Top 10 Actors who Missed Out on Breakout Roles

The right role can completely transform an actor’s career. Whether they’re a young star on the rise, a former A-lister in need of a hit or an untested unknown, all it takes is just one movie to break out into the big time. Sadly, sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Some of the following actors passed on projects which went on to become hit movies while others lost their moments of glory to unfortunate circumstances or dreaded creative differences.

10. Emily Browning – Twilight

Emily Browning - Twilight

When the Twilight books were greenlit for the Hollywood treatment, teen actors swarmed around the project in a desperate bid to land a role in what was sure to be a series of mega-successful box office hits. One actor was slightly less enthused. Emily Browning (of Lemony Snicket fame) was Stephenie Meyer’s actress of choice to play the lead role of Bella but she turned down the opportunity to audition. Although she was never offered the part, having the author of the series in your corner is a pretty big deal, but Browning had just finished filming the Uninvited and didn’t fancy the idea of committing herself to a trilogy (later quadrilogy) of movies.

9. Molly Ringwald – Pretty Woman

Molly Ringwald - Pretty Woman

Molly Ringwald was a bona-fide teen star of the 80s thanks to starring roles in John Hughes’ movies like Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, but she struggled to make the transition to more adult fare after her breakout success. Her career could have been very different had she not rejected roles in two of the biggest romance movies of the 90s. In 1990, Ringwald passed on both Ghost and Pretty Woman. For the latter she was actually the top choice for the producers but she didn’t like elements of the script or the idea of playing a prostitute. The likes of Meg Ryan, Darryl Hannah and Michelle Pfeiffer also passed on it before Julia Roberts stepped in and became a massive star overnight.


8. Sean Connery – The Matrix & Lord of the Rings

Sean Connery

To be fair to Sean Connery it can’t really be said that he ever needed a big break following his tenure as James Bond. The iconic Scottish actor was a leading man up until his retirement, but he could have benefited from some juicier roles in his twilight years. Connery was reportedly offered the role of Morpheus in the Matrix but turned it down twice because he didn’t understand the material. Around the same time he was also offered the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy but again rejected it because he didn’t get the fantasy setting. The movies were huge boosts for the careers of Laurence Fishburne and Ian McKellan (who even received an Oscar nomination for his performance) and Connery apparently regretted the decisions so much that he lept at the chance to star in another big-budget movie that he didn’t quite understand. Sadly that movie turned out be 2003’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the awful experience (he constantly clashed with director Stephen Norrington) soured the veteran from acting ever again.

7. Thomas Jane – Mad Men

Tom Jane

Despite starring in a string of fairly respectable box office performers like Deep Blue Sea and the Punisher, Thomas Jane never quite got the breakout hit he was looking for. When TV show Mad Men was in production at AMC, the producers and showrunners sought out Jane for the lead role of Don Draper but he turned it down. Admittedly, the project was a hard sell. AMC was a network better known for rerunning classic movies rather than creating critically acclaimed television (the huge success of Walking Dead and Breaking Bad wouldn’t come until a few years later) and no one could have predicted that a cerebral drama set in the world of 1960s ad men would connect with audiences and critics in such a big way. Jane apparently said that he “didn’t do television” but his career took him in that direction when he ended up in HBO’s less successful series Hung a few years later. It was cancelled after two seasons.

6. Emily Blunt – Iron Man 2

Emily Blunt

Iron Man director Jon Favreau said that he had Emily Blunt in mind when he was casting the role of superspy Black Widow for the superhero sequel, but Blunt was unable to take the role because of prior filming commitments. She was attached to the awful Jack Black comedy Gulliver’s Travels and had to pass on the role which eventually went to Scarlett Johannson. Although Blunt’s career has gone from strength to strength in the years since, having a pretty meaty role in some of the biggest superhero blockbusters would certainly have helped.

5. Dana Delany – Sex and the City

Dana Delany

Sarah Jessica Parker became a style icon when she played Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s huge hit TV show Sex and the City, but the part was originally offered to Dana Delany. Delaney was friends with creator Darren Star who asked her to consider the lead role when it was in early pre production. However, Delaney passed on the show because at the time she had recently appeared in risque comedies Live Nude Girls and Exit to Eden and she didn’t want to appear in another sexually-themed project. Sandra Bernhard also passed on the role of Miranda, complaining that the pay was less than what she had received on Roseanne and that she didn’t want to play “second fiddle” to Sarah Jessica Parker.

4. Tom Selleck – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Tom Selleck

Although Harrison Ford made the part his own, it’s easy to see why Steven Spielberg and George Lucas originally offered Indiana Jones to Tom Selleck. Lucas was hesitant to ask Ford because he didn’t want him to be “that guy I put in all my movies” and the gruff and grizzled star of Magnum PI certainly looked the part and had the charisma for the globe-trotting adventurer. Selleck was forced to pass on the offer because he couldn’t get out of his TV commitments so Spielberg, just three weeks away from filming, was eventually able to twist Lucas’ arm and cast Ford instead.

3. Stuart Townsend – Lord of the Rings & Thor

Stuart Townsend

Stuart Townsend is an actor who really can’t catch a break. The Brit actor is probably best known to cinema audiences for his role in Queen of the Damned, the cheesy sequel to Interview with the Vampire, but he nearly broke out into the big time when he was cast as Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, Townsend was fired literally days before principal photography began and replaced by Viggo Mortensen. Jackson later commented that he realised that the actor was too young for the part, but Townsend was much more blunt about the experience and complained that he had clashed with Jackson and wasn’t even paid for the months he spent rehearsing and training. A similar issue arose again in 2010 when Townsend was cast as Fandral in Thor but quit (or was fired) during filming and replaced by Josh Dallas because of unspecified ‘creative differences’.

2. Dougray Scott – X-Men

Dougray Scott

It’s hard to think of any other actor playing the role of Wolverine in the X-Men movies. Hugh Jackman has reprised the role 7 times since he was first cast in 2000 and shows no signs of leaving the character behind, but he very nearly missed out on the part which launched his career. Director Bryan Singer had originally cast Scottish actor Dougray Scott as Wolverine but he was forced to drop out when production on Mission Impossible II ran over and he was unavailable for the X-Men shoot. Jackman was cast three weeks into filming and Scott’s big Hollywood break was playing the bad guy opposite a floppy-haired Tom Cruise. Sadly, the role failed to open many doors for him.

1. Eric Stoltz – Back to the Future

Eric Stoltz

Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly is another one of those roles which just seems meant to be. It’s impossible picturing anyone else as the iconic time travelling teenager, so it may be a surprise to hear that he originally passed on the role because of filming commitments to TV show Family Ties. Eric Stoltz was cast instead and filmed on set for 4 weeks. Many pivotal scenes including the first Delorean test at Twin Pines mall and Marty meeting his mother and father back in 1955 were actually shot with Stoltz, but after seeing a rough cut the filmmakers realised that he just wasn’t right for the part and was playing the role too seriously. Thankfully, Michael J. Fox was able to accommodate his TV commitments (his typical schedule involved shooting Family Ties during the day and Back to the Future at night) and stepped on board the project. Scenes with Stoltz were reshot and small snippets of footage of him as Marty were included in the ‘Making Of’ on the 25th Anniversary Trilogy rerelease.