One and Done: 10 Directors Who Exited Movie Franchises After the First Film

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The rumors were swirling for a while, but now she’s made it official: Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson won’t be back for the remaining two (or, if they’re following the unfortunate current trend, three) film adaptations of E.L. James’ bestsellers. “While I will not be returning to direct the sequels,” she told Deadline, “I wish nothing but success to whosoever takes on the exciting challenges of films two and three.” This “one and done” pattern is surprisingly prevalent among big movie franchises. While many series keep the same director for multiple entries (Spider-Man, X-Men, Pirates of the Caribbean), if not all the way through (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Transformers, The Dark Knight), some filmmakers go through the work of creating a world, making crucial casting decisions, and starting a franchise, only to decide — or have someone decide for them — that they’re not going to go through it all again. Here are a few other filmmakers that were in for a penny instead of a pound.

Doug Liman, The Bourne Identity

Liman was taking a big leap, budget- and profile-wise, with this (loose) 2002 adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s bestseller; his previous credits of note were the super-low-budget Swingers and the still-pretty-low-budget Go. He spent years trying to get Identity to the screen, updating its political subtext and transforming it into a new-millennium action vehicle, but his working methods (his sets are known for their controlled chaos) made his studio nervous. “Universal hated me,” he said in 2008. “I had an archenemy in the studio. They were trying to shut me down.” Even Bourne’s commercial success wasn’t proof enough that Liman was doing something right; Universal reduced him to executive producer for second and third installments The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and brought in director Paul Greengrass, who added in the handheld aesthetic which would become the series’ trademark.

Gary Ross, The Hunger Games

Ross came to the Suzanne Collins-inspired series with a respectable pedigree; he was a four-time Oscar nominee (for writing Big, Dave, and Seabiscuit, and producing the latter) and a double-threat, co-writing the inaugural outing’s script in addition to directing. But he ultimately couldn’t sign up for the long haul. “With franchises, release dates dictate schedules,” he told Entertainment Weekly . “I personally didn’t have time to write and prep the film the way I envisioned on that time schedule.” Some surmised that it may have been, behind closed doors, more of a mutual decision, as Ross’ direction had its share of detractors among critics and moviegoers. Lionsgate hired I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence to take over the series; he ended up completing it, helming Catching Fire, Mockingjay — Part 1, and the forthcoming Mockingjay — Part 2, to critical acclaim.

Neil Burger, Divergent

Like Ross, Burger seemed a bit of an odd fit to launch a YA adaptation franchise; after breaking through with the low-budget faux-documentary Interview with the Assassin, he’d found his greatest critical success with the period magic drama The Illusionist, and had a commercial hit with Limitless. He spent two years on Divergent, but bowed out thanks to an even tighter production schedule than Hunger Games’; with second feature Insurgent opening last week, nearly a year to the day after the release of Divergent, Burger was still finishing the first film when pre-production was in full swing on the second. “[A]s amazing as Neil is,” distributor Summit explained in a statement to Variety, “he still cannot be in two places at once and thus needs to finish post-production on Divergent while we gear up to start production on Insurgent.” As with Bourne, Burger retains an executive producer credit on the new film.

Catherine Hardwicke, Twilight

Hiring Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown director Hardwicke to helm the first film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s books must’ve seemed like a good idea — female director, strong voice, keen sense of style. But even Hardwicke couldn’t make a good movie out of that mush, although she certainly made a successful one (it grossed over $400 million worldwide), and the film’s poor quality wasn’t cited for her exit.

The official story was, again, a quicker turnaround than she required; the studio’s official statement noted, “Summit’s targeted end of 2009 or early 2010 release of the film, New Moon, does not work with Ms. Hardwicke’s required prep time to bring her vision of the film to the big screen.” But, of course, Nikki Finke dug up a bunch of people who said Hardwicke had been “difficult” on the set, and Summit CEO Rob Friedman told Finke they were parting ways with Hardwicke because “our visions are different.” The director later told Entertainment Weekly as much: “I felt more inspired by the first book — the way Stephenie captured intense feelings of yearning… I didn’t feel excited about the second book.”

Rob Cohen, The Fast and the Furious

You’d have a tough time finding a more frequently employed director of really terrible movies than Cohen, whose resumé includes the likes of The Skulls, Stealth, Alex Cross, and this year’s first-edition-of-Illad-slinging laugh riot The Boy Next Door. And he’s also responsible for the inauspicious beginning of one of the most (inexplicably, for my money) beloved of all modern franchises, The Fast and the Furious, creating a lightweight, utterly forgettable Point Break rip-off that you’d never guess would spawn six (and counting!) follow-ups.

It made a shitload of money, of course, but Cohen didn’t stick around for its sequel, the (still) hilariously titled 2 Fast 2 Furious; he left that job to a seriously swan-diving John Singleton, instead crafting xXx for Fast’s breakout star Vin Diesel. (Neither remained for that film’s long-forgotten follow-up, State of the Union.) Fast finally found its auteur of choice in the third installment, Tokyo Drift, and Justin Lin would stay on as director for three more films.

