• Daniel Day-Lewis was director Peter Jackson's first choice for Aragorn, but he turned down the role due to his aversion to big-budget franchises.
  • Russell Crowe was also considered for the role, but after a phone call with Jackson, it became clear that the director had other stars in mind.
  • Stuart Townsend was initially cast as Aragorn but was ultimately fired before filming began because he was deemed too young for the role. Viggo Mortensen was then brought in as a last-minute replacement.

Ask anyone to name the top 10 greatest movies ever made, and there’s a good chance they’ll include the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now, think of the top five most perfect movie trilogies of all time. Most probably wouldn't even get past three, and of those three, they would likely include the tale of hobbits making their way to Mount Doom. Their story was legendary even before director Peter Jackson got his hands on them, and afterward, there is no denying it. These films have so many popular characters known in pop culture today. One of the top being the King of Gondor, Aragorn, famously played by Viggo Mortensen.

The three-time Oscar-nominated actor has carved out a great career outside big-budget films, but fans will always know him as their once and future king. However, he wasn’t Jackson's first choice for the role. It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the character, but at the time of production, Mortensen was a relatively unknown actor. There were plenty of household names at the time, and some almost had the chance to star in one of the greatest franchises in cinema. Here are the actors who almost played Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

4 Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York
Touchstone Pictures

Jackson's first choice for the King of Gondor was a heavy-hitter in terms of acting talent. Daniel Day-Lewis was already a renowned actor when Jackson started casting for his trilogy. Thanks to his part in The Last of the Mohicans, his stock had risen significantly. And he was already a proven action star when it came to war films.

Jackson tried multiple times to get Day-Lewis to star as Aragorn. Each time, he was turned down because the acclaimed thespian did not want to star in big-budget franchises. There is no denying that casting Day-Lewis would have been a huge win, but it is likely for the best that it did not happen. His legendary method acting is known to be intense and not without its issues.

With the grueling war scenes set in a medieval world, there is no telling what lengths he would have gone to for the role, and he would have maintained his character for three straight years as the movies were filmed back-to-back. No one needs that sort of headache. Then again, he is one of the greatest actors of all time. With enough commitment, he can pull off any role.

3 Russell Crowe

russell crowe jor el man of steel
Warner Bros.

Now, this one should not surprise anyone. Long before Jackson had chosen Mortensen, it was nothing but heavy-hitters up for the role. One of whom was none other than Russell Crowe, who was coming off the success of Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott. If he had accepted the part, it would have almost been like Gladiator ramped up to a thousand in terms of scale.

While speaking on the Howard Stern Show in 2019, Crowe confirmed long-held suspicions that he was up for the role. The studio had heavy interest in him, but after a phone call with Jackson, he could gauge that the director had other stars in mind. It was due to this lack of interest that it didn't happen. For Crowe, if the director was not interested in his star power, there was no real point. Years later, despite the trilogy’s success, Crowe can say with certainty that he does not regret his choice.

Related: Lord of the Rings: Every Main Character, Ranked by Likability

2 Stuart Townsend

Stuart Townsend in Queen of the Damned
Warner Bros.

Of all the stars on this list, only one actually had the part, which is funny because it is hard to imagine anyone playing Aragorn other than Mortensen. But sure enough, Stuart Townsend of Queen of the Damned fame temporarily had the role. He even met the cast and spent two months training for the role. Obviously, it wasn’t meant to be.

The studio and the director were not feeling him for the part, and Townsend saw the writing on the wall plain as day. He was too young for the role meant for a grizzled and seasoned warrior. Thinking of him hitting the iconic lines and battle speeches that Mortensen eventually would, the words would not have had the same weight if said by Townsend. The younger actor was fired from Lord of the Rings just before filming was set to begin, and Mortensen was flown in without time to prepare. Fortunately, he made the most of a bad situation.

Related: Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim Now Awaits a Winter Release Following Delay

1 Nicolas Cage

Nic Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates in National Treasure
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

This one is probably the hardest to picture, and it came close to happening. Jackson reportedly wanted Nicolas Cage for the role early in production and even offered the star the part. Cage wanted the role as well, but his family changed his mind. The entire trilogy took over a year to film, and the actor had no desire to be away from his family for such a long period. Unless they moved them to New Zealand with him. Fortunately, it didn't happen because he would have been distracting.

Like Al Pacino and Ryan Reynolds, the National Treasure star has too many characteristics that would have leaked into the role. From his voice to his mannerisms, the star would have been way too distracting on screen. So much so that the plot of the movie would have changed to being about Aragorn ascending the throne of Gondor and not destroying the Ring.

Sometimes fate takes hold for the best, preventing a bad outcome. Perhaps the actors on this list could have been great in their own ways, bringing something new to the table. There will never be any way of knowing. Mortensen is the perfect Aragorn, and most fans wouldn’t have it any other way. But there will always be those who wonder what if.