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11 Movies That Could Have Starred Tom Cruise

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Getty

Whether you’re a fan of his films or not, there’s no denying that Tom Cruise—who turns 56 today—is the epitome of a movie star. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, who struggled for years to find their big breaks, Cruise’s career has been seemingly blessed from the very beginning. Within two years of making his big-screen debut in 1981’s Endless Love, Cruise turned in memorable performances in Taps, The Outsiders, Risky Business, and All the Right Moves. But for every Maverick, Jerry Maguire, and Ethan Hunt that Cruise has portrayed on the big screen, there are plenty of well-known parts that never came to be for the actor for one reason or another. Here are 11 of them.

1. FOOTLOOSE (1984)

Fresh off the success of playing teen pimp Joel Goodsen in Risky Business, the producers of Footloose were convinced that Cruise had what it takes to pull off playing a high schooler determined to get his tiny town’s “no dancing” law repealed. (They had seen Cruise rocking out in his tighty-whities to Bob Seger, after all.) But Cruise’s schedule wouldn’t allow for it, as he was shooting All the Right Moves at the same time.

2. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)

Though he’d proven that he could make a big-budget movie that still turned a profit with 1989’s Batman, Tim Burton was still somewhat at the studio’s mercy when it came to casting his next project, Edward Scissorhands. And what the studio wanted was simple: Cruise in the titular role. “He certainly wasn’t my ideal, but I talked to him,” Burton recalled. “He was interesting, but I think it worked out for the best. A lot of questions came up—I don’t really recall the specifics—but at the end of the meeting I did feel like, and I probably even said this to him, ‘It’s nice to have a lot of questions about the character, but you either do it or you don’t do it.’”

3. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

There’s only one thing that stood in the way of Tom Cruise playing Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption: “a sh*tload of dough” in Frank Darabont’s pocket. Though it had always been the plan that Darabont, who had never directed a feature film before, would both write and direct the big-screen adaptation of the Stephen King short story, Rob Reiner (who produced the film) had a momentary change of heart. After working with Cruise on A Few Good Men, Reiner realized that The Shawshank Redemption could be a great opportunity for him and Cruise to re-team on a project. So he made Darabont an offer he (almost) couldn’t refuse: the aforementioned “sh*tload of dough” in order to turn directing duties over to Reiner, so that he could make the movie with Cruise. And it was a tempting offer.

“In my struggling-writer days, I could barely meet the rent,” Darabont told Vanity Fair. By taking the deal, Darabont would not only have cash in his pocket, but he'd be able to make a quick name for himself in the industry he was trying to conquer—and he admits that the dilemma “completely tormented” him. Ultimately, the would-be first-time director realized that “you can continue to defer your dreams in exchange for money and, you know, die without ever having done the thing you set out to do.” So Darabont said no to Reiner and went on to direct the movie, which garnered seven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture and another for Darabont’s script.

4. DONNIE BRASCO (1997)

Like so many movies before (and after) it, Donnie Brasco made the rounds in Hollywood for many years before actually going into production. And the more time that passed, the more actors and directors became attached to it—and dropped out, including Tom Cruise and director Stephen Frears.

5. GHOST (1990)

In his autobiography, The Time of My Life—which he co-wrote with his wife, Lisa Niemi—Patrick Swayze recounted how when his name was brought up as a possible fit for romantic lead Sam Wheat, Ghost director Jerry Zucker responded with, “Over my dead body!” (Zucker apparently couldn’t separate Swayze from his Roadhouse alter ego, Dalton.) While Demi Moore had already been cast, Swayze wrote that “a Who’s Who of leading men were under consideration, including Kevin Bacon, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, and Tom Hanks, but the role was still open. Zucker was absolutely convinced that I was the wrong guy for the role, but he finally agreed to at least let me audition for it.” The rest, of course, is history.

6. INDECENT PROPOSAL (1993)

Ghost wasn’t the only Demi Moore-starring romantic drama Cruise was up for. He was also being considered for the role of David (the husband) in Indecent Proposal, with then-wife Nicole Kidman in contention for the part of Diana and Warren Beatty as the propositioning millionaire. In an interview with the Sun Sentinel, director Adrian Lyne shared how Cruise was circling the role of the husband. “I tested Nicole Kidman later,” said Lyne. “She was good, but it didn’t work out. Demi was better. I’ve seen Demi for every movie I’ve done, and I’ve watched her change. She’s lovely to watch in a tactile way.”

7. A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001)

Before it was a Ron Howard film starring Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind was set to be a Robert Redford film starring Tom Cruise as Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash. Ultimately, Cruise opted to star in Vanilla Sky instead.

8. RUMBLE FISH (1983)

After working with Francis Ford Coppola on The Outsiders, the legendary director offered Cruise a role in his follow-up film, Rumble Fish. Though Cruise was anxious to work with Coppola again, he told Interview Magazine that the offer came in “the same week I was offered Risky Business.”

9. SALT (2010)

In the earliest days of its development, Salt—Phillip Noyce’s 2010 action-crime-mystery—was about a man, Edwin A. Salt. And that man was (hopefully) going to be Cruise. “Tom was flirting with the part, and we just couldn't pin him down,” Noyce told NBC Bay Area. “Eventually he did Knight and Day instead.”

10. STARMAN (1984)

In casting his cult classic alien romance movie, director John Carpenter told The Boston Globe that the studio “wanted Tom Cruise for the lead. But when I auditioned actresses in New York, Karen Allen was far and away the best. I wanted her for Jenny Hayden, and so we had to go with actors her age. I didn't want a big star to play the male lead because there might be too much identification with other roles. I thought of Jeff Bridges because he's a name actor, yet he's not a big celebrity.”

11. IRON MAN (2008)

That Iron Man director Jon Favreau had a tough time getting the studio to say yes to Robert Downey Jr. as a superhero is by now legend. And it probably didn’t help his cause that Cruise had expressed an interest in taking the part, and reportedly producing the film, too. But when pressed on the topic of the project’s status in 2005, Cruise stated that “It's not happening. Not with me, no … They came to me at a certain point and, when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it's gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn't feel to me like it was gonna work. I need to be able to make decisions and make the film as great as it can be, and it just didn't go down that road that way.”

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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iStock
The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
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iStock

Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare

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