Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

10 Movies That Almost Starred Will Smith

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

After rapping about parents just not understanding and extolling the virtues of summertime with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Will Smith achieved TV stardom as the titular Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (where poor Jeff usually got acquainted with the ground, on the order of Judge Philip Banks). Soon enough, Smith was starring in blockbusters like Independence Day (1996) and I, Robot (2004), crowd-pleasing franchises like the Men in Black and Bad Boys films, and romantic comedies like Hitch (2005), plus earning critical praise (and Oscar nominations) for his work in the dramas Ali (2001) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006).

As Oscar buzz continues to build around Smith's performance in Concussion, in which he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist who discovers the horrific after-effects of playing professional football, here's a look back at some of the could-have-beens in Smith's career.

1. SNAKE EYES (1998)

Smith was set to co-star with Nicolas Cage in the Brian De Palma-directed film. He would have played the role of Commander Dunne, which eventually went to Gary Sinise. Smith passed on account of not being offered enough money.

2. THE MATRIX (1999)

Johnny Depp was the Wachowskis’ original choice to play Neo in The Matrix, but Will Smith was offered the part at some point in the casting process. In 2004, he told WIRED that he had no regrets about saying no to the film, explaining that, “The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch. In the pitch, I just didn't see it. I watched Keanu [Reeves'] performance—and very rarely do I say this—but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point I wasn't smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don't try and perform every moment.”

3. K-PAX (2001)

“I loved, loved, loved [the script for] K-PAX”, Smith admitted to MTV. “But it never really jelled in my mind. I always wanted to make that movie.” Kevin Spacey, who was originally offered the role of the psychiatrist (later played by Jeff Bridges), stepped in and played Prot instead.


The live action/animation hybrid was planned to have featured Smith as the voice of the titular character. After script issues and conflicting schedules forced Smith to leave the project, Chris Rock took the role.

5. PHONE BOOTH (2002)

Colin Farrell ended up playing Stu Shepard in Joel Schumacher's claustrophobic thriller. Smith claimed he “loved” the script, but passed because the “bad guy’s story wasn’t clear enough.”


In Jonathan Demme’s remake of Charade (1963), Mark Wahlberg portrayed Lewis Bartholomew/Joshua Peters, a role originally played by Cary Grant. Smith was offered the part, but declined in order to star in Michael Mann's Ali (2001) instead. Which was a smart move, as Smith was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, whereas Charlie was ignored by awards shows and audiences alike.

7. MR. AND MRS. SMITH (2005)

Originally the title roles were to go to Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman. Kidman had to leave the project when The Stepford Wives (2004) went over schedule. When Kidman left, Pitt also dropped out, leading director Doug Liman to consider pairing Will Smith and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Then Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett. When Pitt stepped back in, it was going to co-star his ex-fiancée, Gwyneth Paltrow. Then Angelina Jolie came along.


Brandon Routh played the one superhero Hollywood has seemed to have trouble finding success with since Christopher Reeve retired the cape because Smith turned the role down. Smith's explanation: “I had already done Jim West [of Wild Wild West (1999)], and you can’t be messing up white people’s heroes in Hollywood! You mess up white people’s heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”


In 2013, Smith claimed that he turned down the titular role in Quentin Tarantino's slave-turned-vigilante epic because he believed that the bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) was the real star in the film. In 2015, he said he wanted to make the movie more romantic—“I wanted to make the greatest love story that African-Americans had ever seen.” Despite not seeing eye-to-eye with the writer-director, he said he thought the movie was “brilliant.”


Earlier this year, writer-director Roland Emmerich insisted that Smith was “excited” to reprise the role of fighter pilot Captain Steven Hiller in next year's Independence Day sequel, with Vivica A. Fox set to come back as his wife Jasmine and a young actor cast as their son. But then After Earth (2013) bombed at the box office and Smith changed his mind. “In the very beginning, I wanted to work with him and he was excited to be in it but then after a while he was tired of sequels, and he did another science fiction film, which was his father-son story, so he opted out,” Emmerich explained.

Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

Chloe Efforn
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.


Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.


He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.


John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.


As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.


In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.


John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.


John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.


In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.


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