Let’s face it, movies are two things — artistic expressions from the director/actors AND a business investment by the studios funding the production. No one is going to drop $50 million (sometimes much more) on an art project without expecting some sort of return on that money. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why there are so many stories about studio executives meddling with the production of a movie.
From script changes to casting decisions, studios are often quick to offer their suggestions if they think it will help the movie make more money at the box office. And if the financial outlook turns sour, those suggestions often become demands, leading to behind the scenes drama and (usually) an even worse final product.
Not all studio executives are non-creative pencil pushers or bean counters, though. Some come from a creative background themselves, and a few of these movies were improved by having the studio step in and put their foot down on certain details.
Regardless of whether it was for better or worse, here are ten movies that were drastically changed when the studios got involved.
10. Toy Story (1995)
It’s hard to imagine that Toy Story as anything other than the damn perfect movie that it was. It was the first feature film by Pixar and helped usher in an era of computer-animated films, rather than traditional animation. Pixar would go on to even bigger and better success stories, including several Toy Story sequels.
But it took a lot of tinkering to get Toy Story just right. It was originally based on a short film (also by Pixar) called Tin Toy, a five-minute clip about a small musical toy trying to escape the clutches of a destructive toddler. Disney (who already had an agreement in place to buy Pixar at the time) felt Tin Toy was a bit too childish and asked Pixar to make the movie a bit more mature to attract older kids and their parents, maybe even the teenage crowd.
Unfortunately, Pixar was too successful in following those demands. The main characters of Woody and Buzz became annoying sarcastic jerks, turning off test audiences and studio execs. Disney ordered director John Lasseter to try again. Thankfully, the Pixar team nailed it on their third attempt. Toy Story made more than ten times its budget at the box office, was nominated for four Oscars (winning the Special Achievement award), and spawned two more sequels, with a fourth installment releasing this past summer.
9. The Wolverine (2013)
The Wolverine was Fox’s second solo film about everyone favorite grizzled badass mutant named Logan. After 2009’s X-Men Origins movie that gave movie audiences his back story, director James Mangold wanted to make a “Japanese noir” flick that threw Wolverine into a completely different setting and reduce the amount of heavy CGI action in favor of a more intimate and introspective look at his life.
When the studio got wind of how the production was going, they demanded changes. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing with action-packed scenes filled with colorful heroes and villains. So the last act of The Wolverine ended up with all the CGI-heavy fight scenes that were working so well for Marvel. While the scenes looked great, it hard not to feel like they were out of place when compared to the first half of the movie. Luckily, Mangold would get another crack at making his “more realistic” Wolverine story when Fox let him make the R rated Logan in 2017, which was a critical and financial smash hit.
8. The Golden Compass (2007)
British author Philip Pullman had a reasonably successful fantasy trilogy of young adult novels entitled His Dark Materials. The first book in the series was Northern Lights, but was published as The Golden Compass in North America. Warner Bros. thought it could be their next huge film series and forked over $180 million to make a movie adaptation. Unfortunately, the book was very critical of religion and included some particularly violent scenes. Worried about the potential controversy, Warner Bros. demanded all that stuff cut from the movie.
So we were left with a kid-friendly film featuring fighting polar bears that were stripped of all the themes and meaning that made the book worth reading in the first place. Director Chris Weitz would later describe dealing with the studio as a “terrible experience,” as they demanded re-shoots and heavy editing in post-production. Weitz just wanted to make a good movie that was loyal to the book, but Warner Bros. was already counting the money from a potential blockbuster franchise.
The film did make money ($372 million at the box office) but was panned by critics for everything except the snazzy special effects. Turns out fighting polar bears are kind of neat. The sequels were never made, though.
7. Daredevil (2003)
When Marvel inked a deal with Netflix to produce a series of television series featuring some of their lesser-known comic properties, the world finally got to see an amazing version of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Instead of trying to be a blockbuster summer film, the Netflix series was realistic, gritty, and down to earth. Which is exactly what a story about a blind-lawyer-turned-superhero who tries to help the most disadvantaged of people should be.
It turns out, that was the original plan for the 2003 Ben Affleck version of the character. The movie was planned as a lower-budget, more realistic superhero movie. Unfortunately, as the movie was in production, Sony released the first Spider-Man film and smashed the box office into pieces. Studio execs at Fox were quickly prying their fingers in the Daredevil production, trying to mimic Spidey’s successes.
Director Mark Steven Johnson was forced to inject Daredevil with increased CGI, more action, and more humor. Too bad Fox couldn’t understand that Spider-Man and Daredevil are not the same thing, with the characters having different backgrounds, motivations, and personalities. What works for one doesn’t work for the other. The result was a movie that is typically considered one of the worst superhero movies of all-time.
6. Superman II (1980)
Superman II is one of the most famous cases of a studio meddling with a movie, so of course, it makes our list. The sequel to the original 1978 Superman movie was set to be directed by Richard Donner, who had also been responsible for making the first film. Somewhere along the line, though, the relationship between Donner and Warner Bros. soured. Donner was replaced by Richard Lester to finish the movie.
