A classic episode of The Simpsons has Mel Gibson doing a test screening in Springfield of his remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While 99 percent of the audience loves it, Gibson makes the mistake of listening to the one person who didn’t, Homer. He thus reshoots the movie to turn it into a dumb action flick which bombs.
While satire, the episode does illustrate a common thing in Hollywood, how so often reshooting a movie ends up ruining it. Hollywood is filled with stories of movies marred by how studios didn’t grasp things, forcing them to change storylines and characters to make it “better” only for it to turn out worse. As reshoots are common, it’s too easy for those to make things worse and mar things up. Even if a movie survives a reshoot, it can still be affected in other ways to ruin it majorly. Not helping is how test audiences can be wrong and not get what the movie is about and the studios assuming one audience speaks for millions wanting to make changes.
But there’s a flip side, as sometimes the studios or test crowds are right. They point out problems and issues that were missed before and needed to be fixed. Other times, the director decides to use reshoots to smooth things out or add on bits that end up turning a good film into something great. It’s rare, but it happens as it shows how no movie is perfect right off but takes some fine-tuning. Sure, sometimes it can be bad, but other times reshoots are nothing to worry about as they can fix things nicely. Here are 8 movies that were basically ruined by reshoots, and 7 that ended up better for them to show risks can hurt or pay off.
15 DESTROYED: Alien 3
The story behind this movie is cited as one of the most epic battles between a director and a studio in history. The original idea was the obvious: the Xenomorphs attacking Earth. However, various rewrites happened that shifted it to a forest world but just before that happened, FOX cut the budget and fired the original director. David Fincher began his work and from there, the fights began as they didn’t even have a finished script. Fincher was often filming scenes without studio permission and reworking stuff constantly. The on-set clashes were big, the actors feeling the heat. Sigourney Weaver snapping and no one seemed to have any idea what was going on. Once the final cut was assembled, FOX began demanding huge changes, so Fincher walked off and, to this day, refuses to discuss the movie. So several scenes were reshot by the crew and then re-edited into a messy final product.
The Blu-Ray of the film contains both an extensive documentary on the making of it and Fincher’s “Assembly Cut” which restores a lot of missing beats. It showcases how this movie nearly derailed the entire franchise because of the studio mess.
14 SAVED: E.T.
Steven Spielberg may have been an established force in 1981, but this was still a risk. A sci-fi movie with little in the way of star power and more of a family picture with some scary elements, it was something he needed to prove could work. Most of the movie is what fans see as young Eliot befriends E.T. and helps him “phone home”. The big bit is the ending as Spielberg wanted to give it a tragic bit as E.T. was to die in military custody… and stays that way. It was Spielberg’s nod to classic science fiction, the idea of “humans are the real monsters” and use the death to push the others to make the world a better place. But test audiences hated it, loving E.T. massively. Thus, Spielberg reshot the movie to include the alien reviving and the famous image of him using his powers to let bikes fly before an emotional farewell. It worked out, turning the movie into one of the biggest box office hits ever and Spielberg has acknowledged that the reshot ending was the better one, turning the movie into a classic.
13 DESTROYED: Exorcist: The Beginning
The Exorcist is recognized as one of the single greatest horror movies of all time. Its sequel is equally recognized as one of the worst movie sequels ever made. After a bad third film, Morgan Creek tried a reboot in 2004. Paul Schrader went ahead, a huge fan of the property and so delivered a cut on the tale that pushed for psychological power and less on violence or fancy special effects. But the studio was concerned audiences wouldn’t respond to that and so fired Schrader. They brought in Renny Harlin who proceeded to basically reshoot the entire movie almost from scratch. Characters were cut, new ones added and a few were recast as the movie now became a fancy epic with major FX stuff and cheap scares. The final result was a box office flop critics loathed.
Indeed, William Peter Blatty (who had written the original novel and movie) called this “my most humiliating professional experience.” After years of buzz, the studio finally released Schrader’s version (called Dominion: Prelude to the Exorcist) onto home media to get better reviews. Both versions are on video for us to see how this movie just appeared truly cursed.
12 SAVED: Mad Max, Fury Road
George Miller was taking a big risk in 2015 reviving his long-dead post-apocalyptic adventure saga with a new actor in the lead role. Not helping was that to capture these devastated landscapes, Miller filmed in the middle of the Namib Desert which gets to about 120 degrees in the day and below freezing at night. There was also the frankly insane stunt work that put Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in actual danger. When the film was completed, Miller screened it and it was a harsh and chaotic work with little real story. Thankfully, Miller was able to talk the studio into financing some reshoots. With more budget to play with, Miller was able to add in more amazing action stuff while also some levity and expanding on the Citadel scenes. The result was not only a box office hit, but a multiple Oscar winner as well, a rarity for an action film. Thus, Miller can clearly state how these reshoots helped make a modern action masterpiece.
