Major movies stand the test of time in large part because of which stars play the lead characters. So can you imagine how different some of your favourite films might have been if these original leading men and ladies hadn’t been sacked from their roles?
40. Harvey Keitel – Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola hand-picked Harvey Keitel to portray lead character Captain Willard in his 1979 classic, Apocalypse Now. However, as Peter Cowie’s 1989 biography Coppola notes, the famous director soon decided that the actor “found it difficult to play him as a passive onlooker” and fired him weeks into filming. Martin Sheen replaced him and went down in celluloid history.
39. Marilyn Monroe – Something’s Got to Give
Screen siren Marilyn Monroe’s final film, 1962’s Something’s Got to Give, was beset with problems, not least the star’s regular absences due to “illness.” Having only completed 12 days of a 33 day shoot, her decision to sing at President Kennedy’s birthday was the final straw for studio Fox, which promptly fired her.
38. Eric Stoltz – Back to the Future
Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly in 1985’s Back to the Future is one of cinema’s most iconic roles, but originally the part was Eric Stoltz’s. In fact, Stoltz had filmed nearly half the movie before producers – including Steven Spielberg – decided he just wasn’t funny and ditched him for Fox. Ouch.
37. James Remar – Aliens
Life could have been so different for James Remar if he hadn’t been sacked from 1986 sci-fi sequel Aliens during production because of substance issues. “I was initially cast as Corporal Hicks, and I was fired after a couple weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs,” he revealed during a SiDEBAR podcast in 2010.
36. Jean-Claude Van Damme – Predator
Getting cast in a blockbuster opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger would be many a wannabe actor’s dream, but Jean-Claude Van Damme, then an unknown martial artist, managed to burn his bridges on 1987’s Predator. Repeated complaints that he made about his costume and his face being covered throughout the movie saw “The Muscles from Brussels” get the chop.
35. Lori Petty – Demolition Man
She may have starred in baseball drama A League of Their Own, but Lori Petty’s profile could have been boosted further still if she hadn’t been sacked from 1993’s Demolition Man after just two days on set. “Creative differences” were cited, and Sandra Bullock joined Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes instead.
34. James Purefoy – V for Vendetta
“Creative differences” were also cited for the firing of James Purefoy six weeks into shooting for 2005’s V for Vendetta, but the actor was quick to shoot down rumors that it was because he didn’t want to wear the mask. “If anybody thinks I was too p**sy to wear a mask, they’re completely wrong,” he told Total Film in a 2010 interview with the magazine.
33. Sean Young – Dick Tracy
While studio execs claimed Sean Young wasn’t “maternal enough” for her role in 1990’s Dick Tracy, the actress hit back during an interview that year with the Los Angeles Times, stating that she couldn’t have “survived working with Warren [Beatty]” and was relieved to be fired. She later added that her sacking was because she refused the actor’s sexual advances – something Beatty vehemently denied.
32. Gig Young – Blazing Saddles
Oscar winner Gig Young was fired from Mel Brooks 1974 comedy classic Blazing Saddles because of his real-life alcoholism coming to the fore from day one. “I said, ‘That’s the last time I’ll ever cast anybody who really is that person.’ If you want an alcoholic, don’t cast an alcoholic,” Brooks has claimed.
31. Stephen Collins – Ted 2
Comedy Ted was a huge hit in 2012, but actor Stephen Collins had no chance of soaking up the success of 2015 sequel Ted 2 after he was fired before filming even began. Producers wasted no time dropping the star after a recording came to light of him confessing that he had molested several young children.
30. Judy Garland – Valley of the Dolls
Judy Garland was a revelation on screen, but off it, her life unravelled due to heavy substance abuse. The star’s downward spiral resulted in her missing rehearsals and showing up drunk on the set of 1967’s Valley of the Dolls, and she was eventually dismissed from the production – which went on to do well at the box office.
29. Kel O’Neill – There Will Be Blood
You may not have heard of actor Kel O’Neill, but chances are you would have if he hadn’t been dismissed from 2007 Oscar-nominated movie There Will Be Blood during production. It was claimed that O’Neill found co-star Daniel Day Lewis’ method acting intimidating, but both Day Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson denied the speculation.
28. Thora Birch – Election
Thora Birch got her breakthrough in 1999’s American Beauty, but that same year, aged just 14, she was sacked from Alexander Payne’s comedy drama Election. “I read the script one way and it became clear that [Payne] had seen something else, so that was it,” she told The Guardian in 2014.
27. Dennis Hopper – The Truman Show
Ed Harris played Christof, the morally questionable television visionary in The Truman Show. But he wasn’t the original actor cast in the role. In fact, Harris had to learn the character quickly after replacing the first Christof following only two days of filming. Dennis Hopper’s performance just wasn’t doing it for director Peter Weir, you see, and the Hollywood legend got fired.
26. Colin Firth – Paddington
In the acclaimed Paddington, the beloved Peruvian bear’s voice was provided by English actor Ben Whishaw. Originally, though, Oscar winner Colin Firth had been cast and even recorded all his dialogue. Yet the filmmakers eventually saw that Firth’s voice just didn’t sound right coming out of the CGI bear’s mouth, so they went with Whishaw, who sounded younger.
