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‘Hunger Games’ director Gary Ross out for ‘Catching Fire.’ Which other directors have passed on big-budget sequels?

Will Perkins
Wide Screen
April 12, 2012

The surprising news of director Gary Ross' exit as director of "The Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire" shocked studio executives and fans alike, but he leaves the project for familiar and oft-cited reasons. In a statement released yesterday, the filmmaker said the tight turnaround between the two films was the primary reason for his departure.

"I simply don't have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make," said the director, whose adaptation of the Suzanne Collins novel just surpassed the $300 million-mark at the box office.

If you read Collins' book and saw Ross' extremely faithful big-screen adaptation, the director's passion for the source material was evident. Given that stated passion, his reasons for exiting "Catching Fire" seem entirely justified. There's probably more to this story that we don't know (anytime a director leaves such a high profile project, there's almost always more to the story), but you can't fault the guy for wanting to give fans of "The Hunger Games" saga the best possible sequel.

Ross isn't the first director to walk away from a major movie franchise. If it's not over the shooting schedule, it's over creative differences with the studio or stars -- or, over money. As much as people like to think that the "art" comes first, Hollywood franchises are multi-million dollar machine. Money can invariably become a factor when directors are renegotiating contracts for sequels.

Here are four other filmmakers who famously handed off the reins to major movie franchises after directing successful first entries.

Catherine Hardwicke for "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" -- Not only was Catherine Hardwicke's 2008 adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" a pop culture phenomenon, it was no slouch at the box office, either. An unbridled financial success, the $37 million movie earned back nearly ten times its budget, bringing in close $400 million in box office receipts. The film was so successful that studio Summit Entertainment fast-tracked the development of the sequel, "New Moon," forcing Hardwicke to bow out as a result. Much like Ross, Hardwicke cited "timing" as an issue and subsequently said that she did not want to see the film "rushed out." Chris Weitz ("The Golden Compass") would direct "New Moon."

George Lucas for "The Empire Strikes Back" - The original "Star Wars" was one of the most succesful films of all time, but the stress of directing it nearly killed George Lucas. Between the constant battles with the studio over budgets, schedules, and the director's creative choices, a hellish and disastrous location shoot in the deserts of Tunisia, and literally having to invent the revolutionary special effects during post-production, Lucas was pushed to the breaking point on "Star Wars." The director was actually diagnosed with acute exhaustion and dangerous hypertension during the shoot.

However, the physical toll clearly paid off for Lucas, in the form of a three-quarters-of-a-billion dollars at the box office. Financially independent thanks to the success of "Star Wars," Lucas hired his old university professor, Irvin Kershner, to direct the highly-anticipated sequel, then sat back and (we assume) counted his money. Lucas would return to direct "Star Wars" with 1999's "The Phantom Menace."

Stanley Kubrick for "2010: The Year We Make Contact" - After directing the 1969 science fiction landmark "2001: A Space Odyssey," director Stanley Kubrick moved on to other projects (you know, little films like "A Clockwork Orange," "Barry Lyndon," and "The Shining"). Author Arthur C. Clarke, who had written the original "2001" novel and helped Kubrick develop the film version, also penned a sequel to the book/film in 1982, so naturally Kubrick was approached to direct the big screen version. The legendary director had managed to go his entire career without making a sequel to one of his films, and at the age of 55 he wasn't about to start. He passed on the film and considered the matter closed.

Enter sci-fi obsessed director Peter Hyams ("Outland," "Timecop"). Hyams, a huge fan of Kubrick's, desperately wanted to direct the sequel to perhaps the director's most famous film, but said he would only direct "2010" if he could get the blessing of both Kubrick and Clarke. Hyams managed to secure their approval and the film was made.

Bryan Singer for "X-Men: The Last Stand" - After the critical and financial success of the first two "X-Men" movies, it seemed likely that director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects") would return for the third super-powered outing -- there were many loose story ends to tie up, after all. However, Singer decided to make "Superman Returns" instead, and 20th Century Fox decided to go ahead with the sequel anyway, a decision that would bite them right in the behind.

Fox went through a slew of potential directors for "X-3," including comic book fans Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan"), Joss Whedon ("The Avengers"), and Zack Snyder ("Watchmen"), but eventually settled on British director Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn was unceremoniously replaced at the last second by serial hack Brett Ratner ("Tower Heist"), and though successful, the resulting film was a colossal mess. Vaughn would go on to direct the far superior "X-Men: First Class."

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