The major roles A-list movie stars turned down

Regrets, we have a few... but even A-list movie stars have projects that in retrospect, they wish they'd taken on.

While some didn't think the movie would be a hit, others didn't understand the script and some were unfortunately committed to other projects at the time.

Read on to find out who turned down these iconic roles and why!

Emma Watson - La La Land

It's pretty hard to admit you turned down the lead role in an Oscar winning movie but that's just what Harry Potter actress Emma Watson did.

Movie star Emma Watson stands giving a slight smile at the British Vogue and Tiffany & Co. Fashion and Film Party 2022 at Annabel's on March 13, 2022 in London, England, floral arrangement over fireplace in the background
Emma Watson was already committed to the movie Beauty And The Beast when she was offered the role of Mia in La La Land. Photo: Getty Images

The actress wanted to take on the role of Mia in La La Land but was already committed to another project.

"[Beauty and the Beast] wasn’t a movie I could just kind of parachute into.

"I knew I had to do the work, and I had to be where I had to be.

"So, you know, scheduling conflict-wise, it just didn’t work out," she said philosophically.

Emma Stone stands delighted on stage holding her Academy Award for La La Land at the 89th Oscars
Emma Stone receiving her Oscar for playing Mia in La La Land. Photo: Getty Images

Will Smith - The Matrix

Believe it or not, Keanu Reeves was not the first choice for Neo in The Matrix, in fact a number of actors were approached to play the role including Brad Pitt and Will Smith.

Will turned down The Matrix because he wanted to star in another movie instead.

Left: Will Smith in suit and bowtie at an industry event. Right: Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix standing legs wide aiming dual pistols
Will Smith regrets turning down The Matrix but concedes that Keanu was the right choice. Photo: Getty Images

"I made Wild Wild West [instead]," Will revealed, adding he has spent more than 20 years regretting the decision.

"I’m not proud of it," he said, but added that it was for the best given how good Keanu was.

“I watched Keanu's performance - and very rarely do I say this - but I would have messed it up," he told Wired.

Keanu Reeves as Neo stands in black shades fist out in the rain with Smiths behind him out of focus
Keanu Reeves as Neo in scene from movie The Matrix Revolutions. Photo: Getty Images

"At that point I wasn't smart enough as an actor to let the movie be.

"Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be.

"Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don't try and perform every moment.

"Keanu was perfect, Laurence Fishburne was perfect, so I probably would have messed The Matrix up. I would have ruined it, so I did y’all a favour," he added.

Michelle Pfeiffer - Pretty Woman

A-list actress Michelle Pfeiffer has had her pick of the best roles in Hollywood but is notoriously picky.

"My agent’s nickname for me is ‘Dr. No’," she revealed on the US Today show.

Amongst the films she has turned down are Pretty Woman, Thelma and Louise, Basic Instinct and Silence of the Lambs.

Left: Michelle Pfeiffer stands giving a slight smile at an industry event. Right: Julia Roberts laughing and smiling with big hair and hoop earrings in the film Pretty Woman
Michelle Pfeiffer has rejected a number of movie roles including Pretty Woman which went on to star Julia Roberts. Photo: Getty Images

"The thing is, a lot of times there are so many reasons that go into turning something down and it's not necessarily because you don't want to do it - there is a conflict…you are committed to something else…typically, it was something like that, you know," she explained. .

Julia Roberts stands smiling at Richard Gere holding champagne in a scene from Pretty Woman
Julia Roberts has a drink with Richard Gere in a scene from the film Pretty Woman. Photo: Getty Images

When asked if there were any she regretted turning down, Michelle laughed and said: "All of them!"

Matt Damon - Avatar

If Hollywood A-lister Matt Damon hadn't turned down the lead role in Avatar, Australia's own Sam Worthington may not have been the global star he is today!

Left: Matt Damon stands at a charity event in black suit and bow tie. Right: Sam Worthington in black suit with white shirt unbuttoned
Matt Damon passed on Avatar and the role went to Aussie actor Sam Worthington instead. Photo: Getty Images

"I was offered a little movie called Avatar, James Cameron offered me 10 percent of it," Matt admitted to Deadline last year.

