Can you picture Will Smith as Neo in “The Matrix”? It almost happened. In 1999, the leading role was originally offered to Smith, who turned it down to star in the far-less acclaimed “Wild Wild West.”
The part eventually went to Keanu Reeves, and “The Matrix” flicks went on to become one of the most successful franchises in cinema history.
“You know, ‘The Matrix’ is a difficult concept to pitch. I just didn’t see it. I watched Keanu’s performance, and very rarely do I say this, but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up ‘The Matrix,'” Smith told Wire magazine of his decision. “At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don’t try and perform every moment.”
See more stars who passed on the biggest roles in film history:
Claire Danes Ditched “Titanic”
“Homeland” star Claire Danes turned down the role of Rose (and the opportunity to make out with Leonardo DiCaprio again) in James Cameron‘s epic “Titanic.” Kate Winslet went on to earn an Oscar nomination playing the part instead. (Photos: Getty Images/Paramount)
Sean Penn Nixed a Role in “Fight Club”
Sean Penn turned down the opportunity to play soap salesman Tyler Durden alongside Edward Norton in the film “Fight Club.” The now-iconic role eventually went to Brad Pitt, who earned plenty of critical praise for the part. (Photos: Getty Images/20th Century Fox)
Halle Berry Turned Down “Speed”
Halle Berry turned down the lead role of Annie, and a starring role opposite uber-thespian Keanu Reeves, in 1994’s “Speed.” The thrilling part went to Sandra Bullock instead. “We offered it to everybody but Keanu Reeves. We desperately wanted Billy Baldwin and Halle Berry,” producer Mark Gordon revealed at a conference. “Dennis Hopper was our 97th choice. I didn’t think it would work.” (Photos: Getty Images/20th Century Fox)
Molly Ringwald Said No to “Pretty Woman” and “Ghost”
1980s icon Molly Ringwald turned down two classic film roles… the lead in both “Pretty Woman” and “Ghost.” The “Pretty Woman” role of Vivian eventually went to Julia Roberts, who quickly skyrocketed to the top of the A-list thanks to her bubbly performance. The lead role of Molly Jensen in “Ghost” went to Demi Moore. (Photos: Getty Images/Buena Vista)
Melanie Griffith Passed on “Thelma and Louise”
Melanie Griffith turned down the role of Thelma, and a chance to act alongside a shirtless Brad Pitt, in the 1991 film “Thelma and Louise.” Instead, Geena Davis nabbed the coveted part opposite Susan Sarandon. (Photos: Getty Images/MGM)
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