Have you ever thought about why most movies feature compelling, three-dimensional male characters while the women, who are often sidelined, aren't nearly as nuanced and complex? Have you ever wondered why male actors dominate in a wider variety of genres while actresses are mostly known for their rom-coms and drama films? Or have you ever pondered why, even now, genuinely interesting and complicated heroines are still seen as "ground-breaking" and "progressive," rather than normal? If you've answered yes to all of these questions, you're not alone. We've seen countless actresses get pigeonholed into roles that perpetuate gender stereotypes and, quite frankly, they're doing way more harm than good.
Now of course, this doesn't mean that we don't love to indulge in a good romance or two. But very few things are as rewarding as seeing women at the forefront of fantasy, sci-fi, sports, and action-adventure films. Characters like Ellen Ripley and Kyle Pratt are strong and unique, but they're also relatable because they feel more true to the lives of women who challenge gender norms every day. It might surprise you then to know that some of these incredible female roles were originally intended for men. Thanks to a few creative minds who insisted on trying something new, we now have these iconic gender-challenging characters who still inspire us to this day.
Dame Judi Dench played M, Head of the Secret Intelligence Service, in several Bond films. But before she took on the role, it was played by men only, including actors Bernard Lee, David Niven and Robert Brown. Her character sadly got killed off in Skyfall and she wasn't happy about it. The actress said: "They told me gently and I laughed through my tears. Seven films is a long time. But MI6 would have given her the push by now, don't you think?" We definitely weren't ready to see her go so soon.
Had it not been for the perceptive eye of Steve Carell's wife, Nancy Walls (who portrayed a health clinic counselor in the film), Jane Lynch would've never landed this hilarious role. Nancy suggested that there should be more women in the movie, and thankfully, the director took her concerns seriously. After gender-swapping the role of the store manager, Jane auditioned for the part and wound up playing the hilarious Paula. But this wasn't Jane's first time playing a gender-bending role. She said: "My first role in high school was the king in a one-act version of The Princess and the Pea. It started the pattern."
The brilliant Murphy (played by Jessica Chastain) was originally written as Joseph Cooper's son, rather than his daughter. However, the movie's director, Christopher Nolan, had a change of heart in the film's earlier stages. He once revealed: "Maybe because my eldest child is a girl, I decided to change Murph into a girl. I found that came very naturally to me, writing that relationship between a father and a daughter. It was something I really enjoyed, and I enjoyed extrapolating that to the rest of the story."
Warner Bros. Pictures
If there's one thing that we've learned about Sandra Bullock, it's that she's not one to immediately grab at any opportunity that comes her way. After realizing that none of her potential scripts were interesting enough, she decided to seek out roles that were written for men.
She said: "Initially, it was written with George Clooney in mind. About two-and-a-half years ago I just put out the feelers saying, 'I’m not reading anything I’m excited about. Are there any male roles out there that they don’t mind switching to a female role?'" And surely enough, she landed one of the most interesting roles she's ever played. Regarding her character, she explained: "There’s a lot of unforgivable things that she does, yet somehow you have to cheer for her."
Buena Vista Pictures
The film's director, Robert Schwentke, originally had Sean Penn in mind for Jodie Foster's role in Flightplan. The film was supposed to be about a dad who tries to find his missing daughter on a plane, but during the production process, Robert felt that this version "didn't ring true."
He explained: "We sort of took one shot with an actor, and then we had the idea that this is maybe [the wrong story] to do with a man — maybe we need to do this with a mother. It's much more archaic; the bond between a mother and daughter is a different one than the father and the daughter. Thinking along the lines of how we can make this the most emotionally impactful movie possible, we started thinking about Jodie and, thank God, she was interested in doing it."
Kyle Pratt wasn't the only gender-swapped role that Jodie Foster took on. In 2013's Elysium, she played the part of Delacourt, the Secretary of Defense for Elysium. In the film's beginning stages, though, director Neill Blomkamp and his team planned on having Secretary Rhodes, who was going to be male. But thankfully, it struck Neill that it would be even better to make this character a woman. When he considered actresses for the part, Jodie was his top pick. He said: "I thought, 'That would be f*cking awesome, but there’s just no way...' But then, within, like, a day I had a meeting with her and she said, 'I want to play it.' I was like, 'Holy sh*t!'"
In the Marvel comic books, Zula is actually a male Darfarian warrior who has royal blood and is the last of his tribe. In the 1984 movie adaptation, however, the fierce Grace Jones took on this role as a female warrior. She was just as skilled and smart as the comic book character, the only difference being that she had a huge fear of rats. Still, this androgynous heroine was pretty memorable.
The film is an adaptation of Orson Scott Card's sci-fi novel of the same name, where Major Anderson was written as a male. The film's director, however, decided to change that character to a woman, and he had the perfect actress in mind. Gavin Hood said: "In just a scene or two, Viola Davis can deliver an arc and a feeling of a character that might take other actors an entire movie to achieve — if they can achieve it at all. Anderson tries to go along with [Colonel Hyrum] Graff’s notion that it is necessary to psychologically manipulate children for the greater good, but ultimately she can’t. In the end, that is what sets her and Graff at odds. She is more interested in Ender’s personal well-being than the ultimate goal. Harrison and Viola embrace those two points of view and clash fantastically in the movie."
