The Lord of the Rings franchise did more than just make a ton of money. The films are credited to be a landmark in fantasy film making and opened the door for future film and TV productions. Would HBO have taken a risk on Game of Thrones without seeing the commercial success of Lord of the Rings? We can only speculate, but it’s reasonable to presume it played a role in their decision. Before Lord of the Rings, there were some notable flops in the fantasy genre, specifically in the late 90s and early 2000s when productions such as the 13th Warrior and Pluto Nash failed to impress viewers and critics alike. Audiences loved Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek and Delirious is one of the funniest stand ups of all time, but Pluto Mars stunk something fierce
Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter changed that in 2001 when both films got close to netting 1 billion dollars each. Around the time Return of the King wrapped up its theatrical run, it was the second highest grossing film of all time. Yes, Kanye West, all time! Lord of the Rings is popular for photoshop fans who present some compelling and less compelling cases for who could and who should have definitely not played a role in Lord of The Rings.
So here is your list of the Top 10 Good Casting Choices and Top 10 Bad Casting Choices!
20 Good Casting Choice: Ethan Hawke As Faramir
Ethan Hawke was a top contender for the role of Faramir and we wouldn't have necessarily been against that casting decision. Hawke came very close to playing Faramir as he was involved in the pre-production of Lord of the Rings and was ready to take on the role. Unfortunately, the deal fell through and Hawke never got his chance to play the role.
Ethan Hawke seems like a natural fit to play the character, mainly because Faramir's attributes are similar to those characters we're use to seeing Ethan Hawke play.
Some of them include the dutiful, responsible and caring individual who often places his and his families interests over that of complete strangers. Imagine if he just gave Edwin Hodge up in The Purge to the group threatening to end his family; it's reasonable to assume he would have likely survived. Anyway, if anyone is good at playing the sacrificial lamb, it's Ethan Hawke. Even though his contract with Lord of the Rings fell through, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Training Day, which went on to win the Oscar that year for Best film. Both movies were released within two months of one another, so it's possible the shooting dates may have conflicted with one another. King Kong ain't got nothing on Ethan Hawke!
19 Bad Casting Choice: Danny Glover As Denethor
Danny Glover isn't a bad actor by any stretch of the imagination, but we're going to go out on a limb here and say this casting choice is probably not a good one. Glover's career peaked in the late 80s and early 90s. The internet, and those who were still alive to remember VHS tapes, remember him as homicide detective Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon series. The banter and bromance between Murtaugh and Mel Gibson's character Martin Riggs, commonly known as just Riggs made these films staple cop action films.
In the Lord of the Rings, Denethor's character, when you break it down, is callous, selfish and entitled, and that's not something we've ever seen from Glover. Glover has made a career out of playing a good guy protagonist and we’re not sold on him taking a role, albeit small, as an antagonist. Danny Glover hasn't been in many movies as of late, but according to IMDB, he is acting in a bunch of films that are either in production or post production. Glover seems like he'd make an awesome soccer dad, but not a selfish steward. If Grown Ups 3 ever gets made and needs to expand their actor pool, Danny Glover seem like an obvious choice.
18 Good Casting Choice: Sean Connery As Gandalf
The man, the myth, the legend: Sean Connery! Connery was director Peter Jackon's top contender to play Gandalf. Connery was offered the role for $6 million dollars per film and a fifteen percent stake in the box office profits to play the character Gandalf. A fifteen percent stake in the films would have worked out to a sweet $450 million dollars. Talk about a missed opportunity! Sean Connery would make a great Gandalf not because of his age, beard or commanding Scottish accent, but because he’s witty and sharp. Throughout the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf gives characters a verbal and sometimes a physical “nudge out the door” when they need it.
Sean Connery is a “fool of took” for turning down so much money!
Even though Connery turned down the role, the internet loves to remind of us what could have been with photoshops like this one. Connery is no stranger to fantasy films having voiced Draco the dragon in Dragonheart. Yes, some (we're not naming any names) grown men did cry during the last scene of Dragonheart. Not to take anything away from Ian McKellen, who is and forever will be Gandalf ... and Magneto. It sort of confuses us, but that’s for another list.
