15 Riskiest Movie Castings That Totally Worked

POSTED BY Tayyab Khalil, UPDATED ON January 30th, 2024
Riskiest Movie Castings That Totally Worked

Casting is the most crucial aspect of a movie. If the actor is not perfect for the part, the movie is bound to fail. Yet there have been multiple occurrences of seemingly unworthy actors being cast in iconic roles only to prove the critics wrong. Here are the 15 riskiest movie castings that totally worked:


15. Daniel Craig (James Bond)

Daniel Craig James Bond

With more than 200 actors being considered for the role of James Bond once Pierce Brosnan stepped down, fans could not help but scratch their heads once Daniel Craig was announced as his replacement. The actor lacked the suave charm and traditional black hair that is normally associated with the character and the outrage over his casting was enormous.

Several moviegoers threatened to boycott Casino Royale, disgruntled fans launched the website danielcraigisnotbond.com and even the tabloid newspaper Daily Mirror criticized the actor’s casting with the headline, The Name’s Bland – James Bland. Upon the movie’s release, Craig blew away critics and fans alike to the point of universal acclaim.


14. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine)

Riskiest Movie Castings That Totally Worked Hugh Jackman Wolverine

Image Source: gq.com

As much as Hugh Jackman is synonymous with Wolverine, he was not even on the list of actors the studio was considering for the role. Big names such as Keanu Reeves, Mel Gibson, Viggo Mortensen, and Edward Norton were thrown around and Russell Crowe was director Bryan Singer’s first choice to play the role but he turned it down. However, the actor was kind enough to suggest a replacement – Hugh Jackman.

At first, Singer was not convinced, and rightfully so. Jackman was a prominent stage actor with a knack for singing and only had two Australian movies and a few television appearances to his name. Nor was his physique similar to Wolverine in the comics. After an impressive audition, Jackman was chosen for the role and the rest is history.


13. Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow)

Johnny Depp Jack Sparrow

Believe it or not, the role of Jack Sparrow was specifically written for Hugh Jackman and even named after him. Once he declined the offer, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Keaton, Christopher Walken, and Jim Carrey were considered until the role was given to Johnny Depp.

Granted that Depp is an amazing actor but his hiring was an overly worrisome ordeal for Disney executives as they thought he was performing as either drunk or gay. Disney CEO Michael Eisner even claimed that Depp was “ruining the film” and the actor gave him an ultimatum – either trust me or fire me. As Pirates of the Caribbean hit the theatres, fans were astounded by Depp’s over-the-top performance and the actor received his first Academy Award nomination.


12. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman)

Riskiest Movie Castings That Totally Worked Christian Bale Patrick Bateman

5 years before Christian Bale donned the cape and the cowl, he was a former child star who had faded into obscurity. During the casting of American Psycho, director Mary Harron strongly preferred him to star as the lead character Patrick Bateman but Lionsgate refused, citing that the actor was not famous enough.

The studio wanted Leonardo DiCaprio for the role and was completely willing to grant him his salary demand of $21 million. The actor declined and opted to star in The Beach instead. Despite Harron’s numerous pleas to hire Bale, the studio still opted for a well-known actor and approached Ewan McGregor. The actor declined as Bale had politely requested him to do so. Lionsgate had then no choice but to accept Bale for the role of Patrick Bateman and it marked the beginning of his highly successful career.


11. Heath Ledger (Joker)

Heath Ledger Joker

Though several actors such as Henry Cavill, Hugh Dancy, Joshua Jackson, Cillian Murphy, and Jake Gyllenhaal auditioned, were considered, or either expressed interest in the role of Batman, only one actor was considered and offered the role of The Joker by the director Christopher Nolan – Heath Ledger.

The casting choice was initially met with displeasure from fans and even from the executives of Warner Bros. who were doubtful about Ledger’s acting abilities being suitable for the intense role of the Joker. He was considered too young, too handsome, and not capable of filling the large shoes of Jack Nicholson who had previously portrayed the Clown Prince of Crime. It only took one trailer of The Dark Knight to prove that Ledger’s performance would be one for the ages.


10. John Travolta (Vincent Vega)

John Travolta Vincent Vega

John Travolta’s public perception had drastically altered before being cast in Pulp Fiction. Once a dependable heartthrob of Hollywood, the actor had been starring in several critically and commercially dreadful movies.

After director Quentin Tarantino’s first choice, Michael Madsen declined to be cast as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, Travolta accepted the offer but on a reduced salary. It all paid off as the movie became an instant classic and revived the actor’s career.


9. Christopher Reeve (Superman)

Riskiest Movie Castings That Totally Worked Christopher Reeve Superman

Casting Superman in his first live-action movie proved to be incredibly burdensome. A-list actors such as Paul Newman, Patrick Wayne, James Caan, Jon Voight, and Charles Bronson were considered for the role but nothing came to fruition and the search continued. Long lines of actors auditioned but none impressed the studio. Even producer Ilya Salkind’s wife’s dentist was screen-tested because of the shortage of potential actors.

More than 200 unknown actors auditioned for the part and it was Christopher Reeve who blew away the director and producers. The actor only had one movie credit so far and was too skinny. When asked to wear a muscle suit, Reeve refused and underwent a vigorous exercise routine to do justice to the role. Superman received universal acclaim and the casting of Reeve was highly applauded.


