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Movie Roles These Actors Regret Turning Down

No matter how hugely successful or influential a movie star becomes throughout his or her career, most of them have at least one project that got away. In the midst of award-winning performances and unforgettable, scene-stealing turns, some actors made the mistake of a lifetime when they turned down specific roles.

Whether or not this decision seriously affected the trajectory of that particular actor's career, it can still be a tough break to sit down and watch a movie in which you could have starred — and some actors have been pretty open about wishing they could go back and claim certain roles they passed on. Though many have been magnanimous about these missed opportunities, praising the stars who went on to define the roles, watching those performances had to have been tough. From Will Smith's alternate reality and Eddie Murphy's cartoon caper to a lost Bond opportunity, here are just a few huge movie roles these A-list actors regret turning down.

Eddie Murphy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

You might not think that Eddie Murphy, a comedy legend who made his name on the stand-up stage and Saturday Night Live before becoming a bona fide movie star, would really have any regrets, but apparently, there's one project he still thinks about from time to time.

After making a serious mark with his starring role in the Netflix original film Dolemite Is My Name, Murphy made the press circuit in December of 2019, admitting to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show that he has one huge regret from his career. According to Murphy, the only movie he turned down that "became a big hit" was the live-action/animated hybrid hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Murphy was offered the role of Eddie Valiant, the gumshoe detective who was ultimately played by Bob Hoskins, but he passed because he wasn't interested in acting opposite cartoons. Now, Murphy told Fallon, "Every time I see it I feel like an idiot" — which is understandable, considering that Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains a classic long after its 1988 release.

Will Smith, The Matrix

Few modern action franchises have left as big of a mark as The Matrix, which cemented Keanu Reeves as an genre star and boasted winning turns from Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving. The groundbreaking original installment, which introduced "bullet time" to audiences across the world and broke barriers with its inventive narrative, seemed like a slam dunk project for any actor — except one, apparently.

When Will Smith was approached about the leading role of Neo in The Matrix, he apparently wasn't particularly impressed by the writer-director Wachowski siblings' pitch. In his YouTube series "Storytime," Smith says the Wachowskis are "geniuses," but also that "there's a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting." According to Smith, the way the Wachowskis sold the concept didn't exactly sell him, and he passed on the project to star in Wild Wild West, which became one of the biggest flops of his career. However, Smith admits that the movie wouldn't have been the same without Reeves in the leading role, and with Smith on board, the rest of the movie would have been quite different as well. Apparently, the studio would have cast Val Kilmer as Morpheus, a part that ultimately went to Fishburne.

Christina Applegate, Legally Blonde

Christina Applegate has long since cemented herself as a versatile talent with her work in projects like the Anchorman films and Netflix's Dead Like Me. In the wake of her career-launching role on Married... With Children, however, she was anxious about being pigeonholed — fears that led to her turning down a film that ended up being a hugely popular hit for Reese Witherspoon.

On the heels of Married... With Children, Applegate was offered the leading role in Legally Blonde, the 2001 romantic comedy which tells the story of Elle Woods, who chases her boyfriend to Harvard Law School only to discover she's worth far more than his affection. Unfortunately for Applegate, she was worried the film would be too similar to her previous work as a "dumb blonde," even though Legally Blonde's Elle Woods proves to be brilliant in her own right; as Applegate put it, "The script came along my way... I got scared of kind of repeating myself." Though Applegate admitted that Reese Witherspoon was perfect for the role, she's clearly still kicking herself: "What a stupid move that was, right?"

Gwyneth Paltrow, Titanic

The daughter of Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow has been Hollywood royalty since birth, and she's also a powerful member of Hollywood's A-list thanks to her sheer talent and drive. An Academy Award winner for her work in Shakespeare in Love, Paltrow has more than proven her worth in plenty of projects, but as one of the most popular stars in the business, she's had to say no to her fair share of worthy opportunities.

