Directors who turned down big-budget blockbusters

Imagine you're a successful director, and every day, you're getting job offers from major studios. Do you want to work on the latest Marvel film? Should you join forces with Lucasfilm for their upcoming Star Wars spinoff? Or should you focus on something that's a little more personal?

With all these pitches coming their way, it's easy to see why filmmakers are forced to turn down big-budget blockbusters. From films about masked vigilantes to tales of British super spies, here are a few major movies that could have been—but weren't—made by some of the most talented directors in the business.

Darren Aronofsky

Since 2000, Wolverine has appeared in a staggering eight films (not counting his First Class cameo). Each time, this sideburned superhero has been portrayed by Hugh Jackman, but while the star remains the same, a string of directors have all taken a crack at the character. Bryan Singer, Brett Ratner, Gavin Hood, and James Mangold have all had their turn at the helm, but if life had worked out differently, the Wolverine would've joined forces with Darren Aronofsky.

While he's only directed a handful of films, Aronofsky's resume is pretty diverse, ranging from a black-and-white indie thriller to a big-budget Biblical epic. Along the way, he also directed two films for Fox: The Wrestler and Black Swan. Both did well at the box office, garnered critical praise, and were honored during award season. Properly impressed with Aronofsky's game, the Fox executives offered the director a chance to helm their latest X-Men movie, The Wolverine.

Sadly, Aronofsky had a lot going on in his personal life at the time. He'd recently broken up with actress Rachel Weisz, and things were made more complicated by the fact that the two had a young son. On top of all that, The Wolverine was going to be filmed almost exclusively in Japan, and Aronofsky didn't want to spend that much time out of the country with all the drama going on back home. As he explained on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, "It was a hard time in my life. It was complicated. I couldn't leave New York for that long."

With everything going on, Aronofsky was forced to pull out, leaving Mangold to take the wheel. But in the end, it kind of worked out for everyone. The decision allowed Aronofsky to work on Noah, and it ended up leading Mangold to the opportunity to direct Logan, possibly the most anticipated X-Men film of all time.

David Fincher

Think of Peter Parker, and you picture a wisecracking webslinger, ready to take on bad guys with the flick of his wrist and a quippy one-liner. Think of David Fincher and…well…he's a bit different than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The director of films like Seven, Fight Club, and Zodiac, Fincher isn't exactly known for the upbeat atmosphere generally associated with Marvel movies. His films are colder, more clinical, and kind of Kubrickian.

So it's a bit shocking that Sony offered Fincher a chance to direct 2002's Spider-Man. In an interview with io9, Fincher admitted if he'd taken the job, his take would've been very different from the Tobey Maguire movie we all know and love. As the filmmaker put it, "My impression of what Spider-Man could be is very different from what Sam [Raimi] did or what Sam wanted to do." According to Fincher, he wasn't interested in making an origin story, as he just "couldn't get past a guy getting bit by a red and blue spider." Instead, he envisioned the movie having an opening montage showing how Peter became a superhero, lost Uncle Ben, and "settled into being a freak."

After the intro, the film would've focused on the Green Goblin murdering Gwen Stacy, a storyline that didn't show up onscreen until 2014. Of course, we never got to see Fincher's gritty flick because, after meeting with studio executives, he "easily got [himself] out of that one." Ultimately, he wasn't really interested in making a superhero movie, which makes it all the more surprising that he was allegedly considered to direct the 2012 reboot.

Nicolas Winding Refn

Nicolas Winding Refn is a king among modern filmmakers when it comes to pushing people's buttons. Whether he's infuriating critics with maddening movies like Only God Forgives or shocking crowds with giallo-flavored films like The Neon Demon, Refn certainly knows how to get a rise out of audiences. So it's hard to imagine the Danish director giving up creative control and stepping into a pre-existing property like the James Bond franchise, but according to Refn, he was actually asked by Eon Productions to give Bond's Aston Martin a spin.

On the Happy Sad Confused podcast, Refn revealed he'd been in the running to make Spectre, a film that eventually went to Sam Mendes. As Refn explained, he'd even met with the producers and Daniel Craig himself. And it seems Refn was initially interested, saying, "I love James Bond."

But eventually Refn decided to direct another day, explaining to The Telegraph that he just isn't cut out for franchise films. Instead, he's more interested in working on personal projects that fit his own, ah, unique tastes. "I just know this way I can do whatever I want," he explained, "and that outweighs any money anyone can give me."

Interestingly enough, Bond isn't the only action hero Refn passed on. The man behind Bronson and Drive was also approached to direct a Wonder Woman movie, but the project derailed when Refn insisted Christina Hendricks play the part. Evidently, studio executives weren't keen on that concept, which is probably just as well. The world isn't ready to see Diana Prince covered in blood, battling cannibal witches.

