There are many famous movie characters who we simply cannot imagine being played by anyone else (here’s looking at you, Han Solo).
However, in quite a lot of cases, the actors who made these characters their own weren’t the ones who were originally cast to play the part. Actors are replaced for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the change proves to be spot on, as was the case when Tom Selleck was switched out in favor of Harrison Ford to play Indiana Jones.
Other times, the change proves to be disastrous. Here are twenty last minute actor replacements that completely changed the movie.
Sofia Coppola – The Godfather Part III
The first two Godfather movies are regarded as not just two of the best gangster movies ever made, but also two of the best movies ever made. So, what went wrong with part three? Well, many laid the blame at the feet of Sophia Coppola, who played Michael Corleone’s daughter Mary in the film. The part was originally meant to go to Julia Roberts, but she had to drop out. Instead, Coppola turned to Winona Ryder, who accepted the part despite suffering from nervous exhaustion at the time. When she dropped out too, Coppola was faced with a dilemma – delay shooting or cast his daughter in the role. He chose the latter, despite Sophia having no formal acting training. Her performance was a train-wreck, but is it fair to lay all of the Godfather: Part III‘s many, many flaws at her feet? Most certainly not.
Rafe Spall – Life of Pi
Tobey Maguire hadn’t just been cast as the Canadian author Yann Martell in Ang Lee’s big screen adaptation of his novel, The Life of Pi, he’d actually finished filming all his scenes. Unfortunately for Maguire, Lee had cast unknowns in all the other parts, and he decided the well-known Spider-Man actor stuck out like a sore thumb and completely unbalanced the movie he was making. Instead, he recast the Prometheus actor Rafe Spall in the role. The movie would go on to win four Oscars at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013.
Kevin Peter Hall – Predator
Jean Claude Van Damme was an unknown when he was cast as the Predator in the movie of the same name in 1987. The martial arts star thought he was going to be visible on screen, and he expected to fight the movie’s star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, hand-to-hand. When he discovered he was in fact to be dressed from head-to-toe in an uncomfortable rubber suit with backward-bent reptilian legs, ridiculously long arms and a bulbous, protruding head, he was said to be seething. Van Damme passed out on set from heat exhaustion on several occasions, and eventually director John McTiernan decided to scrap the creature design, sack Van Damme and bring in the towering figure of seven foot two inch tall Kevin Peter Hall to play the much sleeker, humanoid-like Predator we know and love today.
Mark Wahlberg – The Lovely Bones
Ryan Gosling was originally cast in Peter Jackson’s 2009 movie, The Lovely Bones, but things went disastrously wrong for the La La Land actor. Gosling was supposed to play a depressed man who becomes obsessed with finding whoever murdered his daughter. Gosling decided to prepare for the role by growing a huge scraggly beard and drinking large quantities of melted Häagen-Dazs ice cream. When he showed up on set looking like he slept in a doorway and having put on sixty pounds, Jackson was horrified. Jackson realized he would have to replace the actor despite filming being due to commence the next day. Gosling was fired and Mark Wahlberg was hired at very short notice. “We had a different idea of how the character should look,” Gosling later recalled. “I just showed up on set, and I had gotten it wrong. Then I was fat and unemployed.” Oops!
Michelle Pfeiffer – Batman Returns
Tim Burton had originally cast the Academy Award nominated actress, Annette Bening to play Catwoman in his 1992 sequel, Batman Returns. When lifelong Catwoman fan Michelle Pfeiffer heard the news, she couldn’t believe it. “As a young girl, I was completely obsessed with Catwoman,” she later said. “When I heard that Tim was making the film and Catwoman had already been cast, I was devastated.” Luckily for Pfeiffer, Bening fell pregnant and had to drop out. Pfeiffer was cast in the role of her dreams and went on to give what many believe is the best portrayal of the character that’s ever been committed to screen.
Harrison Ford – Raiders of the Lost Ark
It’s pretty much impossible to think of anyone but Harrison Ford playing the iconic Indiana Jones, but that almost happened. When it came time to cast the role of the swashbuckling archaeologist, George Lucas was adamant that he did not want Ford because he had already worked with him on Star Wars and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas didn’t want Ford to be seen as ‘his Robert DeNiro’ – referring to Martin Scorsese’s habit of casting the actor in many of his movies. Instead, Lucas and Spielberg cast Tom Selleck as Jones. There was just one snag – Selleck was under contract with CBS for an upcoming TV pilot for a show about a private detective (you may have heard of it!). Unable to ‘borrow’ Selleck from CBS despite lengthy contract discussions, Lucas gave in and Spielberg was able to cast what turned out to be the perfect actor for the role.
