Success in Hollywood can be elusive…and sometimes it can slip right out of your grasp before you even realize it’s there. Here are seven actors who just missed the brass ring.
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By Dan Seitz
7. Dougray Scott
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Let's be fair to Dougray Scott. At the time, his career was on the rise. He'd been in a few hits, and he'd just been handpicked by Tom Cruise to play the villain in Mission: Impossible II, which was directed by the now-formerly-respected John Woo and was going to be a monster hit. So, even though you've accepted the role for another, smaller film, one the studio isn't really behind, one with a smaller budget that's based off a comic book, if Tom Cruise pushes the shooting schedule over, you work with Tom Cruise.
Yeah, he wound up backing out of X-Men for the role of Wolverine. So as not to piss off Tom Cruise. You know, we bet in hindsight he's kind of not happy with himself.
6. Marlon Brando
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In the early ‘60s, Marlon Brando was torn between two historical dramas. This is back when he wasn't bloated/dead, and considered one of the greatest actors in the world. One was going to be directed by a profoundly respected British filmmaker, the other by a formerly respected director who hadn't gotten an Oscar nod since the '30s and was getting by directing crap like the original Ocean's Eleven. If that choice seems obvious, on many levels, you are not Marlon Brando.
Brando turned down Lawrence of Arabia, directed by David Lean and widely considered one of the greatest epics of all time. Instead he played the hero in Mutiny on the Bounty, and managed to singlehandedly show that, despite shooting in the desert without a finished script, you can not only put out art, you're still better off than if you've got Brando in the lead. Brando managed to derail Bounty pretty relentlessly: he destroyed 52 pairs of pants due to over-eating, he pulled crew members to go decorate his friend's wedding, and generally acted like, well, Marlon Brando, with a dash of Gary Busey in there for good measure.
5. Steve Reeves
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Steve Reeves’ career had an auspicious start. One of his first roles was with a star director. Unfortunately, that star director was Ed Wood, and that would pretty much define Reeves’ career. Only corn nuggets have starred in more crap. Reeves, a bodybuilding champion, did move on to some great success, playing Hercules and various other icons of gay porn in an ongoing series of movies, eventually becoming Europe’s highest-paid film star. But that didn’t mean jack in the U.S.A., and when United Artists offered Reeves the lead in their new spy series, they wouldn’t meet his price and he turned them down.
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Reeves turned down Bond, clearing the way for the one Scotsman the non-Scottish actually want to nail to take over the part and define popular culture and manliness for decades.
Of course, even without Bond on his resume, Reeves was pretty damn manly. One time on a shoot, when he dislocated his shoulder, he just popped it back in and kept going. So, not Bond, but a close second.
4. Richard Grieco
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Back in the ‘80s, they were just figuring out that people from TV were just as recognizable as movie stars, and, equally as important, were a hell of a lot cheaper. So when 21 Jump Street took off, some of its cast members, including Johnny Depp, started getting a bunch of interesting scripts. Depp went on to work with John Waters and Tim Burton. Grieco didn’t get those plums, instead getting a failed spin-off and turning down a script he thought was idiotic because it was essentially Die Hard on a bus. He thought it wouldn’t go anywhere.
He turned down Speed.
Well, he was right about it being stupid, anyway.
3. Christopher Lee
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Lee, for a while, was the face of horror, Dracula himself, and also the classiest manly man who ever existed. He‘s not only over six feet of pure muscle, he‘s also an opera singer. He was offered a role in a weird sci-fi movie nobody thought was going to make a nickel, and he politely bowed out, recommending his close friend Peter Cushing for the role instead (which was especially nice because Cushing needed the money just as badly as Lee).
That role would be the only guy who ever insulted Darth Vader to his face, Grand Moff Tarkin. So it wasn’t exactly Luke. It’s still frickin’ Star Wars.
Of course, Lee did eventually get to work with George Lucas as Count Dooku. Now, we can’t prove that Lee saw what was coming, and protected his good friend from being in the later Star Wars movies. But we can heavily imply it.
2. Molly Ringwald
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Molly Ringwald was, for a time, the queen of John Hughes movies. Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, she, like, totally dominated the ‘80s mall scene, but wisely let Ally Sheedy and Charlie Sheen have all the coke. But we all must grow, and Ringwald had an awkward, uncertain postadolescence. When offered a lead role, she turned it down because playing a hooker just wasn't consistent with her clean image.
So for Pretty Woman, the producers wound up going with the one woman even less believable as a prostitute, Julia Roberts, cementing Roberts as a bona fide star and triggering a string of romantic comedies that made men the world over prefer church to the movie date whenever one of her pictures came out.
1. Richard Harrison
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Richard Harrison was a B-movie actor who cranked out literally dozens of god-awful b-movies. In the '80s, every movie ever made with the word "Ninja" in the title had to feature Harrison, by law if his filmography is to be believed. But before that he was making sword-and-sandal movies over in Italy. He also starred in the first Italian-shot western, and had such a fun time he refused to make another one, recommending a buddy of his instead.
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But we have to admit, as manly as Clint is, Clint didn’t spend his career kicking the crap out of ninjas. So Richard Harrison might actually have won this one.