As the summer of blockbuster movies gets underway, Hollywood’s biggest stars are coming out to sell tickets. It’s an undeniable truth that investing in big budget pictures is a risky business decision, even for the most lucrative studios. There are few certainties when it comes to box office draws. In times of strain, it may very well be the executive decision to replace an actor that determines whether a series will continue to generate revenue. Not all of these decisions will be popular, but they’re all guaranteed to change the course of a film series moving forward.
Somewhere buried deep in every major producer’s office is a list of every regrettable decision they’ve ever made. It serves as a guideline for what not to do in the future. Sure, some recastings could turn out to pay off, but that doesn’t mean every decision won’t come with some form of backlash. Compiled below is our list of the most memorable series that continued without their leading stars. Some actors came back and some stayed missing, but none of them were forgotten.
12. xXx: State of the Union – Vin Diesel
Our only repeat offender on this list, Vin Diesel managed not only to leave two series, but returned to both of them years later. Diesel stars in xXx as Xander Cage, an adrenaline junkie with an affinity for extreme sports. With his special skill set, he’s recruited by the NSA to infiltrate a network of Russian terrorists. After hooking up with an undercover FSB agent, Cage single-handedly takes down the renegade group of mercenaries and cuts ties with the NSA indefinitely.
As the sequel to xXx was rounding the corner, Diesel was scheduled to return, but due to conflicts with The Pacifier, was forced to drop out. With Diesel’s priorities in check, Ice Cube took over the main role as Darius Stone in State of the Union, a former Navy SEAL officer and Cage’s substitute as the XXX agent. Under the orders of Gibbons, Stone goes to Washington D.C. to track a splinter group of military soldiers intent on controlling the U.S. government and assassinating the president.
With xXx: The Return of Xander Cage set for January 20, 2017, Diesel will come back once again to work as the NSA’s most deadly weapon. Although Ice Cube has denied any involvement in the series, the third xXx could set up a potential Cage and Stone collaboration in the future. Frankly though, we’re holding off for the trailer before we get remotely excited for this one.
11. Speed 2: Cruise Control – Keanu Reeves
If we were to throw out the word “speed,” you’d probably think about the same things we do. Whether it’s the souped-up racing mods from the Fast and Furious franchise or the U.S. Naval fighters from Top Gun, the need for speed is real. But few people would put a city bus on their list of high speed vehicles. The first Speed film changed the audience’s perception of fast with a trigger-activated bomb and a Los Angeles SWAT officer looking to prevent civilian casualties. Somewhere between time-traveling with his friend Bill and taking the red pill to explore the rabbit hole, Keanu Reeves found the time to launch another film series. Unlike Bill and Ted and The Matrix, however, he would make an early departure from the Speed series.
Reeves was handed the script for Cruise Control shortly after Speed took theaters by storm. With Sandra Bullock already on board, all she needed was the bona fide action hero Jack Traven there to save her. But while Bullock was confident in director Jan de Bon’s premise for the follow-up, Reeves’ intuition told him otherwise. It’s not hard to piece together really. A Caribbean cruise ship traveling at the speed of a sloth isn’t your typical action movie pitch. Every conceivable variation of the story pointed towards a series killer. Reeves stepped down from the role and his career lived to see brighter days, as he sidestepped a truly horrific sequel.
10. Independence Day: Resurgence – Will Smith
Nothing is more patriotic than a F/A-18 pilot punching an alien in the face. It’s that kind of gusto that’s needed for the United States to pull off a major upset victory against a large fleet of foreign invaders. Steven Hiller of the Marine Corps is the ultimate underdog, a fighter aspiring to be an astronaut. He’s recruited by President Thomas J. Whitmore to penetrate the mother ship with a short-handed strike force in order to remove the enemy’s protective force fields. In the explosions that follow, the target ship is destroyed in a glaring display of fireworks. Why then is the hero of the story sitting out Resurgence after pretty much taking out the bad guys alone in the first film?
We’ve all seen the kind of wreckage a coordinated attack on a major city can cause. That kind of destruction can really take a toll on a country’s finances. With Will Smith sitting near the top of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, America just can’t afford him.
Luckily, they’ve got the rookie pilot Jake Morrison, played by Thor’s little brother Liam Hemsworth, waiting in the wings, along with a handful of other up and comers that could make the Fresh Prince’s absence less noticeable. If Hemsworth and co. are willing to sucker punch aliens and smoke celebratory stogies afterwards, we can see this series continuing without Smith.
9. Transformers: Dark of the Moon & Transformers: Age of Extinction – Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf
Here is the perfect example of CGI robots once again putting actors out of work. It probably isn’t fair to include LaBeouf and Fox on this list. In actuality, they were never truly the stars of the Transformers movies. Those honors go to the orgasmic indulgences of Michael Bay and his talking Autobots. There was a time when LaBeouf was perceived as the next great Hollywood action star, a label placed on him by Steven Spielberg and seemingly supported by every major studio that agreed to cast him in another big blockbuster. Take all those promises and stick them with a good-looking actress for fanboys to drool over and you should have a recipe for success. If only things were that easy.