Jodie Foster – Panic Room
It should have been Australian actress Nicole Kidman playing the mother who has to retreat to a panic room with her daughter in David Fincher’s 2002 movie of the same name. Unfortunately, Kidman aggravated a knee injury she had sustained while making Moulin Rouge and had to leave the production after two week’s filming. Fincher turned instead to veteran actress, Jodie Foster, who had also had to stop production of her movie, Flora Plum, when Australian actor Russell Crowe also managed to injure himself. That’s right. It was two Australian actors going down that enabled Foster to appear in Panic Room. The irony was not lost on her. “I remember emailing Russell saying, ‘I’m doing Nicole’s movie—how ironic is that?'” she later recalled.
Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades of Grey
For the 2015 adaptation of the first novel in E. L. James’ hugely successful Fifty Shades trilogy, director Sam Taylor-Johnson cast British beefcake Charlie Hunnam as the billionaire Christian Grey after actors such as Ryan Gosling, Robert Pattinson and Chace Crawford had either turned the role down, or had been deemed not suitable. Fans were not happy with Taylor-Johnson’s choice and started up an online petition to get the young actor replaced. In the end it didn’t matter. Filming Fifty Shades of Grey would have clashed with Hunnam’s duties on Sons of Anarchy, and he was forced to drop out. In his place, the Irish actor Jamie Dornan was cast alongside Dakota Johnson.
Scarlett Johansson – Her
English actress Samantha Morton had actually finished all of her duties on Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi movie, Her, and the film was actually in post-production when the director decided Morton’s performance wasn’t quite right. Morton played the voice of a Samantha – an A.I. operating system who Joaquin Phoenix – here playing a writer – slowly falls in love with. Despite Jonze admitting Morton gave a fantastic performance, he decided it just wasn’t right, and thus recast Scarlett Johansson to re-record all of her lines, leaving Morton’s performance on the cutting room floor. Harsh!
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
You’d have to have a pretty short memory not to remember this one. Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey had already finished his duties on Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, the movie was in the very last stages of post-production and the trailers were already in theaters. That’s when Star Trek: Discovery actor, Anthony Rapp, came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct carried out by Spacey when Rapp was a young aspiring actor. Soon fifteen other people came forward to accuse Spacey of sexual misconduct, and the actor’s world imploded. He was sacked from his successful Netflix show, House of Cards, and Netflix also canned his already finished Gore Vidal biopic. Meanwhile, director Ridley Scott had to re-shoot Spacey’s role in All the Money in the World with veteran actor Christopher Plummer, costing the studio millions of dollars. Plummer would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for his role.
Ed Harris – The Truman Show
The part of the obsessive Christof originally went to maverick actor Dennis Hopper. However, when filming began on The Truman Show, it became obvious to director Peter Weir that Hopper was unsuited to the role, and the Easy Rider star was let go with the studio citing ‘creative differences’ between star and director. Ed Harris was called in to play the character instead, and his subtle yet mesmerizing performance of a TV producer responsible for a show starring a man who doesn’t know he’s on television went on to earn Harris a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 1999 Academy Awards.
Viggo Mortensen – The Lord of the Rings
Queen of the Damned actor Stuart Townsend hadn’t just been cast as Aragorn in the first part of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy when he was fired. He had spent two months in New Zealand with the rest of the cast training with them when Jackson fired him one day before filming was due to start. Jackson had decided Townsend was too baby-faced to play the rugged Aragorn, so took the decision to let the actor go. Townsend was furious, and has been pretty vocal about what he thinks of Jackson ever since, saying he felt quite bitter and that he was robbed of a big paycheck. As we all know, Viggo Mortensen was quickly recast and read the book on the plane over to New Zealand before throwing himself into the role that would make him famous around the world.
Michael Biehn – Aliens
The character of Dwayne Hicks in James Cameron’s Aliens should have been played by James Remar. However, a couple of weeks before filming was due to start on the 1986 action classic, Remar left the production citing ‘urgent matters at home’. It later transpired that Remar was struggling with drug addiction at the time, and Cameron had to let him go when he was arrested for possession. Michael Biehn was brought on board to play Hicks in Remar’s place, and quickly made the role of the stoic space marine his own.