17 Bad Casting Choice: Emma Stone As Legolas
Okay, so this isn't exactly a photoshop. It's actually Emma Stone dressed up like an archer for her new show Maniac, which is set to debut on Netflix later this year. This image has circulated on popular sites like Reddit and it has led some users to draw comparisons to her and Legolas. We'll hold off our opinions of Maniac until it's released, but Emma Stone as Legolas doesn't sound like a winning combination. Superbad is one of our favorite movies and it’s great to note that Maniac will re-unite former Superbad co-stars Jonah Hill and Emma Stone, who will star in the upcoming production. The show is set in New York and is a dark comedy that will be directed by Cary Fukunaga, who famously directed the first season of True Detective.
Emma Stone is an extremely talented actress and we totally think she deserved the Oscar for La La Land. However, Emma Stone in a fantasy production seems like an odd combination. It's like eating fried potatoes with Nutella, as neither are bad on their own and it's not awful when you mix the two, but why do it? There's far better combinations out there, just like there's far better pool of talent to choose for Legolas.
16 Good Casting Choice: Russell Crowe As Aragorn
Russell Crowe was shortlisted by director Peter Jackson to play the role of Aragorn, and this seems like a smart decision given his age, physical ability and experience in previous movies like Gladiator. Gladiator won five Oscars in 2001 including best picture and Crowe took the Oscar for Best Actor. When Gladiator began shooting, there was only twenty-one pages of script, which would be fine for a short film but the average for a full-length film is a hundred and ten pages! Talk about some serious improvisation skills!
Crowe has the perfect rough middle-aged exterior that would make him an excellent Aragorn. Crowe came very close to accepting the role of Aragorn, but had to cancel due to conflicts in scheduling. Interestingly enough, actor Stuart Townsend was hired for the role of Aragorn and fired one day before filming was set to begin. Townsend was apparently involved in months of pre-production work. The firing came as a surprise to the young Irish actor who, supposedly, did not see it coming. It might sound awful but given Townsend's age and appearance at the time, Jackson probably made the right call even if his timing was off. Sorry Townsend, but Aragorn is 87 years old in the films and even though he's blessed with long life, audiences were going to have a hard time believing someone who looks like they're twenty is eighty-seven.
15 Bad Casting Choice: Nicolas Cage As Aragorn
The one thing the internet is not short of is pictures of Nicolas Cage that are photoshopped. If you want to see a picture of Nicolas Cage as something strange, Google Images probably has it! Nic Cage turned down the role of Aragorn and even though we love him in other roles, we're kind of glad he passed on this one. Peter Jackson apparently offered the role of Aragorn to Cage who refused it due to the commitment required for the film. The Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand and this would require him to relocate himself and his family during the shoot. We love National Treasure and aren't Cage haters, but his strengths aren't in accents and his tone of voice is consistent in almost every movie he has ever done.
Nicolas Cage is the complete opposite of Daniel-Day Lewis, as what you see is what you get. This can become distracting in period pieces, as you can't imagine Nicolas Cage as anyone but himself when watching him on screen. In National Treasure, Ben Gates is Nicolas Cage, just as much as Nicolas Cage is Ben Gates. A good example of this is Season of the Witch, which for all its shortfalls had a solid cast but was a total flop according to critics and audiences. We believe this had something to do with Nicolas Cage playing a medieval knight with an American accent.
14 Good Casting Choice: Morgan Freeman As Gandalf
Morgan Freeman has a certain je ne sais quoi to him. It's a quality that all great actors who play wizards need to have. We're shocked that Morgan Freeman wasn't offered the role of Gandalf given he has been nominated for and won several awards, including the Oscar for best supporting actor in Million Dollar Baby. Morgan Freeman is one the few actors in the world whose voice is likely more recognized then his appearance.
Freeman often narrates films and documentaries. You can’t help but get the feeling that divinity is speaking to you when you’re up late at night watching a show or movie and suddenly you hear his voice.
Freeman has lent his voice to over thirty television and movie productions, so chances are you’ve heard his voice and will hear it many times more. The wizards in The Lord of the Rings were sent by the Valar (gods) to assist the people of Middle-earth. When you read into this, it makes natural sense to assume that Tolkien created wizards to represent angels. Freeman voice is pretty angelic, if you ask us. Freeman is one of the most recognized and celebrated actors for the past thirty years. If you aren't sure why, it's worth YouTubeing Freeman's parole hearing monologue in The Shawshank Redemption. It's one of the finest moments in cinematography history.
