It’s not uncommon for a studio to mess around with a director’s movie. Some just take the abuse and don’t complain, while others (like Fantastic Four director Josh Trank) wage a losing battle they know will never likely go their way. Greed triumps over artistry. It’s a sad state of affairs, but a reality that most filmmakers know all too well.
Sure, some filmmakers are out of their depth in the studio system and need to be reined in, but on the other hand, some of the greatest filmmakers in cinema history have had to give in to the powerful Hollywood studio machine: Scorsese, Gilliam, Fincher, Welles, Leone, Scott etc. The list is endless and too frustrating to fully name.
Here is Screen Rant’s list of 10 Movies Ruined By Studio Meddling.
Alien 3 (1992)
After becoming a music video boy-genius, David Fincher was a hot commodity for any major studio on Hollywood. His visual flair struck many as potentially game changing, but the project he decided to pick for his directorial debut has since become the only bad movie of his career.
Alien 3, which features its heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) battling H.R. Giger’s famous aliens on prison planet, had countless re-shoots and rewrites, most of which were against Fincher’s wishes. Even worse, the creative differences that Fincher faced with studio executives is now the stuff of legendary stories. It’s not very surprising, then, that Fincher disowned the film, and refused to be involved with Fox’s huge Alien Quadrology DVD box set. This special edition of the franchise included a version of Alien 3 called “The Assembly Cut”, which improved upon the original in terms of tying together plot holes and character development, but still missed the spark that would ignite many of the great movies he would eventually make in his career.
Blade Runner (1982)
Upon its release in 1982, the sci-fi classic Blade Runner, about detective “Rick Deckard tracking down genetically engineered “replicants” in a dystopic future landscape of Los Angeles, had so much studio interference that its history is quite well known. Receiving mixed reviews, the film came and went upon release, flopping at the box office. After a “workprint” version of the film was discovered and screened in various venues in the early ’90s to a kind response from audiences, Warner Bros. gave director Ridley Scott the chance to create his own Director’s Cut in 1993, which reversed most of the studio-mandated changes that ruined the original version of the film.
There have been several versions of Blade Runner (seven, to be exact), but the definitive version, according to Scott, is the “Final Cut” released on Special Edition DVD in 2007. This version eschews the voice-over narration of the original and fixes many of the plot holes present in the original.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Much has been made about director Josh Trank’s problems with Fox over this film. This winter, stories about Trank’s erratic behavior on set became public, as did the news that Disney had removed him from an upcoming standalone Star Wars feature. Furthermore, Fox was unsatisfied with Trank’s cut of the film and decided to completely take over and re-shoot key scenes. Trank was obviously unhappy and took to Twitter to voice his disapproval, saying that “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
Fantastic Four has been one of the worst-reviewed Hollywood movies in recent memory, and it crashed and burned at the box office, raising doubt over an already announced sequel and cementing it as a movie that will forever live in infamy.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
This might be the most butchered film by an American studio on the list. The original version of Sergio Leone’s haunting tale of Jewish gangsters in prohibition-era New York ran for 229 minutes, an epic to say the least, and featured narrative developments that were completely mangled when its American distributors cut it down to 139 minutes. That’s right, more than 1 hour and 30 minutes of footage were removed, turning the film into an incomprehensible mess. Europeans got to see the final cut of Sergio Leone’s classic, but Americans didn’t.
However, time has been good to the film as most people now tend to seek the 4 hour version instead of the butchered 1984 version which is clearly and justifiably hard to find. More recently, Martin Scorsese has tried to help Leone’s estate restore the film to the 269 minute (almost five hour) version that Leone intended.
Terry Gilliam has never hidden the fact that he had problems with the studio while making Brazil. His 142 minute cut of the science fiction satire, which follows Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a low-level government employee trapped within a Kafka-esque bureaucracy, is a well-known visionary sci-fi classic that paved the way and influenced a generation to come.
Much of the the studio’s problem with Gilliam came from the ending, which he refused to change. The story goes that the fighting persisted throughout the year until Gilliam decided to screen his cut – in secrecy – for the L.A Film critics, which prompted them to name Brazil the Best Picture of 1985, despite the fact that it hadn’t been released. The studio finally gave in and released it a Gilliam-approved 132 minute cut of the film, and the rest – as they say – is history. The full 142 Director’s Cut is now available for all on beautiful Criterion Blu-Ray.
