The explosion of the DVD market, and of the current generation of American and international independent cinema, has sent movie bosses scouring the shelves and the planet for interesting directors. Said studios then try and pair those interesting directors with blockbuster movies (a trend that continues later this year with the rather excellent decision to give Gareth Edwards Godzilla to make). But things don’t always work out, and ways are parted before a single frame of footage has been shot.
So then: what we’ve looked at here are examples of where interesting directors were hired for blockbuster movies, only for them to leave the project before the film in question was complete. We’ve avoided stories of directors not returning for sequels to films they’d previously made (so, Sam Raimi with Spider-Man and Rupert Wyatt with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes). We’ve also focused on projects where the film itself came to fruition and was released – had we written this article in 2016, we could have added Duncan Jones’ Warcraft movie, which Sam Raimi was attached to for some time). But it’s not, so we won’t.
Instead, here’s a selection of blockbusters where the director’s chair changed hands, leaving an interesting initial choice off the end credits…
The director: Darren Aronovsky
When X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t go the way Fox wanted, it took a look around at what everyone else was doing with their comic book movies. Inevitably, it noticed that Warner Bros had taken a big gamble on a hugely talented, acclaimed director with its Batman films – in Christopher Nolan – and had reaped the rewards of that.
After being apparently turned down by Bryan Singer, Fox approached Darren Aronosky, then flying high off the back of The Wrestler and Black Swan. He’d worked with Hugh Jackman before on The Fountain, and in October 2010, it was confirmed that Aronosky was indeed set to helm The Wolverine. Six months later, he was off the project.
Why did they pull out? In a statement issued in March 2011, Darren Aronofsky said that “as I talked more about the film with my collaborators at Fox, it became clear that the production of The Wolverine would keep me out of the country for almost a year. I was not comfortable being away from my family for that length of time”. Aronofsky’s marriage had recently ended, although it’s not clear if that was a contributory factor too. Neither Fox nor Aronofsky made a further statement about their parting of the ways.
Who got the job, and how did it turn out? The Wolverine would be beset by further problems, with plans to film in Japan delayed by the tragic earthquake and tsunami in the country in 2011. Photography would not start until the spring of 2012.
A shortlist of directors saw the likes of Jose Padilha, Mark Romanek and Justin Lin as potential candidates to direct the film. Furthermore, Guillermo del Toro admitted he’d met with The Wolverine team about taking the project on, but ultimately passed. Eventually, James Mangold got the job, and steered The Wolverine to middling review but decent box office last year. It’s the second-highest grossing X-Men movie to date, and Mangold is now expected back for the next sequel.
The Green Hornet
The director: Stephen Chow
Seth Rogen has spoken with some regret over the big screen take on The Green Hornet, which he co-wrote and starred in. In fact, scrub that: he called it a “fucking nightmare” when he guested on the excellent WTF podcast. “I think we hoped we could be the guys who made the edgy PG-13 movie but we just couldn’t really do it”, he said.
It started well, though, and when it was announced that Stephen Chow was to co-star in the film and direct, the signs were positive. Because Chow the director is the man responsible for the quite brilliantly manic Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. He sounded a wonderfully left-field choice for Green Hornet, and the signs were extremely positive. He was officially announced as director of The Green Hornet in September 2008.
Sadly, after being attached to the film and working on it, it was announced in December 2008 that Chow was dropping out of directing Green Hornet, and that he might also be passing on the chance to take the role of Kato in it. Jay Chou would eventually take that role on.
Why did they pull out? The official reason given for Chow’s departure from the role of Kato in the film was scheduling problems, with Variety reporting at the time that he had left the project on “amicable terms”. He left the directorial post some months before that, with those magical “creative differences” the culprit. In his place came French director Michel Gondry. Gondry had worked on an attempt to get the film made around a decade before, and remains best known for the wonderful Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
Gondry shed some apparent light on what the “creative differences” between Chow and the studio were, telling Entertainment Weekly that Chow had ” really, really crazy ideas that you would not dare bring to a studio … AIDS was involved. Plastic boobs were involved, too”. A representative for Chow duly issued a denial.