13 Bad Casting Choice: Nicolas Cage As Legolas
Nicolas Cage's strengths as an actor rely heavily on his ability to get upset and release his inner rage. We would argue that one of Cage’s allures as an actor is his ability to momentously freak-out and make us laugh at the same time. We’re not doubting Cage is a freak out artist, but we can’t imagine Legolas overreacting to anything except for that time in Helms Deep. But, what happens in Helm’s Deep stays in Helm’s Deep.
Legolas is a deadpan character and even though Legolas doesn’t have as much screen time as Aragorn, he could still do some serious damage to the films. One of the criticisms of Legolas' character in Lord of the Rings and that of Orlando Bloom is that Legolas lacked depth, a real back story, and dare we say a character arc? There was no real challenge the character had to overcome, aside from his slight xenophobic tendencies towards dwarfs. Sure we loved his fight scenes, but the character seemed like a wasted opportunity. We're not sure what Nicolas Cage could have brought to this role to make it better. Instead of seeing Legolas, we would just see Nicolas Cage dressed up like an elf with makeup on. Middle Earth would feel more like a skit on Saturday Night Live.
12 Good Casting Choice: Ice Cube As Gimli
O'Shea Jackson Sr., commonly known as Ice Cube, is a hip-hop artist and actor. Even though fans attribute him to his musical career more than his acting career, he has still played a number of roles in a variety of films. Gimli provides a ton of comedic relief and Ice Cube might not seem like an obvious choice for this role, but Friday and 21 Jump Street would tell us otherwise.
In order to be a solid Gimli, you need two things. First, you need to deliver one liners like a boss. Second, you need a strong stare game.
Ice Cube is a master of both. The Lord of the Rings saw critical success both in reviews and from a monetary perspective, but one thing that movie did not do well was have a diverse cast from diverse backgrounds. Granted the movies were filmed in the early 2000s and representation in film and television is only a recent discussion in mass media, but it's still worth noting that not a single black person was given a major or supporting role in any of the first three Lord of the Rings movies. This is super disappointing! We hope future fantasy films include casts that are more diverse, which seems likely given audiences tolerances for all-white casts is low.
11 Bad Casting Choice: Chris Rock As Gollum
Chris Rock is a famous comedian and actor. This photoshop seems more like a joke than an actual statement at a real alternative casting choice. The internet is full of trolls and loves to paste pictures of actors on Gollum's face, so it's no surprise this turned up in our search. The comparison of Gollum to Chris Rock doesn't even make that much sense, given that Rock has very little in common with the character Gollum. Rock is outgoing, upbeat and lively, which after thinking about it is everything Gollum isn't.
Listening to Chris Rock voice Gollum would be like having Jerry Seinfeld voice the character. Sure, both could technically do it, but why would you ever want that? We can only imagine what watching an extended version of the film would be like after hearing Rock voice Gollum’s lines for three plus hours. It doesn’t help that Gollum’s lines are really limited to the words “my precious” either. Talk about a broken record! In our eyes Rock is great at two things: being a comedian and lending his voice to characters like Marty the Zebra in Madagascar. Chris Rock’s voice is well suited for animated family films, not fantasy films.
10 Good Casting Choice: Lucy Lawless As Lady Galadriel
Lucy Lawless is no stranger to playing roles that involve fantasy, drama and history. She wowed us as Xena the Warrior Princess and showed great depth in the character of Lucretia in Spartacus, even though we kind of hate Lucretia more as the story in Spartacus develops. Lawless was Peter Jackson's first pick to play Lady Galadriel but was unable to take the role due to her expecting a child later that year. This might have bothered Lawless as the production was set to be filmed in her native home of New Zealand.
The character of Lady Galadriel is a bit of a mixed bag. as she shows the potential for extreme evil and good, which is why she turned down the Ring when Frodo offered it to her. Tolkien did a great job of highlighting the unique duplicity of the character. Even though she’s an elf she shows a lot of human characteristics. Lawless is no stranger to playing complicated characters given that’s mostly the type of characters she plays. Cate Blanchett is a strong actress who did well not only in The Lord of the Rings films, but The Hobbit movies too. So, we aren't totally bummed Lucy Lawless wasn't able to play Lady Galadriel.
