Clint Eastwood and Dirty Harry. Sylvester Stallone and Rocky. Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones. These actors and the roles they’ve played have become synonymous. One cannot think of the fictional character without conjuring up the image of the actor. That is the power of brilliant casting.
But, of course, that doesn’t always happen. Studios and producers in a mad dash to double, triple, or quadruple their million dollar cinematic investments often do not want to risk the potential monetary rewards they stand to reap by casting an unknown or untried actor, no matter how right he may be for the part. A particular actor is cast for a variety of reasons, apart from their talent, such as box office draw, looks, chemistry with co-stars, etc.
These are 20 roles that would’ve been great if they had been cast with different actors:
20. Kung Fu (1972) – Bruce Lee as Caine (Instead of David Carradine)
There’s no arguing Carradine’s greatness in what is his career-defining role as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk wandering the Wild West searching for his long lost brother and righting wrongs along the way. Yet the series was developed with Bruce Lee in mind. Unfortunately, his untimely death prevented him from taking on the role, but it may have been the role that allowed Lee to bridge the gap between being a great action star and being a great actor. Sadly, the world will never know.
Who would have been better: Bruce Lee.
19. Bringing Out the Dead (1999) – Edward Norton as Frank Pierce (Instead of Nicolas Cage)
Marking the third collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader, (the first two being Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), Bringing Out the Dead is a minor masterpiece telling the story of Frank Pierce, a burnt out paramedic haunted by the ghosts of people whose lives he’s failed to save.
Pierce is played by Nicolas Cage. Opinions differ on the quality of his performance. I enjoy it, but because of the un-showy nature of the role I can see where others may find it lackluster.
Who would have been better: Paul Schrader’s first choice for the role was Edward Norton and judging by the work he was putting out at the time, particularly Fight Club and American History X, it definitely would’ve been worth the price of admission. Especially to see Norton and Scorsese work together.
18. Sid and Nancy (1986) – Tim Roth as Johnny Rotten (Instead of Andrew Schofield)
Overall, Sid and Nancy,while featuring an insanely good performance by Gary Oldman, feels shrill. To quote Shakespeare, the film “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Andrew Schofield does a fine job in the film, though his part is not all that large in the first place.
Who would have been better: The role of Johnny Rotten was offered to Tim Roth, but he turned it down feeling the film was depicting history that was too recent. To have had the team of Oldman and Roth playing Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten would have been irresistible. Audiences would just have to wait four years until Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (1990) to see the two actors on screen together.
17. The Terminator (1984) – Lance Henriksen as The Terminator (Instead of Arnold Schwarzenneger)
The original concept of The Terminator was a robot that would blend into its surroundings, as such the first choice for the role was Lance Henriksen. However, after James Cameron met with Arnold Schwarzenegger about possibly playing the role of Kyle Reese, both men came to the conclusion that Schwarzenegger should play The Terminator.
As a consolation prize Henriksen was cast as one of the detectives in the film, and later went on to play a cyborg in the Cameron-helmed Aliens.
Who would have been better: Lance Henriksen. The greatness of the original Terminator is undisputable, it is in fact my favorite film of the series and Schwarzenegger does a great job in it, but it would be awesome to see a bizzaro version with Henriksen as a stealthy Terminator.
16. Frankenstein (1994) – Gerard Depardieu as The Creature (Instead of Robert De Niro)
Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein has a lot of things wrong with it, the main problem being that Francis Ford Coppola, who was originally going to direct the film and who would’ve most likely excelled with his operatic style, stepped aside to allow Branagh to take the director’s chair.
While casting Robert De Niro as The Creature may have seemed like a clever choice at the time, I believe it was a misstep. Although De Niro clearly has the chops to play almost any role, that doesn’t mean he should. His presence in the film becomes a distraction. Even when he’s hidden behind all that makeup, the audience is fully aware of that it is ‘Robert De Niro’ playing Frankenstein.
