The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Actor: Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave
The Risk: Wes Anderson's usual leading men have form in comedy, so when he cast the ultra-intense Fiennes alarm bells rang about the actor's suitability for comedy. Hasn't Wes seen Maid In Manhattan ?
Did It Pay Off? Fiennes is a revelation channelling Leonard Rossiter as the pernickety, hilarious profane concierge. More, please.
Die Hard (1988)
The Actor: Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber
The Risk: Risky enough to give Bruce Willis a shot as action hero? Maybe, but McTiernan enhanced Die Hard 's uniqueness by favouring Rickman, a Hollywood debutant who, only a year earlier, had been deemed too much of a gamble to play the lead in Dangerous Liaisons (the role that had made Rickman a star on Broadway).
Did It Pay Off? Rickman not only stole the film; he gave Hollywood a taste for urbane, British-accented villains that has never died.
Green Street (2005)
The Actor: Elijah Wood as Matt Buckner
The Risk: Fresh from Middle Earth, Wood surprised everyone by showing up in Britain as the American college student who becomes a football hooligan. Are you lost, little hobbit?
Did It Pay Off? Wood wasn't the most convincing hard-man but the film did succeed (alongside Sin City , which debuted the same month) in shedding the actor's squeaky-clean image. These days, from Wilfred to Maniac , Wood seeks out the weirder end of the spectrum.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
The Actor: Francois Truffaut as Claude Lacombe
The Risk: Truffaut had acted in several of his own films, yet Steven Spielberg's choice to give the French director (one of his idols) a leading role was felt by many to be an act of hero worship too far.
Did It Pay Off? Spielberg's instincts were spot on, as the film's wisps of plot needed a strong authorial presence to unify everything. Truffaut has the necessary sense of quiet command… but also the childlike awe to sell the film's light-show.
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994)
The Actor: Terence Stamp as Bernadette Basinger
The Risk: It's odd enough to today's audience that Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce made their name playing drag queens. At the time, though, the biggest shock was seeing Stamp - General Zod himself! - as a grieving transsexual.
Did It Pay Off? Stamp himself had his doubts but has just the right blend of pathos and prickliness for the part; he was duly BAFTA- and Golden Globe-nominated.
Ned Kelly (1970)
The Actor: Mick Jagger as Ned Kelly
The Risk: Albert Finney and Ian McKellen had circled this biopic of the Aussie outlaw, but the buzz surrounding Jagger's (then unseen) Performance got the Rolling Stones frontman the gig, much to the consternation of actors' unions.
Did It Pay Off? Sadly, the film exposed Jagger's lack of range; there's a big difference between playing a rebel on stage and trying to inhabit somebody who was genuinely mad, bad and dangerous to know.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
The Actor: Jimmy Cagney as Bottom
The Risk: Cagney had achieved stardom as the violent gangster of The Public Enemy , causing heads to turn when he was cast as the hapless Shakespearian player who gets turned into a donkey.
Did It Pay Off? Never forget - actors don't become talented overnight. Cagney's background was in vaudeville, and it showed here. Suddenly, casting directors had new places to take Cagney, ultimately leading to his Oscar playing song-and-dance man George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy .
L.A. Confidential (1997)
The Actor: Guy Pearce as Ed Exley
The Risk: Mike from Neighbours as an L.A. cop? Really? We'd barely got used to the idea of him as one of Priscilla's drag queens.
Did It Pay Off? In a film full of revelatory comebacks (Kim Basinger) and A-list calling cards (Russell Crowe), Pearce is arguably the most intriguing presence, an air of intrigue that has continued into films as diverse as Memento and Iron Man 3 .
Flash Gordon (1980)
The Actor: Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon
The Risk: Ex-Playgirl centrefold Jones certainly looked the part as the universe-saving American football star, but alongside the huge thespian presence of Max Von Sydow and Brian Blessed, could he deliver on more than looks?
Did It Pay Off? According to legend, Jones was redubbed in post-production, which may have harmed his post-Flash acting career. But he remains indelible and iconic in the role, judging from his affectionate cameo in Ted .
Get Carter (1971)
The Actor: Michael Caine as Jack Carter
The Risk: Caine was Britain's most popular star on the back of the cheeky, Swinging Sixties persona of Alfie and The Italian Job - yet Jack Carter represented a brusque, brutal descent into sociopathy. Could Caine pull it off?
Did It Pay Off? While the film wasn't a hit, it endures as perhaps the finest British gangster thriller - and a frighteningly intense Caine is very convincing. Arguably, this is the performance that revealed he is also a great actor.
