Can you imagine any other actor besides Tom Hanks starring in Forrest Gump? If he hadn’t wowed director Robert Zemeckis in his screen tests, it might have been a whole different movie. A clip making the round on the Internet today shows Hanks and co-star Robin Wright doing one of their first readings together — and pretty much nailing it.
Here are 10 other classic audition tapes, showing just how Al Pacino, Kate Winslet, and other stars landed their breakout movie roles.
Vivien Leigh for Gone With the Wind (1939)
British actress Vivien Leigh was a controversial choice to play quintessential Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara, but as the audition footage makes clear, she had the character down right from the start.
Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday (1953)
Hepburn positively glows in this screen test for her first starring film role, runaway princess Ann in Roman Holiday. The part was originally written for Elizabeth Taylor.
Jennifer Connelly for Labyrinth (1986)
At 16, Connelly beat out actresses like Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marisa Tomei, Laura Dern, and Ally Sheedy for the role of Sarah in Jim Henson’s puppet fantasia Labyrinth. At the end of this audition, Connelly asks Jim Henson if her character is supposed to be English.
Al Pacino for The Godfather (1972)
As he explains in this video, director Francis Ford Coppola had to fight to cast Pacino as reluctant gangster Michael Corleone. The studio’s suggestions were non-Italian actors like Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, and Ryan O’Neal.
Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill for Star Wars (1977)
Did the future Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker have any idea what their space-age dialogue meant when they auditioned for Star Wars? Either way, they certainly made it sound convincing.
Kate Winslet for Titanic (1997)
Winslet, 19, pushed hard for the role of Rose in Titanic, sending director James Cameron a rose with a note that said, “I’m ready.” This fantastic screen test, opposite Jeremy Sisto (who lost the role of Jack to Leonardo DiCaprio), probably sealed the deal.
Robert Downey Jr. for Iron Man (2008)
He’s now the most valuable player at Marvel Studios, but RDJ was hardly a sure thing when he auditioned to play Tony Stark. His screen test seems to have charmed everyone, though: Just listen to the laughs during the second scene.
Henry Thomas for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Not only is 9-year-old Thomas’s audition for the role of Elliot completely heart-wrenching, it was also entirely improvised. Spielberg gave him the role right then and there, as captured at the end of the tape.
Steve Carell for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
It’s the rare audition that requires an actor to fake-gag on an invisible garbage sandwich, but Carell was up for the task when he tried out for simple-minded weatherman Brick Tamland.