Who would have been better: Gerard Depardieu was considered for the role at one point, and would have been a much better choice because he has a hulking physical presence, lacks movie-star good looks and being much less famous than De Niro at the timewould have allowed him to disappear in the role easily and let the audience see only the character.
15. Cape Fear (1991) – Brad Dourif as Max Cady (Instead of Robert De Niro)
Another case of the actor (De Niro, again) overshadowing the role.
Basically, here’s the problem as a well-known New Yorker it is almost impossible to buy De Niro as a Southerner, not to mention his accent is atrocious and his performance is way over the top. Obviously,he is effectively intimidating as always, but his level of fame prevents the audience from really fearing him because at the end of the day they know he’s just an actor playing a role.
Who would have been better: An actor who was on the short list for the role of Cady was Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dune, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). A ridiculously underrated actor, Dourif would have been able to match the intensity of De Niro, while providing a much more convincing southern accent, and adding an element of unpredictability due to him being a lesser known actor.
Also, if Dourif had been given this opportunity to work with Scorsese it would’ve raised his profile and given a well needed boost to his career.
14. Hamlet (2000) – Liev Schreiber as Hamlet (Instead of Ethan Hawke)
With a cast featuring Sam Shepard, Bill Murray, Casey Affleck, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Julia Stiles, and of course, Ethan Hawke, Hamlet would seemingly be a sure thing.
Not so much.
Say what you will about Ethan Hawke, love him or hate him, he is a good actor, but as Hamlet, I think I speak for audiences everywhere when I say, he’s not that appealing.
Who would have been better: Liev Schreiber is arguably the better actor and would make the better Hamlet. Hawke and Schreiber should’ve switched roles, just saying.
13. Total Recall (1990) – William Hurt as Douglas Quaid (Instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger)
“We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” By Philip K. Dick is the short story that Total Recall was originally based on. The storyis about Douglas Quail, a lowly office clerk, who pays a company, called REKAL, specializing in memory implants of vacations as a cheap alternative to costly space travel, to implant the memory of a Mars trip. Things go awry and it turns out the memory implants may in fact be real. Dick’s short story is a reflection on identity and the nature of reality.
Paul Verhoeventook that basic idea and turned it into a fantastic action thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in what was definitely one of the best sci-fi action films of its time.
Who would have been better: However, the project went through various incarnations, at one point David Cronenberg was hired to direct and even went so far as to rewrite the script. His first choice for the role of Quaid was William Hurt. This would have perhaps resulted in a film much more faithful to the source material and would have been very cool to see.
12. Interview with the Vampire (1994) – River Phoenix as Daniel Malloy (Instead of Christian Slater)
Interview with The Vampire is told almost entirely in flashbacks utilizing the framing device of a reporter, Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater), interviewing an ancient vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt). River Phoenix was originally cast in the role of Malloy, but sadly he passed away before production began on the film. Christian Slater took his place, and while he does a good job, it would have been great to see Phoenix in the role.
Who would have been better: River Phoenix.
11. The Lovely Bones (2009) – Ryan Gosling as Jack Salmon (Instead of Mark Wahlberg)
The Lovely Bones is gravely inconsistent intone. Susie Salmon is brutally murdered, but it doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing because she has fun playing fashion model with her Japanese gal pal in the afterlife. Meanwhile, back on Earth her family mourns her death and tries to solve her murder.
Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play Susie’s grieving parents and while Wahlberg does what he can, neither performer is given much of a chance to deepen their character and ultimately, the film shies away from the underlying rape at the heart of the novel thereby weakening the drama altogether.
Who would have been better: Ryan Gosling was originally cast as Jack Salmon, but then replaced by Mark Wahlberg. There are two versions as to why: 1) Gosling felt he was too young for the role, or 2) Gosling gained weight and grew a beard to portray the heartbroken father of murdered Susie Salmon and was met with a less than enthusiastic response from Peter Jackson. Either way, while Gosling would have been an improvement upon Wahlberg, the film still would have been botched by Jackson.