50 Actors Who Turned Down the Most Famous Roles In History

50 Actors Who Turned Down the Most Famous Roles In History
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Today’s movie and TV landscape might have looked very, very different if some of the world’s biggest actors hadn’t turned down famous roles. It’s downright mind-blowing to consider that Sarah Jessica Parker nearly never got to strap on those Manolos as Carrie Bradshaw because “Sex and the City” creators preferred Dana Delaney for the role, or that Sarah Michelle Gellar was thisclose to playing Amber in “Clueless.”

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Similarly, major movie stars like Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington also passed up some pretty major parts throughout their careers, with some later saying they regret their decisions.

Obviously, iconic roles could have turned out very differently—and perhaps not so iconic—had every actor accepted every part offered to them,  but it’s fun to see which flat-out said “no way” to now-famous parts.

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That said, we compiled a list of celebrities who did just that—turned down star-making famous parts in classic movies and acclaimed TV shows.

Click through the gallery to see 50 famous movie and TV roles actors turned down, and let us know which shocked you most!

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1 of 52

Who: Dana Delaney
Role: Carrie Bradshaw
Show: "Sex and The City."

It's hard to imagine anyone but Sarah Jessica Parker playing the iconic role of Carrie Bradshaw, but Delaney was actually creator Darren Star's first choice. The actress claims to have had turned it down because she'd previously done other projects—including one with Kim Cattrall called "Live Nude" girls—whose focus were also on sex. Sidenote: Delaney also passed on the role of Bree van de Kamp on "Desperate Housewives." Consideiring her recent ABC show "Body of Proof" got the axe, we say both passes were big misstakes.

Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Who: Molly Ringwald
Role: Vivian Ward
Movie: "Pretty Woman"

Ringwald—coming off the success of iconic '80s flicks like "The Breakfast Club" and "Pretty in Pink"—was offered a major role that made Julia Roberts a star in "Pretty Woman." It seems playing a hooker wasn't in her plans, since she turned it down. Ringwald also said no to playing Molly Jensen in "Ghost," a role that eventually went to Demi Moore.

Photo: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for LA Times

Who: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Role: Amber
Movie: "Clueless"

Gellar was originally offered the role of bitchy high schooler Amber in classic '90s movie "Clueless," but passed on it due to scheduling conflicts with “All My Children.” The role eventually went to Elisa Donovan.


Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for CW

Who: Thomas Jane
Role: Don Draper
Show: "Mad Men"

It's pretty clear that Jon Hamm is "Mad Men" but it almost wasn't that way. Actor Thomas Jane passed on the role for a number of reasons that—let's face it—made sense at the time, such as the fact that AMC was a network known for reruns of old movies, not robust television series, and the fact that it was a cerebral show, which Jane didn't think would attract viewers.

Jane went on to star on sex-themed series "Hung," which aired on solid-as-a-rock HBO, but got canceled after two sesaons. The moral of the story: Risk-taking as an actor can pay off.

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Who: Jack Nicholson
Role: Michael Corleone
Movie: "The Godfather"

While casting the now-classic mafia film in 1972, Paramount reportedly thought the project was a risky venture and wanted an established star to play the lead. Apart from Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neal, and Dustin Hoffman were offered the role, but they each declined. The part went to Al Pacino, and became one of the best performances in movie history.

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Who: John Travolta
Role: Forrest Gump
Movie: "Forrest Gump"

In 1994, "Forrest Gump" became the highest grossing movie in North America, and Tom Hanks nabbed the Oscar for his portrayal of the unique character that year. However, Hanks wasn't the studio's first choice for the role—John Travolta was, followed by Bill Murray and Chevy Chase. Travolta has since admitted that passing on the part was a mistake.


Photo: Francois Durand/Getty Images

Who: Bette Midler
Role: Delores Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence
Movie: "Sister Act"

There's no doubt that Bette Midler—a muscal theater vet and overall iconic performer—would have been perfect for the role that eventually went to Whoopi Goldberg, and producers of "Sister Act" agreed. However, Midler decided to pass on the part of the Las Vegas showgirl hiding out in a convent due to concerns about her fans reacting badly to her playing a nun. Let us be the first to break the news, Bette: The character isn't really a nun.


Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images

Who: Lindsay Lohan
Role: Stripper
Movie: "The Hangover"

Lohan declined the stripper role in the 2009 that went to Heather Graham, because she felt she was too young at the time.

