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10 Casting Decisions That Made Fans (Unnecessarily) Furious

Paul Kane/Getty Images
Paul Kane/Getty Images

Fannish enthusiasm can be a wonderful thing. But sometimes it can go a bit too far, as when hardcore fans are absolutely convinced that they, and only they, know how to properly adapt their beloved franchise into a feature film. When someone is cast who doesn't fit their vision of a beloved character, things can get nasty. As these 10 casting backlashes prove, it's usually best to wait and see how someone does in a role before bringing out the pitchforks.

1. Heath Ledger // The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker has become the litmus test for fans overreacting to a casting decision. Much of the backlash against Ledger stemmed from his roles in teen-centric comedies. GeekTyrant has a time capsule of Reddit reacting to the news: “Heath Ledger has the charisma of a lettuce leaf.” “The Joker is a character that needs an actor with gravity. Not some little twerp who got lucky.” “Probably the worst casting of all time.” “Let’s reminisce on the days of a A Knight’s Tale and Ten Things I Hate About You. Heath? The Joker? Bad casting. Bad joke.” And [sic all]: “There are better choices in my own opinion, but what do I know, its only been my life enjoying these comics?” But the Academy really had the final say when they awarded Ledger a posthumous Oscar for the part.  

2. Michael Keaton // Batman (1989)

Ledger wasn’t the first Batman actor (Bactor?) to suffer the rage of fanboys: When Michael Keaton was cast as the Caped Crusader back in the late '80s, fans sent physical complaint letters (oh, pre-Internet days) to the studio—by one account, more than 50,000 of them. The primary complaints: Keaton was a comedian, and he wasn’t physically intimidating enough. A 1998 article in The Toronto Star noted that Batman “may turn out to be a wimp,” as Keaton was “no Sylvester Stallone.” Director Tim Burton responded to the backlash, explaining that “I met with a number of very good, square-jawed actors, but the bottom line was that I just couldn’t see any of them putting on a bat suit.” Earlier this year, Keaton reflected on the time comic book fans the world over hated his guts, saying that “I heard about the outrage, and I couldn’t get it. I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. It made me feel bad that it was even in question.” But Keaton was in good company; the Star article also mentioned that some fans disliked "the casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a pathologically evil Batman archenemy. Mr. Nicholson, it seems, is guilty of having a sense of humor."

3. Jennifer Lawrence // The Hunger Games (2012)

The biggest complaint against Jennifer Lawrence being cast as The Hunger Games' heroine Katniss Everdeen? She wasn't skinny enough. Because the character comes from the impoverished District 12, Katniss—some argued—should be stick-thin. Her hair color was also a point of contention, with some fans dismissing the Oscar-winning actress as a “beach bunny blonde” with “chubby cheeks.” In an interview with Teen VogueLawrence said she understood the casting backlash: "The cool thing about Katniss is that every fan has such a personal relationship with her, and they understand and know her in a singular way. I'm a massive fan too, so I get it." The Hunger Games franchise has so far earned a combined total of $2.3 billion, with one film left to go.

4. Daniel Craig // Casino Royale (2006)

In 2005, layered popped collars were in, Fox canceled Arrested Development, and people just could not handle a blonde guy being cast as the world’s most famous super-spy. Daniel Craig’s height and general appearance were also an issue—the site DanielCraigIsNotBond.com wondered how “a short, blonde actor with the rough face of a professional boxer and a penchant for playing killers, cranks, cads and gigolos [could] pull off the role of a tall, dark, handsome and suave secret agent." An actor "with his looks,” the site suggested, should instead star in a Caddyshack prequel. Most of the world left the “James Blonde” hatred behind when Casino Royale came out to excellent reviews, but the website is still going strong: Earlier this month it posted the Spectre trailer, noting that it “looks like more dour stuff.”

