Few actors have had a more storied and seasoned career than Jack Nicholson, as he has starred in dramas, horrors, superhero movies, and even Adam Sandler comedies. On top of all that, he holds the record for having the most Best Actor Academy Awards, tied with Daniel Day-Lewis and Walter Brennan.
However, with all these iconic characters under his belt that no other actor could have performed better, there were also a lot of huge roles that Nicholson passed up, and many of them will come as a surprise.
10 Michael Corleone – The Godfather (1972)
According to Insider, Francis Ford Coppola gave Nicholson an offer he could refuse. The actor was offered the leading role in the greatest movie of all time, The Godfather, but the actor turned it down, saying that the role should be played by an Italian.
When he turned it down, Nicholson was then offered the role of Tom Hagen too, but the actor wasn’t the only star to almost be cast in the movie.
9 Allie Fox – The Mosquito Coast (1986)
In an interview with Roger Ebert dating all the way back to 1983, Nicholson actually expressed excitement about getting ready to shoot The Mosquito Coast with Peter Weir, but the movie features Harrison Ford in the lead role. Though Nicholson got so far as to being cast in the movie, he eventually bowed out due to issues with money, making way for Ford to snap up the film.
8 Willie – Bad Santa (2003)
Nicholson had even read the script and was hungry for the part, but the actor was unable to take the role due to his prior commitment to the 2003 movie, About Schmidt. The role eventually went to Billy Bob Thornton and it has become one of his most iconic roles.
7 Richard Nixon – Nixon (1995)
Nixon, the epic historical drama released in 1995, is one of the most Oliver Stone movies Stone has ever made, as the director’s political leaning isn’t just a backdrop anymore – it’s very much at the forefront.
Anthony Hopkins finally ended up playing the former president, but before that, Jack Nicholson was the most likely candidate to consume the role, according to Newsweek. It was actually Stone who didn’t want Nicholson in the movie, as the director had his heart set on Hopkins.
6 Rod Neary – Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
Nicholson was almost cast as Roy Neary, the electrical lineman who first discovers unidentified flying objects in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The actor was even offered the role, but he turned it down because he didn’t want to be upstaged by the special effects, and with it being one of Spielberg’s best movies because of the effects, the actor was right.
5 Father Karras – The Exorcist (1973)
As one of the most timeless horror movies from the 70s, it could have been even more of a classic if the director snapped up Jack Nicholson, if that’s even possible.
According to Insider, Nicholson was considered for the role of the priest in The Exorcist, which eventually went to Jason Miller. William Friedkin had clearly wanted to work with Nicholson for a long time, as the director later tried to convince Nicholson to star in Sorcerer, too.
4 Hannibal Lecter – The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
The role of Richard Nixon isn’t the only role that Nicholson lost to Anthony Hopkins, as Hopkins makes the role of Lecter his own. However, it would have been amazing to see what crazy things Nicholson would have done with the character.
3 Sy – One Hour Photo (2002)
According to TV Over Mind, in the DVD commentary of One Hour Photo, director Mark Romanek says that Jack Nicholson was first approached for the role of Sy the lonely photo technician, which finally went to the late, great Robin Williams.
Nicholson reportedly said that the character seemed too similar to his role as Jack in The Shining, but it worked out for the best, as Williams’ take is one of the best dramatic performances by a comedy actor.
2 Indiana Jones – Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Many people know that Tom Selleck was almost cast as the fedora donning archaeologist, but according to Moviefone, Jack Nicholson was in the running for the role and came very close to snagging it.
1 Deckard – Blade Runner
Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t the only movie that Nicholson and Harrison Ford were competing for. Rising to fame in Hollywood at the same time, the two actors were always considered for and auditioning for the same roles.
One of the most interesting roles that Nicholson came close to getting was Decker in Blade Runner, according to Flavor Wire. As the role of Deckard is fairly nuanced, casting Nicholson in the role would have had a wildly different result.