All The Pretty Horses (2000)
Billy Bob Thornton wanted to follow up his acclaimed directorial debut Sling Blade with an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, an epic, romantic western that many critics deemed “unfilmable.” Thornton’s original version ran nearly 4 hours, maybe the only way such a movie could have worked, but Harvey Weinstein quickly forced Thornton to cut it down to its eventual final cut of 116 minutes. Many say it was payback for Thornton fighting and getting his version of “Sling Blade” released in 1996 despite Weinstein’s disapproval. More than half of “All The Pretty Horses” ended up on the cutting room floor.
Its star, Matt Damon, publicly came out and defended Thornton, saying it wasn’t fair that this much footage should be excised. Despite Damon’s protests, the manhandled version of the film received terrible reviews and flopped at the box office. Efforts to get a director’s cut on DVD have been prevented by the film’s original composer, Daniel Lanois, who refuses to have anything else to do with the movie. Yikes!
Heaven’s Gate (1980)
This was the infamous movie that forced United Artists – the studio formed as a refuge for artists by Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffiths, and Mary Pickford – to declare bankruptcy. Michael Cimino was the hottest director in Hollywood after making The Deer Hunter, which cleaned up the Oscars in 1978. Then Heaven’s Gate happened – another epic, romantic western with an original cut that ran several hours – whose backstage stories are legendary and too many to list, though a crew member once joked that half of the film’s enormous $40 million went to cocaine for the cast.
One of the stories goes that Cimino changed the locks of the editing room so that studio execs wouldn’t interfere. His erratically insane behavior concluded with a 325 minute cut of the film (that’s almost five and ahalf hours) that Cimino said was a 15 minute cut away from the final version. Even though the 219 minute “Director’s Cut” of the film has garnered a cult following in recent years, the 149 minute cut that was finally released in 1981 garnered terrible reviews and destroyed the studio.
Killing Them Softly (2012)
Director Andrew Dominik is no stranger to making long movies. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford reportedly ran for more than three and a half hours before the studio forced him to cut more than 45 minutes of footage for its theatrical release. Regardless, the film was still a triumphant work of art that is still being dissected to today in film schools worldwide.
Dominik’s followup to that movie was Killing Them Softly, also starring Brad Pitt as a hit-man looking for a man responsible for robbing an illegal high-stakes poker game in post-Katrina New Orleans. Dominik also ran into trouble with this film, which reportedly clocked in at more than two hours and thirty minutes in length. The final theatrical release was almost an hour shorter, which means something happened in the process that turned the studio against Dominik. What was it? Everyone involved has been very hush-hush about the drama, but the resulting film wasn’t half as good as Jesse James, which might explain why many people are asking for a director’s cut to get released, even though there isn’t any actual proof that it exists.
The studio meddling done on Hancock was brutally significant. The first cut treated the titular character, a drunken, homeless superhero played by Will Smith, as an anti-hero with questionable behavior and an overall unpleasant demeanor. The studio obviously didn’t respond well to this cut, which quickly sent director Peter Berg back to the editing room to make the character more likable.
The film went on to eventually make millions at the box office, but was it because of the new cut, or just Will Smith’s star power? Way after its initial release, details have come out about the studio pressure director Peter Berg had to face. Likewise, the original screenplay, titled Tonight, He Comes, is widely available online, and shows a nastier side of Hancock. All these stories only make us want a director’s cut even more.
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Your name is Orson Welles, you’re 27 years old, and your first movie was Citizen Kane. You would think that with your second movie the studio would give you carte blanche and all the freedom that you need to bring your vision onscreen. Not exactly. The Magnificent Ambersons is the granddaddy of all studio interfered movies. Cutting almost an hour of footage from the original cut? Check. Changing the downer ending for a happier ending? Check. A Bernard Herrmann score heavily edited by the studio? Check.
Welles was highly affected by the disastrous studio meddling of his beloved film, one which he believed could have truly marked his career. “They destroyed ‘Ambersens,’ and ‘it’ destroyed me”, he later said. The worst part is that Welles’ initial cut, which some say was even better than Kane was burned in an storage fire, and is now lost to the sands of time.
These aren’t the only movies to be marked up and mangled by eager executives with too much power. Did any of your favorite movies almost get destroyed by the cold, merciless hand of a Hollywood studio? Let us know in the comments below!