When casting the part of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, director Jonathan Demme had only one actor in mind: Sean Connery. When Connery turned the role down, Demme and the producers floated a few names around. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Daniel Day-Lewis were all considered before Demme picked Anthony Hopkins.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Hopkins playing the part in the film (it’s one of his most acclaimed performances), but the right actor isn’t always obvious at first. When it comes to casting the villain – arguably the most important character – finding the right player is absolutely essential, and could easily make or break a movie.
From iconic horror monsters to powerful mobsters, here are 10 famous movie villains that were almost played by different actors.
10 Eddie Murphy as The Candyman
Before Tony Todd was cast to play the titular villain in Bernard Rose’s original Candyman, Eddie Murphy was in the running for the iconic role.
Based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden, the movie follows Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a grad student investigating the urban legend of “The Candyman” (Tony Todd), a hook-handed spirit that murders anyone that repeats his name in a mirror five times. Through her research, Lyle learns the vengeful soul at the heart of the legend is that of Daniel Robitaille, an African-American painter from the late-1800s who was brutally murdered by a lynch mob, who cut off his hand and smeared it with honey, resulting in his slow and excruciating death by hundreds of bee stings.
- Release Date
- October 16, 1992
- Bernard Rose
- Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, DeJuan Guy
- Main Genre
Although Tony Todd campaigned passionately for the role, writer/director Bernard Rose originally had his eyes set on Eddie Murphy, which would have easily been his darkest role yet. There is no clear reason why Murphy didn’t sign on – it could have been salary demands (his salary on Coming to America was higher than Candyman’s budget), or perhaps the movie was just too far outside his comfort zone. Regardless, he passed on the part, paving the way for Tony Todd.
9 Tilda Swinton as Pennywise the Clown
Director Andy Muschietti spent months finding the right actor to play Pennywise the Clown in his 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It; finding an actor that could remain faithful to King’s book – while also standing apart from Curry’s iconic performance from the 1990 miniseries – was difficult but essential for the film’s success.
Muschietti and casting director Rich Delia cast a wide net; Mark Rylance, Hugo Weaving, and Ben Mendelsohn were all considered for the part. But one actor in particular stands out from the rest: Tilda Swinton.
Swinton – who is an adventurous actress, to say the least – seemed interested in the idea when Muschietti casually floated the idea to her agents. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts prevented Swinton from even auditioning. Although Bill Skarsgard gives an incredible performance, it’s nevertheless fascinating to consider how different the movie would have been had Tilda Swinton played the murderous clown.
8 Leonardo DiCaprio as Patrick Bateman
In the late 1990s, writer/director Mary Harron signed on to direct American Psycho, based on Bret Easton Ellis’s hugely controversial but massively popular novel. From the beginning, Harron had her sights set on Christian Bale for the part of Patrick Bateman, but Lionsgate – the studio funding the film – had another star in mind: Leonardo DiCaprio.
At the time, DiCaprio was coming off the success of Titanic, meaning he was one of – if not the – biggest stars in the world. He was intrigued by the part, and Lionsgate was all too eager to get him involved. Harron immediately opposed the idea, as his boyish young looks didn’t fit her vision of the character, and feared his involvement would attract the wrong audience. She continued to campaign for Bale, but Lionsgate vetoed her decision and demanded DiCaprio be cast. When she refused, Harron was fired from the project.
- Release Date
- April 13, 2000
- Mary Harron
- Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Bill Sage, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon
- Main Genre
Lionsgate hired Oliver Stone to replace Harron, and he and DiCaprio worked for months developing the script. But during that time, their creative differences grew more and more obvious, and their visions of the film began to radically diverge. As a result, DiCaprio left the project in favor of starring in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Not long after, Oliver Stone followed suit.
Harron was brought back on, but Lionsgate was still adamant about casting someone – anyone – other than Christian Bale. Ewan McGregor, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and Vince Vaughn were all considered for the part but turned it down (McGregor at the personal behest of Bale).
