1. Kevin Costner, The Big Chill (1983)
Kevin Costner missed out on a huge break when his small but central role in 1983’s The Big Chill was cut, but he became one of the most famous cases of an actor getting removed from a prominent movie. Costner, still years away from being famous in his own right, was originally supposed to appear in several flashback scenes to show what his character was like before his suicide and funeral bring together a group of college friends and facilitate numerous Motown sing-alongs. But considering the ruthless editing that all but removed him from the movie, it’s fitting that only his slashed wrists are visible as a mortician attends to his corpse in the opening scene. Needless to say, Costner’s career recovered, and Big Chill writer-director Lawrence Kasdan gave his friend a consolation prize by casting him as one of the leads in the well-regarded 1985 Western Silverado.
2. La Toya Jackson, Brüno (2009)
Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t known for his sensitivity. But after Michael Jackson died, Cohen bowed to the dictates of good taste for perhaps the first and last time by cutting a scene from Brüno in which his in-your-face fashionista character Brüno invites La Toya Jackson to eat sushi off an obese naked man, and all but begs her to call her brother Michael and get him to join them. Or, failing that, pretend to be Michael Jackson: “I could get you the jacket and the glove, all you’d have to do is speak in a slightly higher voice,” Cohen insists to a visibly uncomfortable La Toya. Unlike pretty much everyone else on this list, La Toya was probably thrilled at being deleted from a film, though her scene did turn up on the DVD.
3. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, Viggo Mortensen, and Mickey Rourke, The Thin Red Line (1998)
For his first film since 1978’s Days Of Heaven, famed writer-director Terrence Malick brought together seemingly every male star in Hollywood, including Sean Penn, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, John Travolta, Thomas Jane, and many, many more. But a cavalcade of big names fell victim to his unusual working methods and 20th Century Fox’s understandable reluctance to release a five-hour-plus movie. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, Viggo Mortensen, and Mickey Rourke were all eventually cut from Malick’s loose, largely improvised adaptation of James Jones’ anti-war novel. Malick began with a script that served only as a loose outline, then shot enough material for his five-hour cut. When The Thin Red Line was shortened considerably, plenty of heavyweight thespians ended up on the cutting-room floor. Malick has hinted that he might someday release a director’s cut restoring their roles and greatly expanding the roles of actors who did make it into the film, but given the pace at which he works, cultists shouldn’t hold their breath waiting.
4. James Van Der Beek, Storytelling (2001)
As it exists now, Todd Solondz’s 2001 feature Storytelling divides neatly into two halves: “Fiction,” in which a creative-writing professor has affairs with his students, and “Non-Fiction,” in which Paul Giamatti plays a documentarian making a film about a high-school student and his family. But was there supposed to be a third segment? That’s the rumor that’s circulated since the film’s release. What is known: James Van Der Beek shot scenes in which he played a gay football player, including an explicit sex scene, but he doesn’t appear in the movie at all. Solondz remains elusive about the cut, but as reported by The Playlist, he did recently tell a Boston audience, “I have dropped actors in every single movie, and not because I didn’t like their work, but a movie has to breathe, it has to have its proper life, so you have to, as they say, ‘kill your babies so the whole can live.’ So certainly [he wasn't dropped] because someone told me I had to get rid of him, or the sex scene was too explicit, nothing silly like that. No, it was an artistic decision.”
5. Ghostface Killah, Iron Man (2008)
Wu-Tang Clan rapper, eccentric, and all-around loose cannon Ghostface Killah adopted the persona of comic-book superhero Iron Man/dashing millionaire industrialist playboy Tony Stark (or “Tony Starks,” in Ghostface-ese) as one of his many hip-hop alter egos. Ghostface even named his debut solo album Ironman. So when Paramount finally got around to adapting Iron Man for the big screen, the filmmakers figured they’d acknowledge the rapper’s longtime association with the Marvel hero by giving him a tongue-in-cheek cameo. Alas, the scene where hip-hop’s Iron Man rubs shoulders with the cinematic incarnation in Dubai was cut for pacing reasons, and Ghostface only made it into the finished film via a video for his song “Celebration.”
6. David and Peter Paul, Natural Born Killers (1994)
According to Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary, bodybuilding brothers David and Peter Paul—a.k.a. the Barbarian Brothers—desperately wanted to break into the motion-picture business, so they offered to finance a film by an up-and-coming young video-store-clerk-turned-screenwriter named Quentin Tarantino, on the condition that he write a scene that would let them flex their acting chops as well as their bulging biceps. Tarantino was so uncomfortable with the request that he had Avary script the Natural Born Killers scene in which sleazy tabloid journalist Robert Downey Jr. interviews the Paul brothers after they’ve had their legs hacked off by the film’s mass-murdering protagonists. In spite of the mutilation, David and Peter admire their attackers’ Arnold Schwarzenegger-like charisma at length. But the scene—which director Oliver Stone purportedly hailed as the best part of the screenplay—never made it into the final film. At least the Paul brothers were in good company: Ashley Judd’s nine-minute courtroom scene was cut from the final version as well.
