Fan enthusiasm can be a wonderful thing. But sometimes it can go a bit too far, as when hardcore fans are absolutely convinced that they, and only they, know how to properly adapt their beloved franchise into a feature film. When someone is cast who doesn’t fit their vision of a favorite character, things can get nasty. As these 10 casting backlashes prove, it’s usually best to wait and see how someone does in a role before bringing out the pitchforks.
1. Heath Ledger // The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker has become the litmus test for fans overreacting to a casting decision. Much of the backlash against Ledger stemmed from his roles in teen-centric comedies such as 10 Things I Hate About You. GeekTyrant has a time capsule of Reddit reacting to the news: “Heath Ledger has the charisma of a lettuce leaf.” “The Joker is a character that needs an actor with gravity. Not some little twerp who got lucky.” “Probably the worst casting of all time.” “Let’s reminisce on the days of a A Knight’s Tale and Ten Things I Hate About You. Heath? The Joker? Bad casting. Bad joke.” And [sic all]: “There are better choices in my own opinion, but what do I know, its only been my life enjoying these comics?” But the Academy really had the final say when they awarded Ledger a posthumous Oscar for the part.
2. Michael Keaton // Batman (1989)
Ledger wasn’t the first (or last) Batman actor (Bactor?) to suffer the rage of fanboys: When Michael Keaton was cast as the Caped Crusader back in the late '80s, fans sent physical complaint letters (oh, pre-Internet days) to the studio—by one account, more than 50,000 of them. The primary complaints: Keaton was a comedian, and he wasn’t physically intimidating enough. A 1988 article in The Toronto Star noted that Batman “may turn out to be a wimp,” as Keaton was “no Sylvester Stallone.” Director Tim Burton responded to the backlash, explaining that “I met with a number of very good, square-jawed actors, but the bottom line was that I just couldn’t see any of them putting on a bat suit.”
In 2015, Keaton—who will reprise his superhero role in The Flash—reflected on the time comic book fans the world over hated his guts, saying that “I heard about the outrage, and I couldn’t get it. I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. It made me feel bad that it was even in question.” But Keaton was in good company; the Star article also mentioned that some fans disliked “the casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a pathologically evil Batman archenemy. Mr. Nicholson, it seems, is guilty of having a sense of humor.”
3. Jennifer Lawrence // The Hunger Games (2012)
The biggest complaint against Jennifer Lawrence being cast as Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games? She wasn’t skinny enough. Because the character comes from the impoverished District 12, Katniss, some argued, should be stick-thin. Her hair color was also a point of contention, with some fans dismissing the Oscar-winning actress as a “beach bunny blonde” with “chubby cheeks.” In an interview with Teen Vogue, Lawrence said she understood the casting backlash: “The cool thing about Katniss is that every fan has such a personal relationship with her, and they understand and know her in a singular way. I’m a massive fan too, so I get it.” The Hunger Games franchise went on to earn close to $3 billion globally—with a prequel on the way.
4. Daniel Craig // Casino Royale (2006)
In 2005, layered popped collars were in, Fox canceled Arrested Development, and people just could not handle a blonde guy being cast as the world’s most famous super-spy. Daniel Craig’s height and general appearance were also an issue—the site DanielCraigIsNotBond.com wondered how “a short, blonde actor with the rough face of a professional boxer and a penchant for playing killers, cranks, cads and gigolos [could] pull off the role of a tall, dark, handsome and suave secret agent.” An actor “with his looks,” the site suggested, should instead star in a Caddyshack prequel. Most of the world left the “James Blonde” hatred behind when Casino Royale was released to excellent reviews, but the website is still running (though its last post was in October 2022).
5. Anne Hathaway // The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
You’d think Batfans would have learned their lesson by now, but no such luck: Fans were skeptical when the squeaky-clean Anne Hathaway was cast as Catwoman/Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, and it only got worse when the first picture of her in costume leaked. The word “underwhelming” was used a lot. Speaking with MTV, Hathaway responded to the criticism and warned the internet at large about rushing to judgment based on a single promo pic: “What I’m happy to say is, if you didn’t like the photo, you only see about a tenth of what that suit can do. And if you did like the photo, you have excellent taste.”
