Sometimes a TV or movie character doesn’t look the same in a later reincarnation, and it’s not because of a new hairstyle — it’s because it’s an entirely new actor!
In some cases, the actor who was originally cast for the role gets replaced before the project even makes it to the can. Here are some of the notable roles that were recast at some point in the process.
Who do you think portrayed the character best?
Last updated: May 12, 2020
Jennifer Parker (‘Back to the Future’)
Elisabeth Shue replaced Claudia Wells as Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer Parker, in “Back to the Future II” because Wells was caring for her gravely ill mother. Shue also played Jennifer in the third movie.
Becky Conner (‘Roseanne’)
The role of Becky Conner on ABC’s hit sitcom “Roseanne” was recast when the original actress playing her, Lecy Goranson, went off to college. Sarah Chalke stepped into the role, though Goranson also returned later. In the “Roseanne” revival, Goranson played Becky and Chalke played another character.
Danny Tanner (‘Full House’)
Although he’s well known for the role today, Bob Saget didn’t always play Danny Tanner on “Full House.” The pilot was originally filmed with actor John Posey in the role. He was recast with Saget in 1987 after the studio decided Saget was a better fit. Posey, meanwhile, has gone on to have a solid acting career, with recurring parts in popular shows like “ER” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Sookie St. James (‘Gilmore Girls’)
Alex Borstein played the original Sookie St. James on the unaired pilot of “Gilmore Girls.” But she was replaced by Melissa McCarthy in the picked-up series because Borstein had a conflict with her “MADtv” schedule. Borstein did go on to have cameos on the beloved show, though.
Aunt Viv on (‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’)
Janet Hubert did not leave the role of Aunt Vivian “Viv” Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” without a fuss. She allegedly did not get along with her fellow cast members, particularly Will Smith. Daphne Reid replaced her in the fourth season of the show.
Chris Farley had almost completed recording the title voice for the movie “Shrek” when he died in 1997. Mike Myers, a friend of the late actor from their “Saturday Night Live” days, ended up replacing Farley as the iconic character before the film was released in 2001.
The Doctor (‘Dr. Who’)
The classic British TV show has had no fewer than 13 actors playing the Doctor since the show started in 1963. William Hartnell was the first Doctor Who. Jodie Whittaker is the current doctor, and the first woman to play the role. The recasting of the main role is built into “Dr. Who” with the Time Lord able to transform physical form.
Similar to “Dr. Who,” the James Bond movies has a long tradition of recasting its main character. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and, most recently, Daniel Craig have all played Bond. With Craig about to embark on his final adventure as Agent 007 in 2020, it remains to be seen how they’ll handle casting for the next set of movies.
Queen Elizabeth II (‘The Crown’)
Claire Foy did an admirable and award-winning job as Queen Elizabeth II in the first two seasons of Netflix’s “The Crown.” But as the character ages into middle age in season three, Oscar winner Olivia Colman will step into the role for a couple seasons before she’s replaced by an older actor for the monarch’s later years.
Alec Baldwin played author Tom Clancy’s famous character Jack Ryan in 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October,” but was replaced by Harrison Ford in 1992’s “Patriot Games” and its sequel, “Clear and Present Danger,” after negotiations broke down between Baldwin and studio executives. The role has also been played by Ben Affleck, Chris Pine and John Krasinski in other projects.
Darrin Stephens (‘Bewitched’)
Perhaps the best known television recasting from the early days was on “Bewitched,” where Dick Sargent replaced Dick York as the character Darrin Stephens, the husband of Samantha, in season six. York had back problems that led to his departure.
Samantha Morton recorded all of the dialogue for the operating system, also named Samantha, in “Her,” before director Spike Jonze decided to go in a different direction. He redid the voice of the character with Scarlett Johansson in the role instead.
