It is never easy to follow in the footsteps of greatness. How do you make a character your own if millions of people already have a crystal-clear image of them in their heads? In today's world of endless sequels, prequels, and reboots, more and more actors are being thrust into the difficult position of playing a new version of beloved heroes and villains.
Thankfully, there are some incredible thespians putting in the work to reinvent the characters for themselves. People like Ewan McGregor absolutely killing it as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or Jude Law making Albus Dumbledore one of the few actually beloved things about the Fantastic Beasts movies. And, of course, we have to give it up to the legendary Robert De Niro for bringing a young Vito Corleone to the screen all those decades ago. So go ahead and scroll down to see which actors have been given the thankless task of playing young versions of famous characters, only to completely nail it.
- 174 VOTESPhoto: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith / 20th Century Fox
Ewan McGregor is Obi-Wan Kenobi. Okay, so Alec Guinness originated the role and the Academy Award-winning actor certainly knocked it out of the park way back in 1977. That being said, McGregor's performance throughout multiple Star Wars projects embodies Guinness's mannerisms so precisely while adding his own flair, the Scottish thespian has basically made the role his own. This is not an easy thing to do. For example, is anyone choosing Hayden Christensen over James Earl Jones as the definitive Anakin Skywalker? That may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but you get the point.
Thankfully, the higher-ups at Lucasfilm and Disney have finally given fans what they've wanted for years and given Obi-Wan the chance to shine as the lone protagonist in a live-action project via his self-titled Disney+ limited series. And before you ask, no, the 2001 Xbox exclusive video game Star Wars: Obi-Wan doesn't even come close to counting…
- 2132 VOTESPhoto: X-Men: First Class / 20th Century Fox
Sir Ian McKellen's Magneto is a bit different than that of his comic book counterpart. He's the appropriate age and clearly is on the side of mutant domination, but he's a campier version of the famous X-Men villain/ally/frenemy. McKellen's Erik Lehnsherr is less of a murderous terrorist and more of a baddie you'd find on a Saturday morning cartoon. It worked for the early X-Men films, but by the time First Class came around, it was clear superhero movies had become more serious in the eyes of Hollywood.
As such, the younger version of Magneto showcased in the 2011 prequel was reworked into a violent vigilante who hunts down the Nazis responsible for his mother's demise. And Michael Fassbender was chosen to bring this more rabid version of the mutant to life. Fassbender, years before both of his Academy Award nominations, completely embodied the role with every fiber of his being. Even as the X-Men film franchise careened off-course with entries like Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, Fassbender continued to put in solid turns as Magneto.
- 3161 VOTESPhoto: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / Warner Bros. Pictures
It's hard to say Ian Holm's Bilbo Baggins is an iconic version of the character. Though the actor did originate the role in live action, it's not as if the elderly Bilbo had an incredibly large role to play throughout Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, Ian Holm is Ian Holm, and he did a memorable job with little screen time in both The Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King. The multiple-time Oscar, Emmy, and Tony Award nominee/winner was talented beyond belief, after all.
When Peter Jackson made the decision to return to Middle-earth with The Hobbit trilogy, casting a new Bilbo was always going to be the most important aspect of pre-production. Getting Martin Freeman in the role was somewhat of a coup for Jackson and company. Freeman has proven his ability time and again, in everything from Sherlock and Fargo to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and various MCU films. It was no great revelation to see Freeman knock the role of a young Baggins out of the park.
- 4160 VOTESPhoto: The Godfather: Part II / Paramount Pictures
How do you follow up on an Academy Award-winning performance? By wringing another Academy Award-winning performance from an entirely different actor. Marlon Brando earned, and famously declined, the Academy Award for best actor following his legendary performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather. For the sequel, Francis Ford Coppola went with a little-known up-and-coming actor named Robert De Niro to play a younger version of Corleone.
De Niro was hot off of Mean Streets, but this was years before Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, and Raging Bull would turn him into one of the most recognizable actors on the face of the planet. De Niro's turn as Corleone would become as defining as Brando's and the young actor would earn his first Oscar nomination for his effort. Not too shabby.