Who got the job, and how did it turn out? Michel Gondry got it. Production was delayed slightly as a result of the personnel changes, and The Green Hornet moved from a summer 2010 release date to Christmas 2010. Then, Sony announced a delay of a further few weeks to accommodate a post-production 3D conversion.
As it turned out, the film won few people over, but didn’t do too badly. It grossed over $200m worldwide, and did solid business on home formats. There never seemed much appetite for a sequel to it from anyone involved, though. As Rogen would tell WTF, “Gondry, the director, is wonderful at smaller scale stuff but I think he did not mesh well with [a blockbuster]. It was his first movie with more than a $20 million dollar budget and this was $120 million dollar budget. And we had never made an action movie, he had never made an action movie. And if there is one thing I look back on like, ‘what was the problem there?’ It was just the budget. We can’t make a really edgy fun movie for our types of people for that amount of money”.
He told the Doug Loves Movies podcast that he would not do a sequel, and that “I would rather just not work for a year”.
The director: Guillermo del Toro
Still credited on the eventual The Hobbit movies, and very much still on friendly terms with Peter Jackson and his team, Guillermo del Toro was, of course, the man who was originally going to direct the new big screen take on The Hobbit. At the time the plan was for two films rather than three, and del Toro signed on the dotted line back in April 2008.
Del Toro got busy quickly, too. He worked on the scripts with Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and pre-production work began in earnest in the summer of 2008. By the spring of 2009, the story was locked and the screenplays were being produced, and it seemed like full steam ahead for photography to take place throughout 2010. Even when Peter Jackson announced that production had been delayed until the middle of 2010, del Toro was still involved.
Why did they pull out? Co-funders of The Hobbit films, MGM, was going through heavily-reported financial issues at the time, and as such, as del Toro revealed in May 2010, the films had not been officially greenlit at that time. Furthermore, he added that the films wouldn’t be until the MGM financial issues were resolved. Two days later, del Toro walked away from the director’s chair, nearly two years after he took the job on.
Who got the job, and how did it turn out? The issues surrounding MGM’s financials would delay the formal greenlighting of The Hobbit films until October 2010. At that stage, it was also announced that Peter Jackson would direct (amongst the alternatives believed to be considered were Harry Potter’s David Yates, and Brett Ratner). Filming finally got going in early 2011.
As for the films? The general consensus is that the two movies released thus far aren’t at the level of Lord Of The Rings, but they’re getting better. The first, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, came in for heavy criticism, but still has more fans that detractors.
Crucially for those paying the bills, An Unexpected Journey became the second of Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations to break $1bn at the global box office. At the time of writing, The Desolation Of Smaug‘s total stands at $854m.
del Toro would finally direct a big budget blockbuster, of course, in the shape of 2013’s Pacific Rim.
Mission: Impossible III
The director: Joe Carnahan
With each Mission: Impossible film comes a new director. Mission: Impossible II, for instance, was once linked with Oliver Stone before John Woo took on the job. At one stage, it looked as though David Fincher was in line to make Mission: Impossible III, but he would ultimately pass on the project. One man who did sign up for it though was Joe Carnahan, at that stage best known for the superb Narc.
Carnahan signed up to direct the film in early 2003, and spent the next 15 months working on and developing the movie. His cast was set to feature Kenneth Branagh, Carrie-Anne Moss and Scarlett Johansson, and the story would have veered a little closer to the one used in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, with the team being shut down. His movie would have also touched on themes of a private military, operating in Africa.
However, one month before photography was due to commence on Mission: Impossible III, Carnahan quit the project. “Creative differences” were rearing their head once more.
Why did they pull out? Carnahan’s departure had been rumoured for a few weeks before it actually happened, and the director has subsequently admitted that he quit before they fired him from the project. The director and studio bosses were reportedly not getting on, although Carnahan has since clarified that there’s no bad blood with either Paramount Pictures or Tom Cruise.
Who got the job, and how did it turn out? Given that the writing was seemingly on the wall for Carnahan a little while before he parted ways with Mission: Impossible III, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a contingency plan was in place. Cruise – who had been enjoying watching Alias at the time – put in a call to JJ Abrams and offered him the job. Abrams, given that he was working on Alias and Lost at the time, couldn’t take the job straight away, and thus production was delayed for a year.
