Casting a movie is critically important. Putting the right actors in a role can make or break a film. However, casting is more of an art than a science. And, believe it or not, some of the most iconic roles in cinema history were almost played by other people. Can you imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones or Han Solo? How about someone other than Arnold Schwarzenegger playing The Terminator? Well, it almost happened, as these actors were not the first choice to play the signature roles that came to define their careers. Here are 10 of the most shocking original casting choices in Hollywood history.
10. O.J. Simpson as The Terminator
It may seem downright ludicrous now, but former football star and accused murderer O.J. Simpson was director James Cameron’s first choice to play the T-800, aka The Terminator, in his now classic movie of the same name. Back in 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger was still known mostly as a foreign body builder with a strange accent. And while he had appeared in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, his movie career had yet to take off and he was far from a household name. O.J. Simpson was the more recognizable athlete and personality, and he had more acting experience than Schwarzenegger at the time, having starred in films such as The Towering Inferno and the landmark TV series Roots. It was only after O.J. Simpson turned down the part that James Cameron and his casting director looked at the physically intimidating Schwarzenegger for the role of the futuristic cyborg killing machine.
9. Frank Sinatra as Dirty Harry
The role of rogue San Francisco cop Dirty Harry Callahan has become actor Clint Eastwood’s signature part and helped to both launch his movie career and define it ever after. Clint Eastwood has played Dirty Harry in a total of five films, each one more successful at the box office than the last. The movie series also spawned a number of popular catchphrases that were delivered perfectly by Eastwood, notably “Go ahead, make my day.” Yet, Clint Eastwood was not the first choice to play Dirty Harry. That honor went to old blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. The crooner, best known for hit songs such as “My Way” and “Under My Skin,” seems like the last person you would expect to play Dirty Harry. However, Sinatra had a successful movie career in the 1950s and 1960s with roles in classic films such as The Manchurian Candidate and Ocean’s Eleven. In fact, Frank Sinatra won an Oscar for the 1953 movie From Here To Eternity. Thank heavens he rejected Dirty Harry because of the violence—paving the way for Clint Eastwood to step into the role.
8. Eric Stolz as Marty McFly
Not only was actor Eric Stolz the first choice to play lead character Marty McFly in 1985’s Back to the Future, nearly the entire movie was filmed with him in the role before the veteran character actor was fired for being unfunny and replaced by Michael J. Fox. Today, Marty McFly is arguably Michael J. Fox’s best known role on the big screen and the Back to the Future trilogy is a beloved sci-fi classic. Yet it nearly didn’t happen. In fact, at the time Back to the Future was made, Michael J. Fox was a sitcom actor on Family Ties and had little big screen experience. Fortunately, he had one thing going for him in that he was funnier than Eric Stolz. The rest, as they say, is history. Or the past, in the case of Back to the Future.
7. Michael Biehn as Spider-Man
He’s best known for being director James Cameron’s go-to guy in classic 1980s sci-fi action movies The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss, but actor Michael Biehn almost had another key role in a James Cameron film—the director’s aborted Spider-Man project. In fact, search the Internet and you can find movie posters of Michael Biehn as Peter Parker/Spider-Man that were produced in the early 1990s as filming on this movie almost began. However, James Cameron was reportedly unhappy with the special effects at the time and didn’t think he could do the film justice, so the movie was scrapped and Cameron moved on to make True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger instead. Spider-Man was resurrected a decade later with director Sam Raimi at the helm and actor Tobey Maguire in the signature role.
6. Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones
Tall, handsome and with old fashioned Hollywood looks, director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas felt that actor Tom Selleck would be the perfect choice to play archeologist adventurer Indiana Jones in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark. While this kind of makes sense in retrospect, it is difficult to see anyone wear Indiana Jones fedora other than Harrison Ford, who has become synonymous with the role over four movies. However, it was Tom Selleck who was set to step into the part and crack the famous whip back in 1980. Fortunately for Harrison Ford, the CBS television network picked up the series Magnum P.I. and had a contract that forced Tom Selleck to play the Hawaii-based private investigator on the long-running TV series. With Tom Selleck forced to back out of Raiders, George Lucas turned to Harrison Ford, who was only too happy to take the role.
5. Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz as Bad Boys
Before you gag, keep in mind that the 1995 movie Bad Boys is an action comedy starring two comedic actors—Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. And in the mid-1990s, Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz were two of the hottest comedic actors around. Both had great runs on Saturday Night Live and were primed for movie star success. Seen in this light, you can kind of understand why director Michael Bay cast those two for his movie about wise cracking Miami cops taking down a drug cartel. However, it was the action side of the movie that eventually had Michael Bay and his casting crew turn to Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Although funny together, Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz were considered to be unbelievable as police officers due to their slight build (Carvey) and beer belly (Lovitz). The buff and toned Smith and Lawrence were chosen for their comedic timing and physical appearance.
4. John Travolta as Forrest Gump
Hot off the heels of Look Who’s Talking and Pulp Fiction, actor John Travolta was in the midst of one of the biggest comebacks in Hollywood history when director Robert Zemeckis cast him as Forrest Gump. John Travolta was also considered a serious dramatic actor who had the chops to pull off the serious side of Forrest Gump. And the movie was set to proceed with John Travolta in the role when scheduling conflicts forced the Saturday Night Fever star to back out at the last minute. The part then went to actor Tom Hanks, who was then known mostly for his comedic roles. Yet Forrest Gump earned Tom Hanks an Oscar for Best Actor, and he has now become so synonymous with the part that it has almost become a parody of itself. Can you picture anyone else saying the line “Life is like a box of chocolates…”?
3. Meryl Streep as Ellen Ripley
Actresses Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver were classmates at Yale Drama School and regularly competed for acting roles. In most cases, Meryl Streep won out. However, Sigourney Weaver succeeded in winning the biggest and arguably best role of her career when she eventually took the part of Ellen Ripley in the 1979 movie Alien from Meryl Streep. Director Ridley Scott originally cast the dramatic heavyweight Meryl Streep in the signature part of Ellen Ripley. However, legend has it, that after reviewing screen tests of Streep in the role, Ridley Scott decided she was too dainty and frail to play the rugged space miner Ellen Ripley and he opted instead to cast Sigourney Weaver in the part, which she has played in a total of four movies to date.
2. Will Smith as Neo (The Matrix)
Pretty shocking, we know. But it’s true that The Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, was originally cast to play Neo in The Matrix. Few producers at the time took Keanu Reeves seriously, despite his success in the action movie Speed. And Will Smith was white hot at the time with his music career and acting roles on TV (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and in movies (Independence Day) taking off. Yet after Will Smith pulled out of the movie on the advice of his agents, the role was offered first to Tom Cruise (who also rejected it) before ending up with Keanu Reeves. Not only did Keanu laugh all the way to the bank as The Matrix trilogy broke box office records, but Will Smith managed to wrangle a part in the film series for his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. So, in the end, everyone did alright with The Matrix.
1. Kurt Russell as Han Solo
It seems unfathomable that anyone would play Han Solo other than actor Harrison Ford. But at the time that 1977’s Star Wars was being cast, Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter for director George Lucas and was not even considered for the part. Instead, George Lucas had his eyes set on Kurt Russell for the role of Han Solo. In fact, Kurt Russell read for the part so many times that he, reportedly, can recite the entire Star Wars script to people from memory to this day. And Kurt Russell had a lock on Han Solo heading into production. It was only when George Lucas asked his then-carpenter (Harrison Ford) to read the Han Solo part while he auditioned actors for other parts in the movie that Lucas took a shine to Harrison Ford and recast the part of the intergalactic rascal. Kurt Russell may have been okay in the role. He certainly wouldn’t have been the worst choice to play Han Solo. But nobody has owned a part better than Harrison Ford with this one.