Top 5 Worst Actor Replacements

Whether it was intended from the start, or becomes inevitable, the question of a sequel comes up after any film is successful during its initial run. If the answer is yes, then the common practice is to try and bring back as much of the previous team to the follow up, so as to trick audiences into coming back as well. If you lose too many of the original players, the sequel runs the risk of separating itself from its source, possibly alienating its base audience and their much desired money. That said, many times it is impossible to bring back all the same elements, due to schedules, egos and such. So what is a producer/writer to do? Logic would dictate that if you can’t get an actor back to play a crucial role, then you simply write out that character and switch the focus of the story. Again, this is what logic would state, seeing that trying to a put different face to a character and expecting an audience not to be indignant is a bit ignorant. However, logic has no place in Hollywood. More and more it has become an excepted technique to simply swap out an actor in a sequel when the previous one has become all high and mighty (and/or dies) and chooses not to return. In some cases it has become a right of passage (James Bond, Batman, Superman) and in other cases it has been for the better (Maggie Gyllenhaal in for Katie Holmes in Dark Knight, Don Cheadle in for Terrance Howard in Iron Man 2). But the majority of the time it turns out to be a mistake caused by producers that found themselves against a wall. Here are a few of the worst cases.

5. Aladdin: the Return of Jafar – Dan Castellaneta replacing Robin Williams as “the Genie”

It is a time-honored tradition in straight to video sequels of animated blockbusters to replace the big-name actor. The thought is, if  you don’t actually see the person behind the voice, you can just get a D-list actor who sounds like the person they are replacing. There is one big reason why this particular example of voice recasting makes an appearance on this list— they make reference to it in the actual movie. As anyone who was alive in the early 90′s will recall, (spoiler alert for those that didn’t happen to have a childhood) at the end the first film Aladdin uses his last wish to make genie free from the shackles of slavery. So when he returns from “seeing the world” he points out that this time around he just doesn’t have “the magic” anymore now that he isn’t a proper genie. This translates to, “Hey kids, don’t worry, you’re not crazy. But the genie does sound different, and don’t expect him to do as many pop culture references and impressions that make no sense in ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt or India or wherever the hell Agrabah is supposed to be located.” What makes this even more insulting is that Dan Castellaneta (aka Homer Simpson) is an extremely talented voice over actor and does a pretty descent job of filling Robin Williams’ spastic shoes. Apparently this change pissed of soccer moms something fierce because not only was Robin Williams back for the 2nd sequel Aladdin and the King of Theives, but Disney made his return the central selling point in the advertising for it. In case you were wondering the reason behind Williams’ absence from the Empire Strikes Back of the Aladdin series… As a favor in an act of response to the studio support and eventual success of Good Morning, Vietnam he did the original for scale under the pretense that his name not be used in advertising for the film and that the character of genie would not take up more than 25% of the poster space (Williams had another film, Toys, coming out around the same time and didn’t want to compete). Disney/Touchstone Pictures went back on their word on both and Williams was not all too happy. So in came Castellaneta. Dan actually did record dialog for the third film (and went on to voice the genie in the TV show and “Kingdom of Hearts” video games) before Robin was convinced ($$$$$$$) to come back to the series. One last little piece of trivia about The Return of Jafar, it was the first straight to video sequel that Disney produced. Meaning that you can thank its success for creating such bastardized sequels to Disney classics as Lady and the Tramp 2Bambi 2Cinderella 2Jungle Book 2101 Dalmatians 2 and so on and so on. I am still waiting with bated breath for Condorman 2. 

