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Casting Replacements That Destroyed The Actor's Career

Casting is a key ingredient in the secret sauce of great filmmaking: match the right actors to the right roles, and everything else can fall into place. In the best cases, a certain performer filling a certain character's shoes can turn a part into a franchise-leading phenomenon (Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow), or a walk-on role into a movie's best element (Bill Murray in Caddyshack). But the real magic is in synergy, when several actors click — there's no X-Files without David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, and what would the original Star Wars movies have been without Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford together?

For these same reasons, sometimes an actor's got to go. There are nightmare tales of difficult performers, but even the most demanding stars can still get, and keep, their roles. For an actor to be replaced usually means there's a deeper issue — the right tone just isn't coming across, no matter what the director does with the scene. It's awful for the would-be star who watches the role they lost end up being part of a massive hit while their replacement reaps the rewards — and it's just as bad for the actors who willfully walk away from the role of a lifetime, never to be heard from again. Here are casting replacements that destroyed the actor's career.

The tenth member of the Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings is a sprawling epic with no single lead character. The entire point of the Fellowship of the Ring is that it takes combined strength to overcome the Dark Lord Sauron. But even with all that said, there's one character that stands out as the mightiest hero, a great warrior who also just so happens to be the heir to the most powerful kingdom in Middle-earth: Aragorn, son of Arathorn. It's the type of role that can turn an unknown into a worldwide superstar — and it did just that for Viggo Mortensen.

Which is all too bad for Stuart Townsend, who will always be remembered as the man who almost played Aragorn – if he's remembered at all. Townsend was director Peter Jackson's original choice to play the man who would be King of Gondor, but was let go only a few days into filming. According to Jackson, this was because Townsend was simply too young to be playing the veteran warrior. Poor Townsend did spend several months training for the role, but in the end, it was not to be.

For Mortensen, he was initially unsure if he wanted to step into Townsend's shoes, but a conversation with his Tolkien-loving son convinced him to go for it. To this day, he's synonymous with the character. As for poor Townsend? He's gotten parts here and there, but otherwise, he's just another casualty of the War of the Ring.

The dragons nearly had a different mother

It's become one of the biggest and most influential series on television, but Game of Thrones wasn't always a sure thing. The source material is dense and complicated, featuring a huge cast of characters and a deep backstory. To try to bring that books to the screen, HBO ordered a pilot episode before the rest of the series was shot — and it was a disaster.

Fortunately, HBO chose to stick with the project, provided the creators made major changes. Old scenes were cut, new scenes were written, the director was replaced, and several cast members were swapped out. Of the latter, none were more significant than the recasting of Daenerys Targaryen, one of the most important characters in the entire story. Tamzin Merchant played the role in the pilot, having gotten the role based on her performance in The Tudors, which captured no less than author George R.R. Martin's attention. For undisclosed reasons, however, Emilia Clarke was brought onboard to take her place.

Game of Thrones has gone on to become HBO's most successful series, and Emilia Clarke has taken on starring roles in everything from romantic comedies to Star Wars, even as she continues to portray the mother of dragons. Tamzin Merchant, meanwhile, has continued to work steadily, but is still waiting for her big breakout role.

Marty McFly changed more than just time

Back to the Future was always a zany concept: a time-traveling DeLorean unites an '80s teen with his teenage parents in the 1950s, and shenanigans ensue. It went on to become a defining comedy of the decade, and turned lead actor Michael J. Fox into a superstar — but Fox's appearance in itself took a bit of messing with the timeline, since he wasn't the original Marty McFly. In fact, Eric Stoltz had already shot weeks' worth of footage in the role before director Robert Zemeckis fired him. The reason, apparently, was that while Stoltz could bring weight and gravitas to a drama, he just couldn't match the comedic energy needed for a concept as screwball as Back to the Future.

The production essentially had to restart from scratch, since Marty McFly is in nearly every scene of the film, but the final result became a sensation. But even after he was fired, it's possible that the brief diner fistfight between Marty and bully Biff Tannen is actually composed, at least in part, of footage from Stoltz's performance. So Stoltz really is the star of Back to the Future! For about four seconds, anyway.

