It might help give us perspective to look back at some other major cases of last-minute director replacements, if only to remember that there are just as many great films that come out of tumultuous circumstances like these as there are steaming piles of crap that were micromanaged to death. Some of these swaps were amicable, others involved firings, some were for better, some were for worse, while a few of these films seemed doomed from the get-go...
Gallery | 11 Movies That Swapped Directors at the Last Minute
- 'X-Men: The Last Stand' (2006)
Matthew Vaughn to Brett Ratner
DESTINY: Financial success, critical failure
In what is perhaps pure speculation, the rumor mill has it that one of the big reasons Matthew Vaughn didn't get the gig to helm the already-rushed "Star Wars: Episode VII" is because of his habit of walking off films when it doesn't please him. For instance, he ditched Marvel's inaugural "Thor" film to make "Kick-Ass" as well as this summer's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" to make "Kingsman: The Secret Service." However, one cannot fault him for leaving "X-Men: The Last Stand" a mere six-weeks before filming, later citing a rushed schedule and his desire not to be "the guy accused of making a bad 'X-Men' movie." Indeed, journeyman Brett Ratner took a lot of heat from fans and critics for the final product, despite using much of Vaughn's storyboards and cast. Paradoxically, "Last Stand" still stands as the highest-grossing entry in the entire mutant saga.
- 'The Hobbit' (2012-2014)
Guillermo del Toro to Peter Jackson
DESTINY: Financial success, critical disappointment
From the beginning, Peter Jackson made it very clear he did not want to direct "The Hobbit." His work adapting J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" resulted in one of the most beloved movie trilogies of all-time, so beloved that he felt reluctant to revisit that world and risk comparison. Enter Guillermo del Toro, a visual dynamo if there ever was one, whose "Pan's Labyrinth" was practically a calling card to bring Tolkien's prequel story to life. After two-years of work, MGM's bankruptcy kept the production from being greenlit, and despite all the enthusiasm he poured into the project del Toro had to exit lest he spend an indefinite amount of time twiddling his thumbs in New Zealand. Ultimately Jackson sucked it up and took the reins of what became another trilogy featuring his signature menagerie of CGI effects, though not before suffering through further delays, a union dispute, and a perforated ulcer. The resulting first two films have grossed close to $2-billion worldwide, but have alienated fans who feel, as Jackson always feared, that his interpretation of this magical realm has grown stale.
- 'The Wolfman' (2010)
Mark Romanek to Joe Johnston
Another talented filmmaker who can't seem to take any guff from big studios is Romanek, who cut his teeth helming music videos and commercials. His ability with actors and edgy sensibilities displayed in "One Hour Photo" and "Never Let Me Go" proved he's a talent to be reckoned with, but opportunities to helm big pictures like Disney's live-action "Cinderella" or Sony's "The Lost Symbol" have proven fruitless. Perhaps most shocking was his dramatic exit from Universal's "Wolfman" remake a mere three weeks before production, and after spending a year of his life working on it. Scrambling through many potential replacements like Brett Ratner, James Mangold, and Frank Darabont, they settled on Joe Johnston, who, despite his expertise with period films ("The Rocketeer") and special effects ("Jumanji"), had never helmed an R-rated horror film. With little time to prep, Johnston had no choice but to rely on much of Romanek's storyboards, set designs, schedule and cast (Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins). The film languished in post-production for two-years before being released to critical derision, poor box-office, and -- despite an Academy Award for Best Makeup -- even the studio head Ron Meyer called it "one of the worst movies we ever made."
- 'Enemy Mine' (1985)
Richard Loncraine to Wolfgang Petersen
"To me it was 'Hell in the Pacific' in outer space with a hermaphrodite." That's Terry Gilliam discussing why he turned down the offer to direct "Enemy Mine," despite everyone at the studio telling him he would be "bigger than Spielberg" if he made it. Boy did hindsight prove the studio way wrong. The story of a human (Dennis Quaid) and an alien (Louis Gossett Jr.) who are forced to help each other survive when they are marooned on a hostile planet had all kinds of weird elements, including a scene of an actual mine because 20th Century Fox thought audiences would be too stupid to understand the figurative title. Also, a man alien having a baby. Yuck. The guy who did take it on, British helmer Richard Loncraine, reportedly clashed with producers and yielded footage so "unsatisfactory" that the studio halted production and considered canceling it altogether. They finally brought in Wolfgang Petersen, hot off "The Neverending Story," who moved production from Budapest to Bavaria, necessitating entirely new sets and makeup, as well as months of the actors being expensively held. While in some places visually arresting, the $40-million-dollar sci-fi curiosity drew derision from critics, bombing super hard. Petersen's career wouldn't rebound until 1993's "In the Line of Fire."
- 'Rain Man' (1988)
Steven Spielberg to Barry Levinson
Here's a best-case scenario: One great director amiably passing the baton to another, resulting in a great film. Spielberg had spent five months working with screenwriter Barry Morrow on fine-tuning the story of a road trip taken by two brothers, one of whom happens to be an idiot savant. He helped guide the touching story into what it ultimately became, especially by discarding studio-mandated ideas like Raymond building a motorcycle in order to escape a biker gang. Ultimately his commitments to "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" pulled Spielberg away, a decision he regretted after finding the finished "Rain Man" "emotionally very distancing." Despite being torn from the project, he graciously gave all of his notes to director Barry Levinson (for whom he previously produced "Young Sherlock Holmes"), and it went on to become the No. 1 movie of the year, garnering four Oscars including Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture, not to mention the eternal phrase "Gotta watch Wopner."
