David Lynch was once offered to direct Return of the Jedi. Though the avant-garde director and creator of Twin Peaks has occasionally softened his vision for mainstream cinema since (see: The Straight Story), it seemed an unlikely move that the director’s third foray into feature length films would be a sequel to one of the most successful franchises of all time. Lynch opted instead to adapt the Frank Herbert’s seemingly impenetrable Dune, leading to a confounding, overcomplicated, bizarre mess of a movie with Sting in tight underwear and a monster that spoke to the world through an old timey radio.
It’s not uncommon for a director, once passionate and enthusiastic about a project, to lose their way and grow jaded. The studio system will put even some of the best ideas for a film through the audience-tested meat grinder until they’re unrecognizable. This is never more true than in the world of Marvel and DC – comic adaptations that demand strict adherence to story (with little room for creative control) so that they may fit in a larger puzzle. Prior to Marvel and DC films, good comic book films were rarely talked about with anything but rancour. They headlined lists of films not screened for critics each year.
Still, the frustration of such tight control over budget and creativity can make even the most enthusiastic nerd director turn their back on an adaptation. Here are a few that quit, were fired or just didn’t feel up to the gig. Today’s secret word is “Creative differences.”
15. Tim Burton, Superman Lives
In this case, the film in question was never even made. Burton’s vision for Superman amounts to a few test shots of Nicolas Cage donning the red and blue. However, Kevin Smith describes in great and hysterical detail just what went wrong during production of the never shot Superman film. Superman Lives, as it was to be called, was to produced by Jon Peters – who fell upwards to producer after beginning his career as Barbara Streisand‘s hairdresser. Smith met with Peters after writing an overlong treatment, learning just what Peters intended for the man of steel. Peters’ drastic and at times insane ideas and changes to the character caused both cast and crew to abandon the project completely.
14. Michelle MacLaren, Wonder Woman
Michelle MacLaren was riding high a few years ago, successfully directing and writing some of the best episodes of the AMC hit Breaking Bad. She was offered Wonder Woman on the strength of her small scale television work. MacLaren mysteriously disappeared from the project soon after, with Patty Jenkins stepping in.
Variety reported the reasons for her departure later on. MacLaren’s vision for a Wonder Woman origin story would have been an epic action film, on the scale of Braveheart. Warner executives thought the film should be smaller scale, more character and less action driven, which are words you never think you’d hear from a studio executive. MacLaren’s television experience also worried Warner. Going from Breaking Bad to Braveheart is a rather ambitious feat.
13. Edgar Wright, Ant Man
Edgar Wright, alongside writing partner and friend Simon Pegg, quickly grew to one of the most singular voices in comedy over the course of a cult TV series and a film (Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, respectively), creating a personal cinematic shorthand that is both efficient and funny. Wright first pitched his concept for Ant Man to Disney in 2003. A lifelong fan of the character, he promised an action-comedy special effects extravaganza. They allowed him to continue to develop it. His test reel for Ant Man, screened at comic con, was met with giddy fanboy enthusiasm.
In 2014, however, he left the project when his vision for the character couldn’t meld properly into the already established Marvel cinematic universe. He was replaced with Peyton Reed, though he is still credited on the script and much of the film still retains Wright’s fingerprints.
12. Richard Donner, Superman II
Richard Donner directed what is considered the first major Superhero film with Superman in 1978. Filming lasted 19 months, as Superman II was being shot simultaneously. At one point, producer Ilya Salkind became so frustrated with Donner’s inability to film within time and budget, A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester was brought on to mediate. By then, Donner and Salkind weren’t on speaking terms.
Lester all but took over Superman II, adding much more humour throughout. Though the Donner cut is now available on DVD (and preferred overall by fans), II was a huge success. Lester continued with Superman III, the one that opens with slapstick and features Richard Pryor.
11. Tim Miller, Deadpool II
Ryan Reynolds fought hard and long for an authentic, R-rated Deadpool film to be made. He agreed to play the merc with a mouth in the dreadful X-Origins: Wolverine only to further that goal. For his troubles, Reynolds’ beloved character had his mouth sewn shut for most of his screentime. After tireless effort on the actor’s part, Marvel finally relented, and the resulting film was a major hit last February.
The film’s director, Tim Miller, recently dropped out of the project due to creative difference with Reynolds. Seems Reynolds is so dead set on keeping true to the juvenile, ultra-violent character, not even the director will stand in his way.
10. Josh Trank, Star Wars Anthology
Is Star Wars considered a part of the superhero ouvre? These days, sure. After all, both Marvel and Wars are owned by Disney and pushed in the same, genre-bending, puzzle building way.
Josh Trank got his start directing superhero films, helming the Max Landis-scripted Chronicle. The world was Trank’s to be had, and he was quickly snatched up by 20th Century Fox to film their Fantastic Four update. Disney also sought him out to direct the second, untitled Star Wars spinoff (after the upcoming Rogue One).
However, after Trank’s reportedly tyrannical behaviour on the set of Fantastic Four, which included trashing a rented house and the verbal abuse of actress Kate Mara, Disney has since soured on Trank. Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) is his likely replacement.
9. Darren Aronofsky, The Wolverine
The Requiem For a Dream director has a long history with comic books. Initially, Aaronofsky wanted to adapt Frank Miller‘s Batman: Year One, although with significant and bizarre changes. Alfred, for instance, would be not a butler, but “Big Al”, a mechanic at a local garage.
Aronofsky worked on The Wolverine six months before departing. In that time, he rewrote Chris McQuarrie’s script and did some location scouting. Though he claims to have left the project due the time it would take away from his family (he and Rachel Weisz recently separated, leaving a child in custodial turmoil), many believe the hard R-rating his script was aiming for made the studio nervous.
