. As the project veered closer and closer to development, the hunt for a lead was on. Candidates included Clive Owen and Sam Rockwell. Downey, Jr. eventually earned the role by, according to director Jon Favreau, being a “likable a-hole,” just like the character.
4. Captain Jack Sparrow
The charming, swashbuckling lead of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was originally written with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones in mind. When Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were called in to write new drafts, they envisioned the rogue as an older man, keeping Richards’s persona in mind.
The producers originally sought Robert De Niro, who declined the role due to a lack of faith in the pirate genre. Michael Keaton and Christopher Walken were also considered to play the captain of the Black Pearl before younger actors were pursued. Comedian Jim Carrey was a heavy contender for the part, and Cary Elwes was one of many actors seeking a role in the film.
At one point, Steven Spielberg got a hold of the script, and found himself motivated to direct the film. He also noticed the film’s great comedic potential, and offered Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and Robin Williams as contenders to play Jack Sparrow. However, his creative differences with Disney executives prevented his swashbuckler from hitting the big screen.
Johnny Depp eventually won the role with an audition heavily influenced by the writers original muse, Keith Richards. Depp viewed pirates as “the 18th Century equivalent of rock stars,” and contributed a great deal of Sparrow’s most recognized quirks to the character, including his catchphrase, (“Savvy?”) various eunuch references, and his famous “lizard run” among other mannerisms.
5. Detective John McClane
Bruce Willis, who was headlining TV’s Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd at the time, was far from the top of the list of actors considered to play John McClane. Originally, the film was planned to be a sequel to the Frank Sinatra film The Detective, as was its source material, the novel Nothing Lasts Forever. Clint Eastwood also expressed interest in starring in a film based on the book.
The novel was adapted into a sequel to Commando, but Arnold Schwarzenegger was reluctant to film a sequel after the critical failure of Conan the Destroyer. When the script was reformed into what would eventually become Die Hard, Schwarzenegger still turned down the project. Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino and Burt Reynolds were also offered the role.
Mel Gibson was considered to lead the film, but eventually turned it down in favor of another Joel Silver production, Lethal Weapon. Charles Bronson was also offered the role, but was forced to turn it down due to a contract with Cannon Films. Don Johnson faced a difficult choice between this film and his role on Miami Vice. The actor chose Vice over Die Hard, and became the highest paid actor on television at the time.
Other actors that auditioned for the role include Michael Madsen, Richard Dean Anderson, and Richard Gere. The role finally came around to action-legend-to-be Willis, who managed to work on the film at night while shooting Moonlighting during the day.
6. Michael Corleone
Nowadays, when we look back at the classic Italian gangster drama, casting Al Pacino as your lead seems like an offer that can’t be refused. And it’s hard to picture The Godfather without Pacino’s chill-igniting presence, which is why you may be surprised to learn that he wasn’t Paramount’s first choice to lead the film.
Director Francis Ford Coppola had originally cast Jack Nicholson, who was fresh off the comedy-drama Carnal Knowledge. When Nicholson tapped out to pursue other projects, an array of alternatives were explored, including Tommy Lee Jones, Aldo Ray, and James Caan (who landed the role of Michael’s brother Sonny) The top considerations were Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro.
The producers were rather skeptical of Coppola’s casting choice, as Pacino’s performance on screen tests were less than impressive. But Coppola stuck to his gut, and his instincts served him well. Pacino earned himself a nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, the first of four consecutive Oscar nominations and many more to come.
7. Anakin Skywalker
If we knew 15 years ago how much criticism the Star Wars Prequels would receive, young Hollywood enthusiasts probably wouldn’t be as excited for the chance to play this particular Jedi. But, at the time, the opportunity to play the father of Luke Skywalker and the man within Darth Vader seemed too great to turn down.
Naturally, a great deal of actors auditioned for the role, many of which were little-known then and very well-known now.The list included Ryan Phillippe, Colin Hanks, Jonathan Brandis, and Chris O’Donnell. The late Paul Walker, who proclaimed himself the franchise’s No. 1 fan, had also expressed great interest in the role.
Despite George Lucas’s tradition to cast lesser-known actors in lead roles, the young Leonardo DiCaprio had actually been sought out to play the troubled Jedi Knight. With the recent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, DiCaprio came out and stated, “I just didn’t feel ready to take that dive, at that point.”
