It’s an understatement to suggest that being a director of a major motion picture is a difficult job. The level of coordination, vision, and leadership needed to bring a multi-million dollar production together is enormous, in part because making a movie demands the involvement of a ridiculous number of people and managing all of them can is a daunting task. Making movies is a game that often comes down to a number of sizable egos butting heads and the reality is that sometimes, directors lose that ego battle and are pushed out. The following 10 directors can count themselves as having the unfortunate career distinction of having been fired from blockbuster films.
10. Richard Stanley – The Island of Dr. Moreau
The Island of Dr. Moreau is primarily remembered as a bloated flop that showcased a completely off-the-rails Marlon Brando in a bizarre performance for the ages. As fun as it is to watch Brando make a spectacle of himself, the behind-the-scenes drama is much more faschinating than the film itself (much like Apocalypse Now, come to think of it). Original director Richard Stanley spent a whopping four years planning the project before getting it off the ground, but only three days into filming, Stanley was abruptly fired by the film’s producers at New Line Cinema. It’s believed that the main reason for Stanley’s dismissal was Brando’s co-star, Val Kilmer, who was a notoriously volatile presence on set. The studio pretty much blamed Stanley for being unable to get Kilmer under control and the decision was made to bring in John Frankenheimer, best known for The Manchurian Candidate. Nothing really improved after Stanley’s firing, as Kilmer continued to clash with everyone, including Frankenheimer, who was quoted as saying he would never work with Kilmer again. Hmm, here’s a wild theory: maybe Richard Stanley wasn’t the problem…
9. Anthony Mann – Spartacus
Spartacus is the film that arguably put Stanley Kubrick on the map, but he only got the gig once original director Anthony Mann was let go. Mann was hired because of his experience in making Westerns, but one week into filming, Kirk Douglass, whose production company was financing the film, fired Mann because he felt that he wasn’t comfortable directing a film with the size and scope of Spartacus. Kubrick was only 30 at the time and hadn’t directed a film like Spartacus before, but was brought on board because of his work with Douglass on Paths of Glory a few years earlier. Fittingly, Spartacus was the only one of Kubrick’s films where he didn’t have complete artistic control, a stipulation that was written into his contract for every one of his subsequent films. Despite being deemed unfit to direct an epic such as Spartacus, Mann would go on to make the big budget historical epic El Cid the following year. Still, we’re happy we got Kubrick’s version, especially when it led to so many other great films down the road.
8. Tony Kaye – American History X
Technically, American History X director Tony Kaye was never fired during the film’s production, but he might as well have been. Kaye effectively disowned the movie after its release and even went so far as to try and have his name taken off the credits. The irony is that, while Kaye was never actually fired from American History X, his actions led to him pretty much being blacklisted from Hollywood from that point onward. Infamous for being brash and outspoken, American History X was Kaye’s feature film debut, but he acted more like a veteran with an oversized ego on-set than a relative newcomer. Kaye butted heads with pretty much everyone involved, especially star Edward Norton, whose casting Kaye fought against. After New Line refused his initial cut, Kaye threw a tantrum and was barred from the editing room, with Norton taking over. Kaye’s personal life fell apart not long after and with pretty much every one of his relationships tarnished, Kaye has had next to no presence as a director since.
7. Steven Soderbergh – Moneyball
Moneyball is such a confident, eminently-watchable sports drama that it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that it wasn’t a very smooth production for Brad Pitt and company. Unlike most of the other films on this list, Moneyball is notable for jettisoning a big-name director in Steven Soderbergh, as it’s extremely rare for a veteran filmmaker such as Soderbergh to be kicked off a project. Those who have seen Moneyball know it as a sports biopic about the Oakland Athletic’s 2002 season and general manager Billy Beane’s (played by Brad Pitt) quest to assemble a good ball club despite salary restrictions. Soderbergh’s film, in contract, would have looked quite different, as the director wanted to include elements deemed unconventional for a sports movie, such as interviews with real athletes. Despite Soderbergh’s pedigree as one of the greatest directors of his generation, Sony Pictures pulled him off the production and replaced him with Bennett Miller. While we can’t help but wonder what Soderbergh’s Moneyball may have looked like, you have to give credit to Miller for turning around a troubled production and coming away with a Best Picture nomination.
6. Dick Richards – Jaws
Considering his name is so synonymous with the film, it may come as a surprise to learn that Steven Spielberg wasn’t the first director attached to Jaws. Prior to Spielberg coming aboard and making movie history, Dick Richards was the man in the director’s chair (or boat, in this case). Richards, still a relatively new director himself at the time, was fired for a relatively minor but rather hilarious blunder, in that he constantly referred to the shark as “The Whale.” Producers understandably found this annoying and threw Richards overboard in favor of Spielberg, who was eager to prove himself with the project. While getting fired for a relatively minor offense like not knowing the difference between a whale and a shark seems like a bit of an overreaction; considering what the move did for Spielberg’s career, Richard’s blunder reads more like a noble sacrifice than anything as far as we’re concerned.
