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15 Amazing Roles Almost Played by Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage has a rare combination of gifts amongst Hollywood stars. He's simultaneously a wonderful actor (consider Cage's award-winning performances) and, clearly, a totally crazy person. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Because it means that, when you're watching a Nicolas Cage performance, he's expertly portraying a character while also showing us the most insane possible incarnation of that character.

So Honeymoon in Vegas isn't just about some poor schmo whose new bride gets stolen away by a scheming professional gambler. It's about that same set-up happening to a nutcase whose response is to run around Hawaii eloquently swearing at strangers. Face/Off could have been a story about a government agent who trades identities with a mercenary in order to foil a terrorist attack. Instead, it's about John Travolta assuming the identity of a drug-addled, oversexed bug-eyed lunatic. You see where I'm going with this.

Perhaps this rare combination is what makes Cage such a compelling presence on screen, and why so many different filmmakers over the years have been tempted to cast him as larger-than-life on-screen characters.

Cage has not only completed dozens of films in which he plays over-the-top heroes and villains, he's also been considered for dozens of roles that, for whatever reason, he never got a chance to realize. Sometimes, the movies got made with other actors. On occasion, the films simply died in turnaround or had wildly different visions realized years later by other filmmakers.

Still, looking over the list, you can't help but wonder... "What if that guy had been played by Nicolas Cage?" And then feel a twinge, knowing that you've missed out...

For more true stories about your favorite actors, check out these roles Bill Murray almost played and great true stories about Johnny Depp.

15 Amazing Roles Almost Played by Nicolas Cage Fictional Characters
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    The failed Superman project of the late 1990s has become the stuff of legend. The tentatively titled Superman Lives was to be based on the Death of Superman storyline, and was at the time being actively pursued by uber-producer Jon Peters. It led in part, to an extended falling-out between screenwriter Kevin Smith and director Tim Burton. (The two supposedly buried the hatchet after Smith jokingly accused Burton of stealing the ending of his new Planet of the Apes film from a Jay and Silent Bob comic.)

    Notoriously, Peters' beloved concept for a fight between Superman and a massive robotic spider inspired the climax of his 1999 disaster Wild Wild West. But of course, the tidbit everyone remembers is that Nicolas Cage, the weird not-necessarily-all-that-buff guy far-from-mild-mannered guy, was the main contender to play Superman and his alter-ego, Clark Kent.

    In 2009, this image – said to be a test of Cage in what was then being considered as a Superman suit – spread around the Internet, confirming what most had long suspected. Nicolas Cage as Superman is a weird idea. Also, Nicolas Cage is either very stoned or his take on Superman is very squinty, like Clark Kent is permanently doing a Clint Eastwood Man With No Name trilogy impression whenever he dons the cape.

    Burton essentially backed off from the entire superhero genre and can currently be seen putting Johnny Depp in silly costumes once a year, for which they are each paid $500 billion. In 2006, the Superman franchise was revived (in a fashion) by Bryan Singer, whose Superman Returns rebooted the storyline from the 1970s Christopher Reeve movies. DC and Warner Brothers did it again in 2013 with Zack Snyder's Man of Steel.

    In an odd final twist on this whole story: In 2000, thieves stole a valuable copy of Action Comics #1 – the 1938 edition that introduced Superman – from Cage's Los Angeles home. (The comic resurfaced years later in a storage locker, and was returned to Cage.) A film about the Nicolas Cage-Superman heist is currently in the works.

    Who Got the Part

    Brandon Routh in "Superman Returns" (2006)

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    [Image by Anthony_Hopkins from Reddit]

    Cage revealed in a 2011 interview that Peter Jackson had discussed casting him as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films.

    He decided to turn down the role of Isildur's heir, not because he didn't feel like it was believable that all the Kingdoms of Men in Middle-Earth would unite behind his rule, but because he wanted to spend more time with his family.

    (As all the Lord of the Rings films were made at the same time, starring in the series required a 3-year time commitment in New Zealand! Which is, I'm sure, quite lovely, but let's face it... a green hill covered in sheep is a green hill covered in sheep.)

    But still... not wanting to spend so long away from home, and preferring to be around his family. That's understandable, right?

    You have to value that quality time with loved ones. I mean, just look at these sorts of treasured memories he was making during that time with son Weston Cage:

    I mean, what's being remembered forever as the ultimate Ranger from the North when you're experiencing this kind of familial bliss, I ask you?

    Who Got the Part

    Interestingly enough, Stuart Townsend was eventually cast in the role of Aragorn and spent two months on set preparing for the films before being hastily fired, and replaced by Viggo Mortensen.

