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Actors Who Turned Down Iconic Sci-Fi Movie Roles

Since the dawn of cinema, the film industry has captivated audiences with science fiction movies. Sci-fi inspires viewers by showing them humanity's highest potential capabilities and accomplishments. It also serves as a warning against our potentiality for self-destruction. The future can be a utopia or a nightmare, depending on how we choose to harness technology, and handle relations with one another — and the surrounding universe. The conquest of space, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, race relations, and more are all examined by this multifaceted genre. From sci-fi's realm of possibilities, countless beloved worlds and iconic characters have graced the screen, planted themselves in fans' imaginations, and become as familiar as real-life friends and mentors.

It's hard to imagine iconic characters like Marty McFly from Back to the Future or Han Solo from Star Wars being portrayed by different actors, but it almost happened. Some performers turn down roles due to scheduling conflicts, while others feel they aren't the right fit for the part. Then there are those who lack a connection with the script, or find it difficult to understand. There are even circumstances in which fate intervenes and prevents an actor from taking a role. Whatever the reason, here are a handful of actors who have declined opportunities to star in feature science fiction films, leaving the world to wonder whether the movie would have been better — or worse — had they actually been cast.

Sandra Bullock as Neo in The Matrix

The process of film production is always a challenge, especially when attempting to get a new project off the ground. Creative differences and budget restrictions can halt fledgling films in their tracks, but some movies experience issues filling the lead role. Considering how popular and revolutionary The Matrix was in hindsight, it may be surprising to learn of the epic struggle executives underwent in their search to cast the part of Neo.

Several actors expressed interest, only to turn it down for one reason or another — Brad Pitt was too exhausted after completing Seven Years in Tibet, Leonardo DiCaprio didn't want to do another visual effects movie immediately following Titanic, and Will Smith was confused by the pitching style of filmmaking duo the Wachowskis. Desperate, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura called on his friend Sandra Bullock to play the part. She'd proved her mettle in the action-packed 1994 hit Speed, and he was willing to make Neo female if she would acquiesce.

Bullock didn't feel the role was right for her career at the time, however, and turned it down. It was at that point Keanu Reeves was called in for the role, who was impressed by the concept and immediately clicked with the Wachowskis. The rest, as they say, is history.

Al Pacino as Han Solo in Star Wars

After receiving a wildly positive reception for his film American Graffiti, writer-director George Lucas wanted to cast a novel group of actors in his next project. Since he had already collaborated with Harrison Ford on Graffiti, he initially overlooked the possibility of casting him in Star Wars.

In his efforts to fill the pivotal role of Han Solo, Lucas looked at several big-name actors, including Al Pacino. He was already a star thanks to his work in the first two Godfather movies, but confusion regarding the Star Wars script led him to turn the opportunity down. Per an interview with Pacino, fellow A-listers including Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray were also contacted to fill the part, only to likewise decline.

Lucas also reached out to Burt Reynolds, but he wasn't interested in the "space scoundrel" type of role at the time. James Caan was also approached, but his reasoning for turning down the role remains pretentiously cryptic — "They didn't want an actor, that's why they got Harrison Ford." Sounds like maybe someone is a tad bitter they missed out on such a wonderful opportunity a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Harrison Ford as Alan Grant in Jurassic Park

Getting typecast must be frustrating, especially when you feel it limits your acting options. Harrison Ford has felt that frustration, due to his widespread identification with characters like Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and those disappointments were revealed during a post-screening discussion celebrating the 30th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In what must have been a memorable night, Steven Spielberg spoke candidly with Ford, dropping bits of previously unheard trivia along the way. One of those gems unveiled Ford's self-consciousness over criticisms made by the likes of James Caan — "Steven... only hires me for Indiana Jones. I am an actor!" Spielberg, surprised by this statement, replied, "You know who I offered Jurassic Park to? This guy. Alan Grant, Jurassic Park, right here."

So Ford would have played another guy in a safari hat, seeking another form of buried treasure? It seems uncertain how much the role would have highlighted Ford's acting ability, but it's unclear why he turned the role down. Instead, it went to Sam Neill, who brilliantly pulled off the required combination of ecstatic scientist-meets-resilient survivor.

