5 Times Directors Were Replaced and the Movie Still Crushed It

"The Wizard of Oz" had a grand total of five directors, some of whom were uncredited, and it has fared just fine in the cinematic pantheon. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It shook Hollywood and film fans when Lucasfilm announced that co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were going to be removed from the new "Star Wars" stand-alone film starring Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo. A mere 24 hours later, Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, announced that veteran filmmaker and George Lucas protégé Ron Howard would step in to finish the film.

Here's the thing: It's not the first time this has happened, though some of the outsized reactions to the news might have made it seem like that. So, here at HowStuffWorks, we wanted to bring up five times when similar situations have occurred and we still wound up with arguably great films.


1. "The Wizard of Oz"

Five directors actually had their hands on the classic 1939 film, each getting replaced for different reasons. The first, Norman Taurog, oversaw many of the early tests of the film but was reassigned to another film instead. At that point, Richard Thorpe stepped in. After a few weeks of filming, the studio heads decided that Thorpe didn't understand how to film a fairy tale, and he was fired. Legendary director George Cukor, who was steeped in preproduction for "Gone With the Wind," stepped in temporarily to help redefine the creative direction of the film. After a few weeks, Cukor handed the reins off to Victor Fleming, who ultimately guided the film through its completion. King Vidor also did an uncredited stint as the last director on the classic movie, shooting the Kansas scenes after Fleming had hustled off to work on "Gone With the Wind."


2. "Gone With the Wind"

George Cukor had shepherded "Gone With the Wind" for producer David O. Selznick for two years of preproduction. It was one of the highest-profile film productions ever; even the casting sessions made headlines around the U.S. But after a few weeks of shooting, disagreements between Selznick and Cukor over the story and the pace of shooting led Selznick to remove Cukor from the film. To replace him, Selznick went back to Victor Fleming, who'd also taken over "The Wizard of Oz" from Cukor. That was going along fine until Fleming had a "breakdown" and walked off the set. He'd eventually return, but only after (uncredited) director Sam Wood had been brought on in his absence.

It all worked out well enough. When adjusted for inflation, "Gone With the Wind"still ranks as one of the highest-grossing films ($3.4 billion) of all time and is still critically acclaimed.


3. "Spartacus"

Kirk Douglas wanted the lead role in "Ben Hur" but he lost it to Charlton Heston. Not easily deterred, Douglas optioned the novel "Spartacus" was based on, so that he might produce and star in it himself. To bring the vision to life, he first went to director David Lean, who turned him down. He then settled on director Anthony Mann, who had done work in the Western genre that had excited Douglas. At the end of the first week of shooting, Douglas decided that Mann didn't understand what the film needed to be and replaced him. Having worked with Stanley Kubrick previously on "Paths of Glory," he was brought in to finish "Spartacus." The rest is history, and 1960's "Spartacus" remains a classic of cinema.


4. "Ratatouille"

"Ratatouille" was a Disney/Pixar film released in 2007, but the lead time of an animated movie is long. Jan Pinkava, who had directed the Oscar-winning short "Geri's Game," pitched "Ratatouille" in 2000 and soon work began in earnest. For five years he toiled on the film before Pixar decided they weren't confident in the direction the film was taking. In 2005, they replaced Pinkava as the main director and installed Brad Bird, who had directed "The Incredibles." He rewrote the story and, in 18 short months, crafted one of the finest films in Pixar's oeuvre.


5. "Moneyball"

Brad Pitt and director Steven Soderbergh worked for years to make "Moneyball," the real-life story of the manager of the Oakland A's, Billy Beane. In a last-minute rewrite, Soderbergh had a vision for the film that included documentary interviews and a real indie vibe. But Sony looked at the $60 million price tag and didn't think that would fly. Just days before principal photography began, Sony shut down the film, leaving Pitt scrambling to figure out how to make the movie. That's when they called in Aaron Sorkin to help revise the script and found Bennet Miller, the director of 2005's "Capote," to step in and take the helm. "Moneyball" went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, earned a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and made back more than twice its budget at the box office.