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14 Actors Who Got Subbed In At The Last Minute And Nailed It

Updated October 30, 2020 3.4k votes 609 voters 82.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the last-minute additions that pulled off classic performances.

Casting a movie is a fluid process, and the cast that appears in a film is rarely the same one the production started with. Actors are routinely replaced, sometimes even the stars, and sometimes it happens very late in pre-production, even the day before filming begins. These changes happen for many reasons. Often, it's the result of a scheduling conflict or another commitment. Sometimes, it's because the director and producers realize an actor actually isn't right for the role. Filmmaking is an art, not a science. 

Whatever the case, a last-minute substitution of a main character can doom a production. When Francis Ford Coppola was forced to turn to his untrained 18-year-old daughter Sofia to play Mary Corleone in The Godfather Part III, many critics and fans blamed her for ruining the movie. 

But occasionally, an actor who's thrust into a starring role with little preparation can still manage to deliver a solid performance - or even save the film. Here are some actors who were brought into a movie at the last minute and still delivered the goods.

  • Movies adapted from beloved books are particularly difficult to cast because fans of the books usually create their own mental picture of who a character is. So, when Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson had to replace Aragorn, one of the most beloved sci-fi/fantasy characters of all time, it threatened to derail the entire trilogy. 

    Jackson originally cast Irish actor Stuart Townsend for the role, and Townsend spent two months training and rehearsing before Jackson decided Townsend looked too young to play the grizzled ranger. Jackson brought in Viggo Mortensen just one day before filming was scheduled to begin, and Mortensen had only the flight to New Zealand to prepare for the role. Adding even more pressure to the situation, New Line Cinema would only sign off on Mortensen after watching the rushes from the first day's filming, so the entire trilogy hinged on his performance. The first scene Mortensen filmed involved Aragorn fighting Ringwraiths. He nailed it, and the rest is history. 

    Made the movie?
  • If you include the cameos, Hugh Jackman has appeared as Wolverine 10 different times in X-Men films dating back to the year 2000, including 2017's mega-successful star vehicle Logan. For many fans, Jackman is Wolverine - but he very nearly wasn't, and it was all thanks to Dougray Scott's ribs. Scott was originally cast as Wolverine, but the Scottish actor sustained a rib injury on the set of Mission: Impossible 2. Film executives became concerned that Scott couldn't perform the difficult stunts required for the Wolverine role and dropped him about a month before filming began. 

    Producers settled on Hugh Jackman, who, at the time, was a relative unknown specializing in musical comedy. When he got the casting call, he had just starred in a stage version of Oklahoma! Jackman later admitted to feeling out of place while filming X-Men and felt he was always on the verge of being fired, but it all worked out.

    Made the movie?
  • Back to the Future was the highest-grossing film of 1985 and remains beloved decades later. But had the casting process gone differently, it's likely the film would have been a flop. Director Robert Zemeckis and producer/co-writer Bob Gale always wanted Michael J. Fox for the role of Marty McFly. In late 1984, Fox was the lead in Family Ties and one of the biggest TV comedy stars in Hollywood. He wanted to transition to movies and loved the Back to the Future script. But Family Ties producers refused to release Fox from his commitment, so Zemeckis and Gale went with their second choice, Eric Stoltz. 

    Stoltz had recently starred in Mask, a drama about a boy with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, or "lionitis." While Stoltz definitely had acting chops, Zemeckis and Gale doubted his comedic abilities. Stoltz went with a darker take on the Marty McFly character, and after a few weeks of filming, Zemeckis, Gale, and producer Steven Spielberg decided he wasn't the right fit after all. It had to be Fox. They renegotiated with the Family Ties producers and agreed to work around Fox's filming commitment. Fox had to put in a grueling schedule to complete both projects at the same time. 

    Back to the Future succeeds less on its science fiction elements and more on its fun tone and the relationship between Marty and Doc Brown, and Fox's comedic skills were a natural fit. With Stoltz, it would have had a very different feel.

    Made the movie?
  • Indiana Jones is routinely listed as one of the greatest movie characters of all time, and for lots of fans, Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones, and always will be. So, it's almost inconceivable to imagine an Indiana Jones franchise starring anyone else, let alone Magnum P.I. 

    During the casting process, producer and co-writer George Lucas actually considered, and rejected, Ford because he was too familiar. Ford had already starred in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and Lucas feared they would be associated together forever, like Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Lucas and Spielberg conducted a nation-wide talent search to find a working-class unknown to play the role. (Ford was a carpenter before he was cast as Han Solo, but this was just a coincidence.) When that didn't produce results, Lucas and Spielberg settled on Tom Selleck, who, at the time, was appearing in nationwide advertisements as the Marlboro Man. But Selleck had recently been cast as the star of Magnum P.I., and when CBS picked it up, Selleck dropped out of the project. Ironically, an actor's strike ended up delaying production on Magnum, which would have allowed Selleck to play Indy had he not turned Lucas and Spielberg down.

    Made the movie?