Tom Cruise almost starred in David Lynch’s Dune

Tom Cruise was in contention to play Paul Atreides in David Lynch’s Dune but had issues with the language and was too young looking.

Last Updated on October 27, 2023

Dune Tom Cruise

After Risky Business, Tom Cruise was catapulted into the spotlight. Sure, there was Taps and The Outsiders, but once he slid across the floor in his skivvies, he was it. And he could choose any project he wanted, including a picture with David Lynch. As it turns out, Tom Cruise was in contention for the role of Paul Atreides in 1984’s Dune but couldn’t quite grasp Frank Herbert’s language.

As detailed in Max Evry’s oral history A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune, Tom Cruise could have led the sci-fi flop instead of, you know, headlining Top Gun and shooting pool with Paul Newman. According to Everett McGill, who played Fremen leader Stilgar, “I have a faint recollection that Tom Cruise had some difficulty with the language during his screen test.” Sean Young, who played Chani, delivered an odd cheapshot, saying, “Maybe they hadn’t gotten him at the Scientology Celebrity Centre yet, helped him with his speech.”

But Young also had her own take on why Tom Cruise didn’t land Dune. “Tom wasn’t on his best game. I just remember him not really having a footing. I was a little bit taller than Tom, and I think that bothered him. He didn’t want to audition opposite somebody that was looking down, and that’s been a problem…” 

At the same time, casting director Craig Campobasso has a different theory as to why Dune didn’t work out for Tom Cruise. “They just felt he was too young. He wasn’t famous yet, but he looked like he was 16. He was baby faced, and I think they wanted somebody a little more mature. That was what they said afterward.”

Of course, the role of Paul Atreides would be the first role for Kyle MacLachlan, who would be a David Lynch favorite. This inevitably begs the question: if Tom Cruise had been cast in Dune, would he have next been slinging Pabst Blue Ribbons with Dennis Hopper? Probably not, but we’d love to hear his recordings to Diane!

Notably, Val Kilmer was once the top choice to play the lead in Dune. Wonder if Maverick and Iceman chatted about that on the set of Top Gun…?

How do you think Tom Cruise would have done as Paul Atreides in Dune? How might his career be different if he got the role?

Source: 1984 Publishing

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Mathew is an East Coast-based writer and film aficionado who has been working with periodically since 2006. When he’s not writing, you can find him on Letterboxd or at a local brewery. If he had the time, he would host the most exhaustive The Wonder Years rewatch podcast in the universe.