Emily Blunt as Black Widow in Iron Man 2

When Scarlett Johansson first graced the big screen as Black Widow in Marvel's Iron Man 2, it was as though she had been pulled directly from the comic book pages. Her red-auburn hair, striking blue eyes, and sultry confidence fit the character so perfectly, it's impossible to picture anyone else filling the role of Natasha Romanoff. However, Johansson wasn't director Jon Favreau's initial choice for the project — he'd set his sights on Emily Blunt.

Until then, Blunt hadn't expressed interest in superhero roles, but an opportunity to portray the empowered assassin excited her. Unfortunately, she had to turn the project down due to a scheduling conflict, as she was already contracted to star in Gulliver's Travels. It's possible audiences may yet see Blunt in a similar role on the future, as she "would love to do a comic-book movie or a science fiction film that would scare the bejesus out of me."

Johansson harbors no negativity about being Favreau's second pick — in fact, she sees it as a blessing in disguise. "The best call you can receive is after you are rejected for something and then you get it," she said in an interview with Parade magazine. "You appreciate it more. I've basically made a career out of being second choice." That's the kind of positive attitude and self-reflection that takes a person to great heights — and cements them in an iconic role for more than a decade.

Benicio del Toro as Khan in Star Trek 2

When Benedict Cumberbatch was cast for the return of the villainous Khan in J.J. Abrams's Star Trek Into Darkness, fans were confused by the casting choice. They had been anticipating Benicio del Toro, who had all but confirmed he would take on the role last filled by the legendary Ricardo Montalbán. However, del Toro dropped out of the project a mere month before shooting began.

According to Vulture, negotiations went awry over monetary disagreements. It's always a shame when creative differences are compromised by money matters, especially when a powerhouse like del Toro is in the mix. Abrams was left struggling to fill the lead antagonist role — which still hadn't even been officially announced yet.

It seems Abrams was attempting to keep certain aspects of his project under wraps as long as possible. When it finally was announced Khan was the lead baddie, and Cumberbatch would be playing him, there was backlash to a perceived "whitewashing" of the character — so much so that a new series of comic books was launched to give a canon-sourced explanation for the sudden change in his appearance.

Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back to the Future

Back to the Future represents the pinnacle of comedic science fiction — and it's topped by Michael J. Fox's performance as Marty McFly. However, at the time it was made, Fox was busy filming the hit series Family Ties, and the show refused to release him to pursue the additional project. As a result, casting for McFly had to be reconsidered, so the role was handed over to Eric Stoltz.

Stoltz had impressed executives with his performance in the 1985 biographical drama Mask, about Rocky Dennis' real-life struggle with the fatal deformity Lionitis. However, after working on the set of Back to the Future for a few weeks, it was evident Stoltz wasn't the right fit. As a result, the "horrific" but "totally necessary" decision to replace Stoltz was finalized, and executives wound up landing Fox after all.

In order to handle both projects, Fox worked on the set of Back to the Future after shooting all day for Family Ties — often working 20-hour days as a result. Stoltz remains uncredited for Back to the Future, but glimpses of him may remain in the movie.

Angolina Jolie as Ryan Stone in Gravity

This groundbreaking Warner Bros. space thriller not only struggled to fill its lead roles, it almost wasn't made. Universal initially paired with director Alfonso Cuarón to make the film, which had been co-written by Cuaron's son. However, that pairing was quashed by studio concerns over effectively marketing such a unique and expensive space epic.

Warner Bros. took up the mantle as distributor, having worked with Cuarón before on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Once they'd secured a distributor for the movie, they had to cast the roles. Cuarón reportedly had his eyes on Angelina Jolie to portray Dr. Ryan Stone, but she was already tied up in multiple projects.

Thankfully, Sandra Bullock was looking for a challenging role at the time, so the role was handed over to her — with stellar results. Interestingly enough, Robert Downey Jr. was also cast to play the lead male role, Lt. Matt Kowalski, but the part went to George Clooney when Downey's acting style didn't mesh with the cramped physical choreography required for Gravity.

Emma Stone in an unknown role in Ghostbusters

Ever since her breakout role as Jules in Superbad, audiences have been captivated by Emma Stone's easygoing humor and brilliant smile. So when Paul Feig announced he would be directing a Ghostbusters spinoff with a female-led cast, many people naturally thought of her as part of their dream cast for the film — including Bill Murray.