6. Robert Pattinson // Twilight (2008)
Given how The Twilight Saga launched Robert Pattinson to the heights of teen heartthrob-dom, it can be easy to forget that, when he was cast, the majority of fans were not pleased. His only major movie before then had been Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where he played Cedric Diggory, whose clean-cut, good boy image was a far cry from the brooding sexiness that fans wanted from vampire Edward Cullen. French actor Gaspard Ulliel was a fan favorite choice to fill the role, a fact referenced by author Stephenie Meyer in a blog post where she named Henry Cavill as her preferred actor for the part. Pattinson would later describe the fan reaction as “unanimous unhappiness.” He told the Evening Standard that he “got bags of letters from angry fans, telling me that I can’t possibly play Edward, because I’m Diggory,” And to Entertainment Weekly, he noted that “I stopped reading [blogs] after I saw the signatures saying 'Please, anyone else.’”
7. Keira Knightley // Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice was ill-fated from the very start as star Keira Knightley committed the great sin of not being Jennifer Ehle, who played the role of Elizabeth Bennet in the beloved 1995 BBC miniseries. When BBC News asked readers about the movie back in 2004, there was a fair amount of general handwringing of the “how dare you remake a classic?!” variety.
Some mega-fans of the 1995 version, though, flipped their pretty beribboned bonnets about Knightley specifically: “The disaster is the casting of Kiera [sic] ‘Bones’ Knightley as Elizabeth,” said one anonymous commenter from Pasadena, California. Others chimed in: “This other actor [Matthew Macfadyen] seems to [sic] young for the roll [sic] and Keira too beautiful and thin for playing Lizzy too.” “Knightley is too pinched and one-dimensional, not solid enough!” “Keira Knightley is too attractive and rather bad at acting.” “Kiera [sic] Knightley should never be Elizabeth Bennet ... she’s not that type of actress.” The Academy disagreed, granting Knightley one of the film’s four Oscar nominations. But that vitriol was nothing compared to the fan reaction to…
8. Matthew Macfadyen // Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Again, from BBC News: “There is only one Mr. Darcy and that is Colin Firth.” “[Firth] ‘is’ the one and only Mr. Darcy.” “No one will compare to Firth.” “Colin Firth is the definitive Mr. Darcy, never to be matched at least not for many a year.” “Matthew Macfayden is not a bad looking chappy but he’s not Colin Firth and cannot possibly live up to the expectations of my comrades and I!” And the nastiest: “You must have someone dashingly handsome as Darcy ... try Rupert Everett, Hugh Jackman, or someone of the tall, arrogant, but handsome calibre. Macfayden doesn’t have a masculine enough jaw, I suspect he’ll need a seriously good wig to make up for his own rather thin, receding, floppy hair.” Not that it wouldn’t be amazing to see a version of Pride & Prejudice with the “masculine-jawed” Jackman as Darcy—even better if he played it in character as Wolverine—but somehow Macfadyen’s turn as the “darkly handsome but socially paralyzed Darcy” pleased critics and audiences alike despite him not being Colin Firth emerging wet from a lake.
9. Vivien Leigh // Gone with the Wind (1939)
Even in pre-Internet times, fans would get demanding about the casting of their favorite characters. With Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, the problem was that she was a British actor playing the world’s most famous Southern belle. Producer David O. Selznick tried to downplay Leigh’s nationality in the official casting announcement, instead saying that she was educated in Europe and did some “recent screen work in England.” Outraged fans wrote letters to newspapers that slammed Leigh’s casting as an “insult to Southern womanhood” and “a direct affront to the men who wore the Gray and an outrage to the memory of the heroes of 1776 who fought to free this land of British domination.” The President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which initially planned to boycott the film, eventually warmed to the idea of Leigh; according to the film’s historical advisor, Susan Myrick, she believed that an Englishwoman was preferable to “a woman from the East or Middle West.”
10. Renée Zellweger // Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Call it a reverse Scarlett O’Hara: Instead of being angry that a British actor was playing a Southern character, Bridget Jones’s Diary fans couldn’t imagine the Texas-born Renée Zellweger playing Bridget Jones, who is a modern-day version of Pride & Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet. (What you can take away from this piece: Batman fans and Jane Austen die-hards are equally hardcore.) “The criticism has been hurtful,” noted Zellweger in a 2000 interview with The Guardian. “Not the bit about the fact that an American girl is playing this part. I can understand that. But it’s the extremes to which it’s taken. They’ll slip something else in there like, ‘Nobody has even heard of her before;’ ‘What’s she ever done?;’ ‘The unknown Texan comic.’ That’s hurtful, d’ya know?”
Co-star Hugh Grant came to Zellweger’s defense, telling Entertainment Weekly, “She’s very funny, and she’s been living in England a long time now, mastering the accent. It’ll be a triumph. I know it will.” The time with a vocal coach—Barbara Berkeley, who worked with Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare In Love—paid off, and Bridget Jones’s Diary became a modern rom-com classic.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.