25. Richard Gere – The Lords of Flatbush
This firing actually lit the fuse on a long-running Hollywood feud. Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone were filming 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush, when they had an odd lunchtime bust-up. Stallone told Ain’t It Cool News that he didn’t like Gere acting like he was cock of the walk, but the final straw came when he spilled mustard on Sly’s pants. The pair got in a scuffle, and it was Gere who was let go.
24. Holly Hunter – Chicken Little
So 2005’s Disney animated movie Chicken Little was originally going to be about a female chicken. This would actually make the animal a hen, but we digress. Acclaimed actress Holly Hunter put in eight months of work voicing the character and was reportedly doing a good job. But then the studio decided the movie had to have more action, and therefore the chicken had to be male. Hunter was fired, and Zach Braff later voiced the role.
23. Michael Keaton – The Purple Rose of Cairo
Michael Keaton was on set for 10 days shooting 1985’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. But director Woody Allen then decided that he seemed too contemporary for the movie, which was set in the 1930s, so he made the decision to fire the future-Batman. He also felt that Keaton was tired at work, due to his newborn baby keeping him up at night. Allen replaced him with Jeff Daniels.
22. Robert Downey Jr. – Gravity
Iron Man himself was let go from 2013’s Gravity. Director Alfonso Cuaron quickly realized he had cast the wrong leading man for his movie when cameras began rolling. It turned out that the cutting-edge technology being used wasn’t compatible with Downey’s acting style, which is heavy on improvisation. So George Clooney stepped in to play the part. The rest is history.
21. Chloe Grace Moretz – Bolt
Two years before she was launched to superstardom playing Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, Chloe Grace Moretz voiced the younger version of lead character Penny in Disney animation Bolt. Yet the then-11-year-old Moretz had actually recorded all the dialogue for the character, including her older self. But the studio decided to replace her with Miley Cyrus, who was a rising teen star at the studio.
20. Anthony Michael Hall – Full Metal Jacket
Anthony Michael Hall’s non-participation in Full Metal Jacket is interesting. Many reports claim that he was signed to play the protagonist Private Joker but was fired by meticulous director Stanley Kubrick. Hall himself claims he took the role but ultimately never signed a contract, as an agreement couldn’t be made after eight months of negotiation. Either way, Hall told Metro in 2009, “I was not prepared psychologically to give the guy a year of my life at 18.”
19. Nicole Kidman – Panic Room
Nicole Kidman had filmed for two weeks on David Fincher thriller Panic Room when she hurt her knee. It further aggravated an injury she suffered while shooting Moulin Rouge!, and she had to exit the film. Luckily, another freak injury wound up presenting Fincher with Jodie Foster, Kidman’s replacement. Foster was due to direct a movie with Russell Crowe, but he damaged his shoulder, meaning Foster had a convenient hole in her schedule.
18. Rebel Wilson – Kung Fu Panda 3
Australian comedy star Rebel Wilson had already recorded much of her dialogue as Mei Mei in Kung Fu Panda 3, when she suddenly left the production. At the time, it was reported that her schedule was simply too crowded. The part wound up being played by Kate Hudson. But years later Wilson revealed she had actually been fired after a series of magazine articles falsely made her out to be a liar. She eventually won damages in court against the publishers.
17. Rob Morrow – The Island of Dr. Moreau
The production of 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of the most troubled in Hollywood history. They even made a documentary about it. At one point, when badly behaved star Val Kilmer demanded a shorter shooting schedule, he agreed to play a supporting role and TV actor Rob Morrow took Kilmer’s original part. But Morrow then reportedly begged his agent to get him off the movie, and the studio agreed to terminate his contract.
16. John Lithgow – Hercules
The producers of Disney’s 1997 Hercules movie wanted Jack Nicholson to play the villainous Hades. He turned them down, so they hired John Lithgow. But after nine months of recording, it was decided that Lithgow’s vocal tones weren’t funny or frightening enough. He was fired, although the filmmakers reportedly blamed their script instead of his performance, as a way to spare his feelings. The role was eventually played by James Woods.
15. Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh – Eyes Wide Shut
Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh were both victims of director Stanley Kubrick’s infamous perfectionism. It caused the Eyes Wide Shut shoot to overrun quite dramatically, leaving Keitel unable to continue his role as he had another movie in the pipeline. Leigh had actually filmed all her scenes, but when Kubrick wanted to re-shoot, she wasn’t available anymore. So, he just re-cast her and filmed all her scenes again. Ouch.
14. William H. Macy – Finding Nemo
When Disney CEO Michael Eisner sat down to watch a rough cut of Finding Nemo, he was underwhelmed. Director Andrew Stanton seemed to believe that one of the problems was actor William H. Macy’s vocal performance as Marlin, Nemo’s father. Even though Macy had delivered an entire performance, it was all scrapped, with Albert Brooks stepping in. This version of the movie went on to be a massive hit.
