After being introduced in the 1840s, Sweeney Todd aka the Demon Barber of Fleet Street has been the subject of countless multimedia adaptations, including five feature films released between 1926 and 2007. The latest cinematic version includes Tim Burton’s highly acclaimed horror musical starring Johnny Deep, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Sascha Baron Cohen, and Timothy Spall.

And while Burton’s version became a critical and commercial hit at the box office, it’s always a fun exercise to imagine what the film might look like had it been made a decade prior and with some of the hottest stars of the day.

9 Benjamin Barker/Sweeney Todd: Daniel Day-Lewis

Widely considered one of the finest screen actors of all time, the three-time Oscar-winner, Daniel Day-Lewis, would have been a fantastic get as Sweeney Todd. Day-Lewis only made five films in the 1990s, freeing him up for a potential starring role in the morbid musical. Moreover, Day-Lewis would later show off his singing chops in the musical Nine, proving he can handle musicals with aplomb.

The role of Benjamin Barker aka Sweeny Todd requires a kind of manipulative menace and mendacity to keep his identity shrouded, something Day-Lewis would be able to conceal perhaps even better than Johnny Depp.

8 Nellie Lovett: Whoopi Goldberg

Fresh off her Oscar-winning work in Ghost and her crowd-pleasing song and dance numbers in Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg would be a wise choice to cast as Nellie Lovett in the 1990s, Sweeney’s sadistic partner in crime who turns mutilated corpses into her delicious meat pies. And the thought of seeing Goldberg and Day-Lewis together is a really exciting prospect.

While her work in Ghost and Sister Act are humorous in nature, the fact remains that Goldberg is a terrific dramatic actor who has shown her performative bona fides in The Color Purple, Ghosts of Mississippi, Boyson the Side, and many more. Nellie Lovett requires soft vulnerability to go with her sinister sadism, which Goldberg has proven she can do, time and again.


7 Judge Turpin: Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons often plays a truly terrifying villain, and his role as Judge Turpin in a 1990s version of Sweeney Todd would be a bit of dream casting. Coming off his lone Oscar for his turn in Reversal of Fortune, Irons going toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis couldn’t be a more riveting prospect. Also, Irons has experience performing Stephen Sondheim musicals (A Little Night Music), the composer behind Sweeney Todd’s musical numbers, proving a shorthand that could make the performance soar.

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Judge Turpin is a malevolent rapist without a single redeeming quality, calling for a daring actor like Irons who always fully invests in his antagonistic characters (like Simon in Die Hard with a Vengeance) and he always makes them terrifyingly believable.

6 Johanna Barker: Drew Barrymore

Few young actresses had more popular clout in the 90s than Drew Barrymore, an ideal person to play the pivotal role of Johanna Barker (Jayne Wisener) in Sweeney Todd. An emotional anchor to the story, Johanna is the daughter of Benjamin who the barber attempts to free from Turpin’s ward.

Drew Barrymore has such a universally lovable persona and a bubbly smile that seeing her in such peril would instantly ratchet the dramatic stakes and increase the sympathy felt for not only her but the demonic barber as well. As one of the few good things left in his life, Johanna requires the overwhelming warmth that Barrymore continues to radiate.

5 Beadle Bamford: Anthony Hopkins

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than British actor Anthony Hopkins in the role of Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall) in a ’90s-made Sweeney Todd. Remember, Hopkins might have been the scariest screen villain in Hollywood following his Oscar-winning turn as Hannibal Lecter in 1991.

As Turpin’s odious henchman who meddles in the affairs of others, Hopkins would lend the supreme elegance of his role in The Elephant Man to go with the Lecter’s intelligent but unscrupulous behavior, making for a truly frightening turn as the film’s secondary antagonist.

4 Tobias Ragg: Jake Gyllenhaal

The young role of Tobias Ragg (Ed Sanders), Adolfo Pirelli’s (Sascha Baron Cohen) brave assistant, requires precious gravitas to deliver the final scene with the desired emotional effect. As such, a perfect actor for the role would be a teenage Jake Gyllenhaal following his ’90s work in City Slickers and October Sky.

While Gyllenhaal has yet to showcase his singing talents on the big screen, he made his theatrical musical debut in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George in 2020. In retrospect, the casting seems ideally suited, especially considering what slashing Todd (Day-Lewis) would look like in relation to the Depp-Sanders dynamic in Burton’s version.

3 Lucy Barker: Winona Ryder

As one of the most popular and in-demand actresses of the 1990s, Winona Ryder would make a perfect Lucy Barker. The twice Oscar-nominated actress would not only add to the box office draw, but her supreme acting talent would be also be ideally suited for such a tricky role.

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Remember, Lucy begins as Benjamin’s wife who becomes drugged and raped by Turpin, dismissed by Lovett, and sent to a psychiatric facility, finally ending up wandering the streets as a sad beggar. That kind of harrowing arc requires toughness and tenderness that Ryder has made a career out of, especially in the ’90s. Moreover, her connection with Depp and Burton, at the time, would make the casting even cooler.

2 Adolfo Pirelli: Alfred Molina

Sascha Baron Cohen gives a funny and duplicitous turn as Adolfo Pirelli, Todd’s vengeful former assistant masquerading as a barber. Thinking back to some of the most acclaimed and accomplished European actors of the 1990s, Alfred Molina pops into mind.

Much like Baron Cohen, Molina is an English actor with the ability to accurately portray a multitude of characters from different regions of the world. Born to an Italian mother and Spanish father, not to mention boasting a wealth of musical performances (Fiddler on the Roof), Molina would step in and instantly make the entire production better.

1 Anthony Hope: Christian Bale

Another key role in the story includes Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower), the young sailor who returns to Fleet Street with Todd and falls for his daughter, Johanna. Had the film been made in the ’90s, a fresh-faced Christian Bale coming off his musical turn in Newsies would be a no-brainer casting decision.

While Bale is now considered one of the most dedicated method actors of all time, he showed great acting range as a teenager that proved he could handle such a weighty part as Anthony, whose compassion ends up saving Johanna’s life in the end. Moreover, the mere thought of Bale starring opposite Day-Lewis is an absolute cinephile’s dream.

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