"I will go down in history... you will never meet an actor who turned down more money."

The money he turned down would have worked out to be US$280 million!


Christina Applegate - Legally Blonde

Reese Witherspoon's career was launched into the stratosphere after she starred in the romcom Legally Blonde, but it could have been another blonde playing Elle if the producers had gotten their way!

Actress Reese Witherspoon walking and smiling in a scene from Legally Blonde, black handbag over her shoulder in pink dress and matching heels
Actress Reese Witherspoon ultimately played Elle in the comedy Legally Blonde. Photo: Getty Images

Married With Children star Christina Applegate was approached to play the law student but turned down the opportunity.

"I kept getting sent scripts for dumb blondes and here’s one of my biggest regrets: one of those was Legally Blonde," Christina recalled.

"I just didn’t want to play a dumb blonde again.

"Well, that was stupid," she quipped.

Liam Neeson - James Bond

Irish actor Liam Neeson has revealed that he turned down the chance to play the world's sexiest spy for love!

Producers reached out to the actor after his academy award nominated performance in Schindlers List, but he was given an ultimatum.

Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson stand together holding hands at an industry event
It was Liam Neeson's girlfriend (and soon-to-be wife) Natasha Richardson who convinced him to turn down the role of James Bond. Photo: Getty Images

"I remember my dear, departed wife said to me - we were shooting a film in North Carolina called Nell - and she looked at me straight in the face and she said, 'Liam, if you’re offered this and if you do it, you know we can’t get married'," Liam recalled.

"And that was it."

Claire Danes - Titanic

Claire Danes had just finished the film Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio when the pair were asked to star in another epic film together.

Claire Danes is taken aback as Leonardo DiCaprio takes her hand to kiss in a scene from Romeo + Juliet
Claire Danes had just starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. Photo: Getty Images

"I had just made this romantic epic with Leo in Mexico City, which is where they were going to shoot Titanic! And I just didn't have it in me," Claire revealed.

Leo was keen for her to sign on and while Claire wrestled with the decision, she ultimately turned it down.

"I totally understand why you're doing that.

"And I'm not ready for that," she told him at the time.

The movie ended up being a huge blockbuster but Claire still doesn't regret the decision.

Kate Winslet cradles Leonardo DiCaprio under the covers in a scene from Titanic
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. Photo: Getty Images

"After that movie came out... he just went into another stratosphere," she said.

"It was going to propel me to something I knew I didn’t have the resources to cope with."

Michael Keaton - Groundhog Day

It's hard to imagine 80s comedy Groundhog Day without Bill Murray in it but it could have been a very different movie if Michael Keaton had understood the script.

Left: Bill Murray smiling in baseball cap. Right: Michael Keaton in beige suit and tie in the early 90s
Michale Keaton revealed he could have starred in Groundhog Day instead of Bill Murray (left). Photo: Getty Images

"I didn’t get it," he told Entertainment Weekly last year expressing his regret.

"I thought, This guy sounds like the kind of wry, sardonic, glib young man I’ve played — and it ended up being so great.

Bill Murray chugs coffee from the jug while Andie MacDowell looks on in shock in a scene from Groundhog Day
Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in a scene from Groundhog Day. Photo: Getty Images

"But you can’t do that better than Bill Murray did it,” he admitted.

Anne Hathaway - Knocked Up

Unlike some of the other people on this list, Anne Hathaway actually started filming Knocked Up before deciding the movie wasn't for her, dropping out and being replaced with Grey's Anatomy actress Katherine Heigl

According to director Judd Apatow: "Hathaway dropped out of the film because she didn't want to allow us to use real footage of a woman giving birth to create the illusion that she is giving birth."

Headshots of Anne Hathaway and Katherine Heigl side by side
Anne Hathaway started as the lead in Knocked Up and then left the project so Katherine Heigl took her place. Photo: Getty Images

Something Anne later confirmed herself.

"My issue with it was that having not experienced motherhood myself, I didn't know how I was gonna feel on the other side about giving birth.

"And by the way," she told Allure magazine "I could pop a kid out and think, Oh, well, I really should have done that movie."

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