The Good Girl (2002)
The Actor: Jennifer Aniston as Justine Last
The Risk: Aniston was still deep into Friends' decade-long run when she took the part of a bored, adulterous shop assistant - a stretch too far for the eternally perky Rachel Green?
Did It Pay Off? Aniston is better than the low-key film that surrounds her but - despite critical praise - her reinvention was little seen. She's largely played safe since.
The Actor: Jonah Hill as Peter Brand
The Risk: Hill was a sure-thing in gross-out comedy but his dramatic abilities were largely untested when Bennett Miller gave him the coveted role of Brad Pitt's #2 in his true-life baseball biopic.
Did It Pay Off? Hill showcases new dramatic skills - but still has the comic timing to nail the zingers in Aaron Sorkin's script. The combo bagged Hill an Oscar nomination as well as a possible future outside comedy, as proven when he repeated the trick in The Wolf Of Wall Street .
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
The Actor: Denise Richards as Dr Christmas Jones
The Risk: The key word is 'Dr.' The role calls for a nuclear physicist; Richards was then best known for baring all in Wild Things . The disconnect seems obvious.
Did It Pay Off? Well… let's be charitable and say that Richards nails the requirements of the classic Bond girl. As for portraying a convincing scientist, nope.
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Actor: Heath Ledger as The Joker
The Risk: Despite the acclaim that greeted his performance in Brokeback Mountain , mainstream audiences deemed Ledger a heartthrob and a lightweight choice as the anarchic Joker. But Ledger had plans, and decamped to his hotel room for a month to get into character.
Did It Pay Off? Oh yes. It's a wild, electrifying performance that raised the bar for supervillainy, and the shockwaves - from Ledger's tragic death to his posthumous Oscar - have sealed Ledger's rep as one of the big 'what if's' in modern cinema.
Little Buddha (1993)
The Actor: Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha
The Risk: Somebody questions his range every time Reeves is cast as anything other than a surf dude, but even his most ardent fans were surprised when Bernardo Bertolucci cast him as the founder of Buddhism.
Did It Pay Off? Not really - but by the end of the decade Reeves had found a spiritual leader we could believe in, aka ass-kicking Neo in The Matrix .
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Actor: Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff
The Risk: All of Double Indemnity subverts expectations. Screen gangster Edward G. Robinson plays the hero, while box-office queen Barbara Stanwyck is an amoral femme fatale... and yet Billy Wilder's biggest curveball was hiring MacMurray, famed for his nice guy image in comedies, as the hapless schmuck who becomes a murderer.
Did It Pay Off? MacMurray's pre-Indemnity roles are largely forgotten today. His reputation rests chiefly on his performance here (and in his later reunion with Wilder, The Apartment ).
The Actor: Mariah Carey as Ms Weiss
The Risk: It takes a lot to trump the casting of Mo'Nique and Lenny Kravitz for shock value, but Carey as a social worker? C'mon, Lee Daniels, you're winding us up!
Did It Pay Off? The film is so uncompromising in its emotional impact that, quite frankly, it's easy to forget we're watching a diva, and Carey brings a totally unexpected grounded empathy.
The Actor: Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne
The Risk: Warner Brothers received 5,000 protest letters from angry fans after Keaton - known primarily for his work in comedy - was cast as the Caped Crusader.
Did It Pay Off? Keaton reined in his manic side to portray the "edgy, tormented quality" favoured by Tim Burton. Admittedly, Jack Nicholson's Joker did no such thing, making Keaton a surprisingly muted hero, but he's easily the finest screen Batman prior to Christian Bale.
The Actor: Julie Andrews as Sally Miles
The Risk: Andrews, in her mid-forties, satirised her wholesome screen image as the goody-two-shoes actress persuaded to go topless in her latest film by her director husband (paralleling real-life, as S.O.B. was directed by Andrews' husband Blake Edwards).
Did It Pay Off? The film has forever become known for showing that (as Johnny Carson put it) "the hills are still alive," but it didn't dent Andrews' reputation and she secured her third Oscar nomination in her next collaboration with Edwards, Victor Victoria .
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Actors: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard as Heather, Mike and Josh.
The Risk: It's one thing to hire unknowns to star in your low-budget horror movie. It's another thing entirely to ask them to shoot the entire film with only basic training in how to operate camera or sound equipment.
Did It Pay Off? The amateurishness nailed the 'found footage' aesthetic that directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick wanted, en route to a record-breaking budget-to-gross ratio.
Punch Drunk Love (2002)
The Actor: Adam Sandler as Barry Egan
The Risk: Paul Thomas Anderson had a rep as the hottest young talent in independent cinema. Sandler, it's fair to say, didn't - so their collaboration caused many to worry.
