Actors who refused famous action movie roles

In a lot of ways, action movies are like our modern mythology, full of resonant characters representing the good in all of us—and taking on challenges and villains in ways that inspire us to work harder in our own lives. Casting the perfect actor for these heroes can sell or ruin their larger-than-life roles…which, in turn, can make or break the actors' careers. Here, we're taking a look at some of the most beloved classics in the genre—and asking you to imagine how differently they would have turned out if casting went the way the filmmakers originally planned.

Harrison Ford - Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is such a well-crafted movie it's hard to imagine anything changing. The effects hold up surprisingly well decades later, the pacing is tight, Jeff Goldblum is still impossibly sexy. It's a great film.

However, the lead role of Dr. Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill, was originally offered to Harrison Ford, for reasons that are obvious if you think about it. Grant was a gruff, rowdy archaeologist (well, paleontologist, but still) able to effectively manage jungle territory while pursued by a deadly enemy. He even had a cool floppy hat. As effectively as Sam Neill brought the character to life, we all know how much money we'd throw at a film about Indiana Jones versus dinosaurs.

Unfortunately, Ford saw it differently. He compared the idea to putting Indiana Jones on Mars—an idea that evidently made more sense to him a decade and a half later, when they actually had Indiana Jones meeting spacemen. You jumped in a refrigerator to escape an atomic bomb, Ford. You couldn't punch a dinosaur?

Tom Selleck - Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars

Speaking of Harrison Ford, he almost never had a chance to perform either of his most closely identified characters: Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Han Solo in the first Star Wars film were originally offered to Tom Selleck, who turned them both down.

This actually made sense at the time, believe it or not. The original draft of Star Wars: A New Hope imagined Han Solo as much older than Luke Skywalker, like a kind of "black sheep" uncle figure, which honestly could have turned confusing with all the other themes of familial connection in the film. By the time Raiders of the Lost Ark was being filmed, Ford had been in three of George Lucas' films (American Grafitti and the first two Star Wars movies) and Lucas worried about becoming known for re-using certain actors. He gave Selleck another shot, but it didn't work out—Selleck was already committed to his series Magnum P.I., and the network wouldn't let him take the film.

Losing out on Raiders was a particularly bitter pill for Selleck, who ended up cooling his heels in Hawaii during an actors' strike…while Indiana Jones and company were also on the island. "I go to Hawaii to start Magnum, the actors go on strike, and I had given my deposit to a landlady and I couldn't afford a security deposit. So I start working as a handyman, in Hawaii, with no job. And guess who comes to Hawaii to finish their movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark," sighed Selleck. "So I could've done them both."

Matt Damon - Avatar

Matt Damon has turned down a lot of major movie roles. One of the most surprising: he almost played conflicted paraplegic former Marine Jake Sully in James Cameron's sprawling sci-fi action film Avatar. The decision was tough on Damon, not only because he was a huge fan of Cameron's and wanted to work with him, but also because he figured the star potential of the film could encourage the actor who took his place (in this case Sam Worthington) to potentially take jobs from him in the future. Unfortunately scheduling conflicts got in the way, leaving us to imagine what could have been.

Warren Beatty - Kill Bill

While most of the series follows the ultraviolent exploits and tribulations of the vengeful Bride, Bill is the character who shapes the films. C'mon, his name's right there in the title. His particular cruelties, obsessions and motivations trickle through his assassin minions and even the Bride herself. All of which is to explain why, when Warren Beatty turned town the titular role, Quentin Tarantino was forced to do a complete rewrite to compensate.

"The Warren Beatty thing is interesting," Tarantino is quoted as saying, "Because once I cast David Carradine, I did a lot of little rewrites… actually shifting that character into David's sphere. And it was really interesting reading that first draft, because that's the Warren Beatty version. He's more of a James Bond type character—Bond as Blofield, basically."

It's honestly hard to imagine how that film would have turned out. It certainly would have been a far cry from the gritty suburban samurai film we wound up seeing.