"People love to attack her for everything, like: "Ha, she didn't see how great The Hangover was going to be. She turned it down." the directr, Todd Phillips School director told THR. 'She didn't turn it down. She loved the script, actually. It really was an age thing."

Lindsay was 20 when casting began for the movie, and Heather was 37.


Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Who: Emily Browning
Role: Bella Swan
Movie: "Twilight"

This Australian actress—best known for her role in "Sucker Punch"— reportedly flat-out refused to even audition for the role of Bella in the mega-successful "Twilight" franchise.

Who: Jim Carrey
Role: Edward Scissorhands
Movie: "Edward Scissorhands"

After becoming fairly well-known as a player in "In Living Color," Carrey started being considred for some major movie roles, including the title role in "Edward Scissorhands." According to Splitsider, Carrey lacked experience as a dramatic actor during this period, so his turn as Scissorhands would have likely been more comedic than Depp's and could have jeopardized the project. Incidentially, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise were also considered for the role.

Photo: JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Who: Sandra Bernhard
Role: Miranda Hobbes
Show: "Sex and the City"

Comedian and actress Bernhard was offered the role of cynical lawyer Miranda Hobbes on the HBO show but told Howard Stern she passed due to the "terrible" script and low paycheck. The outspoken star also told Stern she wasn't thrilled at the prospect of working alongside Sarah Jessica Parker. "[I would have had] to play third or fourth fiddle to [Parker] and put up with her s--t."It would have been hideous to work with her." We think it worked out well, with Cynthia Nixon playing the part of Miranda flawlessly.


Photo: Mike McGregor/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

Who: Johnny Depp
Role: Ferris Bueller
Movie: "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

It's hard to picture the brooding actor as scheming slacker Ferris Bueller, but Depp was reportedly was offered the role in John Hughes' '80s classic before Matthew Broderick.

Photo: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Who: Sandra Bullock
Role: Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald
Movie: "Million Dollar Baby"

Interestingly, Bullock actually was cast in the role, but decided to pull out after several delays. Oops! The boxing flick was a huge commercial and critical success, and earned its star, Hilary Swank, a second Oscar.

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Who: Julia Roberts
Role: Leigh Anne Tuohy
Movie: "The Blind Side"

Roberts was offered the part of feisty mom and activist Leigh Anne Tuohy in the 2009 footbal flick "The Blind Side," but reportedly turned it down to star in the ensemble rom-com "Valentine’s Day" directed by Garry Marshall, the man who made her a star with 'Pretty Woman." The role of Tuohy went to Sandra Bullock and—despite her distractingly heavy-handed Southern accent—won her an Oscar. "Valentine's Day," however, was a flop.

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Who: Daryl Hannah
Role: Vivian Ward
Movie: Pretty Woman

Like Molly Ringwald, Daryl Hannah also passed on the star-making role in "Pretty Woman."

Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Who: Helen Mirren
Role: Mrs. Weiss
Movie: "Precious"

Mirren passed on the role of social worker Mrs. Weiss in Lee Daniels' 2009 dark flick "Precious" and was replaced by Mariah Carey. To everyone's shock, Carey was riveting in the unglamorous role and won major critical praise. Interestingly, Daniels appeared on "The Jon Stewart Show" in 2010, and said Mirren called him three days before shooting to say "I can't do it; I have a real job, a paying job" and claimed she could do Carey's role "in her sleep." Yikes!

Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Who: Matthew Broderick
Role: Walter White
Show: "Breaking Bad."

Is your mind totally blown? Ours was when we heard that Broderick, along with actor John Cusack, are both rumored to have passed on the role of ailing chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin Walter White on AMC's behemoth 'Breaking Bad." Lucky they did, because the part has undoubtedly cemented Bryan Cranston's place in television history.

Who: Hugh Jackman
Role: James Bond, Billy Flynn
Movie: "Casino Royale," "Chicago"

The multi-talented actor reportedly passed on the role of singing lawyer Billy Flynn in the movie-musical "Chicago" (which scored Richard Gere an Oscar nom), stating he felt he was too young at the time. Jackman also was approached to play iconic character James Bond, but didn't want to be stereotyped as an action star after already earning fame as Wolverine in the first X-Men movie. The part went to Daniel Craig, though Jackman has since hinted that Bond wouldn't be out of the question.


Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Who: Paul Shaffer
Role: George Costanza
Show: "Seinfeld"

David Letterman's longtime bandleader and banter buddy Shaffer admits in his 2009 memoir We’ll Be Here the Rest of Our Lives that he was offered the role of George by Jerry Seinfeld himself, who didn't even want him to audition. Paul Shaffer never called him back, because he was "busy" at the time. The role went to Jason Alexander, who played the character to neurotic perfection.

