17 Times Major Actors Had Their Roles Cut Way Down (Or Completely)

It's not uncommon for movies to have deleted scenes. The initial cut of most films tends to run a little long. The editing process is fundamentally designed to pare away the stuff that isn't needed, so that the story flows at an optimal pace. DVDs and Blu-rays offer viewers a chance to see the stuff that didn't make it into the finished product.

What's far more uncommon is for a big star to be mostly edited out of a movie. After all, if you're going to pay for a big name, why cut them out in the end? Nevertheless, this has happened on multiple occasions - even to some actors you would never expect to receive such treatment. Many times this happens simply because a film is running long and needs to be trimmed for time. But there have been instances where reshoots, fickle-minded directors, and other factors have been to blame. 

The following major actors all suffered that fate, seeing their roles cut way down or, in some cases, eliminated entirely.

  • If there's a worst-case scenario for actors getting cut out of movies, Adrien Brody lived it. By the mid-'90s, he'd had small roles in Disney's Angels in the Outfield and a few independent films. Then he got what was supposed to be his big break - playing Corporal Geoffrey Fife in The Thin Red Line. Based on James Jones's novel, the movie was being directed by Terrence Malick, the legendary filmmaker behind Days of Heaven and Badlands. Even better, Fife was the main character, so this was destined to be Brody's breakthrough. 

    Except it wasn't. Malick, as is his tendency, shot way too much footage. When he got into the editing room, he was reportedly indecisive about how to trim the movie down and what to include. He ended up axing or dramatically cutting down roles played by Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, and Billy Bob Thornton. In fact, the story Malick decided to tell was altered so radically that Brody's role was reduced from lead actor to glorified extra, with only a few lines of dialogue surviving.

    Brody told The Guardian how badly this stung: "I was so focused and professional, I gave everything to it, and then to not receive everything... in terms of witnessing my own work. It was extremely unpleasant because I'd already begun the press for a film that I wasn't really in."

  • The Fugitive is beloved in part because it's an exciting nonstop chase, with wrongly accused Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) trying to prove he didn't murder his wife before FBI deputy Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) can apprehend him. The movie was not always intended to be without breaks in the action, though. Kimble was supposed to have a romance with an ER doctor, played by Julianne Moore. 

    This didn't happen because director Andrew Davis decided to chop most of Moore's scenes from the script right before production began. He felt the pace would be slowed down by the romance. Moore, an up-and-comer at the time, was understandably disappointed. She later explained in the Boston Herald:

    It was going to be a big part - he would meet me at the hospital and I was going to go on the run with him. Two weeks before shooting, they made a decision to cut that part from the movie. It was devastating. Because this was my big break! It was a really big deal. Instead I showed up and worked for those few days - and that was it. I had the billing but I didn’t have the part. Honestly, how did I feel? I was devastated. Sometimes that happens.

  • Christopher Lee was a legend when he signed on to be in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He'd already become a horror icon for playing Dracula in multiple chillers from the British film company Hammer. He played Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu on-screen, too. Lee additionally appeared in Steven Spielberg's 1941 and George Lucas's Star Wars prequels. In other words, the veteran actor had every reason to feel insulted when Jackson completely cut him out of LOTR's rousing finale, The Return of the King

    His character, Saruman, had his part of the plot wrapped up in a coda shot for the previous installment, The Two Towers. When the film was running long, Jackson decided to hold this 7-minute sequence for the start of Return of the King. But when he cut that film together, the prologue felt like it was still doing the last movie's business, as opposed to starting the new one's. He therefore completely eliminated it - and Lee's performance.

    The actor was so enraged that he boycotted the premiere. "We were all shown the films in private, and when the third film came on, I couldn’t believe what I saw, because I wasn’t in it," Lee said. 

  • In A League of Their Own, Jon Lovitz has a scene-stealing supporting role as baseball scout Ernie Capadino. He earns some of the movie's biggest laughs with his sarcastic punchlines, as when his character tells one female player, "How it works is, the train moves, not the station." Despite being the highlight of every sequence he appears in, Lovtiz saw his role shortened when test audiences laughed hardest at Ernie's meanest lines. Director Penny Marshall chose to remove anything that didn't emphasize his surliness.

    That decision didn't go over so well with the actor. Lovitz was upset that Marshall deleted a scene where Ernie delivers a monologue about legendary baseball player Babe Ruth and a hot dog. He apparently believed that moment would earn him awards nominations. Marshall responded to his protest by saying, "You're in the film just enough."

  • Jack Nicholson didn't necessarily need to be in 1970's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. He'd already made a name for himself with roles in Little Shop of Horrors and Easy Rider. At the same time, he hadn't yet hit his stride. Career-making performances in Chinatown, The Last Detail, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest were still a couple years off. Nevertheless, losing a role in a Barbra Streisand movie directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli couldn't have made him happy. 

    What went wrong that led to the majority of his role being excised from the finished project? Producer Robert Evans said Nicholson "had a song in it which he didn't do too well" - and didn't get along with Minnelli. But he was also caught in the middle of a studio movie that was trying to be traditional and cutting-edge at the same time. In the end, they veered more toward the traditional, coming to believe that Nicholson's hair was too long and might be off-putting to older viewers with a disdain for the hippie aesthetic.

  • Suicide Squad marks one of the better-known examples of an actor's role being reduced, in part because that actor has repeatedly advocated for his work to be reinstated. Jared Leto played the Joker in this 2016 movie. It got a very weird response. Reviews were terrible and older audiences generally rejected it, but the film had enough pure visibility to earn a more-than-impressive $325 million domestically. Still, for all the pre-release hype about Leto portraying the legendary comic book villain, he ended up not being in the movie as much as everyone expected. 

    Director David Ayer has long blamed studio interference for the lessening of Leto's performance, claiming the version released was their cut, not his. Fans, meanwhile, have flooded social media with pleas for Warner Bros. to release the "Ayer Cut." Leto is among the chorus. Of his minimized role, he said, "There were so many scenes that got cut from the movie, I couldn’t even start. I think that the Joker… we did a lot of experimentation on the set, we explored a lot. There’s so much that we shot that’s not in the film."