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James Bond, ‘The Godfather’ and More Movie Roles That Burt Reynolds Turned Down

Burt Reynolds GAB Archive/Redferns

Throughout his decades-long career, the late Burt Reynolds (who died at age 82 in September 2018) scored his share of classic movie roles — as well as a truckload of missed opportunities.

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James Bond
Bond … Burt Bond? In the early ’70s, Reynolds looked comfortable enough in a tux to be offered the lead in the 007 franchise when Sean Connery was planning to end his tenure. But the Michigan native, who went on to star in his breakthrough, Deliverance, insisted that the martini-swilling spy role should be played by a Brit — a sentiment echoed by fellow Bond prospect Clint Eastwood. He lived to regret it. “That was a stupid thing to say,” he admitted years later. “I could’ve done it, and I could’ve done it well.”

The Godfather (1972)
Turning down the role of burgeoning mob boss Michael Corleone in The Godfather may not have been entirely Reynolds’ decision. Legend has it that Don Vito himself, actor Marlon Brando, threatened to walk if his younger look-alike signed on. Confirming the rumor years later, Reynolds joked, “I was flattered that [Brando] was upset.” But the missed opportunity stung: The film went on to win three Oscars (including one for Brando), and Al Pacino, who wound up with the part, scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Reynolds may have missed out on playing Randle McMurphy, the rebellious psych ward patient from 1975’s Best Picture winner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; but it wasn’t for lack of trying. “I didn’t pass on that,” he said. “I wanted it desperately.” He even joked that he “tried to kill” Jack Nicholson — who earned an Oscar and Hollywood legend status with the role — but lamented, “It didn’t work. You can’t outdrink Jack. And you can’t out-smoke him either.”

Star Wars (1977)
Before Star Wars creator George Lucas agreed to cast relative unknown Harrison Ford as the cocky rebel pilot Han Solo in the franchise’s first installment, he offered the part to Reynolds — who was already a big name and famously had swag to spare. But he turned down the part because he “just didn’t want to play that kind of role at the time,” he later said, adding, “Now I regret it. I wish I would have done it.” Harrison went on to make a reported $30 million as Han in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


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Terms of Endearment (1983)
By early 2018, Reynolds had all but erased the memory of passing on the role of womanizing ex-astronaut Garrett Breedlove in the classic tearjerker Terms of Endearment, shrugging, “I don’t remember turning it down.” But just two years prior, the story seemed fresher in his mind when he admitted, “I regret that one most of all because it was a real acting part.” As the legend goes, James L. Brooks wrote the character specifically for the actor, who signed on to the Nascar comedy Stroker Ace instead. Nicholson slid into the role and went on to score yet another Oscar. “Thinking back now,” Reynolds later said, “it was a really stupid decision, but I made a lot of stupid decisions in that period.”


Die Hard (1988)
Reynolds missed the boat on action franchise stardom when he passed on playing NYC cop John McClane in the 1988 blockbuster Die Hard. Bruce Willis happily took the part (though the studio was reportedly reluctant to give it to him), and reprised it in four hit sequels plus an upcoming prequel. Reynolds later quipped, “I don’t regret turning anything down that Bruce Willis took.”

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Pretty Woman (1990)
Who could imagine the corporate baller who falls for Julia Roberts’ winsome prostitute in Pretty Woman played by anyone other than Richard Gere? Well, the film’s producers, for one! But Reynolds, who already had a real-life rep as a sultry ladies’ man, turned down the 1990 role and took a supporting part in the since-forgotten rom-com Modern Love. He would later admit that he made the wrong call. “I was an idiot,” he said about the snap decision. As Roberts’ character, Vivian, would put it, “Big mistake. Big. Huge!”

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