Did It Pay Off? It's impossible to see anybody other than Sandler in the role, as Anderson cleverly subverted and deepened the actor's persona as rage-prone man-child. The film also gave Sandler an (admittedly sporadic) interest in stretching himself beyond Razzie-winning slapstick.
The River Wild (1994)
The Actor: Meryl Streep as Gail
The Risk: Admittedly, there wasn't exactly a surplus of female action stars in the early 1990s, but even so - Streep? Her with all the accents and Oscar nominations?
Did It Pay Off? Streep can do no wrong, really, and critics praised her performance even if audiences were no-shows. However, after nearly drowning during filming Streep elected not to return to the genre.
Killer Joe (2012)
The Actor: Matthew McConaughey as Joe Cooper
The Risk: Despite returning to his A Time To Kill form with The Lincoln Lawyer , McConaughey was still that 'rom-com guy' when William Friedkin deployed the star's charm as a front for all kinds of dark amorality.
Did It Pay Off? The Lincoln Lawyer could be dismissed as a fluke, but McConaughey's command here served notice that a major comeback (a McConaissance, if you will) was in the offing. Fast forward a few years and there's nobody better in Hollywood.
The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982)
The Actor: Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan
The Risk: Peter Weir couldn't find what he was looking for to play the male Chinese-American dwarf - despite auditions from reliable character actors Bob Balaban and Wallace Shawn - until he saw a photograph of Hunt and decided that the woman was his best bet.
Did It Pay Off? Audiences bought Hunt's performance completely, thanks in part to her chemistry with star Mel Gibson. The Academy likewise fell for her, awarding Hunt Best Supporting Actress for her gender-bending role.
Captain Phillips (2013)
The Actor: Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse
The Risk: Paul Greengrass was determined to cast Somali actors and a casting call in the Somali-American community of Minneapolis discovered Abdi, then a limo driver.
Did It Pay Off? "I'm the captain now," Abdi declared and sure enough it was the newcomer who won a BAFTA and was Oscar nominated.
The Actor: Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett
The Risk: Despite his Oscar nomination for Big , Hanks' dramatic chops were largely untested when he was cast as dying AIDS victim Beckett. Could he swap his light-hearted nice guy routine for something tougher?
Did It Pay Off? Hanks' box-office appeal as an Everyman (confirmed by the same year's Sleepless In Seattle ) was boosted by the star's rich, naturalistic performance. The Oscar followed, and set Hanks on a largely drama-filled career.
The Actor: Tom Cruise as Frank Mackey
The Risk: Cruise's looooong time out of the limelight filming Eyes Wide Shut made it essential he reminded audiences of his crowd-pleasing stardom. Taking a small role in an ensemble and shouting, "Respect the cock, tame the cunt" probably wasn't what his agent had in mind.
Did It Pay Off? Cruise is revelatory, visibly energised by moving out of his usual comfort zone. It secured the actor his third (albeit, to date, last) Oscar nomination and confirmed that, beyond the blockbusters, there lurks an actor with range.
The Actor: Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates
The Risk: Gus Van Sant's entire project of a shot-for-shot remake of the Hitchcock classic was a risk. Even so, the cocky comedy star - fresh off Swingers - wouldn't have been many people's first choice to step into Anthony Perkins' shoes.
Did It Pay Off? Vaughn - far too knowing to portray Bates' naivety - took as much flak for Psycho as his director. His subsequent career as a Frat Pack mainstay suggests that Vaughn probably agrees that comedy is his natural genre.
Dancer In The Dark (2000)
The Actor: Björk as Selma Jeková
The Risk: Hot off the controversial The Idiots , Lars Von Trier's Dogme-styled, ultra-bleak musical needed a singing star at its centre - but also an actress capable of mining the story's cruel emotions. Could the eccentric Icelander hack it?
Did It Pay Off? Sort of. The critics were polarised on the merits of Björk's performance, but her innovative soundtrack was lauded and she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival.
American Psycho (2000)
The Actor: Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman
The Risk: Director Mary Harron wanted ex-child star Bale, unproven in adult roles. The studio favoured Leonardo DiCaprio, hot off Titanic . Surprisingly, Harron won - but would her faith in Bale be rewarded?
Did It Pay Off? Forget Batman; Bateman is the role that forged Bale's rep. It's difficult to see DiCaprio being so cold-blooded. (Ironically, both men were rivals again this year at the Oscars, although neither won.)
Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)
The Actor: Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco
The Risk: Curtis savaged his clean-cut, matinee idol image with his sleazy performance as the amoral, "I'll-do-anything-for-a-dollar" PR agent.
