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Why The Island Of Dr. Moreau's Failure Started With Bruce Willis

There's a lot that can go wrong between the time a movie script is given the green light to the final product, and 1996's "The Island of Dr. Moreau" was all of it. Starring the legendary Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, and David Thewlis, this train wreck of a sci-fi-horror film about the genetic splicing of animal and human DNA (always a good idea) cost $40 million to make, and earned only $49 million worldwide, per Box Office Mojo. After marketing costs are factored in, that's a bad haul. But it actually seems like a generous amount, considering the film's current 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — which also seems generous for those who have seen the movie. 

So much went wrong on this one that there's an entire documentary that delves into the disaster, 2014's "Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau." Richard Stanley was the original director, but he didn't last long. No one did.

Bruce Willis, at the height of his fame following the first few "Die Hard" movies, "Pulp Fiction," and "12 Monkeys," was initially cast as Edward Douglas, the hero in "Dr. Moreau." Things were off to a good start. But Stanley, who had developed the script for years as a passion project, had never directed a big-budget movie. So once things began to spiral, the production was in deep trouble. Even his eventual replacement, acclaimed director John Frankenheimer ("The Manchurian Candidate"), was unable to turn things around. 

But what caused everything to go downhill? The first domino was Willis.

Willis' exit led to Val Kilmer's arrival

"The Island of Dr. Moreau" began its descent into darkness when Bruce Willis pulled out at the last minute. According to an article in Far Out, Willis (at the time married to Demi Moore) was having serious marital troubles. His role then went to Val Kilmer, who soon opted for a lesser character when his own marital issues became a problem. So the part of Douglas fell to Rob Morrow ("Northern Exposure"), who saw all the production chaos and basically ran away, leaving us with "Harry Potter" actor David Thewlis. Got all that? Kilmer ended up in the role of Montgomery after the original actor (James Woods) also moved on — don't ask.

The disgruntled Kilmer clashed with everyone, even Marlon Brando, who was likewise dealing with personal problems. Brando, portraying mad scientist Dr. Moreau, kept asking for script changes. He also spent a lot of time with an identically dressed little person, which (per The New Yorker) inspired the whole Mini-Me thing in "Austin Powers." You know things are going swimmingly when you end up providing fodder for a Mike Myers comedy. Everything was coming up aces for Team Moreau.

But it was Kilmer who took most of the blame for all the dysfunction on "The Island of Dr. Moreau." In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Stanley said, "Val would arrive, and an argument would happen." Sounds like good times! 

All we really know is that everything was fine until Willis bailed, which triggered a very unfortunate series of events. Would things have turned out much different with him in the fold? We can probably make a pretty good guess.