9 Actors Who Were Sued for Quitting Movies

You sign up for a movie. You drop out. Then the lawsuit follows...

It happens all the time. The casting of movies is such a perilous art, that actors and actresses sign up for roles, and then they’re chopped and changed. Rarely does it end up anywhere near a courtroom.

Yet sometimes it does. Here are nine varied instances where someone leaving a project led to legalities ensuing…

1. Kim Basinger – Boxing Helena

I may as well start with one of the most infamous cases of an actress dropping out of a film to which they’d apparently agreed.

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Director Jennifer Lynch originally had Madonna pegged to take the lead in her debut feature, Boxing Helena. The story of a woman who has her limbs removed and is kept in a box (it’s as charming as it sounds), the role was then offered to Kim Basinger when Madonna passed.

Basinger was said to have verbally agreed to take, but Main Line Pictures would take her to court when she ultimately backed out. The firm argued that it had lost over $6 million in domestic and foreign sales, and it thus sued Basinger.

The jury would rule against Basinger, ordering her to pay $7.4 million for breach of contract and $1.5 million for acting in bad faith, which as EW reported at the time, amounted to a bill that would “exceed her personal worth by more than $3 million.”

Boxing Helena was filmed with Sherilyn Fenn in the title role, and Basinger would begin bankruptcy proceedings even as she launched her appeal. The appeal initially favored her, setting aside the verdict, but she would ultimately settle the case out of court for $3.8 million.

The verdict remains controversial, primarily because no obvious written contract was involved. The film remains double plus ungood.

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2. Whoopi Goldberg – Theodore Rex

What’s worse than your star dropping out and having to be replaced? Your star instead being “persuaded” to appear in a movie they clearly didn’t want to be in.

Theodore Rex, at the time of its release in 1996, earned itself the notoriety of being the most expensive straight to video film ever made. Few would take a bullet for the movie, and Goldberg would only end up on camera after a lawsuit threatened to derail everything.

Goldberg had verbally agreed to star in the film, but tried to back out. Producer Richard Gilbert Abramson hit her with a $20 million lawsuit which, in the aftermath of the Boxing Helena case, was something that Goldberg had little desire to contest. A settlement was thus brokered that saw Goldberg star in the picture in exchange for a $7 million payday, a pay increase on her original deal.

She earned a Worst Actress nomination at the Golden Raspberry awards for her efforts.

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3. Marlon Brando – The Egyptian

Fairly early in his career, Marlon Brando was set to take the lead in the film of The Egyptian. He was going to play the role ultimately taken on by Edmund Purdom in the 1954 movie. Unfortunately, Brando made it through just one rehearsal.

After that, as the book Casting Might-Have-Beens describes, 20th Century Fox received a letter from Brando’s psychiatrist, which told the studio that the star was “too sick” to appear in the film. Fox didn’t take this well, and in turn sued Brando for reneging on his deal.

Fox won, which wasn’t surprising given this was an era where studios ruled supreme over actors as the norm. Brando had to pay $75,000 for the delay he caused to The Egyptian, and he also had to appear in another movie for the studio, which would be Desiree.

4. Robert Redford – Blue

The little heard of 1968 production Blue saw Terence Stamp take the title role. But originally it was a part that Robert Redford has signed up to play.

Redford, though, dropped out of the movie with just a week left before cameras were set to roll, and Paramount Pictures duly gave its lawyers a call. Redford was sued for breaching his contract. It’s said that because of this, he refused to work with Paramount on Rosemary’s Baby shortly after, when director Roman Polanski offered him the role of Guy Woodhouse.

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He did eventually make up with the studio, winning a Best Picture Oscar when back at Paramount for Ordinary People in 1980 (and that followed the mighty Three Days Of The Condor).

5. Woody Harrelson – Benny And Joon

The charming Benny And Joon works very well with Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson in the lead roles. But the original plan was different, and Woody Harrelson was set to take on the other lead role. In fact, he was due to take top billing too.

Harrelson, however, left the picture, when he was subsequently offered a main role in Adrian Lyne’s Indecent Proposal (which would, ultimately, become a much bigger hit). MGM, who was backing Benny And Joon, wasn’t best pleased, and sued both Harrelson and Paramount Pictures for $5 million. As is often the case with such matters, the case was settled out of court, with nobody accepting liability (the rumored settlement was $500,000).