So, what led to the universally-panned admission of Hayden Christensen to the saga? Prequel producer Rick McCallum stated, “He looked good with Natalie Portman, and he resembled young Mark Hamill.” This casting decision is still heavily questioned today, and we can only wonder whether one of these alternatives could have saved the Prequel Trilogy.
8. Peter Quill/Star-Lord
The fact that so many stars auditioned for the role of the lead role in Guardians of the Galaxy just goes to show that Marvel Studios is dominating Hollywood. What other studio could pull off a movie with so few big names, characters and source material that barely anybody heard of, with such success?
Well, it seems the A-list acting community certainly had faith in the project. The list of screen-tested actors consists of a great deal of household names, including Joseph Gordon Levitt, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Paul, James Marsden, Joel Egerton, and Jim Sturgess. Even Lee Pace, who ended up landing the antagonist role of Ronan, auditioned for the lead.
It shouldn’t come across as a surprise that so many comedians were interested in the half-Teran, half-who-knows-what protagonist of the film. Besides, the film did have great comedic chops — perhaps the best in the MCU. The Office star John Krasinski and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Glenn Howerton were both among the list of TV comedy stars considered for the role, as was then-Parks and Recreation regular Chris Pratt.
The tremendous makeover Pratt gave himself for this role is fairly well known. Director James Gunn later revealed that he was so impressed with Pratt’s improvisations during the screen tests that he was willing to give him the role whether he got in shape or not. He also joked that he was willing to “C.G.I. a six-pack onto Chris’s body.” But Pratt was determined to get into shape for the role, losing sixty pounds over the course of six months.
9. Bruce Wayne/Batman
The Dark Knight has always been one of those dream-come-true roles that could jump-start a career in Hollywood. Tim Burton screen-tested an incredible number of actors for the role of the Caped Crusader. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Matthew Broderick, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck, Kevin Costner, Daniel Day-Lewis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis were all considered for the role.
Before Val Kilmer stole the role in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, the producers considered Kurt Russell, Ethan Hawke, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hanks, and Johnny Depp to don the cape and cowl. William Baldwin was a heavy contester both for this film and its sequel, Batman & Robin. The latter film would star George Clooney, who only had one competitor for the role: David Duchovny.
The development of Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot of 2005 rekindled Hollywood’s interest in the action hero. Keanu Reeves publicaly expressed great interest in the film. Heath Ledger, who would eventually play the critically-acclaimed Joker in the film’s sequel, was also considered. Nolan eventually narrowed his choices down to David Boreanaz and Christian Bale — and we know who got the role.
Actor/director Ben Affleck beat out Armie Hammer, Tyler Hoechlin, Orlando Bloom, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan for the role in 2016's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The news seemed controversial at the time of its announcement, as Affleck's last superhero outing, 2003's Daredevil, was a critical disaster. But Affleck seems to have won fans over, shining brightly (figuratively) over the newly-formed, often-criticized Justice League lineup.
10. Han Solo
When George Lucas pitched around his iconic space-opera, nobody had faith in it. Even while as Star Wars wrapped up principal photography, no one thought it would be a hit. So, it’s actually kind of amazing how many stars auditioned for the role of everyone’s favorite space smuggler turned war hero, Han Solo.
Although the fan favorite was used for screen tests, (including the ones in which Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were cast) Lucas had decided that Harrison Ford could not play Solo for the same reason he “couldn’t” play Indiana Jones. (Of course, Ford would be the driving force of Lucas’s greatest hits.) The studio wanted a big name to draw attention to the project they believed would fail. James Caan, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, and Burt Reynolds all turned down the role due to the same lack of faith.
A greater list features all the actors that auditioned to pilot the Millennium Falcon. Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Travolta and Al Pacino were all considered for the role. Billy Dee Williams also auditioned, and would later be chosen to play Han’s old buddy Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back.
Despite Lucas’s wish to avoid working with actors more than once, the studio was impressed with Ford’s performance in the screen tests. Let’s be honest, Harrison Ford owns Han Solo. Harrison Ford IS Han Solo. George, you would have been crazy not to cast him.