6. Batman Returns
Annette Bening replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer
In 1989, Tim Burton recieved a lot of flack for his choice of Michael Keaton as Batman. But, that’s actually nothing compared to the casting blunder he nearly made with the sequel.
For the role of Catwoman, Burton originally wanted Annette Bening, who had just earned her sex appeal thanks to sultry performances in The Grifters and Bugsy. A great actress to be sure, Bening seems much too refined and elegant to accurately portray a character as nasty and aggresive as Catwoman. Thankfully, she wound up becoming pregnant before production began.
So, her personal good fortune, became Pfeiffer’s professional opportunity. Not to mention the birth of countless male fantasies. The minute she stepped out of the shadows in that skin-tight, hand-stitched leather jumpsuit, she owned the role and stole the entire picture. She just had the right mix of naughty & nice and sexy & sweet. Thus allowing her to perfectly embody the feisty, yet conflicted villainess.
Her performance was probably the most widely praised element in the entire film and still one of the most talked (and fantasized) about to this day. Even those who don’t actually care for the film itself, have nothing but high-praise for Pfeiffer’s work here. She’s certainly a radiant presence in an otherwise dreary tale.
7. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Scott Townsend replaced by Viggo Mortensen
The role of Aragorn in director Peter Jackson’s fantasy masterpiece was probably the most important one. While Frodo may be the main protagonist, Aragorn has the more complex, and therefore, more interesting character arc. So, it was important to cast a seasoned actor, who could believably pull off such a tremendous feat.
The director’s original choice, however, was Stuart Townsend, who was only 27 at the time, and completely unknown. After just a couple days of filming, however, Jackson realized he had made a momentous mistake. The actor was just too young for the role.
He then called in Viggo Mortensen, who was certainly more mature, but, more importantly, he was more experienced. Being considerably older and with more than a decade of screen experience, he had the strength and command of his screen presence that gave the role the presence and power it needed. This proved especially critical in The Return of the King, the final film of the trilogy, in which his character played a more significant role.
Throughout the series, Mortensen made the most of every scene in which he appeared. He displayed such a natural mix of compassion, courage and strength that he not only rallys the audience behind his character, but makes us fall in love with him as an actor. Mortenson truly became a star before our eyes in these films. With his help, Return of the King went on to win eleven Oscars, including best picture of the year.
8. V For Vendetta
James Purefoy replaced by Hugo Weaving
At first this may seem like a subtle difference, given that the character remains behind a mask for the entire picture. Yet, because of this, the focus becomes the voice, actually making the choice of actor even more crucial. And few actors have a more distinguished voice than Hugo Weaving.
Having played Agent Smith in The Matrix films, Weaving had already proved to be a menacing presence. His voice alone sent chills down the spine of millions of viewers. This made him the perfect choice for a character whose face we never saw, but whose voice instilled fear and commanded respect.
Strangely, though, he wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice. Originally cast was James Purefoy. But, halfway through filming, it was decided that he wasn’t a “strong enough presence,” and was therefore replaced by Weaving. Interestingly though, because, as I mentioned, the character wears a mask, many of Purefoy’s scenes remain in the finished film, with Weaving merely redubbing his voice .
As for Purefoy, this turned out to be a blessing, as he was subsequently cast as Mark Antony in HBO’s acclaimed series, Rome.
9. The Matrix
Will Smith replaced by Keanu Reeves
Speaking of The Matrix, The Wachowskis actually almost hired a different actor to play the role of their unlikely hero, Neo. Their first choice was Will Smith. Which makes sence, given how big of a star he was at the time.
Even more so given his success with science fiction projects. But Smith, having recently done Independence Day and Men In Black, wasn’t interested in doing yet another sci-fi film. It may be tempting to think that argue that the better choice was not made in this case. Reeves has never been championed as a great actor.
Yet, there’s no denying just how perfect he turned out to be for this particular role. Smith may be the better actor, but that’s not the argument here. Smith also has a tendency to draw focus towards himself and his character. While this is often his greatest quality, it would be sorely out of place here.
Reeves, on the other hand, was able to stand back and let the film’s ideas speak for themselves. His reserved approach made his character more relateable, as well as allowing the film’s complex plot and revolutionary special effects be the true stars. With Reeves in the lead, The Matrix became a worldwide phenomenon, spawned two sequels, and sparked endless conversations about their content and quality.
While Smith later admitted that he was definitely wrong for the role, I’m sure he was kicking himself at the time. That same year, Smith, instead made Wild Wild West, easily one of the worst movies of the year.
10. Panic Room
Nicole Kidman replaced by Jodie Foster
This one was actually just a matter of fate. Kidman was all set to do the film, but due to an unfortunate injury she sustained while filming Moulin Rouge she was forced to pull out.
Only then was Director David Fincher forced to replace her with Jodie Foster. Now, as performers, Nicole Kidman and Jodie Foster are both equally talented. But, this isn’t about who is the better actress. Kidman would’ve certainly given a fine performance. It just wouldn’t have been the same as the one that Foster gave.
Given both actresses’ style, however, Foster feels like the right choice for the material. She just brings a strength and intensity that I don’t think Kidman would’ve quite been capable. Where as Kidman would’ve had to do some convincing to get us on board with her badass heroine, Foster already comes equipped with an arsenal of strong characters. We know from the opening credits that she is not a woman you want to mess with.
For comparison, around the same time, Kidman made The Others, in which she played a woman whose home comes under attack. Her approach was much more reserved. She seemed more victim than heroine. A quality you could never attribute to Foster.