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Movies That Almost Cast The Wrong Person

As much as we might like to believe we choose movies because of intriguing stories instead of stars, as often as not, that just isn't the case. Of course, there are franchises that have established themselves so powerfully that the actors are secondary to the characters they play—think James Bond or the Star Wars series—but to a large degree, the public chooses films based on names they know and trust, and so do studios. There's a reason Will Smith—and not, say, David Hasselhoff—played Deadshot in Suicide Squad.

Choosing the right actor for the role means making sure the actor can pull off the character convincingly, but it also means making sure the actor is bankable enough to get an audience interested in the story. Hollywood isn't perfect, however, and there are times they get it wrong...or damn near close to wrong. These hit films nearly went in very different directions with leading roles, only to make a casting change—sometimes almost at the last minute.

Liam Neeson in Lincoln

Now that he's starred in three Taken movies, it can be easy to forget that Liam Neeson is a serious dramatic actor. Sure, he's the star "with a particular set of skills" who anchored an unlikely franchise and rebranded himself as an action hero, but he was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List. He was adorable and sympathetic as the widowed father in Love Actually. And his appearance in this scene from the Ricky Gervais-produced BBC comedy Life's Too Short proves he's not nearly as humorless as his characters onscreen. But sometimes it's the actor who knows when a part just isn't right.

After the success of Schindler's List, director Steven Spielberg fingered Neeson to lead another dramatic historical project, Lincoln. In a 2014 interview with GQ, Neeson admitted he was all wrong for the part, saying about the table read for the film, "I read very, very poorly by any standards, but then some people come up afterward and say, 'Oh, you're made to play Lincoln.' I just was cringing with embarrassment." Ultimately, Neeson talked Spielberg out of casting him, and the part went to Daniel Day Lewis. Lewis won an Oscar for the role; ever the charmer, Neeson said, "I was thrilled that Daniel played him, and when I saw the film, I was like, 'He's f—in' Abraham Lincoln. This is perfect.' Perfect."

David Schwimmer in Men in Black

Men in Black further cemented Will Smith as one of the biggest movie stars of the '90s, adding another hit to an incredible run that also included Bad Boys and Independence Day. His performance was just the right mix of skeptical, emboldened, and hilarious in what might have otherwise been a ridiculous alien flick for kids—like it could have been if, say, Ross from Friends had tried to pull it off. David Schwimmer was offered the role, but turned it down because he was already starring in and directing the high school reunion dramedy Since You've Been Gone. If, for some reason, you feel bad for Schwimmer missing out on a colossal payday, remember that Smith passed on being Neo in The Matrix to play the lead in Wild Wild West. Moral of the story: we all make mistakes.

Lance Henriksen in The Terminator

James Cameron—who up to that point had directed only one film, Piranha Part Two: The Spawningsold his script for Terminator to producer Gale Anne Hurd for one dollar. The reason: he'd get to direct. The movie, which cost $6.5 million to make and earned $78 million in worldwide box office revenue, turned Cameron into a very wealthy man and a desirable talent in the industry. Part of why the film is so beloved is the no-nonsense performance of its lead actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger—but, according to Terminator's stunt coordinator Joel Kramer, the part nearly went to a little-known actor named Lance Henriksen, whose credits include playing Bishop in the 1986 movie Aliens as well as the police chief in, you guessed it, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.

Eventually, Henriksen's part was downgraded from the lead in Terminator to playing Detective Hal Vukovich. In an interview with Premium Hollywood, Henriksen said the likelihood of his playing Schwarzenegger's part has been overestimated in the years since. "He [Cameron] actually came over and painted me as the Terminator in order to help sell the movie," he explained. "And then when it was time to have the meeting ... I walked in, kicked the door in, you know, I did a bunch of s— to try to give them the feeling." Whether he was close to getting the role or not, what remains from his moment of consideration are these concept images of Henriksen as the Terminator.

Frank Sinatra in Dirty Harry

Until a few years ago, the rumor that Frank Sinatra was cast to play the title role in the 1971 cop drama Dirty Harry was just that—a rumor. But in 2015, Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) spoke with Alec Baldwin on his podcast Here's the Thing and confirmed that before Eastwood, it was Blue Eyes.

