Here’s every major movie role Leonardo DiCaprio passed on. From being a ’90s teen heartthrob starring in the then-biggest box office hit of all time to becoming Martin Scorsese’s other muse and, eventually, an Oscar-winner, DiCaprio had led a fascinating career as an actor. To this today, he’s one of the rare A-listers who’s yet to be bitten by the franchise bug. At a time when even Will Smith is playing DC comic book characters and Tom Cruise is battling Universal monsters, DiCaprio has continued to forego IPs and brands in favor of collaborating with the cream of the crop when it comes to (admittedly, mostly white and male) directors.
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The closest DiCaprio has come to working on a established property in recent years would probably be Joker, and even then it was only ever a rumor stemming from Scorsese’s potential involvement as director. It’s not that executives haven’t approached him about playing a superhero or boarding a massive shared universe, either. Rather, DiCaprio is merely selective about the roles he accepts, and spends his clout carefully. And while it would be easy (and not altogether unfair) to argue that anyone who works with the filmmakers he does would be as successful, there’s something to be said for the discipline he exerts when it comes to his career moves.
Even now that he’s won his Oscar, DiCaprio is staying focused on prestige fare. His next project, Killers of the Flower Moon, reunites him with Scorsese for their sixth feature film together, and is already making waves thanks to its massive budget and historical subject matter. When push comes to shove, DiCaprio doesn’t make a movie unless he believes in it, and it’s the same sense of creative integrity that’s led to him turning down some massive opportunities in the past. Here’s every major film role he’s said no to.
A box office bomb upon its release in 1993, Disney’s Hocus Pocus has gone on to become a Halloween favorite, and even has a sequel in the pipeline at Disney+. The comedy revolves around a trio of long-dead sister-witches who’re inadvertently brought back to life by Max, a teenager still adjusting to his family’s move from sunny California to Salem, Massachusetts. Interestingly, although he auditioned for the role, DiCaprio was never a serious contender to play Max. As director Kenny Ortega explained to EW in 2017, “The [casting] ladies called me up and they said, ‘We’re sending you an actor [DiCaprio] today but he’s not available but you’re going to fall in love with him but you can’t have him.”https://screenrant.com/” Confused, Ortega agreed to meet DiCaprio all the same, and was immediately taken with him, saying he “awakened me to the kind of spirit and fun and sincerity that I was looking for in an actor [to portray Max].” When Ortega later got the same feeling after auditioning Omri Katz, he quickly cast him in the role.
Following the success of Batman (1989), Tim Burton had plans to introduce Marlon Wayans as Robin in his sequel, Batman Returns, but the character was ultimately cut. After Joel Schumacher took over as director from Burton on 1995’s Batman Forever, he decided to recast the role and even met with DiCaprio about playing the Boy Wonder. In an interview with The ShortList in 2015, DiCaprio said “As I recall I took the meeting, but didn’t want to play the role. Joel Schumacher is a very talented director but I don’t think I was ready for anything like that.” Chris O’Donnell would go on to play Dick Grayson in the movie, and reprised his role for Schumacher’s sequel, Batman & Robin, two years later. Unfortunately, when the latter flopped, it led to Warner Bros. scrapping its plans to make a Robin spinoff starring O’Donnell.
Somewhere, there’s an alternate timeline where DiCaprio played Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, rather than Mark Wahlberg. In our reality, of course, it never happened: by the time P.T. Anderson’s movie about the adult film industry in the 1970s and ’80s was gearing up to begin production, DiCaprio was already signed on to play Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic, and had to bow out over scheduling conflicts, paving the way for Wahlberg to play Mr. Diggle in his place. For years, it was rumored the two actors had clashed over who would get the role, but Anderson dismissed this as an “urban legend” and nothing more in 2017. In the end, Boogie Nights and Titanic both opened in 1997 and are regarded as classics to this day – though, for obvious reasons, Anderson’s exploration of sex, drugs, and fame has never had the crossover appeal of Cameron’s box office-busting epic historical romance.