    Russell Crowe was apparently also in the running for a short time. Nicolas Cage to Stuart Townsend to Viggo Mortensen... seems like PJ couldn't make up his mind about what he was looking for.

    Viggo Mortensen in The Two Towers (2002)

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    In the same interview where Cage discussed his short-lived flirtation with playing Aragorn, he also discussed passing on starring as Neo in the original film The Matrix

    See, according to Cage, he didn't want to go to Australia, so he was like, "forget appearing in a classic action film that kicked off an entire trilogy for which I would have been handsomely paid for, thus being able to keep my impressive comic book collection and castle-like Los Feliz mansion." Cause that's what, like a 14-hour flight? I mean, get real, people.

    Who Got the Part

    Keanu Reeves ended up playing The Chosen One in the Matrix films.

    Honestly, I think most would agree that Keanu Reeves isn't as good an actor as Cage, but it's still probably for the best that he got the part in between 6-month long bouts of sitting on a park bench being sad.

    Cage as Neo just wouldn't be believable. I mean, we're supposed to think that, with that iron physique, he didn't already know kung fu? Puh-leeze.

    Keanu Reeves in a lovely evening gown... I mean, in The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

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    While promoting his "Ghost Rider" sequel in early 2012, Cage told MTV news about a meeting he'd had years earlier with director Joel Schumacher.

    After directing 1995's "Batman Forever" and then the largely-reviled "Batman and Robin," Schumacher was somehow actually being considered for a third take on Bruce Wayne & Co., the tentatively titled "Batman Triumphant."

    Because apparently no one at Warner Bros. had bothered to watch those last two, and weren't aware of Nipplegate, surely still rocking the world of fandom at this point.

    Not only had Schumacher apparently made a deal with Satan for another shot at one of comic-doms most treasured icons, but he was ALSO chasing after Cage for the role of Jonathan Crane, Gotham's mad psychiatrist who transforms into The Scarecrow. The guy's a risk-taker, I'll give him that.

    Mercifully for Nicolas Cage, it means he won't have to get dangerously close to any fear toxin any time soon.

    Because we all know he's deathly afraid of bees:

    Who Got the Part

    And mercifully for Caped Crusader fans, Schumacher's third Batman never made it to the big screen, and instead the brilliant Christopher Nolan has taken over the franchise. (Nolan wisely cast Cillian Murphy as Crane/Scarecrow in "Batman Begins.")

    Cillian Murphy in "Batman Begins" (2005)

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    [Photo from Nic Cage as Everyone]

    The beloved Roald Dahl children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was originally adapted into an equally beloved 1971 musical film starring Gene Wilder as the unpredictable candymaker and, let's be perfectly fair here, slave owner Willy Wonka. A remake had been discussed since the mid 1990s, with various directors and actors being attached over the years. (Interesting side note: One of the early directors who had been considered for the project was Pleasantville director Gary Ross, who recently broke box office records and hearts with the mega-smash Hunger Games.)

    Michael Keaton, Christopher Walken, and John C. Reilly were all in the early running for the role of Wonka during these initial discussions, as was, obviously, Nicolas Cage. He'd certainly be believable in the scenes requiring Wonka to send adorable children off to gruesome, terrifying fates, but I'm not sure it would have the same zany sense of fun as the Wilder version. Cage as Willy Wonka terrorizing poor, morbidly obese Augustus Gloop sounds more like "Saw" for the pre-teen set. ("Oh, so you like chocolate? Do you want to play a game?")

    And can you imagine Cage trying to channel the impish glee of the "Pure Imagination" sequence? I can, and it's a memory I'm going to treasure forever.

    Who Got the Part

    By 2003, director Tim Burton had officially signed on to direct the remake, and he quickly decided to collaborate once again with his frequent partner-in-peculiarity Johnny Depp. Their near-unrecognizable take on Wonka essentially turned the character into a Michael Jackson impression, only somehow creepier and proved divisive with audiences.

    Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

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    During a Q&A at New York Comic-Con in 2011, the duo behind Crank – Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor – mentioned that they had initially written the main character of Chev Chelios as Nicolas Cage.

    No word on whether Nicolas Cage would have done the movies with a Statham-esque raspy British accent, but sources can confirm that, if true, this would be super-awesome.

    It's not terribly hard to envision an amped-up Cage needed to constantly maintain a high state of adrenaline in order to function. Werner Herzog essentially made this same concept a few years ago with his gonzo Bad Lieutenant re-imagining, only with less Amy Smart and more iguanas.

    Neveldine and Taylor fulfilled their lifelong dream (and let's be honest, the lifelong dream of every young director) of working with Cage when they worked on his Marvel Comics sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. So, yeah. That's a thing that happened. They made another movie about that flaming skull guy.

