No matter their personal tastes, affiliations, or walk of life, pretty much anybody who enjoys movies of any kind, and has done so for the past 40 years, can all agree on Tom Hanks. He’s one of the most successful and acclaimed actors of this era, or any era, and nearly any film in which he appears is an event. It’s hard to imagine anybody but the charming, likable, and avuncular Hanks starring in any of the entries in his varied canon, like “Apollo 13,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Philadelphia, “The Da Vinci Code,” “Big,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Forrest Gump,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “A League of Their Own.”
A Tom Hanks movie is almost guaranteed to be a critical or commercial hit, and most any professional actor in the world would thank their lucky stars at an offer to appear alongside America’s middle-aged sweetheart in a major motion picture. But for whatever reasons, several stars — many of them as famous or even more famous than Hanks — had to pass on the chance. Here are some casting near-misses, brought about by rejection, polite or otherwise, from movies featuring Tom Hanks.
Commercially the most successful romantic comedy of 1993 (and arguably the most enduring entry in that genre for the whole decade), “Sleepless in Seattle” re-teamed Tom Hanks with Meg Ryan, his on-screen love interest in the 1989 cult comedy “Joe Vs. the Volcano.” They’d go on to star in “You’ve Got Mail,” together, while Hanks would team up with Julia Roberts for the 2011 rom-com “Larry Crowne,” a good two decades after that pairing could have initially occurred.
“Sleepless in Seattle” tells the improbable but profound love story of Sam (Hanks) and Annie (Ryan), who connect as pen pals after Sam’s son talks about his lovelorn widower dad on a call-in radio show. Roberts, having just starred in a whole bunch of hit movies like “Steel Magnolias,” “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and “Pretty Woman,” was extremely busy and in high demand, and so she was among the filmmakers’ top choices to play Annie. “I’d been offered ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ but couldn’t do it,” Roberts told InStyle (via ABC News), explaining that Ryan and Hanks “are just such a jewel of a fit in that.”
Unlike other top-selling musical superstars of the 20th century, like Elvis Presley or Barbra Streisand, country icon Garth Brooks didn’t do a lot of film acting beyond cameos and in his own music videos. But it might not have been for a lack of trying.
According to Billboard, in 2013, Brooks’s former production partner and de facto talent agent Lisa Sanderson filed a suit against the singer, alleging she lost money because Brooks turned down every role in every movie and TV show he was offered. Sanderson claimed that Brooks could’ve starred in “Twister,” but didn’t, because he didn’t want the CGI tornado to pull focus from him. He also allegedly rejected a role in the ensemble cast of “Saving Private Ryan,” the 1998 World War II blockbuster epic starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, and Edward Burns, among others, because it was an ensemble cast. Brooks wanted to be the clear star, not just one of the guys. In a statement to E! News, Brooks denied all of Sanderson’s legal claims.
By the early 1990s, Tom Hanks was one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, but he was known primarily for easygoing, lightweight, populist fare, like “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Big,” and “A League of Their Own.” In 1993, Hanks took on the most dramatic role of his career to that point, in “Philadelphia,” playing Andrew Beckett, a lawyer dying of AIDS who grapples with systemic homophobia while suing his former law firm for wrongful termination. Hanks won an Academy Award for “Philadelphia,” which also starred Antonio Banderas as Beckett’s lover and partner, Miguel Alvarez.
The role of Miguel nearly went to an actor who, like Hanks, was best known for his comedic work, John Leguizamo. “I was supposed to be Tom Hanks’ lover,” Leguizamo said on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” in 2017. “So I turned it down for Super Mario Brothers,” he added referring to the critically savaged, box office bomb of an adaptation of the video game franchise. And then of course they all won Oscars. And I won the ‘John How Could You Be So Stupid Award’ from my wife.”
While simultaneously building a career in stand-up comedy — in which he’d one day dominate and then land an extremely popular sketch series, “Chappelle’s Show,” on Comedy Central — Dave Chappelle, barely in his early twenties, landed supporting roles in a number of high-profile films in the 1990s, such as “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” “Undercover Blues,” and “The Nutty Professor.” When Tom Hanks was ready to follow up his dramatic turn in “Philadelphia” with the American history epic “Forrest Gump,” (which would win him his second consecutive Oscar), Chappelle was on the very short list of actors that producers wanted to play the title character’s best friend, Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, a man even more kind-hearted and less intelligent than Hanks’ title character. They meet while fighting in the Vietnam War, and after Bubba’s death in combat, Forrest goes on to start a shrimping company in his honor.