Did It Pay Off? At the time, no - director Alexander Mackendrick reported seeing audiences "recoil from the screen in disgust." Today, though, the film is a classic and Curtis' performance deemed one of his best - and it gave the actor confidence to go even darker as The Boston Strangler .
The Actor: Eric Bana as Mark 'Chopper' Read
The Risk: Celebrity criminal Read had beguiled Australia with his jokey, blokey accounts of his psychopathic past. It was a dream role for every serious Aussie actor - yet Andrew Dominik opted for comic actor Bana, a choice that drew considerable speculation as to whether Bana had the chops.
Did It Pay Off? Dominik's thinking was astute, as Read carried himself like a stand-up comic, and Bana captured the contradictions. Hollywood duly came knocking and Bana has never looked back.
The Actor: Christopher Reeve as Kal-El
The Risk: The list of A-listers who wanted - or were approached - for the biggest role in Hollywood is mind-boggling. Stage actor Reeve was the leftfield casting director's choice and wowed the creative team with his screen test.
Did It Pay Off? Reeve is still underrated for the wit, command and emotional range of his performance(s) as Superman and Clark Kent - which is perhaps why directors found him difficult to cast afterwards, before his tragic accident and early death robbed him of further opportunities.
Superman Returns (2006)
The Actor: Brandon Routh as Kal-El
The Risk: If Christopher Reeve was a gamble, then spare a thought for Bryan Singer when he has to recast the role for his reboot/sequel. Determined to repeat 1978's success in casting an unknown, Routh (without a film credit prior to 2006) got the part.
Did It Pay Off? Routh received mixed reviews, but both fans and critics commented on his uncanny likeness to Reeve. As a result, he's become even more typecast than his predecessor.
The Killing Fields (1984)
The Actor: Haing S. Ngor as Dith Pran
The Risk: Roland Joffé wanted authenticity in his Khymer Rouge drama. They didn't get much more authentic than Ngor, a Cambodian doctor and Khymer Rouge survivor - but he had never acted. Would the authenticity be worth it?
Did It Pay Off? Watch the chilling scene where Pran discovers the titular mass graves, and try to think of an actor who could match Ngor's horror. He duly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but acting came second to activism before his tragic murder in 1996.
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
The Actor: Vinnie Jones as Big Chris
The Risk: The Vinnie Jones? The footballer? The gonad-clutching Wimbledon hard-man? Him? Acting? Really?
Did It Pay Off? Guy Ritchie's debut was an unexpected hit, and Jones' enthusiastic performance was a key part of its homegrown charm. Jones has never found a role to match it but then, you only need to win the FA Cup once to make the history books, don't you?
One Hour Photo (2002)
The Actor: Robin Williams as Seymour Parrish
The Risk: There was obviously something in the air in 2002, as both Mark Romanek (and Christopher Nolan, in Insomnia ) decided to subvert Williams' manic positivity into creepier territory.
Did It Pay Off? Arguably too well. Williams received some of the best reviews of his career, but has struggled to recapture his form in family-friendly movies. Indeed, probably his best role since One Hour Photo has been in the equally disquieting World's Greatest Dad .
Iron Man (2008)
The Actor: Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark
The Risk: Great actor, sure, and back to his best in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Zodiac - but could Downey, Jr connect with a mainstream, global audience? After a tumultuous personal life and a hit-or-miss career, it wasn't a sure thing.
Did It Pay Off? The star's in-built sense of danger and wildness was perfect for Tony Stark, and paved the way for Marvel's consistently daring approach to casting. Downey, Jr, meanwhile, has never looked back, securing himself a second big-budget franchise in Sherlock Holmes .
Bridget Jones' Diary (2001)
The Actor: Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones
The Risk: Bridget was arguably BritLit's most iconic female character of the 1990s - an awkward, overweight Everywoman. Casting a petite Texan like Zellweger was just asking for trouble.
Did It Pay Off? Zellweger nailed the accent, the attitude and the big-panted arse - and won her first Oscar nomination to boot.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Actor: Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade
The Risk: Hard man Bogart had impressed in a rare leading role in High Sierra , but still played a gangster - so when Bogart's friend (and High Sierra screenwriter) John Huston cast him as Dashiel Hammett's heroic private eye, it felt like a stretch too far.
Did It Pay Off? Ask George Raft. The star passed on both High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon , facilitating Bogart's rise as a new kind of world-weary hero. Casablanca , The Big Sleep and some of Hollywood's greatest performances followed.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
The Actor: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
The Risk: Faced with the task of adapting a theme park ride for family audiences, the sensible thing would have been to cast a safe pair of hands. Instead, oddball Depp - whose leftfield tastes were reflected in his fluctuating box office - got the gig.
