Replacement Thrillers: Last-Minute Movie Changes That Worked

While people are quick to call some productions "troubled" when filmmakers are replaced on their way to the screen, not every example of a writer, director or actor being replaced turns out badly. While we’re very sorry to see Edgar Wright leave Ant-Man, we thought we’d try to be optimistic and take a look at some other movie substitutions that worked out for the best.

The original choice: Stuart Townsend

Poor Stuart Townsend. He’s never quite broken out, and being part of the ensemble for Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien would certainly have helped. But he scored the role of warrior Aragorn and completed the two months’ training and preparation needed for the part, only to be fired the day before filming began when Jackson suddenly decided he wanted someone older. “I finally read an article where the filmmakers said, 'We were totally wrong about Stuart and we accept that it was our fault,' which was so nice because I did get shafted up the ass,” the actor later told Entertainment Weekly.

The replacement: Viggo Mortensen

Mortensen had been largely serving time in smaller character and romantic interest roles before Jackson hurriedly offered him the part. No-brainer, right? Wrong! “Basically, I got a call: 'Do you want to go to New Zealand for 14 months to film The Lord Of The Rings?' Just, you know, this famous epic trilogy! And my first reaction was ‘No!’” Mortensen told the LA Times. “I hadn't read the book, and I certainly hadn't read the script; I usually like to have a lot more time to prepare for a major role; and I really didn't want to be away from my family for that long.” Fortunately, his son convinced him he’d be crazy not to take the job. The rest is cinematic fantasy legend.

The original choice: Dougray Scott

Would Wolverine be different if his animalistic rage and occasional uses of the word “Bub” have come layered with a softly Scottish brogue? It nearly happened, as Dougray Scott was originally cast as Logan in Bryan Singer’s first mutant movie. But the schedule on John Woo’s Mission: Impossible sequel overran and Scott was stuck shooting at Tom Cruise instead of chewing on cigars. He’s diplomatic about the whole thing. “I’ve really enjoyed the movies I got to do and the TV work. I feel very fortunate anyway. Basically, my movie ran over and I had to pull out. It wasn’t his fault and Hugh did a fantastic job.” Scott may not have enjoyed Jackman’s subsequent level of career success, but he’s still working consistently.

The replacement: Hugh Jackman

It seems impossible to consider now, but there was a large contingent of the audience unhappy with the news that the Aussie actor would be playing the famed mutant. He was, after all, far too tall and best known for performing in stage musicals at the time. He’s since turned from unknown to highly bankable, Oscar-nominated leading man, but has admitted that he got the job partly because Singer offered Russell Crowe the role and Crowe instead recommended Jackman. The biggest issue now will be finding someone to eventually take over the muttonchops from Jackman when he decides he’s had enough of playing the role… Good luck to whoever that is. And don't screw it up. Bub.

The original choice: Lance Henriksen

Henriksen might not be the first person you picture when you hear the words “killer cyborg”, but James Cameron’s original vision of the character was a regular-looking man, someone who could blend in when hunting his human targets. The actor was a long-time friend of the writer/director and initially got the part. But then Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up to audition for the role of Kyle Reese and Cameron changed his mind. He cast Henriksen as a police detective who dies at the hands of the Terminator and assuaged any lingering disappointment by also casting him as Bishop in Aliens.

The replacement: Arnold Schwarzenegger

As mentioned, Schwarzenegger originally tried out for the Kyle Reese role, but has since revealed he’s glad he got the title role. “He said it was a good thing, because there was so much dialogue,” stunt co-ordinator Joe Kramer told MTV. “He said, ‘I would have f***ed that up totally.’ He had a great sense of humour about it.” That hasn’t stopped Arnie tackling chatty roles since then, as he of course went on to become a movie icon and Governor of California. While his post-politics film career hasn’t been as successful as he might have hoped, thus far, but he’s now part of the Terminator reboot pic Genesis, due out next year.

The original choices: Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr.

As he travelled the hard road making Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón had several actors in mind for the leads, with Angelina Jolie originally in the role Sandra Bullock took (Jolie dropped out with a scheduling clash) and Robert Downey Jr. as fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski. But it quickly became apparent that the demands of the film were not suited to Downey Jr.’s improv style. "I think Robert is fantastic if you give him the freedom to completely breathe and improvise and change stuff," Cuarón told the NME. “But we tried one of these technologies and it was not compatible.” Downey’s doing all right for himself, though. He’s in a superhero movie or two.

The replacements: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

To quote Kowalski himself, “Fantastic.” The switch certainly didn’t hurt the film. And Clooney’s chemistry with Bullock helped keep both actors sane during an arduous, effects-heavy, meticulous shoot. “It frustrates me when everyone always talks about how charming he is, how he’s a practical joker,” Bullock has said about her co-star. “When he gets on a set, he’s all work.” Though the pair did enjoy needling their director, including impersonating him during the production (and press tour). Gravity went on to win seven Oscars and earn more than $716 million worldwide.

The original choice: Tom Selleck

In one of the most famous examples of recasting in the film industry, Selleck fell victim to his own popularity. After auditioning for the role of wisecracking private eye Magnum in the eponymous TV series and then Indiana Jones in Raiders, he won both jobs. But CBS, which had signed him first, refused to let him out of his contract and he stayed with TV. In a crushing, painful irony, the show’s shooting schedule was later delayed, meaning he could’ve done both. Selleck managed a few notable movies – including the Three Men & A Baby films – but has largely stuck to the small screen, where he and his luxurious ‘tache can currently be found appearing on cop drama Blue Bloods.

The replacement: Harrison Ford

Yes, the former Carpenter was the beneficiary of luck, but he spun that into a solid career. Plus, though we’ll never know (beyond screen tests) exactly how well Selleck inhabited Professor Henry Jones, we do know that Ford turned him into the grouchy, witty, adventurous and careworn crusader for historical justice that carried him through three films. Sorry, eh? Kingdom Of The Crystal what? You must be thinking of someone else. As we were saying: the Indiana Jones trilogy went on to be one of the most successful and beloved film series of all time.

The rest at the source.