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George Mitchell: The curious case of the Mandela Effect

David Jason with his two co-stars in Only Fools and Horses.
David Jason as Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses. Image: Allstar/BBC

We’ve all got our favourite movies. No matter how many times we view them, we keep coming back to watch them again and again.

Understandably we associate iconic roles with individual actors or actresses. They and their unique performance is often what makes it special for us.

It’s so hard to imagine, but many of our favourites were very nearly played by different actors which could have changed things entirely. There are many examples, so let’s take a look at a few.

Forrest Gump. A role made famous by Tom Hanks, of course. But did you know that the role of Forrest was first offered to John Travolta? He turned it down.

Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Credit Allstar Collection/Paramount.

The Shining. The classic role of axe murderer Jack Torrance made famous by Jack Nicholson. Hard to imagine anyone else, right? Well, it was almost played by comedy actor Robin Williams. That’s a real head scratcher that one.

That iconic shot of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Credit: Allstar/WARNER BROS.

Bond. I must admit, I never knew this, and still find it hard to believe, but Burt Reynolds was offered and turned down the role of James Bond in the 1973 movie Live and Let Die.

The Lord of the Rings franchise was, of course, highly successful. The producers wanted Sean Connery in the role of Gandalf. He was reportedly offered $10 million per film and 15% of box office earnings. Connery turned it down, saying he did not understand the script. Thus, Connery missed out on a $450 million payday. Ouch.

Sean Connery would have needed to grow his beard for Gandalf.

The character of Han Solo in Star Wars? Harrison Ford, of course. But it almost went to Al Pacino. Like Connery, saying he didn’t understand the script, Pacino turned it down.

Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford again. He surely is Indiana Jones; it couldn’t be anyone else, right? Apparently, it was first offered to Tom Selleck, but he turned it down due to commitments with Magnum PI.

Author Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly in the wonderful film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It went, of course, to Audrey Hepburn. Just think of that iconic film poster of Hepburn with cigarette holder in hand. How could it have been anyone else? Why Monroe didn’t take or get the part, no-one it seems is quite sure.

Could you imagine Marilyn Monroe in place of Audrey Hepburn? Credit: Allstar/PARAMOUNT.

Pretty Woman. We all remember and love Julia Roberts in that one. First choice though? No. The role was initially offered to actress Molly Ringwald.

Grease. John Travolta is outstanding in the role as Danny Zuko. Believe it or not, it was first offered to Henry Winkler (aka the Fonz from Happy Days). Apparently, Winkler didn’t want to be typecast again.

Ghost. A beautiful movie with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. However, Bruce Willis, who was married to Moore at the time, was first offered the part of Sam Wheat. He turned it down and later admitted he had been a “knucklehead” for doing so.

Bruce Willis instead of Patrick Swayze in Ghost? Credit: AP Photo/Paramount Pictures.

Try to imagine these roles played by other actors – sometimes it would have worked I guess, but most of the time it seems that “second choice” was best.

Films are, of course, usually one-offs, but TV series go on for years. The classics can even form part of our collective identities.

Only Fools and Horses. Fronted by that loveable rogue Del Boy. We all love it. It’s a British institution. But can you possibly imagine anyone other than David Jason playing Del? No, neither can I.

However, he wasn’t first choice. It went to four actors before him, meaning Sir David was the fifth choice for Del. Almost impossible to get your head round really.

Take another British institution, Dad’s Army. I’d bet that nearly all of us know each and every character. They could never possibly be played by someone else, right?

Dad’s Army surely wouldn’t have been the same with a different cast. Credit: Allstar/COLUMBIA PICTURES.

Initially the BBC, due to his long-running role in ITV’s Coronation Street, weren’t keen on Arthur Lowe playing Captain Mainwaring. Jon Pertwee was considered for the role. As was Leonard Rossiter.

David Jason again. He was writer David Croft’s first choice for Corporal Jones, not Clive Dunn. And the role of Sargent Wilson? No, not John Le Mesurier, but TV actor Robert Dorning.

While I’m on this subject, what about those iconic lines from famous movies? You know, the ones we all like to cleverly quote from time to time.

Forgive me for being pedantic, but most of us, most of the time, usually misquote such lines.

Why we collectively do so, I have no idea. This phenomenon even has a name. It’s called the Mandela Effect. It means when a large number of people misremember a fact.

How many do you quote incorrectly? Let’s take a look.

In one of the original Star Wars films, you know the one when we learn the earth-shattering news that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. Big misquote here.

Darth Vader is often misquoted.

Darth Vader did not say: “Luke, I am your father.” He actually said: “No, I am your father.”

“Houston, we have a problem,” is oft quoted by movie lovers of Apollo 13. However, if we are trying to impress whoever, we should at least try to get it right. The real quote is, “Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Now this has to be one of the most famous lines of all time. Casablanca. “Play it again, Sam.”

Wrong! What is actually said is: “Play it Sam. Play As Time Goes By.”

I love this movie. A young Dustin Hoffman, and a gorgeous Anne Bancroft. I’m talking about The Graduate of course. And that famous line? “Mrs Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”

But that’s it. I know it is. I’ve seen the film 100 times and have quoted it numerous times to friends. Oh dear, another misquote. It’s actually: “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”

“Beam me up, Scotty,” says Captain Kirk. Surely this can’t be a misquote? Oh, but it is. Kirk never said those words. What he said was: “Beam us up, Scotty.”

‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat.’ Credit: Allstar/UNIVERSAL.

Jaws. Remember the scene, out on the boat, when Chief Brody for the first time sees the huge shark up close? He famously says: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat…” Except he doesn’t. He actually says: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

Snow White. A classic movie from 1937. But we’ve been misquoting this one for over 80 years. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” asks the wicked Queen.

What she really said was: “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

Why do we do this? Why do we collectively misquote such iconic lines? It’s a total mystery to me.

Anyway, whatever the movie is you intend to watch this weekend, and whoever finally landed the lead role, enjoy!

PS – Dad’s Army with anyone other than Arthur Lowe playing Captain Mainwaring? Na, that should be illegal.


Mr Bronson was the terrifying teacher from Grange Hill who went to school in Aberdeen