Guest Post: Role Reversals – One Actor’s Misfortune is Another Actor’s Gain

Most of us know that actors turned down roles that would make the ones who accepted it become famous. There are many reasons why they didn’t accept these now famous roles, the main reason is probably they the film wouldn’t be a hit and probably their agents told them not to take it. Below are some well-known roles that were offered to different actors than the ones ended up playing the part and reap the benefits.

• The Bourne Identity (2002) Jason Bourne

Brad Pitt was actually the studio first choice to play the amnesiac spy but he turned it down so he could work on Spy Game with Robert Redford. Here’s the funny thing, Matt Damon was first offered Pitt’s role in Spy Game but he declined and decided to play Jason Bourne instead. I’m always wonder what The Bourne films would have been like had Pitt starred in them. Of course we all know both actors are doing fine but for comparison sake, I think Damon made the right choice since The Bourne Identity was a box office hit while Spy Game didn’t do that well in theater.

• Batman (1989) Bruce Wayne/Batman

So when Michael Keaton was cast as The Caped Crusader back in the 80s, a lot of comic book fans weren’t too thrill about it. The thing is though, he wasn’t Tim Burton’s first choice. Burton actually offered the Dark Knight role to Ray Liotta but he turned it down so he could star in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Even though I enjoyed both of Burton’s Batman films, I never like Keaton as The Dark Knight, I think Liotta would’ve been good in the role.

Michael Keaton definitely benefited from taking Batman role, besides playing the Dark Knight, he starred in quite a few films in the 90s. Liotta on the other hand, he played mostly supporting character or the villain.

• The Hunt For Red October (1990) Jack Ryan

Tom Clancy’s first novel was such a huge hit that when Hollywood was ready to adapt it for the big screen, they offered the prime role of Jack Ryan to the young and on the hot streak Kevin Costner. He turned it down so he could start working on a little film called Dances with Wolves. Of course the role went to Alec Baldwin and I think everyone was happy with the results. Costner won the Oscar for directing Dances with Wolves and the film was a huge box office hit.

Baldwin on the other hand though got screwed out of reprising his Jack Ryan role in the sequel Patriot Games, to read about it more go here. It’s a good read of what really went on the behind the scenes before cameras started rolling on Patriot Games.

First Blood (1982) John Rambo

There were quite a few actors who were considered for the role of Rambo, they include Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman but Steve McQueen was the producer’s first choice from the beginning. But because of his crazy demands, the producers decided to not pursue him. McQueen was asking $1mil for his salary, a crazy number back in the late 70s and early 80s for an actor’s salary. Not only that but he said he’ll only read the script if the producers pay him $500,000 up front, of course they said no. I would love to have seen McQueen playing John Rambo but around that time, he was so anti Hollywood that he might’ve just phoned in the role had he accepted it. Of course we all know Stallone benefited from it since he owned the 80s with his Rambo and Rocky franchises.

Apocalypse Now (1979) Capt. Willard

Well Steve McQueen was also offered the lead role in this film and again he turned it down. Even though I thought Martin Sheen did a good job in the film, I always wish McQueen accepted the role. It would have been great seeing him going toe to toe with Marlon Brando. Of course it would’ve been a nightmare for Coppola, he’d have to deal with two big stars with huge ego.

Blade Runner (1982) Rick Deckard

Believe it or not Dustin Hoffman was actually the first choice to play Deckard and was even offered the role. He turned it down because he believed he didn’t fit the role and he was right. Maybe I’m a little bias since I love Blade Runner but I could never see anyone but Harrison Ford as Deckard, I know people always think of him as Indiana Jones or Hans Solo, but I think  of him as Deckard first before those other two roles.

Die Hard (1988) John McClane

Fox planned a sequel Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, but Arnold didn’t want to do sequels at the time so they turned Commando 2‘s script into Die Hard and offered the role of John McClane to him; but he declined. Eventually Bruce Willis took the role after Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds and Mel Gibson all passed on starring in this film. I think we’re all grateful that Willis got the part right? Can you imagine seeing Arnold say the line: Yippee-ki-yay, motherf**ker.

(Sources:, Cinescape magazine, behind the scenes documentary of each film)

[rtm’s note: Also check out my previous post Famous Roles That Got Away for more casting tidbits and find out which actor turn down the most high profile roles]

So those are the now famous roles that were turned down by some famous actors, do you prefer the original actor for the part or are you happy with one who accepted it? Also, if you know of any other roles that were turned down by famous actors, feel free to share with us.

22 thoughts on “Guest Post: Role Reversals – One Actor’s Misfortune is Another Actor’s Gain

  1. Great topic Ruth! It is funny how stuff like that works. I think it happened for Beverly Hills Cops; originally it was offered to host of people, obviously with a more dramatic slant.

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah Sly Stallone was actually offered the role of Axle Foley but he wanted to make Beverly Hills Cop into a straight action film and demanded a huge budget for it. The studio said no and he took his script version of Beverly Hills Cop and turned it into Cobra.

  2. Hi, Ruth and company:

    Very well thought out topic and choices!

    Who accepts a role has intrigued me since Hollywood wanted Marlon Brando and Jack Lemmon to play ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’.

    I can’t imagine anyone but Christian Bale playing Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight. I believe that Bale’s previous work in ‘American Psycho’ had a lot to do with Bale snagging this cinematic plum. Bale reveled in the borderline psychosis that is part and parcel of both Wayne and his Super Hero dark half.

    Stallone was smart enough to understand that ‘Rambo’ was ripe for franchise and jumped on it from the start.