Brian DePalma, Mission: Impossible

Some series find a style and stick with it, either right off the bat or once they find the right director; Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series is unique, and frankly interesting, for its total disinterest in stylistic consistency. Instead, it’s almost like an anthology series for a rotating cast of directors, each of whom makes their entry very much their own, before turning it over to the next filmmaker in line. Star/co-producer Cruise hired flashy stylist DePalma, whose 1996 M:I runneth over with tilted angles, Hitchcockian suspense, and homages to classics like Rififi. John Woo took over in 2000, and filled his film with slo-mo, motorcycles, and artfully dispersing doves. J.J. Abrams did a 2006 take that was kinda like a feature-film version of Alias; Brad Bird’s fourth chapter had the sleek, Bondian flavor of his Incredibles; and this year’s Rogue Nation will presumably have the muscular, no-nonsense style of new director Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher and Way of the Gun.

Rupert Wyatt, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

After Tim Burton’s confounding and forgettable attempt to reboot the venerable 1960s and 1970s Planet of the Apes franchise, the series was pretty much dead in the water. But the combination of low expectations and high quality made the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes an unexpected success — thanks, in no small part, to the intelligent direction of British director Rupert Wyatt (who’d only made one previous film, the 2008 Sundance hit The Escapist). It did nearly $500 million worldwide, and Wyatt was bullish to do a sequel, telling Film School Rejects, “I can think of all sorts of sequels to this film, but this is just the beginning. This is laying the foundation.”

But he changed his tune the following year, reportedly (you might sense a pattern here!) out of concern that Fox’s no-budge May 2014 release date wouldn’t give him enough time to prep the picture to his satisfaction. Let Them In director Matt Reeves took over for Dawn of the Planet of The Apes, garnering even better reviews and bigger box office; he will reportedly stay on for the third film in the rebooted series.

Joe Johnston, Captain America: The First Avenger

The initial Cap picture’s WWII setting made the selection of Joe Johnston as director kind of a no-brainer; he’d already made a striking, enjoyable, yet sadly under-seen period superhero movie of his own in 1991’s The Rocketeer. But last year’s follow-up was a contemporary story, influenced by the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, and producer Kevin Feige clearly wanted to go in a different stylistic direction. “We got Joe Johnston because we said, ‘We want to do a ’40s World War Two movie masquerading as a big superhero movie,’” he explained. “I love that we’re doing a sequel to a film that’s a completely different genre than the first film. I think that’s fun.”

As with Apes, the follow-up, Captain America: The Winter Solider met with even greater commercial and critical success, and Marvel was so happy with the work of new directors Anthony and Joe Russo that they hired them not only to direct the third Cap film, 2016’s Civil War, but to take over the Avengers wing of the Marvel factory.

Steven Spielberg, Jaws

Considering the quickly diminishing quality of the sequels to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 smash, it’s not all that surprising that he stepped away from the series after the first film. But he certainly wasn’t anti-sequel; after all, he directed all of the Indiana Jones films and the first Jurassic Park follow-up (before turning that series over to, wouldn’t ya know it, Captain America’s Joe Johnston). On this one, he later admitted, it was just a matter of saving himself the stress after the ordeal of Jaws’ notoriously difficult water shoot: “I was done, I was done with the ocean. I would have done the sequel if I hadn’t had such a horrible time at sea on the first film. I would have absolutely jumped at the chance to own the sequel because I knew that when I was walking away from the sequel I was walking away from a huge piece of my life that I helped to create, but it wasn’t a hard decision to walk away from it.” The (actually pretty good!) Jaws 2 retained several cast members and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, under journeyman director Jeannot Szwarc; it was only with the ill-advised, barely related Jaws 3-D that the series began to go off the rails.

Richard Donner, Superman

It’s one of the best-known stories of a director getting screwed in all of Hollywood, but we had to include it in case you hadn’t heard it: director Donner (The Omen) was originally hired by super-producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind to shoot both Superman and Superman II, with some of the production (including Gene Hackman’s scenes) shot simultaneously to save money and time. Donner estimates he’d shot something like 75 percent of the sequel before production was put on pause so he could focus on completing the first film, but during that hiatus, the Salkinds (who’d had, what do they call it, “creative differences” with the director) decided to replace him on Superman II with Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers), who’d been on set as a producer. Yet, per Director’s Guild of America rules, Lester had to shoot more than half of the movie to receive solo credit as its director—which meant the production went back and reshot several scenes that had already been completed, but this time with Lester calling the shots.

Considering all the behind-the-scenes drama, Superman II came out not only coherent, but quite good, and Lester was hired to direct the third installment. But when that film was a critical and commercial disappointment, fans of the series began to wonder how much of the second film’s high quality was thanks to Donner — who obligingly assembled his own cut of the film for a 2006 DVD release.