As cool as the title is, being the director of a major Hollywood film still comes with a lot of the same baggage a normal job does. You still have to meet deadlines, you still have to get along with co-workers, you have to show up on time, and worst of all, you can still get fired. Being let go from a coffee house is one thing, but when you’re fired from a feature film chances are a lot of people are going to end up hearing about it. As luck, or misfortune, would have it, history is filled with directors that have been canned from projects ranging from the 1930s to present day.
Fights with producers, shouting at actors, and creative differences are just some of the reasons these directors have been cast out form their projects. Sometimes a director can just rub people the wrong way, and if that happens a film studio won’t hesitate to give them the boot. The following entries on this list are all high-profile films, and the directors who left them did not do so on their own accord.
Here are 12 Directors Who Were Fired From Their Movies.
12. Richard Thorpe – The Wizard of Oz
Replaced by: George Cukor, Victor Flemming
Wizard of Oz is credited as the most watched film in movie history thanks to it’s classic production design and catchy tunes. Unfortunately, director Richard Thorpe followed the yellow brick road all the way home when he was fired as the second director to helm the project. The first guy to get the boot was Norman Taurog, who wasn’t as so much fired as he was just reassigned to direct The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This left the slot for director open for Oz, and Thorpe was picked because of his impeccable reputation for bringing films in on time and on schedule.
Unknowingly to him, Thorpe’s days onset were numbered. After filming such iconic scenes like Dorothy and Scarecrow’s first encounter, and sequences inside the Wicked Witch’s Castle, the bigwigs from the studio took a look at the footage and didn’t like what they saw. After an on-screen mishap caused the production to shut down for a period of time, the studio was jumpy, and decided the footage that Thorpe shot didn’t capture the certain child-like wonder the movie was going for. Thorpe was subsequently fired with all the footage he shot scrapped, presumably lost for good.
11. Tony Kaye – American History X
Replaced by: Edward Norton
We’re kind of cheating with this one, as Tony Kaye wasn’t technically fired from American History X. He did go out of his way to ensure that would happen, however, distancing himself from the project as much as possible during the post-production stage. When filming wrapped Kaye spent weeks piecing together the first rough cut of the movie and finally screened it for New Line and Edward Norton, the star of the film. Afterwards the director was treated to pages of notes from the studio and Norton himself, a problem with which Kaye didn’t know how to handle. At this point he was still searching for the movie inside the footage he had shot, but New Line didn’t feel like waiting around.
They temporarily banned Kaye from entering the editing room, even going so far as to let Norton piece together parts of the film himself. The end result was the theatrical cut of the movie which ran about 40 minutes longer that Kaye’s version. Going into full meltdown stage, Kaye was outraged that his film was being morphed into a movie where, in his words, “everyone was crying in each other’s arms.” He went off the deep end when his shenanigans led him to bring a priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk along with him to a New Line meeting to buy him more time to cut the film. It was a scheme so crazy, even Kaye thought it was nuts in retrospect.
10. Alex Cox – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Replaced by: Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam’s drug fueled romp through Las Vegas, based on the memoir of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is a movie that bleeds creativity. Even if the end result doesn’t gel with some audiences, you can’t deny the unique way the movie was shot, displaying Gilliam’s signature brand of filmmaking. It almost wasn’t so however, as Alex Cox was the first choice to direct the film which starred Johnny Depp as Thompson. However, Cox couldn’t seem to get along with anyone during production, clashing with the producers, Depp, and even Hunter S. Thompson himself.
According to most sources, Cox presented ideas that didn’t suit the film well, including frequent pushes for long drawn out animated sequences. Apparently both Depp and Thompson hated Cox’s screenplay and his ideas. Thompson went so far as to even calling the original script a “piece of crap.” It wasn’t long before everyone involved had enough, and Cox was fired with his career in Hollywood taking a serious hit as a result.
9. George Cukor – Gone with the Wind
Replaced by: Victor Fleming
For all it’s production problems and hiccups, Gone with the Wind is the kind of movie that should have been doomed from day one. Now revered as a classic, the film certainly didn’t begin that way. For starters the script, which was adapting Margaret Mitchell’s extensive novel, had been going through various rewrites, and casting had become a nightmare resulting in pre-production lasting over two years. When filming finally began it didn’t last, and George Cukor was fired as the director in just under 3 weeks of production.
