- Michael Ontkean, Slap Shot, 1976. After the former stage actor broke through a year later in Rich Man, Poor Man, TV, 19 , he was buried in three picture deals. “I’d say: What are the pictures? And they were always crap.” Which is why he tried to join Paul Newman’s ice-hockey mooners.
- Roy Scheider, Sorcerer, 1976. ... and director William Friedkin’s unwise, un-good and unsuccessful re-make of HG Clouzot’s Le salaire de la peur/The Wages of Fear, 1953.
- Harrison Ford,Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, 1976.
- Christopher Reeve, Superman, 1978.
- John Heard, Cutter's Way, (ex-Cutter and Boone), 1980. Once Dustin Hoffman’s schedule clashed, producer Paul Gurian was keen on Nolte or Tommy Lee Jones as Alex Cuitter, while Czech director Ivan Passer preferred Heard. Passer later complained: “UA murdered the film. Or, at least, they tried to murder it.”
- Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981.
- Harrison Ford, Blade Runner, 1981. UK wiz Ridley Scott spent a long time sniffing out the perfect Deckard. From top notchers, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman (keen… but on making it a totally different character, of course), Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino… to such excellent journeymen as Nolte, William Devane, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Frederic Forrest, Scott Glenn, Cliff Gorman, Tommy Lee Jones, Raoul Julia, Walken. Then, in sheer desperation, choices lowered to Cliff Gorman, Judd Hirsch. Even the Virginian Morgan Paull stood a chance, having played Deckard in Scott’s tests of potential Rachaels. (He was given Holden for his pains). Plus Arnold Schwarzenegger, not yet seen as Conan, much less Terminator. And for probably the last time in such an illustrious list, the fading star of Burt Reynolds.
- Sylvester Stallone, First Blood (aka Rambo),1982.
- Martin Sheen, That Championship Season, 1982. Announced with George C Scott by director William Friedkin in the 70s.
- Jim Belushi, About Last Night, 1986. Nolte flew to New York to meet Bill Murray about filming David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. "Not," reported the then director Rob Cohen, "a match made in heaven."
- Bruce Willis, Die Hard, 1987. There were 16 possible John McClanes… From Nolte, Tom Berenger, Michael Madsen, to top TV heroes Richard Dean Anderson and Don Johnson to A-listers:, Charles Bronson, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone. And Frank Sinatra had to be contractually offered the hero. In his 1980 move debut, The First Deadly Sin, Willis is seen leaving a bar as Sinatra walks in. So it flows.
- Kurt Russell, Tequila Sunrise, 1988. The LA buddies on either side of the law - dealer and cop - went from Jeff Bridges-Nick Notle to Beatty-Scott Glenn to producer Thom Mount’s winning combo. Gibson-Kurt Russell. Towne and Russell based Nick Frescia on another contender, Pat Riley, coach of the LA Lakers basketball team. “Riley’s look was right… arrogantly confident but not offensive,” said Russell. So he used it again as Furious 7 and 8’s Mr Nobody in 2014 and 2016.
- Richard Gere, Internal Affairs, 1989. UK director Mike Figgis said Paramount wanted Mel Gibson or Kurt Russell (big hits in ’88’s Tequila Sunrise) as the badass cop-cum-hit man. “If we’d hired a movie star to play Peck,” noted producer Frank Mancuso Jr, “we might not have been able to so successfully explore the darkness of the character.” Some 19 other stars - Nolte, Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta… and four outsiders Richard Dean Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Ron Silver - all passed Peck to Gere for a double whammy comeback with Pretty Woman. “I’ve never been away,” snapped Gere. Oh, but he had. Almost to Palookaville.
- Robert Redford, Havana, 1990. Losing Jack Nicholson, director Sydney Pollack talked to Nolte until making it as his sixth film with his pal Redford because "it's the right time in his life for this particular kind of role." The public did not agree.
- Jeff Daniels, Love Hurts, 1991. Jonathan Demme could not find backing for Nolte, left it to Bud Yorkin and Daniels.
- Kevin Costner,JFK, 1991.
- Bruce Willis, Death Becomes Her, 1992. After Kevin Kline and Jeff Bridges passed, Nick agreed with them and Robert Zemeckis went to a fourth choice of co-star... as if Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn weren’t big enough names for the whacky comedy wannabe.
- Don Johnson, Born Yesterday, 1992. Disney's cost-conscious Hollywood Pictures cut the re-make's budget from three stars to one - Melanie Griffith. Not saying much for John Goodman and her eventually added husband.
- Harrison Ford, The Fugitive, 1993. Last time Dr Richared Kimble went on the lam, it took him 120 hours during 1963-1967 to prove he didn’t kill his wife. Ford managed it in 130 minutes. After surpassing Nolte, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia.
- Richard Gere, Intersection, 1994. Nolte had already re-made Michel Simon and Gérard Depardieu classics and producer Frederic Golchan also saw him for Michel Piccoli’s classic role in the (bad - what else?) re-tread of Les choses de la vie.
- Bruce Willis, 12 Monkeys, 1995. Director Terry Gilliam nearly fled when The Money Men closed ranks against Nolte and Jeff Bridges.
- Tom Hanks, Forest Gump, 1995. A bright notion as Frank Oz, Joe Dante, Penny Marshall, Robert Zemeckis all rejected the script. Zemeckis changed his mind and won an Oscar - presented, by chance (?), by his mentor, Steven Spielberg.
- Liam Neeson, Before And After, 1996. Columbia wanted Nolte or (again!) Jeff Bridges to be Meryl Streep's husband. Barbert Schroeder kept the faith with the big Irishman.
- Jon Voight, The Rainmaker, 1997. For an insurance company man as Francis Coppola lowered his sights - and tackled John Grisham
- Peter Fonda,Ulee's Gold, 1997. Winning his first Oscar nomination, Fonda yelled: "Thank God for Nick Nolte...!"
- George Clooney, Three Kings, 1999. Bullying director David O Russell never wanted Clooney as Archie Gates. And only agreed (and then got into a fist fight with him) when Nicolas Cage, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Dustin Hoffman never wanted his script! Jeff Bridges’ previous film, The Bjg Lebowski, had flopped and Nick Nolte said he was too old. Idem, apparently, for Jack Nicholson. Although respecting his work, Clooney said he’d never work with Russell again. Their fight had been over Russell’s treatment of an extra, throwing him to the ground. He then foolishly taunted Clooney: “Hit me!” So, he did.
- James Woods, Northfolk, 2003. Nolte loved the Polish brothers' script but preferred the parish priest Father Harlan and "Jimmy was already circling the Walter role, " noted Michael Polish who directed. His co-writer-producer twin, Mark, played Jimmy's son .
- Jon Voight, Pride and Glory, 2006. Benched by an old knee injury… 9/ll postponed the movie when original co-stars Hugh Jackman and Mark Wahlberg agreed that after the Twin Tower heroics was not the time for an NYPD corruption exposé. Once made, the movie was shelved for two years… as Wahlberg took over Jackman’s role in The Lovely Bones, 2008.
- Aaron Eckhart, The Rum Diary, 2009. Booked for Sanderson opposite Johnny Depp’s Kemp (aka the young gonzo journo Hunter S Thompson) in a 2000 version that rocked but never rolled. Never giving up, Depp made it happen nine years on.