In an interview with Howard Stern in 2015, Paltrow addressed some of her most infamous non-roles. She famously turned down Boogie Nights out of sheer embarrassment (as she told Stern, "I just thought, 'I can't be totally naked [...] onscreen. I'll kill my grandfather!" She definitely has more regrets when it comes to the role of Rose Dewitt-Bukater (played by Kate Winslet) in Titanic. Stern certainly criticized her during the interview, and Paltrow agreed. "I look back at the choices I've made and think, 'Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?' And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There's a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?"

Leonardo DiCaprio, Boogie Nights

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most well-regarded actors of his generation, so it might seem safe to assume he has no regrets about roles that passed him by, but there's one big project that got away, even though it yielded an even bigger opportunity in its wake.

In a 2008 interview with GQ, DiCaprio was asked if there were any films he regrets turning down, and apparently, the answer was easy. "Sure," he responded. "Boogie Nights is a movie I loved and I wish I would've done." When pressed, DiCaprio admitted that he turned down the role of Dirk Diggler, which ultimately went to his future Departed co-star Mark Wahlberg, for a little project called Titanic. Asked whether he should have chosen differently, he replied, "I'm not saying I would have. But it would have been a different direction, careerwise. I think they're both great and wish I could have done them both."

Dustin Hoffman, Taxi Driver

Dustin Hoffman, who has starred in everything from Kramer v. Kramer to The Graduate to Midnight Cowboy, is one of the most recognizable names in the business... which almost guarantees that he's made a few mistakes along the way. As his career took off, he apparently encountered a director he hadn't yet heard of, and the results were nothing less than disastrous.

According to Digital Spy, Hoffman met with Martin Scorsese early in his career to talk about a small project called Taxi Driver for a role that would later go to Robert De Niro, and Hoffman got a bad impression of the director right off the bat. "I remember meeting Martin Scorsese. He had no script and I didn't even know who he was," he recalled. "I hadn't seen any of his films and he talked a mile a minute telling me what the movie would be about."

In hindsight, Hoffman sees his decision to turn down Taxi Driver as a mistake. "I was thinking, 'What is he talking about?' I thought the guy was crazy! [...] I made so many dumb mistakes [turning down hit movies]. The list is endless."

Josh Hartnett, Christopher Nolan's Batman

Most actors would have a hard time turning down the opportunity to play Batman, but one former teen heartthrob passed on this career-making opportunity. Josh Hartnett gave up the chance to play Batman — in Christopher Nolan's genre-defining Dark Knight trilogy, no less.

In an interview with Playboy (as reported later by Variety), Hartnett didn't want to be pigeonholed as a blockbuster star, saying, "I've definitely said no to some of the wrong people. I learned my lesson when Christopher Nolan and I talked about Batman. I decided it wasn't for me. Then he didn't want to put me in The Prestige. They not only hired their Batman for it, they also hired my girlfriend [Scarlett Johansson] at the time."

However, it's clear that Hartnett has learned his lesson; as he said in the interview, "I was so focused on not being pigeonholed and so scared of being considered only one thing as an actor. Watching Christian Bale go on to do so many other things has been just awesome. I mean, he's been able to overcome that. Why couldn't I see that at the time?" Ultimately, he now knows that he "wouldn't turn something down just because it's a superhero role" — but without any other superhero roles on the horizon, one hopes Hartnett hasn't missed his chance.

Denzel Washington, Se7en & Michael Clayton

Denzel Washington might be one of the most famous actors in all of Hollywood, but he actually has multiple regrets when it comes to huge roles. The Malcolm X and Philadelphia star, who won Academy Awards for Training Day and Glory, wishes he had said yes to two very specific projects, both of which became resounding successes.

The first of the projects was David Fincher's Se7en, which ultimately starred Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. Washington could have snagged Pitt's plum starring role, but he thought the material was too dark and upsetting, and he turned the project down. He also said no to Michael Clayton, which went on to star George Clooney and earn multiple Oscar nominations. When GQ asked which films he regretted turning down, he named both, and explained at least one of his decisions: "Se7en and Michael Clayton. With Clayton, it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong. It happens."

Christopher Plummer, Lord of the Rings

After starring as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Christopher Plummer went on to an astounding career, building to an Academy Award-winning performance in the 2010 film Beginners. However, even a legendary star like Plummer has a few regrets.