“Forrest Gump” would earn $678 million, win a bunch of Academy Awards and dominate the 1994 film awards circuit, but did so without Chappelle. Mykteli Williamson played Bubba instead, because Chappelle said no. “They tried to get me in ‘Forrest Gump,'” Chappelle said in a stand-up set (via Comedy Hype). “I must have read the wrong script. This script stunk when I read it,” he added, suggesting that he took offense at playing a Black character presented as so wildly unintelligent. Four years later, however, he’d finally appear in a big movie with Hanks, co-starring in “You’ve Got Mail.”
Mykleti Williamson was relatively unknown when he landed the role of Bubba in “Forrest Gump,” a part that would send him straight into major film acting and out of the guest star roles on episodic television to which he’d grown accustomed. Before casting him, “Forrest Gump” producers attempted to land an actor with whom audiences would be more familiar, and in addition to rising star Dave Chappelle, David Alan Grier said no, too.
A film and Broadway veteran, Grier was best known in the early 1990s for his role in “Boomerang,” and his four-year stint on Fox’s popular sketch comedy series “In Living Color.” “Forrest Gump,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by “Back to the Future” helmer Robert Zemeckis, would’ve been the most profile gig yet for Grier, but he passed nevertheless. “I’m like, listen if I’m going to be playing a mentally challenged person, I got to be the lead, I can’t be no mentally challenged sidekick,” Grier told “Busy Tonight” in 2018 (via JustJared). “So I read 20 pages and I said ‘listen man, I’m not going in on this. He’s talking about shrimp the whole d*** movie. Despite Zemeckis asking Grier to do the role on three separate occasions, and getting word that Hanks wanted him for the movie, too, he still passed. “I screwed that up,” Grier admitted.
After starring in back to back, high-grossing, Academy Award nomination collecting movies with “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump,” Tom Hanks made it three in a row with “Apollo 13.” The harrowing docudrama was based on the true story of the team of Americans astronauts on a moon mission in 1970 whose flight goes horribly awry and the small crew must somehow safely navigate themselves back to Earth.
The four main astronauts were all played by major actors of the mid-1990s, such as Tom Hanks as Commander Jim Lovell, Bill Paxton as Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise, and Gary Sinise as grounded pilot Ken Mattingly. Kevin Bacon rounded out the headliners as Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, with the established actor from “Footloose” and “The River Wild” winning the part over perhaps the biggest new star in Hollywood: Brad Pitt. According to FilmInk, “Apollo 13” filmmakers approached Pitt for the role of Jack Swigert. He passed on it, to make a different iconic and frightening 1995 release. “I was talking to my mom the other night and she said, ‘I just saw the best movie called ‘Apollo 13,'” Pitt told The Morning Call. “She said, ‘You have to do more movies like this.’ I said, ‘Mom, I turned that down for ‘Seven.'”
Over the course of a long and versatile acting career, Tom Hanks never voiced a character in a full-length animated film until 1995, when he played a cowboy doll named Woody in “Toy Story,” Pixar’s debut feature that concerned the secret lives of sentient playthings when humans aren’t around. The top grossing film of 1995, “Toy Story” was a dazzlingly animated buddy-action comedy, teaming up Woody with his would-be replacement, Buzz Lightyear, a spaceman toy loaded with cool features whom he conspires to eliminate and then must rescue. Tim Allen, star of hit era sitcom “Home Improvement” won the chance to voice Buzz, but only after comedian and “City Slickers” star declined an offer to do so.
After casting Hanks, director John Lasseter approached Crystal, convinced he had the perfect voice to breathe life into Buzz. He quickly passed, and after “Toy Story” was released, he regretted it. “I’m the schmuck who turned down ‘Toy Story,'” Crystal told Yahoo! Entertainment. A few years later, Crystal would readily sign up for another Pixar buddy movie, voicing Mike Wazowski in “Monsters, Inc.”
One of the biggest box office hits of 1992 was a period sports dramedy about an obscure historical footnote — the brief run of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a women’s sports league that operated during World War II. Though it didn’t seem like it would be an enormous hit out of the gate, naysayers were proven wrong, and “A League of Their Own” attracted huge audiences because of its star power with a cast that included Tom Hanks (as grouchy alcoholic coach Jimmy Dugan), and Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Lori Petty as some of the players of the Rockford Peaches. One big-name member of that cast is precisely why another major performer passed on “A League of Their Own.”
