Bronson turned down the role of Colonel Douglas Mortimer before Lee Van Cleef accepted it
Charles Bronson is one of the most iconic movie stars in Hollywood history. With long-time directorial collaborators like Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson, Bronson played all kinds of tough-as-nails roles across his decades-long acting career, including roguish cops, gunfighting cowboys, and war heroes.
Bronson brought plenty of iconic characters to life, from architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey in the Death Wish franchise to the titular melon-farming Vietnam War veteran in Mr. Majestyk to the mysterious gunslinger named after his signature harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West. But, as with any sought-after Hollywood A-lister, Bronson turned down almost as many high-profile roles as he took on.
The Man With No Name In A Fistful Of Dollars
Clint Eastwood looking through a noose in A Fistful of Dollars
Charles Bronson eventually collaborated with legendary spaghetti western director Sergio Leone when he played Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West. But according to Mental Floss, before the duo finally teamed up, Leone had been trying to cast Bronson as a badass gunslinging antihero for years.
Leone originally offered Bronson the role of the “Man with No Name” in his seminal masterpiece A Fistful of Dollars, the first chapter in the Dollars trilogy. Bronson turned down the role because he didn’t like the script, which was a western reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo. As iconic as Bronson is, an ice-cool Clint Eastwood ended up being the perfect choice to play the Man with No Name.
Snake Plissken with an eyepatch in Escape from New York
John Carpenter always wanted Kurt Russell for the role of Snake Plissken in his dystopian action classic Escape from New York. He’d previously worked with Russell on a made-for-TV Elvis Presley biopic (and went on to cast him in three more movies) and Russell, a former Disney star, was looking to reinvent his on-screen image.
But according to Den of Geek, the studio didn’t have faith in Russell and wanted to cast a gruff veteran actor like Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones. In the book John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness, Carpenter told interviewer Gilles Boulenger, “Charles Bronson had expressed interest in playing Snake, but I was afraid of working with him. He was a big star and I was this little s*** nobody.”
Jack Palance won an Oscar for playing grizzled, aging cowboy Curly opposite Billy Crystal in the neo-western comedy City Slickers. But according to Looper, the role almost went to Charles Bronson.
Palance was always the first choice, but Crystal sent the script to Bronson in case Palance turned it down. Crystal was excited to hear Bronson’s response to the material, but the call he received was less than enthusiastic: “F*** you! I’m dead on page 64! How dare you send this to me. You have a lot of nerve. I don’t die in my films.” Apparently, Bronson forgot that he died in The Magnificent Seven.
Colonel Douglas Mortimer In For A Few Dollars More
Lee Van Cleef with a revolver in For a Few Dollars More
After Bronson turned down the role of the Man with No Name in A Fistful of Dollars, Leone offered him the role of his sidekick in the sequel, For a Few Dollars More. In the Dollars sequel, two bounty hunters reluctantly team up to track down a common enemy.
According to Michael Munn’s book Clint Eastwood: Hollywood’s Loner, Bronson turned down the role of Colonel Douglas Mortimer before Lee Van Cleef accepted it.
Superman In Superman: The Movie
Superman takes flight in Metropolis in Superman: The Movie.
Richard Donner’s Superman proved that superhero movies could find success at the box office. But according to Esquire, finding the right actor to play the titular comic book icon wasn’t easy. Just about every A-lister in Hollywood was considered, including Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, and indeed Charles Bronson.
Bronson was deemed “too earthy” for the role of an alien from a distant planet. The perfect casting choice, Christopher Reeve, was finally discovered after an exhaustive two-year search.
The Lead Role In An Unproduced Ingmar Bergman Project
Ingmar Bregman directing one of his movies (black and white)
According to a Joel Kotkin-penned Washington Post article published in 1977 under the title “The Man: Charles Bronson: An Enduring Belief in the American Superhero,” Ingmar Bergman was interested in making a movie with Bronson in the lead role.
Bergman is the hugely influential filmmaker behind such existential gems as Persona, The Seventh Seal, and Scenes from a Marriage. While most actors would jump at the chance to star in a Bergman movie, Bronson turned him down, e xplaining, “Everything is weakness and sickness with Bergman.”
Angel Eyes (“The Bad”) In The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes holding a knife in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
According to Mental Floss, after Bronson turned down roles in both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, Leone offered Bronson a third Dollars trilogy role: Angel Eyes, or “The Bad,” in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Again, it ended up being played spectacularly by Lee Van Cleef.
Bronson actually wanted to do this one, but he had to drop out of the project because the scheduling conflicted with that of The Dirty Dozen. Two years later, Bronson and Leone finally collaborated on Once Upon a Time in the West, one of the most acclaimed westerns ever made.