With all of their choices having passed on the part, Lionsgate begrudgingly allowed Harron to cast Bale, but only agreed to pay him $50,000 (which sounds like a lot, but for comparison, DiCaprio was offered in the vicinity of $20 million). But Bale, who never gave up on the part, eagerly accepted the offer.
7 Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man
In 2020, Leigh Whannell debuted his revisionist take on The Invisible Man. But before Elisabeth Moss squared off against her megalomaniac husband, Universal originally had very different plans for the film – one that starred Johnny Depp as the titular villain.
Five years prior, Universal boldly (and prematurely) announced the “Dark Universe,” their action-oriented series of connected films built around their catalog of classic monsters. Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man were all in the works. But after Tom Cruise’s The Mummy – the inaugural film – crashed and burned upon release, the studio scrapped their lofty plans, and every “Universe” film in the pipeline was banished to development hell, including Depp’s remake of The Invisible Man.
6 Jim Carrey as Dr. Evil
When director Jay Roach and writer/actor Mike Myers began the casting process for their spy spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Myers had another famous comedian in mind for the role of Dr. Evil: Jim Carrey.
Myers originally reached out to Carrey, who was interested in starring in the film, but was in the middle of developing Liar Liar. Unable to wait for his schedule to clear, Myers decided to play Dr. Evil himself, which he partially based on the unique mannerisms of Lorne Michaels, comedy legend and founder of Saturday Night Live.
Although Carrey as Dr. Evil would’ve been interesting, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Myers embodying the character. The movie would’ve looked totally different with Carrey in the part, and the actor’s distaste for doing sequels (he’s only done three over his entire career) could’ve put the future installments at risk. Other casting possibilities included Colin Quinn as Scott Evil, and Rhea Perlman as Frau Farbissina; both actors turned down the parts because of scheduling conflicts, and later regretted their decisions.
5 Freddie Prinze Jr. as Billy Loomis
Before Skeet Urlich earned the part of Billy Loomis in Wes Craven’s Scream, ’90s heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr. came incredibly close to playing the now-iconic role.
- Release Date
- December 20, 1996
- Wes Craven
- Drew Barrymore, Kevin Patrick Walls, David Booth, Carla Hatley, Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich
- Main Genre
In a recent interview with Dread Central, Prinze Jr. talks about how close he came to getting the gig, and why he felt Ulrich was ultimately the better choice:
“I get to the casting office, and I think for Scream, it was three auditions. It was with the casting director, then it was with the casting directors and the producers, and the final session would be with everyone, including Wes. So I go through the first round, the second round, and after the second round, which is the producers, I get a note…So I’m walking out of the casting office, and I legit say out loud, I go, ‘There’s no way I’m booking this s**t’…I went into the final audition. It was just me and Skeet [Ulrich]… And I go in, and I do the audition with as much, all I’m thinking is ‘edge, edge, come on edge. Be edgy. Be dangerous. Be mysterious.’ Like whatever you have to say to yourself, and it just wasn’t there, and Wes was very kind and said ‘Thank you,’ and I nodded, I said, ‘Uh, thank you very much, I appreciate the opportunity.’ Walked out. I looked at Skeet and kind of like just nodded at him, like, ‘Go get it, man.’ You’re good, bro, and he went in and then just did such a beautiful job.”
Although Prinze lost his chance to star in Scream, he didn’t end up snagging a major role in another iconic ’90s slasher franchise: I Know What You Did Last Summer.
4 Robin Williams as The Joker
When Tim Burton signed on to direct 1989’s Batman, his casting of Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader drew a lot of backlash. Burton and Warner Bros went back and forth over whether Keaton was right for the role, but one thing they all agreed on was who should play the Joker: Jack Nicholson.
Unfortunately, Nicholson is a demanding actor (part of his contract requires days off for Lakers home games) and is incredibly picky when it comes to his films. And so, when he was first offered the part of the Clown Prince, Nicholson rejected it, forcing Burton to look elsewhere. David Bowie, John Lithgow, Brad Dourif, Ray Liotta, and James Woods were just a few names in consideration, but one other actor came incredibly close to donning the iconic purple suit: Robin Williams.