Dumbledore (‘Harry Potter’ Films)
Albus Dumbledore was recast after the original actor playing him, Richard Harris, died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2002. Michael Gambon replaced him as the new Dumbledore starting with the third film. The role was recast a third time in 2018 when Jude Law was picked to play the young Dumbledore for the prequel film, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Ross Geller’s Wife Carol Willick (‘Friends’)
Loyal “Friends” fans may be familiar with this swap. The first time viewers met Ross’ ex-wife, Carol, in the second episode of the first season, she was played by Anita Barone; however, in all subsequent episodes, the character was played by Jane Sibbett. Barone reportedly left the role after that one episode in pursuit of a higher-profile role, so fans most likely remember Sibbett in the role. Barone went on to star in a few other sitcoms, most notably “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.”
Rachel Dawes (‘Batman’ Movies)
Katie Holmes originally played Batman’s love interest, Rachel Dawes, in “Batman Begins.” But the actress picked a role in “Mad Money” over returning as Dawes in “The Dark Knight.” Maggie Gyllenhaal stepped in to play the character in that movie.
Ann (‘Arrested Development’)
George Michael’s girlfriend Ann on “Arrested Development” was supposed to be forgettable. So forgettable that the show originally planned to keep changing the actress playing Ann as part of the joke. Instead, just two actresses played Ann: Alessandra Toressani for one episode and Mae Whitman after that.
George McFly (‘Back to the Future’ Films)
Another “Back to the Future” recasting involved replacing Crispin Glover with Jeffrey Weissman for the second movie in the trilogy. Glover reportedly wanted too much money to return as Marty McFly’s father, George McFly. Glover later sued the film studio, saying they used a face mold he made for the first film to make Weissman look like him in the sequel.
Jodie Foster famously played FBI agent Clarice Starling in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” winning an Oscar for the role. But she declined to return for the 2001 sequel film, “Hannibal,” and the role was played by Julianne Moore instead.
Emperor Palpatine (‘Star Wars’ Films)
The evil Emperor Palpatine, also known as Darth Sidious, first appeared in holographic form in “The Empire Strikes Back.” At that point, the character was played by veteran actor Marjorie Eaton, who wore a lot of prosthetics to pull off the look. The voice, meanwhile, was that of actor Clive Revill. Starting with “Return of the Jedi,” Ian McDiarmid played Emperor Palpatine. George Lucas later reshot McDiarmid in the emperor’s scenes from “The Empire Strikes Back,” replacing inserting him into the film’s DVD releases.
Meg Griffin (‘Family Guy’)
Mila Kunis has voiced Meg Griffin, the daughter on “Family Guy,” since the show’s second season. But before her, Lacey Chabert was Meg’s voice. She left because of schedule conflicts. And for a short time at the start of the show, voice actor Cree Summer did the part.
Willow Rosenberg (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’)
Alyson Hannigan wasn’t the original Willow on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In an unaired pilot for the show, the role was played by Riff Regan, who was recast because she was too self-confident and sexy for the role. In another type of recast, Sarah Michelle Gellar took over the role of Buffy from Kristy Swanson, who had played her in the movie on which the show was based.
Jenna Maroney (’30 Rock’)
Rachel Dratch was originally cast as self-obsesses character, Jenna, on NBC’s “30 Rock” in its unaired pilot before the show went with a different take on the part, choosing Jane Krakowski. Dratch played various recurring characters and cameo parts on the show after that.
Russell Hammond (‘Almost Famous’)
Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” had Brad Pitt as the lead band member, Russell Hammond, before Pitt dropped out because of creative differences. Billy Crudup replaced him in the role.
Catelyn Stark (‘Game of Thrones’)
Much recasting and retooling went on with HBO’s “Game of Thrones” between the show’s first, unaired pilot and HBO’s finalized show. Jennifer Ehle was originally slated to play Lady Catelyn Stark but dropped out to spend more time with her baby daughter. Michelle Fairley replaced her.
Daenerys Targaryen (‘Game of Thrones’)
Similarly, Tamzin Merchant was replaced by Emilia Clarke in the role of Daenerys Targaryen. Apparently, she wasn’t the right fit and Clarke has now run away with the role, making it one of TV’s most iconic parts in the process.
