10 Unbelievable Last Minute Movie Casting Changes

Movie history could have been very different.

It's easy to think of filmmaking as a huge, impersonal machine run by studios simply churning out blockbuster films one after the other and collecting massive amounts of money for their pains. But you run the risk of forgetting that the entire movie system is made up of people, who are notoriously unpredictable. No matter how much they make arrangements for every contingency during pre-production, there is always the possibility, however slight, that something will happen to ruin all those carefully laid plans. And really, it's kind of scary when you think about how much money is depending on a bunch of fallible little humans. Sure, most of the time, things work out fine. Movies make it through the filmmaking process with their original cast intact. But sometimes stuff happens. Actors get hurt, or actresses get pregnant, or God forbid, the cast is disrupted by the serious but vague "creative differences" that always signify doom and gloom. And when these kind of things happen, production has no choice but to replace the actor. When they're lucky, the new actor has at least a little bit of time to prepare for such an important role, but sometimes, they don't have that luxury. In the case of the actors on this list, they have sometimes only a day or two to get themselves into the swing of things.

10. Geena Davis - A League of Their Own

When you watch Geena Davis in A League of Their Own, she seems like she was born for the role of the beautiful, outrageously athletic baseball player who leads the Rockford Peaches to the finals. But she was actually a very late replacement, after Debra Winger left the production (officially, she quit the film because she was recovering from a back injury, but everyone knows she walked off the set once Madonna was cast in a supporting role). While the rest of the cast had months of baseball training to be able to play professional athletes, Geena Davis stepped in days before filming and had very little time to not only learn the basics of the game, but to believably portray one of the greatest baseball players in America. Despite this, she quickly got a hang of baseball and was regularly beating her costars as they played throughout the filming process. Proving once and for all that she is a superhuman specimen and should be cloned for the benefit for humanity.

9. Michelle Pfeiffer - Batman Returns

The casting of Catwoman was a process fraught with drama. To begin with, Sean Young (who had been cast as Vicki Vale in the previous film but had to be replaced because she broke her collarbone) was convinced that she deserved the role and began visiting production offices in a Catwoman costume demanding an audition. Annette Bening was originally signed on for the movie, but just before production started she had to drop out of the film after becoming pregnant. A host of other actresses were considered, but in the end Michelle Pfeiffer stepped in at the last minute. All's well that ends well, though: Michelle Pfeiffer creates a great Catwoman, the character herself as iconic as the skimpy black catsuit that she wore. Most people can't imagine someone better suited for the role, and when Anne Hathaway was cast in The Dark Knight Rises the constant worry was how she was going to stack up in comparison to her illustrious predecessor.

8. Paul Dano - There Will Be Blood

When Daniel Day-Lewis signed on to play the lead role of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, he had an entire year to prepare. And it certainly shows: his Oscar-winning performance is nuanced, thoughtful, and not easy to read. But one of his co-stars had a much shorter time to get a handle on their character. Originally, Paul Dano was cast in the small role of Paul Sunday, with actor Kel O'Neill playing Eli Sunday, the preacher who makes an enemy of Daniel Plainview. But Kel O'Neill left the project two weeks into the shoot, with some saying he was intimidated by Day-Lewis's tendency to stay in character between takes (although Day-Lewis and the director both say that this was not the case). They decided to make Eli and Paul identical twins, and Paul Dano was given the much more significant role of Eli, with only four days to do the amount of preparation that Daniel Day-Lewis was given a year to accomplish.

7. Viggo Mortensen - The Lord Of The Rings

For most people, Viggo Mortensen is the perfect embodiment of one of Tolkien's greatest characters, Aragorn. The entire The Lord Of The Rings series is marked by exceptional casting, but Viggo stands out as particularly great. Which makes it really hard to believe that he wasn't actually the first person cast as Aragorn. Originally, Stuart Townsend took on the role, but left the project the day before principal photography was set to start when Peter Jackson decided that he came off as too young. If you read interviews with Townsend about it, it's immediately clear that there was very little love lost between him and the production team, so it was probably for the best that he was let go before he poured a couple miserable years into the films. But one man's loss is another man's gain, and although Mortensen was originally reluctant to take on such a long and high-profile project, he eventually flew out to New Zealand and joined the already bonded cast at the very last moment.

