Actors Who Regretted Missing Out On Big Sci-Fi Movies

It's fascinating to think about what your favorite movies would have looked like if there had been different actors in the leading roles. What would the "Star Wars" franchise have looked like if Christopher Walken played Han Solo and not Harrison Ford? Would the "Batman" franchise have become a smash hit if it was Willem Dafoe playing the Dark Knight and not Michael Keaton? The brilliance of some movie casting decisions isn't always recognized until the films are actually released. Some "Batman" fans were furious when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in "The Dark Knight." Of course, history proved them wrong when Ledger completely transformed himself for the role.

Similarly, there was significant controversy when Daniel Craig was announced as the next 007. The James Bond casting director Debbie McWilliams told "Entertainment Weekly" that "it was unbelievably negative." Once again, fans' initial expectations were wrong. Craig became one of the best Bonds ever, and honored the legacy of the character with his final performance in "No Time To Die." Some actors made the unfortunate mistake of turning down potentially great roles, and later regretted missing out on big sci-fi movies.

Matt Damon — Avatar (2009)

"Avatar" is the biggest movie of all time. James Cameron's science fiction epic became the first film in history to gross over $2 billion at the box office. Although it was briefly surpassed by "Avengers: Endgame" in 2019, "Avatar" retook its title as the all-time champion in 2021 when it was re-released. In addition to the game-changing visual effects, "Avatar" features an incredible cast including Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, and Giovanni Ribisi. However, the "Avatar" cast was almost even more star-studded. Before Sam Worthington landed the role of the former Marine Jake Sully, Cameron offered the part to Matt Damon. Damon revealed during an interview at the Cannes Film Festival that Cameron was willing to pay him 10% of the film's box office gross. Damon joked that "you will never meet an actor who turned down more money."

Although Damon has no shortage of box office hits in his filmography, "Avatar" would have redefined his career. It's interesting to think about what the film would have looked like with Damon playing Sully. Although "Avatar" deserves praise for its visual spectacle, the romantic subplot is by far the least interesting aspect of the film. Perhaps, Damon could have made these emotional scenes more engaging.

Will Smith — The Matrix (1999)

Will Smith had an unbelievable run of hits in the 1990s. After his breakout role in the sitcom "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air," Smith starred in smash hits like "Bad Boys," "Independence Day," "Men in Black," and "Enemy of the State." Within this golden period for Smith, his only real misstep was accepting the role of Captain James West in the 1999 western comedy "Wild Wild West." The film was a colossal financial and critical failure.

To make things even worse for Smith, he accepted the role in "Wild Wild West" after turning down one of the most famous science fiction films of all time. Smith revealed in an online video that his initial meeting with the Wachowskis about "The Matrix" came at a "crazy time" in his career. Although Smith described the Wachowskis as "geniuses," he said that "it's a hard movie to pitch." Smith's decision to pass on the role opened up the opportunity for Keanu Reeves to join the film. It worked out in Reeves' favor, as Neo became his greatest character ever. While it would have been interesting to think about what Smith would have brought to the role, Reeves certainly would not have the career that he does today if he hadn't starred in "The Matrix."

Emily Blunt — Iron Man 2 (2010)

Between "Looper," "Edge of Tomorrow," "Sicario," "A Quiet Place," and "Jungle Cruise" Emily Blunt is one of the best female action stars working today. However, Blunt was nearly cast as yet another iconic character when she was reportedly Marvel Studios' first choice to play Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Blunt revealed in an interview with Howard Stern that she had been ecstatic about joining the cast of "Iron Man 2." However, Blunt was also attached to co-star in the family comedy "Gulliver's Travels" with Jack Black. Blunt said that she wasn't as interested in "Gulliver's Travels," but had to appear in the film in order to complete her contract with 20th Century Fox. Due to the conflicting shooting dates, Blunt was forced to decline the role of Black Widow, and Scarlett Johansson subsequently landed the role. Blunt said that the entire ordeal "was a bit of a heartbreaker for me." She stated that she takes pride in the roles that she selects, and that having to miss out on a role that she was excited about was "tough." To make things even worse, "Gulliver's Travels" was a critical failure. While Johansson ended up doing a great job playing Black Widow, it's unfortunate that Blunt was denied the opportunity.

Madonna — The Matrix (1999)

Will Smith isn't the only celebrity who missed out on an opportunity to join "The Matrix" franchise. Madonna revealed in an interview with Jimmy Fallon that she was offered many roles that she subsequently regretted passing on, including the part of Selina Kyle in Tim Burton's 1992 comic book film "Batman Returns." However, there is no film that she regretted not participating in more than "The Matrix." Madonna stated that "The Matrix" is "one of the best movies ever made," and that "part of me regrets just that one moment in my life."

Although Madonna did not specifically state in the interview which role she was offered, it's likely that she is talking about the role of Trinity, who was played by Carrie-Anne Moss. Madonna may be best known as a musician, but she's also given many strong film performances, stealing scenes in films like "Desperately Seeking Susan," "A League Of Their Own," and "Body of Evidence." However, the role of an action hero like Trinity would have been unlike anything else that she had done.