4. Robocop 3 - Robert John Burke replacing Peter Weller as James Murphy/RoboCop

This is a pristine case of diminishing returns. As the Robocop movies/TV series meandered along, the fewer of the original players were involved. As with many of his films, Paul Verhoeven’s original film is an under-appreciated satire on consumerism and nationalism (at least someone understands). It was a fantastical vision of a capitalistic future where industry and the police state are one and the same. The lines between humorous and horrific, as well as informative and exploitative, are almost perfectly tread. But all was lost with the two sequels that were completely mishandled by the most overrated man in the comic book industry, Frank Miller. Mr. Misogyny himself is largely responsible for the downfall of the Detroit hero. He wrote both of the just downright bad sequels. Peter Weller came back for the first of the two atrocities, but after the unpleasant experience/outcome of Robocop 2, he decided not to return for a third helping. It is pretty obvious that the producers figured that the character is more machine than man, and that since he had a helmet that covers almost 3/4 of his face during the majority of the movie, who really cares who wears the suit? The problem was that the part of the original movie that kept the audience emotionally invested in Robocop was that fact that there was still a human element/face buried under all that technology. Once you replace that human/face, turns out you lose a lot of that connection. Despite the loss of the original director (though Empire Strikes Back director Ivan Kershner was an inspired choice) and an awful script, the 2nd Robocop movie is still watchable because Peter Weller is still giving it his all in the role (and honestly, Tom Noonan always makes for a pretty satisfying villain). However, with the loss of Weller and an even worse script, there is nothing connecting the viewer with the original story in the last of this descending triology. You mine as well just watch live action series Robocop: The Series and Robocop: Prime Directives or even worse, the animated series Robocop: The Animated Series and Robocop: Alpha Commandos, because you’ll have about the same amount of emotional investment with the main character as you do in Robocop 3. With all that said, I should note that much like the replacement in the previous entry, I am a big fan of Robert John Burke. He has had very notable performances in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, No Such Thing and “Generation Kill”.

3. Major League 2 - Omar Epps replacing Wesley Snipes as Willie ‘Mays’ Hayes

Right off the bat, it should be noted that I am a recent reborn and unabashed paramour of the game of baseball. The first Major League is one of the most purely enjoyable films I have ever seen. I could easily sit down and watch that film whenever it is suggested. So it was with a heavy heart that I recently sat down to reexamine the head shaking experience that is Major League 2. On the surface and in execution, it is not all that bad of a movie. The premise of the year after the honeymoon season is not a misstep. The plot twist of Wild Thing Ricky Vaughn embracing the pressures of the corporate world wasn’t necessarily a bad decision. Hell, they even got most of the old band back together. The problem is that they didn’t get the whole band back together (that and they tried to pass a film that was released five years after the original as being “the next season”). By the time they got around to making the sequel, Wesley Snipes was a full fledged movie star and had very little interest to revisit one Willie “Mays” Hayes. That character called for an uninhabited performance that required a mixture of naiveté and ego that only the precise talents of an idiot like Wesley Snipes (who couldn’t get it together enough to pay his taxes) could pull off. They mistakenly casted an actual actor as his replacement. And while Omar Epps is no Laurence Oliver, and this is going to be a very backhanded insult, he is too good of an actor to take over in this role. In the sequel, Hayes has taken full advantage of his new found success and has dabbled in acting. He is nursing a leg injury obtained during filming and decided that he is now a power hitter opposed to a lead off base stealer. He of course, inevitably, fails at both and eventually has to return to the same position he had in the previous installment to find success. This example of actor replacement brings up another common problem with this technique, the constant reminder that this is just not the same performance that the audience is used to. Whenever the character of “Willie Mays” Hayes is on screen, all I can think is “That’s not Wesley Snipes, that’s not Wesley Snipes, that’s not Wesley Snipes…” Believe me, no one wants that mantra stuck in their head.