    Always thought that Tom Clancy was right in his belief that Harrison Ford was too old to play Jack Ryan. Alec Baldwin filled the bill nicely. Though I thought the film should have focused a bit on the US and British alliance that made Clancy’s novel so memorable, Also thought Daniel J. Travanti (‘Hill Street Blues’) would have made a great Captain Bart Mancuso.

    I really would have liked to see Harvey Keitel playing Capt. Willard in ‘Apocalypse Now’. Keitel had been offered the role and turned it down. More’s the pity, because Martin Sheen was entirely too lightweight to believably pull off a Green Beret officer.

    Solidly with you on Harrison Ford’s Deckard in ‘Blade Runner’. The right actor at the right place and time!

    ‘Die Hard”s John McClane needed a dry, sarcastic, cynical humor to go along with quick reflexes and physical stamina. Maybe Scott Glenn (‘Sliverado’, ‘The Right Stuff’) could have pulled it off, but I’m glad Bruce Willis took the role!

    1. Ted S.

      Hi Jack,

      Wow didn’t know Brando and Lemmon were the original choices to play Butch and the Sundance Kid. That would’ve been an interesting film with those two actors.

      Oh yeah, now Bale is the perfect actor the Batman flicks. I never liked Keaton in that role, he’s too short and he looked strange in that Batman costume.

      Yeah I remember when Ford got the role of Jack Ryan, Clancy wasn’t too happy at all because he thought Alec Baldwin was perfect as Ryan. But because Ford wanted to be in Patriot Games, the studio has to go with the big named actor.

      Not sure if you seen the making of Apocalypse Now but Keitel was cast and started shooting the film for a few days until he and Coppola didn’t see eye to eye on the direction of the character, so Coppola fired him.

      So true about Ford being at the right place and the right time, he’ll always be Deckard to me.

  3. Good post. It’s always fun to think about what alternative casting might have looked like. I always wonder what the real reasons are whenever someone turns down a part–or when they are cast first but then leave a project. They always say that it is conflicting schedules, but I always suspect that there is something worse going on behind the scenes!

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks, I think most of the time actors turned down a certain role because either they didn’t think it was a good script or more likely their agents tells them not to take it for whatever reason.

  4. Excellent look at this, Ted! I am a Michael Keaton fan (even as the Caped Crusader), but I really would have loved to see what Liotta would have done with the role. You’ll get no argument from me about Alec Baldwin’s Jack Ryan (he’s still my favorite in that role). One thing I’d note about ‘Die Hard’, originally the source material for this was Roderick Thorp’s novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’. Which, is itself a sequel to his earlier novel ‘The Detective’. That book was adapted as a ’68 film by the same name starring none other the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra turned down the role in the sequel when offered years back, so the producers revamped it into a standalone piece (totally unconnected to that film), with the novel’s thieves turned into this film’s terrorists (out for a buck).

    You always picked some great topics to examine, my friend. Thanks.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Michael.

      I like Keaton as actor but I didn’t like him as Batman/Bruce Wayne that much, but of all the Batman films from that era, he was the best actor suited for the role. Yeah I think Ray Liotta would’ve been good as The Dark Knight.

      I’ve read somewhere about Sanatra involvement with the first Die Hard film. Since I’ve never read the book Die Hard was based on, thanks for that information.

      1. I like Michael Keaton, too. I actually don’t mind him as Batman, but of course I prefer Bale now. I wish Keaton had been in more roles, he’s so talented yet underrated. Multiplicity is one of my favorite comedies ever!

  5. Informative post as always Ted. Good for Matt Damon, Pitt didn’t really need it as he was already quite the big movie star while Damon was looking to make to the A-list. Steve McQueen in Apocalypse Now would have been incredible, though the movie did turn quite all right with Sheen as the main character 😉

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Castor, I read the Bourne trilogy novels and the last actor I pictured as Jason Bourne was Damon. In the books he was older and Rudlum sort of described him to be more like Harrison Ford. Glad Damon took the role but again I’m still curious what the films would’ve been like with Pitt in that role.

      Yeah Mr. Cool McQueen would’ve been awesome in Apocalypse Now but I agree Sheen did a good job.

  6. Great post! It’s always fun to think about how different films would be if different actors had starred in them. I often think that no other actor would be able to do what the actor who was cast did, but the more I think about it, the more plausible it seems for another actor to have played that role just as well, if not better. Makes you think, huh?

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Tyler and I always wonder about that myself, would The Bourne films have been different with Brad Pitt? Probably, but Damon was pretty good in the films. I’m just glad Hoffman turned down Blade Runner and of course most people will agree with me that Arnold was not the right actor for the John McClane role.

  7. Ted, You sir are a well of film trivia. I most definitely need you on my PUB Quiz team!! We would own them!

    It is really funny when you try and picture other actors in these big, iconic roles!!

    thanks for sharing my friend

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Scott, I may have to get a few beers in me before we do the PUB Quiz, I tend to get nervous around quizzes. Ha ha.

  8. Also of interesting note on “First Blood,” the character of Trautman was originally to be played by Kirk Douglas and they were even marketing the film with that in mind. Douglas attempted to morph the story into such strange directions that he and the powers that be went with Richard Crenna for the role.

  9. I can’t imagine Die Hard with Arnie instead of Bruce Willis. Certainly wouldn’t have had the great streak of humour running through it.

    I found out just the other day that Eddie Murphy was supposed to play the part of Winston Zeddmore in Ghostbusters but when he couldn’t film it he role was downscaled. Wonder what that would have done to the balance of the story – certainly would have taken the wind out of Bill Murray’s sails…

  10. I love these type of posts and will probably do another one of these myself in a while.

    Actually I can imagine Schwarzenegger delivering that line, would probably be one of my favorite quotes he would have done! 😉

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