In an era of blockbuster continuity, where every movie is just a set up for the next one, and the next, and the one after that, recasting a part comes with a lot of bellyaching. With a new actor stepping in, we’re just reminded how we aren’t really in a far away galaxy, or battling aliens with The Avengers. But sometimes recasting a part is just what a franchise needs. Before you catch Patriot Games this month on IFC, check out some of the best and worst recast roles in movie history.
Best: Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhal, The Batman franchise
After the Day-Glo disco nightmare that was Batman & Robin, Batman Begins was a revelation. A back-to-basics success that told us how Bruce Wayne became Gotham’s hero, Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster employed a real world approach that forever changed the superhero genre. The casting in particular was spot on, with a who’s who of acting royalty filling out the ensemble. Oh, and also Joey from Dawson’s Creek. Katie Holmes was in way over her head, trying to hold her own with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Christian “Stay out of my sight-line” Bale.
By the time The Dark Knight rolled around three years later, everyone was invited back except for the ex-wife of Operating Thetan III Tom Cruise, who was replaced with Maggie Gyllenhaal. The part was beefed up as well, now that it had a Golden Globe-winning actress behind it and not the star of First Daughter. With no weak links, The Dark Knight went on to become the gold standard of superhero movies.
Worst: Wesley Snipes to Omar Epps, Major League movies
There was a time, before the endless Blade sequels and tax troubles, when Wesley Snipes was as electric a movie star as you were likely to come across. He could be your leading man, or do character work. He could do probing dramas or wacky comedies. He could give you Jungle Fever or prove that White Men Can’t Jump. In the comedy classic Major League, he got to chew the scenery as Wille Mays Hayes, a faster-than-lightning ballplayer who couldn’t get a hit from a tee-ball.
But when the cast was redrafted for Major League II, Snipes had become a major star, and refused to slip back into the uniform. Omar Epps, an up-and-coming star in his own right, was brought on board. And while Epps had a lot of talents, Hayes’ quick wit and flashy personality were a far cry from the grumpy doctor he would become famous playing on House M.D. He wasn’t horrible. He was just a pale copy of the original.
Worst: Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron to Jason Lively and Dana Hill, The Vacation movies
Anthony Michael Hall more than held his own with a prime Chevy Chase in the original Vacation, and surely would have only grown in the role if he’d returned for the sequels. But after blowing up with a string of classic ’80s comedies, his career was too hot to join the Griswolds on their European Vacation. Minus one star, this led to the odd choice of bringing actor Jason Lively on board, who would go on to appear in such classics as Maximum Force and Return to Zork. Even worse, the perfectly deadpan Dana Barron was swapped with the whiny Dana Hill in the Audrey role. Somehow the filmmakers thought we wouldn’t notice if they cast a different actor with the same first name.
Thankfully the franchise bounced back with the addition of Johnny Galecki, Ethan Embry and Juliette Lewis, who all got their turn as malcontent Griswolds. But European Vacation is still considered to be the black sheep of the Vacation films, due in no small part to Fake Rusty and Fake Audrey.
Worst: Jodie Foster to Julianne Moore, The Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal
Julianne Moore is one of the finest actresses working in film, but sometimes a part is so defined by a specific performer, no one can fill their shoes. You don’t bring in Christopher Atkins to play Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. You don’t hire Vin Diesel to play Rocky Balboa. And you don’t replace Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, her most iconic part.
The fact that Hannibal is a far weaker movie than Silence of the Lambs in virtually every way just exasperated the already obvious problem. Even Anthony Hopkins recently expressed regret that he revisited Dr. Lecter in the movie, so perhaps they all should have just left good enough alone.
Worst: Kathleen Cauley to Jennifer Smith to Jessie Cave, Harry Potter films
The recasting of Lavender Brown from The Chamber of Secrets to Prisoner of Azkaban to Half-Blood Prince is notable for one very particular, and uncomfortable reason. When Brown first appeared in Secrets, she was Black British. She popped up again in Azkaban, played by a different actress, but still Black British. It was only when the part was expanded on later in the series, that a new, notably whiter actress was cast to play the part.
