The metaphorical captain of the ship, a director, is often pointed to as the driving force behind a film’s success. They have the task of bringing in all the small pieces that make the movies into a cohesive whole. However, sometimes there are complications when delivering that vision.
In these situations, directors are replaced, sometimes even in the middle of a production. Whether they didn’t meet expectations, were battling with the studio, or had personal complications, these films went ahead after changing their director.
9 ‘Spartacus’ (1960)
Tremendous in scope and even greater in awe, Spartacus is rightfully regarded as one of the top historical epics ever put to screen. Written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a large part of the film’s creative control was in the hands of its star, Kirk Douglas. Clocking in at over three hours, the film was selected to be preserved by the Library of Congress in 2017.
After David Lean turned down the project, Anthony Mann was hired to direct. Mann was fired after the first week, with Douglas stating in his autobiography that Mann was “scared of the scope of the picture.” Also, according to his autobiography, Douglas decided to replace Mann with Stanley Kubrick, who he had worked with on Kubrick’s previous film, Paths of Glory. With a much larger budget and cast than he was used to, Kubrick turned the movie into a classic.
8 ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ (1976)
Thanks to much of his 21st-century work, Clint Eastwood has almost become as revered as a movie star as a director. Starting his directing journey with the underrated thriller Play Misty For Me, Eastwood gained even greater acclaim for The Outlaw of Josey Wales. Grossing over $30 million, the movie was Eastwood’s most financially successful directorial venture to that point.
However, the film’s production was not always harmonious: Eastwood clashed with the film’s writer and initial director, Philip Kaufman. Kaufman, who himself is one of the most influential filmmakers of his era, feuded with Eastwood over meticulous detailing. Eastwood, who had the rights to the film, kicked out Kaufman and took the directorial reigns himself, leading to the Director’s Guild passing the “Clint Eastwood rule.”
7 ‘WarGames’ (1983)
One of the original mainstream techno-thrillers, WarGames became a surprise hit, nominated for three Academy Awards. Starring a young Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, the film follows a young hacker who unwillingly accesses a United States computer programmed to execute a nuclear war against the Soviet Union.
Martin Brest was the first director of the movie but was fired after less than two weeks due to disagreements with the producers. He was replaced by John Badham, who livened up the movie, stating Brest had taken “a somewhat darker approach” to the material. Everything turned out for the best as WarGames was a hit for Badham, and Brest would make Beverly Hills Cop a year later.
6 ‘Exorcist: The Beginning’ (2004)
The fourth installment in The Exorcist series, Exorcist: The Beginning, hoped to follow in the footsteps of its previous installment, Exorcist 3, rather than the critically panned Exorcist 2. However, Exorcist: The Beginning failed to meet hopes, as it would be mostly detested by critics and fans alike.
While initial reporting indicated that John Frankenheimer would direct, Paul Schrader announced to helm the project in 2003. Known better for his brooding and introspection than gory frights, Schrader’s initial cut would be derided by the studio, who would replace him with Renny Harlin. Schrader would release his cut, titled Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, which would do marginally better with critics than the studio’s version.
5 ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ (1996)
If only The Island of Dr. Moreau had as much fright as its nightmarish production. An infamous disaster, the adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel underwent several casting changes before filming started. However, once filming started under Richard Stanley, even more, went off the rails.
Stars Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando were blamed for their erratic behavior, which was only matched by the hellish weather. Stanley was soon replaced by John Frankenheimer, whose gruff demeanor made him unpopular among the cast and crew. The production would be so notorious, it would be covered in a 2014 documentary and leave Stanley so scarred, he wouldn’t direct another movie until 2019’s Color Out of Space.
4 ‘Jane Got a Gun’ (2015)
For a while, it didn’t seem like Jane Got a Gun was a real movie, only an elaborate game of musical chairs. The original script, penned by The Babysitter writer Brian Duffield, attracted much attention when it appeared on the 2011 Black List. In 2012, it was announced that Natalie Portman would lead the project with Lynne Ramsey to direct.
The film underwent many casting iterations due to scheduling issues and Ramsey’s departure. At various times, Michael Fassbender, Jude Law, andBradley Cooper were all signed onto the film before backing out. Ramsey was supplanted by Gavin O’Connor in 2013, while the movie itself got a tepid reception and was a box office bomb.
3 ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1998)
It seemed Hunter S Thompson’s legendary 1971 roman à clef would remain one of those often tried but ultimately cursed film adaptations. In the ’70s, names like Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone tried to get the movie off the ground but to no avail. Eventually, in the ’90s, it seemed like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would finally get put to the screen.
The studio wanted Lee Tamahori to direct, while the starJohnny Depp wanted Withnail and I’sBruce Robinson to direct. Under pressure, the studio hired English director Alex Cox. Then, hedging their indecision, the studio replaced Cox with Terry Gilliam, who would bring his frenetic style and make the movie an eventual cult classic.
2 ‘Chasing Mavericks’ (2012)
A sweet, if saccharine, sports drama, Chasing Mavericks was, alongside movies like Soul Surfer, part of the PG surfing film boom of the 2000s and early 2010s. It was directed by Curtis Hanson, who had middling success in the 21st century following his acclaimed L.A. Confidential. While some films like Wonder Boys or 8 Mile were well received, Chasing Mavericks was coming off the flop Lucky You.
Hanson would deal with complications regarding his heart during filming, leading to the sturdy hands of Michael Apted to take over. Apted would gain control during the last 15 days of principal photography and receive joint credit alongside Hanson. Chasing Mavericks would mark the final film directed by Hanson, as he would pass away four years later in 2016.
1 ‘Heat’ (1986)
Although bearing the same title as Michael Mann’s iconic crime epic, 1986’s Heat is a fourth-rate action thriller in comparison. Adapted by the legendary William Goldman from his book of the same name, Goldman himself acknowledges the film as one of his “major disasters” in his book Five Screenplays. Originally, Robert Altman was hired as director, whose career was in a slump in the ’80s after being one of the foremost directors of the “New Hollywood” era.
According to the biography Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliffby Patrick McGilligan, Altman soon left after apparently “detesting the commerciality of Goldman’s script,” and Dick Richards came in. However, Richards and star Burt Reynolds did not get along, with Richards leaving the project after Reynolds socked him in the face and was replaced by TV movie director Jerry Jameson. Richards eventually returned, only to fall from a camera crane and wind up in the hospital.
KEEP READING: 10 Successful Movies That Changed Director During Production