"My producer, a guy named Phil D'Antoni, he and I were going to do Dirty Harry with Frank Sinatra," said Friedkin. "And we had prepared that for about six months and then Sinatra pulled out. And the project was dead [so] we left and did The French Connection."

According to Yahoo! Movies, film critic Ty Burr's book Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame discusses Sinatra turning down the role, explaining, "a broken wrist sustained during The Manchurian Candidate eight years earlier meant that Old Blue Eyes couldn't hold the heavy Magnum pistol comfortably." Sinatra, though a talented and acclaimed actor, couldn't have embodied Dirty Harry with Eastwood's distinctive style. "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?" is one of the most recognizable quotes in movie history. And judging by the response to Sinatra's 1970 macho western, Dirty Dingus Magee (5.3/10 on IMDB), tough-guy parts weren't necessarily his forte.

Britney Spears in The Notebook

The movie that launched Ryan Gosling's movie career almost never happened. Director Nick Cassavetes' romantic drama The Notebook hit a major hiccup during filming when Gosling asked the director to bring in a different actress because he wasn't getting along with costar Rachel McAdams. In an interview with VH1—reiterated here in a Daily Beast article—Cassavetes relayed the on-set turmoil.

"He's doing a scene with Rachel and he says, 'Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off-camera with me?'" recalled Cassavetes. "I said, 'What?' He says, 'I can't. I can't do it with her. I'm just not getting anything from this.' We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other. I walked out."

In the end, Gosling and McAdams shelved their differences (and wound up dating each other for more than three years), but before they beefed behind the scenes and made up on camera, Gosling screen-tested with an old friend from The Mickey Mouse Club, Britney Spears. Gosling confirmed Spears was up for the role in an interview with ET, saying, "I hadn't seen her really since she was about 12—we were both 12—so she's grown up, but she was really good, actually." Pleasantries aside, the driving force behind The Notebook's success was the acting, and an inexperienced Spears couldn't have carried the role. As proof, one need only look at her work—playing a dramatized version of herself—in Crossroads.

Molly Ringwald in Pretty Woman

There are times when—unlike many of the examples listed here—a director or casting team has to choose between two actors who'd both be great for the part. This was the case with Pretty Woman. Responding to questions on a Reddit Ask Me Anything forum, Molly Ringwald admitted she was once under consideration for the lead role in the movie. With credits like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink to her name, few could contend that Ringwald wouldn't have done a fantastic job; however, Julia Roberts ended up winning the part—and walking away with the movie. Even Ringwald agrees, saying, "Julia Roberts is what makes that movie. It was her part. Every actor hopes for a part that lets them shine like that."

Tom Selleck in Raiders of the Lost Ark

George Lucas, who co-wrote the Steven Spielberg-directed Raiders of the Los Ark, didn't want Harrison Ford to star as Indiana Jones in the picture. In the making-of footage for the film—relayed here in this Business Insider article—Lucas expressed his concern to Spielberg, recalling, "I said, 'Oh, Steven. He's been in two of my movies. I don't want him to be my Bobby De Niro.'"

Heeding Lucas' advice, Spielberg screen-tested Tom Selleck (among others), and despite this somewhat awkward footage of Selleck as Indy, everyone liked him for the part. But as Selleck told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, CBS made him turn down the role and instead stick with their show Magnum, P.I. It's impossible to know whether Selleck would have made a convincing Indiana Jones—because at this point, it's impossible to imagine anyone but Ford cracking that whip.

Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future

Michael J. Fox, booked solid at the time with his hit NBC sitcom Family Ties, came very close to not getting his movie breakout role in Back To The Future. Forced to go without his first pick for leading man, director Robert Zemeckis originally cast Eric Stoltz in the role of Marty McFly.

Production started with Stoltz playing Marty, but the crew knew something just wasn't right, and Zemeckis worked out a deal with NBC for Fox to film around his Family Ties schedule and replace Stoltz—who'd already filmed a number of scenes. When finally told, Stoltz took it hard, naturally—it's not easy getting fired, especially when you're the star of the movie. He might have felt some small degree of consolation in 2016, when eagle-eyed viewers noticed something: Stoltz made the final cut. In the scene when Marty punches Biff in the diner, that's Stoltz throwing the punch. Actor Thomas F. Watson (Biff to you and me) confirmed he never filmed the scene with Fox.

