From Heath Ledger to Hugh Jackman: 10 perfect casting decisions fans initially hated

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It’s undoubtedly a cliché, but it’s also 100% accurate to say that hindsight is 20/20. As it applies to high-profile casting choices in film and television, some books should never be judged by their cover under any circumstances.

The internet age has placed even further scrutiny on potential contenders for any major role, and it’s reached a point where unfounded rumours are regularly torn to shreds without having any basis whatsoever. Even before then, though, the backlash was a regular occurrence.

Obviously, the best way to make the doubters shut up and eat their own words is to knock the performance out of the park, something the following ten names all did to make a mockery of the assumption the creative team had stumbled by giving them the nod.

All of them would go on to become iconic – and in some cases career-defining – turns, which wouldn’t have happened at all had the decision-makers given a single shit about what the fans had to say.

10 casting decisions fans hated at first:

10. Katee Sackhoff as Kara Thrace (Battlestar Galactica, Ronald. D. Moore 2003-2009)

As the Star Wars and Star Trek fandoms have repeatedly shown, long-time supporters of popular sci-fi franchises can be very precious when deviations are made, with the backlash towards Katee Sackhoff stemming entirely from the fact she was a woman.

Dirk Benedict played the role in the original series, but the negativity was so vociferous Sackhoff was actively booed by so-called ‘fans’ of Battlestar Galactica when she appeared at Comic-Con to promote the show. In their eyes, ‘Starbuck’ was a man, and there was no way a female actor could possibly do it justice.

Of course, the opposite was proven to be true when Battlestar Galactica not only became regarded as one of the 21st century’s finest sci-fi offerings on screens either big or small, but Sackhoff was singled out as a highlight of the series that used her ass-kicking performance as the platform for her entire career.

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9. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men, Bryan Singer, 2000)

Much like science fiction supporters, comic book aficionados hold the source material very close to their hearts and don’t like it when significant changes are made. It left them up in arms when an unknown six-foot-tall Australian named Hugh Jackman was cast as Wolverine.

Not only did X-Men readers have no idea who he was, but their fury only increased when it was discovered his background lay largely in musical theatre. How could someone with a soft spot for song-and-dance possibly be convincing as a mutton-chopped, cigar-chomping mutant with claws on his hands?!?

Fast forward 24 years, and Jackman will be reprising the role once again in Deadpool & Wolverine, so it would be an understatement to say the doubters have been eating their words for more than two decades at this point.

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8. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, Gary Ross, 2012)

In March 2011, 20-year-old blonde actor Jennifer Lawrence was confirmed to be playing 16-year-old brunette Katniss Everdeen in the live-action adaptation of The Hunger Games, which was enough to open the floodgates of vitriol.

The literary series became hugely popular after first hitting shelves in 2008, leaving readers to conjure their own image of what Katniss should be. According to many of them, Lawrence most definitely wasn’t it, and they hardly kept it quiet.

She was pegged as one of Hollywood’s fastest-rising stars at the time of her hiring. However, by the time she bowed out of the role, The Hunger Games had cleared $3billion at the box office, and Lawrence had won an Academy Award for her non-dystopian efforts along the way; it’s clear it was all a storm in a teacup.

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7. Bruce Willis as John McClane (Die Hard, John McTiernan, 1988)

After being offered to Frank Sinatra out of contractual obligation, the casting process for Die Hard saw every noteworthy leading man in Hollywood reject the chance to get stuck in the vents of the Nakatomi Plaza.

Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte, Don Johnson, Paul Newman, James Caan, Al Pacino, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were just some of the shortlisted names to declined, leading 20th Century Fox to shell out $5million to an actor best known as the guy from Moonlighting.

At the time, the differences between a ‘film actor’ and a ‘television actor’ were clear and distinct, and Bruce Willis only had a couple of minor movies under his belt. Action junkies wondered how Die Hard was supposed to succeed when he looked like a regular Joe and wasn’t even a star, but after his face was omitted from the original poster to minimise his unknown standing, greatness awaited.

