If someone ever invents a machine to let us visit other universes, the first thing we'll do is head for the DVD section. Because the history of science fiction and fantasy is full of things that almost happened — to the point where there's test footage, screen tests, and audition tapes online. Here's some of the most revealing.
Note: In addition to straight-up "test footage," we're also including footage from alternate versions of things, including filmed auditions and screen tests.
Star Trek: Phase Two
Skip to about 3:24 in the above video. This is actual test footage for the 1970s Star Trek series that came awfully close to getting off the ground, starring William Shatner but replacing Spock with a brand new Vulcan, named Xon. You can see actor David Gatreaux doing test shots as Xon in the above video, along with some special effects and uniform test shots.
Here's Paul McGann's audition to play the Doctor in the 1996 TV movie — and his audition footage includes some very different versions of Doctor Who canon, including the Doctor being the grandson of Time Lord President Borusa, and tons of other weird stuff. More details here.
War of the Worlds
Back in 1949-1950, monster-maker extraordinaire Ray Harryhausen tried to make his own movie of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, in the wake of Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast. He shot this test footage to try and drum up interest — and even wrote to Welles himself — but after a meeting with George Pal, who made his own Worlds in 1953, Harryhausen wound up abandoning his dreams.
Another audition video, sorry about that — but this is too great not to include. This is Matthew Fox auditioning for the role of Sawyer, which eventually went to Josh Holloway. It's a much more aggressive version of Sawyer, and the dynamics of the whole group of island castaways would have been way different if Fox had gotten this job.
This video of Tobey Maguire's screentest appears to be for real — and it shows a very Bruce Lee-oriented take on the wall-crawler, with a more violent, intense version than what we actually saw in Sam Raimi's first movie, if memory serves. This is kind of hilariously bad-ass, with the naked torso and the insane beatdown.
Plus here are a couple of videos of screen tests of a very different version of the Green Goblin in Raimi's film — one with a face that's a hybrid of makeup and animatronics, for a more traditional "monster" look than the stylized mask they ended up with in the final movie.
Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) reallly wanted to play Peter Parker in the new Spider-Man reboot series — so he made this audition/screen test video back in 2010, which shows him dealing with a group of high school bullies in the gymnasium. This scene isn't exactly in the Andrew Garfield-starring film, nor is Hutcherson's take on Spidey really all that similar to the goofier version that Garfield eventually brought to the screen.
James Bond: Octopussy
In 1983, Roger Moore was sick of playing James Bond, so the producers were looking for a new Bond actor — and they stumbled on James Brolin (The Amityville Horror). Sure, Brolin was an American, but they thought they could make it work — to the point where they did a bunch of screen tests with Brolin as Bond, before Moore finally decided to come back for a couple more movies.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
This video of Daniel Radcliffe's screen test also includes a scene between Harry and Hagrid that doesn't really happen quite like this in either the book or the movie — in the book, it's Hermione, not Harry, who points out that Hagrid lives in a wooden house. (It's also just insane to realize how young Radcliffe really was when he was cast as Harry.) There's some of the full trio, further along in the video.
This isn't an alternate version or anything — but I can't stop watching this test footage of a car turning into a robot, from ILM, probably early in the process of creating Michael Bay's movie. It's the polar opposite of what we ended up with on screen — this transformation looks fluid and graceful, and you can see all the moving parts. There's no blurry CG wobbles and millions of spiky bits flying in all directions as the robot goes through a transformation that makes no sense to the human eye. This is simple and jaw-poppingly realized.
Mark Hamill's screen test as Luke Skywalker, with some help from Harrison Ford. This is a very very different version of the scene where the Millennium Falcon arrives at the place where Alderaan (or in this version Organa Major) is supposed to be — but it's been destroyed. This is a much more involved discussion of the situation, including the background radiation and the fact that it would take a thousand ships with insane firepower to destroy this planet. And there's a long debate over what to do next, and how to find the hidden rebel base.
The 1966 TV show came incredibly close to starring Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell instead of Adam West and Burt Ward. Check out some test footage featuring the alternate Bat-cast. Yes, that's Col. Steve Trevor as Batman! A much more high strung, less stylized Batman, and it's hard to imagine the show working the same with these two.
The producer of the Batman TV show really tried to get a similarly campy Wonder Woman show off the ground, to the point of filming this test reel. The voiceover at about 3 minutes in, when Diana changes to Wonder Woman, is kind of horrifying. She knows she has the speed of Mercury — but she only thinks she has the beauty of Aphrodite! Suffering Sappho.
Because the cancelled Nic Cage Superman movie is the gift that keeps on giving, here's some of the tons of test footage of Superman's light-up disco suit, powered by lasers, that they were developing for Tim Burton's film.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2
This purports to be the test footage for a second Roger Rabbit movie, which was planned in the 1990s until Michael Eisner decided the 3D conversion wasn't going to be up to scratch. There were two test reels, and this appears to be the second one, which was entirely CG instead of a mix of traditional animation and CG (plus live-action, of course.)
This is Amy Acker's screen test for the part of Fred — I remember the first part of this scene from the aired episode, but not the part where everybody starts speaking Elizabethan English. (Is that part in the aired episode? In that case, my bad.) In any case, watching Alexis Denisof speak Shakesperean lines is a good preparation for going to see Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, and this scene is hilariously cute.
Robert Downey Jr.'s screen tests includes a quite different version of the scene between Tony Stark and the reporter, debating the ethics of military spending — it's less funny and more angry than the version in the final movie. And then a very wacky scene of Tony talking to the troops in the field about Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Thanks to reader Alden Ryan for bringing this one up — this is Tom Selleck's screen test as Indiana Jones, before he was unable to get out of his Magnum, P.I. gig.