12 of the Greatest Movie Roles Almost Played

The weekend’s big movie, as you well know, was The Hunger Games, while DVD and Blu-ray players have been firing up Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since its release last week. The two films have a lot in common: powerful female protagonists, adaptations of bestsellers, probable franchise kick-offs. As such, they were also each objects of carefully considered casting. It’s become part of the pre-production process, the bandying about of potential name actors for high-profile roles; Fincher reportedly talked to Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Kristen Stewart, and Scarlett Johansson before settling on Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, while Hunger Games director Gary Ross’ alternate Katnisses included Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Emma Roberts, Chloe Moretz, and Saoirse Ronan.

Contemplating proxy casting choices is a fun parlor game for movie fans (perhaps second only to considering movies that never came to pass at all). After the jump, we’ll take a look at a dozen iconic movie roles, and the actors who almost, almost filled them.

W.C. Fields in The Wizard of Oz

Perhaps the most famous missed casting opportunity in movie history was the title role in MGM’s classic adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book, a character screenwriters Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Wolf wrote “with a distinctly Fieldsian bravado,” according to James Curtis’ excellent biography of the actor. Fields was warm to the idea (even contributing notes on how he’d play the character), and Paramount — where he was under contract — was amenable to loaning him out. Trouble was, he was also working on a project for Universal, a circus picture he had originated called You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, and since it was both a starring role and his own screenplay, it was a far more lucrative payday than the supporting role in Oz. Fields hoped to make both films, but both were set to shoot in October of 1938, and neither MGM nor Universal were willing to move the schedule to accommodate him. Thus, Fields chose Honest Man, and the role of the Wizard went to Frank Morgan.