Movie franchises that continued once the star quit

What do you do when a lead actor quits a movie franchise? In these examples, you carry on...

The news a few months ago that Will Smith wouldn’t be returning for Independence Day 2 was met with something of a collective shrug. After all, it’s not a big deal any more for a star to turn down a sequel and just be replaced. But it certainly used to be.

Here’s a collection of recent and less recent examples, and a look at just how things then turned out…


Who quit? After leading the ensemble cast of the increasingly-photocopied Police Academy films for four movies, Steve Guttenberg, in the prime of his box office powers, packed up and left. His character of Carey Mahoney was not recast.

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Who replaced them? Matt McCoy. He joined the series for Police Academy 5 in the role of Nick, Commandant Lassard’s nephew. Not that it affected the script too much – much of the material that had been written for Guttenberg in the movie was just given to McCoy. The characters, it would be fair to say, were not dramatically different. McCoy would reprise the role for Police Academy 6, although didn’t get the call for Police Academy: Mission To Moscow, where the budget put a strict limit on how many cast members could be flown to Russia.

Did it work? Well, it didn’t stop the franchise. That said, the US take dropped from $28m for Police Academy 4 to $19m for Police Academy 5 and $11m for Police Academy 6. Granted, the series had been in box office decline anyway, but Guttenberg’s absence was felt. Police Academy: Mission To Moscow took less than a million dollars.

Interestingly, Guttenberg has subsequently expressed regret about quitting the franchise when he did, and he’s been actively involved in getting a reboot going. He was said to be a possible director for it at one stage, but more realistically, if it ever happens, he’ll be part of the reunited ensemble.


Who quit? Keanu Reeves. After Speed became the breakout hit of summer 1994, Reeves was offered around $12m – what would have been his biggest payday to date – to reprise his role for Speed 2: Cruise Control. Various factors caused him to turn the film down. He didn’t need the money. He didn’t like the script. And he’d just finished making a different shitty action film anyway, in the form of Chain Reaction.

Sandra Bullock, incidentally, took home an eight figure payday, but also mainly agreed to star in Speed 2 in exchange for Fox agreeing to make Hope Floats. Hope Floats would turn a profit. Speed 2? Er…

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Who replaced them? It must have been an odd boardroom meeting. We’ve lost Keanu Reeves, now a global movie star (for some time, the Keanu Reeves Speed-fronted cover of Empire magazine was apparently its biggest selling issue). We have a potentially huge action franchise. Let’s call Jason Patric!

In fairness to Jason Patric, he seems equally baffled, but in he came, Sandra Bullock got promoted to the lead role, and Fox exercised Jan De Bont’s contractual obligation to direct the sequel. The idea of setting the film on a slow moving cruise ship was De Bont’s.

Did it work? Like you don’t know. Along with Batman & Robin, Speed 2: Cruise Control was one of two notoriously bad blockbusters of summer 1997. A lack of chemistry between Patrick and Bullock, a lack of pace from the boat, and a lack of much for the audience all contributed to Speed 2 becoming a franchise killer.

There’s been the occasional chat of a reboot, and perhaps luring Reeves back. But it’s just rumour, and we suspect it’ll stay that way.


Who quit? Well, first out of the door was Vin Diesel, who walked away from the first sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious. The late Paul Walker was promoted to the lead role then, but he passed on The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift.

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Who replaced them? When Diesel went, it was Walker. When Walker went, it was Lucas Black. And it’s easy to forget, given what a huge franchise Fast & Furious has become, that the law of diminishing box office returns was applying, right through to the end of Tokyo Drift.

Did it work? Eventually, yes. 2 Fast 2 Furious was a solid hit. Tokyo Drift did okay, but Universal did a deal with Vin Diesel whereby the actor would return for a cameo at the end of the third film, in exchange for the rights to the Riddick films. It would prove a smart move.

