Dozens of intangible factors go into creating a blockbuster film. Last-minute script rewrites, budget cuts, expensive sets destroyed by tropical weather, directors being fired or walking off the set — any of these have impacted the biggest box-office disasters (and sometimes, successes) in film history. Above that group, though, is the most pivotal choice of all: casting a film’s lead hero or villain, likely the biggest from-the-gut decision, and one that arguably seals a film’s fate early. Here are just five unlikely casting calls that ended up changing celluloid history (click here for Part I).
Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly (Back to the Future)
This example fits more into the “Wrong Fits That Changed Film History,” as Michael J. Fox was Back to the Future director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis’s initial choice for teenage time traveller Marty McFly, but Fox’s commitment to the sitcom Family Ties prevented him from taking the role. Fox’s Family Ties co-star Meredith Baxter was pregnant when Back to the Future was set to begin filming, so the show’s producer refused to allow him the opportunity to moonlight. Eric Stoltz assumed the McFly role and went through four weeks of filming before Zemeckis pulled the plug (Stoltz also agreed he wasn’t right for the part). By the time Stoltz was sent packing, Meredith Baxter had returned to Family Ties full-time and Goldberg agreed to let MJ take the McFly role — so long as he didn’t miss an episode or have to be written out of a single scene of the show; Fox also did zero promotional touring for Back to the Future. Fox got an average of five hours of sleep per night while juggling the two projects, and the Stoltz scenes that had to be re-shot cost Back to the Future’s producers $3 million.
Denzel Washington as Detective David Mills (Se7en)
Se7en’s mind-bendingly superb blend of horror, noir and mystery created a potent thriller formula that most major studios are still trying — and largely failing — to rehash. The film could have been so much different though, with David Cronenberg turning down New Line’s first offer to direct Se7en and R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe initially considered for the (17-year-old spoiler alert!) John Doe role that went to Kevin Spacey. still, the biggest shake up would have to be Denzel Washington as the first choice for Detective David Mills, which would have paired Washington with Morgan Freeman, already cast as Se7en’s nearly retired sage Detective Somerset. Of all the film roles Washington has turned down (and there are many), the Mills part is the one of the only decisions he is on-record as regretting.
Brad Pitt as Jason Bourne (The Bourne Identity)
The Bourne Identity and its two sequels were critical and commercial successes largely because of Matt Damon’s star-making performance as Jason Bourne. Damon’s ability to add complex emotional depth to the lead character while maintaining the traditional bad-assery we’ve come to expect from the heroes of spy thrillers made the film something special. Brad Pitt was the offered the role but turned it down to do Spy Game with Robert Redford (a pretty great spy flick in its own right, just nowhere near the blockbuster that Bourne became). With the vulnerability he’s known to display on screen, Pitt might have made the trilogy just as memorable, but had the studio gone with Matthew McConaughey or Sly Stallone — both considered for the part — there’s no doubt Robert Ludlum, whose novels loosely acted as the source, would have haunted theatres upon release.
Two weeks from now on DailyXY: Casting Calls That Changed Film History, Part III
Image courtesy of el frijole.