films Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production

Ann Casano
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Making a film is a long and arduous process. From script to screen, it can months, years, or even decades to before your vision is complete. Part of this process comes in hiring the movie's crew – and perhaps no decision is more important than choosing the right director. Most of the time, producers make the correct choice and hire a director that fits the needs of the production. But sometimes they get it very, very wrong. Here are 15 directors fired during production.

Some of the situations on the set of these movies where the director was fired were straightforward. Perhaps the producers felt that the director was moving too slowly and needed to find a change of pace behind the camera. Or, maybe the director did not get along with the star of the movie and adjustments needed to be made before fireworks erupted on set. But sometimes the crew parted ways for reasons bordering on the absurd. Believe it or not, one of the directors who got fired on this list was canned because he kept referring to the movie's antagonist as a whale instead of a shark.

It's never easy to make a major change in the middle of a movie's production. Sometimes the change is for the better, and sometimes it actually hurts the box office and critical success of a movie. Read about these 15 movies where the director got fired in the middle of filming and share your opinions in the comments section below.


Moneyball is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Fired Director: Steven Soderbergh

Replaced By: Bennett Miller

The Story: It's not often that a director of Steven Soderbergh's pedigree gets fired. However, the acclaimed director was replaced by Bennett Miller due to extreme creative differences with the film's producers. Soderbergh's vision for Moneyball (2011) was completely different than the Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) biopic that ultimately hit theaters.

Soderbergh's film was going to flip the script on the conventional sports biography. He wanted to make Moneyball a more realistic docu-drama with athletes playing themselves. However, his vision was not what Sony had in mind for the film and the studio opted to go another way, even though Soderbergh had already filmed several interviews with athletes.

Soderbergh spoke about his personal issues surrounding Moneyball during an interview with IndieWire, "I’m less prone to change things now that I would have been 10, 15 years ago. Moneyball is the perfect example of that. At the end of the day, part of my problem with that was my refusal to do something that didn’t happen. I wanted the movie to be absolutely accurate in every particular." He added about his desire of incorporating documentary footage into the film, "That was a sort of slow-motion car wreck when it finally landed on everyone just how rigorous I was being about that. There was a bit of a, 'Well, wait a minute.' And I get it. That was the only way I knew how to do it and it was the only way I wanted to do it. If that’s not the way it’s going to get done, then you should get rid of me."

In the end, it all worked out. Moneyball made a splash at the box office. It was also nominated for six Academy Awards, including a nod for Best Picture.

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Superman II is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: Warner Bros.

Fired Director: Richard Donner

Replaced By: Richard Lester

The Story: There are a couple factors that went into Donner getting fired from the Superman sequel. First, there was the reason of money. The first two installments were actually filmed simultaneously. However, after about 75% of the sequel was already finished, the studio fired Donner. The director claimed it was over budget matters and his own personal issue with Marlon Brando getting paid millions of dollars for what was basically a cameo role.

The second reason was because the studio was looking to go in campier and more comedic direction. When Lester was hired, he needed to shoot at least 51% of the film to have a sole directing credit. His re-shoots gave Superman II that comedic air, which contradicted the tone of the scenes Donner filmed. Even still, the sequel was well-received and performed well at the box office.

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The Wizard of Oz is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: Loew's, Inc.

Fired Directors: Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe

Replaced By: George Cukor, Victor Fleming, King Vidor

The Story: Okay, this one gets a little complicated. Norman Taurog was originally supposed to direct but never even got behind the camera before he was fired. The film's original director (who shot any footage), Richard Thorpe, worked for only two weeks before getting canned because the film's producer Mervyn LeRoy did not like Thorpe's work. LeRoy wanted the film to be magical like the books, and all LeRoy did was put too much makeup and a bad blonde wig on Judy Garland.

George Cukor took over but had to split after only a couple weeks to film another movie you may have heard of called Gone With the Wind. Victor Fleming stepped up next, and he did a great job. However, with only a few weeks left of production, he had to leave to replace Cukor in Gone with the Wind (see the story behind that firing below). Finally, King Vidor was able to finish the production by filming all the Kansas scenes and the most iconic part of the movie, when Dorothy sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

You have to remember that this was 1939 when studios reigned and directors were not known as the auteurs that they are today. Would Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg put up with this nonsense? Of course not. But back then producers called the shots and everyone just got in line for their turn. So with all the changes, who got the credit? Victor Fleming was the only credited director for the legendary film.