Cukor and producer David O. Selznick frequently clashed onset due to creative differences regarding the direction of the script, and how fast along the production should be moving. It didn’t help that Cukor also had beef with one of the main stars, Clark Gable, who didn’t get along with him for personal reasons. In the end Cukor was fired and Victor Flemming, who had also replaced Cukor and Richard Thorpe on Wizard of Oz, was called in to finish the picture.
8. Phillip Kaufman – The Outlaw Josey Wales
Replaced by: Clint Eastwood
While Clint Eastwood has proved to be one of the best directors working today, one of the earliest directing jobs he scored didn’t start with him in the captain’s seat. The Outlaw Josey Wales, a Western starring Eastwood himself, originally had Phillip Kaufman at the helm to direct. Reportedly, during filming, Kaufman and Eastwood didn’t see eye to eye on a number of creative issues, even though Kaufman had written the script himself. Apparently the actor felt that Kaufman was being too meticulous with his shots, going through an unnecessary amount of takes.
Things got even weirder when both director and actor fell for the same lead actress onset, Sondra Locke. This led to even more tensions between the two, culminating in Eastwood starting to shoot scenes himself while Kaufman was off checking props. The actor turned out to have more pull than the director, and Eastwood eventually replaced Kaufman and finished shooting Wales himself. Looking back on the incident, Kaufman says today, “Clint decided we had some creative differences. He was the producer. He was the biggest star in the world. One of us had to go.”
7. Ted Griffin – Rumor Has It…
Replaced by: Rob Reiner
Universally panned as being tonally imbalanced, Rumor Has It… is a hodgepodge of sappy drama and comedy that just doesn’t work. Whether it would have always ended up that way is a mystery, as the movie didn’t start out with Rob Reiner behind the camera. The original choice was Ted Griffin, who had been riding high on his series of screenplays including Ocean’s Eleven. This time, the writer was given a chance to direct his own script.
Clearly, Griffin as director wasn’t meant to be. There was a mountain of problems from day one, including actress Jennifer Aniston hating the more dramatic tone and atmosphere of the movie. Co-star Kevin Costner also had creative problems with Griffin, but those have been debated to this day. To add on to his troubles, Griffin had fired his DP Ed Lachman after just two weeks. Executive producer Steven Soderbergh also wasn’t happy with the film’s direction, and eventually replaced the first time director with a more experienced hand with Rob Reiner. It wasn’t enough to save the movie however, and Rumor Has It… wound up a disaster anyway.
6. John McTiernan – The 13th Warrior
Replaced by: Michael Crichton
In 1997 John McTiernan, who directed action hits like Die Hard and Predator, began work on his newest film, Eaters of the Dead. It was an adaptation of a novel with the same name, based on Beowulf. This movie would never come to pass, however. Once McTiernan screened the movie for executives and test audiences, the reactions were overwhelmingly negative. To help solve the problem, Michael Crichton, the author of the novel, was brought on board to help pick up the pieces and create something audiences could get on board with.
Reshoots were ordered with both McTiernan and Crichton bizarrely shooting different key scenes at the same time, on the same studio lot no less. When all was said and done, Disney decided to go with Crichton’s version of the movie, which had cut out an enormous amount of footage and subplots, and with the title changed to The 13th Warrior. Unfortunately the removal of all these scenes ended up crippling the movie which turned out to be endless changes of set pieces with no connection to the characters. McTiernan’s name was left on the project, but it’s probably a credit he didn’t end up asking for.
5. Steven Soderbergh – Moneyball
Replaced by: Bennett Miller
Nominated for 6 Oscars, it’s hard to believe that the sports drama Moneyball was almost a completely different movie. The film went through quite the rigmarole in getting off the ground. Originally Columbia Pictures gave the green light with Steven Soderbergh tasked with directing and Steven Zaillian penning the script. As pre-production moved forward, executive producers began to become worrisome at Soderbergh’s vision, which was to shoot the film in a documentary style with interviews from real life baseball players.
Clearly the producers didn’t share the same thoughts, and a week before shooting Soderbergh was canned for Capote alum Bennett Miller, who scrapped all the baseball interviews and pretty much started over from scratch. The script by Zaillian was also rewritten by Aaron Sorkin, and then rewritten again by Zaillian. By all accounts, Moneyball should have been a disaster, but Miller somehow knocked it out of the park.
