8 Movie Stars Who Were Replaced During Filming
Whether it was because of tragedy, bad behavior, or a bad fit, these actors lost their roles.
Hollywood lore is rife with might-have-been stories of actors who passed on or lost out on career-redefining roles—what if Sean Connery actually had wound up playing Galdalf in The Lord of the Rings, for example? But even more infamous are those cases when an actor was recast after shooting had already begun… or, in a few rare cases, after a film was already complete. Read on to discover eight movie stars who were replaced during filming.
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It is perhaps the most notorious case of recasting in film history. Eric Stoltz had completed several weeks of filming on the iconic 1985 time travel comedy Back to the Future when he was fired and the role recast. He was actually always the second choice to play fish-out-of-water (and decade) Marty McFly; the producers originally hoped to cast Family Ties breakout star Michael J. Fox, who was tied up filming the show. Reportedly, weeks into filming, it became apparent that Stoltz wasn't capturing the comic energy required for fish-out-of-water teen Marty. Director Robert Zemeckis made the difficult decision to scrap everything that had already been shot, and the production approached Fox again to ask him to step into the role—all without telling Stoltz his days were numbered. While still working on his sitcom, Fox found time to cram the movie into his schedule. However, the swap also cost Melora Hardin (Jan from The Office) the role of Marty's girlfriend Jennifer, as she was thought too tall to play opposite Fox; Claudia Wells ended up taking over.
Viggo Mortensen became a superstar playing Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early '00s, but the history of Middle Earth almost turned out differently. Stuart Townsend was a mostly unknown working actor when Peter Jackson chose him to play the iconic character, and he subsequently spent months in New Zealand preparing for the role. But, just as filming began, the filmmaker decided that Townsend was too young and lacked the authority Aragorn required. With almost no preparation time, Mortensen swooped in to take up the Ranger's legendary blade and wound up a star; Townsend went on to roles in flops including The Queen of the Damned and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Kevin Spacey had already wrapped filming for his role as billionaire oil magnate J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott's 2017 historical drama All the Money in the World, about the 1973 kidnapping of Getty's 16-year-old grandson John Paul Getty III, when allegations of sexual assault against the actor surfaced. Sony spent an additional $10 million (although notoriously little for co-star Michelle Williams' time) so director Scott could re-shoot Spacey's scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role and hold onto the film's holiday release date. Spacey's replacement wound up with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Spacey wasn't the only actor to lose a role in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Actor/comedian Chris D'Elia had already completed filming on Zack Snyder's Netflix zombie thriller Army of the Dead when, in June 2020, he was accused of sexually harassing several women, some of whom were minors. Later, in March of 2021, he was sued, with the lawsuit alleging he had committed child sexual exploitation, among other misconduct. But before that, in August of 2020, Snyder and his wife and producing partner Deborah had already made the "easy" decision to digitally scrub D'Elia from the nearly finished film, according to an interview in Variety—a process that involved a "very expensive" series of green screen reshoots featuring comedian Tig Notaro in a rewritten role. The revisions reportedly cost Netflix millions of dollars; fortunately, Army of the Dead was a hit.
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The animated revisionist fairy tale comedy Shrek, from 2001, is one of Mike Myers' signature roles, but he wasn't the filmmakers' original choice for the grumpy green ogre. Comedian Chris Farley, who had risen to stardom as a member of the cast of Saturday Night Live and the star of films like Tommy Boy, had already completed recording a majority of his voiceover work when he died unexpectedly of an overdose in December 1997, according to Fast Company. Although there was talk of completing the film with an impersonator, fellow SNL bet Myers wound up stepping into the recording booth, giving the character his signature Scottish brogue. Audio of Farley's scrapped performance later leaked online, revealing the actor's gentler take on the role.
An injury she originally received on the set of the 2001 musical Moulin Rouge! wound up costing Nicole Kidman the lead role in the 2002 home invasion thriller Panic Room, directed by David Fincher. A few weeks into production, while filming one of the movie's tense action sequences, Kidman aggravated injuries she'd sustained while filming Baz Luhrmann's imaginative musical, during which she'd suffered fractured ribs and torn cartilage in her knee. The actor wound up dropping out of Panic Room and was replaced by Jodie Foster (though she remained on good terms with her young, would-be costar, a then-12-year-old Kristen Stewart.)
A tragedy also impacted the production of the first two sequels to the 1999 sci-fi thriller, The Matrix. Pop superstar Aaliyah was originally cast in the small supporting role of Zee, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar crew member Link, played by future Lost star Harold Perrineau. She had finished filming some scenes for 2003's The Matrix Reloaded—but not the third installment, The Matrix Revolutions—when she died in a plane crash in the Bahamas in August 2001. This left co-directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski no choice but to recast the role and re-film Aaliyah's scenes with another actor—singer Nona Gaye (daughter of Marvin Gaye) taking over the job.
Tank Girl star Lori Petty very nearly starred in another cult sci-fi favorite. She was the original choice to play strait-laced police officer Lenina Huxley opposite Sylvester Stallone in 1993's Demolition Man, but after a few days of filming, she was suddenly dismissed from the role. An article in a 1993 issue of Spy Magazine (as recounted by PopCult Master) revealed that producer Joel Silver took issue with Petty's appearance—which he characterized using a homophobic slur—while that same year, Petty told Entertainment Weekly she didn't get along with Stallone on the set. Her exit led to Sandra Bullock being cast in one of her early breakout roles, one year before Speed.