Before Harrison Ford filled the role, George Lucas originally cast Tom Selleck to play Indiana Jones. How would things have gone if it had happened?
If Tom Selleck had played Indiana Jones as originally intended, his career, as well as the career of Harrison Ford, would have played out very differently. 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the character of Indiana Jones to the world, marking the start of a hugely successful and beloved franchise. Brought to life by Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones quickly became iconic, characterized by his bullwhip, fedora, and roguish charm. The original plan for the character, however, was for Tom Selleck to play the archaeologist-adventurer.
When casting for Raiders of the Lost Ark began, Steven Spielberg suggested Ford for the lead role. It was George Lucas that initially resisted the idea, and an intensive casting process ensued, with then-rising star Tom Selleck eventually cast as Indiana Jones. However, Selleck was already attached to star in Magnum, P.I., and CBS refused to release him from his contract, forcing him to turn down the role in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Related: High Road To China Was Tom Selleck’s Swing At An Indiana Jones Movie
Had Selleck been Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his career would almost certainly have played out very differently. What’s more, not playing Jones would also have had a significant impact on Harrison Ford’s career, as well as the many ways the change in actors could have changed the Indiana Jones franchise. The differences between the two actors would undoubtedly have led to minor but important changes within the characterization of Indiana Jones, with Selleck’s version of the archaeologist being different from Ford’s.
Though both actors are known for their rugged good looks, Selleck’s general image is different from that of Ford’s, which would likely have led to changes in the character of Indiana Jones. Even from the character’s first appearance in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford ad-libbed lines and moments which contributed to the fabric of Indiana Jones. Therefore, if Selleck had filled the role, the character would have developed differently, either closer in line with Lucas and Spielberg’s plans or maybe with a touch of Selleck’s own personality shining through.
Tom Selleck is decidedly less roguish than Harrison Ford, with a much more clean-cut, conservative image. Selleck’s version of Indiana Jones would likely have been a more traditional hero, charming and idealistic, with less of the razor-sharp wit that Ford brought to the table. This version of Jones may not have been quite so popular, either, as the rakish charm of Jones is one of his most beloved qualities, and it’s something that wouldn’t have been as convincing had it come from Tom Selleck.
As Indiana Jones is just one of Harrison Ford’s many iconic roles, it would appear that he would have done well in Hollywood regardless of his role in the franchise. Granted, this may not be entirely true due to the specifics of the role and the critical time in Ford’s career that it came along. For context, it’s important to note that at the time of his casting in 1980, Ford’s only other major role was that of Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise, alongside Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill – and to better understand how Indiana Jones shaped Ford’s career, it’s interesting to note the careers of his Star Wars co-stars.
Related: Why Harrison Ford Changed His Mind About Blade Runner
Neither Hamill nor Fisher landed another major franchise role after Star Wars, and they each became so associated with the role that typecasting became an issue – in fact, Mark Hamill eventually switched to voice roles in order to distance himself from his Star Wars role. Had Harrison Ford not been cast in Raiders of the Lost Ark – a franchise far from the sci-fi success of Star Wars, he may have also been too associated with Solo to ever truly land another major part. Shortly after his action-based role in Raiders, however, Ford then landed the lead in Blade Runner. That film’s noir story opened numerous other doors for Ford in several action thrillers throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s – none of which may have been possible without the role of Indiana Jones.
Of course, playing Indiana Jones would also have had an incredible impact on Selleck’s career. Though Tom Selleck does have underrated movies in his back catalog, he never reached the pinnacle of Hollywood in the way that he once seemed destined to. As it seemed at the time that Selleck had to choose between starring in Raiders of the Lost Ark or Magnum, P.I., it’s possible that Selleck as Jones would have prevented him from ever playing the detective, which turned out to be his most iconic role.
Assuming that Selleck’s Indiana Jones was as popular as Ford’s, Raiders of the Lost Ark would have been a huge boost to his career. Playing Indiana Jones could have catapulted Selleck to the heights of Hollywood stardom in a way that he never otherwise achieved. In addition, it could plausibly have led to other major leading movie roles, something which Selleck has largely missed out on (other than his starring role in the Jesse Stone franchise of noir TV movies).
It’s worth noting that Selleck is a few years younger than Ford, but both actors are fast approaching the age that starring in action blockbusters is becoming less feasible. The question of whether the role of Indiana Jones should be recast after Harrison Ford’s retirement is incredibly divisive. The general consensus appears to be that the role is synonymous with Ford and that replacing him would be a mistake. However, this may not have been an issue had Tom Selleck been Indiana Jones.
Related: Chris Pratt As Indiana Jones Never Would’ve Worked
As Harrison Ford ad-libbed to incorporate his own personality and ideas into the character of Indiana Jones, it’s possible that Selleck may not have done the same. Had the character been a more straight-laced action hero, recasting Indiana Jones would likely be an easier task, as the character may not have become quite so synonymous with the actor. If Selleck had played the role, it may not seem quite so unthinkable to replace him – especially as Jones’ adventures would possibly have played out differently with Selleck as the iconic adventurer.
Tom Selleck was prevented from taking the role by his contract with CBS, in which he’d signed on to play the lead role in Magnum, P.I., for which Selleck was due to film a pilot. After being offered the role, CBS refused to release Selleck from his contract, forcing him to turn down Raiders of the Lost Ark. Interestingly, shooting was then delayed on the pilot for detective show Magnum, P.I. by a full six months, meaning that Selleck could have in fact filmed both without breaching his contract. However, Ford had already stepped in to fill the role, and the rest is history.
Harrison Ford was undeniably a large part of what made the character of Indiana Jones so successful, but there’s no reason to believe that Tom Selleck couldn’t have achieved similar results. That said, the differences between the two actors are interesting when viewed through the lens of the Indiana Jones franchise and likely would have resulted in a very different titular protagonist. Though playing Indiana Jones could have massively boosted Tom Selleck’s career, he may not have been able to do the role justice in the way that Harrison Ford ultimately did.
Next: George Lucas’ Original Indiana Jones 5 Plan Would’ve Killed The Movie
Niall Gray first started writing about film and TV online in 2020, quickly discovering a passion for covering the ins and outs of both the popular and the more obscure. With a particular interest in the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres, his personal favorites include a broad spectrum of content. His specialist subjects would be anything Batman-related, the Rocky movies (any controversial opinions were informed by his other job as a boxing coach), Scrubs, Malcolm in the Middle, or pretty much any other sitcom from the ’00s. When he’s not writing for Screen Rant, Niall also covers all things movie-related at his own site, Corner of Film, where he also hosts and edits a podcast. He also occasionally writes fiction with a focus on horror and dark comedy, and can be found on Twitter @lordofthegray. His secret shame is consuming forgotten movies of questionable quality from the ’90s and ’00s, as well as the fact that he considers 2006’s The Wicker Man a twisted Nic Cage masterpiece.