The Best and Worst Casting of a Movie

The director, Cary Fukunaga, once said that a movie is 70% casting–or something to that effect. Great casting goes a long way to make a great film, while if a film has no chance is the casting is awful. I was watching the original Karate Kid recently, and the casting stood out. Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita may be one of the best cinematic buddies, and that’s primarily a function of casting, in my view. But then the villains are also great, not just Martin Kove, as John Krease, and William Zabka, as Johnny Lawrence, but even the other Kobra-Kai thugs. What are some films where the casting really stood out, either good or bad?

8 thoughts on “The Best and Worst Casting of a Movie

  1. It’s a big complicated question that can be answered a lot of different ways. Some movies’ casts are so iconic that the actors define the roles and the roles define the actors. I knew of the idea of Humphrey Bogart as Rick in Casablanca long before I saw the movie, so of course when I saw the film he was perfect. It’s almost circular logic: Bogart is perfect for the role because he defined the role in our consciousnesses. Maybe Ronald Reagan would have been the perfect Rick (as is popularly and erroneously believed to be the filmmakers’ original intention) but it’s impossible to say.

    One way to think about it is with actors who are cast in roles already defined before the film’s production. When I first heard the casting for The Great Gatsby, I thought it was absolutely perfect, because my knowledge of the actors and my knowledge of the characters clicked really well. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan? You almost couldn’t cast it better.

  2. I knew of the idea of Humphrey Bogart as Rick in Casablanca long before I saw the movie, so of course when I saw the film he was perfect. It’s almost circular logic: Bogart is perfect for the role because he defined the role in our consciousnesses.

    You feel you would not be able to break away from the cultural iconic reputation of this role? I may not always do this–that is, I may enjoy an actor in a specific role because “I’m supposed to,” if you know what I mean–but I think I can do this as well. There are books, movies, and music that has a great reputation that you don’t like right? Is the same thing possible with casting? I’m sure if I think hard enough I can think of examples where I didn’t like a casting decision that everyone else seems to. (I’ll try to think of some examples.)

    By the way, Casablanca Maybe Ronald Reagan would have been the perfect Rick (as is popularly and erroneously believed to be the filmmakers’ original intention) but it’s impossible to say.

    I’m not familiar with Ronald Reagan, as an actor, so I can’t comment. But I feel like I could say Tom Selleck would not have been as good as Harrsion Ford, as Indiana Jones. Then again, I never thought John Travolta would be good as a Bill Clinton character, and I thought he was good. Now, if I recall I liked Primary Colors because of the actors. At the same time, I can’t remember if I thought it was a well cast–that is, the actors seemed to fit the roles well and made them come alive. Do you see a difference between good actors in a good movie (i.e., not poorly cast) and well cast film?

    When I first heard the casting for The Great Gatsby, I thought it was absolutely perfect, because my knowledge of the actors and my knowledge of the characters clicked really well. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan? You almost couldn’t cast it better.

    I haven’t seen this film yet, but I can see how each of them would be good for the role.

  3. You feel you would not be able to break away from the cultural iconic reputation of this role?

    I’m not saying I wouldn’t be able to; I’m saying it’s one set of possible answers: the casting of Bogart as Rick (and I would say Bergman as Ilsa, Rains as Renault, Greenstreet as Ferrari, and Lorre as Ugarte) is perfect because of these actors’ statuses as icons in these specific roles.

    There are books, movies, and music that has a great reputation that you don’t like right? Is the same thing possible with casting? I’m sure if I think hard enough I can think of examples where I didn’t like a casting decision that everyone else seems to. (I’ll try to think of some examples.)

    Of course there are. But Bogart was already my favorite actor when I first saw Casablanca, so I was entirely inclined not to. But I think you’re missing what I’m saying. I’m saying that certain characters are so tied to the actors who played them that it’s nearly impossible to separate them, which kind of makes them perfect. If you were to cast a remake of Casablanca, would it be possible to cast an actor for Rick more suited than Humphrey Bogart? It’s pretty tough to imagine.

    And for an example of casting you don’t like that everyone else seems to, how does Hugh Jackman not leap to your mind?

    Do you see a difference between good actors in a good movie (i.e., not poorly cast) and well cast film?

    Absolutely. Most of our favorite character actors are good examples. Maybe they don’t have the acting talent or range other actors have, but they can be perfect for their roles.

    I haven’t seen this film yet, but I can see how each of them would be good for the role.

    It’s not great. But it’s tough to fault the casting!