Eddie Murphy — Ghostbusters (1984)

Eddie Murphy starred in many of the best comedy films of the 1980s, including "48 Hrs.," "Trading Places," "Beverly Hills Cop," and "Coming to America." However, Murphy nearly added one more iconic comedy classic to his filmography. Murphy revealed that his "Trading Places" co-star Dan Akroyd offered him the opportunity to appear in 1984's "Ghostbusters." However, due to scheduling conflicts with "Beverly Hills Cop," Murphy was forced to decline a role in Ivan Reitman's beloved sci-fi classic. In hindsight, Murphy stated that "I wish I could have been in both."

While Murphy has expressed remorse that he did not get to appear in "Ghostbusters," this story at least has a happy ending. "Ghostbusters" and "Beverly Hills Cop" were both released in 1984 and were both massive successes inspiring recurring franchises. The cast of "Ghostbusters" is essentially perfect; Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson work wonderfully together. However, it would have been interesting to see what Murphy could have added to the film.

John Lithgow — Batman (1989)

Tim Burton's 1989 film "Batman" proved to Hollywood that superhero movies were viable. After the failure of 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace," the genre was in a shaky position. Some actors did not understand what a phenomenon a new "Batman" movie would become.

Among them was John Lithgow. Lithgow told Vulture that he auditioned to play the Joker for Burton. Lithgow remembers that he "tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded." He admits that he did not understand that the film was such a big deal until he heard that Burton was also considering Jack Nicholson and Robin Williams for the role of the Crown Prince of Crime. In hindsight, Lithgow called his decision "stupid," and joked that "actors are not necessarily smart people." It's certainly hard to argue with the legacy of Nicholson's Joker. He turned the Joker into a character who was simultaneously scary and hilarious. That being said, Lithgow is an incredible actor in his own right. There's no doubt that he would have done a terrific job if he had landed the part.

Ray Liotta — Batman (1989)

When Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's "Batman," it was a little bit surprising. DC fans had their skepticisms about seeing Keaton play the dark, brooding caped crusader. At the time, casting an actor who was known for working on more serious projects would have made sense, and it almost happened. Ray Liotta revealed in an interview with The Irish News that he had passed on an opportunity to play Bruce Wayne in Burton's original 1989 film. At the time, Liotta definitely seemed like a more logical choice.

However, Liotta turned down the opportunity because he thought it was "a stupid idea." Liotta had been skeptical about seeing a darker take on the iconic superhero, but respected what Burton and Keaton had done with "Beetlejuice." He said that he regretted the decision and that he had occasionally been too "precious" about choosing which films he wanted to star in. Liotta joked that if he had agreed to play Batman, his "career could've taken off in a different kind of way!"

Jessica Chastain — Iron Man 3 (2013)

Jessica Chastain is definitely one of the best actresses working today, using her celebrity status to advocate for change within the film industry while supporting female filmmakers and using her platform to support social causes. Chastain had been excited about potentially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she wasn't about to join the franchise unless she knew that she could be an inspiration for young girls. Chastain was offered the role of Steven Strange's (Benedict Cumberbatch) love interest, Christine Palmer, in 2016's "Doctor Strange." Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill revealed in a podcast interview that Chastain turned down the opportunity, but that it was "the coolest rejection ever." Chastain didn't want to just play a love interest ... She wanted to be a hero in her own right.

However, "Doctor Strange" wasn't the only MCU role that Chastain regretfully didn't pursue. She had really wanted to appear as Maya Hansen in 2013's "Iron Man 3," but was forced to decline because her schedule was "jam-packed." Chastain stated that she was disappointed that she couldn't be part of the film, as she described Shane Black and the creative team behind "Iron Man 3" as "wonderful." She held onto the hope that "there'll be another Marvel film" in her future. Unfortunately, the only superhero film that Chastain has appeared in since is the disastrous "X-Men" sequel "Dark Phoenix."

Josh Hartnett — Batman Begins (2005)

Before Christian Bale was cast as Batman in Christopher Nolan's 2005 film "Batman Begins," there were many well-known stars who were considered for the role. Jake Gyllenhaal, Billy Crudup, Henry Cavill, Heath Ledger, David Boreanaz, Hugh Dancy, and Cillian Murphy almost starred in the "dark and gritty" reboot of Bob Kane's iconic character. Josh Hartnett nearly ended up being the star of Nolan's trilogy, but told The Guardian that the role "wasn't for me." Hartnett would go on to say that Nolan is one of the many people that he regrets that he was not able to work with.

Although Hartnett's star power has somewhat declined within the past couple of decades, he was a major movie star in the early 2000s. Between "The Virgin Suicides," "Black Hawk Down," "The Faculty," and "Sin City," Hartnett had worked with some of the best directors in the industry. "Batman Begins" did wonders for Bale's career. He went from being the child star of films like "Newsies" and "Empire of the Sun" to an actor that people took more seriously. However, Hartnett certainly could have used the opportunity to boost his own career.

