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Actors Whose Careers Worked Out For The Better After Turning Down A Role

Hindsight is 20/20. None of us know how the future will exactly go, so when it comes to life, we're all just improvising in the middle of the most stressful and lengthy play of all time. Languishing on missed opportunities of the past can be a futile exercise that leaves one obsessing over things that can never be changed. 

Still, that doesn't mean there isn't some value in examining movie roles that major actors passed on. After all, these choices aren't just rooted in the past — they have also had ripple effects that stretch well into the present and will doubtlessly continue to reverberate into the future. This is especially true when it comes to actors who opted to eschew roles that could have been extremely rewarding but, in the end, may have been extremely damaging to their careers. In these cases, what looked like potentially promising gigs in the past are now, in retrospect, near-misses that could have upended their careers.

Such instances of this include a musical veteran forgoing the opportunity to appear in one of the most controversial musical movies in history, a television icon tossing away the chance to play a reviled superhero, and multiple instances of an Oscar-winning dramatist dismissing widely-despised blockbuster movie roles. In the process, these and other performers managed to open up their careers for the better in a slew of different ways. Sometimes, missing out on a movie fills one with regret, but these are the most obvious exceptions to that phenomenon. Here's a look at some actors who turned down big roles and were better off for it.

Hugh Jackman and Cats

In 2012, Hugh Jackman and Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper joined forces for a big-budget film adaptation of "Les Misérables." The results of their creative labor was a box office sensation that also proved to be a hit when it came to scoring award season attention. Given the enormous success of this endeavor, the concept of Jackman and Hooper reuniting again sounded far from impossible. While this actor and filmmaker have yet to join forces once more, Jackman has revealed that he and Hooper almost worked together again for the director's 2019 motion picture "Cats."

Given that, like "Les Misérables," "Cats" was also an adaptation of a widely beloved stage musical, it would certainly make sense for Hooper to consider a song-and-dance man like Jackman for the part. While there's been no word on what specific feline character Hooper had asked Jackman to portray, it is well known how Jackman responded to this offer. The "Bad Education" star turned down the opportunity to appear in "Cats" for reasons he wouldn't disclose, though he maintained that he still held the utmost respect for Hooper. The eventual terrible reception for "Cats" made this an obvious bullet dodged for Jackman. While "Les Misérables" and "The Greatest Showman" showed that Jackman had a knack for drawing in crowds to big-screen musical extravaganzas, it's unlikely even "The Boy from Oz" would've been able to salvage something as widely reviled as "Cats."

Robert Downey Jr. and Oz the Great and Powerful

When "Oz the Great and Powerful" was first announced, the name Robert Downey Jr. was connected to the titular lead role of the film. It seemed like a natural character for Downey Jr. to play, especially given his success playing Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) and Sherlock Holmes in blockbusters. Why not add the mysterious Wizard of Oz to the list of iconic fictional characters he inhabited? Originally, it appeared that Robert Downey Jr. was assured to be the film's lead, but producer Joe Roth recalled that the casting already appeared to be in jeopardy when he went to the actor's house. While there, he saw a plant he had previously given the "Iron Man" actor wilting in a corner.

From there, it became clear Robert Downey Jr. would not be able to do "Oz the Great and Powerful" and, after some searching, James Franco was selected as a leading man instead. While "Oz the Great and Powerful" earned over $475 million worldwide, it was a notoriously difficult film to make and was not a hit with critics. Though it seemed like a logical next step in his career circa 2010 to 2011, the negative reception of "Oz the Great and Powerful" makes it clear that Downey Jr. made the smart call in not paying a visit to the yellow brick road.

Jonah Hill and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

At the end of 2007, Jonah Hill had come into his own as a leading man. Thanks to starring in "Superbad," not to mention his prominent role in fellow 2007 hit comedy "Knocked Up," he was now an A-list movie star. He had the world at his fingertips. It was no wonder, then, that "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," a sequel to the blockbuster hit from the same year, came knocking at Hill's door. The production wanted Hill to take on a sizable supporting role, which Hill would ultimately turn down after getting advice from "Knocked Up" leading man Seth Rogen. Once Rogen urged Hill to use his newfound clout to push original projects, Hill knew "Revenge of the Fallen" would not be for him.

While "Revenge of the Fallen" would go on to be the second-biggest domestic release of 2009, following James Cameron's "Avatar," it was also ripped to shreds by critics. Additionally, the character he was set to play in the film turned out to be one of its most despised assets. By side-stepping the opportunity to headline a "Transformers" movie, Hill gave himself the flexibility to appear in more offbeat projects like "Cyrus" and paved the way for his forays into dramas with "Moneyball." No matter how you look at it, Hill missing out on the chance to be in a "Transformers" movie was a net positive for this budding comedy star.

George Clooney in Movie 43

The 2013 comedy "Movie 43" was built on the concept of getting as many big-name stars as possible into one movie. From Kate Winslet to Gerard Butler to Johnny Knoxville, among many others, the whole point of this feature was to watch recognizable icons navigate a series of raunchy vignettes. However, there was one person who just didn't go along with the comedy stylings of this feature: George Clooney. Though he's appeared in daring comedies like "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" before, "Movie 43" was just not something the Oscar-winning actor was down for.

