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Sally Field, Harrison Ford, John Travolta: Iconic roles turned down by major stars

Christina Applegate, along with other Hollywood stars like Matthew McConaughey and Sally Field, turned down once-in-a-lifetime movie roles during their careers.

Some of the world's favorite movies could have played out very differently on the big screen.

Sally Field turned down the opportunity to be in "The First Wives Club," and Matthew McConaughey was passed up for the lead role in "Titanic." 

John Travolta was originally slated to appear in "Forrest Gump" before Tom Hanks was cast in the starring role. Steven Spielberg wanted Harrison Ford to star in "Jurassic Park" before the actor turned down the opportunity.

Here is a closer look at other celebrities who had a chance at once-in-a-lifetime movie roles. 

SALLY FIELD REVEALS BELOVED MOVIE ROLE SHE TURNED DOWN: ‘WOULDN’T BE THE SAME'

Annette Bening was the casting director's first choice when it came to who would play Catwoman in Tim Burton's sequel to the 1989 movie "Batman," "Batman Returns." Ultimately, she had to give up the role after she learned she was pregnant with her and husband Warren Beatty's first child, and the part went to Michelle Pfeiffer. 

"It’s a great part. I’m very flattered that Michelle Pfeiffer is doing it, and I’m sure she will be terrific," Bening said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight in 1991. "I loved the role. I loved the script, but it was really no contest in terms of what was more important to me."

Pfeiffer's take on the iconic comic book character earned her major respect as an actress, as she performed many of the stunts on her own, including the infamous scene in which the character whips the heads off four mannequins in one take. It also helped cement her status as one of the biggest sex symbols of the ‘80s and ’90s.

"Someone was cast before me," Pfeiffer told Jimmy Fallon on the "Tonight Show" in December 2022. "Annette Bening, who’s wonderful … and then she got pregnant. Awesome! And then I got the part … I got the part!"

This was not the first time the two actresses had swapped roles. Pfeiffer told Interview Magazine in 2017, she has "this weird synchronicity with Annette Bening," as she was originally cast as Virginia Hill in "Bugsy," but Bening took over for her after she had to drop out. "We’re always kind of tag-teaming," she joked.

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When Henry Winkler wrapped up his 11-season tenure playing "Fonzie" on the hit show "Happy Days," he was looking for ways to move his career along. He was even asked to play Danny Zuko in the 1978 movie musical, "Grease."

While he felt the pressure to secure another job, Winkler ended up turning down the opportunity because he was afraid of being typecast in Hollywood. His character in "Happy Days" is very similar to the character of Danny, who went on to be played by Travolta.

"I was dumb," Winkler told People magazine in October 2023. "I spent so much energy, so much time … I spent so many sleepless nights thinking, ‘How do I not get typecast?’" 

It seemed his fears were legitimate, as he told Today.com earlier this year that he struggled to find work for nearly a decade after "Happy Days" ended, because he was too recognizable as Fonzie and those were the only type of roles he was being offered. 

The iconic trio that makes up "The First Wives Club" could have looked a little different, if Field had said yes.

In a February 2023 interview with People, the actress revealed that she turned down a role in the 1996 comedy, despite Goldie Hawn asking her to co-star. 

Field said, "Goldie really wanted me to do it. Maybe it would have been fun, but they were all so musical, and I'm not."

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Field did not specify which part she was offered, but the final trio ended up being Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton. 

According to Field, "the movie wouldn't have been the same" if she had signed on.

"The First Wives Club" was based on a 1992 novel of the same name by Olivia Goldsmith, and followed Hawn, Midler and Keaton as they made a pact to get back at their ex-husbands who left them for younger women. It went on to earn just over $181 million at the box office worldwide.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s iconic role as Jack in "Titanic" could have gone to McConaughey.

In 2021, McConaughey appeared on "Literally! with Rob Lowe" to explain exactly what went down with the casting process over 20 years ago.

"So I went and read with Kate Winslet [who starred as Rose] and it was not one of the auditions — they filmed it, so it was like into screen test time," McConaughey explained. 

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"After we left, you know, it was one of those ones where they, like, followed me and when we got outside they were like, ‘That went great.' I mean, kind of like hugs. I really thought it was going to happen. It did not."