Aidan Quinn would ultimately replace Harrelson on Benny And Joon, which remains worth seeking out.

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6. Mario Lanza – The Student Prince

An interesting one this, for reasons of the settlement as much as anything else. The 1954 film The Student Prince was originally set to see Mario Lanza take on the role of Prince Karl in the movie. Yet after being cast, he quit the role, and MGM duly sued him for $5 million.

Yet Lanza never had to pay up. Instead, a settlement was reached whereby Lanza would provide a voice for the character of Prince Karl. The actor who replaced him, Edmund Purdom (again), thus had to move his lips in time to the dialogue that Lanza had recorded for the role.

7. Evan Rachel Wood – 10 Things I Hate About Life

A more recent case this. Plans remain afoot for a follow-up of sorts to 10 Things I Hate About You, by the name of 10 Things I Hate About Life. The film was set to shoot at the start of 2013, but production was delayed after four weeks of filming had been completed.

What was the problem?

Well, Evan Rachel Wood had been tapped to star in the movie, but by the middle of 2014, legalities were raising their head. She reportedly left the film back in 2013 for personal reasons, allegedly saying she couldn’t return until the end of the year. In June 2014, it was revealed that 10 Things Films LLC had launched a lawsuit against the actress, demanding more than $30 million in damages. That number was made up of alleged lost profits, equity investments and special damages.

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Just hours after the news of the lawsuit broke, Evan Rachel Wood’s representatives declared the lawsuit “a bullying tactic from financially troubled producers,” arguing that they’d run out of money in February 2013. Evan Rachel Wood denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

The film remains unfinished, and it’s unclear just what happened with the lawsuit. Nothing’s been heard of it for over a year though.

8. John Travolta – The Double

Back in 1997, John Travolta was back near the top of his box office powers again (arguably at the peak of them), and he was set to make a film called The Double, with director Roman Polanski. Travolta had already replaced Anthony Hopkins in the movie, signing up to appear in 1996. But he dropped out of the movie himself, prompting a lawsuit to be aimed in his direction from Mandalay Entertainment and Liteoffer Ltd. Said suit claimed that Travolta “demanded screenplay rewrites without Polanski’s knowledge.”

Travolta had been set to trouser $17 million for the film, but his lawyer insisted that he had hadn’t signed a contract, and would only have done the film with screenplay approval. 

In this case, the film in question would never get made, and eventually, the case was settled out of court. Travolta’s attorney was quoted as saying that the lawsuits were “settled to everyone’s satisfaction”. No details were forthcoming. 

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9. Dieter Laser – The Human Centipede 3

Dieter Laser had taken on a notable role in director Tom Six’s “not easy to watch” The Human Centipede, and reportedly signed on the dotted line for the final movie in the series. The Human Centipede 3 was set to go ahead with Laser, but he apparently dropped out on the eve of production, causing the film to be delayed.

Tom Six did not take this lying down. Thus, a press announcement arrived in March 2012 that read thus:

“Because of the success of The Human Centipede, it seems that Mr Dieter Laser’s ego has grown to laughably big proportions. First signing the contract and rating the THC3 script as fantastic, and then demanding his own unacceptable script changes, and now refusing to play the part only seven weeks prior to shooting. Six Entertainment Company will start legal action against Dieter Laser. Tom Six says not to worry – principal photography will be postponed and will take place later this year.”

Laser quickly shot back, telling Screenread “it’s very simple: I loved the story when it was told, got the contract and the promise to have the script in 4 to 6 weeks. When it arrived – half a year later and only after the official announcement – I didn’t like the realization at all, couldn’t identify with the character the way it was written.”

He said he made suggestions but “that was too much for Tom and since he couldn’t live with my suggestions and I as a method actor couldn’t identify with his version, I told him that I couldn’t see any other way than that he would have to ‘change horses’. That’s it.”

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The legal battle was soon over, as by the following January, Laser was back on board, as Tom Six announced that “Dieter will follow my vision for a full 100% now.” The movie went straight to DVD earlier this year.