This was despite the fact that "Movie 43" had conjured up a whole segment dedicated to Clooney playing himself, with the punchline being that the actor was bad at flirting. Clooney flat-out rejected the concept. This was a wise move on the part of Clooney since "Movie 43" became one of the worst-reviewed comedies in history. The presence of folks like Richard Gere and Chloe Grace Moretz in the cast couldn't make the film hysterical for either critics or general moviegoers. While the film didn't derail the careers of any actors involved, it was still better that Clooney didn't add "Movie 43" to his lengthy filmography.

Jon Hamm and Green Lantern

Once Jon Hamm started headlining the hit TV show "Mad Men," a new leading man was born. Hamm had good looks to spare in addition to the enormous talent, which instantly put him on everyone's radar. Directly after he broke out with the AMC series, Hamm went on to appear in theatrical movies like "Bridesmaids," "Friends with Kids," and "The Town," but he was also offered a significantly bigger movie to headline. Back in 2010, Warner Bros. gave him the chance to play Hal Jordan (aka Green Lantern) in the 2011 superhero blockbuster "Green Lantern."

Talking about the casting in 2014, Hamm recalled that Warner Bros was aggressive in pursuing him for the part, an understandable approach given how in-demand he was directly after "Mad Men" premiered. However, Hamm turned it down primarily because he just isn't interested in superhero movies. Instead, Hamm prefers acting in features that he'd go to watch if he was just a casual moviegoer. "Green Lantern" didn't fit that bill. At one point in time, turning down the chance to star in a DC Comics blockbuster might've looked foolish. However, "Green Lantern" ended up becoming a legendary enough box office and critical bomb that its eventual leading man, Ryan Reynolds, would make fun of it for years to come. Jon Hamm made the right call in passing on the opportunity to harness the power of Green Lantern's light.

Jordan Peele and The Emoji Movie

Thanks to his work on the sketch comedy show "Key & Peele," Jordan Peele was an in-demand talent as a comedic performer. The actor snagged notable roles in live-action films like "Wanderlust" and "Keanu" as well as animated voice-over gigs on titles like "Storks" and "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie." At one point in time, the people behind the 2017 animated family feature "The Emoji Movie" tried to make voicing the Poop Emoji the next gig on Peele's resume. Not only did Peele pass on this role but getting offered such a bizarre character proved to be a formative moment in his Hollywood career.

While accepting an award for his work on his directorial debut "Get Out" in February 2018, Peele revealed that getting offered the part of the Poop Emoji helped him decide to largely retire from acting. His focus as an artist would now be on writing and directing motion pictures, a career turn that gave the world not only "Get Out" but also his 2019 horror movie "Us" and his mysterious upcoming thriller "Nope." While "The Emoji Movie" isn't solely responsible for the existence of these projects, Peele's decision to move away from being an actor did help him shift his focus towards behind-the-scenes work on such acclaimed titles. To say passing on the opportunity to breathe life into the Poop Emoji was a good decision for Jordan Peele is a massive understatement.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Batman Forever

Though Leonardo DiCaprio cemented his status as an A-lister with his iconic turn as Jack Dawson in "Titanic" in 1997, he still had several other notable acting credits before that James Cameron film. Through works like "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "Romeo + Juliet," and "The Quick and the Dead," DiCaprio put himself on the pop culture radar in a big way. This meant that he was in contention for a number of those roles calling for young male performers in the 1990s. This included the part of Dick Grayson (aka Robin) in the Joel Schumacher "Batman" movies, a part that, on paper, promised to be a big break for a young actor given the box office track record of the franchise up to that point.

However, DiCaprio turned down the opportunity, with the actor clarifying in 2015 that, despite having a fondness for director Joel Schumacher, he just didn't feel like he was ready to play a superhero at that time. This turned out to be a wise move for a multitude of reasons. For one thing, "Batman Forever" and its sequel "Batman & Robin" scored negative reviews and a toxic reputation that could've sank DiCaprio's career. For another, avoiding these films allowed DiCaprio a chance to take on projects like "Titanic." Though headlining a "Batman" movie must've seemed enticing at the time, not seizing the opportunity to fight crime in Gotham City was the correct move for DiCaprio's career.

Benicio del Toro and The Phantom Menace

In 2017, Benicio del Toro entered the "Star Wars" universe through a memorable supporting role in the installment "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Playing the character of DJ, del Toro's presence in the movie served as a physical embodiment of the inherent loneliness of refusing to take a side in great conflicts. It was a small but critical role that proved to be well-handled in the hands of del Toro, who could lend the character nonchalant bits of comedy but also a sense of appropriate nuance. Though it would seem like DJ was such a good fit for del Toro that it'd be difficult to imagine him playing anyone else in the "Star Wars" universe, the actor was originally set to play Darth Maul in "The Phantom Menace" decades earlier.