Before he was John Wick, Keanu Reeves was Neo in the Wachowski Sisters’ The Matrix, a radical blend of spirituality, martial arts, and cyberpunk sci-fi that revolutionized blockbusters upon its arrival in 1999. However, the process of casting Neo was as tricky as, well, the search to find the One within The Matrix. Speaking in an interview to commemorate the film’s 20th anniversary, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura said the role was offered to big names ranging from DiCaprio to Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, and, perhaps most famously, Will Smith before Reeves came aboard. In DiCaprio’s case, di Bonaventura said the actor met with both him and the Wachowskis prior to deciding he didn’t want to do “another visual effects movie” so soon after Titanic. Interestingly, though, DiCaprio would go on to star in an equally game-changing sci-fi blockbuster a decade later in the form of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Years before he would portray despicable characters like Django Unchained‘s Calvin Candie and Jordan Belfort aka. The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio toyed with the idea of playing Patricia Highsmith’s famous antihero in Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation of her novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. The movie follows the underachieving Tom Ripley as he ventures to 1950s Italy to bring a spoiled playboy back home to the U.S. (at his father’s request), only to become darkly entranced with him and the privileges he enjoys. Per The Guardian, DiCaprio was approached to play Mr. Ripley in the movie, but passed in order to go make The Beach with Danny Boyle, freeing the way for Matt Damon to take his place. This wasn’t the only time DiCaprio had an eye on upending his heartthrob status in the immediate aftermath of Titanic, either…
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Christian Bale cheerily extolling the virtues of “Hip To Be Square” before taking an axe to Jared Leto in American Psycho, but there was a time when DiCaprio was seriously interested in playing Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s cult classic horror-satire. Curiously, there’s some disagreement over why, exactly, DiCaprio passed on the role. In the past, Harron has indicated the actor had creative differences with then-director Oliver Stone (whom she later replaced). However, in an interview with Vice to mark the film’s 20th anniversary in 2020, co-writer Guinevere Turner revealed a friend told her the political activist Gloria Steinem had actively discouraged DiCaprio from playing Mr. Bateman, telling him his fanbase of then-teenaged girls should haven’t to watch him star in a movie “that has horrible violence toward women.” Whatever the case may be, Bale was eventually cast in the film and delivered one of his most acclaimed performances to date.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
In the same 2015 interview where DiCaprio talked about turning down Batman Forever, he also shed more light on his decision to pass on playing grown-up Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. According to DiCaprio, he did in fact meet with George Lucas to discuss the role but “just didn’t feel ready to take that dive. At that point.” Instead, the part was brought to life by Hayden Christensen, at a time when the actor was only beginning to gain notice thanks to his dramatic turns in films like The Virgin Suicides and Life as a House. Much like the Star Wars prequel trilogy at large, Christensen’s portrayal of the one and future Darth Vader drew mixed to negative reactions at first, but has since been re-evaluated in a more positive light. As for DiCaprio, he starred in both Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can the same year Attack of the Clones came out in 2002, so things worked out quite nicely for him.
Combined with X-Men in 2000, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy helped to usher in the modern era of superhero movies and pave the way to the rise of franchises like the MCU and DCEU. The role of Peter Parker was played by Tobey Maguire in all three of Raimi’s films (beginning with the first Spider-Man in 2002), yet it nearly went to Maguire’s real-life pal DiCaprio before that. In his discussion with The ShortList, the actor confirmed he’d been contacted about playing the web-slinger, describing it as “another one of those situations, similar to Robin, where I didn’t feel ready to put on that suit yet.” Nearly twenty years later, DiCaprio has yet to take the plunge and finally try his hand at playing a protagonist, villain, sidekick, or even the hero’s faithful butler in a superhero tentpole. Still, he says he remains open to the possibility, so perhaps he’ll change his mind one day.
Over the course of the 2000s, DiCaprio gradually began to leave his days playing teenagers and young adults behind him in favor of more mature roles, beginning with his performance as Howard Hughes in Scorsese’s 2004 biopic, The Aviator. Because of his commitment to the project, he ended up having to pass on a very different highbrow offering released a year earlier, in the form of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers. Set against the backdrop of the 1968 Paris students riots, the film tells the story of an American exchange student (the role DiCaprio was eyed for, before Michael Pitt signed on) who befriends a pair of free-spirited siblings while studying in France, only to end up in a love triangle with the pair of them. If nothing else, the erotically-charged European arthouse drama would’ve been a proper change of pace from the prestigious American genre movies DiCaprio would go on to tackle during this period of his career.
Upon learning DiCaprio was once approached to star in Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 Sin City movie, you’d probably assume he was eyed for the role of the hard-drinking Dwight McCarthy (played by Clive Owen in “The Big Fat Kill” portion of the film) or an equally major character. In reality, he was up for the part of Ethan Roark Jr., the vicious pedophile and murderer who, after undergoing some life-saving surgery and experimental medical procedures, is eventually transformed into the namesake of the “That Yellow Bastard” segments. At the end of the day, DiCaprio decided he wasn’t a good fit for the role and the character would end up being played by Nick Stahl instead. Seemingly, though, the decision left DiCaprio with an itch to scratch and he went on to reunite with Scorsese for a stylishly pulpy noir throwback of their own some five years later with Shutter Island.
Angels & Demons
Ron Howard’s Robert Langdon series came roaring out of the gate with The Da Vinci Code movie in 2006, grossing more than three-quarters of a billion dollars at the box office. For the sequel, 2009’s Angels & Demons, DiCaprio’s Catch Me If You Can costar Tom Hanks (who plays the mystery-solving, world-saving, professor of religious symbology in Howard’s films) personally offered him the role of the movie’s antagonist, Father Patrick McKenna, in the hopes of getting him to sign on. Once again deciding it simply wasn’t for him, DiCaprio said no and the character was instead played by a scenery-chewing Ewan McGregor in the final movie. Overall, Angels & Demons was considered a more exciting, if equally preposterous and silly, thriller than its predecessor, but suffered a noticeable drop-off at the box office and led to the third installment, Inferno, being back-burnered until 2016.
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