Christian Bale - James Bond

Once the Powers That Be who produce the James Bond films dumped Pierce Brosnan like Blofield down a factory smokestack, a few curious shoulders were tapped. Looking to shake things up, and impressed with his sharp-dressed (literally) killer performance in American Psycho, producer Barbara Broccoli had a meeting with Bale to offer him the role as 007. However Bale, a British actor himself, was loath to take on a role that embodied what he considered the worst British sterotypes all bundled together. He was reportedly polite and cordial in his refusal, but at one point quipped "I've already played a serial killer."

Clearly he's not a fan.

Hugh Jackman - James Bond

The search for a new Bond in the early 2000s led to some surprising-in-hindsight actors spending some time on the shortlist. While the role eventually went to Daniel Craig and his reluctant but rippling abs, they were apparently courting Brosnian's replacement before his invisible car antics in Die Another Day. Around the time of the first X-Men movie, producers tapped Hugh Jackman as a potential new 007. He declined, worried taking on a role like that would "box him in too much"…and then proceeded to play Wolverine for the next 17 years. Wait, so one potential James Bond wound up playing Batman and another wound up Wolverine? It's like our childhood fan fiction came true.

Mel Gibson - Gladiator

This is another one of those entries that makes a lot more sense if you think about it at the time. Gladiator is basically Roman Braveheart if you squint hard enough. A brooding warrior keen on military strategy and prone to big speeches fighting for home, land and "FREEDOM!" from tyrannical rule under a queasily effeminate and sexually depraved despot that killed his family? It's all there. However, Gibson turned down the role that ultimately went to Russell Crowe because like former Lethal Weapon partner Danny Glover, he felt "too old for this"…um, swordplay.

Nicolas Cage - The Matrix and Constantine

Nicolas Cage has turned down almost as many memorable roles as he's taken. His…how should we put this nicely?…curiously varied career has led him all over the map, even when he wasn't literally looking for National Treasure. Among the many interesting oddities on his résumé: he's turned down two roles that went to Keaunu Reeves—Neo in The Matrix and the title character in Constantine. The two actors bear no resemblance in appearance or acting style, but somehow, here we are. According to Cage, he turned down The Matrix because he wasn't interested in flying to Australia to film it. While he was initially more enthusiastic about Constantine, he ended up departing the project after original director Tarsem Singh dropped out, sparking a pair of lawsuits between Singh and the studio. By the time the dust settled, Reeves was on board.

Will Smith - The Matrix

Another actor considered for the role of Neo in The Matrix was Will Smith, and although it ended up launching a blockbuster trilogy, Smith seems really at peace with turning down a massive once-in-a-lifetime role. Speaking to Wired, he admitted that a project like The Matrix is really difficult to sell in a pitch, and that when the movie was first described to him "he didn't see it." After watching the film later, on further reflection, he felt Reeves was a better fit.

"I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix," he conceded. "At that point I wasn't smart enough of an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to let it be. Just let the movie and the director tell the story and don't try to perform every moment."

However, he doesn't have quite that level of zen-like peace about Wild Wild West, the film he accepted instead of The Matrix. Although the movie was a financial success, critics tore it to pieces and in hindsight he admits his performance in it was a cash grab, rather than a project he believed in, and led him to a vow never to take on a project for those reasons again. Presumably while rolling in a pile of cash.

Al Pacino was almost everybody

Al Pacino is possibly one of the greatest actors that ever lived, with a career bringing to life some of the most memorable characters in modern cinema. Which makes it even more incredible to consider what might have been for any number of roles. Naturally, every director wanted a piece of Pacino at his peak; unfortunately, he couldn't be everywhere at once. At various times, he had the potential to be Han Solo in Star Wars, Willard in Apocalypse Now, Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop, John McClane from Die Hard and even freaking RAMBO. Instead of being on a couple posters in your college dorm room, he could potentially have been on ALL OF THEM.

The man is a treasure. God bless him.