It’s the climax of Ghostbusters; Mr Stay Puft is rampaging through New York. Peter Venkman, played by John Belushi, is cracking wise about getting the giant sailor laid. Egon Spengler (Michael Keaton) and Winston (Eddie Murphy) are awaiting the arrival of Gozer, the doors swing open and out strolls… Pee Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. Believe it or not this was the original plan when Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had finished the script and the duo were in the process of casting the 1984 classic-then called ‘Ghost-Smashers’.
This is by no means the only film that swung in a wildly different direction than had been intended. Jim Carrey was originally cast in Meet the Parents even coming up with the idea of the main character being named Focker. Here, in the first part of our new series, we take a look at some other movies that either had a lucky escape or missed opportunity, depending on your point of view. Let us know what side of the fence you land on. Enjoy.
Film: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Role: Indiana Jones
Unlike most other films on this list, this was a done deal. Tom Selleck had accepted the role and had signed on to play Indiana Jones. Selleck’s chance to don the iconic fedora was snatched away quicker than the snap of a whip when the pilot of a TV series that he had filmed (Magnum P.I) was picked up and Selleck was legally obligated to star in the series. Just to add further insult to injury, the star recently revealed that he didn’t actually have to turn down the role: “They held the offer out about a month. And the more they held out the offer and talked to the network, the more the network said, ‘no…’ So I go to Hawaii to start Magnum [P.I.], the actors go on strike, and I had given my deposit to a landlady and I couldn’t afford a security deposit. So I start working as a handy man, in Hawaii, with no job. And guess who comes to Hawaii to finish their movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I could’ve done them both.” George Lucas-who had initially been against the idea of using an actor he had worked with previously, eventually relented to Spielberg’s choice and the role went to Harrison Ford. An unlikely team up would occur when cartoon series ‘Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers’ had the titular characters don Indy and Magnum’s outfits for the show.
Film: Iron Man
Role: Tony Stark
Has there been a more perfect piece of superhero casting then that of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man? The troubles of casting Downey in the role he has now become synonymous with are well documented. Perhaps less well known is that for years another A list star was nailed on to not only star in the role but to produce, having assisted with securing the rights to the character when they shifted from Fox to New Line. When the rights ended up at Paramount and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige got involved, Tom Cruise was still very much on the radar, commenting “There have been discussions (with Cruise) over the last several years and there are a number of factors involved. All we know is that we’re putting all the pieces in place and then we’ll find the best Tony Stark that we can get.”
Cruise ended up dropping out after being unhappy with a draft of the script that focused on Howard Stark being the movie’s villain, which he felt didn’t stay true to the character’s comic roots: “when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work.” When Jon Favreau took the director’s seat he overlooked bigger names for a then un-bankable Downey Jr, remarking that no one else can be such a “likeable a#@hole”
Film: Men in Black
Role: Agent J
Having been turned down by Chris O’Donnell who didn’t want to do another “new recruit” role like Robin from Batman Forever, the producers turned their eye to another up and coming actor… David Schwimmer! Yes, when the original script which was closer in tone to its much darker comic book origins, the plan was to have Ross from Friends team up with Clint Eastwood to take on the scum of the universe. Showing staggering bad judgment, he turned it down in favour of starring in The Pallbearer, explaining: “This is an opportunity to grow rather than go for the quick cash.” Quite what exactly “grew” in a film where he chases Gwyneth Paltrow around a funeral is beyond me.
Schwimmer has never been able to shake his TV roots, by contrast Will Smith’s star went supernova. This is one I feel the artist formally known as Geller would like to have a neuralyzer to wipe this decision from his memory.
Film: The Terminator
O.J. Simpson’s name is now forever linked to ehh let’s say The Naked Gun and various other more murderery stuff. He was also tagged to play unstoppable killing machine The Terminator in James Cameron’s 1984 classic.
The reason Cameron decided not to go with “Juice” was ironically “People wouldn’t have believed a nice guy like O. J. playing the part of a ruthless killer,” The studio was pushing hard for Simpson to take the role with eventual T-800 Arnold Schwarzenegger set to play Kyle Reese. Once Cameron met with the Austrian Oak he changed his mind and offered the titular role to Schwarzenegger and Simpson was out.
Casting musical chairs would continue as Lance Henriksen, who had given an amazing audition arriving in character to add to the surprise of the casting director, would end up playing a cop in the film. The weirdness wasn’t quite over and if there is any reason to confirm that the 80s was a drug induced haze, you need look no further then who was the film producers’ choice to step in as Kyle Reese. None other than Sting! So if everyone had gotten their way , this film would have been OJ Simpson chasing the lead singer of The Police around L.A. In 1990 Dark Horse Comics even printed a comic run with Simpson’s likeness replacing Schwarzenegger.
Film: Django Unchained
For almost the entire decade of speculation before Tarantino eventually brought his western to the screen, it was nailed on that Will Smith would be his Django. The fresh prince however got cold feet after reading the script , turning it down because he “needed to be the lead.” Smith told Entertainment Weekly “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character was the lead!,” referring to Dr King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz.
Smith instead took a role in After Earth which could be argued he wasn’t the lead in either. While Waltz ironically won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Smith has since followed up the disastrous After Earth with cameos in the equally disappointing Anchorman 2 and A Winter’s Tale, suggesting that his need for lead is cooling. The role would of course end up being played by Jamie Foxx but only after he had seen off competition from The Wire alumni Idris Elba and Michael K Williams. With Williams impressing Tarantino so much he says he almost wrote an entirely new character into the movie just to accommodate the actor. Williams however passed to take on a role in Snitch starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
This was not the only change as Kevin Costner who had previously dropped out of the titular role in Kill Bill was unable to take the role of Ace Woody in the film due to scheduling conflicts. He would be replaced by Kurt Russell who himself would be forced to drop out before Tarantino eventually ended the casting merry go round by merging the character with Walton Goggins role as Billy Crash. Goggins who found himself holding the character equivalent of pass the parcel when the music stopped once Joseph Gordon Levitt dropped out to direct Don Jon.