11 DESTROYED: Geostorm
This movie was probably already going to be bad. But the reshoots are what’s turned it from just a flop to one of the biggest bombs of a year already filled with them. The directorial debut of Dean Devlin, the movie centers around a weather-controlling system that goes bad and causes huge disasters (tidal waves in Dubai, Rio frozen over, etc). With a budget of $85 million, the movie looked to be on the way to being a big one in 2015. However, the film was delayed due to studio issues and then test screenings went bad. So Skydance spent nearly $20 million on reshoots under Danny Cannon, adding in new characters, reworking the storyline and beefing up the comedy aspects. What was meant as a pure disaster flick now turned into a whacky conspiracy storyline involving kidnapping the President and new characters introduced. The opening weekend was worse than expected, not even covering the cost of the reshoots. It now looks like the movie will lose $100 million thanks to this ridiculous production that shows throwing more money at a film doesn’t always work.
10 SAVED: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
In his audio commentary on the special 3-D Blu-Ray, JJ Abrams is up front on how reshoots really benefited his reboot of the iconic franchise. Already, Abrams had changed things as originally, he had the idea of the big twist of Poe Dameron dying early on. But during filming, Abrams realized how charismatic Oscar Isaac was and thus changed it to Poe surviving for the final battle. When the film was completed and screened, Abrams felt something just felt a bit off about it and needed some changes. As it happened, Harrison Ford had injured himself in a flying accident and to fill up the time, Abrams shot some material, including the fun scene of Rey and Finn fixing the Falcon that was a winner for fans. He added in other bits as well, the best being the close-up of Rey during her duel with Kylo welcoming the Force that was a fantastic addition. As Abrams makes clear in that commentary, the movie benefited nicely from the reshoots to make it the revival Star Wars fans had long wanted.
9 DESTROYED: Suicide Squad
Maybe it did well at the box office, but it sure is loathed by many fans and even others who saw it. The original cut of the movie was a straight-up dark take on a pack of super-criminals recruited for a mission. It boasted a great cast, like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn with Jared Leto’s wild take on the Joker meant to steal the show. However, Warner Bros became concerned when fans responded poorly to the dark tone of Batman v Superman and decided to have David Ayers do reshoots to lighten things up and add in more comedy aspects. Warner Bros still wasn't sure, and so had Trailer Park do an edit of a different version, much lighter with a different beat. Rather than choose, the studio then decided to mix both films together. The result is a mess with plot points dropped all over, poor character development, shifts from dumb action to lame jokes and, most importantly, Leto’s Joker reduced to less than five minutes of screen time. Yet another reason Warners’ attempts to get the DCCU set up just keep blowing up in their face.
8 SAVED: Jaws
This is the movie that not only made summer the best time for blockbusters, it also launched Steven Spielberg’s career. But it almost didn’t happen. The production was a true mess with rewrites constant, temperamental actors and the elements not helping. Spielberg went for some gore, including a scene of a scuba diver getting his head bitten off and it bobbing to the surface. But test audiences reacted very badly, the big concern being that the sight of the shark caused laughter rather than terror due to how cheap it looked up close. Spielberg realized a “less is more” approach was far better and that keeping the shark out of sight would make its appearances more impactful (not to mention hide the illusion). He also added more character beats for the actors to strengthen their connection, including the famed scene of Robert Shaw talking about a shark attack on a U.S. battleship. The results were terrific with a smash hit that would transform movies and showed how Spielberg’s gift for adapting to criticism would make him a success.
7 DESTROYED: 47 Ronin
When a Japanese-produced FX movie based on a revered Japanese legend fails to do well in Japan, something is very wrong. The classic story is of the title characters who go undercover to avenge their master. This movie mixed elements of Japanese fantasy with monsters and promised a big push. Keanu Reeves was added to bring in Western audiences with his character a half-English outcast falling in with the heroes. Production was huge, with Reeves more a side character as the ronin themselves were the focus. But after production wrapped, the studio decided the movie needed to focus on Reeves more despite the fact that he was meant as a side character. Thus reshoots were made to beef up his role over the real stars, ignoring how he wasn’t even a key figure to the climax. The result was pushing the movie up so its final price tag was close to $225 million. Thus, it lost over $150 million; not even the Japanese were interested and so trying to make it more “mainstream” for audiences just made it a bigger flop.
6 SAVED: Back To The Future
It’s one of the biggest “what if” castings in movie history. When Robert Zemeckis’ classic was filming, Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly. He was a good actor and brought a nice gravitas to the part, but Zemeckis just didn’t feel it was working. He thought Stoltz came off too mature and not grasping the comedic aspects and the actor seemed difficult on set. So, just a few months into filming, Stoltz was let go. Michael J. Fox was then hired and the movie clicked much better. Fox had the part better with Marty in over his head but relatable which was needed for the audiences. The movie was the biggest hit of 1985 and spawned two sequels and still loved today. In 2010, a 25th-anniversary set finally showed the long-missing Stoltz footage and most agreed getting rid of him was the best move, as Fox was what made Back into such a revered hit.
