Next to Jack Nicholson, I don’t think anyone embodies the role of movie star more than Tom Cruise. (Only difference being Nicholson brings a certain arrogance of cool and Tom has more of an industry robot vibe.) Throughout much of the 80s, all of the 90s, and well into the 00s, Tom Cruise could pick any role he wanted without fear of a bigger star edging him out. Alas, things have changed and those high-profile running roles just aren’t as abundant as they used to be.
Today is Mr. Cruise’s 52nd birthday, so it feels like a good time to line up some of the more iconic film parts he has passed on over the years. Some due to film commitments, and others I just have to assume he felt like throwing Will Smith a bone.
1. Footloose (1984) — You dance around to a Bob Seger song in one movie and all of a sudden you’re Hollywood’s go-to “dancing guy.” That’s what happened after his performance in Risky Business anyways, with Paramount executives trying to bring him on for Footloose. Cruise wasn’t able to take the part because it conflicted with filming All the Right Moves, and Kevin Bacon stepped in for the dance instead.
2. Wall Street (1987) — Tom Cruise enjoyed a solid two decades of being able to take any role in Hollywood he wanted. Nobody turned Maverick down — except for Oliver Stone. Cruise was interested in the part and met with the writer/director to discuss the part. At the end of the day, Stone passed on Cruise and went with Charlie Sheen who he felt had a “stiffness” to his acting that would convey the naivety of the character better.
3. Speed (1994) — Pop quiz, hot shot, who else was up for the role of save-the-day cop Jack Traven? If you read the facts post on Speed then you know that several actors were considered for the role. Yes, Tom Cruise was in that bunch along with Johnny Depp, but it bears reminding just how different the movie might have been if it were made with the studio’s first picks, Jeff Bridges and Ellen DeGeneres.
4. Donnie Brasco (1997) — Cruise was signed on to play FBI undercover agent Donnie Brasco in 1990, but Paramount put the project on the shelf after the release of Goodfellas, fearing it was too soon for another mob movie. 1990’s Tom Cruise didn’t have time to sit around and left the project, which of course eventually floated over to Johnny Depp some seven years later.
5. Enemy of the State (1998) — Tony Scott was set to direct Tom Cruise for the third time (Top Gun, Days of Thunder) in the spy-thriller, but Cruise had already committed to Eyes Wide Shut and didn’t want to cancel on Stanley Kubrick. Scott also looked at Mel Gibson, but ultimately went with Will Smith who took the role specifically because he wanted to work with Gene Hackman.
6. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) — Director Anthony Minghella wanted Tom Cruise to play the role of sociopath Tom Ripley. It was only after seeing the success of Good Will Hunting that Minghella pushed the studio to bring in Matt Damon.
7. A Beautiful Mind (2001) — The film about Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash originally had Robert Redford attached to direct. Redford had convinced Cruise to star in the film, but he later dropped out to do Paramount Pictures’ Vanilla Sky and Russell Crowe stepped in.
8. I Am Legend (2007) — I Am Legend had been bouncing around Hollywood since 1994, with everyone from Michael Bay, Tony Scott, and Arnold Schwarzenegger at one time being attached to the project. The movie, adapted from the 1954 sci-fi novel of the same name seems like the perfect Tom Cruise vehicle — running and more running — but for whatever reason, the actor backed out and Will Smith took on the role.
9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) — The movie rights to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book about a man aging backwards had been in development since the mid-1980s with Martin Short in the starring role. The film was later optioned by Steven Spielberg who brought Tom Cruise on for the part. Tom Cruise decked out in old man makeup was never meant to be, and after Spielberg left to focus on Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, Cruise backed out as well. The film was passed around Hollywood shifting over to John Travolta in the late 90s, before eventually landing with Brad Pitt.
10. Iron Man (2008) — Robert Downey Jr. has been in the Iron Man role long enough at this point that it’s difficult to think of any other actor donning the metal suit. Tom Cruise’s connection with the Marvel superhero dates back to the 1990s and according to Marvel executive Kevin Feige, he was still tied to the project in 2004. Cruise eventually lost interest, stating that it just wasn’t going to work. Via Screen Rant:
“I don’t know. It just … they came to me at a certain point and … when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work.”