27 Actors Who Turned Down TV And Movie Roles That Went On To Become Super Iconic

Christina Applegate almost played Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and I can’t stop thinking about it.

1. First, Maya Rudolph recently revealed that she was approached to star in Killing Eve as Eve Polastri, a role that ultimately went to Sandra Oh. Maya explained that taking the job would’ve meant relocating to Europe for several months, which wasn’t possible given her growing family. Maya said she “devoured Fleabag” and wanted to work with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but she ultimately had to turn down Killing Eve.

A close-up shot of Maya above a different shot of Sandra Oh starring in Killing Eve

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Sandra Oh would go on to win a 2019 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama, for her work on Killing Eve, and she’s been nominated for three Emmy Awards.

Sandra holding her Golden Globe award for Killing Eve

Kevork Djansezian / NBCU / Getty Images

2. Rob Lowe famously passed on starring as Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy in 2005. At the time, Rob said no to the Shonda Rhimes series in order to star in the short-lived medical drama Dr. Vegas. Looking back on the decision, Rob said, “Had I done Grey’s, I wouldn’t have been in Parks and Recreation. That alone for me is enough.”

A close-up of Rob Lowe above a picture of Patrick Dempsey as McDreamy

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Patrick Dempsey’s work on Grey’s Anatomy ended up being career-defining, and he played the role for 10 years before exiting the series during Season 11. Patrick was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance on Grey’s in 2005, and he won a SAG Award alongside his fellow cast members for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2007.

Patrick Dempsey holds the SAG award, which the Grey's Anatomy cast won in 2007

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3. Jackie Chan turned down starring in Everything Everywhere All at Once after The Daniels, who directed the film, offered him the role. The directing duo even traveled to China to meet the legendary actor. Jackie’s role was then reimagined as Evelyn Quan Wang and it was offered to Michelle Yeoh, who jokes that she won’t let Jackie live down that he passed on it.

A close-up of Jackie Chan above a shot of Michelle Yeoh in the role he turned down

Noel Vasquez / Getty Images / A24 / Everett Collection

Everything Everywhere All at Once has become A24’s highest-grossing movie worldwide with $80.9 million and counting. The film is already one of the best movies of 2022 and is predicated to be a favorite for the upcoming awards season.

Michelle Yeoh at South by Southwest

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4. Cate Blanchett was originally going to portray Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos until she ultimately dropped out of the project. “It became the movie it needed to be,” Cate recalled. “Those things happen in the right way, at the right time. In the best possible way, you don’t always envisage the same thing; and then it goes on to become a different entity.”

A close-up of Cate Blanchett who turned down the role that went to Nicole Kidman

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Nicole Kidman ended up landing the role of Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. Her work in the film earned her a Golden Globe Award in 2022 for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama, and she received her fifth Oscar nomination.

Nicole Kidman at the Oscars this year

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

5. Matthew Modine, who is currently starring as Dr. Brenner, aka Papa, on Stranger Things, was initially offered the part of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun in 1986 before the role went to Tom Cruise. At the time, Matthew said he turned down the role because he didn’t want to endorse militarism and he still doesn’t regret the decision.

A close-up of young Matthew Modine above a shot of Tom Cruise in TopGun

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Tom Cruise’s career skyrocketed after Top Gun hit theaters in 1986 and the film was nominated for four Academy Awards. Tom is now starring in Top Gun: Maverick, the highly anticipated sequel, which is the highest-grossing film of 2022 so far and the biggest blockbuster of Tom Cruise’s career.

Tom Cruise at a red carpet event for Top Gun: Maverick

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6. Courteney Cox was originally offered the role of Rachel Green on Friends, however she turned down the role because she felt that she “related more to Monica.” The decision ended up working out in her favor, and she was ultimately cast as Monica alongside Jennifer Aniston as Rachel.

A.close-up shot of Courteney Cox above a shot of Jennifer Aniston in Friends

Ron Galella / Getty Images / NBC

Jennifer Aniston went on to win an Emmy Award in 2002 for her work on Friends, and she was nominated for five Emmy Awards total over the course of the show’s 10-season run. Notably, Courteney Cox was the only member of the main cast to not be nominated for an Emmy Award.

Jennifer Aniston with her Emmy Award in 2002

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7. Amandla Stenberg walked away from playing Shuri in Black Panther, a role that eventually went to Letitia Wright. They talked about passing on the opportunity, saying, “These are all dark-skinned actors playing Africans, and I feel like it would have just been off to see me as a biracial American with a Nigerian accent just pretending that I’m the same color as everyone else in the movie. That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets.”