With Diesel and Walker’s careers struggling outside of the franchise, and with director Justin Lin impressing Universal after joining the series with Tokyo Drift, oil was struck when the three of them were brought together for the fourth movie in the series – Fast And Furious. To put into context the difference this made at the box office, Tokyo Drift earned just over $150m worldwide. Fast And Furious? $363m. Fast Five would then take $626m, Fast & Furious 6 would grow that number again to $788m. Next year’s Fast & Furious 7 may yet push $900m.


Who quit? After guiding Bruce Almighty to a huge box office take, Jim Carrey elected not to reprise the role for the sequel. Universal pressed on, undeterred.

Who replaced them? Steve Carell. With Carrey not returning, Evan Almighty was born, promoting a supporting character from the first film to centre stage. Director Tom Shadyac came back to direct, and Morgan Freeman reprised the role of God in the new film. Staggeringly, Evan Almighty cost over $170m just to make. This made it the most expensive comedy movie of all time, until Men In Black 3 popped along. And Men In Black 3 had more expensive salaries to pay.

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Did it work? It did not. Evan Almighty opened to tepid reviews, and its global box office take was just a little under what it cost to make the thing in the first place. In truth, Bruce Almighty is no classic, but it did have Carrey playing to his manic comedy roots. Once that was removed, the sequel was doomed. No further films in the series have been made since.


Who quit? The departure of Michael Keaton from the Batman series at the end of Batman Returns was pretty much expected, when Tim Burton elected not to make Batman 3. However, what wasn’t expected was that Val Kilmer would hang up the batsuit after just one film – Batman Forever – and would allow director Joel Schumacher to bring in another Batman. You know what’s coming.

Who replaced them? Schumacher and Val Kilmer were reported not to be the best of mates by the time Batman Forever proved to be a box office hit in 1995 (it’s often overlooked how it temporarily resurrected the fortunes of the big screen Batman adventures). When it came time to put Batman 4 together, Kilmer – in the words of Schumacher – “sort of quit and we sort of fired him”. Schumacher opted for George Clooney instead, who at the time was best known for ER, as he was searching for a lighter take on the character.

Did it work? Ummm, it didn’t go well. Clooney has since talked about how his Batman basically killed the franchise, and Batman & Robin is arguably the most critically derided blockbuster of the past 20 years. Furthermore, its muted financial success – it’s comfortably the worst performing live action Batman movie at the box office – also derailed Schumacher’s impressive adaptations of John Grisham books that he was making in tandem with Batman films at Warner Bros.

On the plus side, the disastrous Batman & Robin led to Warner Bros taking a genuine risk when it came time for a Dark Knight reboot. Had it not been for Val Kilmer quitting, Christopher Nolan may never had got the call…

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Who quit? Sean Connery, having played the role of James Bond 007 for five films, was not getting on with producer Albert R Broccoli. Having being reluctant to return for You Only Live Twice, Connery quit the role for the first time.

Who replaced them? The first time Connery quit as James Bond, the search for his successor settled on George Lazenby. Lazenby has been fairly open in interviews more recently about how he blew his big chance (notably refusing to shave and thus look Bond-like for the film’s premiere), but at the time, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘s disappointing performance threatened to derail the 007 films. It took a sizeable cash offer, as well as guaranteed backing for more films Connery wanted to make, to get him back for Diamonds Are Forever. After which, he quit again.

He would reprise the role of James Bond in the unofficial movie Never Say Never Again in the early 1980s, banking several million dollars and a fine wig for the privilege.

Did it work? The first time Connery quit, Bond was in trouble. Whilst On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is now regarded as a premium Bond film, at the time, it was not well regarded. Furthermore, the box office dropped from over $100m for You Only Live Twice to less than $70m this time around.

Connery quit again though, and Roger Moore took on Live And Let Die. And whilst Moore certainly has his critics for his run as Bond, he did help re-establish the series. Live And Let Die took over $120m on its initial run, and Moore would make the next six Bond films after that.

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Now, the James Bond series – with Daniel Craig in the lead role – stands as one of the biggest movie franchises on the planet. So yes, eventually, the recasting of Sean Connery did work.