9 Bad Casting Choice: George W. Bush As Gollum
This is a joke and no one except Cheney is taking it seriously. For anyone who is too young to remember or trying hard to forget, George W. Bush was the 43rd president of the United States of America from 2001 to 2009. Bush wasn't widely popular, just as most presidents traditionally aren’t. There’s a lot of things that could be said and things to unpack, but this is about movies not politics. Instead we will say this:
George W. Bush mostly enjoys a quiet life out of the limelight. The only time you hear about the former president is from a popular culture reference or the occasional skit on Saturday Night Live. A lot of media attention on George Bush has been focused on his burgeoning artistic endeavors. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention Bush discovered his inner artist and took up painting after leaving politics. Since Bush opened the door to art, we wonder if he will ever give acting a shot. On second thought, it's probably best he keeps his artistic outlet to the canvas where we can decide if we want to be involved in his artistic expression.
8 Good Casting Choice: Liam Neeson As Boromir
Liam Neeson is such a solid actor he could have played Faramir, Boromir and Aragorn simultaneously! Not actually, but you get the idea. Unfortunately, after Liam Neeson read through the script, he decided to pass on the role. Neeson is one of the more well-rounded actors on this list with a background in fantasy and action. When Liam Neeson says: “I don't who you are, I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom I can tell you I don't have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you”, in the movie Taken, it sends chills down our spines. We can imagine Neeson giving us the same chills when Bormir says, “Gondor has no king, Gondor needs no king0.”
One does not simply replace Sean Bean with Liam Neeson.
Liam Neeson has starred in notable productions such as The Kingdom of Heaven, Wrath of the Titans and he even voiced Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia series! Overall, Neeson would have done a fine job, but Sean Bean is no conciliation prize either.
7 Bad Casting Choice: Stephen Colbert As Legolas
This is another real photo of actor and comedian Stephen Colbert who decided to dress up as Lord of the Rings characters for a cover shoot of Entertainment Weekly in 2014. Colbert is known mainly for his role as political pundit on the Comedy Central's The Colbert Report and his current role as host of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. We could technically classify Colbert as a bit of Tolkien superfan as he openly talks about Lord of the Rings whenever he gets the chance, including right before he is set to perform on his talk show. Colbert’s knowledge is impressive and we’re sort of convinced he has more than copy of The Silmarillion laying around his house.
In 2012, Peter Jackson was quoted saying “I have never met a bigger Tolkien geek in my life…” when referring to Stephen Colbert. If we had a crystal ball, we would never have predicted that Colbert would get a major cameo in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Colbert is not a bad actor, but he is firstly a comedian. We would have a hard time looking at him dressed up as Legolas without laughing, especially given how many blank face stares Orlando Bloom had in Lord of the Rings.
6 Good Casting Choice: Tom Hiddleston As Elrond
Okay, so we had to search dungeons deep and caverns old to find this image, but it makes a lot of sense. Tom Hiddleston is a diverse and talented actor that has a sort of vampire and elf like characteristic to him. Hiddleston is most known for his role of Loki in the Thor and other Marvel movies, but he's not a one trick pony either. What Hiddleston has been able to do with the character Loki is like what very few professional wrestlers have been able to do, which is turn a heel into a babyface. A heel is a villain and a babyface is seen as someone who is a protagonist or ‘good guy’.
If you can make an entire audience hate you, then love you repeatedly, you’ve got some serious talent.
We loved Hiddleston in films like Only Lovers Left Alive and Midnight in Paris. Hiddleston might be typecast as the perfect villain, but he's totally capable of playing a protagonist. We're not sure this casting choice is practical given he's three years younger than actor Liv Tyler who would play his daughter Arwen in Lord of the Rings. But, Liv Tyler ages better than elves do, so it would probably work.
5 Bad Casting Choice: Rowan Atkinson As Frodo
This might look like a cool photo, but that's all it is and ever should be. Not to take anything away from Rowan Atkinson. He's a masterful actor who is comparable to a modern-day Charlie Chaplin, but Atkinson is a comedian first and an actor second. Atkinson would make an amazing Grima Wormtongue given his ability and propensity towards producing dialogue and characters that are Shakespearean. Frodo also has a boy-like appearance and Atkinson doesn't really fit that bill, even if this was 2001. Atkinson hasn’t aged poorly, he just looks exactly the same he did in 1990 when he began filming the British sitcom Mr. Bean. Atkinson would play one mean Wormtongue, but as Frodo we wouldn’t buy whatever he was trying to sell.
If you think about it, Mr. Bean is pretty much a less funny Grima Wormtongue, given both characters don’t seem to really care what people think of them and will often do things purely out of spite. There’s the other elephant in the room to address, as some comedians create larger than life personalities. The character of Mr. Bean is a good example of this as more people can likely identify Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean than Rowan Atkinson. This isn’t the actors fault, but I think it’s a negative when considering him for the role.