A close-up of Amandla Stenberg above a shot of Letitia Wright as Shuri

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Black Panther went on to be nominated for seven Oscars in 2019, including Best Picture. In terms of Letitia Wright as Shuri, she’s scheduled to play an even bigger role in the sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever following Chadwick Boseman’s death in 2020.

The cast of Black Panther at the Oscars

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8. Matthew Broderick notably turned down the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad after being offered it by executives who were producing the hit series. Even though Matthew was offered the job, creator Vince Gilligan said he always wanted Bryan Cranston to play Walter White, but executives “still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle” and didn’t think he could pull off such a dark role.

A close-up of Matthew Broderick above a shot of Bryan Cranston as Walter White

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Of course, Bryan Cranston would go on to win four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his work as Walter White over the course of five seasons. He also acted as a producer on the series.

Bryan Cranston with his Emmy Award for Breaking Bad

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9. Mädchen Amick turned down the role of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City in order to focus on her family and raising her children. At the time, Mädchen’s character Carrie Fairchild from Darren Star’s show Central Park West was going to lead a spinoff series that ultimately became SATC. Looking back on it, Mädchen said, “It was Sex and the City because of Sarah Jessica Parker. She killed it. That was her moment. That was her show.”

Walter Mcbride / Getty Images / HBO

Sarah Jessica Parker’s work as Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City ended up being a career-defining moment for the actor. She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2004, and she won an Emmy for being an executive producer on the series in 2001.

Sarah Jessica Parker with her Emmy for Sex and the City

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10. Emily Browning said that she “chose not to audition” for Bella Swan in Twilight and she turned down the role even after author Stephenie Meyer wanted her for it. “The author at one point stated that I would be her ideal Bella,” Emily recalled. “But I chose not to audition because I was at a point in my career where I wasn’t sure I wanted to work; I definitely didn’t want to sign onto a trilogy so I didn’t audition.”

A close-up of Emily Browning above a shot of Kristen Stewart as Bella in Twilight

Gaye Gerard / Getty Images / Summit Entertainment

Kristen Stewart eventually signed on to play Bella Swan and the rest is history. She played the role for five movies from 2008 to 2012. The movie broke several box office records, with The Twilight Saga: New Moon having the ninth-highest US opening weekend in history, and it set records for advanced ticket sales.

Kristen with Taylor Lautner and Rob Pattinson at a Twilight series film premiere

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

11. Danny DeVito was reportedly offered the role of George Costanza on Seinfeld, but he ultimately said no. In fact, Jason Alexander’s iconic role almost went to Nathan Lane, Steve Buscemi, Chris Rock, and more before Jason was offered the part that would go on to change his life.

A close-up of Danny DeVito above a shot of Jason Alexander in Seinfeld

Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images / NBC

Over the course of Seinfeld‘s run, Jason Alexander was nominated for seven Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Out of the core group of actors on Seinfeld, Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus won Emmy Awards for their work.

The cast of Seinfeld celebrating their Emmy wins

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12. Christina Applegate passed on playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde in 2001 after the script was sent to her. Looking back on the decision, Christina said, “I had just gotten off of Married with Children and I felt like it was too close to what I had just been doing and I was very interested in removing myself from that.”

Ron Galella / Getty Images / MGM / Everett Collection

I’m just saying this would’ve — in theory — meant that we got Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate together BEFORE Dead to Me.

Reese Witherspoon’s work as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde ended up becoming one of her most iconic performances, and in 2002 was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress — Musical or Comedy. Reese went on to star in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde and she’s scheduled to star in Legally Blonde 3, which is being written by Mindy Kaling and Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-creator Dan Goor.

Reese at the Golden Globes, where she was nominated in 2002

Vince Bucci / Getty Images

13. The role of Deloris Van Cartier, aka Sister Mary Clarence, in Sister Act was originally written for Bette Midler, and she was even offered the role. Disney and executive producers were all about “shaping the material for Bette Midler,” and then she eventually backed out of the project. Since then, Bette has expressed “regret” over turning down the role.

A close-up of Bette Midler above a shot of Whoopi in Sister Act

Ron Galella / Getty Images / Buena Vista Pictures / Everett Collection

Whoopi Goldberg went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her work as Deloris in 1992. Sister Act also led to the sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, a musical adaptation, and Sister Act 3 is currently in the works at Disney+.

