Will Ferrell is one of the most popular and recognizable movie stars in Hollywood. Throughout his post-SNL career, Ferrell has played all kinds of roles on the big screen, including a chauvinistic ‘70s anchorman, a loudmouthed NASCAR driver, a pencil-pushing police accountant (and ex-pimp), one of Santa’s elves, and Sherlock Holmes. Every comedy filmmaker wants to work with Ferrell and on top of that, he writes (or co-writes) plenty of his own material.
But just like any actor, Ferrell hasn’t landed every role he’s tried out for, and just like every sought-after movie star, he’s turned down a number of high-profile gigs. From Max Smart to Ignatius J. Reilly, Ferrell has missed out on a handful of great roles over the years.
7 Max Smart In Get Smart
Mel Brooks’ Get Smart was one of the most acclaimed TV comedies of the 1960s, lampooning the tropes of the James Bond franchise at the height of its popularity through the hilarious adventures of bumbling secret agent Max Smart.
According to Vulture, when a big-screen adaptation of the series first went into development in the 1990s, Jim Carrey was attached to star as Smart. He eventually dropped out and Ferrell was cast to replace him in 2005. However, as a burgeoning movie star with many offers on the table, Ferrell quickly moved on and was replaced by his Anchorman co-star Steve Carell.
6 Rod Kimble In Hot Rod
According to New York magazine, The Lonely Island’s feature-length debut Hot Rod wasn’t originally conceived as a starring vehicle for Andy Samberg. South Park writer Pam Brady initially wrote the script for Ferrell while he was a cast member at Saturday Night Live. The project never materialized and the script fell into development hell.
After The Lonely Island started working at SNL and had their breakthrough with the “Lazy Sunday” digital short, Lorne Michaels lobbied for Paramount to revive Hot Rod as their movie debut.
5 Evan Trautwig In The Watch
According to Vulture, Ferrell lost out on the lead role in another movie by The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer. Originally, the alien invasion comedy The Watch was conceived as a family-friendly PG-13 movie in the vein of Ghostbusters.
Back then, Ferrell was attached to star as Evan Trautwig and Wedding Crashers’ David Dobkin was set to direct. After it was retooled as an R-rated movie, Schaffer ended up directing and Ben Stiller ended up starring. Ferrell and Dobkin’s regular collaborator Vince Vaughn starred alongside Stiller with Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade.
4 Dennis Dupree In Rock Of Ages
According to the Hollywood Reporter, when a movie adaptation of the jukebox musical Rock of Ages first went into development, Alec Baldwin wasn’t the first choice for the role of Dennis Dupree. Both Ferrell and Carell were offered the chance to play the ex-rock star who clings to his glory days by running a rock ‘n’ roll nightclub, but they both turned it down.
Despite featuring such prominent actors as Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, and Paul Giamatti, the Rock of Ages movie was ultimately met with negative reviews and disappointed at the box office.
3Jeff Tanner In August Blowout
Ferrell and director Adam McKay first brought their uniquely zany SNL sensibility to the big screen with their absurdist gem Anchorman. But before writing a script about journalists in the 1970s, Ferrell and McKay originally worked on a movie about a car salesman.
According to Vulture, Ferrell explained, “The first script out of the can that I ever wrote – called August Blowout, which was kind of like Glengarry Glen Ross meets a car dealership – my character Jeff Tanner loved Top Gun. He loved watching Top Gun and he’d watch it 10 times a day.”
2 Ignatius J. Reilly In A Confederacy Of Dunces
According to Slate, a film adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s notoriously unadaptable comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces has been in development hell for years. Development initially began with John Belushi, who died in 1982. It came close to happening in 2007, with David Gordon Green attached to direct a faithful script co-written by Steven Soderbergh.
Ferrell was signed on to play Ignatius J. Reilly in a big bodysuit, with Drew Barrymore, Mos Def, and Lily Tomlin all attached to play supporting roles. However, the project fell through and the book still has yet to be turned into a movie.
1 Walter Mitty In The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller ended up directing and starring in a modern update of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but like A Confederacy of Dunces, it spent years in development hell first. According to Vulture, the remake first went into development in 1994 with Jim Carrey in the title role. He was replaced by Owen Wilson in 2005, who was replaced by Mike Myers in 2007, Will Ferrell in 2009, and Sacha Baron Cohen in 2010.
In 2011, Stiller took over the project and it actually made it off the ground. Before Stiller signed on to direct himself in the movie, filmmakers including Steven Spielberg, Gore Verbinski, and Ron Howard had all taken a stab at the project.