4 Good Casting Choice: Daniel Day-Lewis As Aragorn
Daniel Day-Lewis is often named as one of the best actors of all time. He's someone you watch on screen in There Will Be Blood or Gangs of New York and completely don't recognize him in a film like Phantom Thread. Very few actors are able to completely transform themselves from movie to movie and take on characters that are nothing like those they have done before.
Day-Lewis is selective when it comes to roles and will appear every few years to take on a role, blow us away, win an Oscar and then retreat back into his quiet life.
Taking on Lord of the Rings wasn’t a small commitment as it was clear to actors that there would be three films. This might have not been the case if Harvey Weinstein, former executive of Miramax, got his way. According to author Ian Nathan in an upcoming book about Peter Jackson’s quest to make the Lord of the Rings, it is revealed that Weinstein threatened to pull Jackson from the movies if he refused to condense the films from three into one. If Weinstein got his way, most of the content like the Balrog, possibly Saruman and all of Helm’s Deep would have been cut from the film. Director Peter Jackson thankfully broke ties with Miramax and went to New Line Cinemas, where he could produce the movies as a trilogy instead of a standalone.
3 Bad Casting Choice: David Spade As Celeborn
Surprise surprise, another comedian has been photoshopped into the body of an actor who played a role in Lord of the Rings. Classy internet, very classy. We can't remember a serious role David Spade has ever played and no Tommy Boy doesn't count! We’re not even sure Spade has an interest in fantasy, given he recently admitted on Ellen that he has not seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. First question for Spade is why? The second is are you sure?
We know Spade as a member of Saturday Night Live in the 90s and his other roles as Adam Sandler's friend in whatever movie they're working at the moment. Celeborn doesn't have a large part in either Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but even giving a small role such as this to David Spade seems like a mistake. Celeborn is the husband to Galadriel, who is also tall. Spade stands an impressive five feet five inches. Not that there’s anything wrong with being short, just that Spade might not meet the minimum height requirements to play an elf. Director Peter Jackson did get creative with boxes and camera angles to make Gandalf appear much taller than the Hobbits in the film, so maybe we shouldn’t write this idea off so quickly. On second thought, it’s still a bad idea.
2 Good Casting Choice: Idris Elba As Elrond
Idris Elba is unbelievable as Stringer Bell on HBO's The Wire, and if you haven't seen The Wire, then go start right now. Idris Elba loved acting from an early age but was late to the game, as he only began acting in his 20s. Elba has faced his own struggles as he found it extremely hard to find work as an actor in the mid and late 90s after moving to New York City, even resorting to sleeping in his car at some points. Elba’s characters always seem to be in the know of privileged information, which fits well with Elron.
As Stringer Bell reminds us, “there’s games beyond games”.
Thankfully, Elba has become a Hollywood staple over the past few years starring in an assortment of action and dramas productions, including The Dark Tower and The Mountain Between Us. The British actor isn’t a stranger to fantasy films either, playing the significant, yet minor, role of Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Elba is also seen by many as the front runner to play James Bond following Daniel Craig's expected departure from the role after the next Bond film slated for 2019. We fully support this decision, given not many men look as good as Elba in a three-piece suit. Shaken, not stirred.
1 Bad Casting Choice: Arnold Schwarzenegger As Boromir
Sometimes famous people fall victim to their celebrity and Arnold Schwarzenegger is certainly one of those people. No matter where he goes or what he does, people will know him for his famous line "I'll be back," from The Terminator. Schwarzenegger has starred in some high-profile films like The Terminator series, and even some in the fantasy genre such as Conan the Barbarian. Conan the Barbarian will always be held high for its 80's nostalgia, but the movie is awful, and Schwarzenegger's performance is so tacky it’s almost funny.
Like Nicolas Cage, Schwarzenegger can't do accents and this contributes to the issue audiences have of buying into Arnold as Boromir. Boromir might seem like an insignificant character, given he dies in the first film, but his sacrifice helps the story progress. The lines Sean Bean has in The Lord of the Rings are all impactful. The best example of why this isn’t a good idea is when Schwarzenegger, playing the role of Conan, delivers the famous line of “to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women", that shows Schwarzenegger’s ability to have almost no indignation in his voice. It’s like a robot reads most of his lines.