10 Life-Changing Movie Roles that Actors Turned Down


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Many film buffs know that Leonardo DiCaprio could've played Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, Will Smith could've played Neo in The Matrix, and Matt Damon could've played Jake Sully in Avatar. There's no doubt that each of those classics would've been a little different with different leading men, who in turn may have had slightly different careers as a result. But, how life-changing would those roles have been for guys who were already on the A-list? The following roles, each of which is now regarded as a classic, were turned down by actors whose careers could've used the boost — at the time, and/or in hindsight. These are missed opportunities they will forever regret.

  1. Burt Ward as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate

    Best known for work as Robin in the Batman and New Adventures of Batman television series, Ward suffered from the pitfalls of being typecast, hindering him from expanding his acting career. When he was offered a chance for his big break as Benjamin Braddock, he had to turn down the role because 20th Century Fox, the studio responsible for Batman, wouldn't allow him the extra work, as he had just renewed his contract.

  2. Warren Beatty as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

    Beatty is a Hollywood legend and definitely an A-lister, yet his career leaves much to be desired. He hasn't made that many films, and his choice of work has been hit and miss — Bonnie and Clyde for example, was a huge success, while Ishtar was a huge flop. His effort to carefully protect his career has caused him to pass on some legendary roles, the most notable of which was Michael Corleone, which transformed Al Pacino from a relative unknown to a household name. Other roles on which Beatty passed: Johnny Hooker in The Sting, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, Paul Sheldon in Misery, and Jack Horner in Boogie Nights.

  3. Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

    In this case, it wasn't Selleck's fault the he passed on the part of Indiana Jones. Then an unknown actor, he had just signed a contract with Universal Studios to star in Magnum P.I., a role that eventually made him an '80s icon. But his unattained status as an A-lister can be blamed on his producers, who wouldn't let him split his time for other work. As it turned out, a writers strike delayed the shooting of the series, meaning Selleck actually would've had the time to shoot the film.

  4. Mickey Rourke as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables

    Hollywood was enamored with Rourke's comeback story in 2008 when he starred in The Wrestler, which paralleled his own life. In the '80s, he reached the pinnacle of his career, appearing in films such as Rumble Fish and Diner. But a series of life and career decisions, including turning down the part of Eliot Ness, resulted in an immense personal downfall. He became a heroin addict and was forced to seek psychiatric help, a turning point in his life. Now, with a clear mind, he can reflect on what could've been. Other roles on which Rourke passed: Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop and Det. Sgt. Jack Cates in 48 Hours.

  5. Molly Ringwald as Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman

    Julia Roberts' ascension to superstardom is attributed to her performance as Vivian Ward, a role she secured only after it was passed on by Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, Daryl Hannah, Karen Allen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and most infamously, Molly Ringwald. At the time, the '80s teen icon was a couple of years removed from starring in the now forgotten drama Fresh Horses, and was on the verge of moving to France. Along with her refusal of the role of Molly in Ghost, the inexplicable move ensured the '90s were a quiet decade for Ringwald.

  6. Alec Baldwin was Richard Kimball in The Fugitive

    Baldwin, the first choice, waivered on playing the part of Richard Kimball in the big-screen remake of the '60s television series, as he was busy with other projects. Ultimately he passed due to issues with the script, and proceeded to appear in several less successful films during the early-to-mid '90s. Always busy, he's forged his niche in Hollywood, but has never really reached his full potential.

  7. Ellen Barkin as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct

    Sharon Stone was perfectly cast for Basic Instinct — it's like the part of Catherine Tramell was created just for her. Of course, it really wasn't, as Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman, Kim Basinger, Julia Roberts and Ellen Barkin each declined the role before Director Paul Verhoeven settled on Stone. Barkin, who was three years removed from her role as Helen Cruger in the psycho-sexual thriller Sea of Love, had emerged as a major star, but didn't want to act in the same type of movie in such a short period of time. Instead, she opted to star in the flop Switch.

  8. Stephen Baldwin as Officer Jack Traven in Speed

    George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Michael Keeton and Jeff Bridges are the high profile names who turned down the part of Officer Jack Traven, who was played by Keanu Reeves. None of those guys' careers suffered as a result. Stephen Baldwin, on the other hand, couldn't have done much better, as he wasn't exactly known for routinely starring in films that grossed more than $350 million worldwide. He should've learned a lesson from his more famous brother's mistake a couple years earlier.

  9. Michael Madsen as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction

    Scheduling conflicts prevented Madsen from accepting the role of Vincent Vega, which was later taken by John Travolta. Madsen was already friends with director Quentin Tarantino, who was extremely pleased with his performance as Mr. Blonde — or Vic Vega, Vincent's brother — in Reservoir Dogs. But Madsen had already committed to the role of Virgil Earp in Wyatt Earp, a film in which he regretted participating.

  10. Angela Bassett as Leticia Musgrove in Monster's Ball

    Two actresses, Vanessa Williams and Angela Bassett, turned down the role of Leticia Musgrove, the latter of whom later explained that she didn't approve of the demeaning and stereotypical behavior of the character. Her conscience prevented her from becoming the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, an honor received by Halle Berry. Almost a decade earlier, Bassett was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It.

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