By the time the 2009 sequel Revenge of the Fallen had rolled around, rumors had surfaced that Fox and Bay were at odds with one another. It didn’t take much to replace Fox with model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for Dark of the Moon. LaBeouf soon followed, decidedly quitting his role as blockbuster actor for more serious films. Fans came out in droves for the Mark Wahlberg-lead Age of Extinction in LaBeouf’s absence, proving the movies’ box office revenues had little to do with their human stars. Fox would later squash her beef with Bay, leading the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles under his Platinum Dunes production studio. With more battles against the Decepticons coming down the pipeline, we foresee many new faces still to come for Optimus Prime and Bumblebee.
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley
Maybe they’re not who comes to mind when you think about Pirates of the Caribbean, but blacksmith Will Turner and his love Elizabeth Swann were once central characters, driving the series forward. All that changed with the conclusion of At World’s End. Turner becomes heir to the Flying Dutchman, destined to captain the souls of the dead to the afterlife for ten years. With Swann and her son lying in wait for his return, the two were effectively written out of the franchise. It was with the fourth entry, On Stranger Tides, that Captain Jack Sparrow seized complete control of the ship, establishing Johnny Depp as the sole face of the Pirates films.
Alas, gone doesn’t mean forgotten in any movie franchise. With the fifth entry, Dead Men Tell No Tales, slated for release on May 26, 2017, the series will return Will Turner to the franchise in lieu of decreasing domestic sales. While the series has continued its reign overseas as a box office smash, Jack Sparrow and his crew have seemingly become tiresome to American audiences. With no rumors of a Knightly cameo circling the web, we’re left to ponder whether her return is also in the works. Whether she plans to jump back on board the Black Pearl or not, Captain Sparrow has already shown he’s more than willing to sail solo if needed.
7. Hannibal – Jodie Foster
When you’re a Special Agent going head-to-head with a cerebral, serial-killing cannibal, no one can blame you for walking away. Jodie Foster would attribute her absence in Hannibal to a difference in opinion between herself and the studio. The 2001 sequel to Silence of the Lambs amped up the gore factor to another level, and the character of Clarice Starling did not sit well with the actress after bringing home an Academy Award for the first picture. To add some heat to the mix, Anthony Hopkins revisited his role as the titular character, a choice which the film’s producers felt would have tanked the series otherwise.
More than eight years removed from its predecessor, Hannibal brought in a hefty box office haul without its female co-lead. In her stead, Julianne Moore turned in an ample enough performance to fill Foster’s shoes. The Lecter movies would eventually take a nosedive with the forgotten prequel Hannibal Rising, which generated neither the box office cash nor the critical success of the first few films. With the following Lambs left behind, maybe there was something behind the chemistry between Foster and Hopkins that died with her departure.
6. Terminator Salvation – Arnold Schwarzenegger
After the T-800 delivered the words “I’ll be back” in the first Terminator movie, it took eight years for him to follow through on that promise. Flash forward to Judgment Day and once again, we’re asked to lie in wait for a sequel. While Rise of the Machines did not live up to expectations, largely due to a lack of Linda Hamilton as one of cinema’s greatest on-screen heroines, we at least had Arnold blasting the bad guys and delivering one-liners. But what Salvation asked of its audience was too much. A Terminator movie without Arnold, no matter the quality, is not a Terminator movie at all. Of course, there was that surprisingly convincing CGI Arnold everyone got in his place, which has to be up there among the greatest special effects of all time. Still, it just wasn’t the same, and we all felt it.
We can understand why the former bodybuilding Austrian failed to come back to the franchise to aid John Connor in his resistance. He was the governor of California at the time, off doing governor things. But we still believe saving the future from machines intent on taking over the world somehow falls under the political responsibilities of all governors. With his time in office coming to an end in 2011, Arnold found himself open to saving the world again, this time in Terminator: Genisys. And while the mythology had become increasingly convoluted and the Terminator was noticeably older, it was a nostalgic upside to a franchise dwindling in quality.
5. The Lost World: Jurassic Park – Laura Dern and Sam Neill
Is this entry really a surprise? A paleontologist and paleobotanist can only be chased by Velociraptors for so long before calling it quits. We’re not saying anyone is really ever prepared for that kind of life, but people who spend most of their time studying excavation findings cannot be equipped to handle high intensity dinosaur chases. At the end of the first film, Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler narrowly escape the island of Isla Nublar by helicopter. Logically, they were written out of the sequel to avoid rationalizing why they would put themselves in harm’s way again. And while mathematician Ian Malcolm (who really needs to return to the series) did have a large role in the follow-up Lost World, it wasn’t without a list of explanations concerning his girlfriend and daughter in need of rescue.
So with the events from the first two films, why did Dr. Grant return for Jurassic Park III? It’s simple. No matter how many doctorates they’ve collect or how many deaths they’ve experienced, movie protagonists never learn. Sattler also makes a brief appearance in the third film to talk about her experiences on the island. But unlike her counterpart, she learns from her mistakes and stays away from the island inhabited by dinosaurs. It’s possible that by the time the events of Jurassic World occur, Grant and Sattler have both grown wise enough to distance themselves from the world’s most dangerous theme park. But until it’s confirmed neither character will ever return, we’re not promising anything.