8. Clint Eastwood (The Man With No Name)

Clint Eastwood The Man With No Name

Arguably the greatest character in the spaghetti western genre, the Man With No Name is one mean gunslinger who has no second thoughts when it comes to shooting his victims. Director Sergio Leone knew the potential of the character so he asked A-lister Henry Fonda to play the role. Unfortunately, the studio could not afford a major Hollywood actor so Leone had to look towards other options.

More than half a dozen actors declined and among them was Richard Harrison who recommended Clint Eastwood for the role. The actor’s résumé was less than stellar. He had uncredited roles, appearances as an extra, and a supporting role in a television show. Yet Eastwood did not disappoint and the role catapulted him into superstardom.


7. Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man)

Robert Downey Jr Iron Man

As Marvel Studios were on the verge of launching their cinematic universe, they needed the face of their franchise, and Robert Downey, Jr. seemed to be the last person they wanted anything to do with. Casting him was a risky decision due to a string of personal and professional mishaps.

The actor had become more renowned due to his arrests and most of his recent movies were not remarkable at all. Yet director Jon Favreau was able to look at the bigger picture as he quickly realized that the actor’s real-life struggles mirror that of Tony Stark. After months of convincing the studio that Downey, Jr. was perfect for the role, he was finally given the green light and Iron Man became a booming success.


6. Chris Evans (Captain America)

Chris Evans Captain America

Unlike his co-star Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans already had experience playing a superhero and it was far from being impressive. The actor had portrayed Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch in two critically panned Fantastic Four movies and it only fueled the massive backlash against his casting as Captain America.

The very idea of Captain America being played by “that dude from Not Another Teen Movie” seems to defy logic. Even Evans was hesitant to accept the role and had declined the offer three times. At the end of the day, Captain America: The First Avenger was a smash hit with critics, and the actor’s performance was particularly praised.


5. Henry Fonda (Frank)

Henry Fonda Frank

Perhaps the biggest defining feature of Henry Fonda’s illustrious career is being the perfect actor to pull off good guy roles. Remember that he portrayed the very first juror who voted “not guilty” in 12 Angry Men and ultimately saved the boy’s life from the death penalty. Yet for some reason or another, director Sergio Leone wanted him to portray the villain Frank in his upcoming western Once Upon a Time in the West.

Upon Fonda’s refusal, Leone flew to New York to personally convince him to accept the offer.

“Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera tilts up to the gunman’s face and … it’s Henry Fonda,”

Leone told to Fonda. The actor accepted and gave one of the best performances of his entire career.


4. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo)

Mark Hamill Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford Luke Skywalker Princess Leia and Han Solo

Casting an unknown actor in the lead role is worrisome enough but director George Lucas went miles ahead and settled for three unknown actors for his ambitious space movie, Star Wars. At the time of its production, actors Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher were practical nobodies in Hollywood.

None of them had any acting experience yet their on-screen chemistry coupled with visual and special effects wowed the audience and critics alike. Star Wars became an iconic part of cinematic history upon its release, kickstarting a billion-dollar franchise and making Hamill, Ford, and Fisher mega-stars overnight.


3. Michael Keaton (Batman)

Michael Keaton Batman

If you thought the casting of Ben Affleck and Robert Pattinson caused an outrage, you ain’t seen anything yet! Comic book fans were fuming when none other than Michael Keaton was announced to play the titular character in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Warner Bros. received more than 50,000 protest letters that demanded the actor be replaced.

Not even Batman creator and the movie’s creative consultant Bob Kane expressed any enthusiasm towards Keaton’s casting. Due to being one of the most in-demand comedy actors at the time, the negative reaction was understandable yet Keaton proved the doubters wrong. The actor’s stunning performance was a perfect fit for the dark and mature theme of the Caped Crusader and Keaton still stands as the best live-action Batman for an entire generation.


2. Keanu Reeves (Neo)

Keanu Reeves Neo

The impressive list of actors who were offered the role of Neo includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, and Will Smith yet all of them declined for one reason or the other. Even Sandra Bullock was offered the role and then-President of Warner Bros. Pictures Lorenzo di Bonaventura was even willing to change Neo into a woman had she accepted.

Though Keanu Reeves was perfect for the role, it comes as a surprise that his selection was more of a necessity because every shortlisted actor had rejected the offer. Reeves was not even a dependable actor back then as he had an unreliable track record of hip-hopping from flops to hits and vice-versa. Yet the actor exceeded all expectations and The Matrix would never have been a sci-fi masterpiece without him.


1. Marlon Brando (Vito Corleone)

Riskiest Movie Castings That Totally Worked Marlon Brando Vito Corleone

Often regarded as the greatest movie ever made, The Godfather would not have been the same if Marlon Brando had not starred as Don Vito Corleone. Based on the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, Paramount Pictures was hoping to rope in Laurence Olivier for the role but he declined. Brando was director Francis Ford Coppola’s and author Puzo’s first choice for the role but studio executives were drastically hard to convince.

Having starred in numerous flops for a decade, the actor’s star power had faded and the then-president of Paramount even told Coppola that:

“Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture.”

After overwhelming pleas from the director, Brando was reluctantly given a chance for a screen test and aced it. The actor gave the performance of a lifetime as Don Corleone and assisted in making The Godfather a timeless classic.

Did we miss any of the riskiest movie castings that worked? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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