    Who Got the Part

    The part ended up being memorably inhabited by Jason Statham in two films to date and remains one of his signature characters.

    Jason Statham in Crank (2006)

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    Randy "The Ram" Robinson

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    The role of washed-up '80s pro wrestling star Randy "The Ram" Robinson seems such a natural fit for Mickey Rourke, it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the part now.

    Rourke won a Golden Globe for playing Robinson, and was nominated for an Oscar, and it's widely credited with fueling his most recent career revival.

    But it turns out, director Darren Aronofsky had offered the role to Nicolas Cage first, and Cage had actually accepted. Though some reports at the time had said that Cage had been dropped from the movie, the actor himself insisted that he had accepted the role and then thought better of it.

    Specifically, Cage said that he didn't think he could believably look like a steroid abuser without taking steroids himself. Which he would never do, you see.

    No, really, he said that: "I resigned from the movie because I didn’t think I had enough time to achieve the look of the wrestler who was on steroids, which I would never do." Thanks for the clarification, N.C. Also, does this mean his guns from Kiss of Death are 100% natural?

    Cause if so, swoon, amirite, ladies? Ladies? Anyone?

    Who Got the Part

    Aronofsky later told SlashFilm that Cage had "stepped aside" so that he could go with his first choice all along... Mickey Rourke. Details, details.

    Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008)

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    Back in 2004, before he returned to China to make real movies again, director John Woo had been considering an update of the venerable Masters of the Universe toy-and-cartoon-and-atrocious-'80s-film franchise.

    Jason Lewis, then riding high on "Sex and the City" fame, was a favorite to take on the lead role of He-Man, and say it with me now, Nicolas Cage was considered for the part of Skeletor. (Cage had previously worked with Woo on Face/Off, a film sure to please even the most choosy connoisseur of outlandish Cage performances.)

    There was some concern at the time that Cage's commitment to Ghost Rider might intrude on his ability to play Skeletor, but the Woo He-Man movie never got past the exploratory stage regardless, and so far, no one else has managed to get a Masters of the Universe adaptation moving forward either.

    But think about that for a second...

    Cage may have missed the chance to play a cackling villain with the face of a skull so that he could play... a cackling hero with the face of a skull. This is the Nicolas Cage version of a 'tough life decision': "Do I play the dark but somewhat heroic skull-faced guy, or the dark and outwardly evil skull-faced guy?" Decisions, decisions.

    Who Got the Part

    No one, but here's Frank Langella as Skeletor in Masters of the Universe (1987)

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    It was recently announced that a sequel was on the way for the Farrelly Brothers' madcap comedy Dumb and Dumber, with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels once again reprising their roles as Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, respectively.

    And in an alternate universe, it could have been the Dream Team of Carrey and Cage teaming up for another round of slope-bound tomfoolery, drunken misunderstandings and humorous bowel evacuations. So close!

    Cage has said in interviews that he and Carrey wanted to work together at the time, and Carrey had specifically wanted to get him involved in Dumb and Dumber. Cage passed on the project, however, and decided to instead focus his energy on the little independent project Leaving Las Vegas

    Which, yeah, okay fine, earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. But just think...

    He COULD have learned how to produce the most annoying sound in the world!

    Who Got the Part

    Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber (1994)

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    Back in the mid'80s, Cage was primarily recognizable as Randy, the punk outsider in Martha Coolidge's non-classic Valley Girl. So naturally, he was in the early running to portray serial detention attendee John Bender in John Hughes' The Breakfast Club

    Cage was not alone, though. John Cusack and Emilio Estevez were also being considered early on. Eventually, Cusack was dismissed for not looking "tough enough" to play bad boy Bender, and Estevez was moved into the role of football star Andy Clark.

    (It's possible that Cage, who had also appeared in Rumble Fish and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was already too recognizable – and thus too expensive – for Hughes' rather modest budget.)

    Who Got the Part

    Judd Nelson eventually got the role, though Hughes was tempted to recast him due to his poor attitude on set, particularly towards co-star Molly Ringwald. There was some subsequent debate about whether Nelson was just being Method, and staying in his "bully" character even when the cameras were off, or whether he was just... you know... a dick.

    Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club (1985)

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    Back in 2001, Cage was still upset at not getting to star as Superman in the big Tim Burton Superman Lives project, and was looking around for another comic book hero to adapt. Around this same time, Warner Bros. had fast-tracked an adaptation of the comic book Hellblazer, about a morally ambiguous anti-hero who battles demons. (The film was named after John Constantine, the main character, to avoid being confused with the Hellraiser horror film franchise.)