Eddie Murphy — Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

While scheduling issues prevented Eddie Murphy from appearing in "Ghostbusters," the beloved comedian and actor revealed to Jimmy Fallon that the only film that he regretted actually turning down was Robert Zemeckis' 1988 classic "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Murphy was originally approached to play the character of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) and joked that he was uneasy about the film's blend of live-action and animation, but that he felt like an "idiot" after seeing the film. He told Fallon that he regrets turning down the offer every time that he watches "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

While this was an unfortunate misstep for Murphy, his apprehension was understandable. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" isn't exactly the easiest film to pitch, and the combination of cartoon characters with more adult elements could have easily been disastrous (just think of 1986's "Howard the Duck"). However, getting a more seasoned dramatic actor like Hoskins ended up working in the film's favor.

Ralph Macchio — Back to the Future (1985)

Although Marty McFly is now Michael J. Fox's signature role, it almost wasn't his. "Back to the Future" was famously going to star Eric Stoltz, who shot many scenes with director Robert Zemeckis and co-star Christopher Lloyd (the entirety of that footage has never been publicly released). However, Stoltz isn't the only famous 1980s heartthrob who almost played Marty. "Karate Kid" star Ralph Macchio was also close to landing the role.

Macchio told People that he and Zemeckis had "a few conversations." While Macchio expressed his appreciation for the opportunity, he believes that things worked out in everyone's favor. He said that Fox was "the right person" to play McFly, just as he had been the right person to play Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 classic "The Karate Kid." Both films were hits, and Macchio at least got the opportunity to play an older version of LaRusso in "Cobra Kai." Zemeckis has stated that he has no interest in making "Back to the Future: Part IV," so it's unlikely that we will ever see Fox play Marty again.

Michael Keaton — Groundhog Day (1989)

Although Keaton managed to beat his competitors for the role of Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's "Batman," he missed out on the opportunity to star in another science fiction movie classic. Keaton told Entertainment Weekly that he passed on the role of weatherman Phil Connors in Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day." He regretted the decision and praised what Ramis had accomplished with the film. However, Keaton remains just as humble as he's always been, admitting that he couldn't have played the role any "better than Bill Murray."

Choosing between Murray and Keaton is a challenge, but Murray was better suited for "Groundhog Day." While both actors are hilarious, Murray was able to bring out the cynicism in Connors. Keaton had already done more endearing roles, so he may not have been as believable as a pessimistic, rude character who goes through a change of heart. Keaton did get to work with Ramis a few years later on the high-concept comedy "Multiplicity."

Freddie Prinze Jr. — Spider-Man (2002)

Fans of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy were delighted to see Tobey Maguire return to his signature role as Peter Parker in the 2021 Marvel Cinematic Universe film "Spider-Man: No Way Home." Seeing Maguire team up with Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland was a crowd-pleasing moment for the ages. What would it have looked like if instead of Maguire, it was Freddie Prinze Jr. behind the original Spider-Man mask?

Prinze Jr. told Howard Stern that the role was nearly his in 2002's "Spider-Man." He went into further detail on his podcast, "The Prinze and The Wolf," when he was asked about the best role that he missed out on. Prinze Jr. revealed that he spent so much time during his audition talking about "Spider-Man" lore that he overwhelmed Raimi. He said that he "drove home so upset and angry" after feeling that he had blown his chance to play the iconic web slinger.

Leonardo DiCaprio — Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones (2002)

The Disney+ series "Obi-Wan Kenobi" has inspired a greater appreciation for Hayden Christensen's performance as Anakin Skywalker in the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy. Christensen was never given the credit that he deserved, and nobody could make Anakin's romantic dialogue with Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) any less melodramatic. However, it certainly would have been interesting to see Leonardo DiCaprio give it a shot.

DiCaprio was reportedly George Lucas' first choice to play Luke Skywalker's father in 2002's "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones." DiCaprio told Vanity Fair that he simply didn't feel ready for the part at that point in his career, which ended up being a good choice. Instead, DiCaprio starred in 2002's "Gangs of New York," sparking his fruitful partnership with Martin Scorsese. That being said, DiCaprio may have regretted not being able to join the "Star Wars" franchise. In an interview with W Magazine, Jonah Hill said that DiCaprio was a massive "Star Wars" fan, and forced him to watch "The Mandalorian."

Tupac Shakur — Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (1999)

Unfortunately, some exciting casting announcements never happened due to real life tragedies. Death Row Records employee Rick Clifford revealed in an interview with 2Pac-Forum that Tupcas Shakur auditioned to play the role of Mace Windu, Yoda's second-in-command on the Jedi Council. Sadly, Tupac was tragically killed in 1996.

Tupac certainly would have been an interesting addition to the "Star Wars" franchise, and it is horrible that he was denied the chance of joining the series due to real-world violence. The role eventually went to Samuel L. Jackson, who delivered one of the best performances in the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy. Although Windu doesn't do a whole lot in "The Phantom Menace," he played a larger role in "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith." Jackson has recently expressed interest in returning to play the character again, as he thinks that Windu would have been able to survive his apparent death in "Revenge of the Sith."