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Huge Movie Roles Actors Regret Turning Down

October 21, 2020 4.4k votes 601 voters 81.8k views14 items

List RulesVote up the actors who missed out by turning down the role of a lifetime.

Imagine Will Smith as Neo from The Matrix or Gwyneth Paltrow as Rose from Titanic. Seeing all the stars who turned down legendary roles proves that even the most successful actors made glaring errors on the way up. All of these actors have still had great careers, but that doesn’t mean that every professional decision has been a home run.

Martin Scorsese was just a fast-talking unknown director when he approached Dustin Hoffman about playing Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Leonardo DiCaprio was already signed on to play Jack in Titanic when not-yet-an-auteur Paul Thomas Anderson wanted him for Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights

Find out the other celebrities who regret turning down roles. Maybe DiCaprio playing an adult film star would have changed his entire career trajectory? Perhaps, if Paltrow had taken the role of Rose in Titanic, the chemistry would have been less palpable between Rose and Jack? Who knows? Cinephiles can only speculate.

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  • In the early 2000s it looked like Josh Hartnett was going to become the next major Hollywood movie star. He had just appeared in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor and Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. However, instead of seeking out more blockbuster roles that would turn him into the next Tom Cruise, he decided to take a major step back from the spotlight. In 2015, Hartnett revealed just what he missed out on when he removed himself from the blockbuster game: He turned down the lead role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins

    "I've definitely said no to some of the wrong people," Hartnett said. "I learned my lesson when Christopher Nolan and I talked about Batman. I decided it wasn’t for me. Then he didn't want to put me in The Prestige. They not only hired their Batman for it, they also hired my girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) at the time."

    The role of Batman eventually went to Christian Bale, who has become one of the most popular and acclaimed actors in the industry. "I was so focused on not being pigeonholed and so scared of being considered only one thing as an actor," Hartnett said. "Watching Christian Bale go on to do so many other things has been just awesome. I mean, he's been able to overcome that. Why couldn't I see that at the time?"

    Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy became a billion-dollar blockbuster that was both popular with critics and the general audience. Hartnett didn't have any qualms with Batman, specifically. He also claimed to have regretfully passed on Superman and Spider-Man, as well. "I know now that I wouldn’t turn something down just because it's a superhero role," Hartnett said.

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  • Who even knew that Henry Winkler could possibly sing and dance? Right in the middle of Winkler's 10-year run as the Fonz on Happy Days, he was asked to take on the role of lead T-Bird Danny Zuko in the 1978 movie musical Grease

    However, instead of starring opposite Olivia Newton-John's Sandy, Winkler opted to pass on Zuko. The actor didn't come out and directly use the word "regret" during his 2017 interview with AARP the Magazine, but he did admit that he went about the seminal career decision in the wrong way:

    I turned down the lead role in Grease. Didn’t want to be typecast. But you’re typecast anyway. And it’s not now that I’m, like, "Oh, I should’ve done the role." It’s that I turned it down intellectually instead of instinctually. Listen to your gut - it knows everything. Your head knows only some things. So I went home and had an orange juice. Travolta went home and bought a plane.

    Grease scored a massive $366 million at the box office on just a $6 million budget. It is also regarded as one of the most beloved movie musicals ever. John Travolta was already a movie star when he made Grease, but the role further cemented his A-list leading man status.

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  • Even two-time Oscar winners have regrets. While out promoting his movie The Equalizer at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, Washington called it a mistake to turn down the role of Detective David Mills in David Fincher's disturbing and uber-dark 1995 neo-noir Seven

    Washington had already starred in several commercially successful and critically acclaimed films like Philadelphia and Malcolm X when he read the script for Seven. He revealed that he couldn't see himself in the role of the rookie detective in charge of investigating the gruesome crimes of John Doe (Kevin Spacey). "I was like, man, it’s just too much," he said. 

    Regret would quickly set in. "Then I saw it and I was like, 'Oh God.'"

    The story of a serial killer who chooses his targets based on infamous vices was a lot for Washington to handle at the time. "Evidently it wasn’t for me, it was for Brad all the time," he said. "It was just too much when I read it, it was just different when I saw it."

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  • Perhaps no actor in the 1990s was more popular at the box office than Will Smith. However, even the Fresh Prince turned movie star has regrets. One of Smith’s worst career choices came in 1999 when the Men in Black actor decided to pass on the role of Neo in The Matrix to do the Western comedy Wild Wild West

    Wild Wild West became one of the biggest box-office bombs ever. It was so bad that it collected five Razzie Awards for worst picture, director, screenplay, song, and screen couple (Will Smith and Kevin Kline). Golden Raspberry Foundation President John Wilson said of Wild Wild West, "It personifies what you need to do to win a Razzie in modern Hollywood - spend too much, entertain no one, and fall flat on your face."

    During an appearance on The Late Show, host Stephen Colbert asked Smith what he would say to his younger self if he could go back and give him some advice. Smith replied, "Hey man, don't do Wild Wild West... I would say, 'Dude, do Neo.'"

    The Matrix would go on to become one of the most successful trilogies in franchise film history. Keanu Reeves eventually landed the role of the chosen one, Neo.

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