21 Actors Who Foolishly Rejected Legendary Movie Characters

Madonna in the Matrix? John Travolta as Forrest Gump? These could have been a reality if they had said yes when first offered the role in these iconic movies. This means that the main characters in films we know and love might not have been intended to be played by that actor. 

Here are 21 actors who turned down iconic movie roles.


Leonardo DiCaprio in Boogie Nights

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Try to imagine the film Titanic without Leonardo DiCaprio; it’s almost impossible, right? DiCaprio was offered roles in Titanic and Boogie Nights simultaneously, and Boogie Nights was turned down in favor of the latter. 

All we can say is, thank goodness he did. 


Madonna in The Matrix

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During a TV appearance on Jimmy Fallon in 2021, Madonna admitted that she regretted turning down the role she was offered in The Matrix. All we can say is, wow, how different would The Matrix be with Madonna in a leading role? It’s unimaginable now.


Matt Damon in Avatar

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While speaking to GQ in 2019, Damon said, “ I’ve left more money on the table than any other actor.” In this statement, Damon was referencing the fact that he not only turned down a role in Avatar but also an offer that would have seen him take home 10% of the film’s gross takings. With a little math, that means he lost out on around 200 million dollars.


Christina Applegate in Legally Blonde

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Could Elle Woods ever be Elle Woods if Reese Witherspoon didn’t play her? We don’t think so, either. 

But apparently, Witherspoon only got the role after Applegate refused out of fear of being too typecast into similar roles—a decision that she has admitted to regretting later. 


Josh Hartnett in Batman Begins

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This role went to Christian Bale only after Josh Hartnett had turned it down. Speaking to Playboy Magazine, Hartnett said, “was so focused on not being pigeonholed and so scared of being considered only one thing as an actor,” which led him to decline the iconic role.

Brad Pitt in The Matrix

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In 2020, Brad Pitt admitted that he regretted turning down the role of Neo in The Matrix, “I took the red pill,” he said jokingly. 

Can you imagine Brad Pitt as Neo? Wow, we can feel the Matrix glitching already. 


Halle Berry in Speed

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Picture Halle Berry as the woman driving the bus in Speed. It’s not easy, is it? Sandra Bullock took the role, but only after Berry declined it. This could have been a different movie with Halle Berry at the helm. 


Michelle Pfeiffer in Silence of the Lambs

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Jodie Foster won an Oscar for her performance in Silence of the Lambs, but the filmmaker Jonathan Demme originally had envisioned Michelle Pfeiffer playing the role. 

Speaking to The New Yorker in 2021, Pfeiffer said that she was uncomfortable with the dark theme of the movie, stating that it wasn’t something that “she wanted to put out into the world.” 

Bruce Willis in Ghost

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Ghost was the highest-grossing film of 1990. It is a legendary movie starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. However, both roles were initially sent to Moore and Willis, who were dating then. However, only Demi was keen to proceed with being cast, as Bruce Willis said he found the plot farfetched. 

Michael Keaton in Groundhog Day

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Groundhog Day without Bill Murray? What? That is not easy to imagine. 

The lead role in this movie was initially offered to Michael Keaton, but Keaton told Entertainment Weekly in 2014 that when he read the script for Groundhog Day, he “didn’t get it,” and it wasn’t a role he wanted. Cue Bill Murray’s legendary performance. 


Will Smith in The Matrix 

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Neo’s role was offered to several leading men across Hollywood before Keanu Reeves was cast 

Will Smith spoke about turning down the role on his YouTube channel, where he said, “So I made Wild Wild West [instead],” Smith confessed, referencing the notorious 1999 flop that he had spent more than 20 years regretting. “I’m not proud of it.”


Eddie Murphy in Who Framed Roger Rabbit

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Initially approached to play the role that eventually went to Bob Hopkins, Eddie Murphy said that he didn’t like the concept, and in 2003, he said, “I was like, ‘What?’ Animation and people sounded like rubbish to me. Every time I see it, I feel like an idiot.”


Denzel Washington in Se7en

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George Clooney ended up playing this role, but only after it was rejected by Denzel, who stated that he didn’t have confidence in the first time Director. Washington has since admitted that “I was wrong.” 


Tom Selleck in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones go together like peanut butter and jelly, and it’s inconceivable to think of anyone else playing the role. But, the part was initially offered to Tom Selleck, who wasn’t keen and turned it down. 


Sean Connery in Lord of the Rings

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox .

Sean Connery as Gandalf? Apparently, this was the studio’s first choice, and maybe we could stretch our imaginations to consider this switch, but we still feel that the role went to the best man for the job, Sir Ian McKellen. 


Hugh Jackman in Casino Royale

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Hugh Jackman as James Bond seems crazy. Jackman turned down the opportunity to play Bond as he feared it would result in him being typecast and limit his ability to play more varied roles in the future. 

We are also glad that Wolverine did not become James Bond, as that might just be a step too far. 


Kevin Costner in The Shawshank Redemption

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What a fantastic movie this was, with a brilliant cast. However, everything is not as it seems, as the main character was initially signed up for Kevin Costner. 

Ultimately, Tim Robbins took the lead role of Andy Dufresne in the film. Costner has said he regrets this, but at the time, he wanted to focus on making Waterworld. 


Julia Roberts in The Blind Side

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Initially, Julian Roberts was offered this movie, but after she declined, Sandra Bullock swooped in and delivered an excellent performance. 


Tom Hanks in Jerry Maguire

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Director Cameron Crowe has admitted that he wrote the entire script with Tom Hanks in mind. However, Hanks was Directing another movie at the time, That Thing You Do, and wasn’t available for the part. Cue Tom Cruise, but we couldn’t imagine it any other way. 


Leonardo DiCaprio in American Psycho

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Christian Bale ended up starring in this movie after Leonardo DiCaprio declined to take the role of Patrick Bateman, an egotistical psychopath. 

Michelle Pfeiffer in Basic Instinct

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Most hypothetical switches in the leading role of a film feel too weird to consider. However, this one doesn’t feel too farfetched at all. 

Michelle Pfeiffer initially turned down the leading role in Basic Instinct, citing that she wasn’t comfortable with the nude scenes. But we think we can all agree that Sharon Stone did a great job as Catherine Tramell in this movie. 


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Catherine Keating

Writer & Blogger

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