Whoopi in Sister Act

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14. Rachel McAdams passed on playing Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada “three times.” The studio was eager to get a big movie star for the role of Andy after Meryl Streep signed on to play Miranda Priestly. Rachel turned down the role saying she wanted to step away from “mainstream material” after starring in The Notebook and Mean Girls.

A close-up of Rachel above a shot of Anne Hathaway in Devil Wears Prada

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Andy in The Devil Wears Prada went on to become one of Anne Hathaway’s most notable roles, following her work in The Princess Diaries. The movie itself earned two Academy Award nominations in 2007 for Best Costume Design and Best Actress for Meryl Streep.

Anne Hathaway smiling at an awards event

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15. Matt LeBlanc was originally offered the role of Phil Dunphy on Modern Family, but decided to pass on starring in the sitcom. Matt said, “I remember reading it thinking, this is a really good script, [but] I’m not the guy for this. I’d be doing the project an injustice to take this. I know what I can do, I know what I can’t do.” This was also at a time right after he wrapped Friends and the short-lived spinoff series Joey.

A close-up of Matt LeBlanc, above a shot of Ty Burrell in Modern Family

Craig Barritt / WireImage / Getty Images / ABC

Ty Burrell went on to star in the life-changing role for 11 seasons. His work as Phil earned him two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 2011 and 2014.

Ty Burrell with his Emmy Award for Phil Dunphy in Modern Family

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

16. Tiffany Haddish hates scary movies so much, she actually turned down even auditioning for Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Tiffany said she read the script, but just couldn’t handle the creepy horror of the film. “I was like, ‘Aw man. Look, I don’t do scary movies, dog,” Tiffany recalled. “I don’t do that, you know, that’s demonized kind of stuff. I don’t let that in my house.”

A close-up of Tiffany Haddish above a shot of Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

Emma Mcintyre / Getty Images for MTV / Universal Pictures / Everett Collection

Get Out would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards in 2018, including Best Picture. The film won Jordan Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Jordan Peele with his Oscar for Get Out

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

17. Elvis Presley was reportedly considered for the role of Tony in West Side Story in 1961. There have been rumors that Elvis was approached about the role, but his manager Col. Tom Parker turned down the part on his behalf. George Chakiris, who played Bernardo, said Elvis and Elizabeth Taylor were originally favorites for the roles of Maria and Tony.

A close-up of Elvis above a shot of Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in the movie

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Of course, Richard Beymer went on to play the role of Tony opposite Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his work as Tony. The film itself went on to win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1962.

Richard and Natalie in the iconic fire escape scene from West Side Story

United Artists / Everett Collection

18. Julia Roberts said no to portraying Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, which is a role that ultimately went to Sandra Bullock. In the book, From Hollywood With Love: The Rise and Fall (And Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy, it’s revealed that Sandra and Julia have been up for a lot of the same roles throughout their careers, including The Blind Side.

A close-up of Julia Roberts above a shot of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

Kevin Winter / Getty Images / Warner Bros / Everett Collection

In 2010, Sandra Bullock won her first Academy Award for her work as Leigh Anne in The Blind Side. That same year, she also took home a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress.

Sandra with her Oscar for The Blind Side

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

19. Angela Bassett notably passed on playing Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball in 2001. Angela spoke about her reasons for turning down the project, saying, “I wasn’t going to be a prostitute on film. I couldn’t do that because it’s such a stereotype about Black women and sexuality.”

A close-up of Angela Bassett above a shot of Halle Berry in Monster's Ball

Ron Galella / Getty Images / Lionsgate / Everett Collection

Halle Berry went on to play the role of Leticia, and her performance earned her a historic Academy Award for Best Actress in 2002. To this day, Halle is still the only Black woman to win the award, which she calls “heartbreaking.”

Halle Berry with her Oscar on that historic night

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

20. Pamela Anderson was reportedly offered the role of Dana Scully in The X-Files, but turned it down. Gillian Anderson, who went on to play the role, recalled getting the job after Pamela, saying, “Pamela was somebody who was more familiar to them in terms of what was on TV at the time. They were looking for someone bustier, taller, leggier than me. They couldn’t fathom how David [Duchovny] and me could equal success.”

A close-up of Pam Anderson above a shot of Gillian Anderson in The X-Files

Steve Granitz / WireImage / Getty Images / Fox

Gillian Anderson’s work on The X-Files launched her career, and she played the role for 11 seasons, which includes the reboot from 2016. Gillian won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1997 for her portrayal of Dana Scully.

