Ali Goldstein/Netflix
Ali Goldstein/Netflix

33 Movies That Almost Starred Bill Murray

Ali Goldstein/Netflix
Ali Goldstein/Netflix

Part of the charm of Bill Murray to fans is the part of him that frustrates filmmakers—namely, his willful inaccessibility to show business. He was known to be picky about his role choices throughout the 1980s and '90s, but that all came to a head in 2000, when Murray replaced his agents with an automated 800 number. To this day, writers and directors wanting to work with Murray are directed to leave a voicemail. If Murray likes the idea, he insists that the script be faxed to him in care of his local office supply store. As you can imagine, he has missed out on plenty of opportunities on this system alone. Or maybe that’s just what he wants the spurned moviemakers to think?

1. STAR WARS (1977)

It has been rumored for a long time that Murray, along with a lot of other young actors, had auditioned to play Han Solo in the original Star Wars. At Comic Con this past summer, he claimed he didn’t know if he was ever up for the part, before joking that he was working out to increase his chances of finally getting the young Han Solo in a rumored Young Han spinoff.

2. ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)

Harold Ramis, who co-wrote Animal House, claimed that "Chevy Chase was supposed to be Otter, Dan Aykroyd was going to be D-Day, and Bill Murray was supposed to be Boon." John Belushi was always going to play Bluto.

3. THE JERK (1979)

Murray was cut out of the classic Steve Martin film. The Washington Post wrote months before the premiere that he was going to appear as a “flamboyantly gay decorator” who designed Martin’s character’s mansion. The day after the movie's debut, Murray revealed on a "Weekend Update" segment of Saturday Night Live that his scene had been cut, before calling the movie a “dog” and saying “there’s something missing” from it.

4. AIRPLANE! (1980)

Murray was being considered for the role of Ted Striker. He read the script and claimed, “This is gonna work, but it’s not for me.” Robert Hays landed the role instead.

5. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

Murray was one of several actors considered to play Indiana Jones. Steven Spielberg has repeatedly tried to cast Murray over the years.

6. THE DEAD ZONE (1983)

Stephen King had approval for casting of the movie adaptation of his book, and King’s first choice to play Johnny Smith was Bill Murray. The official reason for Murray not taking the role was “a prior commitment.” Christopher Walken got the part.

7. SPLASH (1984)

P.J. Soles worked with Murray in Stripes. Soles saw Murray accept the script for Splash before flinging it across the room “in disgust."

8. LOST IN AMERICA (1985)

Albert Brooks didn’t want to star in his 1985 film, Lost in America—he wanted Bill Murray to do that. Murray was interested, but only if Brooks was willing to wait two and a half years for him. Brooks was not.

9. LEGAL EAGLES (1986)

Robert Redford and Debra Winger ended up starring in a film originally meant to star Murray and Dustin Hoffman. When Hoffman changed his mind to make Ishtar, Murray bailed, too.

10. CLUB PARADISE (1986)

Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed the comedy about a Chicago firefighter who retires from his job and starts a resort with a reggae musician (played by legend Jimmy Cliff) on a small Caribbean island. Ramis wrote the script for Murray and John Cleese as the island’s governor. Murray was initially interested, but backed out when he decided that the role was too similar to his part in Meatballs, with Cleese soon doing the same. Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole starred instead.

11. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988)

Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis wanted Murray for Eddie Valiant. They couldn’t contact him, so Bob Haskins was offered the role instead. Allegedly, Murray was so upset over missing out on Roger Rabbit that he screamed—out loud, and in public—when he read that he had been considered for the part.

12. RAIN MAN (1988)

Another Tootsie reunion was thwarted: Screenwriter Barry Morrow said Murray was originally meant to play Charlie Babbitt; Tom Cruise ended up taking that job.

13. BATMAN (1989)

Tim Burton allegedly considered Murray as Batman before going with Michael Keaton. When David Letterman asked Murray about it on an episode of The Late Show, Murray said he had heard that story too, and he would have made an “awesome” Batman.

14. CAPE FEAR (1991)

Steven Spielberg was originally attached to direct the remake of Cape Fear. His first choice for Max Cady was (naturally) Murray. Before Murray could even officially turn Spielberg down (again), Scorsese took over and cast Robert De Niro in the lead.

15. PHILADELPHIA (1993)

Director Jonathan Demme was rumored to have initially been interested in Murray for Joe Miller, the role that eventually went to Denzel Washington. In 2014, Murray confirmed to Howard Stern that he was considered, and said in retrospect, he would have liked to have been in it.

16. THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994)

Murray didn’t enjoy filming 1988’s Scrooged, so he turned down playing Scott Calvin/Santa Claus to avoid another holiday-themed production. Tim Allen got the part. Presumably, with his new Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas, the Scrooged wounds have healed.

17. FORREST GUMP (1994)

Murray admitted to having conversations with Zemeckis about playing the lead. "I think I had the original book and all that sort of stuff," he told Howard Stern. He also said he has never seen the movie.

18. TOY STORY (1995)

For Buzz Lightyear, Billy Crystal was sought out first. Murray and Jim Carrey were also considered before Tim Allen took the part.

19. BOTTLE ROCKET (1996)

Wes Anderson attempted to get Murray to appear as Mr. Henry in his debut feature. Murray’s agents couldn’t find their client, who was traveling around in a Winnebago at the time. James Caan played Mr. Henry instead, but Anderson and Murray have worked together several times in the years since.

20. THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996)

Director Milos Forman sent the script to Tom Hanks and Bill Murray first. Forman said “fortunately” they both turned it down, because Woody Harrelson did such an amazing job in the title role.

21. BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)

After Warren Beatty passed, Paul Thomas Anderson and casting director Christine Sheaks considered Murray, Sydney Pollack, Albert Brooks, and Harvey Keitel for the role of Jack Horner. Murray and Brooks were offered the role. Burt Reynolds eventually agreed to it.

22. MONSTERS, INC. (2001)

James P. "Sully" Sullivan was almost voiced by Murray. Calls to his 800 number went unanswered, and director Peter Docter considered that a “no.”

23. SHREK (2001)

In 1991 Steven Spielberg bought the rights to the book. He wanted Steve Martin as Donkey and you-know-who as Shrek. During the 10 years it took to bring Shrek to the big screen, Murray lost interest.

24. BAD SANTA (2003)

Murray was in “final negotiations” to play the lead in Bad Santa. Writer-director Terry Zwigoff claimed Murray made a verbal agreement to do it, and then stopped taking Zwigoff’s calls. Billy Bob Thornton took over.

25. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)

The 800 number was blamed (again) for Murray missing out on Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic.

26. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005)

Noah Baumbach blamed the 800 number as well for not getting a chance to reach Murray to play Bernard Berkman. Jeff Daniels got the part.

27. THE ICE HARVEST (2005)

Director Harold Ramis thought Murray would work well as Pete, Oliver Platt's role. Ramis’ production staff, as The New Yorker recounted, thought this was wishful thinking, as Ramis and Murray’s lack of communication since the end of Groundhog Day was known by many. Ramis managed to convince Brian Doyle-Murray, Bill’s brother, to offer Bill the part on Ramis’ behalf. Murray passed.

28. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006)

Murray turned down playing Frank Ginsberg. Steve Carell didn’t.

29. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS (2007)

Murray said no to portraying David Seville. Jason Lee stepped in.

30. IRON MAN (2008)

Robert Downey Jr. said Murray was wanted for a part in Iron Man, but nobody could find him.

31. HOW DO YOU KNOW (2010)

James L. Brooks’ first choice for Charles Madison was Murray. Murray went as far as showing up for the first rehearsals before dropping out. Jack Nicholson took over.

32. GROSSE FATIGUE

In 2008, Murray said he wanted to star in and direct a remake of the French film Grosse Fatigue, about an actor whose doppelgänger wreaked havoc on his life. He would play both the actor and his double. Murray claimed Disney told him the adapted screenplay was the best script they had read in five years, before changing their mind two days later about proceeding.

33. GHOSTBUSTERS III

More people have read rumors through the years about Ghostbusters III than have seen Ghostbusters II. Murray has publicly stated he didn’t like two of Dan Aykroyd’s drafts of potential scripts for the third movie. Murray said one version, which featured a dead Peter Venkman haunting the other three Ghostbusters, was “kind of funny, but not well executed.” He said another draft was “crazy bizarre and too crazy to comprehend.” An all-female Ghostbusters group will star in a third installment/reboot of the movie franchise next summer.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.

1. SHE KNEW OVER 1000 SIGNS.

Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.

2. SHE CHANGED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT LANGUAGE.

Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.

3. SHE WASN'T THE ONLY APE WHO SIGNED.

Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.

4. SHE HAD FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

5. SHE WAS A LOVING CAT MOM.

Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.

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