Everybody knows that the movies can be a messy business — oftentimes, what reaches the big screen is the result of a process akin to sticking your fingers in a Cuisinart. And sometimes the original director of a project gets dropped just before filming starts — as happened with The Wolfman. Or sometimes the director gets dropped after shooting but during the editing phase, as was rumored to be happening with the Judge Dredd film recently. We also learned just a couple weeks ago that Steven Spielberg came perilously close to being sacked from Jaws halfway through shooting.
In any case, it's pretty much never a good sign when a movie's director gets sacked in the middle of production. Here are some notorious cases where a movie lost a director who'd already yelled "Action!".
Enemy Mine (1985)
Why was the director fired: Richard Loncraine was six weeks into shooting on this tale of a human and an alien making friends, filming on location in Iceland and Budapest, when he was let go. Reportedly studio execs were unhappy with his dailies and thought costs were spiralling out of control.
Where you can see the transition: You can't. The new director, Wolfgang Petersen, started over completely from scratch, and nobody's ever seen the Loncraine footage. We asked star Dennis Quaid about it, and he told us the Loncraine version was "grittier" and he'd love to see it himself.
Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)
Why was the director fired: Actually two directors were more or less fired from this picture. First there was the original director, Miller Drake, who was fired after developing the project. And then his director of special effects, the novice director James Cameron, took over — only to be displaced by the producers, who basically second-guessed his decisions and then kicked him out of the editing booth afterwards.
Where you can see the transition: There's supposedly a home video version of the "James Cameron cut" of this movie, which Cameron reportedly edited in secret after he broke into the editing suite. So you could compare this to the official cut. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Cameron claimed, "I worked on Piranha 2 for a few days and got fired off of it; I don't put it on my official filmography. So there's no sort of fond connection for me whatsoever."
Superman II (1980)
Why was the director fired: Richard Donner clashed with the movie's producers over the soaring budget and issues like whether to pay millions for a brief cameo by Marlon Brando. In the end, they brought in Richard Lester, who wound up reshooting most of the movie so he could pass the required 75 percent threshold for a sole director credit.
Where can you see the transition between directors: The stuff Lester shot is much goofier and more comedic than Donner's version (which is now available, more or less). Lester also abandoned Donner's original ending, where Superman flies around the world so fast, he turns time back.
Why was the director fired: Original director Kevin Reynolds wasn't actually fired; he simply left the project before the final cut, leaving star/divo Kevin Costner to finish shooting and cutting. He told Entertainment Weekly: "In the future Costner should only appear in pictures he directs himself. That way he can always be working with his favorite actor and favorite director." There were also huge budget problems.
Where you can see the transition between directors: According to an interview Reynolds did with Den of Geek, he shot a scene at the very end of the film in which the new inhabitants of Dryland stumble upon a plaque which reads, "Here, near this spot, 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first set foot on the summit of Everest." Reynolds loved that scene and would have kept it in; as he says (again, in this interview), "I was like, "Oh, of course! Wow, the highest point on the planet! That would have been dry land!". And we got it! We shot that. And they left it out of the picture. And I'm like, "Whaaat?!". It's like the Statue of Liberty moment in Planet of the Apes. And I was like, "Why would you leave that out?"."
Why was the director fired: Original director Martin Brest was fired midway through shooting and replaced with John Badham. Brest has since directed the ever-so-phenomenal Gigli, so this was probably a good call by the studio.
Where you can see the transition between directors: In a technical way, you can see the frame lines between Brest's footage and Badham's. Many sites indicate that "several scenes" which Brest shot remain in the final cut, but it's hard to find a list of them. We do know Brest filmed the scene where David (played by Matthew Broderick) asks Jim Sting and Malvin for help (at left). Eddie Deezen, who plays Malvin, wrote about appearing in this scene, under Brest's direction, on his blog. The movie then jumps from that very static scene to a video montage, and the transition is hilariously stark.
Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
Why the director was fired: Original director Richard Stanley left just three days into shooting and was replaced by John Frankenheimer. The studio apparently thought Stanley couldn't handle the sheer crazy that was Val Kilmer during a divorce, so they brought in Frankenheimer. Unfortunately, there was more than one crazy on set. Brando and Kilmer fought, there were constant rewrites of the script which were shot only days after being written, etc.
Where you can see the transition between directors: Frankenheimer brought in a team to drastically alter Stanley's original script, so most of what remains is his.
Wizard of Oz (1939)
Why the director was fired: Initially, Norman Taurog was going to direct, but he did basically nothing before he was replaced with Richard Thorpe. Thorpe shot a few scenes, mostly Dorothy's first meeting with the scarecrow, before producer Mervyn LeRoy reviewed the footage and fired him. Apparently, LeRoy felt Thorpe was rushing things and thereby reducing the film's quality. Final director King Vidor, who shot most of the Kansas scenes (including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"), took over for Victor Fleming after Fleming had to go replace George Cukor in Gone with the Wind. (Complicated, right?) Interestingly, Fleming alone received credit for the film, and Vidor waited until after Fleming had died to admit his part in filming.
Where you can see the transition between directors: Fleming's scenes are in color; Vidor shot almost all of the sepia/black-and-white Kansas scenes. Richard Thorpe had a different actor playing the Tin Man (footage never shown), and only his close-ups of the Scarecrow remain in the film.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Why the director was fired: The original director, John McTiernan, did most of the shooting. However, the author of the book on which the film was based, Michael Crichton, was called in to do reshoots. (Since Crichton's book tries to explain away the Wendols, a group of animal-skin-wearing cannibals, as Neanderthals who survived extinction, this movie probably qualifies as science fiction.)
Where you can see the transition between directors: The fight scene between Buliwyf and the Wendol leader at the end was not in McTiernan's original cut.
Why the director was fired: This one is really confusing. First, Walter Hill was brought in to direct this film, after the original director, Geoffrey Wright, left two months before production started. Hill wanted to make a dark, H.R. Giger-influenced "Hellraiser in space" movie. Then after Hill finished shooting, he and the studio both agreed that reshoots were needed — but they couldn't agree what needed to be reshot. So Hill was replaced with a new director, Jack Sholder, who did some reshoots. And then Sholder was out, and Francis Ford Coppola came in and recut the movie. It was Coppola, reportedly, who chose to insert some zero-G sex between James Spader and Angela Bassett — which he accomplished by taking unused nude footage of Peter Facinelli and Robin Tunney and digitally darkening Tunney's skin so she could look like Bassett.
Where you can see the transition between directors: Presumably big chunks of the movie are still Hill's work. Apparently one area where Sholder made changes was when the ship nearly crashes into a black hole early on. In Hill's version, the ship's autopilot stops the ship in time. But in Sholder's, Spader rushes in and saves the ship himself. Hill said in an interview:
Mine was a much darker vision. I can honestly tell you that I have yet to have seen it, but it's on cable a lot and sometimes I'll be surfing about and I'll sit there and watch about 4 minutes just to see what they've fucked up, but James Spader's performance is still, I can see is quite interesting in it, I thought Jimmy did a good job.
Thanks to MinervaAlpaca for suggesting this one!