Actors Who Turned Down Iconic Roles

Source: Jason Merritt / Getty Images

For movie fans, there are certain famous roles that are so closely associated with the actor or actress that you cannot envision anyone else playing that character. Is there anyone else other than Julie Andrews who could have been Mary Poppins? Who else could have carried the weight of justice better than Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird”? Can you picture anyone else besides Marlon Brando playing the aging Don Corleone in “The Godfather?” (These are the actors with the longest careers.)

But film history is filled with examples of performers who turned down roles that went on to become indelibly identified with their replacements. While Sean Connery ultimately made James Bond an iconic film figure, he was not the actor the franchise’s filmmakers had in mind originally. And at least two subsequently famous actors almost had Keanu Reeves’ iconic role in “The Matrix” and its successors.

To create a list of actors who turned down blockbuster roles, 24/7 Tempo drew on information from IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and from The Hollywood Reporter, Biography, and several other film industry and general interest sources.

Actors and actresses decline roles for a variety of reasons. A scheduling conflict forced one to drop out of the starring role in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Another believed he was too old to play the role of Maximus Decimus Meridius in “Gladiator” and declined the part. Role stereotyping was the reason an actress opted not to play the lead in “Legally Blonde.” 

The glib weatherman role in “Groundhog Day” played by Bill Murray was rejected by a different actor because he didn’t understand the part. Several actors who starred in hit television series had to decline roles in successful movies because their TV producers wouldn’t let them take the parts for reasons of scheduling or perceived image. (These, though, are TV stars who made the jump to movies.)

 Some of the stars who turned down major roles – including Madonna, Bette Midler, Rod Steiger, and WIll Smith – later regretted their decision. Others didn’t, and went on to other triumphs.

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