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Actors Who Wound Up Leaving Movie Projects They Started Themselves

Making movies can be a difficult business and there's never a guarantee of success. Hard work might result in a box office success story or a flop that is financially ruinous for all involved. In either case, though, almost every film goes through a lot of changes from its conception to making it onto cinema screens. Budgets can shift, directors are replaced, and studios might even drop a project before it is picked up by another company.

One of the many ways that movies often morph during production is through the cast that will portray the various characters. Actors might leave a project due to scheduling conflicts, because they have creative differences with filmmakers, or for any number of other reasons. While it isn't usually a big deal when this happens, occasionally an actor might end up quitting a role in a film that they were instrumental in setting up in the first place. In these instances, it isn't all that rare to see the star stay on as a producer even though they will no longer appear in the movie.

It is these types of situations that we will look at today: exploring some of the times when an actor has stepped down from starring in their own movies, and examining whether it was the right decision to drop out.

Reese Witherspoon pulled a disappearing act as Amy in Gone Girl

"Gone Girl" is a 2014 psychological thriller that tells the story of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his missing wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), who disappears on the day of the fifth wedding anniversary. The prime suspect in the case, Nick must try to clear his name while uncovering the truth about what has happened to Amy. The film, which also stars Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, and Kim Dickens, is based on Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel and was a financial and critical hit, earning $369 million worldwide against a reported $61 million budget (via Box Office Mojo).

According to The Washington Post, Reese Witherspoon played a major part in developing the film and was initially set to star as Amy. However, the role eventually went to Pike, who is not much younger than Witherspoon. Speaking in a roundtable event hosted by The Hollywood Reporter, Witherspoon revealed that after talking with director David Fincher, she came to the conclusion that she was not the right person to portray Amy on screen.

Whatever conversation Witherspoon and Fincher had seemed to have been for the best. Not only was Pike widely praised for her performance in the movie, but she was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She lost out to Julianne Moore for her work in "Still Alice."

Brad Pitt exited from his role in The Departed

Directed by Martin Scorsese, the crime thriller "The Departed" was actually a remake of the 2002 film "Infernal Affairs," which was released in Hong Kong by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. The story follows two undercover agents, one working for the mob and one for the police, as they try to infiltrate each organization and uncover the identity of the opposing mole. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as state trooper William Costigan, Matt Damon as the mob spy Colin Sullivan, and Jack Nicholson as mob boss Frank Costello. The likes of Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Ray Winstone also appear in supporting roles.

Brad Pitt and his production company Plan B purchased the rights to remake "Infernal Affairs," beating out disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein (via Variety). The actor and producer told Interview magazine that he worked on the project for more than two years to try and get it made before securing the services of Scorsese and scriptwriter William Monahan.

Early reports suggested that Pitt would take on the part of Sullivan in the movie. However the actor stepped back from the role when Scorsese signed on to direct. In the same interview, Pitt explained: "I thought it would be better if they were younger guys that were just starting their lives, guys coming out of the academy, guys who were hungry. I thought I was too old for it."

Ben Affleck dropped out of The Batman

Although "The Batman" was originally meant to be part of the DC Extended Universe, the Matt Reeves-directed movie is now considered a standalone project separate from the larger continuity. This is largely down to the insistence of the director, who wanted to tell an earlier story about the Caped Crusader and his struggles to battle crime in Gotham. This version of the movie was co-written with Peter Craig and stars Robert Pattinson as the titular hero. Released in 2022, the film also includes Zoë Kravitz, Andy Serkis, Jeffrey Wright, and Colin Farrell among the cast.

"The Batman" had a troubled production, like many DC movie projects, and it wasn't clear when it would actually get made. Ben Affleck, who had already portrayed Batman in three earlier films, was set to direct, write, and star in the movie. But by 2017, Variety was reporting that Affleck had chosen to step down from directing duties to focus on producing and performing.

The actor later chose to exit the project altogether. Explaining his decision in 2019, Affleck said that he couldn't get the film to work and felt that it would be better if someone else filled the role and provided a fresh take on the character. He also revealed to The New York Times in 2020 that he had stepped back from "The Batman" due to a combination of personal issues, such as his alcoholism and divorce from Jennifer Garner, as well as his negative experience working on "Justice League."