6. Mark Wahlberg - The Lovely Bones

Ryan Gosling has always been the sort of actor who has very definite ideas about the characters that he's going to portray. He likes to give them little quirks to help them really become flesh and blood people rather than just words on a page. So it's not exactly surprising that when he was cast to play the father in The Lovely Bones, he showed up to the set with a heavy beard and about twenty extra pounds on his normally lean frame. He felt that the character should have a little extra meat on his bones. Director Peter Jackson, as it turned out, could not disagree more, and was incensed that he had made such a drastic decision without discussing it with him first. Gosling was promptly fired from the film, and Mark Wahlberg, having just recently finished filming The Happening, was available to take over the role just one day before production began.

5. Claudia Wells - Back To The Future

At this point, everyone knows that Eric Stoltz was the original Marty McFly in Back To The Future, who was replaced about halfway through filming because he was too serious for the role. That's old news. But fewer people know that when Stoltz was let go, the original Jennifer was also fired from the film. Melora Hardin, currently appearing on Amazon's popular new show Transparent, had been cast as Stoltz's love interest, but was recast when Michael J. Fox joined the film. Apparently, she was too tall to play opposite Fox, and Claudia Wells was brought in to take over when they began shooting the film again. Ironically, when it was time for them to make the second and third films in the series, Wells was in turn passed over for Elizabeth Shue, who played Jennifer for the rest of the trilogy.

4. Sofia Coppola - The Godfather Part III

There has been a lot of nasty talk about Sofia Coppola's performance in her father's The Godfather Part III, which is in all fairness a very weak performance in the worst film of the trilogy. But to give her a little bit of credit, she was never really meant to play the role of Mary Corleone, Michael's daughter. First Julia Roberts was cast, but she had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts. Rebecca Schaeffer was rumoured to be up for the role, but was brutally gunned down before negotiations were started. Finally, Winona Ryder was cast as Mary, but she dropped out at the last minute so that she would be available to act in Edward Scissorhands (and no offence to Francis Ford Coppola, but she probably made the right call there). Casting his young daughter with no serious acting experience was an act of desperation, a desire to have the role filled and done with, and unfortunately she's had to listen to the criticisms of that performance for her entire life. In fact, people only started to lay off once she established herself as a talented director in her own right.

3. Josh Dallas - Thor

Stuart Townsend has already appeared once on this list for getting replaced in a major blockbuster franchise, which is apparently the sort of thing that happens to him relatively frequently. He was originally cast in Thor as Fandral, one of the three warriors that fight alongside Thor before he is exiled to Earth. Townsend left the project just before they began filming, citing that old standby of "creative differences" as the reason for his departure, which could really mean anything from a fist fight with the director to craft services stocking the wrong kinds of lunch meat. After his departure, Josh Dallas was cast in the role, who was a relative unknown at the time, but has by now achieved a good amount of fame with his performance on ABC's Once Upon a Time. He was charming as Fandral, but when it came time to film the sequel, his television commitments meant that he had to pass on reprising his performance, and the role was recast once again, this time with Chuck star Zachary Levi.

2. Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs

Well, this is less of a last minute casting decision and more a very fast-paced game of musical chairs. For some reason, the anticipated biopic about the late Steve Jobs has had an unheard of number of actors joining and leaving the project in quick succession. Several high profile actors were associated with the leading role of the Apple creator Steve Jobs, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale, but as filming was scheduled to start, they found it difficult to nail down a star. Luckily, just before filming was about to begin, they hooked Michael Fassbender, who will undoubtedly do an admirable job in the film. Here's hoping they will somehow manage to get him to stick around longer than his predecessors, who were out of there in record speed. Now that the music's stopped, all the actors currently in the film will probably be staying where they are unless they want a PR nightmare.

1. Christian Bale - American Psycho

Technically, this is a double casting change. Christian Bale was the original choice for Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and he was ready to sign on to the film... until the production company issued a press release announcing Leonardo DiCaprio as the star of American Psycho. But DiCaprio faced a great deal of pressure from outside interest groups, condemning his participation in such a controversial film while having a large teen fan base. He also struggled with the subject material, wanting to create a more humane, sympathetic Patrick Bateman. He subsequently dropped out of the project, taking director Oliver Stone with him. The producers brought back Mary Harron, the woman who was originally slated to direct the project, who in turn wasted no time in getting Christian Bale back on board. Which was probably the right move - although Leonardo DiCaprio would have brought something interesting to the table, he probably wasn't at the right point in his career to tackle something like this, whereas Bale was clearly champing at the bit to go dark. Would any of the original actors been better than their last minute replacements? Give your opinions down in the comments.

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Audrey Fox is an ex-film student, which means that she prefers to spend her days in the dark, watching movies and pondering the director's use of diegetic sound. She currently works as an entertainment writer, joyfully rambling about all things film and television related. Add her on Twitter at @audonamission and check out her film blog at 1001moviesandbeyond.com.