Did It Pay Off? An overnight transformation from the pretty/weird guy to a proper old-school, everybody-loves-him A-lister, capped by Depp's first Oscar nomination.
The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946)
The Actor: Harold Russell as Homer Parrish
The Risk: The role called for a returning WWII sailor who had lost both of his hands. Wyler realised he had seen Russell - an Army instructor whose hands were blown off in an accident - in a documentary about rehabilitated veterans and cast the non-professional for verisimilitude.
Did It Pay Off? Homer is the heart of Wyler's epic, and Russell is very moving - so much so that he bagged two Oscars for his performances, adding an honorary award to his competitive win as Best Supporting Actor.
Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
The Actor: Henry Fonda as Frank
The Risk: Sergio Leone was adamant that perennial good guy Fonda should don a black hat as the villain at the centre of his epic, subversive Western. When the star showed up on set with contact lens and a beard, Leone overruled him - he wanted the blue-eyed baby-faced star to be seen.
Did It Pay Off? Fonda remains the benchmark for casting a heroic star against type, fulfilling Leone's vision that "the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera tilts up to the gunman's face and...it's Henry Fonda."
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
The Actor: George Lazenby as James Bond
The Risk: Various actors were mooted to replace Sean Connery as 007, but in the end Cubby Broccoli opted for Australian model Lazenby after seeing him in an advert for Fry's Chocolate Cream.
Did It Pay Off? It depends who you ask. OHMSS took a hit at the box office and Lazenby was blamed, leading producers to parachute Connery back into the role. Yet posterity has been kind to Lazenby's blend of sensitivity and athleticism, which suits this most ambitious and emotional of Bond films.
I'm Not There (2007)
The Actor: Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan
The Risk: For most directors, it would be mad enough to cast multiple actors as different 'aspects' of Bob Dylan. Not Todd Haynes, who elected to give Blanchett the choice role of Dylan-as-60s-rebel.
Did It Pay Off? Blanchett stole the film (from the likes of Christian Bale and Ben Whishaw, no less), capturing Dylan's mercurial energy and exploring subtle shades of femininity in the character.
The Conqueror (1956)
The Actor: John Wayne as Genghis Khan
The Risk: A biopic of the Mongol warlord was always going to be hard to cast in an era where studios thought nothing of encasing white actors in 'yellowface' make-up. Even so, the famously limited Western hero was a leftfield choice.
Did It Pay Off? Hardly. The film flopped, and Wayne's performance is still regarded as one of the worst pieces of miscasting in Hollywood history.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Actor: John Travolta as Vincent Vega
The Risk: Travolta's career had been in long-term decline since his late 1970s heyday when Quentin Tarantino rescued him from Look Who's Talking sequels as the first-among-equals in the film's amazing ensemble.
Did It Pay Off? Whether spoofing his dancing past or looking immaculate in a suit, Tarantino's instincts were spot-on, earning Travolta a Best Actor nomination and a brief return to the top - at least, until the actor unleashed Battlefield Earth .
The Godfather (1972)
The Actor: Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone
The Risk: Francis Ford Coppola reckoned he had to cast the best actor in the world, but by studio estimates, Brando hadn't had a hit since the 1950s. What definition of best are you using, Francis?
Did It Pay Off? And how. Brando rebuilt his rep from the ground up, acing a humiliating screen test, ruling the roost over a new generation of stars and proving so formidable he even turned down his comeback Oscar.
Casino Royale (2006)
The Actor: Daniel Craig as James Bond
The Risk: Pierce Brosnan was such an obvious choice as 007 as the Eon producers felt it needed a change - somebody who could be credibly tough and gritty to compete with Jason Bourne. Even so, Craig proved a hard sell to certain sections of Bond fandom, not least for his hair colour.
Did It Pay Off? Double-oh yes. Casino Royale was a smash, Craig was BAFTA-nominated and James Bond was on his way to a box office conquering 50th anniversary with Skyfall .
Gone With The Wind (1939)
The Actor: Vivienne Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara
The Risk: Producer David O. Selznick had put nearly every actress in Hollywood through an exhausting casting process, in order to find the perfect Scarlett for his big-budget gamble. Ultimately, he decided to cast the then-unknown Brit as the none-more-Southern belle.
Did It Pay Off? Few actresses are as indelibly linked with a role as Leigh is with O'Hara. Audiences accepted her more freely than they might a 'name,' and Leigh waltzed off with the Oscar.