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When working on a film, a director has hundreds of decisions to make on a daily basis. Whether it’s shot composition, lighting levels, musical selections, or last-minute revisions to the screenplay, they are constantly searching for ways to ensure that the final product can live up to his or her standards. As such, making a movie turns into a high stakes game of “what if?” where even the smallest of moves can have a drastic impact on how everything will turn out.
But before a filmmaker begins to worry about the technical details of their film, they have bigger decisions to make. Is this actor right for the part? How should we deal with this faulty prop? Am I the right director for this film? The answers to these questions have the potential to alter Hollywood history, perhaps for the better, and have on several occasions. Screen Rant presents 10 Great Decisions That Saved Popular Movies.
Stuart Townsend is NOT Precious (Or Aragorn)
Initially, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen star Stuart Townsend was hired to portray Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, the day before principal photography commenced in 1999, director Peter Jackson replaced him with Viggo Mortensen, believing that he was a better fit for the part of the Ranger of the North.
Much to Townsend’s chagrin, Jackson’s instincts proved right. Mortensen went on to become a fan favorite as Aragorn, injecting the character with the right amounts of hardened tenacity, experience, and compassion that made him such a memorable and iconic part of the franchise. It’s hard to envision any other actor giving the rising pre-battle speech at the end of Return of the King, which culminated Aragorn’s arc in inspiring fashion and cemented his place as a leader among men.
Depp’s Pirate Dance
Johnny Depp is known today for portraying characters with eccentric tendencies, which in recent years has been criticized as a detriment of his career choices. This all started when he signed on to play Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney's mega-successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but before audiences got a taste of the actor's weirdo shtick, studio executives weren't sure it could work and tried to encourage Deep to abandon the technique.
During a table read for The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2002, Depp presented Sparrow as the way moviegoers know and love him, but Disney studio heads told him to stop, fearing he was going to ruin their major investment. The actor gave them an ultimatum (“trust me or fire me”), and cooler heads obviously prevailed. Sparrow became one of the most famous movie characters of the 21st century thanks to Depp’s talents, and the leading man even earned an Oscar nomination for his troubles.
Before 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, the action franchise was floundering, a result of the poor reception its predecessor received. With a return to form so desperately needed, it is somewhat surprising that then untested filmmaker Joe Carnahan (The Grey) was trusted with the tentpole. However, he didn’t stay on board for long, as he had disagreements with Paramount regarding the tone of the film and vacated the director’s chair.
The team found their replacement thanks to Tom Cruise’s choice of TV shows. After binge watching the first two seasons of Alias, the actor determined that J.J. Abrams was the right man for the job, which led to tremendous results. Infusing the franchise with his trademark fast-paced, exciting brand of directing, Abrams reinvigorated the property with thrilling set pieces and an emotionally charged narrative. The M:I series has called Abrams’ Bad Robot home ever since, with 2011’s Ghost Protocol becoming the highest-grossing installment of the franchise.
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, with much credit being given to its intense and thrilling sequences of suspense. One of the film's most noteworthy aspects is that the shark remains unseen for the first half of the film, showing audiences shots of swimmers being attacked by a seemingly invisible presence, which upped the horror levels to 11 and created striking imagery that caused many to have second thoughts about jumping in the water for a dip.
This all happened because of a happy accident. The crew infamously experienced major problems with the mechanical shark, watching one model sink to the bottom of the ocean along with many other malfunctions. In an effort to save the project, Spielberg went back to the works of Alfred Hitchcock, and found a way to tell the story without featuring the shark until he absolutely had to. One viewing of the final product, many would agree this was better than the alternative – hiring a shark trainer and using a real shark for the scenes.
Director Rob Reiner has had phenomenal success adapting Stephen King stories to the big screen, most notably with the 1986 classic Stand By Me. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he felt he was the right choice to bring The Shawshank Redemption to life, offering writer/director Frank Darabont $2.5 million to take the project over. Obviously, Darabont refused, saying it was his turn to do something great, and went on to make one of the most beloved movies of all-time.
It’s hard to say that Shawshank was “saved” from Reiner, since the filmmaker had put together an impressive résumé up to that point, but it is difficult to argue with the results. Shawshank scored seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Darabont’s script). Darabont’s casting choices (which would have been different under Reiner) also paid off, as Morgan Freeman delivered a career-defining performance as Red, and Tim Robbins perfectly personified Andy Dufrense.