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'Catching Fire': Can changing directors work?

April 11, 2012 | 12:23 pm

"The Hunger Games"The decision by Gary Ross and Lionsgate to part ways on "Catching Fire" has caused a stir on the Internet, as fans worry how the new "Hunger Games" film will fare without the original helmer. But for all the rapid breathing, Rossgate actually is just the latest example in a long tradition of studios switching horses on a sequel.

How have previous franchises turned out? Some well; many others, not so well. Here are six instructive comparisons.

"Twilight." Perhaps the most famous of all modern cases, and the one to which "Catching Fire" is now most often being compared. In late 2008, after studio Summit and "Twilight" helmer Catherine Hardwicke haggled over issues large and small, Summit hit the reset button and hired Chris Weitz to direct 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 same executives who ran Summit at the time.

"Aliens." Maybe the archetype for how to switch it up. Seven years after Ridley Scott defined the zeitgeist with 1979’s "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 (apart from the fact that Cameron probably won't be taking on "Catching Fire"): "Aliens" was a labor of love that Cameron developed for years before carefully taking the reins. This instance -- when a director is needed urgently to make a date 19 months away -- is, well, a little different.

"Harry Potter." Another success story. After Chris Columbus helmed the first two movies in the boy-wizard franchise, he cited burnout and decamped for a smaller producing role on the third film. Alfonso Cuaron stepped in, starting 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 made it his own with three straight massive hits, Rob Marshall stepped in for No. 4. It didn't work out so well. Though the movie was the second-most successful in global box office, it was by far the lowest grossing domestically ($241 million to the $423 million of the second film) and was generally disliked by fans and critics.

"Saturday Night Fever." One of the many instances of sequel badness. Several years after John Badham gave us the dark, disco-filled classic, no less an auteur than Sylvester Stallone stepped into the franchise to give us more white-suited twinkle-toeing in "Stayin' Alive." The results were disastrous, both creatively and commercially. Don't try to have Sly or any of his modern equivalents direct "Catching Fire."

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


"Hunger Games": Gary Ross won't direct "Catching Fire"

"Hunger Games" tops $300 million at box office

"The Hunger Games": Five lessons from its box-office success

Movie review: "The Hunger Games"

"Hunger Games": Jennifer Lawrence reaps praise from critics

Box Office: "Hunger Games" beats record with $155-million opening weekend

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Lionsgate