The "Dallas Buyers Club" star went on the record to clarify he did not turn down the role, but the decision was left with the film’s director James Cameron.

"I asked [James] Cameron about this, because the gossip over the years that I heard and would see written about me was that I had the [lead] role in ‘Titanic’ and turned it down," McConaughey recalled. "Not factual. I did not get offered that role."

"For a while I was saying, ‘I gotta find that agent. They're in trouble,’" he said. "I did not ever get the offer."

‘TITANIC’ FILMMAKER JAMES CAMERON REVEALED LEONARDO DICAPRIO ALMOST WASN'T CAST IN CLASSIC FILM

"Titanic" was the first film to reach the billion-dollar mark in 1997, with an initial worldwide gross of $1.8 billion. It remained the highest grossing film of all time until 2009's "Avatar" -- another Cameron film -- was released.

Another near-casting for "Titanic": Gwyneth Paltrow came close to starring as Rose.

Fans know the part ultimately went to Winslet, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the 1997 hit.

"I know that the story is that I turned it down," Paltrow told Howard Stern of the film in 2015. "I think I was really in contention for it — I was one of the last two."

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She continued, "I look back at the choices I’ve made and think, ‘Why the hell did I say yes to that? And no to that?’ And you know, you look at the big picture and think: There’s a universal lesson here. What good is it to hold onto roles?"

Clarifying on whether she turned down the role or if it was ultimately Cameron’s decision, Paltrow said, "You only get to pick certain movies. When you’re offered ‘Titanic’ — James Cameron — one of the biggest movies of all time, I don’t know psychologically… I would throw a fit if I turned that down!"

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During the time of the interview, the actress noted that she could not change the past and the roles she did star in, including "Sliding Doors," "A Perfect Murder" and "Shakespeare in Love," were ultimately meant for her.

Travolta almost filled Forrest Gump’s Nikes in the iconic film before Hanks was slated for the role.

Speaking to MTV in 2007, Travolta shared that he did not have any regrets about turning down the part.

"No, because if I didn't do something Tom Hanks did, then I did something else that was equally interesting or fun. Or if I didn't do something Richard Gere did, I did something equally well. But I feel good about some I gave up because other careers were created," he said.

Travolta reportedly turned down the "Forrest Gump" offer to star in Quentin Tarantino’s iconic "Pulp Fiction."

"Forrest Gump" reached massive success with Hanks earning an Academy Award in 1995 for the role, and the film won best picture the same year.

"Jurassic Park" almost had Ford as Dr. Alan Grant.

At the 30th anniversary screening of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 2011, Ford joked that Steven Spielberg only hires him to star in "Indiana Jones" films.

In response to the actor’s quip, Spielberg replied, "I gotta correct this. Do you know who I offered ‘Jurassic Park’ to? This guy. Alan Grant, I first offered to this guy."

Although the Q&A style panel at the time did not allow Ford to elaborate on his decision not to take the role, fans know Spielberg eventually cast Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant.

Elle Woods was nearly played by an entirely different actress.

In 2019, Christina Applegate was a guest on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen," where she explained that she was sent the script of "Legally Blonde" in 2001 for the role made famous by Reese Witherspoon.

"The story’s been out there, but I wasn’t actually offered it, the script came to me," Applegate said at the time. "But at that time, I had just gotten off of ‘Married with Children’ and I felt like it was too close to what I had just been doing and I was very interested in removing myself from that."

She continued: "I don’t regret it because Reese Witherspoon did a much better job than I ever could, and she now has way more money and way more success, and so why would I even regret that?"

The first "Legally Blonde" movie was released in 2001," and "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" was released in 2003.

In 2018, a "Legally Blonde 3" was confirmed. The film had an initial release date of 2020 but was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The Godfather" may be one of the most famous movies of all time.

Although the role of Michael Corleone went to Al Pacino, the entire film could have gone a very different way if Jack Nicholson had not said no to the role.

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In an interview with Moveline in 2004, Nicholson said he did not take the role of the son of Vito Corleone because "Italians should play Italians."

"Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians," he said. "Mario Puzo had written such a great book that if you go back to it you'll see so much of what was special about the movie. There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone. I can't think of a better compliment to pay him."

The 1972 crime drama that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola won several awards in the '70s, including an Academy Award for best picture.

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