Photo: Anthony G. Moore / PR Photos/Anthony G. Moore / PR Photos

Who: Tom Cruise
Role: Ren McCormack
Movie: "Footloose"

It's not terribly hard to picture a young Cruise starring in the 1984 hit, and apparently producers wanted him big-time (they'd obviously seen his underwear dance sequence in "Risky Business.") However, Cruise passed on the role to film "All the Right Moves" instead. The part of Ren went to Kevin Bacon, but only after Rob Lowe also had to pass because of an injury.

Photo: Handout/Getty Images

Who: Pamela Anderson
Role: Dana Scully
Show: "The X Files"

In an odd casting choice, the show's producers reportedly had their eye on the busty blonde for the role of FBI Special Agent Scully, which eventually made Gillian Anderson a household name. since then, Gillian has been reported as saying: "Pamela was somebody who was more familiar to them in terms of what was on TV at the time. They were looking for someone bustier, taller, leggier than me."

Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Who: Harrison Ford
Role: Oskar Schindler
Movie: "Schindler's List"

Ford was offered the role of German industrialist and Nazi member Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg's 1993 epic, but reportedly turned it down because he felt viewers wouldn't be able to look past him as a "star" to see the importance of the film. We think that's called a "challenge" dude.

Instead, the role went to Liam Neeson.


Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Summit Entertai

Who: Paul Giamatti
Role: Michael Scott
Show: "The Office"

Yes, the part of the world's most politically incorrect boss almost went to Paul Giamatti, who was hot off the success of wine-themed buddy flick "Sideways" and reportedly was the first choice for Michael Scott. Giamatti was offered the part, but declined and—as Splitsider pointed out—Giamatti’s characters tend to be more cerebral than Michael Scott, while Carell nails the “dumb guy” routine in a way Giamatti can’t.

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Who: Will Smith
Role: Neo
Movie: "The Matrix"

Though Smith passed on the role of Neo (as did Ewan McGregor), he's since said: "In the pitch, I just didn’t see it. I watched Keanu’s performance – and very rarely do I say this – but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up 'The Matrix'. At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu [Reeves] was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don’t try and perform every moment.” Smith also passed on Django in "Django Unchained" because it wasn't the sole leading role, which was probably for the better, since Jamie Foxx was excellent.


Who: Garrett Hedlund
Role: Christian Gray
Movie: "50 Shades of Gray"

Apparently, it was kept quiet that Hedlund signed on to play the debonair S&M lover in the buzzy big-screen adaptation of the erotic novel, but dropped out for lack of a connection with the character. The role went to "Sons of Anarchy" star Charlie Hunnam, who actually resembles Hedlund quite a bit. Hunnam has since pulled out of the flick, and Jamie Dornan's replaced him.


Who: Tom Hanks
Role: Jerry Maguire
Movie: "Jerry Maguire"

Cameron Crowe—the director of the 1996 sports flick—has reportedly said he wrote the movie with Hanks in mind for the lead role. At the time, Hanks was directing "That Thing You Do," so had to pass, but he later approved Tom Cruise as his replacement. "I think you look at it now and it couldn’t have been anybody other than Tom Cruise,” Hanks told "Access Hollywood." “It’s the way the movie’s operated. I don’t think anybody would look at that now and say, ‘That movie was not perfect.’”

Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Who: Leonardo Dicaprio
Role: Patrick Bateman
Movie: "American Psycho"

This movie had a veritable who's who of leading men signed on to play the role of yuppie and (maybe) murderer Patrick Bateman, including Ed NortonJohnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and Ewan McGregor. However Lions Gate Films actually announced Dicaprio as the lead before he was ultimately pressured to drop out because his camp was worried that his "Titanic" fanbase might not have wanted to see him play such a volent tole (it's called acting, people.) Eventually, Christian Bale got the role and—pardon the pun—killed it.

Photo: Didier Baverel/Getty Images for Tag Heuer

Who: Angelina Jolie
Role: Alex Munday
Movie: "Charlie's Angels"

Angie was originally offered the role of Alex Munday in the 2000 big-screen reboot of "Charlie's Angels" but passed, admitting she wasn't a fan of the original 1970s series. It eventually went to Lucy Liu, but not before being offered to Jada Pinkett Smith and Thandie Newton, both of whom had scheduling conflicts.