- Release Date
- June 23, 1989
- Tim Burton
- Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams
- Main Genre
Williams was a huge fan of the Batman comics, and campaigned hard for the part. His audition must’ve wowed Burton, because he tentatively offered him the role. However, it seems like Warner Bros had ulterior motives, as once Williams signed on, they returned to Nicholson and essentially gave him one last chance to accept the part – either he gets it or Williams. To sweeten the deal, the studio even offered him a percentage of the ticket sales.
The threat of losing the part, as well as a substantial payday, ultimately pushed Nicholson into accepting the role. (It’s believed he made anywhere between $50 and $70 million off the movie).
Years later, Williams was (legitimately) offered the part of The Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. Despite being a fan of the iconic villain, Williams rejected the role after his sour experience with Warner Bros.
3 Jack Nicholson as Michael Corleone
After the success of Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson caught the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, a then-eager and up-and-coming filmmaker who, at the time, was in the process of casting The Godfather.
The role of Michael Corleone was one of the last to be cast. Coppola had his eye on then-unknown Al Pacino from the beginning, but Paramount wanted a bigger name in the role. Warren Beatty and Robert Redford were suggested but shot down by Coppola, and the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Martin Sheen, Dean Stockwell, and James Caan all auditioned for the part. Jack Nicholson came the closest, and was even offered the role.
Although he loved the script and wanted to be a part of the movie, he felt that it was only right for Michael Corleone to be played by a true Italian-American. When he turned down the role, Coppola cast Pacino, and the rest is history.
2 Orson Welles as Auric Goldfinger
Orson Welles was a larger-than-life actor, director, and Hollywood personality. So it’s no surprise that then-Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were interested in casting Welles as a potential villain in the spy series.
The third installment – Goldfinger – was in the pipeline, so the producers and director Guy Hamiliton reached out to Welles about starring as the titular villain, Auric Goldfinger. But Welles demanded a lot of money; at the time, he was self-funding his films in order to maintain complete creative control, and this was reflected in his salary demands. While the exact number has never been revealed, it proved to be too much for the Bond filmmakers, and they moved on to their second choice (and arguably the better one): Gert Fröbe.
- Release Date
- September 20, 1964
- Guy Hamilton
- Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe, Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet, Harold Sakata
- Main Genre
Although Welles wasn’t cast as Goldfinger, he still got the chance to play a Bond villain in the 1967 spoof film Casino Royale. (Although not connected to the larger 007 universe, it is technically the first book in Ian Fleming’s iconic franchise.)
1 Jamie Lee Curtis as Regan MacNeil/Pazuzu
When William Friedkin signed on to make The Exorcist, he knew the most difficult role to cast would be Regan; in fact, Mike Nichols (The Graduate) declined the invitation to direct because he didn’t think there was a 13-year-old actress capable of pulling it off. In a 2013 interview, Friedkin expanded on the difficult, months-long casting process:
“Over a thousand girls eventually auditioned. I watched the [audition] tapes, if only for a minute or two, and personally interviewed at least fifty girls. It seemed hopeless. The question was not only whether a child could portray the character’s innocence as well as her possession without self-consciousness, but how she would react to the experience itself. How would it affect her life? None of the girls I met seemed likely to overcome those obstacles.”
Jamie Lee Curtis – then 13 years old and still five years away from her big-screen debut in John Carpenter’s Halloween – was contacted by the film’s producers about auditioning for the part. Curtis’s mother, actress Janet Leigh, refused to let her daughter even read the script. (Although she didn’t star in it, Curtis did host a private screening of the film for her 15th birthday.)
- Release Date
- December 26, 1973
- William Friedkin
- Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb
- Main Genre
After four months of searching, Friendkin met Linda Blair, who, at the time, had only done a few commercials. Despite her inexperience, it only took a few moments with her for Friedkin to realize they had found their Regan.