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill were set to appear in Richard Jewell

Based on Marie Brenner's 1997 Vanity Fair article "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell," this movie focuses on real-life security guard Richard Jewell, following his discovery of the explosives at the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and the subsequent accusations that he was responsible for the act. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it features Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell and Sam Rockwell as Attorney General Watson Bryant Jr., with Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, and Olivia Wilde all having major roles. While it was not a financial success, failing to make back its $45 million budget (according to Box Office Mojo), the film received largely positive reviews.

Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio were both attached to the film early on and were expected to both produce and star. Deadline reported in 2014 that Hill would play Jewell, while DiCaprio would take on the part of Jewell's lawyer. Updates were few after that, until Clint Eastwood was eventually signed to direct. It was confirmed in 2019 that the two actors would no longer appear in the film, with Eastwood instead looking to put together his own cast (via Deadline). However, Hill and DiCaprio remained as producers, according to IMDb.

Scarlett Johansson quit Rub and Tug following criticism

Scarlett Johansson caused controversy in 2018 when it was revealed that she was slated to star in and produce an upcoming film called "Rub and Tug." The movie would tell the story of a transgender man and gangster called Dante Gill who became embroiled in the Massage Parlor War in Pittsburgh during the 1970s. The actor immediately faced backlash from those who believed that the character should be portrayed by a transgender performer rather than a cis actor. Johansson eventually revealed In a statement released to Out that she was exiting the project and was sympathetic to the criticism her casting had attracted. 

When Johansson quit "Rub and Tug" in 2018, there were no updates for a while about the status of the film and who would now take on the role of Dante. It wasn't until 2020 when it became clear that the project was being reworked as a television series, with Entertainment Weekly reporting that writer Our Lady J was taking over scripting duties and would develop a pilot. It's unknown whether director Rupert Sanders, who was originally attached to the film, will be involved in the television adaptation and what actors will be part of the cast for the upcoming show.

Charlize Theron helped bring Murder Mystery to life before leaving

For many people, "Murder Mystery" is likely just another film in a long line of disappointing Adam Sandler comedies, but it has proved successful enough for Netflix to greenlight a sequel that has already begun filming. The first movie sees police officer Nick Spitz and his wife Audrey, played by Sandler and Jennifer Aniston respectively, as they turn into murder investigators after witnessing a billionaire killed on his own yacht during a party.

Both director John Madden and actor Charlize Theron were attached to "Murder Mystery" when it was first developed. The pair were first linked to the project by The Hollywood Reporter back in 2012. Madden subsequently confirmed in an interview with Collider that he hoped to make it following his stint on the pilot for "Masters of Sex," confirming the Theron had been cast.

THR later revealed that Madden and Theron had dropped out of the project, although there was no reason given why. Theron was eventually credited as an executive producer, with her production company Denver and Delilah Productions also involved in a minor way. By the time filming started in 2018, Kyle Newacheck was at the helm, with Sandler and Aniston as the leads and Netflix releasing it through the streamer's deal with Sandler's production company.

Natalie Portman was going to star in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is a comedy horror film that follows the basic story of Jane Austen's novel "Pride and Prejudice," but mashes it together with modern zombie elements. The end result is a movie where the Bennet sisters search for suitable suitors while also defending themselves from hordes of the undead. Much of the story is taken directly from the novel of the same name by author Seth Grahame-Smith, who has also written "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter."

Burr Steers led the project, writing and directing the film, while Lily James and Sam Riley starred alongside Matt Smith, Charles Dance, and Lena Headey. However, James was not the first person considered for the lead role of Elizabeth Bennet. Natalie Portman was reported by Variety in 2009 to be producing and starring in the film through her own production company, Handsomecharlie Films.

Her departure from "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" came two days after director David O. Russell also left the project. As per The Wall Street Journal, Russell seemingly quit following a dispute with Lionsgate about the film's proposed budget. Although no reason was given for why Portman would no longer appear, New York magazine suggested it may have been down to scheduling conflicts. She continued to serve as a producer.

Jack Black was involved in the early stages of Yes Man

"Yes Man" is a 2009 romantic comedy starring Jim Carrey as Carl, man who attempts to turn his life around by only saying yes to any and all opportunities. Eventually, Carl encounters Allison (Zooey Deschanel) and the pair quickly fall in love, although the revelation about his true reasons for being spontaneous causes problems for the couple. The plot is partly based on the "Yes Man" book written by Danny Wallace, who lived his life saying "yes" for six months.