  4. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be able to; I’m saying it’s one set of possible answers: the casting of Bogart as Rick (and I would say Bergman as Ilsa, Rains as Renault, Greenstreet as Ferrari, and Lorre as Ugarte) is perfect because of these actors’ statuses as icons in these specific roles.

    Ah, you mean, one definition of good casting has to do iconic status of these roles and the actors in them? If that’s what you mean I get where you’re coming from. I might be interested in hearing about these roles, but I’m more interested in simply your opinion about which good and bad casting decisions.

    I’m saying that certain characters are so tied to the actors who played them that it’s nearly impossible to separate them, which kind of makes them perfect.

    I think that’s assuming you liked their performance in that role. IF you didn’t think Bogart fit Rick–even if Bogart was your favorite actor–then I suspect you wouldn’t have a hard time thinking of Bogart and the role separately.

    I’ll give you an example. My sense is that many people like Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin. I don’t. I don’t think he’s well-suited for that roll. And I like Kurt Russell; I think he is an action lead with good spirited fun, comic sensibility. Or maybe he’s more of a good comedic actor with a capacity play an action lead. In my view, he’s not good in the silent, tough guy roll. To me, his perfect roll is the Jack Burton role in Big Trouble in Little China. Or his early Disney roles or in comedies like Overboard or The Best of Times. I feel like he’s one of the most consistently miscast actors. Other examples: Tombstone (Wyatt Earp?), Breakdown, and Miracle on Ice.

    My point is that if I don’t think an actor works in a role, I don’t care about the reputation or iconic status of the actor/character. I’m guessing you can name examples of this, too.

    Absolutely. Most of our favorite character actors are good examples. Maybe they don’t have the acting talent or range other actors have, but they can be perfect for their roles.

    Yeah, but I was actually thinking of it the other way: good actors in a good movie, but I don’t necessarily conclude that the casting was great. Sometimes the acting can be good, or very good, but the “fit” may elevate or bring the character to life. Do you know what I mean?

  5. The cast of Star Wars, Episodes IV, V, and VI, is another example–the main cast, including James Earl Jones, as the voice of Darth Vader.

    I also really like most of the cast for the original Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three:

    Walter Matthau as Lt. Zachary Garber
    Jerry Stiller as Lt. Rico Patrone (who is kind of a sidekick to Garber)
    Robert Shaw as the leader of the crooks
    Hector Elizondo surprisingly effective as one of the psychopathic crooks
    Lee Wallace as the Mayor of New York City (who looks and even sounds like Mayor Ed Koch)
    even Dick O’Neill, who has a relatively small part, is good in this.

    The movie, overall, is almost a small masterpiece–at least in the sense that the film is hitting on all cylinders, with little wasted film.

    1. Would you feel the same about the casting of episode IV if it existed by itself? I kind of think Mark Hamill is the weak link in that movie. He grew into it, but not really during the original movie. I mean, he was fine — I wouldn’t call him good.

    2. I’m not sure. But I’ll say this, besides Harrison Ford, and maybe Sir Alec Guiness, and James Earl Jones, the effectiveness of the casting has to do with the chemistry the actors had with each other, not so much for their fit in their specific roles….I do think that Hamil is a weak link; Fisher is, too, kinda.

  6. Just saw someone raise this question on twitter. Another person responded by mentioning Jaws. That’s a really good one. The casting of the three leads are great. Even Murray Hamilton, as the Mayor, is a good choice for his role as well.

    The person also mentioned The Big Lebowski. Yes to that, too. There are obvious choices, but I really like David Huddleston as the “real” Mr. Lebowski. The actors who play “the Nilihists” are good, too. You could argue this is a perfectly cast film.

    On a side note, has the Coens talked about why they chose a cowboy narrator–for a film set in L.A.? I mean it works fine, but I’m curious as to how they got that notion–as well as the opening using a tumbleweed.

    Here’s the first scene with Hiddleston:

    Edit

    By the way, speaking of the Coens, could we say a lot of their films are well-cast? No Country for Old Men also deserves a mention. Fargo, too. Consistently good scripts and good casting seem to be hallmark of the Coens. It might be more interesting to talk about the exceptions. For example, while I really like Josh Brolin, somehow, I felt like he did not quite fit the part in Hail, Caesar!–not that he was bad, but he didn’t elevate it sufficiently in my view–like the way Bridges or McDormand did in their parts. I thought Brolin was well-cast in No Country, though.

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