Image via MoviefoneGreat movies are a product of a special, unpredictable alchemy between actors, directors, screenwriters, editors and a public ready and willing to receive a story. This is doubly so for geek films, which is why many movie nerds still say a silent prayer of thanks that Nick Nolte didn't get cast as Han Solo in Star Wars. (Patton Oswalt being the exception that proves this rule.)
The truth is, there are many such spine-chilling near misses in geek cinematic history, to the point that imagining "What If Casting (or Directing) Were Different?" has become a meme and industry unto itself. Richard "Lethal Weapon" Donner directed the first two modern Superman films, but betwixt Superman: The Movie and Superman II, he had a falling out with the studio. Thus Richard Lester was brought in to reshoot the sequel just enough to screw Donner out of a directing credit (and also edit the expensive Marlon Brando out of the film). Not to worry, Superman II: The Donner Cut is available to undo this nerd cinema wrong.
Eric Stoltz was also famously the original lead in Back to the Future, but was replaced part way through principle photography. While there isn't a "Stoltz Cut" of BttF, this well known revamp did earn a glaring geek in-joke in a recent episode of Fringe, in which we visit an alternate universe where the recast never happened.
What's even more intriguing about the Back to the Future casting tweak is that Stoltz wasn't even the original choice. Producer Steven Spielberg originally wanted Ralph "Karate Kid" Macchio to be Marty McFly. On a similar note, Will Smith was envisioned as the original Neo in The Matrix, and Russell Crowe was Peter Jackson's first choice for Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. While Jackson didn't actually cast Crowe, he did pull a Stoltz-esque switch and fire his original Aragorn just before principle LOTR photography in favor of Viggo Mortensen.
Who was the original Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy?
Stuart Townsend was the original Aragorn, which is a bit of a shock when you consider that Townsend is a good 14 years younger than Mortensen. Townsend is perhaps best known for playing L'Estat in the film version of Queen of the Damned and Dorian Gray in the movie adaptation of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Both movies were rather disrespectful of their source material and did poorly at the box office, so maybe Townsend getting yanked from LOTR was the universe ensuring his poor geek-film karma didn't contaminate Jackson's highly anticipated production of Tolkien's iconic trilogy.
Regardless of any intervention from higher cinematic powers, the result of the Townsend/Mortenson switch was one of the most profitable film franchises in Hollywood history and an eventual Best Picture Oscar for Return of the King. Naturally, Townsend still isn't exactly pleased with being fired, as he told Entertainment Weekly:
I was there rehearsing and training for two months, then was fired the day before filming began. After that I was told they wouldn't pay me because I was in breach of contract due to not having worked long enough. I had been having a rough time with them, so I was almost relieved to be leaving until they told me I wouldn't be paid. I have no good feelings for those people in charge, I really don't. The director [Peter Jackson] wanted me and then apparently thought better of it because he really wanted someone 20 years older than me and completely different.Those may be sour grapes, but they're great grounds for an alt-history poster, a future TV in-joke or two, and of course fodder for the Truly Trivial.