4. 2 Fast 2 Furious & The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – Vin Diesel and Paul Walker
After the adrenaline-filled antics of Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor in The Fast and the Furious, both characters are last seen on the lam. In the follow-up, O’Connor would change the direction of the series, heading south to Miami without his co-lead in suit. At the time 2 Fast 2 Furious was released, Vin Diesel wasn’t exactly the face people thought of to launch franchises to superstardom. He hit the road when the second entry rolled around and Universal opted for Walker, an unknown face, to take over where Diesel couldn’t. Three years later, Walker was also gone and the series shifted gears to Tokyo.
We know what you’re thinking. Yes, Vin Diesel did make a small appearance at the end of Tokyo Drift. And the answer is no. Rolling down your window and saying “What’s up?” at the end of a 100-minute movie does not count as a return to the franchise. Instead, both actors came back for Fast and Furious in 2009, successfully recharging the series after a failed quasi-reboot. In the time they were away, Diesel managed to put his face to another series with xXx while Walker headed smaller budget affairs like Eight Below and Running Scared. With Walker’s death, Diesel will headline a Furious film for the first time by himself. With all the changes it’s endured over the years, this is one franchise with plenty still left in the tank.
3. The Bourne Legacy – Matt Damon
Was there ever any doubt that the Bourne franchise would continue without Matt Damon? After The Bourne Ultimatum left on a major cliffhanger with the titular character shown swimming in the East River, presumed dead by the members of Operation Blackbriar, there had to be a sequel lined up. Even before Damon decided to leave the series, he acknowledged that a fourth Bourne film was not out of the question. When director Paul Greengrass publicly announced he would not return, Damon followed suit with the promise that another film with another character was still in the works. That character was Alex Cross, a member of an experimental black ops program who finds himself in danger of being eliminated.
After publicly acknowledging that Damon had left the franchise, Jeremy Renner announced he would be taking over the Bourne movies starting with The Bourne Legacy. Much like with the Mission Impossible films, Renner was brought in as a potential replacement for the franchise’s moneymaking star. Luckily for Renner, a sequel is still a possibility. With Jason Bourne due July 29, another Alex Cross film is reportedly in the works. Whether the two will cross paths, effectively mixing Robert Ludlum’s novels with Universal Pictures’ original character, has yet to be seen. But one constant remains: while Renner was able to hold the series together in Matt Damon’s absence, we’re certainly glad to see the titular hero back in action.
2. Batman Forever – Michael Keaton
Of all the actors to play Batman, Keaton is certainly among the best. Sure, an argument can be made for Christian Bale in the Dark Knight franchise and George Clooney and his batsuit nipples will always have a special place in our hearts, but Keaton was the first true Caped Crusader who could pull off the duality of the character in a believable fashion. Trust us when we say it can’t be easy to recast any actor in a franchise. But when you’re talking about replacing a proven Batman with someone untested with audiences, then you’re playing with fire. Comic book fans are unrelenting. If you mess with their childhood heroes, you’ll never hear the end of it.
After the financial success of Batman Returns, Warner Bros. decided to take the series in a new direction to attract an even wider audience. Feeling that Tim Burton’s Gothic style was too niche, Joel Schumacher was charged with taking over the director’s chair. Keaton left the production soon afterward, disagreeing with the toned down depiction of Gotham. Batman Forever would put Val Kilmer in Bruce Wayne’s shoes, resulting in mixed reactions from critics. The rest is history. With the follow-up Batman and Robin came a barrage of jokey one-liners and homoerotic undertones that stopped the franchise dead in its tracks. Had Keaton continued as the Dark Knight with a more serious director at the helm, perhaps we would have another franchise to compare to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Instead, we were left with another example of a star who left too soon.
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Sean Connery
With five 007 flicks under his belt, a mirage of women crossed off his list and numerous martinis shaken but not stirred, Sean Connery hung up his tuxedo and walked away from the Bond franchise in 1967. If you’ve casually watched the Bond films or perhaps held a conversation with a 007 fan, you may think that was when Roger Moore, Connery’s eventual replacement, stepped into the role as the suave MI6 agent. But you would be wrong. In 1969, after much delay over Swiss weather conditions, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service finally hit theaters with one-hit wonder George Lazenby starring as the new lead. The film failed to produce the box office draw of Connery’s You Only Live Twice, and the Scottish actor returned in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever after being offered an estimated 1.25 million dollars.
While Lazenby reportedly turned down a seven picture contract because he believed the Bond franchise was nearing an end, Roger Moore wasn’t about to refuse a large studio offer. With the eighth 007 entry, Live and Let Die, Moore took over the role, going on to become the longest-serving actor to play the part. And while Connery is notably the most influential and memorable star to put on the suit (we’re open to considering Daniel Craig), Bond has proven to be a role that’s always changing to fit the time period. The Scottishman will just have to live with sharing the limelight with all his fellow 007 actors.
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