What If Tom Selleck Accepted Indiana Jones and Other ’80s Role Reversals

We all have played the “What if…” game at some point in our lives. I have riddled myself with questions on occasion like:

“What would my life have been like if I had chosen to go to a different college and never met my future wife?”

“What if I had left the house 5 minutes later that day when that lady pulled out in front of me and totaled my car? Would I still be driving it?”

“What if Kurt Cobain hadn’t died? Would the Foo Fighters exist?”

Okay, so maybe it’s just me that ponders that last question. But still, we all have questioned certain choices we have made in our lives.

Sometimes I ask the “what if” in pop culture. There seems to be many popular characters in movies and TV shows over the years that could have been played by a different actor. Do you think actors look back at their careers and have that same kind of “what if I had taken that role” moments? Some of these decisions could have really changed the landscape of TV and film history. I thought it would be fun to look back at some roles, particularly in the ’80s, that were offered to actors who passed on them or were too busy on other projects. And to not leave out the actor who eventually took the role, let’s look at them in a role reversal.

Tom Selleck & Harrison Ford

It’s pretty well known that the role of Indiana Jones was initially offered to Tom Selleck. Selleck’s decision to pass on the famous character created by George Lucas and Steven Speilberg was not an easy one. His first big break in acting was landing the role of Thomas Magnum in the TV series Magnum P.I. About the same time, the two filmmakers Lucas and Speilberg approached him to play the lead character in their new film Raiders of the Lost ArkSelleck even did a screen test for the duo in anticipation of accepting the role, but he knew that shooting the pilot episode for Magnum P.I. would coincide with the production schedule of the film. After contemplating what to do and even consulting a close friend, he chose to honor his contract with Universal Studios and shoot the Magnum P.I. pilot.

The crazy part of the story is that there was a writer’s strike in 1980 which delayed the shooting of the Magnum P.I. pilot and would have allowed him enough time to film Raiders of the Lost Ark (according to Selleck himself.) So, what if he had decided to become Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford somehow had stepped in as Thomas Magnum? Check out this mashup video of “Han Solo P.I.” to get a better picture. I think it could have worked out. It’s kind of hard to imagine Ford with a long TV acting career and Selleck launching into a feature film career. Could Selleck have landed other films starring Ford like Blade RunnerWitness, or The Fugitive? Guess we’ll never know.

Fred Dryer & Ted Danson

One of my favorite ’80s sitcoms Cheers centered around the relationship between the characters of Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long.) However, Danson was not the first choice for the role. Former NFL player Fred Dryer was slated to play the role of ex-football jock turned bar owner. Cheers creators Glen Charles, Les Charles, and James Burrows decided to change Sam’s background to a former baseball player with the nickname “Mayday” to make the character what they thought would be more believable. Danson then won the role.

It wasn’t the last call for Dryer’s career with Cheers. He would end up with a recurring role as Sam Malone’s former teammate and sportscaster Dave Richards, who appeared in four episodes. So what if Dryer had become Sam Malone and Ted Danson had won the role of Sgt. Rick Hunter? I’m not sure I can picture Danson in the role, (Oh wait…thank you Photoshop!) 153 episodes of Hunter may not match the 270 episodes of Cheers, but Danson would’ve still have had a nice TV career.

John Cusack & Judd Nelson

This one might be a bit lesser known among the pop culture realms. Again, it’s hard for me to imagine any of these role reversals in this list, but anyone other than Judd Nelson playing John Bender in The Breakfast Club is just weird. It’s true though, John Cusack was director John Hughes’ first choice for the role after Emilio Estevez (who also auditioned for Bender) was cast as jock Andrew Clark. Hughes decided to go with Nelson over Cusack before shooting began because he felt Cusack didn’t look “threatening enough.”

It would appear that Hughes made the right choice, but what if Cusack had kept the Bender role and Nelson went on to star in Better Off Dead in 1985? I can tell you one thing, that paper boy would’ve forgotten about that two dollars. The first time he would’ve asked for the money, he would’ve received an ultimate wedgie and never asked again.

Tom Hanks & Kevin Costner

This one also may be off the pop culture radar also, but it is pretty well known that Tom Hanks has a long list of roles he’s turned down. But hey, when your Tom Hanks, you can pretty much pick and choose what you want, right? Then again, maybe not so much in 1989 when Hanks turned down the role of Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams. This is another one that is hard to imagine, but this “Ray reversal” could have happened…

The ‘Burbs is one of my favorite Hanks comedies and I remember watching it in the theater with a friend in 1989. Trying to picture Costner as suburbanite Ray Peterson is just not happening. And even though this “what if” scenario technically could have happened, I don’t think these two films would’ve been quite the same. Both Hanks and Costner have had great film careers and I also believe that this particular role reversal would not have affected their future film choices to the extent of some of the others I’ve mentioned.

This was fun! I know there are many more role reversals I could’ve listed, so leave a comment with your favorite to keep the conversation going.  And if it’s a little more Field of Dreams action you crave, check out our post, If You Watch Field of Dreams, He WIll Cry.

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About Jason Gross 59 Articles
'80s kid and '90s grad. I've been writing and podcasting about 1980s pop culture since 2011 at my Rediscoverthe80s.com website. I collect vinyl, comics, Batman memorabilia, and all things Mobile Armored Strike Kommand.