Even some of Hollywood's most iconic movies and TV shows were plagued with production issues, and some could have looked a lot different if one casting decision had gone differently.
Actors and actresses in Hollywood turn out for just about any audition they can get early in their career, and the search can be hard. Casting is not an exact science, and while audiences now think of actors as synonymous with their characters, they would be surprised by some of the considerations behind the scenes.
Years later, this can make for interesting trivia as fans look over the list of performers that almost played their favorite hero. Whether it's a massive action franchise or a wholesome romantic comedy, there is no telling how the entertainment industry would look today if just one of these decisions were flipped.
In many cases, it was the actors or actresses themselves that turned down the role at the last minute, passing it on to someone else. In others, it was a choice in the part of the director or other producer, feeling that another face would serve the movie better.
Of course, for every success story there are many failures we will never hear about. Meanwhile, there is no telling if any of these lauded films wouldn't be even more beloved with another face in the lead.
Either way, it is a fun game of "what if" to look over some of the casting choices that almost got made. Here are eight famous actors and actresses who almost took roles in acclaimed movies.
Sandra Bullock - Neo, 'The Matrix'
Believe it or not, Sandra Bullock was almost The One in The Matrix. Just this month, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura told The Wrap that they had offered the starring role to Bullock before landing on Keanu Reeves.
“We went out to so many people I don’t remember. We were getting desperate,” he said. “We went to Sandy Bullock and said, ‘We’ll change Neo to a girl.’ [Producer] Joel Silver and I worked with Sandy on Demolition Man and she was and continues to be a very good friend of mine. It was pretty simple. We sent her the script to see if she was interested in it. And if she was interested in it, we would try to make the change.”
Ultimately, Bullock herself passed on the role, feeling that it was not right for her at the time. Meanwhile, a better-known story is that Will Smith turned down the role of Neo at the time as well. In an interview with Wired, he admitted that he thinks he would have fumbled the role if he had tried to do it.
"In the pitch, I just didn't see it. I watched Keanu's performance — and very rarely do I say this — but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix," he said. "At that point I wasn't smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be."
Rob Lowe - McDreamy, 'Grey's Anatomy'
Rob Lowe has had a famously tumultuous time in the spotlight, with one of the most beloved celebrity comebacks of all time. In his 2011 memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, he explained how he had been offered the infamous role of Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy.
According to Lowe, he was already in contract negotiations with CBS to star on a show called Dr. Vegas at the time. However, he still showed up for one meeting about the ABC medical drama.
"I agreed to meet with the people making Grey's Anatomy. I had read it and loved it — the writing was crisp, real and very entertaining — and it's always been a good idea to hear out talented people," he recalled. "'We would be thrilled if you would play Dr. Derek Shepherd,' they said right off the bat. I was torn. Grey's was a much better script; in fact, there was no comparison."
Of course, the role of McDreamy ultimately made Patrick Dempsey into a household name, and Lowe later said that it was "not for him" in an interview on Marc Maron's WTF Podcast.
"That probably cost me $70 million dollars!” he said.
Matthew McConaughey - Jack, 'Titanic'
One of America's favorite love stories of all time might look a little different if Matthew McConaughey had hd his way. In November, he said that he had auditioned for the role of Jack Dawson in Titanic during an interview on The Hollywood Reporter's Award Chatter Podcast.
"I wanted that," he admitted. "I auditioned with Kate Winslet. Had a good audition. Walked away from there pretty confident that I had it. I didn't get it. I never got offered that."
Meanwhile, before Winslet nearly lost out on her role too, as the part of Rose DeWitt Bukater was reportedly offered to Gwyneth Paltrow first. In January of 2015, Paltrow told Howard Stern that turning it down was still something she regretted from time to time.
"I look back at the choices I've made and think, Why the hell did I say yes to that and no to that?" she said. "And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There's a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?"
Hugh Jackman - James Bond, 'Casino Royale'
In 2006, when the James Bond franchise was reset with Daniel Craig at its head, Hugh Jackman was reportedly in the running. he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2013 that he had been offered the role, but had been afraid it would prove to be more of a limitation than an asset.
"I thought it would box me in too much," he said. "My natural instinct is to keep as many doors open as possible."
Charlie Hunnam - Christian Grey, 'Fifty Shades of Grey'
Before the role was handed off to Jamie Dornan, Charlie Hunnam nearly played the controlling Christian Grey in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. As he explained to Us Weekly in 2015, he was committed to another film at the time, but turning down the sexually charged franchise was difficult for him.
"It was a really, really difficult time in my life. I had already been attached to Crimson Peak for about 14 months, which I said I was going to do with Guillermo [del Toro]," he said. "To fail on such a grand scale — because Fifty's going to be massive, it's going to be huge… I loved the character and I wanted to do it. I'm also a man of my word."
That same month, Hunnam told Variety that missing out on the role still haunted him.
“Oh, it was the worst professional experience of my life,” he said. “It was the most emotionally destructive and difficult thing that I’ve ever had to deal with professionally.”
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt - Jack and Ennis, 'Brokeback Mountain'
Original director Gus Van Sant said he had cast a wide net while looking for the starring duo in Brokeback Mountain. He told Indie Wire in July that he had pitched the film to just about every A-list actor at the time.
“I was working on it, and I felt we needed a really strong cast, like a famous cast. That wasn’t working out. I asked the usual suspects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ryan Phillippe. They all said no,” he recalled.
Eventually, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger were lauded for their roles in the movie, as was the final director Ang Lee.
Christina Applegate - Elle Woods, 'Legally Blonde'
Legally Blonde launched Reese Witherspoon into a massive career, and there is no telling how different it might look if Christina Applegate had not turned the role down first. In July of 2015, she talked to reporters from Entertainment Tonight about the difficult decision.
"The script came along my way and it was right after I had just finished Married [With… Children] and it was, you know, a blonde who was, in that first script, dim-witted but ends up going to Harvard," she recalled. "It was just, I got scared. I got scared of kind of repeating myself."
Paul Giamatti - Michael Scott, 'The Office'
After 10 seasons and countless "that's what she said" jokes, Steve Carell is synonymous with the Dunder Mifflin manager Michael Scott. However, according to a report by The New York Times in 2006, Giamatti was actually the first choice among NBC executives. Of course, the character really originated overseas with Ricky Gervais, who played Scott's British counterpart David Brent.