Lester took the film in a different direction, adding a more humorous tone to the film that Donner ever intended. Fans hated it and a bunch of the cast and crew — including Gene Hackman playing Lex Luthor — refused to return to the franchise. It would be decades later before the legalities were sorted out, allowing for the release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut on DVD in 2006, finally showing Man of Steel fans the movie the way it was originally intended, including preciously cut scenes of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman’s father.
5. Alien 3 (1992)
We love David Fincher, and we’re not afraid to admit it. Movies like Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl are among our favorites, and his new Netflix series Mindhunter is pretty terrific as well. But his original directorial debut was at the helm of Alien 3, and he was given the tough task of following in the footsteps of a couple of filmmaking legends since Ridley Scott and James Cameron had directed the first two movies in the successful sci-fi franchise.
The real problem was the movie probably shouldn’t have even been made in the first place. Aliens was a satisfying ending to the story of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), but the studio was convinced they could make a bucket load of money with another sequel. They hired director Vincent Ward to make Alien 3 but fired him after being burnt through $7 million of the film’s budget without even producing a finalized version of the script. They replaced him with the rookie Fincher, who pretty much did what he was told in his first big Hollywood directing gig. The movie kind of sucked, but still made a profit, so 20th Century Fox didn’t care.
4. Pretty Woman (1990)
What? Not everything on this list has to be superheroes and sci-fi. Pretty Woman is still one of the best romantic comedies of all-time and shot Julia Roberts into super-stardom in Hollywood. However, the movie wasn’t always going to be the classic that it’s known as today. The original version of the script, called 3,000, was much darker. They included a closer look at the seedy world of sex workers in Los Angeles and Roberts’ character being addicted to cocaine.
However, when the bosses at Buena Vista Pictures (which was the original name of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures — you’ve probably heard of them) heard those sordid details, the re-writes quickly began. The movie became much lighter in tone, allowing audiences to feel sympathetic towards Vivian’s character, rather than disgust as her chosen line of work. Add in the alluring charm of Richard Gere in his prime and the changes to Pretty Woman were a pretty good idea — the film made almost $500 million at the box office on a budget of just $14 million.
3. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Before the Marvel Cinematic or the DC Extended Universes were even a thing, director Sam Raimi (best known at that point for making the Evil Dead series and The Quick and the Dead) was given the reigns to make a Spider-Man trilogy by Sony in 2002. The first two movies were great, made a killing at the box office, and are generally seen as the films responsible for kick-starting the current craze of comic book movies. In particular, the classic villains of Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe in the first movie) and Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina in the second) were among some of the greatest bad guy roles in any movie, comic book or otherwise.
However, Sony got greedy and stuck their nose in Raimi’s business for the third movie. They demanded three different villains, even though Harry Osbourne (James Franco) taking over the mantle of his dead father as the new Green Goblin would have been the perfect finale. Instead, Raimi also had to make room for the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace, for some unknown reason). They also forced Gwen Stacy into the story.
The whole thing became a mess of crisscrossing plot points, with none of the characters truly getting the screen time needed to make the audience care. Plus emo Peter Parker was the worst thing ever. Raimi stopped working with Sony after that and hasn’t been involved with a superhero movie since.
2. Hancock (2008)
This movie came a long way from its initial conception as a provisional script called Tonight, He Comes by Vincent Ngo in 1996. It was originally about a troubled 12-year-old boy and a struggling superhero. Over the next ten years, the project had numerous re-writes and a handful of directors sign-on (and then off) of the project. Somehow, Will Smith was eventually pegged to play the superhero as the story shifted to focus on John Hancock, a powerful but reluctant hero with limited memory and a huge drinking problem.
Smith worked his usual box office magic when the film finally made it through production hell and into theaters in 2008, 12 years after the original Ngo script was written. But the final product was vastly different, focusing more on Smith’s comedic timing and giving the whole thing a much more lighthearted approach. Sure, Hancock was still a drunken bumbling mess at times, but the original character was much darker, often contemplating suicide and exploring more adult themes than the movie ever bothered to deal with. They had to re-cut the film twice to avoid an R rating, as the studio was adamant that it receive a PG-13 rating instead.
1. Blade Runner (1982)
For a movie that is now considered a sci-fi classic, Blade Runner was hated when it was first released. And to be fair, the original story is kind of hard to follow. To make matters worse, Warner Bros. couldn’t decide how they wanted the film edited, which resulted in numerous versions being created. There are at least seven different versions of the film, as the studio added or deleted scenes based on the reactions from test audiences.
Most fans now generally agree that The Final Cut version released by original director Ridley Scott on the 25th anniversary DVD in 2007 is the definitive version of the movie. Ironically enough, Warner Bros. would eventually admit that they should have just let Scott release his preferred version of the movie in the first place since it was the one that the highest marks from critics and fans. They should have just left it alone, to begin with.