    It seemed like a match made in heaven, and Cage was signed to star in Constantine for director Tarsem Singh (of The Cell and, more recently, The Immortals.) Unfortunately, Singh and WB clashed – over both the budget and Cage's involvement, depending on which report you read – and even ended up suing one another.

    Who Got the Part

    Eventually, Constantine got made with Keanu Reeves in the lead and Francis Lawrence in the director's chair. (The same guy that replaced Cage as Neo! You wouldn't think these two guys would keep fighting for parts. You would think they'd keep fighting over whose voice was the more soothing, monotonous baritone. You already know who has my vote.)

    Keanu Reeves in "Constantine" (2005)

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    Apparently, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman had Nicolas Cage in mind when he was writing the script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, years before director Michel Gondry would turn it into a big-screen sci-fi romance.

    Again, we hate to see Cage denied an opportunity to lose his memories, thus triggering a full-blown on-screen psychotic break that could take up, minimum 20 to 25 minutes of screen time.

    Cage, of course, already starred in another film from a Kaufman script – the meta-comedy Adaptation – in a dual role that brought him great acclaim.

    And he appeared in the writer/director's 2013 Hollywood musical satire Frank or Francis, about a big-name director who publicly feuds with a film blogger, as a character mysteriously named The Emcee

    Who Got the Part

    Cage let Jim Carrey have this one.

    Which was nice of him. That guy needed some more serious work. The "talking out of your butt" thing can't last forever.

    Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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    He never makes a huge deal about it, or talks about it publicly much, but Nicolas Cage is actually Nicolas Coppola, and his uncle is that guy who directed The Godfather

    (He also doesn't often talk about having the middle name "Kim," though I can't imagine why.)

    Still, a young Cage tried out for the part of Dallas Winston in his uncle's adaptation of the popular SE Hinton novel The Outsiders. (He also appeared in his uncle's 1983 movie Rumble Fish.)

    But even though the senior Coppola seemed all too happy to cast his daughter Sofia in Godfather III despite her being not good at acting at all, he rejected his own nephew Nicolas.

    Cage later got a significant career boost from appearing in his Uncle Frank's Peggy Sue Got Married, so it all worked out okay.

    But still... being passed over like that must have stung. Much like having 1000 bees poured over your head. Which gives me another excuse to post this:

    Who Got the Part

    Some kid named Matt Dillon. You know, the one with big teeth from "Something About Mary."

    Matt Dillon in The Outsiders (1983)

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    Dolarhyde is the serial killer at the heart of Red Dragon, the first novel introducing the character of Hannibal Lector. He's a psychotic murderer who's obsessed with William Blake and earns the nickname "The Tooth Fairy" because of his tendency to bite his victims. Nicolas Cage has earned the same nickname due to his tendency to chew on scenery, making him a natural pick to play Dolarhyde on film.

    Director Brett Ratner had considered Cage for the role in his remake of Red Dragon. (The book had previously been made into the film Manhunter by Michael Mann, which starred Tom Noonan as the oddly-renamed Dollarhyde.) Sean Penn had also been in the running for the part.

    Who Got the Part

    Ratner brought in Ralph Fiennes, granting him the unique pleasure of standing naked in makeup for like, eight hours so someone could paint dragon wings on to his ass. Fiennes, you lucky bastard! Ratner, being a massive doofus, referred to Fiennes as "a complete unknown" in the press materials for the film, even though this was 2002 and Fiennes was already very, very famous internationally at this point. ("He's only been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars twice? Why won't anyone pay attention to this poor guy?")

    Ralph Fiennes in Red Dragon (2002)

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    The film version of The Green Hornet, starring Seth Rogen as the titular hero and his alter-ego, newspaper heir Britt Reed, had a rocky road to the big screen. Director Stephen Chow was initially set to direct and co-star in the film as the Hornet's sidekick Kato, but dropped out back in '09. "Hornet" itself had proved historically a difficult character to adapt, as both the original radio program and the short-lived '60s TV series lacked the name recognition of other characters and superhero stories from the period. (Consider the fates of other big screen radio adaptations... Alec Baldwin as "The Shadow," and his alter-ego Lamont Cranston, anyone?)

    In 2009, with the project in some degree of trouble, there was talk of bringing Cage aboard to play the shadowy and mysterious Mr. X, a character from the original "Hornet" radio drama.

    Who Got the Part

    By the time the film came out (eventually directed by Michel Gondry, who you'll recall had also dropped Cage from Eternal Sunshine), not only did Cage wind up not getting involved in the Hornet film, but the entire character of Mr. X was dropped. The villain wound up being a comic relief Russian gangster named Benjamin Chudnofsky, played by Christoph Waltz. Also, the movie wound up being almost unwatchable. Who's to say if these things are connected?

    Christoph Waltz in The Green Hornet (2011)

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