Photo: TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images

Who: Angela Bassett
Role: Leticia Musgrove
Movie: "Monster's Ball"

Bassett reportedly turned down the role that ultimately led to Halle Berry being the first African-American woman to nab a Best Actress Oscar, because—despite not working much at the time—found the part demeaning. I wasn't going to be a prostitute on film,'' she told Newsweek (the part isn't actually a prostitute, but rather a waitress who has an affair with her convict husband's executioner.) ''I couldn't do that because it's such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.'' She says, ''Film is forever. It's about putting something out there you can be proud of 10 years later. I mean, Meryl Streep won Oscars without all that.'' Vanessa Williams also reportedly passed on the role of Leticia.

Photo: Mike Windle/Getty Images for BET

Who: Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix
Role: Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist
Movie: "Brokeback Mountain"

Both Wahlberg and Phoenix were approached by director Ang Lee to play gay cowboys in the critically acclaimed 2005 film, but Wahlberg passed on the role, later saying he was "creeped out" by the graphic script. This comment obviously stirred up some controversy and caused doubts about his range as an actor, but he's since said he has no regrets about passing up the part (the roles eventually went to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.)


Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Who: Reese Witherspoon
Role: Sidney Prescott
Movie: "Scream"

Witherspoon turned down the lead role in the 1996 horror movie, which ultimately went to Neve Campbell. Reese also passed on another horror role, 1998's "Urban Legend." Clearly, she thought it best to stick to rom-coms.


Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Who: Gillian Anderson
Role: Lady Cora Crawley
Show: "Downton Abbey"

The "X Files" star has quite a bit of experience acting in period pieces, and told TV Guide Magazine she was initially offered the role of Lady Cora Crawley (now played by Elizabeth McGovern) on the British series that's become a major phenom stateside.

Photo: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images

Who: Denzel Washington
Role: Michael Clayton
Movie: "Michael Clayton"

Washington passed on the lead in 2007's "Clayton," but has since admitted it was a mistake. "With Clayton, it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong. It happens," he told GQ.
The role ultimately went to George Clooney. Washington also turned down Brad Pitt's role in 1995's "Se7en.


Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images

Who: Drew Barrymore
Role: Nomi Malone
Movie: "Showgirls"

Barrymore was first offered the lead role of Nomi Malone in camptastic flick "Showgirls," but (smartly) turned it down, since it went on to became regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. "Saved by the Bell" star Elizabeth Berkley accepted the part instead.

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs

Who: Chevy Chase
Role: Lester Burnham
Movie: "American Beauty"

Not only did Chase pass on "Forrest Gump," but also said no thanks to the lead role in "American Beauty" for fear that it would hurt his family-friendly image. Sadly, that image hasn't won him any prizes or accolades as a serious actor, and Kevin Spacey ended up taking home the Oscar for his role of angry suburban father and husband in "Beauty."

Photo: John Shearer/WireImage

Who: Michelle Pfeiffer
Role: Clarice Sterling
Movie: "The Silence of the Lambs"

When screenwriter Ted Tally was writing the screenplay for the film, he suggested Jodie Foster, who reportedly was lobbying for the role (and, ultimately, got it.) However, once Jonathan Demm was hired to direct, he wanted Pfeiffer, who declined because she felt the film was too violent.

Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Who: Whitney Houston
Role: Sondra Huxtable
Show: The Cosby Show"

Whitney Houston was thisclose to playing the eldest Huxtable daughter on the hit 1980s sitcom. In fact, "Cosby" director Jay Sandrich told The Daily Mail that Houston stopped just short of signing on the dotted line to play Sondra, saying "I want to be a singer ... I can't be in every show ... I have to be in every tour.'" The role went to Sabrina LeBeauf.


Who: Jodie Foster
Role: Chris Parker
Movie: "Adventures in Babysitting"

Foster declined the lead role of frazzled teenage babysitter in one of the 1980s most-loved movies, as did Valerie Bertinelli, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Justine Bateman. The part went to Elisaeth Shue. Foster also turned the lead in "Sleepless and Seattle," and was supposed to play Debbie in "Knocked Up" (which went to Leslie Mann) but backed out at the last minute.

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Who: Katie Holmes
Role: Buffy Summers
Show: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

"Buffy" star Sarah Michelle Gellar originally auditioned for the cheerleader role of Cordelia on the culty '90s series, but was given the lead only after Katie turned it down to finish high school.