7. Brandon Routh, The Informers (2008)
Like many of the films chronicled here, Gregor Jordan’s ill-fated adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1995 short-story collection The Informers changed shape radically throughout its production. Ellis, who co-wrote the screenplay but didn’t have many positive things to say about the end product, envisioned the film as a Short Cuts-like epic intertwining numerous subplots about Southern Californians luxuriating in their own moral degradation. But by the time the film was released in 2008 to bad reviews and worse box-office, it ran a mere 98 minutes, and a subplot involving Superman Returns hunk Brandon Routh as a vampire was excised completely, leaving audiences and critics to ponder the moral emptiness and decadence of much-less-literal forms of bloodsucking, youth-obsessed parasites.
8. Various dancers and singers, I’ll Do Anything (1994)
James L. Brooks had a bold vision for his 1994 comedy-drama I’ll Do Anything. He wanted to transform the professional and personal angst of narcissistic show-business types into an unlikely musical, with songs by Prince and Sinéad O’Connor, and choreography by Twyla Tharp. But when the film was test-marketed, audiences recoiled at the musical numbers, which subsequently landed on the cutting-room floor. So it’s sadly appropriate that much of I’ll Do Anything, both in its original form and in the version that eventually made it onscreen, is obsessed with test screenings, focus groups, and Hollywood’s bottomless, insatiable need for validation and approval.
9. Michael Biehn, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Michael Biehn was primed to reprise his role as the man who travels back in time to help Linda Hamilton save civilization in T2: Judgment Day, but a dream sequence involving his character was cut from the theatrical version (it was later restored for the director’s cut), along with a thankfully discarded ending involving Hamilton in laughably awful old-lady makeup and some of the worst writing of James Cameron’s career. Considering the dialogue in Avatar, that’s saying an awful lot.
10. Skeet Ulrich and many more, Cursed (2005)
Cursed, Wes Craven’s ill-fated third collaboration with Scream and Scream 2 screenwriter Kevin Williamson, more than lived up to its title. Production was delayed on multiple occasions, actors were recast, and a central character played by Skeet Ulrich was cut from the film altogether. Ulrich could have captained a softball team made up entirely of other actors who didn’t make it into the final film; other casualties of re-writing, re-casting, and rescheduling included Illeana Douglas, Heather Langenkamp, Scott Foley, Omar Epps, Robert Forster, Corey Feldman, and James Brolin.
11. Chuck D and others, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy originally featured a lengthy subplot that found Will Ferrell’s pompous, self-obsessed, yet strangely loveable boob of an anchorman investigating a shadowy organization called The Alarm Clock that’s robbing banks for reasons that remain inscrutable even to its own members. The subplot never made it into the film, but improvisation-heavy director Adam McKay had so many deleted scenes and alternate takes that they were able to turn them into an entire feature film: Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie. The result is predictably ramshackle and loose, but it’s also surprisingly funny, and it restores performances by Chuck D, Maya Rudolph, Kevin Corrigan, and Chad Everett that otherwise would have been relegated to deleted scenes.
12. Andy Garcia, Dangerous Minds (1995)
When it comes to Hollywood formula, love interests are often every bit as obligatory and perfunctory as diamond-smuggling subplots or car chases. Andy Garcia learned this the hard way when his entire supporting role opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds ended up on the cutting-room floor. It turns out the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced inspirational-teacher drama didn’t need even a soupçon of romance after all. So Garcia got the boot, though thankfully, Coolio’s performance was preserved for posterity.
13. Jason Robards and Mick Jagger, Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Surely Werner Herzog could sympathize with Terry Gilliam when Gilliam’s attempts to shoot The Man Who Killed Don Quixote broke down, as documented in Lost In La Mancha. On his shoot for 1982’s Fitzcarraldo, Herzog encountered the exact same difficulties Gilliam had faced: a desperately ill leading man, queasy financiers pulling out during the shoot, crucially uncooperative weather, and other filmmakers on hand to document the production’s problems. But where Gilliam is still fighting to make his film, Herzog doggedly completed his production, even though he was five weeks into filming in South America and 40 percent done with the film when his star, Jason Robards, came down with severe amoebic dysentery and had to return to America for treatment. Robards’ doctors told him his life was at risk if he returned to the set, so he bowed out of the film altogether; meanwhile, his co-star, Mick Jagger, ran out of time to complete the film and headed out on tour with The Rolling Stones. Herzog subsequently brought in his old partner in crime Klaus Kinski to take on Robards’ role, dropped Jagger’s role entirely, and started shooting again from the top. Herzog has said he destroys all unused footage from his films, so these days, the only scenes still in existence from the five weeks of Robards and Jagger’s shoot are a couple that Les Blank kept to include in Burden Of Dreams, his riveting documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo.
14. The first cast, September (1987)
Woody Allen is a notorious perfectionist who sees re-shoots and re-casting as essential components of filmmaking. But he’s seldom taken those instincts as far as he did with 1987’s September. Some filmmakers delete scenes from movies; Allen essentially deleted an entire film. Allen was so unhappy with the first version of his stagy, Anton Chekhov-inspired drama that he essentially remade the film with an entirely different cast. Christopher Walken, Sam Shepard, and Charles Durning were among the actors who made an entire film with Allen, only to see him remake it with other actors. In perhaps the unkindest cut of all, Allen even discarded the performance of Maureen O’Sullivan, the elderly mother of his then-girlfriend Mia Farrow. Now that’s cold-blooded. That’s clearly the worst thing Allen could have possibly have done to Farrow and her family. Or perhaps not.