As it turns out, the legendary role of Gandalf, the wizened wizard at the heart of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, was offered to several actors before Ian McKellen, and Plummer was one of them. As the actor told Conan O'Brien, "I don't know why I turned it down. I thought three or four years in New Zealand... I thought there were other countries I would like to visit before I croak. It was a marvelous part and I loved The Lord Of The Rings, I grew up on it actually. It is a great, great, great book and then it became a great film. And then Ian played it. Ian McKellen, who is absolutely marvelous in it. And he couldn't have been warmer, which I might not have brought to it."

Burt Reynolds, James Bond

The late Burt Reynolds, known for his roles in everything from Smokey and the Bandit to Boogie Nights, made his mark on the big screen in plenty of unforgettable projects, but his most famous role could have come elsewhere.

While promoting his autobiography on Good Morning America, as reported by The Guardian, Reynolds revealed his biggest career secret. Long ago, the legendary actor passed on one of the biggest parts in show business, deciding that he couldn't possibly play 007; after George Lazenby retired as James Bond, Reynolds was offered the role, but said no. As Reynolds said, "I think I could have done it well. In my stupidity, I said, 'An American can't play James Bond, it has to be an Englishman — Bond, James Bond. Nah, I can't do it.' Oops. Yeah, I could have done it." Reynolds went on to earn acclaim with his first big film role in Deliverance in 1972, but a stint as Bond could have put him on the map even earlier.

John Lithgow, Tim Burton's Batman

As it turns out, more than one big-name actor has turned down a role in a Batman movie, including John Lithgow. The star of 3rd Rock From the Sun and Dexter, among other projects, admitted that he should have taken the role of the Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman.

As Lithgow told Vulture before the 2017 Tony Awards, he regards his audition for Burton as the worst of his career. "I have never told anyone this story, but I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded. I didn't realize it was such a big deal. About a week later I heard they were going after Robin Williams and Jack Nicholson."

Unfortunately, Lithgow had lost a Batman role before — specifically, in an adaptation by Joe Dante that never got made. He still has regrets about that as well. "I was doing M. Butterfly on Broadway and it was an exhausting show," he recalled. "It would have meant leaving that show and going right into a movie, and I said, 'I just don't think I can.' How about that for stupid? Actors are not necessarily smart people."

Nicolas Cage, Lord of the Rings

True to his idiosyncratic reputation, Nicolas Cage doesn't like to use the word "regret." In a 2015 interview with Newsweek, when asked if there are any roles he regrets turning down, Cage insisted he sees regret as a "waste of time," but added, "There certainly were movies that I probably would have benefited from if circumstances in my life allowed me to make them."

Pressed for specific examples, Cage responded, "Lord of the Rings. That trilogy. Aragorn [...] But the thing is about those movies, I can watch them. I can enjoy them as an audience member. I don't really watch my own movies. And so I genuinely do have the joy of watching these — especially with Lord of the Rings." As for what led to him turning down the opportunity to play Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Rings adaptations, he revealed, "There were different things going on in my life at the time that precluded me from being able to travel and be away from home for three years. And I do mean it. I get to enjoy the movies as an audience member, because I don't watch my own movies."

Harrison Ford, Syriana

George Clooney has played his share of enviable parts on the big screen. Plenty of actors would have liked to star in some of Clooney's most highly regarded projects — take, for example, Harrison Ford, who regrets passing on the chance to lead 2005's Syriana.

As reported by The Irish Examiner, Ford turned down Clooney's role in Syriana, and he really wishes he hadn't. "I saw a bit of [director] Steve Gaghan's movie Syriana and I wish I'd played the part that was offered to me," he admitted. "George's part."

"I didn't feel strongly enough about the truth of the material and I think I made a mistake," Ford added. "I think the film underwent some changes and I think a lot of it is very truthful. The things that I thought weren't, were obviated after I left the table." Harrison Ford has played his fair share of career-defining roles, but clearly, Syriana is the one that got away.