5 DESTROYED: Fantastic Four (2015)
There’s an entire book to be written on how the 2015 reboot of the comic book franchise turned into a massive debacle. From day one, Josh Trank had issues with his darker take on the property, some feeling a “grounded” approach wasn’t right for the characters and such. However, the conflicts between him and FOX would approach legendary status. The reshoots are quite obvious given Kate Mara’s horrible wig and included such issues as changing a scientist meant to be iconic FF foe, the Mole Man, into a generic enemy. There was also how Doom (already looking weak) was shifted to more lame and obvious voice-over work meant to build him up. Slews of action scenes from the trailer were dropped, the addition of the horrible flashback of how the Thing’s “It’s clobbering time” catchphrase came from his abusive older brother and more. The movie might have been rough but the reshoots are what turned it into a true disaster.
4 SAVED: Anchorman
It’s one thing to have a few scenes here and there reshot. It’s another to re-film so much that you can literally release an entirely separate movie. Such a case is the 2005 box office smash with Will Ferrell as a goofy 1970s TV news anchor. The original cut had a long subplot involving Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler which was about a radical group who kidnap Christina Applegate’s character. On that, Ron and Veronica were together as the movie started but the tension of being lead anchor threatens them and the side characters weren’t as developed. This totally bombed for test audiences so the studio scrambled. The plotlines of the radical group were dropped and several sequences retooled. More importantly, the actors were encouraged to do more ad-libbing and improv. This vastly improved the movie and helped make it a huge smash. The Blu-Ray contains this huge separate cut which was clearly the worse version and shows how reshooting your movie isn’t a bad thing.
3 DESTROYED: I Am Legend
Here’s a prime example of how a test audience can ruin a film. This 2007 sci-fi flick has Will Smith as seemingly the only survivor of a near-future plague that turns people into vampire-like creatures. Smith spends his nights hiding and his days hunting them down and searching for a cure. The original ending has Smith facing off with the creatures in his lab as he’s trying to use his cure on an infected woman. One of them makes a symbol of a butterfly and points the woman’s tattoo of one. Smith understands that they’re simply trying to save her and is stunned to realize that instead of mindless beasts, the infected are still intelligent. He sees the duo reunite as it hits him that he is the monster killing and experimenting on them without a thought. That’s what the title refers to; he’s the “legend” of the boogeyman hunting them down and when he leaves, tells any human survivors out they're not to be so afraid.
However, the test audiences didn’t seem to grasp that and complained about the ending being too open. So, it was reshot to Smith doing a stupid “sacrifice” against these mindless creatures as a woman and her child flee with the cure. This completely undermines the point of the movie and was a needless change. The movie was a box office success but doesn’t hold up as well as the reshot ending ruins it.
2 SAVED: Rogue One
When word came this Star Wars prequel was going to be having reshoots after its trailers hit, fans were naturally upset. The buzz began with half the film remade to turn it into a cookie-cutter flick. However, it now appears that the reshoots helped the movie a lot, mostly in the characters. Main character Jyn went from a typical heroine to a more conflicted person, as did Cassian. Also, instead of menacing, the droid K-2S0 was allowed to have a snarky attitude that made him a favorite. The final act was to concentrate on just the planet-side battle, but the reshoots opened it up to the epic space combat audiences loved. Originally, Jyn was to steal data from a tower, run across a beach in a battle and go to another tower. The reshoots trimmed it down for pacing, making it flow much better. Also, Krennic was to survive the battle and be executed later, but the new version has the much more fitting touch of him killed by a Death Star blast.
The biggest changes came for Darth Vader, as originally he would be little more than a cameo on the Death Star. Instead, viewers got the fantastic “lava castle” sequence that was a standout. More importantly was the addition of the best scene of the movie, Vader attacking a hallway of Rebels. That alone makes the entire reshoot worthwhile to show how the first stand-alone Star Wars film went from a potential mess to a huge hit.
1 DESTROYED: The Island of Doctor Moreau
You know a movie’s production is a train wreck when it inspires a full documentary. The classic H.G. Wells story of an island of half-animal hybrids has long been a popular one and Richard Stanley was happy to get the job of director after years of development. The issues began with the decision to cast Marlon Brando in the lead as he brought his infamous temperament to things and Val Kilmer was right behind him. The shoot was soon behind schedule with bad weather and clashes on set and Rob Morrow walking off to be replaced by David Thewlis. So the studio fired Stanley by fax, which sparked Fairuza Balk to steal a limo and drive 200 miles off set.
John Frankenheimer was hired and that’s when things got really nuts. The man swapped “director” for “dictator” and putting him against two divas like Brando and Kilmer meant there were entire days where less than five minutes of filming was done. Thewlis was soon writing his own dialogue as Brando insisted on bizarre demands. The topper would have to be Stanley managing to sneak back on set disguised as one of the dog-men extras. What was supposed to be a six-week shoot lasted six months and the result was a critically ravaged flop that turned Brando into a joke. The making of the movie is a far more fascinating story to show how the chaos created such a mess.