13 Iconic Movie Roles That Were Turned Down By Huge Stars

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·Head of Entertainment, HuffPost UK
·6-min read
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We can’t imagine anyone but Tom Hanks playing Forrest Gump, or Reese Witherspoon as Elle Brooks in Legally Blonde.

But these are just two iconic roles that were originally offered to other big name stars, who ultimately turned them down.

Find out who could have played them instead – plus many more surprises – below...

Forrest Gump

Starred: Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump

Turned down by: John Travolta

Tom Hanks and John Travolta (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Tom Hanks and John Travolta (Photo: Rex/Getty)

John Travolta opted to star in Pulp Fiction instead of taking the titular role in Robert Zemeckis’s classic.

The two films ended up going head-to-head at the 1995 Oscars, with Forrest Gump bagging six awards – including a Best Actor gong for Tom – compared to one for Pulp Fiction

Legally Blonde

Starred: Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods

Turned down by: Christina Applegate

Reese Witherspoon and Christina Applegate (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Reese Witherspoon and Christina Applegate (Photo: Rex/Getty)

Anchorman star Christina has since admitted that turning down the lead in the hit 2001 comedy was a “stupid move”.

“I got scared of kind of repeating myself,” Christina revealed in 2015.

The iconic role eventually went to Reese Witherspoon, and is still arguably the part she is best known for.

Pretty Woman

Starred: Richard Gere as Edward Lewis

Turned down by: Burt Reynolds

Richard Gere and Burt Reynolds (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Richard Gere and Burt Reynolds (Photo: Rex/Getty)

Hollywood legend Burt opted not to lock lips with Julia Roberts in the 1990 rom-com and the role of Edward Lewis eventually went to Richard Gere.

Rumour has it that Burt also turned down the opportunity to play James Bond because he didn’t think the public wouldn’t accept an American 007.

Wow.

The Silence Of The Lambs

Starred: Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling

Turned down by: Michelle Pfeiffer

Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer (Photo: Rex/Getty)

In a 2021 interview with The New Yorker , Michelle revealed she had turned down the role of FBI agent Clarice Starling because she was uncomfortable with the film’s “evil” message and ending.

“With Silence of the Lambs, I was trepidatious,” she said. “There was such evil in that film. It was that evil won in the end, that at the end of that film evil ruled out. I was uncomfortable with that ending. I didn’t want to put that out into the world.”

The role went on to earn Jodie Foster her second Best Actress Oscar.

The Matrix

Starred: Keanu Reeves as Neo

Turned down by: Will Smith

Keanu Reeves and Will Smith (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Keanu Reeves and Will Smith (Photo: Rex/Getty)

Keanu worked with Will Smith’s wife Jada in the second and third Matrix films, but the Fresh Prince star was actually up for the lead role initially.

He later admitted that had he taken on the role, he thinks he would have “messed it up”.

“The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch,” he told Wired in 2004. “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. At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be.”

Titanic

Starred: Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater

Turned down by: Gwyneth Paltrow

Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow (Photo: Rex/Getty)

Gwynnie said her mother believed it was “not ladylike” to talk openly about turning down roles, which included the lead in Titanic.

She added that she “couldn’t change the past.”

Footloose

Starred: Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack

Turned down by: Tom Cruise

Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise (Photo: Rex/Getty)

We still have no idea if Tom Cruise can actually dance, but we almost found out when he was up for the lead role in this 80s classic.

However, Tom had already committed to All The Right Moves and so the role went to Kevin Bacon instead.

Shakespeare In Love

Starred: Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola De Lesseps

Turned down by: Julia Roberts

Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts (Photo: Rex/Getty)

When Daniel Day Lewis turned down the role of Will Shakespeare (eventually played by Joseph Fiennes), Julia also passed on the period drama at the eleventh hour.

“Daniel wasn’t interested, so Julia withdrew and the whole thing fell through just six weeks before filming was due to begin,” cast member Simon Callow revealed in 2014.

Gwyneth Paltrow went on to win an Academy Award – complete with a very emotional acceptance speech – for playing the role of Viola.

Star Wars

Starred: Harrison Ford as Han Solo

Turned down by: Burt Reynolds

Harrison Ford and Burt Reynolds (Photo: Getty)
Harrison Ford and Burt Reynolds (Photo: Getty)

The Hollywood icon, who died in 2018, told Business Insider that he “just didn’t want to play that kind of role at the time”.

Screen legend Al Pacino also said no, before Harrison Ford was signed up.

La La Land

Starred: Emma Stone as Mia Dolan

Turned down by: Emma Watson

Emma Stone and Emma Watson (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Emma Stone and Emma Watson (Photo: Rex/Getty)

It was another famous Emma who was originally lined up to play Mia in the Oscar-winning musical feature film.

“It’s one of these frustrating things where sort of names get attached to projects very early on as a way to kind of build anticipation or excitement for something that’s coming before anything is really actually agreed or set in stone,” the Harry Potter star said in 2017.

Meanwhile, Emma Stone went on to bag her very first Oscar for her performance opposite Ryan Gosling.

Years later, Emma Watson would end up taking on a role that was originally offered to Emma Stone, when the latter dropped out of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.

Brokeback Mountain

Starred: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist

Turned down by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon

Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (Photo: Rex/Getty)

The Oscar-winning film’s producers struggled to cast the two lead roles, with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars passing on the film. Director Gus Van Sant, who was eventually replaced by Ang Lee, told IndieWire that “nobody wanted to do it. They all said no”.

Ang Lee went on to win the Best Director Oscar and Heath Ledger, who played farmer Ennis, received a Best Actor nomination.

Monster’s Ball

Starred: Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove

Turned down by: Angela Bassett

Halle Berry and Angela Bassett (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Halle Berry and Angela Bassett (Photo: Rex/Getty)

Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Leticia in the 2001 movie Monster’s Ball, but the part was originally intended for Angela Bassett.

Explaining her reasons for passing on the role, Angela told Newsweek: “It’s about character, darling. I wasn’t going to be a prostitute on film. I couldn’t do that because it’s such a stereotype about Black women and sexuality.”

Gladiator

Starred: Russell Crowe as Maximus

Turned down by: Mel Gibson

Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson (Photo: Rex/Getty)
Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson (Photo: Rex/Getty)

Mel Gibson believed he was too old for the physical demands required for the lead role in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic.

The part eventually went to Kiwi actor Russell Crowe, who went on to win the Best Actor Oscar in 2001.

READ MORE:

19 Incredible Movie Transformations That Left These Hollywood Stars Unrecognisable

Michelle Pfeiffer Reveals She Turned Down Silence Of The Lambs Because Of ‘Evil’ Script

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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