4. Anthony Mann – Spartacus
Replaced by: Stanley Kubrick
Like so many other expensive epics, Spartacus‘ production wasn’t smooth sailing for all involved. For starters, the script was written by Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted at that time because of his suspected Communist support. A massive debacle followed debating whether or not Trumbo’s name should be added on to the credits (it eventually was, which helped the screenwriter win back some notoriety for his work). Then there was the problem of the director, who at the time was Anthony Mann after David Lean had turned it down. Kirk Douglas, the star as well as the producer, fired Mann just after 1 week of shooting.
According to his autobiography, Douglas felt that Mann was out of his element in Spartacus, and that the director couldn’t handle shooting a picture of its magnitude. As an alternative, Douglas pushed for then 30 year old Stanley Kubrick, who he had worked with on the celebrated Paths of Glory. Kubrick landed the gig, and while the director distanced himself from the movie later down the road due to his lack of creative control, the movie went on to be a major success conquering the box office, and even earning 4 Oscars.
3. Dick Richards – Jaws
Replaced by: Steven Spielberg
It’s hard to imagine anyone else directing Jaws but Steven Spielberg. The action/horror flick about a great white shark is one of the most iconic films of all time, and jump-started the director’s career to become one of the biggest forces in Hollywood. Scary to think that it almost wasn’t so: Spielberg was actually brought in as a replacement to Dick Richards. Originally, Universal producers Richard D. Zanuch and David Brown wanted filmmaker John Sturges to take the project, whose style they felt would appropriately serve the movie. After Sturges turned it down, they went to director Dick Richards whose first feature length, The Culepepper Cattle Co., had released earlier that year.
The legend goes that for whatever reason, Richards kept referring to the shark as a whale, a point that just didn’t sit well with Zanuch and Brown. Of course, there must have been other unexplained reasons that came into play, and Richards was eventually fired. A 26-year-old Spielberg took the wheel after expressing a deep desire for the job. Good thing too, as Spielberg’s film was so effective it forever caused beach-goers everywhere to think twice about taking a dip.
2. Richard Donner – Superman II
Replaced by: Richard Lester
It’s disappointing to know that in Hollywood that even when you do a good job, you’re not always rewarded for it. When Richard Donner set out to direct the first major Superman feature film adaptation, his plan was to shoot footage for both the first and second installment. Halfway through the shoot for Superman II, he had to halt the production to edit his first movie and prep it for release.
It was at this moment, due to budgetary restraints and the possibility of making the second movie a bit more humorous, that Warner Bros. opted to release Donner from his director duties. Instead they hired Richard Lester to finish filming, which is a shame as Donner did such a fantastic job with Superman the Movie. While Lester did an admirable job with the sequel, fans had wondered what might had happened if Donner had finished the project himself. Thankfully Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was eventually released, which offered fans a comprehensive look at the movie that could have been, if Donner was able to complete his vision.
1. Richard Stanley – The Island of Dr. Moreau
Replaced by: John Frankenheimer
Richard Stanley’s firing for his updated take on the classic H.G. Wells novel takes our top spot for not only how bizarre his movie is, but for how bizarre the events that surrounded it are. Spending more than 4 years of his life on the material, The Island of Dr. Moreau was Stanley’s passion project. Coming off of a string of cult sci-fi films already like Hardware (an equally bizarre film), Stanley finally got the green light from New Line Cinema to go ahead with Moreau, even securing Marlon Brando in the lead role of the nutty doctor who spliced together humans and animals.
The high was short lived as Val Kilmer, who was supposed to be playing another lead part, stubbornly asked to switch roles and have his screen time cut in half at the beginning of shooting. Kilmer had been going through a divorce at this time, which led him to become increasingly difficult to work with onset, mumbling most of his lines so that they were almost inaudible. Blaming Stanley for Kilmer’s unstable behavior, the studio fired him and brought in John Frankenheimer, who did a drastic overhaul to the script. To add fuel onto the fire, actor Rob Morrow walked off set once he learned Stanley had been fired, and Kilmer continued to keep freaking out the crew. The finished movie is an imbalanced mess, with the only saving grace being Brando’s and Kilmer’s eccentric and wacky performances.
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