Gillian with her Emmy in 1997

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

21. Michelle Pfeiffer turned down the opportunity to play Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Looking back on her choice to pass on the project, Michelle said she was “trepidatious” to star in such an “evil” film, but now she regrets missing the opportunity do another film with director Jonathan Demme, who died in 2017.

A close-up of Michelle above a shot of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs

Ron Galella / Getty Images / Orion Pictures / Everett Collection

Jodie Foster’s work as Clarice led to her second Oscar for Best Actress in 1992. The Silence of the Lambs went on to win the “big five” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s still only the third film to accomplish this.

Fotos International / Getty Images

22. Denzel Washington has starred in numerous iconic movies over the years, but one of the roles he regrets turning down is Michael Clayton in 2007’s Michael Clayton. The part ultimately went to George Clooney. In 2012, Denzel talked about turning down the part, saying, “With Clayton, it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong. It happens.”

A close-up of Denzel above a shot of George Clooney in Michael Clayton

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Ultimately, Michael Clayton earned George Clooney an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and the film earned a total of seven nominations, including Best Picture.

Clooney in the role of Michael Clayton

Warner Bros / Everett Collection

23. Emma Watson had to step away from playing Mia Dolan in La La Land in 2016, and the part eventually went to Emma Stone. Emma Watson said she had to say no to La La Land because she already made a commitment to star in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and she wasn’t able to film both projects.

A close-up of Emma Watson above a shot of Emma Stone in La La Land

Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images / Summit Entertainment / Everett Collection

Also, the reverse of this ended up happing for Little Women in 2019. Emma Stone was originally scheduled to play Meg March, but had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts with The Favourite, so Emma Watson stepped in.

Emma Stone’s work as Mia in La La Land led to her winning an Oscar for Best Actress in 2017. That same awards season she also won a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Emma Stone with her Oscar for La La Land

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24. Stephen Baldwin turned down the role of Jack Traven in Speed in 1994, before the part was offered to Keanu Reeves. Director Jan de Bont always thought Keanu would be “perfect” for the role after seeing Point Break, so he was thrilled to be able to cast him.

A close-up of Stephen Baldwin above a shot of Keanu in Speed

Ron Galella / Getty Images / 20th Century Fox / Everett Collection

Keanu Reeves went on to play the role of Jack Traven in Speed, which grossed a worldwide total of $350 million. The film also earned three Academy Award nominations, and won awards for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing.

Keanu and Sandra in a scene together from Speed

20th Century Fox / Everett Collection

25. Matt Damon admitted that he turned down James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009. He was set to star as Jake Sully, a role that ultimately went to Sam Worthington. Looking back on his decision, Matt said, “I will go down in history. You will never meet an actor who turned down more money.”

A close-up of Matt Damon above a shot of Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in Avatar

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images / 20th Century Fox / Everett Collection

Avatar is still the biggest worldwide success in history with a record-breaking $2.84 billion in its lifetime at the box office. When he was cast as Jake Sully in 2007, Sam Worthington was living in his car and he says that James Cameron changed his life.

Jake Worthington after the life-changing film release of Avatar

John Shearer / Getty Images

26. In the ’90s, Natasha Lyonne passed on a few teen TV series, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Natasha recalled getting sent numerous scripts after starring in Everyone Says I Love You, and playing Buffy Summers was one of the roles she passed on. In 2000, she said she turned down the show in order to explore “the messy, unhappy lives of young women.”

A close-up of Natasha Lyonne above a shot of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy

Evan Agostini / Getty Images / Warner Bros / Everett Collection

Of course, the role of Buffy went to Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the project was basically the definition of career-defining. Sarah starred on the vampire-slaying series for seven seasons and it even earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as the iconic Buffy

20th Century Fox / Everett Collection

27. And finally, Emily Blunt ultimately turned down the role of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Due to being contracted to do Gulliver’s Travels, she had to pass on this monumental part. Looking back on it, Emily said, “It was a bit of a heartbreaker for me. I take such pride in the decisions that I make, and they mean so much to me, the films that I do.”

A close-up of Emily Blunt above a shot of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

Jean Baptiste Lacroix / WireImage / Getty Images / Marvel / Everett Collection

Of course, Scarlett Johansson went on to play the role of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She starred in eight MCU films starting with Iron Man 2 in 2010, and she was part of Avengers: Endgame, which became one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

Scarlett and Florence Pugh as sisters in the Black Widow movie

Walt Disney Studios / Marvel / Everett Collection

We can’t fit everyone into one post, so which other actors turned down roles that ended up being super popular? Tell us in the comments below!

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