We remember eight of the most awkward recasts in the history of screen entertainment.
No one wants to recast a screen project’s stars, but it’s often unavoidable. One of the biggest disadvantages TV and film have compared to the written word is that a character can’t quit on a novelist because they aren’t being paid enough, while actors can leave a project for any number of reasons. Here are eight of the most awkward recasts in big TV and/or film franchises.
8. Saavik – Kirstie Alley & Robin Curtis
Five years before she made a bigger splash on the sitcom Cheers, Kirstie Alley originated the role of the ambitious Vulcan officer Saavik in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But while the character had a bigger role in 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, by that point it was instead Robin Curtis playing her.
Alley long maintained that the studio actually offered her less for Star Trek III than Star Trek II in spite of giving her more time on screen. It wasn’t until the 2021 docu-series The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek that she openly speculated the reason the studio lowballed her. Alley said she’d heard that William Shatner didn’t like her and may have felt upstaged by her performance in The Wrath of Khan.
7. James Bond – Sean Connery & George Lazenby
At this point plenty of actors have played James Bond, but the first recasting of the iconic spy reportedly happened because of a game of Chicken. After making 1967’s You Only Live Twice, the late Sir Sean Connery was supposedly bored with playing Bond and so asked for much more compensation: $1 million and a percentage of the gross. When threats of replacing him with George Lazenby didn’t work on Connery, the result was Lazenby’s sole turn as Bond — 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
In the 2017 documentary Becoming Bond, Lazenby claimed he was offered a contract for six more films which he turned down on his agent’s advice. Instead Connery was lured back for a price tag of $1.25 million to make 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
6. John Connor – Edward Furlong & Nick Stahl
It was Edward Furlong who played the would-be savior of humanity John Connor in what most fans would tell you is the undisputed best film in the Terminator franchise — 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Yet when the time for a follow-up finally came with 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, it was instead Nick Stahl (Sin City) playing Connor.
According to ScreenRant, Furlong had actually signed up to reprise the role of John Connor, but by the end of the nineties some drug addiction issues, including a DUI arrest, convinced the studio to go in another direction.
5. Bruce Banner/The Hulk – Edward Norton & Mark Ruffalo
Edward Norton was one of the leading men whose Marvel movies led into 2012’s Avengers, but he had the unfortunate distinction of being the only one to not show up for the event film. After playing the titular man-monster in 2008’s Incredible Hulk, Norton was replaced with Mark Ruffalo, who has since gone on to inhabit the role on the big and small screen for over a decade.
In the case of Marvel replacing Norton, the scuttlebutt is that the recast was a result of the Fight Club star’s conflict with Marvel. He reportedly signed on for the first film under the condition he could rewrite the script, and most of the scenes he added were eliminated from the theatrical cut. In retaliation, Norton allegedly refused to do press for Incredible Hulk, and when time for Avengers came, Marvel decided to go with someone more cooperative.
4. The Riddler – Frank Gorshin & John Astin
He may not have delivered the grittier version of the character that Paul Dano made famous in The Batman, but Frank Gorshin’s portrayal of The Riddler in the sixties Batman series has a lot to do with the character’s enduring popularity. Yet for two episodes of Batman Season 2, Gorshin was replaced with John Astin — best known as the actor who originated the Gomez Addams role in The Addams Family.
Why did it happen? It depends on which story you believe. Gorshin went on record saying the shooting schedule conflicted with a nightclub appearance, while Batman producers would later claim Gorshin’s agents were demanding a pay raise and the studio called their bluff.
3. James Rhodes/War Machine – Terrence Howard & Don Cheadle
Terrence Howard’s appearance as James Rhodes in 2008’s Iron Man would prove to be his only time in the character’s shoes. By 2010’s Iron Man 2 he’d been replaced by Don Cheadle, who continues to play the character including in the upcoming Armor Wars.
The only side of the story we have is Howard’s who at first was more than happy than spill it on a 2013 episode of Watch What Happens Live. He claimed that when it came time to renegotiate for Iron Man 2, Marvel wanted him to take a 90 percent pay cut. He also implied Robert Downey, Jr., who he’d helped get the lead role in Iron Man, ghosted him.
2. Gellert Grindewald – Johnny Depp & Mads Mikkelsen
In 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Johnny Depp took on the villainous role of Gellert Grindelwald and he reprised it in 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. But in 2022’s Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, it was instead Mads Mikkelsen in the role, and his version of Grindelwald looked as much like Depp’s as Daniel Radcliffe’s version of Harry Potter looked like Josh Brolin‘s version of Thanos.
The reasons for Depp’s replacement are no mystery. In November 2020, Depp was asked to leave the role of Grindelwald after losing his first defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard. Since his more recent case went his way Mikkelsen has speculated Depp might get the role back, but after the third film’s underperformance it looks unlikely there will be any more Fantastic Beasts films.
1. Geralt of Rivia – Henry Cavill & Liam Hemsworth
This is the only example on this list of a recast we haven’t had the chance to see in the flesh quite yet. Last year news broke that Henry Cavill was leaving his lead role on Netflix’s The Witcher and would be replaced by Liam Hemsworth. While Cavill’s part in the series is done, his third and final season on the show has yet to stream.
Since the news first came out, there has been plenty of speculation about whether Cavill quit or was fired and why. Some stories claim he was difficult to work with and was inappropriate with female colleagues, while what seems to be the more widely accepted version is that he left because the writers were not only drifting further from the source material (of which Cavill is a fan) but were openly mocking it.
Regardless, it seems unlikely The Witcher will recover from the recast. No, name recognition and fame are far from everything, but finding out Henry Cavill is being replaced by Liam Hemsworth is kind of like finding out Chris Evans is being replaced by Corey Feldman. It’s not going to work out.