“The Dark Tower” is finally arriving in theaters after decades in development. Reports surfaced earlier this week that test screenings for the Stephen King adaptation were so awful that Sony Pictures considered replacing director Nikolaj Arcel and bringing in someone new to oversee post-production and turn the film around.
Unfortunately, news like this is becoming all too familiar in the age of studio-driven tentpoles. More and more, executives have the final call, not directors, and it’s leading to one production nightmare after another. As the studios become the driving forces behind blockbusters, directors’ voices continue to be stifled. No wonder the likes of Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, and Lynne Ramsay have all struggled in the studio system. Below is a rundown of the 9 most troubled film productions of the 21st century (so far).
“The Bourne Identity” (2002)
Nobody expected “The Bourne Identity” to become a worldwide hit and a franchise-starting success story, especially not director Doug Liman and screenwriter Tony Gilroy. The production was living hell from day one as Universal and Liman became mortal enemies. The studio hated Liman’s slow pacing for the film and his execution of small-scale, intimate action scenes (which led to certain set pieces being entirely re-shot so they could be more fast-paced). Liman was forced into filming re-shoots, which raised the budget by $8 million to the $60 million mark. Gilroy was delivering script re-writes throughout the entirety of filming as Universal kept scrapping scenes. Other points of contention included the studio forcing Liman to set some of the film in Paris in order to keep the budget down and Liman’s demand for using a French-speaking crew.
“The Brothers Grimm” (2005)
Terry Gilliam needed a hit after the box office failure of his passion project “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and that pressure kept him away from the big screen for seven years. He finally decided to return with “The Brothers Grimm,” a fairy tale blockbuster from MGM and Dimension. Problems started when MGM dropped out after struggling to raise the necessary budget. The movie went into production with an $80 million price tag, but Gilliam always knew a movie of this scale required a budget upwards of $120 million. He ended up in a tense relationship with the Weinstein brothers, who took control of the film away from Gilliam and fired his cinematographer and regular collaborator Nicola Pecorini after six weeks. Things got so bad that filming was shut down for two weeks. Gilliam ended up finishing the project and has admitted the final version is the result of two competing visions and neither winning.
“Fantastic Four” (2015)
“Fantastic Four” was released in theaters on August 7, but it was not the version director Josh Trank had cut, nor was it the one actors Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Toby Kebbell, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell signed up to make. Trank had originally pitched his movie as a superhero spin on a David Cronenberg body horror film, but this darker version was not what 20th Century Fox ended up wanting. The studio believed the movie hewed too close to Trank’s own “Chronicle” than a superhero tentpole.
Producers Hutch Parker and Simon Kinberg rewrote Trank’s original script and gave the film a different ending during filming. Fox still didn’t like Trank’s theatrical cut, so they began making changes to certain scenes and omitting entire set pieces without Trank’s knowledge. The director bashed the film on Twitter when it was released, claiming it was entirely different than the version he originally cut. Only later was it revealed that the poor relationship between the studio and the director led the latter to completely shut down on set. Trank reportedly trashed some of the sets and appeared intoxicated during filming. The film never recovered and was a box office flop.
“The Fountain” (2006)
It was only inevitable that a movie as ambitiously conceived as Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” was going to have production troubles. The director originally planned to kick off filming in summer 2002 with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, but Warner Bros. got nervous over the budget and threatened to drop out if a co-financier wasn’t found. Aronofsky brought in Regency Enterprises and a start date was set for October 2002 with a $70 million budget. It would have been smooth sailing, but Pitt wanted script revisions and left the movie just seven weeks before production was set to begin. Warner Bros. dropped the film and expensive sets and props had to be auctioned off. Aronofsky remained committed to the film and rewrote it from the ground up in order for it to be made on the cheap. His revision did the trick. Warner Bros. returned and signed on to make the movie for $35 million.
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