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Actors Who Wound Up Getting Sued For Bailing On A Movie

From the outside, show business may seem like it's all glitz and glamour, but it's really a lot more business than show. While movie stars can make millions starring in big-budget blockbusters, they have a lot of work to perform in return beyond just acting on screen. Whether that's weight training to play a superhero, learning complicated stunts for an action film, or just the mundanity of press tours, interviews, marketing, and promotions, signing a contract to appear in a major motion picture can often be a big commitment.

It can be too much for some stars, who get cold feet and drop out of a movie's production. Maybe they don't like the script, or just don't get along with the director. Hopefully, it's before they've signed on the dotted line though, because the handful of cases where a big star has broken their signed deal has resulted in big-time lawsuits. On at least one occasion, a Hollywood starlet even left a film after months of production, leaving an unfinished film on the cutting room floor.

Most times though, the stars and studios are able to settle out of court and sometimes even come to terms that see the actor play the part. But if you've ever wondered what happens if an actor agrees to a movie and then wants out, wonder no more. This is a list of stars who wound up getting sued for bailing on a movie.

Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood, star of HBO's hit science-fiction drama "Westworld," signed up in 2012 to star in a follow-up to the hit teen rom-com "10 Things I Hate About You." The original film starred Julia Stiles as a misanthropic teen who's set up on a date with a local bad boy (Heath Ledger). This follow-up was more of a spiritual successor than a direct sequel and would have told the story of two teens who fall in love at the darkest point in their lives.

MCU star Hayley Atwell was originally signed up for the lead but was replaced by Wood ahead of production (via Variety). Unfortunately, after months of filming, the project lost Woods too when she dropped out while the production was reportedly low on funds and on hiatus. Producers turned around and sued the actress for a whopping $30 million (via Deadline), claiming that without her, they were on the hook for tens of millions in lost revenue. 

But the actress's camp didn't back down, stating the studio and producers were to blame. "The lawsuit is preposterous and simply a bullying tactic from financially troubled producers," her lawyers said in a statement (via Deadline). "The production shut down in February 2013 when the producers ran out of money." While the suit has yet to be resolved nearly a decade later, a trailer for the project intended to attract investors can be found online, produced before Woods dropped out, lending credence to the actress's claims.

Robert Redford

The 1968 drama "Blue" starred Terence Stamp as a bandit named Azul (whose nickname "Blue" gives the film its name). Raised by a Mexican revolutionary named Ortega (Ricard Montalban), Blue's loyalties are torn when Ortega and his gang begin raiding American outposts along the border. But Stamp — who may be best known today as the villain Zod in the original "Superman" movies — was not the original actor the studio wanted to play the role of Blue. That honor went to Hollywood legend Robert Redford.

Then an emerging screen star, Redford was just a year away from his career-defining performance in the classic Western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." But in 1968, the actor was all set to go before cameras as the bandit Blue when he suddenly quit the movie before filming had begun. Unhappy to lose their big lead, Paramount Pictures swiftly sued the star for breach of contract. By some accounts, it was actually this lawsuit that prevented director Roman Polanski from casting Robert Redford — his first choice, according to IndieWire — for the lead in Paramount's "Rosemary's Baby" just a year later.

Thankfully though they would settle their differences relatively amicably, and the whole situation ended on a somewhat more positive note than some on this list. To avoid a lengthy court battle, the actor agreed to appear in three more pictures for them, which included "Little Fauss and Big Halsy" (via AFI).

John Travolta

After a downturn in his career in the late 1980s and early '90s, "Saturday Night Fever" star John Travolta returned to the A-List with his role in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 classic crime caper "Pulp Fiction." From there, the hits kept coming, including "Get Shorty," "Broken Arrow," and "Face/Off." Around the same time, controversial director Roman Polanski was readying a new film titled "The Double" and was eying Travolta to star in the picture. Based on the classic novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the story follows a man whose exact double begins to encroach on his own life.

Unfortunately for Polanski, it was a rocky road from the start getting his star onboard the project. According to contemporary reports in The Irish Times during rehearsals in France, Travolta and Polanski clashed on set, which led to the actor quitting the film just before production was to begin. Entertainment Tonight claimed that it was the addition of apparent risqué scenes at the last minute that drew Travolta's ire, but whatever the case, the studio struck the star with a lawsuit for walking out. Travolta slapped the studio with a countersuit (via The Guardian) claiming they'd reneged on an agreement for him to star in "Donnie Brasco," but in 2001 the suit was settled out of court.