Who quit? Macaulay Culkin, the star of the first two Home Alone films, was earmarked for a role in Home Alone 3, which arrived in cinemas eventually in 1997. However, by then, Culkin had dropped out of acting, and thus would not return.

Who replaced them? In truth, age was against Culkin for a third Home Alone movie, although if the original plan of shooting it back to back with Home Alone 2 had come to fruition, then it may well have happened. When that was abandoned, Home Alone 3 was instead to feature a teenage version of Kevin McAllister. Eventually, Alex D Linz was cast as the central character in the new film, which effectively just repeated the same premise with different people (including an early screen role for Scarlett Johansson).

Did it work? Nah. The five year gap between films and the removal of pretty much anyone involved with the first two movies put pay to Home Alone 3‘s chanced. It made it into cinemas, but whereas Home Alone 2 took over $350m worldwide, Home Alone 3 brought in under $80m. The two subsequent Home Alone films – Home Alone 4 and Home Alone 5: The Holiday Heist – would go straight to DVD. Home Alone 4 even recast all the original roles from the first two films with new actors. It went as well as you’d expect.


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Who quit? After winner her second Oscar for her superb portrayal of Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs movie, Jodie Foster was offered the chance to reprise the role in the subsequent film of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal. She walked away, at first citing a commitment to another project, but eventually revealing that she didn’t like the treatment of the character in Harris’ book. In particular, it’s likely to be the ending of Hannibal that Foster had problems with.

Who replaced them? Anthony Hopkins had agreed to reprise the title role, and had been working with Julianne Moore on a film called Surviving Picasso. With Ridley Scott on board to direct Hannibal, Hopkins suggested Moore for the role of Starling. She took the part, and the film went ahead.

Did it work? Well, yes and no. Hannibal is stylistically a strong film, but a brutal, violent shadow of The Silence Of The Lambs, with a last act that could best be described as troubling. Moore’s work, in a thankless role, was fine, and the movie went on to be a significant box office hit. Furthermore, two additional Hannibal Lecter movies would follow, and season three of the spin-off TV show has just been greenlit. It would be fair to say that they got away with the recasting, but that for a long time, the whole series lived in the shadows of The Silence Of The Lambs.


Who quit? John McTiernan’s Predator stands as one of our favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, and right from day one, it was a popular hit. A $98m box office success back in 1987, off a budget of $15m, it was one of the crucial films in establishing Arnie as a major box office star. Schwarzenegger, hardly a man resistant to sequels, was offered the chance to reprise the role of Dutch for 1990’s Predator 2, but he turned it down. His argument was that taking the Predator concept and moving it into a city environment from the previous jungle setting was a mistake. He opted to make Terminator 2 instead.

Who replaced them? Without Arnie on board, the team behind Predator 2 went in a different direction, and called on Danny Glover to take the lead role. Glover’s character was markedly different, a cop investigating drug cartels. But ultimately, his job was to shoot at and try and avoid Kevin Peter Hall’s predator.

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Did it work? Not very well, but it did. Predator 2 attracted lots of criticism for its violence, and would make less money than the first. But it still turned a profit, and it’s the kind of film that continues to keep ITV 2 in business. Nonetheless, Fox didn’t pursue a third film, at least not for another two decades, when Robert Rodriguez would bring Predators to the screen – again without Arnie on board.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger’s decision to make Terminator 2 would prove not to be a bad one.


Who quit? Firstly, director Paul Greengrass. Having made arguably the best two Bourne films – The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum – he declined the opportunity to make Bourne 4 (his relationship with Universal was said to have been tested by making Green Zone for the studio). When Greengrass went, Jason Bourne himself – Matt Damon – followed suit.

Who replaced them? Universal, faced with the quandary of wanting more Jason Bourne films just without Jason Bourne in them, opted to set The Bourne Legacy in the same world. As such, for half an hour of the new movie, all anyone seemed to talk about was Jason Bourne. Still, we then got to meet the new star of the franchise, Jeremy Renner, taking on the role of Aaron Cross. Cross, somewhat inevitably, isn’t a character too far removed from Bourne.

