10. Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Anthony Michael Hall as Private Joker (Instead of Matthew Modine)
Full Metal Jacket, based on Gustav Hasford’s great book The Short-Timers, is Stanley Kubrick’s stab at a Vietnam War film and it’s pretty great, though the first half is given much more detail and attention than the second half. Vincent D’Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey both give amazing performances, but I can’t help but feel that something is lacking from Matthew Modine as the lead.
Who would have been better: Initially, Anthony Michael Hall was in negotiations with Stanley Kubrick to play Private Joker, but after 8 months of being unable to agree on Hall’s salary and the shooting schedule Modine was cast. I can’t say if Hall would have been better in the role, but I would be curious to see his take and it would have completely altered the trajectory of his career.
9. Gangs of New York (2002) – Sarah Polley as Jenny Everdeane (Instead of Cameron Diaz)
This historical gang epic was decades in the making with Scorsese acquiring the rights toHerbert Asbury’s book in 1979. Critical opinion is somewhat divided on the film, some hail it as a masterpiece, while others regard it as a bloated mess. Regardless, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis turn in fantastic performances along with the rest of the cast, minus Cameron Diaz. She does the best she can with the role, but one can’t help but notice that a more accomplished actress would’ve been better.
Who would have been better: Sarah Polley. Martin Scorsese first gave the role of Jenny to Sarah Michelle Gellar, but she was too busy filming Buffy The Vampire Slayer at the time. Scorsese’s next choice was Sarah Polley, who most definitely would have outshone Cameron Diaz, but the studio requested a more ‘bankable’ star and thus Diaz was chosen.
8. Batman (1989) – Ray Liotta as Harvey Dent (Instead of Billy Dee Williams)
Tim Burton’s Batman started the superhero movie craze way back in the ‘80’s and for good reason, it’s an awesome film. Fans highly doubted that Michael Keaton, known only as a comedian then, had the chops to play a serious Batman, but he proved them all wrong. And Jack Nicholson set the bar high as the captivating and theatrical Joker.
But, to the point, Billy Dee Williams had a brief cameo as Harvey Dent and had Burton not left the series after Batman Returns that character would have eventually come to villainous fruition as Two-Face. A role that Mr. Williams would have been very wrong for.
Who would have been better: Ray Liotta. He was considered for the part of Dent, but chose to do Goodfellas instead, a choice I’m very happy he made, but in an alternative universe it would be killer to see Ray Liotta as Two-Face.
7. The Untouchables (1987) – Bob Hoskins as Al Capone (Instead of Robert De Niro)
We’ve seen Robert De Niro play gangsters in two of the best films ever made on the subject: The Godfather Part II and Goodfellas, not to mention dozens of other films of lesser quality, and even by 1987 it was a cliché. Don’t get me wrong, I admire De Niro, he’s one of the best actors of all time, but I think he gives a fairly average performance in The Untouchables.
Who would have been better: Bob Hoskins was originally cast as Al Capone until Brian De Palma’s first choice for the role: De Niro, became available. Hoskins was paid and sent packing while De Niro played the role. But anyone who’s ever seen The Long Good Friday can attest to Hoskins’ menacing presence and the ferocious Capone he would have committed to the screen given the chance.
6. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) – Peter Sarsgaard as Anakin Skywalker (Instead of Hayden Christensen)
George Lucas’ return to the Star Wars universe in the early 2000s was too little, too late and if anything marred the legacy of the original trilogy by exploiting its mythology to make money. Episode II – Attack of the Clones is not even close to being a great film and the casting of Hayden Christensen as young Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader ensures that. Christensen, aside from his performance in Shattered Glass (the role he was born to play), is a terrible actor and on screen seems to be perpetually whining.
Who would have been better: Peter Sarsgaard would have been able to hint at the dark side of Anakin while portraying his youth and innocence before his inevitable transformation into Vader. Of course, he was never even considered for the part.
5. Daredevil (2003) – Guy Pearce as Daredevil (Instead of Ben Affleck)
The comic book character of Daredevil, blind-superhero by night, attorney Matt Murdock by day, demands a very delicate touch transitioning to the big screen and Mark Steven Johnson was not the man to do it. The film is mediocre at best. The Director’s Cut adds more grit and detail, but still fails to capture the essence of the character without going over the top and becoming a live action cartoon. Ben Affleck does an admirable job with the character and it’s most certainly not his fault the film was a flop, but it could have benefited from a better leading man.
Who would have been better: The criminally underrated Guy Pearce, who was offered the lead at one point and turned it down, would have brought his mastery of accents to bear on the Hell’s Kitchen Irish-Catholic dialect along with his physical prowess, commitment and intelligence to create the guilt-ridden hero of Daredevil.
4. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) – Brandon Lee as Bruce Lee (Instead of Jason Scott Lee)
Dragon is probably the best of all the Bruce Lee biopics, though it does have a formulaic structure, it seems to capture the overwhelmingly optimistic spirit of Lee. Jason Scott Lee does great work playing the martial arts superstar, but having the chance to see Brandon Lee play his own father trumps all that. It would have been beyond surreal to see Bruce Lee’s son tell the story of his father.
Who would have been better: Brandon Lee.
3. V for Vendetta – Samantha Morton as Evey (Instead of Natalie Portman)
One of the more faithful adaptions of an Alan Moore comic, V for Vendetta is a solid film bolstered by Hugo Weaving’s performance as the enigmatic freedom fighter V. Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), an ordinary Jane, is rescued one night by V and subsequently brought into his world, opening her eyes to the tyrannous government around her,and transforming her into a freedom fighter as well. The problem is Portman is wholly unconvincing as a skin-headed freedom fighter. She’s too pampered to be believable as a tough anarchist and too famously American to pull off a britsh accent.
Who would have been better: Samantha Morton. She can pull off the shaved head (ex. Minority Report), she doesn’t have to do an accent because she’s actually British, plus she displays an inner strength on camera that would lend authenticity to her role as a freedom fighter.
2. They Live (1988) – Kurt Russell as Nada (Instead of Roddy Piper)
They Live is absolutely one of John Carpenter’s best films. The social satire disguised as science fiction in the script is some of the best writing Carpenter has ever done. Unfortunately, Rowdy Roddy Piper the professional wrestler did not have the acting chops to carry a movie and the movie suffered for it.
Who would have been better: Had Carpenter favorite Kurt Russell been cast in the lead the film would have been undeniably great, weathering the sands of time much better.
1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Johnny Depp as Jonathan Harker (Instead of Keanu Reeves)
In retrospect, Francis Ford Coppola agreed he should never have cast Keanu Reeves. At the time Reeves’ was a hot, young star and Coppola wanted to cash in on his popularity with teenage girls at the box office. That strategy worked on opening weekend, but not in the long run. Reeves was quite obviously the weak link when put alongside actors like Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins.
Who would have been better: Johnny Depp was originally offered the role, but alas he turned it down. Depp, especially during that most fertile period of his career coming off of Edward Scissorhands and Cry Baby, would have been able to take the straight character of Jonathan Harker and make him at least watchable, if not interesting. As it stands though, Reeves’ weak performance is the only thing standing between Bram Stoker’s Dracula and cinematic greatness.
Author Bio: Kyle Joseph Hintz is a filmmaker and writer based out of Chicago. His love for film was cultivated at a young age when his father would take him to the video store and let him rent whatever he wanted, creating an eclectic cinema palate.