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'Hunger Games': Will switching directors mid-franchise be OK?

April 12, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

The decision by Gary Ross and Lionsgate to part ways on "Catching Fire" has fans worrying how the new "Hunger Games" film will fare without the original director. But this is just the latest example in a long tradition of studios switching horses on a sequel.

How have previous franchises turned out? Here are six comparisons.

"Twilight" is perhaps the most famous of all recent cases, and the one to which "Catching Fire" is now most often being compared. In late 2008, after studio Summit and "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke haggled over issues large and small, Summit hit the reset button and hired Chris Weitz to handle the second film. The new movie was fabulously successful at the box office, though the reviews were tepid. Adding to the similarities: Lionsgate is now run by the executives who ran Summit during "Twilight" time.

"Aliens" may be the archetype for how to switch it up. Seven years after Ridley Scott's 1979 original "Alien," James Cameron stepped in and turned out "Aliens," a movie that many felt matched the first film in ambition and creativity. The key difference between that case and this one: "Aliens" was a labor of love that Cameron developed for several years before carefully taking the reins. This time around, a director is needed urgently to make a release date that's only 19 months away.

"Harry Potter" is another success story. After Chris Columbus helmed the first two movies in the boy-wizard franchise, he cited burnout and decamped. Enter Alfonso Cuaron, who started a rotation of top-tier directors over the final six films that fans say greatly benefited the franchise.

"Pirates of the Caribbean": After Gore Verbinski directed three straight massive hits, Rob Marshall was hired for No. 4. Though the movie was the second-most successful of the series in global box office, it was by far the lowest grossing domestically ($241 million, compared with the second film's $423 million) and was generally disliked by fans and critics.

"Saturday Night Fever": Several years after John Badham gave us the dark, disco-filled classic, Sylvester Stallone created the white-suited, twinkle-toed "Stayin' Alive." The results were disastrous, both creatively and commercially.

"Basic Instinct" is another cautionary tale. Paul Verhoeven redefined sexy in 1992's "Basic Instinct," but the same can't be said of Michael Caton-Jones' 2006 debacle "Basic Instinct 2." Optimists might take heart that although that sequel was thrown together as an easy cash-in, "Catching Fire" is based on an acclaimed book and has an Oscar-winning screenwriter on board, so it should turn out better.

steven.zeitchik@latimes.com

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