8. Juan Carlos Fresnallido, The Crow
The Crow is truly cursed. During shooting of the original film, recently departed actor Michael Massee fired a blank at Brandon Lee, which discharged a live primer instead, killing him.
Since 2008, a reboot of the film has been in some stage of pre-production. And it just can’t seem to hold down a director. Stephen Norrington was the one to make the announcement, whose experience with superhero films (The League of Extraordinary Gentleman) caused Alan Moore to give up on adaptations of his work and Sean Connery to quit acting.
Fresnallido (28 Weeks Later) was the first of many directors to quit the project after Norrington, which has also been mired in legal battles since 2011. It also has trouble keeping a doomed leading man. Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Channing Tatum and James McAvoy were all at one point attached to star, and all have since walked away. Future Aquaman star Jason Momoa appears to be the next in line to most likely quit the project.
7. Patty Jenkins, Thor: The Dark World
One of the many complaints about Marvel films is the lack of diversity behind and in front of the camera. Jenkins directing Thor would have upset the balance of a male-dominated franchise.
Jenkins would have been the first female behind the tentpole, and this news was enough to keep Natalie Portman from taking a break from acting to spend time with her newborn baby. While the standard “creative differences” statement was issued, it is widely believed that Jenkins was fired without warning from the project, infuriating Portman.
6. Seth Grahame-Smith, The Flash
The DC cinematic universe, beginning with the miserable Batman V. Superman: Docket File #C32438-5A, appears to be trying to do what took Marvel studios 8 years in less than half that time. After Iron Man was released, the rest of the Marvel characters gradually gelled together, linked mostly by post-credit sequences before The Avengers. DC is already shooting Justice League, after only briefly introducing its other heroes in BVS (via email, no less).
Naturally, this leaves prospective directors nervous. Grahame-Smith was the first to bail on the Ezra Miller-starring The Flash. The film has some built-in, ready made backlash from fans of the CW TV series, as star Grant Gustin will not be donning the red and yellow on the big screen.
5. Rick Famuyiwa, The Flash
Famuyiwa is a fairly new face around Hollywood, hitting hard with last year’s Dope. He had been on board The Flash pre-production since June and was integral in the casting of Billy Crudup and Kiersey Clemmons in major roles.
Citing once again creative differences, Famuyiwa walked away from The Flash in October. This could well mean the end of the project for now. Production is supposed to begin in March, and can’t be pushed much further as star Miller has a scheduling conflict in July.
4. Joss Whedon, Avengers: Infinity War
After The Avengers, Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator and all-around geek hero Joss Whedon appeared to be Marvel’s wonder boy. His quirky dialogue was a perfect fit for Robert Downey Jr.‘s rapid fire wit, but he also had a knack for action set pieces never before explored. Apart from that, he had an understanding of comic history that the studio exploited for quick rewrites for Thor: The Dark World. Marvel had found their golden goose.
Until Age of Ultron, the muddled, overlong follow-up to Avengers. Whedon’s vision clashed with Marvel, particularly an extended, character-driven break in which the heroes rest on Hawkeye’s farm with his unknown family. The studio insisted upon a confusing, out of place hallucination in which Thor encounters an Infiniti Stone and dreams of his friend’s dead on a battlefield (potentially a hint at what’s to come in the upcoming Ragnarok). Marvel threatened to remove the farm scene if he didn’t include the hallucination.
Seemingly random, confusing accusations of sexism against the man who created one of the most iconic female heroines in modern history also soured Whedon, to the point where he deleted his twitter account.
3. Jonathan Mostow, Hancock
Hancock had a long, strange journey to the screen. The story of an alcoholic, ne’er do well superhero and his publicist began as a spec script written by Vincent Ngo and rewritten by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. It was also originally called the vague, potentially double entendred Tonight, He Comes. Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) was initially tapped to direct, however he and star Will Smith never saw eye to eye on how to approach the material.
Mostow remained on as an executive producer and they hastily replaced him with director/actor Peter Berg (The Kingdom). Either way, the film didn’t make the kind of splash that was intended.
2. Jonathan Hensleigh, Punisher: War Zone
Jonathan Hensleigh began as a screenwriter, writing several episodes of Young Indiana Jones before delivering a spec script known as Simon Says. The script was refashioned, first as a Lethal Weapon sequel and finally into what became Die Hard With a Vengeance. 2004’s The Punisher was his directorial debut. It was the first attempt to bring the character to the big screen since the unlicensed 1989 Ozploitation film starring Dolph Lundgren.
Hensleigh began developing a sequel, hoping to retain star Tom Jane. However, as the script began to change and studios pushed in a different direction, both Hensleigh and Jane walked away, considering the material too “comic book.”
War Zone was taken over by former stuntwoman Lexi Alexander and, until Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, offered the most authentic version of the character.
1. Chris Columbus, Daredevil
A live-action adaptation of Daredevil had been in development since 1997. Columbus (Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone) was originally attached to what turned out to be a disastrous adaptation of the blind superhero’s adventures. A script, by Columbus and Carlo Carlei, was secured. Ben Affleck, a fan of the character, was always the lead choice to play Matt Murdock (Cuba Gooding Jr. apparently wanted the role, but no one asked him). At the time, however, Marvel was near bankrupt, and Fox let the option slide.
Mark Stephen Johnson signed on with a script approved by studios and Aintitcoolnews’ Harry Knowles (a man of impeccable taste). The result was a travesty. Even the director’s cut is panned by fans. The “darker, edgier” film audiences were promised turned out to be a giant slog.