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6. Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez (Selena, Gregory Nava, 1997)

More than 21,000 people auditioned to play the lead in Selena, and when Salma Hayek turned it down because she thought it was coming too early in her mainstream career, Jennifer Lopez went through an arduous process in order to get the nod.

She had to sing, dance, and perform multiple scenes in front of the cast and crew, and thanks to her previous collaboration with director Gregory Nava on 1995’s My Family, she had a pre-existing in. From the second she was announced, though, the knives were out for a New York-born child of Puerto Rican parents playing a Texan of Mexican ancestry, especially when Selena meant so much to so many.

There was outrage from the Mexican media, threats of a boycott from fans of the singer’s work, and protestors even organising demonstrations to try to have Lopez recast. In the end, she earned a Golden Globe nomination, the artist’s fans were suitably won over, and it arguably remains the finest performance of her entire career.

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5. Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones’ Diary, Sharon Maguire, 2001)

Renée Zellweger admitted she didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she signed on to play Bridget Jones, with pearls being clutched across the literary sphere upon the news breaking of an American actor playing what had been described as the quintessential British protagonist.

Conceding that she “didn’t realise just how widespread this controversy was,” Zellweger had the last laugh when she netted an Oscar nomination for ‘Best Actress’ in a movie that recouped its budget more than ten times over at the box office, and gave rise to a pair of sequels with another on the way.

Toni Collette reportedly turned it down, and she’s Australian, so would she have received the same levels of enmity? Probably, but it can’t be argued that Bridget Jones’ Diary settled upon the best candidate for the role given the decades-spanning success of the franchise.

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4. Michael Keaton as Batman (Batman, Tim Burton, 1989)

The debate over which actor made the best big-screen Batman typically boils down to a straight shootout between Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, but the latter was at least widely accepted by comic book fans when he was cast.

On the other side of the coin, Tim Burton reuniting with his Beetlejuice star and the title character from Mr. Mom caused such fury that the Warner Bros mailroom was inundated with more letters than it had ever seen before, and the vast majority of them were far from complimentary.

Tens of thousands of handwritten hate mail notes were posted to studio headquarters, with Bat-fans refusing to believe Keaton was remotely capable of doing justice to the dark, brooding, and intense ‘Caped Crusader’. Until they saw the film, anyway, and then it was all water under the bridge.

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3. Daniel Craig as James Bond (Casino Royale, Martin Campbell, 2006)

Having blonde hair was viewed as the most egregious of sins when Daniel Craig made his awkward arrival via speedboat at his even more awkward commencement ceremony celebrating him as the new James Bond, and that sentiment carried right through to release day.

007 has been played by Scotsmen, Irishmen, Englishmen, and Australians at various points, but heaven forbid the fictional secret agent’s hair is several shades lighter than what the fanbase had become accustomed to.

Over the course of five films and 15 years, though, it would be an understatement of substantial proportions to say that Craig won them over in the long run.

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2. Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind, Victor Fleming, 1939)

Finding the right star to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind led to the biggest and widest casting call in the history of cinema, and even when Vivien Leigh was selected, the headaches were far from over.

Deliberate attempts were made to play down the fact the Southern belle was being brought to life by an English rose, with producer David O. Selznick – not entirely inaccurately, mind – telling the world Leigh had done some “recent screen work in England.”

Labelled as a direct assault on the very fabric of Americana, newspaper column inches and letters were frantically penned denigrating the choice of Leigh for such an iconic character, which proved to be highly ironic when her portrayal became every bit its equal in terms of iconography, winning her a ‘Best Actress’ Oscar into the bargain.

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1. Heath Ledger as the Joker (The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Handsome, charming, charismatic, and only 27 years old at the time of his casting, Heath Ledger didn’t fit the bill for what fans had been expecting from Christopher Nolan’s Joker.

Batman Begins had reinvigorated the Batman franchise after the disastrous neon-and-nipples era of Joel Schumacher, but hiring the talented Aussie was seen as an affront by many when his most prominent roles had been so steeped in romance and comedy.

All it took was one look at his ferocious Joker for those doubts to subside, with Ledger winning a posthumous Oscar for what instantly became known as one of the greatest performances the superhero genre had ever seen.

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