Did it work? Barely. The Bourne Legacy‘s box office returns were comfortably down on those for The Bourne Ultimatum, and this was not a surprise. Whereas Bourne 3 took in $442m worldwide and some excellent reviews, Bourne 4 grossed $276m and got panned. Still, that box office take was just about enough to keep things going, and Universal has greenlit Bourne 5, which Justin Lin is set to direct. If that doesn’t work, then Matt Damon is going to be offered an awful lot of money to return for Bourne 6…

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Who quit? You might not call Peter Weller a box office star on the level of some of the names we’ve discussed in this piece, but he was a pivotal part of the RoboCop jigsaw. Bringing humanity to the character of Alex Murphy, Weller portrayed the tin cop in RoboCop and RoboCop 2. Smelling 100% pure shit around the corner, he turned down RoboCop 3, due to a commitment to making David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. In the annals of wise decisions, Weller’s deserves particular praise.

Who replaced them? Robert Burke was plucked from relative obscurity to become the new RoboCop, before heading back to relative obscurity again. In fairness, he barely stood a chance. RoboCop 3 is the kind of film that doesn’t deserve mention in the same anything as the first movie, and Burke was not the problem with it. The decision to go for a PG-13 rating – one well ahead of its time as it would turn out – combined with an ill-fitting suit (Burke was taller than Weller) didn’t help.

Did it work? A million times no, but then it more than likely wouldn’t have worked with Peter Weller in it either. RoboCop 3 is what happens when people who don’t understand the original get to make a sequel. The more recent reboot wisely steered well clear of it.


Who quit? Firstly, Alec Baldwin. He played Ryan in The Hunt For Red October, but was committed to a Broadway production when Patriot Games, its sequel, was set to film. Or at least that was the story at the time.

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In a subsequent piece for The Huffington Post, Baldwin said “the truth is the studio cut my throat”. Baldwin alleges that he was pushed off the Jack Ryan gig when “a very famous movie star” was offered “the sequels to The Hunt For Red October” because “Paramount owed the actor a large sum of money for a greenlit film that fell apart” and “pushing me aside would help to alleviate that debt and put someone with much greater strength at the box office than mine in the role”.

So then: Harrison Ford took the role of Jack Ryan for Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger, although he eventually dropped out of returning for a third time. It had been his original intention to come back, both when the next movie was set to be The Cardinal Of The Kremlin before attention switched to adapting The Sum Of All Fears. However, he couldn’t agree with director Phillip Noyce on which way to go with the project. Both would end up departing the land of Jack Ryan.

Who replaced him? With Ford moving on, Paramount Pictures opted to go younger for the next Jack Ryan, offering the job to a then on the way up Ben Affleck. He got the job – and the offer of a $10m pay cheque – whilst filming Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, and eventually Phil Alden Robinson would sign on to direct.

Did it work? By most measures, yes. But by Paramount’s crucial measure of keeping the franchise going, no. The Sum Of All Fears is a really good entry in the Jack Ryan series, and it earned a solid collection of critical praise. Furthermore, it did well at the box office too, earning just shy of $200m worldwide off the back of a $70m budget. That’s a little below the take for Clear And Present Danger, but not bad for a reboot.

The reason things didn’t go forward from there though was in part down to Affleck’s career falling – temporarily – through the floor. The years after The Sum Of All Fears saw him headline films such as Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas and Changing Lanes. These were productions of varying quality, but none of them did the expected business at the box office (only Daredevil really came close). Furthermore, Affleck was being dragged across the headlines of tabloids and gossip magazines, courtesy of his relationship at the time.

Paramount always intended to move ahead with another Ryan movie, but producer Mace Neufeld subsequently admitted to Collider that “they didn’t make a film right after that because Ben got involved with some other film that didn’t do well”.

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It would take 12 years for Jack Ryan to return to the screen, now with an even younger actor in the shape of Chris Pine. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, however, grossed just $134m earlier this year.

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