Imagine Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones, or Johnny Depp as Lestat. How about Michelle Pfeiffer in “Pretty Woman”? Impossible to visualize? Believe it or not, these roles were offered to these actors and ultimately rejected by them. Think about how different some of your favorite hit movies, such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Interview with the Vampire,” “Pretty Woman,” or “Basic Instinct” might have been minus the actors or actresses that helped make these films famous. In some cases, taking these roles might have greatly altered the careers of some who turned out to be supporting actors or actresses rather than lead. Here are just a few celebrities who rejected what sometimes turned out to be major roles in some blockbuster films.
1. Doris Day
Actress and singer Doris Day turned down what turned out to be one of the biggest parts for an actress in the 1960s. She was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate,” but refused to do the nude scene. Day writes in her biography, “I was offered the part of Mrs. Robinson in ’The Graduate’ but I could not see myself rolling around in the sheets with a young man half my age whom I’d seduced. I realized it was an effective part but it offended my sense of values.” Bad luck for her, good luck for Anne Bancroft, who took the part with no hesitation, and won an Academy Award for her efforts!
2. John Denver
No one would ever think of the late singer/actor John Denver as Academy-Award winning material. Yet, for some unknown reason, Denver was offered the lead role in 1982 ‘s “An Officer and A Gentleman.” Can you imagine clean-cut Denver in the role that put sexy Richard Gere on the map? Fortunately for us viewers, Denver turned down the role in the movie, saying he didn’t like the script. I just can’t picture Denver picking up and carrying Debra Winger out of the bar in that famous scene….
3. James Caan
James Caan is another great actor who has had some major roles in hit movies, including “The Godfather,” “Funny Lady,” and “Misery”. Caan has been known to turn down some parts that turned into major roles in hit movies, however. He unwisely turned down the lead in “Superman,” saying he would never get into that “silly suit.” The iconic role eventually went to Christopher Reeve. Caan also rejected the lead in “Kramer vs. Kramer,” saying he did not think the character was interesting enough. Apparently Dustin Hoffman made the character quite interesting, interesting enough to win an Academy Award for the role.
4. Johnny Depp
John Christopher Depp, otherwise known as Johnny Depp, rose to fame on the small screen, in the television series “21 Jump Street” during the 1980s. He went on to even more fame and fortune on the large screen. However, Depp has turned down his share of roles in what turned out to be blockbuster movies during his career. Depp turned down the title role in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” saying on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” that he was “unavailable” for the part at the time (which went to Matthew Broderick). He also turned down the role of Lestat in “Interview With the Vampire” (which went to Tom Cruise) and Brad Pitt’s role in “Legends of the Fall.” In explaining these rejections, Depp simply says, “I’m not blockbuster boy.” Legions of fans would disagree, Johnny!
5. Mickey Rourke
Actor Mickey Rourke also had a boxing career, which has, at times, influenced his decision to reject roles in what would become hit films. The most notable happened in 2004, when he rejected the role of Butch in “Pulp Fiction” which Bruce Willis would later take, in order to concentrate on boxing. Probably not the smartest move Rourke ever made. Boxing did not influence his decision to turn down the role in “Dead Poets Society” in 1989 which Robin Williams eventually landed – he wanted script changes in order to take the role, which was not in the cards. Next time you might not want to be so picky, Mickey.
6. Michelle Pfeiffer
Since making her film debut in 1980’s “Scarface,” Michelle Pfeiffer has picked and chosen her acting jobs, but has turned down some that turned out to be blockbuster roles. Pfeiffer turned down the lead role in “Basic Instinct” in 1992, a role which helped make Sharon Stone a household name. Pfeiffer reportedly rejected that role because she hates nude scenes. She also turned down the role of Vivian in “Pretty Woman” in 1990 (which, of course, helped make Julia Roberts a star), supposedly because she didn’t like the “tone” of the script. Pfeiffer, however, remains a star in her own right, so apparently she’s made some good choices of films to reject.
7. Julia Roberts
Although Julia Roberts is a big star (well, maybe not as big now as she was in the 1990s), she has turned down some roles that maybe she should have thought twice about. Two of the roles she rejected ended up going to Sandra Bullock, who seems to have taken over Roberts’ lifetime role as “America’s Sweetheart.” One was in “The Proposal,” for which Roberts wanted more money. The other role Roberts rejected that went to Bullock was in “The Blind Side.” Of course, Bullock won her Best Actress Oscar for that role. Oh well, Roberts has one of those already (for “Erin Brokovich”…anyone remember that one? Probably not…)
8. Kim Basinger
One of the most famous role rejections in history belongs to Kim Basinger, who turned down the controversial lead role in “Boxing Helena” after signing a contract stating that she would star in the movie. Apparently after reading the script for the film, Basinger fled in horror from it. She was sued for $9 million by the producers and lost the suit, but ended up winning on appeal. The role ultimately went to Sherilyn Fenn. If you’re an actor or actress, you can learn something from this classic rejection: read the script before signing a contract!
9. Tom Selleck
In what might be one of the biggest mistakes of his career, actor Tom Selleck turned down the role of Indiana Jones in 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” because it conflicted with his Magnum, P.I. Taping schedule. The role, of course, was ultimately played by Harrison Ford. Can you imagine Selleck as Indy? Another role rejected by Selleck was in 2003’s “Freaky Friday. ” Selleck dropped out of the project once Annette Bening left the film, apparently thinking it wouldn’t be a hit. Well, maybe that one was the right decision….. Mark Harmon eventually filled Selleck’s shoes in this role, but who remembers that?
10. John Travolta
Actor John Travolta rejected a few big movie roles, one of which was the title role in “Forest Gump” (which won Tom Hanks an Oscar). Although he has never publicly said why he rejected this role, he has said, “What you turn down can be a gift to someone else.” Got that right, John! Travolta also rejected the James Bond role in “Casino Royale” in 2005, saying, “Bond is one of the most dynamic roles in history, one of the most extreme and career defining commitments an actor can make. After careful consideration I feel it might not be best for me at this point.” Daniel Craig ended up taking the Bond role, which he apparently felt was the right fit for him at the time.