The Top Eight "Replacement" Actors in Movie History

March 1, 2010

When we talk about our favorite movies, they typically vary from films with great writing, or those with lots of great action and special effects to the ones that feature our favorite actresses finally getting naked.  But what they almost all share, without exception, are great, iconic characters.  What you might not know, however, is that some of those characters almost turned out very, very different, and it was only a last second recasting of the role that helped propel them into cinematic lore.

Source: 20th Century Fox

By Jeff Kelly


8. Wolverine – X-Men

When it comes to the X-Men, there’s no more iconic character than Wolverine.  Maybe it’s the awesome claws, the biting sarcasm, his berserker rage, or that absolutely ridiculous haircut.  Naturally, when it came to casting the first X-Men movie, finding the right person to embody the role was a long, arduous process, but finally the filmmakers found their man: Dougray Scott.

Wait, what?  No, that’s not right at all.  And that’s why it turned out to be a blessing in disguise when Scott found himself up against scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible II and Bryan Singer and company were forced to reopen their search for an actor to play everyone’s favorite mutant with anger management issues.  Finally, they actually did find their man in Hugh Jackman, whose turn as Wolverine catapulted the Aussie to stardom in America, at which point he immediately tried to piss it away by starring in an awful Ashley Judd romantic comedy.

7. Axel Foley – Beverly Hills Cop

Source: Paramount Pictures

When the action comedy rose to popularity in the '80s, it was in large part due to the release and success of Beverly Hills Cop, the movie that turned Eddie Murphy into a bona fide movie star.  The wise cracking Foley became an icon, and two sequels were made.  One of those sequels was pretty good and the other took place at an amusement park.  Of course since you’re reading this list, you can probably guess that Eddie wasn’t originally cast as Detroit cop Axel Foley.

But what you might not have realized is that something as simple as replacing the lead actor completely changed not just the feel of the character, but of the whole movie.  See, Beverly Hills Cop was originally a gritty, action packed vehicle for Sylvester Stallone.  When Sly wanted to basically rewrite the screenplay to focus less on laughs and more on explosions, he and the filmmakers found themselves at an impasse.  So what did Sly do?  He took his vision of what the film should have been, and he went and made Cobra.

6. The Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard of Oz

Source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Just admit it: before you read this article, you had probably never heard of Margaret Hamilton, unless you’re a really old school film history buff.  The emphasis there is on the “old” by the way.  But if we were to say "Wicked Witch of the West," you would immediately know who we’re talking about, right?

Well, the Witch and Margaret Hamilton are one and the same.  However, like everyone else on this list, she was a replacement.  The Wizard of Oz was one of those notoriously difficult film productions that included the departure of original witch Gale Sondergaard, clearly having no concept of what a witch actually was, who complained about the fact her character was an old hag.  So, Hamilton was thrust into the role, and the rest is history.  As a bonus “famous recast,” Buddy Ebsen was set to play the Tin Man…you know, before the silver paint nearly killed him.

5. Aragorn – Lord of the Rings

Source: New Line Cinema

Like so many other epic films, Lord of the Rings proved to be a little difficult to cast, particularly when it came to the role of Aragorn.  Believe it or not, Nicolas Cage was originally offered the role, but thankfully passed.  Vin Diesel auditioned, too, and Russell Crowe was approached before Peter Jackson settled on Stuart Townsend.  Of course that didn’t last long; Jackson said it was because Townsend was too young, while anyone who has seen him act said it was because he just generally sucks out loud.

So with filming already having started, Viggo Mortensen was approached, read the book on the plane, and within days of being offered the role was on set turning in one of the most iconic performances of the early 21st century.  He got so into the role, in fact, that he actually carried his sword around with him off screen.  So just remember, when you’re wandering around with your cape and plastic lightsaber, you’re not being a tool--you’re just a really committed method actor.  Only, you know, without an actual role.


Recent Features

The Top 10 Sitcom Characters Who Suddenly Changed Faces

The Top Seven Most Astonishing UFO Encounters

The Top Seven Musicians That Need To Get Loaded

The Seven Classic Monsters Who Should've Been the Hero

4. Captain Willard – Apocalypse Now

Source: United Artists

Harvey Keitel is many things: short, tough, versatile, and always willing to show his penis on screen (we’re still haunted by The Piano).  But one thing it turned out he wasn’t, was right for the part of Captain Benjamin Willard.  At least, that’s what Francis Ford Coppola decided early in the production of Apocalypse Now.

After Steve McQueen originally passed on the role of Captain Willard, Coppola turned to Keitel, and it only took two weeks of shooting for him to realize that Keitel and his junk were all wrong for the part.  In the end, the part went to Martin Sheen, who turned in a career-making performance despite nearly dying of a heart attack during production.  Incidentally, Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez acted as a stand-in for the rest of shooting.  Needless to say, his impact on the film was a little less iconic.

3. Harry Callahan – Dirty Harry

Source: Warner Bros.

When he broke his wrist during production of The Manchurian Candidate, Frank Sinatra probably never imagined that eight years later that little accident would ultimately open the door for Clint Eastwood becoming arguably the most legendary fictional detective in American movie history.

Originally cast in the role of “Dirty” Harry Callahan, Sinatra ultimately had to pull out for various reasons, including the fact that with his wonky wrist he found it a little too difficult to manage Dirty Harry’s signature Magnum .357.  Even after Sinatra backed out, the producers still went to several other actors, including Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, before finally settling on Eastwood.  Considering the long, fortuitous process that ultimately led to Clint landing his signature role, we’re guessing that he feels very, very lucky indeed.  Punk.

2. Marty McFly – Back to the Future

Source: Universal Pictures

When the makers of Back to the Future started looking for their Marty McFly, the actually did initially go to Michael J. Fox.  He was the guy the wanted, probably because they respected the fact that he didn’t let the fact that he was a Canadian midget stand in his way of becoming a star in the States.  But when his commitment to Family Ties got in the way he was forced to decline.

So, they turned to Eric Stoltz, who you may know as Rocky Dennis from Mask, or simply “that ginger dude who was in those '80s movies.”  They actually got partway through the filming when they realized he just wasn’t right for the part, and turned back to Fox.  This time, they actually managed to work around his busy television schedule, and cinematic history was made, as was the most successful time-traveling family oriented action comedy to ever make an assload of incest jokes.  Yes, the '80s truly were a special time.

1. Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark

Source: Paramount Pictures

Probably the most iconic character on this list, made famous by a charming rogue smuggler who helped Luke take down the evil Empire, Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones is one of the greatest movie heroes of all time.  Walking the fine line between a nebbish professor by day, gruff adventurer by night, Indy has always been a character who cracks wise and whips with equal aplomb.

Every aspect of the character is a part of popular culture, from the fedora, to the bomber jacket, to the whip, to the…mustache?  Well, almost.  That’s because originally, Tom Selleck was all set to take on the role of our favorite archaeologist but scheduling and contract issues with Magnum, P.I. forced George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to look elsewhere.  By the time the third movie rolled around, Harrison Ford so embodied the role that they actually wrote in a scene from Indy’s youth to explain where the scar on his chin came from.

Now, if only they’d make a fourth movie we’d be all set.  Because as we all know, no fourth movie currently exists.


Recent Features

The Top 10 Sitcom Characters Who Suddenly Changed Faces

The Top Seven Most Astonishing UFO Encounters

The Top Seven Musicians That Need To Get Loaded

The Seven Classic Monsters Who Should've Been the Hero