According to TheWrap, Debra Winger — star of massive ’80s movies like “Urban Cowboy,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and “Terms of Endearment” — enthusiastically signed up for the movie, and spent three months in rigorous baseball training with the Chicago Cubs. Winger was ready to film her scenes as catcher (and lead character) Dottie Hinson, until she learned that director Penny Marshall had cast Madonna in the film. And with that, Winger was gone, telling The Telegraph that she felt like the movie’s bent had evolved into a pop star showcase, akin to an “Elvis film,” and that few of the other actors had prepared as extensively as she had. In the end, Geena Davis played Dottie instead.
Shaquille O’Neal is most famous for his Hall of Fame level career as an NBA superstar, but his personality and popularity transcended sports and he’s made many inroads into entertainment. He’s a co-host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” starred in dozens of commercials, and starred in a few movies, including “Shazam,” “Steel,” and “Blue Chips.” O’Neal could’ve had the most high profile role of his acting side career to date in The Green Mile, based on a bestseller by Stephen King that ultimately received four Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, and one for Best Supporting actor, for Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey, a towering, gentle, and innocent death row prisoner in the 1930s with supernatural gifts. That role was initially offered to O’Neal.
In 2021, O’Neal appeared on the “Marchand and Ourand” podcast and discussed his involvement with the 1999 movie headlined by Tom Hanks as a sympathetic prison guard Paul Edgecomb. “That was my role in ‘Green Mile,’ I turned it down,” O’Neal said (via CBS Sports). “I didn’t want to play the down South African-American guy,” he added, before praising Duncan for his performance.
“Catch Me if You Can” boasted a pretty enormous level of talent. Based on the unbelievable yet true memoir of master con man Frank Abagnale Jr., the 2002 movie was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale with Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, and James Brolin in minor roles, along with Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, the perpetually foiled and apoplectic federal agent who just always almost manages to catch Abagnale during his jet-set, mid-century criminal escapades. Plenty of Hollywood big-shots similarly just almost missed being a part of “Catch Me if You Can.”
In 2001, The Hollywood Reporter (via IGN) revealed that Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) was set to direct with DiCaprio starring, until overages on “Gangs of New York” precluded the latter’s involvement, causing the production to temporarily cease. Due to other scheduling commitments, previously cast and signed actors had to bail, including Chloe Sevigny (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Ed Harris (“Pollock,” “The Abyss”), and James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), who was supposed to play an FBI agent named Joe Shaye. When “Catch Me if You Can” resumed production, with DiCaprio and new director Spielberg, Gandolfini was out, and the role of Joe Shaye would be rewritten as Carl Hanratty, and offered to Hanks.
After the one-two punch of the sitcom “Bosom Buddies” and the fantasy romantic comedy “Splash” made him a household name in the mid-1980s, Tom Hanks starred in a series of broad and agreeable comedies, including “Big,” “Bachelor Party,” “Dragnet,” and “The Money Pit.” The 1986 relatable everyman farce starred Hanks and fellow aspirational TV star Shelley Long (from “Cheers”) as young couple Walter and Anna, who purchase what they drink is their dream house, only to find that everything that can go wrong with it does, resulting in all kinds of destructive mishaps and costly repairs.
Before Long signed on to play Anna, filmmakers had another, and more reliably bankable movie star in mind: Kathleen Turner, coming off a string of memorable performances in “Body Heat,” “Romancing the Stone,” and “Prizzi’s Honor.” Around the same time that she got an offer for “The Money Pit,” the filmmakers behind “Romancing the Stone” approached Turner about a sequel, “The Jewel of the Nile.” According to the Chicago Tribune, she initially found the script subpar, and a salary fight on the predecessor film soured the experience for her. Turner finally decided to make “The Jewel of the Nile” after all, and thus refusing “The Money Pit.”
Around the mid-2000s, comic actor and writer Ricky Gervais was in huge demand in the U.S. and U.K. entertainment industries after co-creating and starring as odious, cringe-inducing boss David Brent on the original BBC version of “The Office.” He followed that elevating project with another TV series, “Extras,” and starring roles in high-concept film comedies like “Night at the Museum,” “Stardust,” “Ghost Town,” and “The Invention of Lying.” Gervais also entertained an offer to play Rèmy Jean, assistant to villain Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) in “The Da Vinci Code,” the screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s mega-bestseller directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as historical mystery-solving professor Robert Langdon. Ultimately, the role of Remy went to French actor Jean-Yves Berteloot.
Gervais declined the opportunity for reasons of self-deprecation and quality preservation. “I was offered the part of the butler,” Gervais told The Daily Mirror (via DigitalSpy). “I told director Ron Howard ‘I will ruin your film. The number of times I’ve sat down for a great film by a great director and a British actor pops up and ruins it for me; I don’t want to be that bloke.'”