That delay gave Cruise time to go and make War Of The Worlds with Steven Spielberg (also for Paramount), but also cost Mission: Impossible III the services of Branagh, Moss and Johansson. Production would finally start in July 2005, with Simon Pegg, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michelle Monaghan leading the support cast.
The film’s box office was good, if a little less than expected. At the time, that was put down to Tom Cruise’s infamous sofa-jumping on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the hoo-ha surrounding that. Reviews were decent, and the project was deemed successful enough to get a fourth Mission: Impossible movie moving. And a fifth is now on the way too…
Quantum Of Solace
The director: Roger Michell
Roger Michell is a director we’ve been chatting a lot about at Den Of Geek, where his films constantly pop up in our lists of underappreciated movies. Film such as Changing Lanes, Venus, Enduring Love and The Mother have sat alongside his higher profile work with Notting Hill and Morning Glory. But had things taken a different turn, Michell would have a Bond movie to his name, too.
Michell was the original choice to direct Daniel Craig’s second James Bond movie, Quantum Of Solace. He’d worked with Craig before on The Mother, and whilst he was never officially announced for Quantum Of Solace, subsequent reports have confirmed he was the choice to make the movie.
Michell, though, parted company with the project in October 2006.
Why did they pull out? Originally, it was the helpfully bland “creative differences” that were cited for Bond and Michell parting company. But it turned out to the be the screenplay. Chatting to Metro in 2011, he said that “what I would have done with it would have been to get a really good script before I started shooting, that’s what I would have done with it! That’s why I pulled out of it. We had everything, but no script… I just found it too daunting, the prospect of doing something not very well because you didn’t have a foundation for it. It’s all about the script in this business, it really is”.
He added that “so when the Bond people, who I really liked I must say very much, started saying, ‘I know we don’t have a script but could you start storyboarding the action sequences?’, I just thought, ‘how the fuck do I do that?’ It made me miserable. It just made me feel it was the wrong thing”.
Who got the job, and how did it turn out? Marc Forster eventually took Quantum Of Solace on. And whilst it has no shortage of people willing to stick up for it, it would be fair to say it is not regarded as the best James Bond movie.
Thor: The Dark World
The director: Patty Jenkins
Patty Jenkins’ most high-profile film that she’s directed to date has been 2003’s Monster, which earned Charlize Theron an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos. She’s subsequently picked up an Emmy nomination for her directorial work on the US remake of TV show The Killing.
Marvel Studios, meanwhile, has earned a welcome reputation for being willing to look far and wide for its directors. It was still something of a surprise though when it was announced that Patty Jenkins was set to take on the directorial challenge of the Thor sequel from Kenneth Branagh. It did not take long, though, for this particular union to fall apart. She was confirmed as director in October 2011, and would leave the project in December.
Why did they pull out? As the original parting of the ways statement relayed, Jenkins and Marvel parted company over – yep – “creative differences”. The door was seemingly held open for Jenkins to direct for Marvel in the future, and everybody seemed to love each other.
A contrary report popped up in The Hollywood Reporter a week or so later though, claiming several sources as saying Jenkins was “fired without warning”. The area of contention, if you believe this particular line, is that “Marvel became concerned that Jenkins was not moving decisively enough and feared the film might miss its November 2013 release date”. On the flip side of that, the counter-argument was that Jenkins had been up-front about what she wanted to do with Thor 2, which had got her the job, yet Marvel began to get cold feet.
We should note that neither Marvel nor Patty Jenkins has gone on the record with regards anything in that previous paragraph.
Who got the job, and how did it turn out? Game Of Thrones‘ Alan Taylor was fairly quickly instilled as the new director of Thor: The Dark World, although if you believe some of the stories doing the rounds during production, that wasn’t the happiest of relationships either. Still, Thor: The Dark World would go on to significantly outgross the first Thor movie, would again earn good reviews, and would lead to Marvel pressing ahead with Thor 3. A film that Alan Taylor is not expected to direct.