So who shot what? The color scenes are Fleming's. Vidor's scenes are most of the black-and-white/sepia Kansas scenes. The only thing Thorpe had in the film are close-ups of the Scarecrow. Finally, Cukor was just an advisor. He cleaned the makeup off of Dorothy and did some work with the costumes.

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Gone with the Wind is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: Loew's Inc.

Fired Director: George Cukor

Replaced By: Victor Fleming

The Story: Despite spending years working in the pre-production process of the epic Gone With the Wind (1939), George Cukor was fired after only three weeks of filming. The movie's producer David O. Selznick and Cukor seemed to battle over who was in charge. From day one, Selznick informed Cukor that he wanted the final say on the production. He also demanded that Cukor inform him of any changes made to a scene before it was shot.

Cukor was not happy with being second in command. "I was the director,” he later said, “and a director should shoot the scene before the producer sees it. That's when the producer's opinion is important, when he sees it on the screen for the first time. But Selznick started coming down on the set, giving hot tips which weren't very helpful.”

On a much more scandalous level, the film's male lead Clark Gable also did not like the idea of Cukor directing. It seems that Cukor allegedly knew Gable when he was hustling for Hollywood's gay circuit back in the day. Gable was reportedly uncomfortable working so closely with a director who knew about the secrets of his past, secrets that he obviously wanted to be kept locked away.

Victor Fleming left The Wizard of Oz to finish filming the three-hour Gone With the Wind. The film obviously achieved incredible critical and box office success. It is often cited as one of the best films ever made. For his efforts, Cukor did receive an uncredited directing nod.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: Universal Pictures

Fired Director: Alex Cox

Replaced By: Terry Gilliam

The Story: This was not the first time that Hollywood attempted to make a silver screen adaptation of the acclaimed road trip novel. Alex Cox, who also wrote the original screenplay for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), was canned very late into the film's production. There are a few reasons for his firing. The director did not get along with the film's star Johnny Depp, or the famed writer of the novel, Hunter S. Thompson. Both of those men did not care for Cox's screenplay, especially in regards to his ideas about including animation scenes. Thompson was actually insulted at the thought of his magnum opus getting "reduced to a cartoon."

Cox got canned, Terry Gilliam stepped in, and a whole new screenplay was written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. Ironically, Gilliam's script also included animation. Perhaps Thompson was correct in his "cartoon" assessment. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas turned out to be a gigantic box office failure and was also critically panned.

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Jaws is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: Universal Pictures

Fired Director: Dick Richards

Replaced By: Steven Spielberg

The Story: Jaws (1975) was the movie that made Steven Spielberg a star director. However, if Dick Richards could have just stopped calling Jaws a "whale," things could have turned out dramatically different for both men. The legendary Hollywood story claims that Richards was fired from what would become the highest grossing movie of all time because he kept referring to the titular shark as a whale. Producers got really annoyed at Richards' lack of basic animal biology and canned him in favor of 27-year-old, up-and-coming visionary Spielberg.

 

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The Island of Dr. Moreau is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: New Line Cinema

Fired Director: Richard Stanley

Replaced By: John Frankenheimer

The Story: It sounds like Richard Stanley got out of the nightmare production that was The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) just in time. There were not one but two diva actors onset: Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. Kilmer was going through a divorce at the time of the production. He demanded that his role be dramatically cut. Additionally, a lot of his dialogue was so bad that it could not be used in the final cut.

The studio figured Stanley was to blame for Kilmer's issues and brought in Frankenheimer, who also had his share of on-set problems. The two divas did not get along, and the script went through several rewrites. Somehow Frankenheimer managed to get the film in the can. However, the results were not good. The Island of Dr. Moreau was both a critical and box office disaster.

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Spartacus is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Movies Where the Director Was Fired in the Middle of Production
Photo: Universal International

Fired Director: Anthony Mann

Replaced By: Stanley Kubrick

The Story: It's hard to remember that Kubrick directed the historical epic Spartacus (1960). It's certainly not one of the films he is known for, despite the movie's monster success. Kirk Douglas, titular hero and the film's producer, did not think that Mann was the right man for the job. "I never wanted Anthony Mann," he said. "The studio wanted him because he had made so many successful pictures."

Douglas felt Mann was intimidated by the cast of the film which included screen legends such as Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis. After only three weeks on set, the studio agreed with Douglas' original assessment. Mann was fired and Kubrick got hired. Douglas stated that Mann was okay with the canning and the pair went on to work together in 1965 on the film The Heroes of Telemark.

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