Ava DuVernay

These days, if you're working in Hollywood, then you probably want to get on board the Marvel train. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has attracted a wide array of directorial talent since Jon Favreau started it all with Iron Man in 2008. Joss Whedon, Taika Waititi, James Gunn, and Shane Black have all lent their particular set of cinematic skills to the studio's growing slate, but while these flashy films guarantee big paydays and (generally speaking) a respectable amount of critical success, not every director is so eager to give up their autonomy by singing the Marvel Accords.

Take Ava DuVernay, for example. While she's best known for Selma, DuVernay made her name on the festival circuit with films like I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere. So after the success of her Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, it only made sense that Marvel would want her to helm their Black Panther. At first, she was definitely intrigued by the opportunity to direct a movie featuring Marvel's first black, non-sidekick superhero. She also appreciated how the movie would "go everywhere from Shanghai to Uganda." As she explained, "Nothing that I probably will make will reach that many people, so I found value in that."

But DuVernay still ultimately decided to walk away from Wakanda. She wasn't sure she wanted to spend "three years" working on Black Panther at the expense of other projects, and most importantly, if she made the movie, it "wasn't going to be an Ava DuVernay film." According to the director, she "didn't see eye to eye" with the Marvel executives on how to make the movie, and she "had different ideas about what the story would be." But while she turned down T'Challa, that doesn't mean she isn't interested in watching the movie. In fact, as she told Essence magazine, she'll "be first in line to see it."

Edgar Wright

Unfortunately for film fans, Ava DuVernay isn't the only auteur who parted ways with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps the most infamous instance of a director ditching the MCU was the time Edgar Wright abandoned his beloved Ant-Man.

The comic genius behind films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, Wright was involved with the MCU from its early days. In fact, he'd started working on Ant-Man as far back as 2006, two whole years before Iron Man arrived. Producer Kevin Feige even said Edgar Wright was "the only reason we're making the movie."

Sadly, somewhere along the way, Marvel and Wright veered in different directions. Evidently, studio executives grew uncomfortable with the director's unique style and ordered revisions to Wright's screenplay…rewrites the director was allegedly unaware of until somebody plopped the new script into his lap. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wright decided enough was enough and walked off the project, leaving fans completely crushed.

It's all especially strange considering that Joss Whedon thought Wright's screenplay "was not only the best script that Marvel ever had, but the most Marvel script I'd read." However, not everyone agreed with Whedon's take. While actress Evangeline Lilly thought Wright's vision "would have been fun to watch," she admits "it would have stuck out like a sore thumb, no matter how good it was."

Nevertheless, Wright's version still served as a big influence on Peyton Reed's interpretation. The British director cast most of the major parts, and most notably, Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish came up with the concept of Hank Pym training Scott Lang. On the flip side, Reed and co-writer Adam McKay gave Evangeline Lilly a bigger part, introduced us to the Quantum Realm, and pitted Ant-Man against the Falcon.

And hey, while we would've loved Edgar Wright's Ant-Man, we're all pretty thankful for that Paul Rudd-Anthony Mackie smackdown.

Ron Howard

Ever since his days on The Andy Griffith Show, Ron Howard has had a pretty incredible career, going from TV actor to Hollywood director. Along the way, he's worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including the Jedi master himself, George Lucas. The two first teamed up for American Graffiti, with Howard in front of the camera and Lucas in the director's seat. Later, Lucas was the producer on Willow, a Star Wars-like fantasy featuring a long-haired Val Kilmer, an energetic Warwick Davis, and a mustachioed Ron Howard running the show.

According to Howard, he learned quite a bit from his collaborations with Lucas, going so far as to call the man his "directorial mentor." And in the '90s, Lucas evidently felt this padawan had completed his training and was ready to accept a Death Star-sized mission…to direct the much anticipated Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace.

Now, Howard wasn't the first guy who'd been offered the gig. Lucas allegedly went to both Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, but those two vets turned him down, and when Lucas offered the job to Howard, his protégé passed on the project. As he explained on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, trying to follow up the original trilogy would've been just "too daunting." And as it turns out, that might've been the best decision of Ron Howard's career.

Brad Bird and J.J. Abrams

Ron Howard isn't the only director who's turned down an opportunity to work in a galaxy far, far away. As we've learned in the past, surrealist extraordinaire David Lynch passed on the opportunity to make Return of the Jedi, a decision that spared a generation of children from sci-fi nightmares filled with unbearable ambient noise. More recently, Lucasfilm offered the man behind animated classics like The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and The Iron Giant a chance to direct The Force Awakens, but he was forced to turn them down with a heart-rending "Noooooo!"

Before Episode VII started shooting, Brad Bird was dealing with a pretty hectic schedule. He planned on directing the Disney sci-fi film Tomorrowland, and then immediately jumping into Star Wars. Unfortunately, Bird quickly realized "there was no way to make that schedule and give [Tomorrowland] the attention that it deserved." Feeling more of a connection with the George Clooney film, Bird decided to pass on Star Wars, and now the odds that he'll get another chance at the franchise are approximately 3,720 to one.