Daario Naharis (‘Game of Thrones’)
Between seasons three and four of the hit series, actor Michiel Huisman replaced Ed Skrein as Daario Naharis. Skrein said his replacement happened for political reasons. The two actors didn’t really look alike, making the change immediately apparent to fans, who appeared to prefer Huisman in the end.
Gordon (‘Sesame Street’)
Most of the human characters on “Sesame Street” have — rather incredibly — been played by the same actors throughout the show’s long run. And many “Sesame Street” viewers only remember one Gordon, who has been depicted by Roscoe Orman since 1976. But there were three other actors before him who played the friendly science teacher, including Matt Robinson, who played him for the show’s first few seasons.
Evelyn Carnahan (‘The Mummy’ Films)
In the first two “The Mummy” movies, Rachel Weisz played Evelyn Carnahan, the wife of Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser). But Weisz opted out of the third Mummy film,”The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” Her decision reportedly was due to either scheduling conflicts with other projects or not liking the third movie’s script. Maria Bello was cast to replace her in the role.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
While comic book and fantasy films are often spun out into multiple overlapping movies and sequels, necessitating new casting, there are some cases in which back-to-back films by the same creative teams do replace their lead actors. This was the case when Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios said Norton was replaced for being creatively difficult. Norton’s agent said the studio wouldn’t meet his pay requirements. And a few years later, Norton said he just was over being the Hulk.
Julie Newmar was the first Catwoman in the “Batman” TV series that ran from 1966-1968. While the show was running, “Batman: The Movie” came out, in which Lee Meriwether played Catwoman / Ms. Kitka. (Meriwether also appeared in a small role in two episodes of the 1967 season of the show.) In the TV show’s final season, Eartha Kitt took over the iconic role.
Christine Cagney (‘Cagney & Lacey’)
There were three actresses in the role of Christine Cagney on the 1980s female cop drama “Cagney & Lacey.”
In the TV movie that first launched the show, Loretta Swit originally played Cagney. However, once the show was picked up by CBS as a midseason series, Swit wasn’t able to get out of her “M*A*S*H” contract. Instead, Meg Foster played Cagney alongside Tyne Daly’s character, Mary Beth Lacey, in the first season. Foster was replaced for the second season by Sharon Gless, who played Cagney for the rest of the show’s seven seasons and, later, in more TV movies.
Why the switcheroo? In decidedly un-PC and bigoted terms, a CBS executive at the time said the recasting was because Foster and Daley came across as “too harshly women’s lib” and gay. The network planned to cancel the show if the role wasn’t recast. So Cagney was recast with the more traditionally feminine Gless in the role.
Marilyn Munster (‘The Munsters’)
The one non-monster family member on “The Munsters,” Marilyn was originally played by Beverley Owen. But Owen was allowed to back out of her contract when she decided she wanted to move back to New York to be closer to her future husband. Pat Priest replaced Owen for the rest of the original series. Various other actors, including Christine Taylor, have played Marilyn in subsequent TV shows and movies based on “The Munsters.”
James Rhodes/War Machine (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Air Force Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, a buddy of Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, has been played by two different actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Terrence Howard was Rhodes in the first “Iron Man” film, and Don Cheadle has played the character in all subsequent movies. Howard has said he was pushed out of the role after being offered a low paycheck, and that Robert Downey Jr. didn’t have his back. The two seem to have resolved any issues since.
Sarah Braverman (‘Parenthood’)
Maura Tierney filmed the original pilot for NBC’s “Parenthood,” playing the character of Sarah Braverman. But she was also battling breast cancer at the time. She ended up bowing out of the show when her cancer treatments became too hard to work into the show’s filming schedule. Lauren Graham ended up replacing her for the show’s entire run.
