- Vince Vaughn, Psycho, 1997. Christian Bale, Robert Sean Leonard, Tobey Maguire and Henry Thomas were also up for Norman Bates in the nuttiest idea in movie history – director Gus Van Sant re-making the Hitchcock classic, shot for shot. “So no one else would have to.” (?) And with a cameraman and actress who’d never seen the original, work that out. Oh, and Bernard Herrmann’s score “adapted” by two other guys.
- Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, 1997. Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson tries for Phoenix, Part One.The actor was worried about playing a porn star (based on long John Holmes) and the subject of PTA’s 32-minute directing debut The Dirk Diggler Story, 1988.
- Mark Wahlberg, The Yards, 2000. Another US auteur, James Gray offered the part of Leo. "Nah, I wanted to play strong and seductive and proactive, not the guy who's just out of prison. I'd done that before. Miramax was opposed to me playing Willie. I don't think they thought I could do it. He wouldn't be charismatic or sexy enough, or whatever... Same thing whenI went forGladiator- you wouldn't believe the resistance I met."
- Crispin Glover, Willard, 2003. Macauley Culkin also refused the title role. “Joaquin is complex, for reasons that we all know,” said his Quills director Philip Kaufman.“He’s hurt and bruised and has been through trauma within his own family. Yet what people don't know is how bright and articulate he really is. It's probably the most difficult thing for an actor to play straight and narrow and give it dimension. We have very few actors who can do that nowadays. Spencer Tracy and actors like that could do it. But today, actors want to be showy... quirky. When you look at Joaquin, you see the resonance of a Montgomery Clift and John Garfield.”
- Martin Henderson, Bride and Prejudice, 2004. After Johnny Deep and Phoenix passed, director Gurinder Chadha fell for the New Zealander as Darcy as Bollywood Goes Jane Austen.
- Jason Lee, The Incredibles, 2004. Phoenix passed on Buddy Pine, aka Syndrome. Lee had impressed the toon’s director Brad Bird in Dogma, 1999
- Adrien Brody, Hollywoodland, 2005. As the private eye hired investigatingthe curious demise - suicide or murder? - of the first TV Superman, GeorgeReeves, 1914-1959. Second time the two have auditioned for the same role; previously, Phoenix won The Village, 2004, from Brody.
- Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood, 2006. Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson tries for Phoenix, Part Two.He backed off from the Elmer Gantryesque preacher man...- but third time lucky for PTA, Phoenix joined (and stole)The Master, 2011.
- Russell Crowe, American Gangster, 2007. Terry George was once set todirect Don Cheadle and Phoenix - as the New York drug lord and his cop nemesis. Ridley Scott did it with Denzel Washington and Crowe.
- Patrick Wilson, Watchmen, 2008. Not so much “Who watches the watchmen?” as Aristotle asked, but who them playeth? And in the 20 years it took fto film Alan Moore’s DComic-book, directors came and went - Darren Aronofsky, Michael Bay, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass. So did their choices for Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl: Phoenix, Kevin Costner, John Cusack, Nathan Fillon, Richard Gere.
- Billy Crudup, Watchmen, 2008. Just as Nathan Fillon was also shortlisted for Edward Morgan Blake aka The Comedian)… Phoenix was also offered a second role: Jon Osterman, aka Dr Manhattan. As were Dolph Lundgren, Keanu Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- John Cusack, The Raven, 2011. Tracking a serial killer... Phoenix passed Edgar Allen Poe to Ewan McGrgeor- who passed to Cusack - as Jeremy Renner quit as Inspector Fields to join (and succeed?) Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise.
- Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 2011.Still hedging about any comeback movie, Phoenix turned away frombeing Henry Sturgess, mentor to the most astonishing vampire hunter of all.
- Joel Edgerton, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, 2011. Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg were short-listed for Timothy’s father before the Iowa auteur Peter Hedgesmet the Australian star of The Thing prequel.
- Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, 2011. Once the last movie’s Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton, was dropped, the Phoenix name, intomeltdown at the time,was rung up the Marvel and Disneyflagpoles.Ruffalo was seen as less of a problem - forthe first actor to portray both Bruce Banner and,viaperformance-capture effects, his angry alter-ego, the Hulk.
- Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange, 2015. Probably too strange! Like Johnny Depp… Discussed, planned, written, re-spun since 1986, always dropped despite scripts from Alex Cox, Wes Craven, Bob Gale, etc, until chosen as the portal into the supernatural side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phoenix took two months to pass. Among those flown up Marvel’s 21st Century flagpole were Phoenix (too strange!), TV doctor Patrick Dempsey, Colin Farrell, Ryan Gosling, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jon Hamm, Ethan Hawke, Oscar Isaac, Jared Leto, Matthew McConaughey, Ewan McGregor, Vincent Price (in 1986), even zeroes Keanu Reeves (listed but never approached - how wise) and Justin Theroux. Finally, the production waited until after Cumberbatch’s Hamlet stage triumph in London. If Iron Man is Mick Jagger, Strange is Jim Morrison… and should head the MCU when Robert Downey pawns his ironmongery.