- 'Superman 2' (1981/2006)
Richard Donner to Richard Lester to Richard Donner
DESTINY: Cult success
In 1978 Richard Donner delivered the film that inarguably kicked off the modern era of comic book movies: "Superman." It was madly successful, and praised for its heart and verisimilitude. Donner's reward? Getting his butt fired by producers The Salkinds, with whom he had clashed over budgetary issues as well as his thwarting their attempts to make the film campier. He had actually shot 75% of "Superman II" simultaneously with the first movie, but when he was replaced the new director Richard Lester ("A Hard Day's Night") used only 25% of that footage in order to make the new film his own. What he added (a new opening at the Eiffel Tower, lots of slapstick during the final battle with General Zod, etc.) was jarring to fans, who clamored to see Donner's vision restored. In 2006 they got their wish when Warner Bros. commissioned a restoration titled "Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut," which most agree was a marked improvement packed with truth, justice, and the American way. That's some super vindication.
- 'WarGames' (1983)
Martin Brest to John Badham
Matthew Broderick became cinema's first computer hacker in one of the '80s most memorable near-disaster movies about a kid who unwittingly breaks into NORAD's missile defense system, almost starting World War III. It's such a funny, winning story of mutually assured destruction that you can't tell what a genuine disaster it almost was. You see, the original director Martin Brest had an altogether darker, "Dr. Strangelove"-style take on the material, one which the producers never fully got behind. Twelve days into the shoot they dismissed Brest and brought in John Badham of "Saturday Night Fever" fame, which on paper sounds awful but in reality worked wonders. Badham loosened up the cast and added more humor to counterpoint the graveness of the stakes (i.e. the annihilation of the human race), crafting genuinely youthful performances from Broderick and Ally Sheedy. The film was one of the biggest hits of the year, earned praise from President Ronald Reagan, and was even referenced in this year's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Captain America has seen it! As for Brest (some of whose scenes are still in the picture), he went on to helm the biggest hit of 1984, "Beverly Hills Cop," in which Eddie Murphy amazingly wears the exact same navy blue hoodie that Broderick wears in "WarGames."
- 'Radio Flyer' (1992)
David Mickey Evans to Richard Donner
Keeping in mind his traumatic experience on "Superman 2," you would think Richard Donner would be adverse to a forced takeover from another filmmaker, right? This is Hollywood, baby, and you'd be wrong. David Mickey Evans sold his "Radio Flyer" script for a whopping $1.25-million fresh out of film school, but after he began shooting in earnest on his directorial debut producer Lauren Shuler Donner nixed him for inexperience. Her replacement was not hard to find, as he was her husband. Donner invests a great deal of his skill into weaving a magical story of a boy ultimately escaping from child abuse on a flying wagon, but not even uncredited narrator Tom Hanks can convince us that this is a viable option for anyone not in a movie. The budget skyrocketed from $15-million to $35-million after costly reshoots, but "Radio Flyer" never took off with audiences and crashed spectacularly at the box office.
- 'The Running Man' (1987)
Andrew Davis to Paul Michael Glaser
Loosely based on a Stephen King short story written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, the pre-"Hunger Games" concept of a reality TV show where contestants battle to the death doesn't seem nearly as far-fetched as it did in the '80s. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the perfect choice to play the hero caught in a primetime snuff film/game show, but was upset when the original director Andrew Davis got let go only eight days into shooting for going millions over-budget and four-days behind schedule. Producer Rob Cohen (who later launched the "Fast and Furious" franchise) chose TV-helmer and former "Starsky and Hutch" star Paul Michael Glaser to guide the mayhem, but Ah-nuld insists the inexperienced director shot the film like a TV show. Glaser would go on to make Shaquile O'Neal starrer "Kazaam," while Davis would find action success with "Under Siege" and "The Fugitive." He and The Governator would eventually make beautiful music together with 2002's "Collateral Damage."
- 'Tombstone' (1993)
Kevin Jarre to George P. Cosmastos and... Kurt Russell?
In the early '90s, late-screenwriter Kevin Jarre, hot off writing the historical drama "Glory," was given the chance to make his directorial debut telling the story of Wyatt Earp and his famous showdown at the O.K. Corral. Problem was his epic script gave EVERY character involved in the 30-second shootout an elaborate backstory. Jarre's refusal to cut down his script coupled with his old-fashioned storytelling sense meant that he was fired after the production ran severely behind. "Rambo 2" director George P. Cosmastos was brought in to streamline the story and make the film, which not only surprised at the box office but beat out Kevin Costner's competing "Wyatt Earp" film. In 2006, a year after Cosmastos passed away, star Kurt Russell revealed that it was he who actually ghost directed the film, supplying Cosmastos with a shot list every night, and even trimming a good deal of his own scenes to favor his other cast members. That's right, Val Kilmer was his Huckleberry. Charlton Heston's scenes are all that remain of Jarre's directorial contribution, although it's his words that charge the film through and through.
- 'Brave' (2012)
Brenda Chapman to Mark Andrews
DESTINY: Financial success, critical disappointment
Pixar has a long, sad history of replacing directors on seemingly every other film they've done. It happened on "Toy Story 2," "Ratatouille," and their upcoming "The Good Dinosaur." "Brave" stands out, though, as they fired the first woman to ever be hired to make a Pixar film, Brenda Chapman, on no less than a story she originated based on her relationship with her own daughter. That's low. Due to legalities Chapman has been pretty tight-lipped about what prompted her dismissal, but from what we can glean it seems the Pixar braintrust became insistent on making changes she did not feel comfortable with, ultimately replacing her with Mark Andrews, her assistant on the project. Remarkably, Chapman insists that the final cut of the film hews very close to her vision, despite earlier cuts departing from her story of a rebellious Scottish princess who turns her mother into a bear. Ultimately "Brave" did terrific business despite critics battering it for playing it too safe with the traditional Disney formula, and in a final irony the still-credited Chapman became perhaps the first director to win an Oscar for a project they were fired from.