Photo: Getty Images

Who: Tom Selleck
Role: Indiana Jones
Movie: "Indiana Jones"

According to WhatCulture, the producers of "Magnum PI"—the show that made Selleck famous—refused to allow their star to participate in what would have been an even bigger break for him as the adventure-seeking archeologist. Selleck was reportedly torn on the choice, and he decided to be a stand-up guy and stick with the show. Obviously, we know Harrison Ford assumed the iconic role.

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Online USA

Who: Melanie Griffith
Role: Thelma
Movie: "Thelma and Louise"

Griffith turned down one of the title roles in the 1991 mega-hit, which eventually made stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.

Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images

Who: Ray Liotta
Role: Tony Soprano
Show: "The Sopranos"

Considering Liotta made a career out of playing wiseguy types, it's not terribly shocking that he was approached for the role of conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano in the HBO hit. Liotta reportedly turned it down to focus on his film career, and the part went to the late James Gandolfini, whose portrayal made Tony Soprano one of the greatest TV roles of all time.

Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images

Who: Matt Damon
Role: Jake Sully; Harvey Dent
Movies: "Avatar" and "The Dark Knight"

Damon has an uncanny knack of choosing the right roles, though he passed on two of the highest-grossing movies ever. Damon was James Cameron's first choice to play the lead in "Avatar" but declined due to a scheduling conflict with "The Bourne Ultimatum" (the role went to Sam Worthington), and Damon turned down the role of Harvey Dent in "The Dark Knight," which went to Aaron Eckhart. 


Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Who: Anne Hathaway
Role: Tiffany Maxwell
Movie: "Silver Linings Playbook"

Hathaway was originally cast as Tiffany but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, causing Jennifer Lawrence to get the role and win a Best Actress Oscar in 2012. Anne also won that year (though not quite as big), bagging a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for "Les Miserables."

Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Who: Cher
Role: Morticia Addams
Movie: "The Addams Family"

Cher turned down the role of Morticia in the movie adaptation of the gothic TV show, which went to Angelica Huston. Interestingly, Cher was also considered for the part of the Grand High Witch in 1989's The Witches," which also went to Huston. Other roles Cher has turned down include Thelma in "Thelma and Louise," and Barbara Rose in "War of the Roses" (which went to Kathleen Turner.)

Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Who: Emily Blunt
Role: Black Widow
Movie: "Iron Man 2"

The talented Brit was offered the role of Black Widow in "Iron Man 2" (which was assumed by Scarlett Johansson) but passed due to a scheduling conflict with "Gulliver's Travels," which totally tanked at the box office.

Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images

Who: Kevin Costner
Role: Andy Dufresne
Movie: "The Shawshank Redemption"

Costner was arguably one of the biggest movie stars throughout the 1980s and early '90s, and was offered the leading role in the "Shawshank Redemption." In a sad story, Costner passed so he could focus on his passion project "Waterworld," which became one of the biggest flops in movie history. The role of Andy Defresne went to Tim Robbins.

Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Who: Henry Winkler
Role: Danny Zuko
Movie: "Grease"

It seems a little obvious that the producers of "Grease" would want former "Happy Days" star Winkler to basically reprise the character of the Fonz in the 1978 movie musical. Winkler passed for fear of being typecast, but has since said he regrets turning down the part because he essentially was already typecast as the Fonz anyway. The role of Danny Zuko went to John Travolta


Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Who: Al Pacino
Role: Edward Lewis
Movie: "Pretty Woman"

Pacino admitted he passed on the role of businessman Edward Lewis in the iconic rom com (which went to Richard Gere.) In a rare interview this year, the accomplished actor also revealed he'd passed on the lead in "Die Hard," paving the way for Bruce Willis. “I gave that boy a career," Pacino said, adding he also gave Harrison Ford a career by declining "Star Wars." "That role was mine for the taking, but I couldn’t understand the script," Pacino said.




Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Who: Mel Gibson
Role: Roman Maximus
Movie: "Gladiator"

Gibson was approached for the part of Maximus in Gladiator before Russell Crowe, but passed reportedly because he felt he was getting too old for those types of action roles. Crowe went on to win an Oscar and become a huge star.

Who: Bruce Willis
Role: Sam Wheat
Movie: "Ghost"

Willis was offered the role of Sam in the 1990 mega-hit "Ghost," and the chance to play alongside his then-wife Demi Moore. The part eventually went to Patrick Swayze, who was excellent.

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Who: Rooney Mara
Role: Maya
Movie: "Zero Dark Thirty"

Mara had to drop out of the 2012 terrorist flick due to scheduling conflicts, and the lead went to Jessica Chastain (whose agents also reportedly declined the role at first.)


Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

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