2. Back to the Future 2 - Elisabeth Shue replacing Claudia Wells as Jennifer Parker and Jeffrey Weissman replacing Crispin Glover as George McFly

To be fair, there really wasn’t much that Universal could do in the case of the Claudia Wells/Elisabeth Shue situation. Wells backed out in order to care for her ailing mother and a replacement needed to be found. Shue was a moderate box office draw having had recent successes with Cocktail and Adventures in Babysitting, so it wasn’t a bad choice on paper. The problem I have with it is that when I was younger I thought Elisabeth Shue and Lea Thompson (who plays Loraine McFly in the series) were the same person. So the idea of Marty McFly dating a girl who so closely resembles his mom is just a little too Oedipal for my taste. At least the producers took the time to go back and reshoot the final scene from the first film shot for shot so it wasn’t so glaring that Jennifer Parker had shrunk by a few inches. The real travesty of recasting in Back to the Future II is that of the patriarch of the McFly clan. Professional one man freakshow Crispin Glover claims that the producers were only willing to offer him as much as half of what the other returning players were to receive. Glover simply would not stand for such injustice and declined to return as the weaselly and whimsical George McFly. Taking a note from the Ed Wood textbook of shitty filmmaking, the producers decided to recast the part with a guy who kind of looked like Glover and just shot him from far away and weird positions (like having him upside-down). Oh, and they also added prosthetics like a fake chin and nose in order to make Weissman look more like the actor he was replacing. Crispin was obviously pretty livid upon hearing of this and sued the studio for using his likeness. Because of this case, SAG now has rules against studios trying to pull such stunts.

1. Hannibal – Julianne Moore replacing Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling

Without a doubt, the worst sentiment that can result from the replacement of a key actor in a sequel is “Why even bother?”. Thus is the case with the final example of pointless recasting, HannibalSilence of the Lambs is one of only 3 films to have won the “Big 5″ at the Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay), the other two being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was a critical and box office darling and forever changed how American society would view psychological thrillers and fava beans. It didn’t take long for the studio to start thinking of getting the team back together for another season. All the main players were interested and the author of the original book began composing a follow up. As late as 1997 Jodie Foster was still being quoted in interviews as being interested in returning to her most famous role. So what went wrong? How did we get to the point were a sequel was released in 2001 sans one of its biggest stars and the original director? Basically, both of them thought that the story was crap and that it would be too blatant of a cash grab to do the project. You would think that it would be unheard of for a producer to suggested that a sequel be made to an Oscar winning film without the involvement of two of its most important players. Unfortunately, the producer at hand was megalomanic Dino De Laurentiis, and apparently from the start he was intent on simply needing Hopkins to continue the story. No matter how good of a film they may have tried to make, it would never be as good, or strike as big of a chord with audiences, without the involvement of Jodie Foster. And thus the question: why bother? Well, the answer to that is simple enough, money. And the most unfortunate part is that they didn’t end up producing a good movie. Despite man-eating pigs, a self-brain-eating Ray Liotta, an unrecognizably disfigured Gary Oldman and a genuinely moving performance by Giancarlo Giannini, Hannibal ultimately is an uncomfortable exercise in how not to make a sequel to a beloved classic. What makes all this slightly more intriguing is that Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter is actually a case of recasting as well. Silence of the Lambs is a loose sequel to the 1986 Michael Mann film Manhunter. In it Brian Cox plays the cannibalistic doctor (though for unknown reasons the name was changed from Lecter to Lecktor). De Laurentiis of course later remade this film as Red Dragon, with a CGI’d Anthony Hopkins as a younger Lecter.

Special Feature!

Celebrity Doppelgangers (aka: my “all white people look alike to me” list). As I mentioned above with Lea Thompson and Elisabeth Shue, I sometimes have problems telling boring looking white people apart. These are all groupings of actors that I honestly thought at one time or another were the same person:

Renee Zellweger and Joey Lauren Adams

So Joey Lauren Adams wasn't in Empire Records?

Dom Deluise and Paul Prudhomme

They had to be in on this.

Justine Bateman and Meredith Salenger

I just figured out these were two different people last year.

James Badgett Dale and Matthew Morrison

Boring White Dudes Unite!

Amy Adams and Jenna Fischer and Alison Lohman

I am still not convinced that this is not the same boring looking girl.

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2 Responses to “Top 5 Worst Actor Replacements”

  1. A boring looking redhead? Dusty, we are no longer friends.

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