Burt Reynolds was an acting icon. He was in some of the most popular and respected movies ever made, including Deliverance, Smokey and the Bandit and Boogie Nights.
But his career could have been completely different if he’d had taken any one of the massively major roles he so casually turned down.
Here’s a selection of the most significant parts he could have played, in tribute to one of our favourite Hollywood stars.
James Bond – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The name’s Reynolds, Burt Reynolds, licence to turn down arguably the most iconic film role of all time. Asked to replace Sean Connery following the actor’s final turn in the role, You Only Live Twice, (well, until he came back for Diamonds Are Forever) Reynolds said that audiences wouldn’t accept an American in the role.
“It was a stupid thing to say,” Reynolds told USA Today in 2015. “I could’ve done it and I could’ve done it well.”
But, seeing as the film that followed Connery’s final Bond was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, starring the one-and-done Bond George Lazenby, maybe Reynolds had been onto something.
Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver (1976)
While promoting his memoirs in 2015, Burt admitted he turned down Travis Bickle, in Taxi Driver, the Martin Scorsese classic which made a star of Robert De Niro. He said it was stupid of him in hindsight, and he regretted the decision.
The film was released in 1976, a year in which Burt appeared in Gator (which he directed), Silent Movie and Nickelodeon. And with Smokey and the Bandit out in ‘77, who knows, we might not have had one of his best films if he had done Bickle.
Michael Corleone – The Godfather (1972)
Another ‘70s movie that would probably have led to an Oscar nomination for Reynolds, Burt decided against playing Michael Corleone when it became clear that his rival, Marlon Brando, was going to quit the film if Reynolds was cast.
Deciding the conflict wasn’t worth the hassle, Reynolds declined the role and did Deliverance instead. “I was flattered that he was upset,” Reynolds said later.
Han Solo – Star Wars (1977)
In the ‘70s, there was no-one cooler than Burt Reynolds, so it makes sense that he was offered the role of the coolest space pirate of them all.
“I was offered a meeting and all that, whatever that means,” Burt said later. “But I don’t like science fiction. And I didn’t know the kind of impact that the film would have. Otherwise, I would have crawled there and said yes.”
Still, Smokey and The Bandit opened on the same weekend as Star Wars, and ended up taking more money in its first week.
John McClane – Die Hard (1988)
“Welcome to the party, pal.” Well, it would have been, if Reynolds hadn’t declined the invitation to the party that was Die Hard, turning down the role that went to Bruce Willis, and launched his cinema career.
But Reynolds wasn’t the only one to pass – Richard Gere. Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and James Caan all turned down the role.
Though there’s a chance they all regretted it when they found out Willis had been paid an astonishing $5 million to front the film.
Frank T.J. Mackey – Magnolia (1999)
Not only was Reynolds pretty open about his hatred of the stunning Boogie Nights, it sounds like he was a bit tricky to collaborate with on the set of the film. When asked about why he found it tough to work with Paul Thomas Anderson, he said, “I think mostly because he was young and full of himself. Every shot we did, it was like the first time [that shot had ever been done].”
“I remember the first shot we did in Boogie Nights, where I drive the car to Grauman’s Theater. After he said, ‘Isn’t that amazing?’ And I named five pictures that had the same kind of shot. It wasn’t original. But if you have to steal, steal from the best.”
Still, despite it all, Anderson was prepared to work with the icon again (possibly because he’s so incredible in Boogie Nights), offering him the part of Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia – a role that eventually went to Tom Cruise.
“I’d done my picture with Paul Thomas Anderson,” Reynolds said, on why he turned it down. “That was enough for me.”