Lily Tucker-Pritchett (‘Modern Family’)
Mitchell and Cam’s daughter, Lily, was originally played by twin actresses Jaden and Ella Hiller. But the twins’ parents decided the kids weren’t enjoying the experience and told show creators that Jaden and Ella wouldn’t continue in the role. So in season three, the character of Lily was aged forward and replaced by just one actor, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons.
Marty McFly (‘Back to the Future’)
Filming was well underway when a decision was made to replace Eric Stoltz with Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future.” Stoltz, apparently, was too serious to pull off the comedic aspect of the part, which was obviously the most important role in the entire blockbuster.
Laurie Forman (‘That ’70s Show’)
Lisa Robin Kelly left the role of Laurie Forman, Eric Forman’s sister, on “That ’70s Show” due to personal issues. Christina Moore finished off the role on that popular Fox sitcom. Kelly was on the show from 1998 until 2003 and Moore replaced her until the series ended in 2006.
Kelly Bundy (‘Married with Children’)
“Married with Children” gave Christina Applegate her first big acting success. But she wasn’t the original person cast in the role of Kelly Bundy. A young actress named Tina Caspary played the original Kelly in the show’s pilot, but producers apparently felt that Caspary didn’t quite fit the role and replaced her. The role of Kelly’s brother, Bud, was also recast; the original actor, Hunter Carson, was replaced by David Faustino. Kelly and Bud’s scenes in the pilot were reshot with Applegate and Faustino.
Rusty Griswold (‘National Lampoon’ movies)
The “National Lampoon” series is well-known for recasting the Griswold kids in its various movies. Son Rusty was played by Anthony Michael Hall in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” Jason Lively in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” Johnny Galecki in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Ethan Embry in “Vegas Vacation” and Ed Helms in “Vacation.”
Audrey Griswold (‘National Lampoon’s’ movies)
Audrey Griswold has also been played by several actresses. Audrey was played by Dana Barron in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” by Dana Hill in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” Juliette Lewis in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Marisol Nichols in “Vegas Vacation” and Leslie Mann in “Vacation.”
Buffy (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’)
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was a movie before it was a TV show; creator Joss Whedon penned the film, which was reportedly dumbed down and lightened into a comedic horror film to the extent that Whedon walked off the set. Kristy Swanson played Buffy in the big-screen version alongside Luke Perry. But for the TV show, Sarah Michelle Gellar took on the more fully-realized title role.
Robin Hood (‘Once Upon a Time’)
Tom Ellis played the character of Robin Hood for one episode during the second season of ABC’s fairy tale-inspired “Once Upon a Time.” Then Sean Maguire replaced him in the role for a third-season arc. The reason? Ellis wasn’t available when the role of Robin Hood came back later in the series.
In another movie-to-TV recasting, Alicia Silverstone did not reprise her hit-making role as Cher when the TV series version of “Clueless” debuted in 1996. Instead, Rachel Blanchard played Cher for the three seasons “Clueless” was on the air. However, several other members of the original movie cast did end up in the small screen version, including Stacey Dash as Dionne, Donald Faison as Murray and Elisa Donovan as Amber.
Delores Pasternak (‘Two and a Half Men’)
While it wasn’t a major role, the character of teacher-turned-stripper Delores Pasternak did recur on “Two and a Half Men” several times over the seasons. She was played by Missi Pyle for all of the episodes except one, in which she suddenly went from being a blonde to a redhead and was portrayed by Alicia Witt.
Starbuck (‘Battlestar Galactica’)
Dirk Benedict played the male fighter pilot Starbuck in the original space opera TV show “Battlestar Galactica,” which aired for a season in 1978. For the 2003-2009 reboot of the show, Katee Sackhoff played pilot Kara Thrace, who had the call sign “Starbuck.” She also got a rank promotion: Starbuck started the new series as a lieutenant, then became a captain in the second season.