Clint Eastwood – Dirty Harry
The character of ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan seemed to be tailor-made for gruff Hollywood lead man, Clint Eastwood, but this was not actually the case. When 1971’s Dirty Harry was greenlit, producers struggled to find an actor suitable to play the hard-boiled San Francisco cop. They offered the role to Steve McQueen, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, who all turned it down. Eventually, they settled on Ol’ Blue Eyes himself – Frank Sinatra. Unfortunately, Sinatra broke his hand before filming could commence. Clint Eastwood agreed to fill the crooner’s shoes, and he would go on to play his most famous role in five highly successful Dirty Harry movies.
Claudia Wells – Back to the Future
When Eric Stoltz was fired from his role of Marty McFly on the first Back to the Future movie and replaced with Michael J. Fox, the actress cast to play Marty’s girlfriend, Melora Hardin, was caught in the crossfire. Producers decided Hardin was now far too tall to play alongside the diminutive Fox as his girlfriend Jennifer, and decided to recast the role. Hardin was shown the door and Claudia Wells was brought in instead. For the sequel, Wells was replaced by Elisabeth Shue after Wells’ schedule clashed with filming.
Paul Dano – There Will be Blood
The part of Eli Sunday in 2007’s There Will Be Blood was originally played by the actor and director, Kel O’Neill. However, after a couple of weeks of filming, director Paul Thomas Anderson realized O’Neill just wasn’t right for the part and decided to let him go. To replace him, he turned to an actor who was already filming a role for the movie – Paul Dano. Dano was playing Eli’s brother, Paul Sunday. Anderson had been so impressed with Dano’s work on the production that he decided to make Eli and Paul twins and have Dano play both parts.
Christian Bale – American Psycho
Christian Bale was the first choice for director Mary Harron when American Psycho was greenlit, but studio Lionsgate had other ideas. They wanted a big name star to front the tale of a psychotic 1980s company executive, and so approached Leonardo DiCaprio with a $20 million offer without bothering to inform either Harron or Bale. When Harron objected, she was fired from the production and replaced with veteran director Oliver Stone. The movie then became mired in development hell, with Stone and DiCaprio both eventually leaving the project. Lionsgate went back to Harron and asked her to make the movie she had been fully prepared to make in the first place. She again cast Bale, who went on to become an A list Hollywood star off the back of his stunning performance as the unhinged Patrick Bateman.
Geena Davis – A League of Their Own
When Debra Winger learned that Madonna had been cast as ‘All the Way’ Mae Mordabito in Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, she furiously quit her role as Dottie Hinson saying Marshall was now making an Elvis movie (she hated big name singers being drafted into movies). Marshall had to act fast. She invited Geena Davis round to her house to audition, making the actress catch baseballs in her back yard to see if she had what it took to play a old-timey baseball player. Davis passed the test and, despite being months in training behind her co-stars, went on to give a brilliant performance as the captain of the Rockford Peaches.
Hugh Jackman – X-Men
It’s hard to see anyone else in the role of the snarling, sarcastic killing machine that is Wolverine, but Hugh Jackman wasn’t director Bryan Singer’s first choice for the role that would make Jackman a superstar. Singer wanted Russell Crowe for the part, but he turned it down. Crowe suggested his friend Jackman would be perfect for the role, but Singer decided against the idea, eventually settling on Dougray Scott. Scott had also been cast as the villain in Mission: Impossible II that year, and when production on that movie was delayed, Scott was unable to play Wolverine. With no time to audition other actors, Singer offered the role to Jackman, who went on to turn the character of Wolverine into the most popular character in the X-Men movies and their various spin-offs.
Mike Myers – Shrek
The Saturday Night Live comedian Chris Farley was originally cast as the curmudgeonly ogre in Dreamworks Studios’ 2001 movie, Shrek. Farley and SNL co-star Janeane Garofalo had already recorded their lines as Shrek and Princess Fiona when tragedy struck. Farley was a notorious substance abuser, and on December 18th, 1997, he was found dead of a drug overdose in his apartment. This left the studio with a headache. If Shrek was a success, a sequel would follow – a sequel without a lead voice actor. The decision was made to scrap both Farley’s and Garofalo’s performances and draft in Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz as replacements. Shrek would go on to win many awards and spawn several sequels, TV specials and spin-offs.