However, one lucky director did get a second chance at Star Wars glory after saying no to The Force Awakens. After working on Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams wasn't all that psyched about working on another sequel. So when Lucasfilm came calling, the man behind the mystery box said he wasn't interested. But after shopping the film around, Lucasfilm went back to Abrams, and thanks to the tag-team effort of Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan, Abrams was "suddenly on fire" for the film.

In an interview with Howard Stern, Abrams said he was intrigued by Rey's quest to discover Luke Skywalker, and compared the new heroes to "kids who didn't see Star Wars themselves" and were now "sort of rediscovering this world." And as Abrams recently produced the third Star Trek film and is currently consulting on the eighth Star Wars movie and the third Cloverfield, it also seems Abrams has gotten over his aversion to sequels.

Quentin Tarantino

We can all respect and appreciate a talented journeyman (think Joe Johnston or Martin Campbell), but when it comes to directors, the men and women we really respect are the auteurs. That's especially true for the ones who pull double duty as both writer and director. We're talking people like Wes Anderson and Kelly Reichardt, the Bob Dylans of cinema. And then, of course, there's Quentin Tarantino, perhaps the wildest writer-director of them all. With the exception of Jackie Brown, every Tarantino film has come straight from his bloodstained brain, and even then, he's written the screenplay for all of his movies.

In other words, it's impossible to imagine Tarantino signing onto somebody else's project, but evidently, someone somewhere offered QT a crack at Green Lantern. According to Tarantino, he was approached "in the very early, early, early, early stages" of production. And as "a big comic book fan," he was definitely tempted by the prospect. As he explained to MTV News, "So there's a little part of me that's like, 'Wow, if I was in my 20s, this would be the genre I'd want to specialize in."

Unfortunately, the DC adventure flick came a little too late in Tarantino's career. By this point, he'd "kind of outgrown" the genre. On top of that, he wasn't interested in making a movie with "an existing comic book character." Instead, if he were to make a superhero film, he would "want the fun" of creating his own characters, possibly all armed with samurai swords. And while that rationale makes perfect sense, you've got to wonder how much damage Hal Jordan would've done with that power ring if Tarantino had been calling the shots.

Guillermo del Toro

Pretty much everyone agrees Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is a masterpiece. It's also the general consensus that Jackson's Hobbit films can't hold a star-glass to his original Middle-earth movies. In fact, in a behind-the-scenes featurette on the Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray, it's revealed Jackson wasn't ready to start working on The Hobbit, didn't like the script, and spent a lot of time improvising. So why was this professional so unprepared? Well, that might have something to do with Guillermo del Toro.

The Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim director was originally slated to helm The Hobbit. According to io9, del Toro spent a staggering 18 months getting ready, but as he slaved away, MGM couldn't get its act together. The studio was suffering from serious financial woes and kept stalling production, refusing to give him the go-ahead.

Ultimately, del Toro spent two years preparing for a movie he never made. Eventually, he decided it wasn't worth it to wait anymore, and he made "the hardest decision" of his life. In a statement explaining his decision, del Toro said "the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project." In other words, there were other movies he wanted to make, and as much as it hurt, he had to give up on Bilbo Baggins, forcing Jackson to take the reins.

So what would've del Toro's movies have looked like? According to Hobbit producer Philippa Boyens, it would've been more of a "fairy tale." Jackson also admitted the designs were "very much stuff you would recognize from Pan's Labyrinth or Hellboy." Tragically, this didn't mesh with Jackson's modus operandi, and he started over from scratch.

Steven Spielberg

There's no filmmaker more magical than Steven Spielberg. And when it comes to literature, you can say the exact same thing about J.K. Rowling. Really, it's kind of shocking that the man behind E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the woman behind Harry Potter have never worked together…although it's not for lack of trying. Before Chris Columbus was brought on board to direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Warner Bros. seriously considered Spielberg for the gig.

Unfortunately for everyone, Spielberg said no to the boy wizard, although his kids thought he was crazy for turning it down. Instead of introducing audiences to quidditch, Spielberg wanted to explore some deeper sci-fi issues in movies like Minority Report and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. "I make movies because they have touched me in a way that really commits me to a year, two years, three years of work," Spielberg explained. And it also seems like he didn't think Harry Potter would be much of a challenge, comparing the project to "shooting ducks in a barrel" and "withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts."

Still, Spielberg knew the films were going to be "phenomenally successful," and he did consider taking the gig. In fact, he had some rather, er, interesting ideas about where to take the franchise. It seems Spielberg was thinking about mashing a couple of the books together to streamline the story. On top of that, the director was thoroughly impressed with the success of Pixar films, so he considered turning the Harry Potter movies into an animated series.

You know, on second thought, maybe it's not such a bad thing that he turned down his invitation to Hogwarts.