Fox rocketed to household name status after Future, while Stoltz settled into steady work on TV and in indie films. He did get a Golden Globe nomination in 1985 for Mask, but for all that talent, he never had the star power of a time-traveling DeLorean. True of us all.

Wolverine was once a different bub

Bryan Singer's 2000 film X-Men launched the modern wave of superhero movies, turning it from a niche category into the dominant blockbuster genre of our time. And while there are quite a few of the titular heroes represented in that first movie, none was more popular and more enduring than Hugh Jackman's Logan, also known as Wolverine. That was perhaps predictable: Wolverine's always been a comic book favorite, so it was absolutely essential that the character be cast with the right actor. That's why the filmmakers went with Dougray Scott.

The Scottish actor was an unknown at the time, but coming up with a few roles in big films — most notably portraying the main villain in the still-in-production Mission: Impossible II opposite Tom Cruise. Since the whole X-Men film was being cast with relative newcomers, he seemed like a great choice to bring the gruff Canadian with the adamantium skeleton to life.

The only problem was the film that got him attention in the first place — Mission: Impossible II. The film reportedly ran over schedule, forcing Scott to stay behind on that project. However, according to X-Men writer David Hayter, the truth is more tragic: Scott was in fact in a motorcycle accident during the shoot, and wouldn't have been able to recover in time. Hugh Jackman was cast instead — the start of what would be a long and successful career in and out of superhero movies. Scott, meanwhile, has never achieved the same level of fame. What a couple of claws might have done for him, we'll never know.

The original Terminator was blown away

When James Cameron set out to write and direct the first Terminator film, he was a nobody. Operating on a minuscule budget, he had no choice but to cast up-and-coming actors with no major film credits. Cameron's biggest directorial effort up to that time was Piranha II, which wasn't exactly a great film, but did feature actor Lance Henriksen. Cameron liked Henriksen, and envisioned him as the titular cyborg — but then along came an Austrian bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger, who'd just come off of playing the lead character in Conan the Barbarian. With his sheer physical presence, he was the obvious choice to play the Terminator.

Cameron didn't forget about Henriksen — he cast him as a detective in The Terminator, and in his later action epic Aliens, he'd call on him to play the android Bishop. But in every way, The Terminator was Schwarzenegger's movie, and it vaulted him into the upper echelon of the decade's action stars. For a time, there could be no bigger name than Arnold's atop a film; even today, The Terminator franchise remains active, with Schwarzenegger still in the title role.

Henriksen, meanwhile, has stayed busy over the years, albeit in the types of character actor roles that don't spawn catchphrases or multimillion-dollar sequels. Arnold's charisma is singular, so it's not clear that portraying the Terminator would have given Henriksen the same career. But we'll never get to find out.

Pulp Fiction had a twist in its casting

Quentin Tarantino is one of the most meticulous craftsmen in the business: he writes his own scripts, and he knows exactly how he wants to shoot them. As a master of both dialogue and tension, Tarantino knows that a scene must be tuned with perfect precision — including casting. Even while making his first film, Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino displayed an expert eye for matching dialogue to actors. Michael Madsen turned in a memorable performance as Mr. Blonde, so when Tarantino began filling out the roster for his follow-up feature Pulp Fiction, he wanted Madsen back.

Madsen was delighted by the offer, but unfortunately, was forced to turn it down in favor of a part in Kevin Costner's Western Wyatt Earp. It probably made sense at the time: Costner was an established star, whereas Tarantino was still an indie filmmaker. In Madsen's place, John Travolta was cast as Vincent Vega.

It was exactly what Travolta needed: he earned an Oscar nomination and a second wind for his career. Wyatt Earp, meanwhile, went nowhere. Madsen has an impressive slew of credits to his name, but has never attracted the type of fame or acclaim Travolta enjoyed post-Pulp. At least, however, he still has Tarantino: Madsen can be seen in several of the director's films, including Kill Bill and The Hateful Eight.

No one says no to Batman... except Rachel

Christopher Nolan wasn't a big-name director when he chose to take on a new series of Batman films after the turn of the century. The caped crusader hadn't been doing all that well himself: the character's previous outing, 1997's Batman and Robin, is often reviled as one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Nolan wanted to bring the grittiness back, in a grounded and realistic take that could make audiences believe a billionaire would dress up like a bat to fight crime.