Sony Pictures reportedly expressed heavy interest in casting Stone in an unknown role for the movie, but ultimately she turned it down. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Stone illustrated her reasons for declining the opportunity.

"The script was really funny," she explained. "It just didn't feel like the right time for me. A franchise is a big commitment—it's a whole thing. I think maybe I need a minute before I dive back into that water." Seeing as how disappointingly the 2016 reboot performed, Stone may have dodged a bullet in choosing not to participate.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Rick Flag in Suicide Squad

Warner Bros. had to court a few actors for Rick Flag in Suicide Squad before Joel Kinnaman landed the role. At first, the studio reached out to Tom Hardy, but he already had a tight schedule filming Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's The Revenant, and an upcoming publicity tour for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Executives then called upon Jake Gyllenhaal, only for the actor to decline the role for reasons that have never been publicly specified. Interestingly, this was a mere year after Gyllenhaal dropped the role of Rapunzel's Prince in Into the Woods because of a scheduling conflict with Nightcrawler.

It was at this point Warner Bros. turned to Kinnaman, who claimed he was "jealously waiting on the sidelines" to play the no-nonsense Flag. After a night connecting with director David Ayer over dinner in Toronto, where Kinnaman flew last-minute to meet with the filmmaker, he officially landed what he called "the biggest movie of his life" up until that point. Now, audiences can look forward to seeing him come back as Flag in James Gunn's The Suicide Squad in 2021.

Matt Damon as Jake Sully in Avatar

A few actors were considered for the role of Jake Sully in James Cameron's Avatar before the part went to Sam Worthington. In an interview with Access, Matt Damon divulged that he was initially offered the part, along with Jake Gyllenhaal. "It's true, and I read the script and I thought it was great," Matt said. "I talked to [James] a couple times about it. It was when we were making The Bourne Ultimatum."

However, production on Bourne would have conflicted with Avatar, so Damon had to pass. Cameron narrowed his choices down to Channing Tatum, Chris Evans, and Worthington; after numerous screen tests and 3D shoots with full lighting, Cameron selected Worthington for his "quality of voice and a quality of intensity."

Avatar, of course, went on to be a huge worldwide hit, and Damon has shown remorse over a lost opportunity to work with the acclaimed filmmaker above everything else. "It was harder to let go of because I really wanted to watch Jim Cameron work," he said. "I always take jobs because of the director... I think everybody would like the chance to sit next to Cameron."

Matthew McConaughey as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Speaking with Playboy (via Indiewire), Matthew McConaughey revealed he had chosen to portray Walter in the film adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower instead of taking a major role he'd been offered in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. "I like Guardians of the Galaxy, but what I saw was, 'It's successful, and now we've got room to make a colorful part for another big-name actor,'" he explained. "I'd feel like an amendment."

Although the actual role was never specified, rumors suggested it was Ego, the living planet who also happens to be Star-Lord's father. The studio then set their sights on Kurt Russell, who fortuitously was a huge fan of the first Guardians film.

For both the actor and executives, it was an easy fit. During an interview with Empire, Russell gushed, "Fifteen minutes in, I said, 'I think I see why they're coming to me...' The baggage I bring from some of the movies I've done is the right kind of baggage to bring into this one."

Sarah Jessica Parker as Lydia in Beetlejuice

Several actors were considered to play the eclectic, sweet goth Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice. Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane, Brooke Shields, Justine Bateman, Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Connelly, and even Sarah Jessica Parker were considered, only for them to all turn it down. Eventually, the role went to Winona Ryder, who'd recently made her big-screen debut in the teen dramedy Lucas.

Years later, Ryder shared how Beetlejuice helped launch her career. "I've known Tim Burton for 25 years, and I credit him with my career. I really mean that." She then went on to describe what it was like initially working with the renowned filmmaker: "This guy came in and started talking about movies and music, and 25 minutes later I was like, 'When is this Tim Burton guy coming?' And he was like, 'That's me!' And I was like, 'Oh!' I had no idea that a director could actually be so cool and I could easily hang out with them, you know?"

Looking back on it, no one else was more perfect to play Lydia — and perhaps it was this easygoing chemistry between the director and and his cast that made Beetlejuice so special.