It’s fun to look back on film’s most iconic characters and wonder how things would have been different with a new actor at the helm. Could somebody else have played Han Solo? Was Al Pacino really the best choice for Michael Corleone?
It’s all speculative movie trivia, but it’s a great way to get your imagination going. Now, let’s take a look at a few of film’s most iconic roles that were almost played by other actors.
Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones is one of Harrison Ford’s most iconic roles. The Indiana Jones franchise was a callback to an earlier time; a modern-day version of the old adventure serials popular in the 1940s and 50s. The titular character—Indiana Jones—was the adventurer ethos personified. Rugged, dashing and manly, Harrison Ford seemed perfect for the part. However, director George Lucas wasn’t interested in casting Ford, given Ford’s role in Lucas’ ongoing Star Wars franchise.
Therefore, Lucas looked for a different actor who fit the rugged and masculine archetype—and he found one in Tom Selleck. And while it certainly would have been interesting to see Selleck take up Indy’s mantle, he was held back by some scheduling conflicts with a then-new series you may have heard of called Magnum, P.I. Selleck couldn’t get out of his contract with CBS, and thus, Harrison Ford was brought back into the fold.
Jack Nicholson as Michael Corleone
The Godfather still stands as one of the greatest films ever made, thanks in no small part to its performances. Al Pacino plays the tortured mafioso Michael Corleone to great effect throughout the trilogy, earning himself two Academy Award nominations. But what if Pacino hadn’t taken the role? What if the role had gone to another actor who would prove himself equally capable of playing a violent mobster: Jack Nicholson?
We’ll never know for sure. Nicholson already had nearly 15 years of acting experience by the time The Godfather entered production, and while he was a favorite for the role, he reportedly took issue with a non-Italian actor playing an Italian character. In turn, the role went to Pacino, and history was made. Speaking of Al Pacino...
Al Pacino as Han Solo
It’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford as Han Solo, but here’s a bit of actor trivia. According to reports, the iconic 1977 role in Star Wars nearly went to someone a little different: Al Pacino.
At the time of filming, Pacino was coming off several other big films that would define his career, such as The Godfather and Serpico. He was becoming a household name, and it made sense from a box office perspective to include him in the low-budget sci-fi romp that was the original Star Wars. However, Pacino is famously selective when it comes to movie roles, and he never took up the mantle.
4. Will Smith as Neo
The 1999 film The Matrix took the world by storm, dealing in new millennium futurism and genre-bending sci-fi theologism in equal measure. The film influenced our culture in numerous ways, the least of which was changing our perception of Keanu Reeves from a goofy comedy actor into a certifiable action star. But as it turns out, The Matrix almost went an entirely different way.
Will Smith was at the height of his power at the end of the 1990s and was originally offered the role of Neo. However, he turned it down to star in another movie that appealed to him more: the ill-received Wild Wild West.
5. Johnny Depp as Ferris Bueller
Bueller? ...Bueller? Yes, the titular role in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was made famous by Matthew Broderick, but it was initially offered to none other than Johnny Depp. Depp certainly had the boyish looks to pull off the role, and he’s proven himself a capable actor throughout his career. Nonetheless, he ultimately turned down the role because of scheduling conflicts. As talented as Depp may be, Broderick brought a certain charm to Ferris Bueller that walked the line between affable and smug—exactly what the script called for.
Rewriting history with new actors
It’s impossible to say how other actors would have fared in these iconic roles. But given the way things turned out, there’s no way any of us could be disappointed. These roles are iconic because their actors made them iconic, and if a different actor were chosen, there’s a good chance that characters like Indiana Jones or Ferris Bueller would never have become household names.