Christian Bale was the perfect choice, and chin, for the role when Nolan set about casting 2005's Batman Begins. And standing next to him was Katie Holmes, then best known for starring in the Dawson's Creek TV series. The film went on to be a massive hit, and it was no surprise that a sequel, The Dark Knight, followed in 2008. But while the rest of the cast returned, there was one conspicuous absence: Katie Holmes, who'd been replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel.

It's always been unclear as to why Holmes didn't appear in the sequel. Nolan said he wanted her to return, but she was unavailable; Holmes, meanwhile, later said it was her choice not to come back, and that she didn't regret it. She hasn't been in many high-profile films since. The Dark Knight remains one of the seminal releases of its decade — maybe returning for the sequel wouldn't have given Holmes' career the boost it needed, but it sure couldn't have hurt.

The Transformers and the transforming lead actress

Megan Fox was still largely unknown when she was cast in the lead female role in Michael Bay's 2007 film Transformers, based on the cartoon and toy line from the 1980s. The film was a huge box office hit, and Fox herself went on to become a worldwide star. Her return in the 2009 sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, cemented her status as one of blockbuster cinema's hottest new stars. There was nowhere for her to go but up.

Until it all came crashing down. Fox was unceremoniously fired from the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Initially intended to return, she was thrown out for being too difficult to work with, and for her criticism of Bay himself. While new lead actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley technically took on a brand new character, this was still the girlfriend of Shia LaBeouf's hero — effectively the same role.

Fox's career has never been quite the same since. Her most high-profile outings have been in the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series and the ill-fated Jonah Hex; otherwise, she hasn't seen many starring roles in films, blockbuster or otherwise. The Turtles series was produced by Bay, and thus represents a repair of their relationship, but that hasn't done much to nudge her back onto the big screen. Sometimes, it isn't just being replaced that damages your career, it's the reasons why.

Top Gun could have had someone else buzz the tower

Matthew Modine's movie career was just heating up in the early 1980s, particularly after his performance in the Robert Altman film Streamers. He seemed like a great candidate to star in a new action movie drenched in Cold War patriotism titled Top Gun, but Modine chose to walk away from the offer, since he was uncomfortable with what he felt was an unabashedly pro-military film.

Instead, the job went to Tom Cruise, who used his performance as Maverick to help launch one of the most successful movie careers in history. Cruise became one of the industry's biggest stars, and Top Gun was the turning point — the movie that changed his life forever.

Modine hasn't had the same luck. He's carved out an impressive career in his own right, turning in acclaimed performances in a long list of projects that includes Full Metal Jacket (which is very critical of the military) and the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, he's kept a much lower profile than he might have if he'd taken that fateful role. He refused Top Gun out of principle, but it didn't come without cost. What a very maverick thing to do.

Indiana Jones almost had a mustache

Harrison Ford was one of the true megastars of the 1980s, thanks in large part to starring roles in two of the decade's biggest franchises: Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Star Wars has gone on to become one of the world's most profitable intellectual properties, but Indiana Jones was directly focused on its title character and the actor who portrayed him. Jones is, in many ways, Ford's own personal franchise. Even an upcoming sequel will still feature an aging Ford as the action hero.

So it may come as a bit of a surprise that originally, Ford wasn't meant to play the part. Producer George Lucas had already worked with Ford on American Graffiti and Star Wars and wasn't interested in doing so a third time, so Tom Selleck was offered the part. Unfortunately for Selleck, he'd landed two roles simultaneously: not only Indiana Jones, but also the lead in the CBS TV show Magnum, P.I. The network refused to let their new star delay filming in order to shoot Jones, and Selleck was forced to turn down the job.

In fairness, Magnum, P.I. was a huge hit show and made Selleck a star, but it never really led to a big-screen bounce for him. Ford, meanwhile, continued to lead dramatic and action movies for decades, and Indiana Jones remains one of cinema's most beloved adventure heroes. Magnum was a good show, but Selleck's star could have been far brighter if he'd worn a fedora.