What Happened? A nail-grinding account of the ill-fated 13th Apollo mission bound for the moon in 1970, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is utterly compelling from blast-off to touchdown, as its three true life astronauts struggle to survive as their spacecraft threatens to crumble around them as they attempt to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert – superbly played by Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon, respectively – are brave and resourceful, and their relationship forms the emotional fulcrum of the film. While Hanks, Paxton, and Bacon look right at home in their spacesuits, they were not actually Ron Howard’s first picks for the roles. According to The Charlie Rose Show on US TV, aviation aficionado, John Travolta, asked Ron Howard for the role of Jim Lovell but was politely turned down, principally because Hanks was attached to the project from its earliest stages. “I wouldn’t trade my career with anybody’s,” Travolta once said. “I’d trade a few movies with Tom Hanks – Apollo 13 and Forrest Gump – but other than that, I love my career.” John Cusack, meanwhile, was approached to take on the role of Fred Haise, but turned it down to continue his then-trend of avoiding big screen blockbusters over quirkier material like Gross Pointe Blank and The Road To Wellville. “I’m at peace with what my tastes are,” Cusack – who also said no to hits like Indecent Proposal and Batman Begins – once said. “How much money do you need? I don’t collect cars.” It was Brad Pitt’s similar taste for dark, confronting, and unusual projects that saw him refuse to board Apollo 13 as Jim Swigert. “I was talking to my mom the other night and she said, ‘I just saw the best movie called Apollo 13,’” Pitt told The Morning Call in 1995. “She said, ‘You have to do more movies like this!’ I said, ‘Mom, I turned Apollo 13 down for Se7en! Wait until you see that movie!’”
Would It Have Worked? Needless to say, with an entirely different central cast, Apollo 13 would have been an entirely different film. That said, it’s difficult to picture Travolta topping Tom Hanks’ brilliantly resolute turn as Jim Lovell.