These five films were nearly masterpieces, until meddling studio executives forced the directors to compromise their artistic vision for the sake of box-office revenue. Here’s a quick look at what could have been!
1. Osmosis Jones (2001)
While Osmosis Jones was released to mixed reviews and poor box-office receipts, the original version of this live-action–animation mashup could have been an instant classic. Under its original title, The Unstoppable Withering Of Frank Detorre, director Tom Sito’s vision of the movie was about a man named Frank Detorre (Bill Murray) who eats an egg off of the ground and then dies slowly of food poisoning while every doctor he goes to laughs at him and calls him “The Poison Egg Clown.” Sito intended to end the film with a scene where Murray’s character lies in a hospital bed, his disease-ravaged body withered and frail, as he murmurs, “America is bullshit,” before completely flatlining.
The Unstoppable Withering Of Frank Detorre was going to be an unflinching look at the horrors of food poisoning, the dangers of eggs, and the dismantling of American masculinity in the 21st century. Unfortunately, studio executives found Sito’s vision too depressing, and they forced him to dilute Frank’s story with a whimsical animated adventure about a white blood cell in Frank’s body named Osmosis Jones fighting, and ultimately killing, his disease in a lighthearted pastiche of ’80s buddy cop films.
2. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Director David Frankel had an extended scene in which Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, puts on so many designer coats that she is crushed to death while shouting the name “Meryl Streep” repeatedly. Despite the emotional impact of this scene, studio executives felt it would confuse viewers and forced Frankel to cut it, thus transforming a potential masterpiece into a fun but ultimately forgettable dramedy.
3. Armageddon (1998)
While Armageddon was a favorite among high school boys in the late ’90s, the first cut of the movie had more gripping emotional overtones. Originally, director Michael Bay had used CGI to make the asteroid on a collision course with the earth a gigantic replica of Bruce Willis’ head. Throughout the film, the giant Bruce Willis head would hurtle through space and tearfully beg the earth to get out of the way before they collided. The film was going to end with the big Bruce Willis asteroid accidentally eating small Bruce Willis the astronaut, only to then be eaten by an even larger Bruce Willis head hurtling through space in the opposite direction. However, Touchstone Pictures decided that these special effects were too expensive, and what could have been a groundbreaking cinematic tour de force about Bruce Willis heads of various sizes devouring each other in the blackness of space turned into another tedious disaster flick.
4. Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
In its earliest stages, Muppets Most Wanted was originally helmed by visionary director Terrence Malick and was intended to be a six-hour saga about Kermit the Frog’s descent into madness after the ghost of Jim Henson calls him the N-word. Malick’s version of Muppets Most Wanted was filled with dense, symbolic imagery, much of which was related to the late Jim Henson. In one scene, Gonzo lays an egg containing four of Jim Henson’s teeth, and in another, Miss Piggy sees a real-life pig who screams, “Take me to the hospital!” in Jim Henson’s voice before immediately wandering off to copulate with a nearby dog. Malick claimed that the film was to be a meditation on how the Muppets would come to terms with the death of their creator and would culminate in a scene where Kermit chains Fozzie Bear to the hood of a car and shaves the word “BEDLAM” into his fur.
Unfortunately, the studio found Malick’s version of Muppets Most Wanted bloated and pretentious. They fired him from the project and hired a more family-friendly director in his place. We’ll likely never get to see Malick’s masterwork, and the final version of the movie is widely considered a disappointing addition to the Muppets canon.
5. Bruce Almighty (2003)
For the first year of shooting, Bruce Almighty was planned as a far grittier and more sophisticated film. When Jim Carrey’s character, Bruce Nolan, receives all the powers of God, he begins creating millions of dogs and having them eat each other on the streets of all the world’s major cities. Morgan Freeman, the original God, demands that Bruce stop creating so many dogs, but Bruce just coughs in his face and creates a five-story bloodhound to sit on God until he is dead and flat. The film raised bold and complicated questions about faith, power, and the human condition. Sadly, some executive over at Universal Studios realized that Bruce Almighty could be transformed into a lucrative romantic comedy and forced the filmmakers to make that instead. Pity.