Walking away from an instantly iconic villain in a massive hit like "The Phantom Menace" would seem like utter foolishness, but del Toro had a good reason for walking away from Darth Maul. Once he was informed that nearly all of the character's dialogue had been cut, del Toro decided to move on from the character, opening the door for Ray Park to take the role instead. This was a wise choice given how del Toro's vocal capabilities as a performer are such a big part of his artistic gifts. Plus, walking away from Darth Maul allowed del Toro to have the chance to play DJ in the "Star Wars" mythos decades later.

Jonah Hill and The Batman

As the cast of "The Batman" was first coming together, it quickly became apparent that this project was angling to get some big names to play iconic figures in the film's supporting cast. This was especially noticeable when word broke that Jonah Hill was being looked at for a role in the film, with rumors circulating that both he and the producers were figuring out whether Hill should portray The Riddler or The Penguin. It's easy to imagine why "The Batman" would be interesting in having Hill portray an adversary here, given both his fame and his gift for depicting dramatic characters in movies like "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Moneyball."

However, shortly after news circulated that he was being eyeballed to join this blockbuster, further reports broke that Hill would definitively not be in "The Batman." Indecision over who Hill should play as well as salary disputes led to the casting dissipating. While Hill would've been a welcome addition to the movie's cast, Paul Dano and Colin Farrell fared so well in the roles of The Riddler and The Penguin, respectively, that it's hard to complain. Plus, bypassing a superhero blockbuster had its upsides for Hill as an artist. Most notably, not having to commit to a lengthy filming commitment to "The Batman" gave Hill more time to pursue projects closer to his heart.

Tim Roth and Harry Potter

Even back in 2000, when none of the books had been adapted into theatrical movies yet, it would have seemed foolhardy to toss away the opportunity to show up in a "Harry Potter" movie. The original three books were all so beloved and popular, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the film adaptations would be a similarly successful enterprise. But actor Tom Roth let a sizable role in the "Harry Potter" movie series slip through his grasp. Initially cast in the role of potions professor Severus Snape, Roth would eventually turn down the role for another 2001 blockbuster character.

Roth traded a wand for extensive primate prosthetics as he chose to take on the part of the villain in Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake instead. Roth's fascination with the original "Apes" films and the makeup used to render the monkeys meant that he chose that film over portraying Snape. While it was a massive miss on his part, having to commit to playing Snape regularly for a decade meant that Roth would've lost the opportunity to work with filmmakers like Wim Wenders and Michael Haneke in the 2000s. It's also doubtful Roth could've had the time to portray the nefarious Abomination in "The Incredible Hulk" if he was already tied up playing Severus Snape. While losing out on Snape was doubtlessly frustrating in retrospect, that also led Roth down some interesting career paths as an artist.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Suicide Squad

At the start of 2015, the cast of "Suicide Squad" was hit with a massive setback when Tom Hardy had to drop out of the role of Rick Flagg. The actor's work on "The Revenant" was running drastically behind schedule, thus forcing him to abandon this role in the DC Extended Universe. The production was left scrambling to get somebody to take over the part just a handful of months before "Suicide Squad" would start shooting. One name thrown out as a replacement was Jake Gyllenhaal, who'd previously worked with "Suicide Squad" director David Ayer on the 2012 film "End of Watch" and who didn't have any other superhero movie commitments at the time preventing him from taking on the part of Rick Flagg.

However, this casting proposition didn't last long. Just a few weeks after Hardy had to leave "Suicide Squad," Variety reported that Gyllenhaal would not be signing on to take over the Rick Flagg role. There was no reason given for why he turned down the gig, though this would turn out to be a smart move on Gyllenhaal's part. Not only did "Suicide Squad" turn out to be a critically savaged motion picture, but refusing this DC Extended Universe role opened the door to him playing Quentin Beck (aka Mysterio) in "Spider-Man: Far from Home." The role of Rick Flagg would eventually go to Joel Kinnaman, who would be tasked with delivering one of the most infamous lines of "Suicide Squad."

Leonardo DiCaprio and Attack of the Clones

Dick Grayson (aka Robin) wasn't the only major blockbuster role that Leonardo DiCaprio fortuitously turned down. The actor, fresh off his seminal work in "Titanic," was also pursued for the role of an older Anakin Skywalker in "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones." From a certain point of view, one can see how this would seem like a natural evolution for DiCaprio's career. He'd already headlined the biggest movie of all time, so why not follow that up with another gargantuan blockbuster guaranteed to make oodles of money?

Talking to Shortlist in 2015, DiCaprio confirmed that he'd met with George Lucas about playing Anakin Skywalker but that he faced the same problem that cropped up when he was offered the part of Robin: he just didn't feel he was ready for something that big yet. Passing on a "Star Wars" role is a major decision, but for DiCaprio, it was undoubtedly the smartest move. The character of Anakin Skywalker got saddled with truly terrible dialogue in the remaining two "Star Wars" prequel movies that not even DiCaprio could've redeemed. Meanwhile, being saddled with lengthy filming commitments to a series of "Star Wars" movies would've ensured that DiCaprio would have had no time in the 2000s to headline significant dramas like "The Aviator." Even if it was a rare chance to venture to a galaxy far, far away, DiCaprio made the right move in turning down this role.