"The Double" was never produced, but another version was released in 2013, with Jesse Eisenberg in the lead role.

Whoopi Goldberg

If you've ever seen or even heard of the 1990 family film "Theodore Rex," you likely know exactly why Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg wanted out of the film. Set in a bizarre alternate future world where anthropomorphic dinosaurs live among humans, Goldberg played police officer Katie Coltrane. Paired with a dinosaur detective (George Newbern), she investigates a rash of dinosaur deaths. The trail leads them to a sadistic scientist named Elizar Kane (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is hoping to bring about a new ice age.

With a whopping 0% on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, it's a film she was legally forced to star in after she'd attempted to leave the picture. Though it seems she never actually signed on the dotted line, the studio took her to court over backing out of a "verbal contract" to appear. According to a contemporary article in the Los Angeles Times, Goldberg had agreed to star in the film for $5 million and a percentage of profits in November of 1992 but backed out just a few months later.

The two sides settled their deal, and Whoopi went on to make the movie, much to her everlasting displeasure. Thanks in large part to its mammoth budget, the film was a resounding failure. It wasn't released until 1996 when it hit shelves as a direct-to-video release. Perhaps in hindsight, the studio should have let her walk away.

Kim Basinger

Directed by Jennifer Lynch, daughter of "Twin Peaks" creator David Lynch, the 1993 thriller "Boxing Helena" is every bit as weird as you might expect. The film stars Julian Sands as a twisted doctor who rescues a young woman (Sherilyn Fenn) from a car accident. But he soon becomes obsessed with her, and wanting to keep her in his home, he slowly begins amputating various parts of her body as she desperately tries to get away. But before Fenn joined the project, at least two other major Hollywood stars had been attached, with Kim Basinger ("Batman") having officially signed on to the film.

But just weeks before cameras were set to roll on the picture, Basinger walked out of the movie, apparently unhappy with the script and the required nudity, according to an article in Variety at the time. Though writers had attempted to polish the script to appease her, it wasn't enough, and the studio wound up bringing her to court over her refusal to star. But unlike Goldberg, they couldn't pay her enough to come back, and Fenn was brought in to replace her.

Though the film wound up a box office bomb, also receiving a critical drubbing and derision from audiences, the studio got what they wanted from Basinger. After a drawn-out four-year court battle, Basinger paid up to the tune of $3.8 million (via Variety), more than twice what it pulled in at the ticket counter.

Dieter Laser

German actor Dieter Laser had barely dipped his toe into the waters of Hollywood films before 2009, mostly working on movies in his native Deutschland. He was barely recognizable to American audiences, but that all changed when he took the starring role of Dr. Heiter in the twisted Dutch body horror film "The Human Centipede." Despite not appearing in the sequel, he signed up for the third film, "The Human Centipede 3," in 2012 to round out the trilogy.

But in March 2012, Dieter got into a dispute with producers and quit the project. While producers claimed, in a statement reported by Entertainment Weekly, that "Mr. Dieter Laser's ego has grown to laughably big proportions," the actor's side had its own version of events. The Hollywood Reporter released Laser's own statement, with the actor claiming that he'd signed on without a script and that when the final draft arrived — some six months late — he was unsatisfied with his character as written.

In the end, the studio dropped its lawsuit (via Entertainment Weekly) when Laser and producers worked out a deal to craft an entirely new character for him to play, a sadistic madman named Bill Boss. Though it delayed production by over six months, and the release of the film by about a year, fans got their beloved star back in the gross-out threequel. Whether it was worth all the trouble is a matter of debate, as the film was lambasted by reviewers and made just $16,000 domestically.

Bruce Willis

Action movie superstar Bruce Willis had conquered every mountain he'd ever climbed, be it television, action movies, dramas, comedies, and beyond. But in 2008 the actor sought to embark on a new career as a director and put together a project called "Three Stories About Joan." The psychological thriller would have starred himself, Owen Wilson, and Kieran Culkin (per MovieWeb), and it seemed to have all the ingredients to make a big splash in cinemas. But things went south quickly when Willis quit the film abruptly in September of that year; according to The Guardian, it was only five weeks into pre-production on the picture.