Before Wallace's memoir was even published, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to make a film. According to The Advocate, Jack Black and his "School of Rock" collaborator Mike White were set to develop the movie with producer David Heyman, who stayed with the project. There's been no definite reason given for why Black and White left "Yes Man," but Vulture suggested that it was likely down to the actor being involved in other films and unable to make room in his schedule. This does make sense, considering that the actor was involved in the high-profile movies "Be Kind Rewind," "Kung Fu Panda," and "Tropic Thunder" all around the same time.

Reese Witherspoon could have starred in Lucy in the Sky

In the 2019 drama "Lucy in the Sky," based on some of the exploits of real-life astronaut Lisa Nowak, space explorer Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) returns to Earth following a space mission but finds her life deteriorating as she struggles to find meaning. This eventually culminates in an attack on two fellow astronauts as she suffers from hallucinations and paranoia. Directed and written by Noah Hawley, who had previously worked on television series such as "Fargo" and "Bones," it was a huge financial failure, grossing just over $300,000, according to Box Office Mojo.

Variety confirmed in 2017 that Fox Searchlight had partnered with Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea, and Noah Hawley to produce the film, which at that point was titled "Pale Blue Dot." Witherspoon was expected to star as Lucy and was attached as a producer through her company Pacific Standard. Later that year, Witherspoon announced that she was stepping down from the cast but would remain as a producer, with Deadline speculating that this was probably so that she could film a second season of "Big Little Lies."

Chris Evans was going to star in Apple's Project Artemis

Following the success of its other original movies, Apple has recently been working on a film titled "Project Artemis," based on NASA's Artemis program to get humans back on the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years. The exact nature of the plot has not been revealed, but Deadline reports that Apple has put up more than $100 million for the budget, making it one of the most expensive projects for the Apple TV+ streaming service.

When the film was first announced, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, and Jason Bateman were all involved. Evans and Johansson were expected to star in the movie, working together for the first time since they appeared in "Avengers: Endgame" in 2019. Despite the fact that the two had expressed a desire to team up again, it was revealed just a few months later that Evans had been forced to quit the role due to scheduling conflicts. The Apple release would have caused issues for filming on two of his other upcoming movies, "Pain Hustlers" and "Big Red One." This was the second major change to the film after Greg Berlanti replaced director Jason Bateman, who left citing creative differences (via Deadline).

Matt Damon and John Krasinski were involved in Manchester by the Sea

An emotional and deeply personal story, "Manchester by the Sea" focuses on the life of a man who is stricken with guilt and grief following the death of his three children — something that he was unintentionally responsible for by accidentally starting the house fire that killed them. Shocked to find that he has been named his nephew's legal guardian following the death of his brother, he is forced to confront his past and deal with his turmoil. The film was lauded by critics, with a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and particular praise for star Casey Affleck, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Matt Damon was heavily involved in "Manchester by the Sea" from its conception. According to Rolling Stone, Damon developed the basic idea for the story with actor John Krasinski, before the pair approached writer-director Kenneth Lonergan to further expand the plot and come up with a screenplay. Explaining the creative process in an interview with Variety, Lonergan said that Damon was set to direct the film while Krasinski would have starred as the leading character. The two actors ended up being unavailable and had to drop out as they were busy with other projects, leaving the space open for Casey Affleck to take over in the main role and Lonergan to direct.

Tobey Maguire almost starred in 25th Hour

"25th Hour," a film written by "Game of Thrones" showrunner David Benioff and based on his novel of the same name, tells the story of Monty Brogan as he enjoys one final day of freedom. About to go to prison over a drug deal conviction, and having been sentenced to seven years behind bars, he explores New York and spends time with some of his family and friends recalling the events that led him to this moment and his potential future. Spike Lee took on directing duties while Edward Norton starred as Monty, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, and Anna Paquin also having roles.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2003, Benioff revealed how Tobey Maguire had expressed an interest in producing and starring in a film adaptation of the novel. The actor had read a preliminary copy some six months before it was due to be published and acquired the rights. Maguire requested that Benioff write the screenplay, but was ultimately forced to back out of starring in the film due to his commitments with "Spider-Man." However, like many actors on this list, he remained as a producer.