5. Kevin Jarre – Tombstone
Tombstone, one of the better Westerns to be made in the last few decades, had a bumpy road to production after writer and director Kevin Jarre had a falling out with original star Kevin Costner, who went on to make his own Wyatt Earp film and make it difficult for Jarre to get Tombstone off the ground at every possible turn. The situation only got worse once production got underway, as Jarre’s screenplay drew criticism from stars Kurt Russell and (no surprise here) Val Kilmer for being way too overstuffed. Things were so bad that Russell even cut some of his own scenes in order to give other actors more screen time, as the cast was simply too large. Jarre refused to cut his screenplay down and was relieved of his directing duties. George P. Cosmatos replaced him but according to Russell, the actor pretty much ran the shots and told Cosmatos what to do. Fortunately for Jarre, he was still given a writing credit.
4. Brenda Chapman – Brave
Even a studio as family-friendly as Pixar is no stranger to firing directors when things aren’t working out. Such was the case with the 2012 film Brave. Brenda Chapman was the film’s original writer and director, which at the time made her Pixar’s first-ever female director. Unfortunately, Chapman was later taken off the film due to “creative differences” and was replaced by Mark Andrews. While Chapman’s removal wasn’t the first time Pixar has fired a director — Jan Pinkav was taken off of 2007’s Ratatouille in favor of Brad Bird — Brave’s creative shuffling was much more significant than many probably realize, chiefly because Chapman is a woman. While she claims to harbor no ill will toward the studio for their decision, Chapman’s firing represented a major blow against women working in the film industry. While Brave isn’t regarded as one of Pixar’s best movies, it should be remembered as a missed opportunity for the beloved studio, as it’s very difficult to find any blockbuster films with female directors. With its lead creative mind stripped from the film she spent six years developing, Brave‘s story of female empowerment somehow doesn’t feel as sincere as it should.
3. George Cukor – Gone With The Wind
Regarded as one of the best films ever made, Gone With The Wind had enough production drama to match the events that unfolded on-screen. George Cukor spent almost two years in pre-production and was promptly fired less than three weeks into shooting. While the official reasoning behind Cukor’s dismissal cites his disagreement with producer David O. Selznick over shooting schedules and the script, many believe that it had more to do with star Clark Gable’s refusal to work with Cukor in light of his knowledge of Gable’s rumored homosexuality. Regardless, Cukor remained loosely connected to the project despite his firing, staying on unofficially as an acting coach for Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland and the production continued to have troubles under the new direction fromThe Wizard of Oz‘s Victor Fleming, who would go onto leave the project temporarily due to exhaustion. Fittingly, that’s the same feeling that many viewers experience when they sit through the 221 minute film that came out of this production mess.
2. Richard Donner – Superman II
Superman II is remembered as a superhero classic but unfortunately, it’s also just as well remembered for its behind-the-scenes turmoil. Richard Donner had directed the first Superman movie in 1978 with great results, as it still stands as one of the most influential titles in the genre. Naturally, Donner was given directing duties for the sequel and had completed about 75% of the film when he was taken off the production and replaced by Richard Lester. The decision to fire Donner was driven by disputes between himself and producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, and Pierre Spengler over creative control and the overlong shooting schedule. Interestingly, Lester had to actually reshoot some of Donner’s scenes in order to receive a director’s credit. Despite Donner’s exit, his influence is still felt in the final product and especially in his 2006 director’s cut, which restored a significant amount of his cut footage from the theatrical release. Of course, the Donner cut is now considered by many to be the definitive edition of the film, which all but proves that Donner should have never been fired in the first place.
1. Josh Trank – Untitled Star Wars Spin-Off
The most recent major director turnover, the details surrounding Josh Trank’s departure from the second Star Wars Anthology (the first being Rogue One) are still fuzzy, as it’s still unknown for sure whether Trank voluntarily left the project or was let go. While Trank maintains that he voluntarily left the project because of the pressure he felt while working on the Fantastic Four reboot, other sources have reported that Disney fired him due to his unusual and erratic behavior on the set of Fantastic Four. While it’s surely disappointing for any young director to be handed the keys to one of the greatest film franchises ever and then have them taken away, there was at least hope prior to Fantastic Four‘s release that Trank would prove himself to be a capable blockbuster filmmaker who could be trusted with large productions in the future. Unfortunately, that film bombed hard this summer and when combined with his reputation for being aloof and difficult to work with, Trank’s career as a blockbuster filmmaker may be over before it ever really took off.
If you enjoyed reading about these short-lived directing gigs, be sure to check out our list of 10 Actors Who Were Fired From Blockbuster Films.