Stars Who Regret Turning Down Iconic Roles

Bethany Quinn | May 2, 2019 Celebrities
Stars Who Regret Turning Down Iconic Roles

Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde
Tracy Bennett/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc; Ouzounova/Splash/Splash News

Competing for Hollywood's most sought-after roles can be a cutthroat experience. Stars prepare endlessly, sometimes changing their entire look and hiring acting coaches simply for the audition. Landing that part can make or break an actor's career for years to come, even if they're already somewhat established stars. That's why it's so crazy to hear that many stars have simply turned down iconic roles they were offered. Perhaps they thought they would end up hating the role if they were cast, or maybe there were scheduling conflicts and other commitments to consider.

Many of the roles that were turned down by stars on this list went on to change the face of movie history forever -- even earning tons of prestigious awards.

So do these stars regret their decision to pass on those roles? The answer is simply, yes.

While hindsight is 20/20, and there's no way to tell how successful a movie will be, these stars all have regrets (big and small) about saying no to these roles. That's not to say that all of them didn't have great success because of their decision, but many of them would've truly benefited from the career boost that would've come from playing these legendary characters. While it's hard to imagine someone else playing Forrest Gump or Elle Woods, it was certainly possible had these stars had a change of heart.

Here are 30 stars who regret turning down iconic roles.

  • Burt Reynolds

    Burt Reynolds
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    Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore ... Burt Reynolds???


    The late iconic actor had a shot to play 007 but passed. "I think I could have done it well," he told Good Morning America. "In my stupidity, I said, 'An American can't play James Bond, it has to be an Englishman -- Bond, James Bond. Nah, I can't do it.' Oops. Yeah, I could have done it."
  • Katie Holmes

    Katie Holmes
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    Katie Holmes starred as Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, but when it came time to film the sequel Holmes was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Director Christopher Nolan weighed in on any speculation as to why, telling reporters, "Katie wasn't available for the role, which I wasn't very happy about, but these things happen." As for Katie, she told Business Insider, "You know, I really enjoyed working on the first one and I wish I could have worked with Chris Nolan again and I hope to work with him again."
  • Al Pacino

    Al Pacino
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    For legendary Al Pacino, it was a matter of simply not understanding the sci-fi classic Star Wars that led him to turn down the part of Han Solo. "[I] didn't get it. I didn't know why I'd do it ... So I gave Harrison Ford his career!" Pacino admitted during a Q&A. "He owes me so big! I'm gonna have him pay me back. I'm gonna have him build my house."

  • Christina Applegate

    Christina Applegate
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    What would Legally Blonde be without Reese Witherspoon? Well, it turns out she was not the first pick for the role. It was offered to Christina Applegate, but she turned it down because she didn't want to play another "ditzy blonde" right after her stint on Married With Children.

    "What a stupid move that was, right?" she told Entertainment Tonight.
  • Will Smith


    Die-hards will know that the role Neo in The Matrix was originally offered to Will Smith. Will, however, declined the role, leaving many fans wondering why as the film turned out to be a huge success. Recently, Will explained he's "not proud of" turning down The Matrix, but "it's the truth." After starring in Independence Day and Men in Black, Will listened to a pitch for the mega-successful movie but wasn't too impressed and ultimately went to do Wild Wild West (LOL).

  • John Travolta

    John Travolta
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    John Travolta is an A-list actor who has turned down tons of roles. In addition to Rambo, The Green Mile, and Apollo 13, Travolta turned down the chance to play Forrest Gump. The role later went to Tom Hanks (thankfully) and won him his second Oscar in a row. John later admitted that this was a mistake on his part.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio

    Leonardo DiCaprio
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    Leonardo DiCaprio almost had a chance to star as Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, but was already committed to another project: Titanic. Instead, the role went to Mark Wahlberg, though Leo definitely has some regrets. "Boogie Nights is a movie I loved and I wished I would have done. I'm not saying I would have. But it would have been a different direction, careerwise. I think they're both great and wish I could have done them both."

  • John Lithgow

    John Lithgow
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    John Lithgow was up for the part of the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman film. "I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded," Lithgow told Vulture about his audition. "I didn't realize it was such a big deal," he said of his huge mistake.

  • Bruce Willis

    Bruce Willis
    Splash News

    Demi Moore's then-husband was actually offered the iconic role in the film Ghost that ended up going to Patrick Swayze. Bruce Willis didn't take the role because he, "didn’t think the movie was going to work with the main character being dead the whole time." He later admitted to making a huge mistake. 

    (Ya think, LOL?)
  • Nicholas Cage

    Nicholas Cage
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    Nicholas Cage was up for the part of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that eventually went to Viggo Mortensen. Cage said he has some regrets, but not too many because he loved how the film turned out.

    Still, it kinda hurts. 

    When asked about which films he regretted turning down he said, "Lord of the Rings. That trilogy. Aragorn." "I can enjoy them as an audience member," he added. "I don't really watch my own movies. And so I genuinely do have the joy of watching these -- especially with Lord of the Rings."
  • Kevin Costner

    Kevin Costner
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    Sometimes, actors have to turn down big roles because they're already working on other ones. Such was the case for Kevin Costner when he was offered the role of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. The movie he was busy filming? Well, the would be Waterworld. Costner has said he regrets the decision, and we totally get why.
  • Harrison Ford

    Harrison Ford
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    Back in 2006, Harrison Ford told the Irish Examiner about a role he regretted not taking that another famous Hollywood actor did. "I saw a bit of [director] Steve Gaghan's movie Syriana and I wish I'd played the part that was offered to me -- George [Clooney]'s part," he said. "I didn't feel strongly enough about the truth of the material and I think I made a mistake. I think the film underwent some changes and I think a lot of it is very truthful. The things that I thought weren't, were obviated after I left the table."
  • Mickey Rourke

    Mickey Rourke
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    Mickey Rourke was offered the part of Butch in Pulp Fiction but was in the middle of a major downward spiral when Quentin Tarantino called to offer the part.

    "Quentin Tarantino called once," he said. "I think it was for Pulp Fiction, the part Bruce Willis played. I didn't even read the script. I allowed myself to get proud and angry because I could do the acting. I thought I'd have to be dead not to f***ing work."
  • Denzel Washington

    Denzel Washington
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    There are two films that Denzel Washington regrets turning down: Seven, and Michael Clayton. (The roles went to Brad Pitt and George Clooney.) Washington talked to GQ about why he chose to pass. "With Clayton, it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong," he admits. "It happens."
  • Tom Cruise

    Tom Cruise
    Splash News
    Tom Cruise is one of the most famous actors ever and perhaps only rivals John Travolta (see above) when it comes to the number of iconic roles he's turned down. They include starring roles in Ironman, Wall Street, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Speed among others. But rumor has it, it was the role of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind that Cruise most regrets.
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