11 Stars Who Turned Down Oscar-winning Roles

For most stars, bagging an Academy Award is the prize for of a lifetime’s worth of work. And some luck. Well, lots of luck. That Oscar winning role is as much about being in the right place at the right time as it is about acting chops, and it’s not uncommon for producers to settle for second best when their preferred talent gets picky. 

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The result: One lucky award winner… and a slightly miffed star who missed out. These are the actors who were left kicking themselves when they passed on Oscar glory. Probably.

Mel Gibson

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The winning role: Maximus Decimus Meridius in ‘Gladiator’ (2000)
Played by: Russell Crowe – Best Actor
But… Mel Gibson was offered ‘Gladiator’, but felt he was too old for that swords and sandals stuff. Antonio Banderas and a pre-‘X-Men’ Hugh Jackman were also reportedly considered.

Julia Roberts

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The winning role: Viola De Lesseps in ‘Shakespeare In Love’ (1998)
Played by: Gwyneth Paltrow – Best Actress
But… Julia Roberts liked the script and agreed to play Viola back in 1991, insisting only Daniel Day-Lewis could play Shakespeare. Day-Lewis wasn’t actually interested, so Julia quit six weeks before production.

Richard Gere

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The winning role: Gordon Gekko in ‘Wall Street’ (1987)
Played by: Michael Douglas – Best Actor
But… Richard Gere was director Oliver Stone’s first choice, but the studio wanted Warren Beatty. Neither were interested. They settled for Douglas, despite Stone admitting he was “warned by everyone in Hollywood that Michael couldn’t act”.

Anne Hathaway

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The winning role: Tiffany Maxwell in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (2012)
Played by: Jennifer Lawrence – Best Actress
But… Anne Hathaway was originally cast, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Other actresses considered include Elizabeth Banks, Kirsten Dunst, Angelia Jolie, Blake Lively, Rooney Mara, Rachel McAdams, Andrea Riseborough and Olivia Wilde. Still, the part was actually written for Zooey Deschanel.

Gene Hackman

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The winning role: Dr. Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991)
Played by: Anthony Hopkins – Best Actor
But… Gene Hackman had been slated to star, and potentially direct the iconic thriller, but withdrew due to the “graphic content” of the script.

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Julia Roberts… again

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The winning role: Leigh Anne Tuohy in ‘The Blind Side’ (2009)
Played by: Sandra Bullock – Best Actress
But… Julia Roberts said no to the part, which was then offered to Bullock who turned it down herself THREE times over discomfort playing a devout Christian.

Liam Neeson

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The winning role: Abraham Lincoln in ‘Lincoln’ (2012)
Played by: Daniel Day Lewis – Best Actor
But… Liam Neeson was originally cast by Spielberg 2005, but left the project in 2010, claiming he was past his “sell-by date”. Rumour has it he was tired of waiting for the film to get made.

Michelle Pfeiffer

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The winning role: Clarice Starling in ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991)
Played by: Jodie Foster – Best Actress
But… Michelle Pfeiffer was first choice by far, and the hottest star in Hollywood, but turned the part down because she was “nervous” about the subject matter.

John Travolta

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The winning role: Forrest Gump in ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)
Played by: Tom Hanks – Best Actor
But… John Travolta turned down Forrest, despite being first choice, though he now admits passing on the role was a big mistake. Bill Murray and Chevy Chase also claimed to have been offered the part in the early stages of production, with Chase later revealing the script he saw was very different to the finished film.

Bette Davis

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The winning role: Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939)
Played by: Vivien Leigh - Best Actress
But… Bette Davis refused the iconic role, thinking her co-star would be Errol Flynn. When Clark Gable then took the male lead, actresses including Joan Crawford, Miriam Hopkins, Lana Turner, Jean Arthur and Joan Bennett were all considered for the pairing. It almost went to Paulette Goddard, but controversy over her “secret” marriage to Charlie Chaplain made producers think again.

Gael Garcia Bernal

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The winning role: Rayon in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ (2013)
Played by: Jared Leto - Best Supporting Actor
But… Funding proved hard to come by for this Oscar-winning AIDS drama and so the shooting schedule stuttered. Mexican actor Gael García Bernal was one casualty of the uncertainty surrounding the film, as he pulled out in 2012 following delays. He was quickly replaced by Jared Leto who was tempted out of acting retirement to play the crossing Rayon and was promptly rewarded with an Academy Award.

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