In the original film, which was released in 1981, Arthur's valet, Hobson, was played by John Gielgud (who won an Academy Award for the role). In the 2011 remake, though, Hobson was brilliantly played by Helen Mirren. Her co-star, Russell Brand, noted that her addition to the cast was the one thing led him to believe the film would work. He said: "When Peter [Baynham] had the idea of making Hobson female and we immediately thought of Helen Mirren, for me, that was the idea that made the film feasible. That was the idea that meant, 'Oh, this will actually happen.'”
Actress Glenn Close played Alicia Clark, Managing Editor of The New York Sun, in this comedy-drama. The role was initially created for a male actor, but the writers chose to take a different route and hired a female to play the part. Not much about the character was changed, and Glenn even insisted on keeping her fist-fight scene with her nemesis, Henry. Writer Stephen Koepp said: "We did some polishing of the script after Glenn was hired, but essentially it's the same character. The character is an archetype — the bean-counter who keeps the pens and pencils in a vault."
According to the original play, The Front Page, Star reporter Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson was supposed to be a male journalist named "Hildebrand." However, during a read-through of the script, the director, Howard Hawks didn't have enough men around to play each part. So instead, he had his female secretary fill in for Hildebrand. It was then when he realized that a female would be an even better fit for the role, so he switched the character to female and made her the ex of her co-worker, Walter. The role was played by actress Rosalind Russell.
Evelyn Salt was supposed to be "Edwin A. Salt" and the role was meant for Tom Cruise. But when he turned it down, the film's producer saw this as an opportunity to put a unique spin on the spy film. Lorenzo di Bonaventura said: "When you look at it from a dispassionate business point of view, it’s a better way to do the genre. With Mission [Impossible] and Bourne and Bond, you’re going to be the fourth spy guy. We thought, 'Let’s be the first spy girl.'" So Edwin became Evelyn, who would be played by Angelina Jolie. The writers tweaked her backstory to create one of the most compelling action heroes to ever grace the big screen.
When an all-female cast was announced for the 2016 adaptation of Ghostbusters, there was a huge backlash from the fans. In fact, when the first official trailer dropped on YouTube, it received over 13,800 dislikes on the very first day and went on to get over a million dislikes, compared to 280,000 likes. Many felt that this didn't stay true to the original film, but if you ask us, Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones did not disappoint.
Regarding the fans who were completely against this reboot, director Paul Feig said: "I think there’s a group of you, yes, that has real issues with women. But there’s also a huge group of people who are just concerned about the property, and I completely understand. I’m completely sympathetic to that."
20th Century Fox
Everyone who's seen the film would agree that Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is by far one of the best heroines of all time. The film's director, Ridley Scott, thought that it would be an interesting idea to switch out the typical male lead for a female hero. He said: "I just had a thought. What would you think if Ripley was a woman? She would be the last one you would think would survive — she’s beautiful." Perhaps he only saw this as a cool experiment to try out at the time, but what he managed to do was create a complex female character who'd go down in history as a feminist icon.
In this case, Kate Mercer was originally female. However, the character was nearly gender-swapped because screenwriters were encouraged to make her a man, just so they could draw in A-list male actors. Emily Blunt, who portrayed Kate, said: "There was some initial pressure there for the rather gross fact that you could up the budget by another third if you make it a guy. That's so gross. You completely alter the dynamic of the piece. The interesting fact for the audience is that she is a woman. There's something unusual about that." We couldn't agree more.
Julia Roberts played Jess Cobb, an FBI investigator and mother who tragically lost her daughter. But at first, her role never existed. The plan was to have a male investigator (a merging of two male characters from the original film) who lost a spouse. But when the screenwriters switched the character to female, Julia felt that this was the role for her, joking that it took two men to make one of her. She explained: "Of all the ones that have been offered, none have really kind of spoke to me or interested me at that time. This was something that did." The actress noted that this wasn't the only time she's been offered a gender-swapped role. On several occasions, she's gotten scripts that actually offered to switch a male part to female if she'd be willing to do it.
Yes, this film was (for the most part) a complete let-down, but one interesting behind-the-scenes fact worth noting is that male actors, including Jet Li and Vin Diesel, were considered for Lucy Liu's role before her name ever came up. Not much about the character was changed, which means Lucy had to get involved in some intense stunt-work.
She said: "You get hit a lot. Ray [Parks] was great, he never laid a hand on me. When you work with chains or any kind of weapons, or just when you’re using hand-to-hand combat, you are going to get hurt. You fall and there are lots of things happening. I hurt myself pretty severely a few months ago. It’s just the way of this business — you just get damaged. I don’t think that anyone has gotten into a fight and not gotten hurt."