Alternate-history Spielberg: Who ALMOST starred in his most famous movies?

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

Behind every movie you love, there is a story about how it almost became something entirely different.

In Steven Spielberg’s recent EW Interview, he revealed plot changes and alternate casting that might have made some classic movies virtually unrecognizable. Everyone knows Tom Selleck was his first choice to play Indiana Jones, though Selleck couldn’t get released from his Magnum P.I. contract to film it.

There are many more lesser-known stories about similar switches. Click through to see how E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Hook, and even Jaws might look in an alternate Spielbergian universe…

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

1941: In the late ‘70s, Spielberg offered John Wayne the role of General Stilwell in 1941 (eventually played by Robert Stack), but the Duke shot him down. “He said, ‘You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor. Don’t joke about World War II,’” Spielberg recalls.

E.T.: E.T. started life as a sci-fi horror movie called Night Skies, about a family terrorized by alien invaders. “It was based on a piece of UFO mythology about the Kelly-Hopkinsville incident, where a farm family reported little spindly grays attacking their farm, even riding cows in the farmyard, trying to get into the house,” Spielberg said. Melissa Mathison, who was dating Harrison Ford at the time of Raiders of the Lost Ark (they later married), met with Spielberg during production on Raiders and developed a new story about a sweet botanist alien that became the classic film we know today. So if Selleck had gotten the role of the adventuring archeologist, we might not have gotten E.T. at all.

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Hook: In the late ’80s, Michael Jackson lobbied for the lead role in Hook, though Spielberg got him to back off. “Michael had always wanted to play Peter Pan, and we were very close friends in those days,” Spielberg says. “But I called Michael and said, ‘This is about a lawyer that is brought back to save his kids and discovers that he was once, when he was younger, Peter Pan.’ So Michael understood at that point it wasn’t the same Peter Pan he wanted to make.” The role, of course, went to Robin Williams.

Jurassic Park: Harrison Ford was offered the Sam Neill role in

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Some of the biggest potential changes were on his first big hit – 1974’s Jaws.“Well, my first choice for Quint was Lee Marvin. We went to Lee Marvin first, he turned it down. And then my second choice was Sterling Hayden [pictured], and he was a fisherman. He said, ‘When I go fishing, I want to go fishing for real. I don’t want to go fishing for a fake shark.’ And so he turned it down.”

Jaws producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck suggested Robert Shaw for the steely fisherman because they had just made The Sting with him. “So I went off and gave myself a quick education, looked at Man For All Seasons again, and then looked at The Battle of the Bulge and a few other Robert Shaw movies. Of course I saw The Sting the year before. And so we offered him the part,” Spielberg says.

“My first choice for Matt Hooper was always Richard Dreyfuss. He’s the one person I got,” he added.

People have said he’s the director’s doppelganger in the films they made together, and Spielberg agrees: “I’m not as cheeky as Dreyfuss, but I feel that my metabolism is pretty equal to his metabolism. We both move at about 18 frames a second.”

It’s well known that shooting the open-sea scenes of Jaws was a production disaster, causing the movie to go over-budget and over-schedule. Spielberg came close to being fired several times, but vowed to the heads of Universal Pictures that he could finish the film if they gave him the extra money and time.

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

In retrospect, he wouldn’t change a thing. But there were some dramatic shifts he could have taken to make the production smoother — though the film’s quality may have suffered. “All I could have changed was to shut the company down, and do it all in a tank with a miniature shark,” Spielberg says. “It would have been less of a B-movie than I was intending. I was intending to make a B-movie, but that would have been a C-movie.”

For more, follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter: @Breznican


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