“Creative differences” is often the deciding factor when it comes to directors leaving studio-driven blockbusters, and the phrase has become something of a broken record in the age of superhero tentpoles. Many of the best directors in Hollywood have been attached to a superhero movie at least once, but clashes with studios over story and tone have led to exits both heated and amicable.
Click through the gallery for 15 great directors who walked away from high-profile superhero projects.
“Mad Max” director George Miller famously developed a “Justice League” movie that made it past the screenwriting and casting phases, only for the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike to kill the project. Miller cast Armie Hammer as Batman, Adam Brody as The Flash, and D.J. Cotrona as Superman.
Ben Affleck made his first appearance as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the DC Extended Universe in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and his casting was followed by the news that he’d be starring in and directing his own standalone Batman movie. Affleck left the director’s chair in January 2017, saying he wanted to focus solely on his performance.
Tim Burton’s “Superman Lives” might be the most famous superhero movie never made. The “Batman” director spent two years developing the movie, casting Nicolas Cage in the title role and working with Kevin Smith on a script based on the 1992 comic book “The Death of Superman.” Burton left the film as the project was canceled three weeks prior to filming, due to a ballooning budget and confrontations with the studio over the script.
20th Century Fox hired Chris Columbus to direct “Daredevil” in 1997, but Marvel’s impending bankruptcy delayed the project. Columbus was still attached as the project was shipped to the Sony-backed Columbia Pictures, but he exited as Sony and Marvel’s fights over internet rights killed the movie.
The Duplass Brothers revealed to Vulture earlier this year they were courted by Marvel to direct a tentpole that would have a “$150 to $180 million-dollar budget” and cost them “three years of our lives.” The directing duo turned down Marvel because they wanted to spend those years making numerous projects and training younger filmmakers.
Marvel tapped Ava DuVernay to direct “Black Panther” before Ryan Coogler, but the “Selma” filmmaker told Essence magazine that she walked away because of storytelling differences. “In the end, it comes down to story and perspective,” DuVernay said. “And we just didn’t see eye to eye.”
Michelle MacLaren was Warner Bros.’ first choice to direct a “Wonder Woman” movie, but she was only attached for a short while before leaving over creative differences. Sources told Variety that the studio wasn’t keen on MacLaren’s idea to turn “Wonder Woman” into a “Braveheart”-inspired origin story.
20th Century Fox struggled to find a replacement for Bryan Singer after the original “X-Men” director announced he would not helm the third installment. The studio offered “Donnie Darko” director Richard Kelly the movie, but he declined so he could work on “Southland Tales.” Matthew Vaughn was also hired and then left for personal reasons, although he would return to the franchise for “X-Men: First Class.” Brett Ratner eventually came on board.
The Channing Tatum-starring Gambit movie has been in development hell for several years now. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” director Rupert Wyatt was set to the direct the movie, but left after 20th Century Fox began to question whether or not he was committed to making the film. Wyatt’s ambivalent process wasn’t what the studio wanted, as Gambit already had a release date at the time.
Edgar Wright’s “Ant-Man” departure was widely reported on in 2014. Wright and screenwriter Joe Cornish began developing “Ant-Man” in 2003, but they left together in May 2013 just weeks before filming was about to begin. Wright cited creative differences, noting Marvel wasn’t “interested in making an Edgar Wright movie.” Word eventually got out that Marvel started meddling with Wright and Cornish’s script behind their back.
The DC Extended Universe has had some trouble when it comes to creating a standalone Flash movie. Warner Bros. hired “Dope” breakout director Rick Famuyiwa to helm the project after original director Seth Grahame-Smith left over creative differences. Famuyiwa came on board in June 2016 and was gone by October 2016 due to creative differences. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein are now attached to direct.
Neil Gaiman revealed in 2005 that he was working on a “Doctor Strange” adaptation, with Guillermo del Toro attached to direct. The project never materialized because Marvel wasn’t too keen on the duo’s ideas for the character. Gaiman also said del Toro’s busy schedule got in the way, as the filmmaker was developing “Hobbit” films with Peter Jackson at the time.
Aronofsky was set to direct Hugh Jackman in “The Wolverine,” but the filmmaker stepped away from the project because of personal matters, like his divorce. “I loved the script and I thought the film came out great. It was just a hard time in my life,” Aronofsky told MTV News. “It was complicated.”
Jenkins was confirmed in October 2011 to direct the “Thor” sequel, but by December 2011 she announced her exit from the blockbuster, citing creative differences. Jenkins’ “Thor” was rumored to be a “Romeo and Juliet”-inspired story between Thor and Jane (Natalie Portman), but Marvel wanted a more intergalactic adventure. Jenkins would go on to direct “Wonder Woman” six years later.
Fincher was on Sony’s radar to direct a “Spider-Man” movie twice, first in 1999 for the film that would be directed by Sam Raimi, and then again nearly a decade later when the franchise was being rebooted with Andrew Garfield. Fincher’s darker approach to the material didn’t make him the right fit for Marvel, who he says picked Sam Raimi since the “Evil Dead” director could do justice to the “comic-book” version of the character.