Reggie Mantle (‘Riverdale’)
Reggie from “Riverdale” was played by Ross Butler in the first season of “Riverdale.” Since Butler had a successful part on “13 Reasons Why” that conflicted with “Riverdale,” the role of Archie’s best frenemy was recast with Charles Melton. Melton started off as a recurring character in the second season but became a regular starting in the third season of the popular teen drama from The CW.
Michael Pitt was replaced by Joe Anderson as Mason Verger on the TV show “Hannibal.” Pitt decided he didn’t want to continue in the role after season 2. “Hannibal” ran for three seasons between 2013-2015.
John-Boy Walton (‘The Waltons’)
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Robert Wightman replaced the original “John-Boy” Richard Thomas in “The Waltons” for the eighth and ninth seasons of the show, 1979-1981. Many ardent fans, however, were disappointed with the change. Thomas would return in the role of John-Boy in later TV specials.
Joe Pritchett (‘Modern Family’)
Jay and Gloria’s son Fulgencio “Joe” Pritchett was originally played in his birth episode by girl twins Rebecca and Sierra Mark. Next he was portrayed by Pierce Wallace. When the show needed to age up Joe a little faster, they picked Jeremy Maguire for the new version of Joe. Maguire played the role from season 7 through the series’ 11th and final season in 2020.
Naomi (‘Private Practice’)
Merrin Dungey originally played Dr. Naomi Bennett on a season 3 episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”; she’s Addison Montgomery’s doctor friend who convinces her to move out west, thus spinning off the character into the TV show “Private Practice” through a back-door pilot. But when “Private Practice” launched in 2007, Bennett was played by Audra McDonald. The medical drama spinoff series ended in 2011.
Martha (‘Mostly Martha’/’No Reservations’)
The fabulous German-language romantic comedy “Mostly Martha” was such a breakout indie film that it was eventually remade in the U.S. But the title role of chef Martha was recast. Martina Gedeck played the original German Martha, while Catherine Zeta-Jones took on the chef role of Kate in the American version of the film, which was also renamed and became “No Reservations.”
Kaitlin Cooper (‘The O.C.’)
Shailene Woodley was the original Kaitlin Cooper on Fox’s “The O.C.,” first appearing on the series at age 11. But her character was written off the show temporarily. And when Kaitlin was brought back as a more mature teen, Willa Holland took over the role.
Chris (‘The Partridge Family’)
Brian Forster replaced Jeremy Gelbwaks as Chris Partridge after the first season of “The Partridge Family.” The studio told the public that the switch took place because Gelbwaks’ family was moving, but he reportedly wasn’t fitting into the role and cast members complained about his behavior. Supposedly, the studio didn’t receive a single letter about the switch.
Frank Costanza (‘Seinfeld’)
John Randolph, who played Clark Sr. in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” among many other roles, was the original Frank Costanza in one episode of “Seinfeld.” The late Jerry Stiller, whom everyone remembers playing Frank Costanza for the rest of the long-running series, reshot the scenes Randolph was in when that episode aired in syndication. Stiller’s Frank was much more in-your-face.
Pam’s Mom (‘The Office’)
Pam Beesly’s mother, Helene Beesly, was played by two actresses. In her only appearance in the role, Shannon Cochran played the original Helene in the second season. Linda Purl took over the role just in time for Pam to get married to Jim in season 6. And for Pam’s mom to have a brief fling with branch manager Michael.
Mandy (‘Last Man Standing’)
Molly Ephraim played the Baxter family’s daughter Mandy from the shows’ launch in 2011 until 2017. With the show switching to Fox in 2018 after ABC originally canceled it, Molly McCook took over the Mandy role, turning Mandy’s hair from dark to light.
This wasn’t the only “Last Man Standing” recasting. After the first season of the show, Amanda Fuller replaced Alexandra Krosney as eldest daughter Kristin. And grandson Boyd was recast after the first season. Originally played by twins Luke and Evan Kruntchev, Flynn Morrison played him starting in season 2 to age him up. And Boyd was again recast in 2018 with the Fox switch. He is now played by Jet Jurgensmeyer.