Now, it’s understandable that Jennifer Smith was replaced. Going off of her IMDB page, she acted neither before nor after her one, dialogue-less role in Azkaban. A more accomplished actress was obviously required to fight for the future of wizard kind, but after two movies of being black, the fact that she was recast lily white to have a romance with Ron Wealsey certainly raised some eyebrows. There may have been other, more concrete reasons a new actress was brought on board (the role was originally a non-speaking background character assigned the name Lavender Brown), but the uncomfortable quality of this recasting lands it squarely on the worst list.
Best: Alec Baldwin to Harrison Ford, The Jack Ryan movies
In many ways, Alec Baldwin in a national treasure. He can tear up the screen in a Scorsese movie, and then get downright goofy hosting SNL. He is a man of immense talent, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would rather watch an action movie starring him than Harrison Ford. After Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Ford proved himself to be perhaps the biggest movie star of his generation. When Baldwin played hard to get for the Hunt for Red October sequel, the script slid Ford’s way, and Baldwin found himself minus one franchise.
While Red October is a solid film, Ford helped bring Jack Ryan front and center for the more action-packed Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Baldwin would rebound as an in-demand character actor, but Ford would take the franchise to new, finger wagging heights.
Worst: Linda Hamilton to Emilia Clarke, Terminator franchise
Emilia Clarke may be the mother of dragons, but she proved she couldn’t hold a candle to Linda Hamilton when it came to playing mother of the resistance Sarah Conner. Hamilton, who originated the role in 1984’s Terminator, as a nervous waitress in over her head, proved a revelation when she rebuilt herself into a killing machine for the 1991 sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
By the time Clarke found her way to the role in oddly spelled 2015’s Terminator Genisys, Sarah Conner had already been rebooted once on television, but had sat dormant on the big screen for more than twenty years. Sadly, her take on the part wasn’t much of a take at all. She wore the tank top, but failed to bring any of the hard-ass gravitas to the role.Genisys was a letdown in every way possible, but the fact that it exposed Khaleesi’s limited acting range was perhaps its most unforgivable sin.
Best: Elaine Baker and Clive Revill to Ian McDiarmid, Star Wars movies
When the time came, in The Empire Strikes Back, for the wicked Emperor to make an appearance, makeup guru Rick Baker did what anyone would do. He cast his wife in the part, superimposed chimpanzee eyes over her face, and had actor Clive Revill dub in the lines. That’s just common sense.
When Return of the Jedi rolled around a few years later, it was clear the same approach would not work for the much-expanded part, and Ian McDiarmid was cast. His deliciously evil interpretation of the Sith lord became iconic, unfortunately to such an extent that famous noodler George Lucas went back and inserted him in the 2004 Empire DVD release. While we were sad to see the more DIY approach to the Emperor banished from the Star Wars movies, there can be no doubt that McDiarmid created one of the all-time great screen villains.
Worst: Bill Murray to Dan Aykroyd, Caddyshack II
Look, we love Dan Aykroyd. Who doesn’t? From Blue Brothers to Ghostbusters, he’s been behind some of the all-time great comedies. But signing on to a sinking ship like Caddyshack II, whose sole reason for being was to use the catchphrase “The Shack is Back,” seems like an incredibly shortsighted idea.
Keep in mind, every original cast member, save Chevy Chase, wanted nothing to do with this movie, and cowriter Harold Ramis fought to have his name taken off of it. While Aykroyd doesn’t technically play the same character that Murray created in the original, a name change can’t hide that the part was clearly written for “The Murricane,” and switched around during a last second scramble. If a movie could have flop sweat, this travesty would be soaking wet. Aykroyd would go on to many more successes, but wading in Murray’s wake through this flop did him no favors.