5 Big-Budget Movies That Changed Directors During Production

In May, news broke that Cary Fukunaga will no longer be directing the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s It. Fans of the book, which follows a group of young teens as they’re terrorized by a demonic clown, were dismayed. Fukanaga has been developing the two-part film series since 2012, and proved himself to be worthy of tackling the horrific subject matter after his successful stint as a director during True Detective’s first season.

But, it could be worse. Word from the studio is that it’s still moving forward with development and looking for a replacement director. And luckily, Fukanaga left before a single frame could be shot, which meant that It avoided the pitfalls that several other high-profile projects have faced: losing a director mid-production. It doesn’t happen often, but when the leading creative force for a film leaves, chaos often ensues, and the entire production is put in jeopardy. Here are 5 famous films that faced this challenge, but still managed to make it to the big screen.

The Wizard of Oz

Source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

1. The Wizard of Oz

To date, it’s one of the most beloved movies of all-time. But in 1939, when MGM Studios was in the midst of producing The Wizard of Oz, no one would have guessed that it would go on to cinematic glory. At the time, it was the studio’s most expensive production, so there was a great deal of pressure to get the film right. The Wizard of Oz had four separate directors — Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and King Vidor. Thorpe was replaced when the studio thought he was rushing the production and thus failing to bring the story’s magic to screen. Cukor briefly came on to help realign the creative vision, before handing the reigns to Fleming. Finally, Vidor stepped in to film the final sequences after Fleming was called on to help with Gone with the Wind. Despite the upheaval during production, The Wizard of Oz went on to win critical praise, numerous accolades, and eventually the distinction of being a quintessential Hollywood classic.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in 'Gone with the Wind.'

Source: Selznick International Pictures

2. Gone with the Wind

Like The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind was released in 1939 and is now considered one of the best American films ever created. It shares something else in common — a tense, often problem-ridden production that saw three separate directors before the film made it to the editing room. The similarities don’t end there — two of its three directors, George Cukor and Victor Fleming, also worked with Dorothy and Toto. Cukor was replaced by producer David O. Selznick only three weeks into filming, after they couldn’t agree on the pacing and tone of the script. Fleming left The Wizard of Oz to pick up where Cukor left off, but after suffering exhaustion, he was briefly replaced by Sam Wood. In the end, the turmoil paid off — Gone with the Wind went on to win that year’s Best Picture Academy Award.

Kirk Douglas in 'Spartacus.'

Source: Bryna Productions

3. Spartacus

This 1960 historical epic, about a slave revolt in the midst of a Roman empire, is known as Stanley Kubrick’s film. And in many ways, that’s not entirely inaccurate — the acclaimed director took the helm of Spartacus after only a week’s worth of footage had been shot. Producer and star Kirk Douglas fired the film’s original director, Anthony Mann, after he decided that he seemed overwhelmed and unprepared to handle the film’s grand scope. Kubrick handled the film with aplomb, despite the fact that it was his biggest production at the time, and it went on to earn accolades and a hefty $60 million box office success.


Source: Walt Disney Co.

4. Brave

Brenda Chapman made headlines when she was announced as Pixar’s first female director. She also wrote the screenplay for Brave, originally called The Bear and the Bow, about a rambunctious Scottish princess. But in 2010, midway through the film’s creation, Pixar replaced Chapman with Mark Andrews after she and the film’s producers butted heads over “creative differences.” Ultimately, Chapman’s contribution to Brave was enough to earn her a directing credit alongside Andrews. The film was a huge success, scoring over $539 million at the box office.

Paul Rudd in 'Ant-Man.'

Source: Marvel Studios

5. Ant-Man

Fans of Scott Lang — a.k.a. Ant-Man — were elated when Marvel announced that Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s Edgar Wright would direct the superhero’s big screen debut. He seemed to have just the right vision for the off-beat action film. Wright worked for months on pre-production of the film, co-writing the screenplay and even shooting test footage. But in 2014, Marvel announced alongside Wright that he was leaving Ant-Man due to disagreements over his vision for the film. Peyton Reed stepped in to before filming began, though Wright is still credited for his work on the screenplay. We’ll have to see if the initial fan excitement for Ant-Man carries over post-Wright when it opens in theaters on July 17, 2015.

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