13. Emily Lloyd – Husbands & Wives
Emily Lloyd rose to fame in the late 1980s, but a series of mental health problems would plague her career. She was fired by Woody Allen while shooting Husbands & Wives for spending too much time in her trailer. Yet she would later reveal that he didn’t know she was in there being sick from nerves. In later life she was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder and OCD.
12. Samantha Morton – Her
“It feels like I created a painting and then put it in the attic, and nobody’s seen it – but it’s fine because I know it’s there.” This was what Samantha Morton told Vanity Fair when asked how she felt about being replaced by Scarlett Johansson during Her. It was a remarkable attitude, considering she had been on-set for the whole shoot, lending her voice to the titular A.I.
11. Dudley Moore – The Mirror Has Two Faces
Legendary comedian Dudley Moore was fired by Barbra Streisand during the 1995 filming of The Mirror Has Two Faces. Amid rumors that he was an alcoholic, Moore was having trouble remembering his lines, and Streisand eventually lost patience with him. Three years later he would be diagnosed with supranuclear palsy, a degenerative brain disease, and it became tragically clear what had been wrong with him. He died in 2002.
10. Neil Patrick Harris, John Lithgow, Bill Hader, Judy Greer, and Lucas Neff – The Good Dinosaur
In 2015 Pixar fired nearly every actor in The Good Dinosaur’s primary voice cast. Neil Patrick Harris, John Lithgow, Bill Hader, Judy Greer, and Lucas Neff were all gone, with only Frances McDormand sticking around. It turned out the filmmakers realized they needed a new voice for lead character Arlo, with 29-year-old Neff simply sounding too old. Recasting him meant that the other main characters all had to change as well. Brutal.
9. Raquel Welch – Cannery Row
Raquel Welch’s firing from 1982’s Cannery Row actually became a legal matter. She got the boot from her leading role just weeks into shooting, with MGM alleging she breached her contract by applying her own makeup at home. Welch filed her own breach of contract lawsuit and, seven years later, was awarded $10 million in damages. This was actually more than the domestic box office total of the movie, which only racked up $5 million in ticket sales.
8. Kelly Emberg – Weird Science
Before being cast as every teen boy’s dream girl in Weird Science, Kelly Emberg was a model with one acting credit to her name. After three weeks on-set, though, it was decided she wasn’t working out. The filmmakers fired her and begged their first choice, Kelly LeBrock, to accept the role. She did, and the rest is history. As for Emberg, she must have lost the taste for acting; she only ever had one more screen credit.
7. Al Pacino – Despicable Me 2
Despicable Me 2 was six weeks from its premiere when Al Pacino, who had fully recorded his performance as El Macho, exited the production under a cloud. “Creative differences” were cited by the studio, but no one really knew if the iconic actor had quit or been fired. In any case, Benjamin Bratt stepped in and laid down his replacement vocal in only five days. Nice.
6. Melora Hardin – Back To The Future
Melora Hardin was originally cast as Marty McFly’s girlfriend Jennifer in Back To The Future when Eric Stoltz was playing Marty. But when he was given the heave ho, and Michael J. Fox was brought in, Hardin was also fired. The reason? She was much taller than Fox, and Hardin claimed female execs at the studio felt it would be emasculating for their male lead to be shorter than his love interest.
5. Rick Moranis – The Breakfast Club
Legendary comedic actor Rick Moranis originally played Carl the Janitor in seminal teen movie The Breakfast Club. Bizarrely, though, he got himself fired by insisting on portraying the character with a silly Russian accent. Director John Hughes didn’t want to fire Moranis, but producer Ned Tanen had no issue with it. He was adamant that the performance was out of step for a “serious movie.”
4. Natalie Portman – Romeo + Juliet
In William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Juliet is only 13-years-old. So when director Baz Luhrmann cast Natalie Portman in his 1996 version, the 13-year-old actress seemed perfect for the role. But when 21-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio was then cast as Romeo, things got problematic. The studio made the decision to let Portman go, as that age gap simply wasn’t appropriate. Luhrmann wound up casting 17-year-old Claire Danes instead.
3. Johnny Depp – Fantastic Beasts III
Johnny Depp played the villain Grindelwald in the first two Fantastic Beasts movies but was fired from the third entry after filming just one scene. He was reportedly asked to leave the production because of the controversy surrounding his libel lawsuit involving The Sun newspaper and his ex-wife Amber Heard. It could be argued that it worked out okay for him in the end, though, as he still received his full salary.
2. Dougray Scott – X-Men
In late 1999 a largely unknown Australian actor named Hugh Jackman was cast as Wolverine in Fox’s first X-Men film. Jackman obviously owned the role and became a Hollywood A-lister, but that can’t be said for Dougray Scott, who was originally cast. Fox was forced to terminate his contract when the shoot for Mission: Impossible II, in which he played villain Sean Ambrose, overran.
1. Kevin Spacey – All The Money In The World
When Kevin Spacey found himself at the center of abuse allegations in 2017, one of Hollywood’s craziest ever re-castings took place. Spacey had already filmed all his scenes for Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, and its release date was looming. Undeterred, Scott fired Spacey and drafted in veteran actor Christopher Plummer, re-shooting all Spacey’s material in only nine days. Plummer wound up receiving a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.