The Big Roles (and Bigger Paychecks) Actors Regret Turning Down

Actors often spend their careers carefully maneuvering through the murky waters of Hollywood. One wrong turn can see a lifetime of work go down the pan quicker than you can say, “Cut!” On the other hand, one right move can lead to incredible opportunities with huge paychecks. 

It’s not an exact science, as the actors we are about to know all too well. Sometimes, their instincts are miles off. Let’s take a look at some major roles A-listers have turned down and how much they’ve lost because of it. You might be surprised at what one particular no cost Sean Connery.


John Travolta – Forrest Gump

Character: Forrest Gump
Eventually Played by: Tom Hanks
Missed Salary: $60 million*

 

Forrest Gump is one of the most iconic movies to ever hit theaters. With its heart-achingly brilliant storyline pulled directly from the book by Winston Groom, the 1994-comedy drama did exceedingly well at the box office. It may be difficult to imagine anyone other than Tom Hanks saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates” in that perfect Southern drawl, but he wasn’t the first choice for the role.

Producers wanted Saturday Night Fever legend John Travolta to play Forrest, but the actor passed up the opportunity to star in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Hanks opted for performance-based pay, so he took home a paycheck of $60 million. Travolta, on the other hand, took home a meager $150,000 for the role of Vincent Vega.

Al Pacino – Star Wars

Character: Han Solo
Eventually Played by: Harrison Ford
Missed Salary: $30 million*

 

Al Pacino is better known for his gangster movies like Scarface and The Godfather, but he almost ventured into George Lucas’ intergalactic world as Han Solo. Harrison Ford ultimately stepped up to the plate and made the role his own. 

In 2014, Pacino told MTV that he simply didn’t understand the premise. “It was at a time in my career when I was offered everything,” he explained. “I was in The Godfather. They didn’t care if I was right or wrong for the role…I remember not understanding it when I read it.” Ford went on to earn $30 million for his work across the franchise. 

Michelle Pfeiffer – The Silence of the Lambs

Character: Clarice Starling
Eventually Played by: Jodie Foster
Missed Salary: $5 million*

 

Anthony Hopkins sent shivers down our spines as the formidable, yet exceedingly charming Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs and its subsequent follow-ups. The chemistry and tension between Hopkins and his co-star Jodie Foster was exquisite, making them an iconic duo. 

However, it almost wasn’t so. Michelle Pfieffer was offered a multitude of high-profile roles that she turned down, including this one. “I don’t have an innate commercial nous. I am always wrong,” she admitted in 2013. Passing up on the part of Clarice Starling likely cost the actress $5 million. Pfieffer has a net worth of $61 million these days, so she didn’t do too badly. 

Jack Nicholson – The Godfather

Character: Michael Corleone
Eventually Played by: Al Pacino 
Missed Salary: $35,000*

 

Jack Nicholson is Hollywood royalty, with a plethora of incredible parts to his name. His personal life is just as famous as screen work, making him one of the industry’s most recognizable characters. When The Godfather was offered to him, Nicholson thought he was simply too old to play the part of Michael Corleone. 

Instead, the part went to up and coming actor Al Pacino, and Nicholson starred in The Last Detail, for which he received an Oscar nomination. Pacino was paid $35,000 (roughly $250,000 in today’s money) for the mobster part. Nicholson would’ve likely made slightly more if he had signed on the dotted line.

Matt Damon – Avatar

Character: Jake Sully
Eventually Played by: Sam Worthington 
Missed Salary: $20-30 million*

 

When it comes to financially successful actors, Matt Damon has been squirreling away the pennies ever since he broke into the industry. That’s not to say he hasn’t made a few questionable choices – like passing on James Cameron’s record-breaking Avatar. 

Considering Damon’s $26 million salary for 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, he could’ve negotiated anywhere in the region of $20-30 million for the lead role of Jake Sully. Australian actor Sam Worthington was paid an undisclosed amount, which was reportedly “Above the SAG minimum but less than enough to make (him) feel financially secure,” according to The New York Times