According to the studio, he clearly violated the terms of his contract as star and director, leaving with no notice. He was sued for $4 million in a Los Angeles court (via Today), but that certainly wasn't the end of the tale. Willis himself had a very different version of events, claiming that the studio had failed to secure the needed financing as was laid out in their agreement. As reported in The Guardian, the actor and almost-director turned around and countersued for a jaw-dropping sum of $8.7 million, claiming that he had put aside other lucrative projects to focus on "Joan."

Eventually, the studio dropped the suit in 2010, per the Los Angeles Daily News, perhaps intimidated by Willis' countersuit. Sadly, the actor never did get his chance to direct a feature film, leaving his dream of sitting behind the camera unfulfilled.

Mario Lanza

Based on a classic 1924 operetta of the same name, "The Student Prince" tells the story of Prince Karl, who struggles between his duty to the court and his own happiness after he falls in love with the daughter of a local innkeeper. In 1952, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had big plans to adapt it into a film musical and was looking for a big-name singer and actor for Prince Karl. Mario Lanza, a superstar opera singer of the day who'd already acted in a handful of films, seemed the perfect fit. He quickly signed a deal to star, and got to work performing songs for the movie. 

But after recording the music for the film, Lanza surprisingly didn't show up on the set for the first day of filming. According to TCM.com, Lanza was threatened with legal action and at least twice was given another chance, but repeatedly refused to come to the set and appear before cameras. With little recourse, MGM dropped a lawsuit on the difficult Lanza looking for a stunning $5 million (more than $54 million these days). Unable to absorb that figure, per TCM, Lanza sat down and hashed out a deal with the studio that gave MGM the rights to his recordings for the film.

Sadly, following the debacle, Lanza would become a recluse and struggle with depression and alcoholism, per the Philadelphia Music Alliance, before his death in 1959 of a heart attack, according to the Los Angeles Times

If you or anyone you know is struggling with alcohol or addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website, or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Marlon Brando

The 1954 historical drama "The Egyptian" starred Edmund Purdom, Michael Wilding, and Peter Ustinov in the story of an ancient Egyptian doctor who comes upon an injured Pharaoh named Akhnaton. After nursing him back to health, the young ruler makes the doctor his court physician. Originally to have starred Marlon Brando, fresh off of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and another historical drama, "Julius Caesar," 20th Century Fox had high hopes for the big-budget epic.

Once again though, with just days before filming was set to begin on the massive picture, Brando left the set and would never return, per the BFI. Brando claimed he only left so he could go home to New York to see his therapist, according to The New Yorker, but the studio wasn't happy with his reason. Rather than accommodate the actor's medical needs, though, they sued him for breach of contract, reported for as much as $2 million. To settle the dispute, Brando agreed to star in another picture for them, "Desiree," which he later claimed he put little effort into (via The New York Times).

Thankfully, the ordeal did little to tarnish his career, as he'd star in "On the Waterfront" in lieu of "The Egyptian" and win an Academy Award for his performance.

Woody Harrelson

"Benny & Joon" was a quirky early 1990s romantic comedy that famously paired rising star Johnny Depp with actress Mary Stuart Masterson and netted the young Depp a number of award nominations. But believe it or not, the film almost had a very different cast. Originally slated to star were "Cheers" veteran Woody Harrelson and future "Jurassic Park" actress Laura Dern, as recounted by Entertainment Weekly in '93. But before she signed on the dotted line, Dern walked away. Harrelson had already contracted for his role in the film but still did the same, quitting the film to take the lead role in the controversial drama "Indecent Proposal."

Woody was hit with a lawsuit for his departure. Years later, in a joint interview with his near-co-star (via UPI), Harrelson would claim that it was Dern's exit that prompted him to walk away from the film, telling her "Once I knew you weren't in ["Benny & Joon"], that was that." Dern went on to star in "Jurassic Park" instead, and "Indecent Proposal" went on to become a big hit too. Though "Benny & Joon" never had the same success ticket-wise, it was well-loved, positively reviewed, and a stepping stone in Depp's enormous career.

As for the lawsuit, it was apparently settled out of court for an amount reported by the Los Angeles Times to have been "less than $500,000," so it seems the studio may not have been looking to make an enemy of the Hollywood star.