Ryan O'Neal in The Godfather

With Michael Corleone, director Francis Ford Coppola created one of the biggest anti-heroes in movie history. Corleone is cold, calculating, and determined to protect his family business, regardless of the cost. Based on Mario Puzo's bestseller, Coppola and Puzo (who also wrote the screenplay) expanded the character on film, and given that he's the lead, Paramount Pictures didn't want some no-name actor in the role.

Coppola knew from the beginning he wanted Al Pacino to play Michael, but Paramount hated the idea. There were quite a few different actors the studio suggested for the role, but what they really wanted was a "Robert Redford" type actor like Ryan O'Neal—a blue eyed Italian like Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Fortunately, Coppola won out, and a star was born.

William Katt in Star Wars

Brian De Palma filmed Carrie around the same time his friend George Lucas was putting together Star Wars, which meant they were both going after roughly the same type of actor—young and cheap. The director friends teamed up and cast the films together, and as a result, some stars of either film came very close to appearing in the other. In the De Palma documentary, he recalls that Amy Irving almost got the role of Princess Leia, and William Katt, who played Tommy in Carrie, was up for the role of Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill and William Katt sort of look alike, but ultimately Lucas went with Hamill; Katt, meanwhile, went on to be The Greatest American Hero.

Roy Scheider in The Deer Hunter

Roy Scheider is best recalled for Jaws, even more than his Oscar-nominated performance in All That Jazz. On the heels of Jaws, Scheider was hot in Hollywood, and Universal Studios wasn't about to let that lightning remain bottled up. Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter is a classic, and Scheider was set to be its main draw. But there was a major problem: Scheider read the script and had trouble finding his motivation. In the film, the character of Mike travels halfway across the world to save Nick (played by Christopher Walken). Scheider couldn't figure out why his character would go all that way for a friend, and continued to balk until Universal finally relented and let him out of the film. Robert De Niro went on to play the role, while Scheider got strong-armed into starring in Jaws 2. It didn't come close to the classic that was the original—but then again, at least it wasn't Jaws 3.

Eli Wallach in From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity is one of those movies you've heard of—you know that one scene on the beach, and yo- probably remember the Airplane! spoof of it. The WWII drama swept up the awards circuit, and it remains much of the reason people think of Frank Sinatra the way they do. At the time, the legendary entertainer was still widely regarded as a has-been teen sensation who had a bad reputation for his alleged mob ties and an affair with Eva Gardner. Somehow, he still landed the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity—the rumors about how he got the role are winked at by the story of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.

Frank Sinatra wasn't the original choice for Maggio. The studio chose Eli Wallach to play the role, but a scheduling conflict forced him out. It wasn't until Wallach declined that Sinatra pursued the role—and no, he didn't have the mob put a horse's head in a studio exec's bed. During his screen test, he ad-libbed shooting dice with a pair of olives—director Fred Zinnemann liked it so much, he used the screen test in the actual final cut. Sinatra made the character his, and made his career off the Oscar-winning performance.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Die Hard

The story of Die Hard's journey to the big screen is pretty crazy. Roderick Thorp wrote the books The Detective and its sequel, Nothing Lasts Forever. The former was made into a 1968 film starring Frank Sinatra, and his contract gave him right of first refusal on any Thorp books as films. In the mid-'80s, Nothing Lasts Forever was optioned for a film, which meant Sinatra had first dibs. The 73-year-old politely declined, so naturally, the next person up was the world's biggest action star at the time: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Steven de Souza, who'd written the Schwarzenegger hit Commando, was hired by Fox to write Nothing Lasts Forever. With script in hand, the Fox heads went to Schwarzenegger and presented him with a pitch: this is Commando 2. Arnold, however wasn't interested in doing a sequel, so the script was reworked into a standalone film, but Arnold turned it down again. He was in good company, too: a bunch of A-list actors also passed on the script, including Schwarzenegger's fellow '80s action titan Sylvester Stallone. Fox ultimately settled for a TV actor, a guy on the detective show Moonlighting—and that's how Bruce Willis became a movie star.