5. Anne Hathaway // The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

You’d think Batfans would have learned their lesson by now, but no such luck: Fans were skeptical when the squeaky-clean Anne Hathaway was cast as Catwoman/Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, and it only got worse when the first picture of her in costume leaked. The word “underwhelming” was used a lot. Speaking with MTV, Hathaway responded to the criticism and warned the Internet at large about rushing to judgment based on a single promo pic: “What I’m happy to say is, if you didn’t like the photo, you only see about a 10th of what that suit can do. And if you did like the photo, you have excellent taste.”

6. Robert Pattinson // Twilight (2008)

Given how The Twilight Saga launched Robert Pattinson to the heights of teen heartthrob-dom, it can be easy to forget that, when he was cast, the majority of fans were not pleased. His only major movie before then had been Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where he played Cedric Diggory, whose clean-cut, good boy image was a far cry from the brooding sexiness that fans wanted from vampire Edward Cullen. French actor Gaspard Ulliel was a fan favorite choice to fill the role, a fact referenced by author Stephenie Meyer in a blog post where she named future Superman Henry Cavill as her preferred actor for the part. Pattinson would later describe the fan reaction as “unanimous unhappiness” to MTV. He told the Evening Standard that he “got bags of letters from angry fans, telling me that I can’t possibly play Edward, because I’m Diggory,” and to Entertainment Weekly, he noted that "I stopped reading [blogs] after I saw the signatures saying 'Please, anyone else.'"

7. Keira Knightley // Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice was ill-fated from the very start as star Keira Knightley committed the great sin of not being Jennifer Ehle, who played the role of Elizabeth Bennet in the beloved 1995 BBC miniseries. Shocking! When BBC News asked readers about the movie back in 2004, there was a fair amount of general handwringing of the "how dare you remake a classic?!" variety. Some mega-fans of the 1995 version, though, flipped their pretty beribboned bonnets about Knightley specifically: "The disaster is the casting of Kiera [sic] ‘Bones’ Knightley as Elizabeth," said one anonymous commenter from Pasadena, California. Others chimed in: "This other actor [Matthew Macfadyen] seems to [sic] young for the roll [sic] and Keira too beautiful and thin for playing Lizzy too." "Knightley is too pinched and one-dimensional, not solid enough!" "Keira Knightley is too attractive and rather bad at acting." “Kiera [sic] Knightley should never be Elizabeth Bennet ... she’s not that type of actress.” The Academy disagreed, granting Knightley one of the film’s four Oscar nominations. But that vitriol was nothing compared to the fan reaction to…

8. Matthew Macfadyen // Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Again, from the BBC: “There is only one Mr. Darcy and that is Colin Firth.” “[Firth] ‘is’ the one and only Mr. Darcy.” “No one will compare to Firth.” “Colin Firth is the definitive Mr. Darcy, never to be matched at least not for many a year.” “Matthew Macfayden is not a bad looking chappy but he’s not Colin Firth and cannot possibly live up to the expectations of my comrades and I!” And the nastiest: “You must have someone dashingly handsome as Darcy ... try Rupert Everett, Hugh Jackman, or someone of the tall, arrogant, but handsome calibre. Macfayden doesn't have a masculine enough jaw, I suspect he'll need a seriously good wig to make up for his own rather thin, receding, floppy hair." Not that it wouldn’t be amazing to see a version of Pride & Prejudice with the “masculine-jawed” Jackman as Darcy—even better if he played it in character as Wolverine—but somehow Macfadyen’s turn as the “darkly handsome but socially paralyzed Darcy” pleased critics and audiences alike despite him not being Colin Firth emerging wet from a lake.

9. Vivien Leigh // Gone with the Wind (1939)

Even in pre-Internet times, fans would get demanding about the casting of their favorite characters. With Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, the problem was that she was a British actor playing the world's most famous Southern belle. Producer David O. Selznick tried to downplay Leigh's nationality in the official casting announcement, instead saying that she was educated in Europe and did some "recent screen work in England." Outraged fans wrote letters to newspapers that slammed Leigh's casting as an "insult to Southern womanhood” and "a direct affront to the men who wore the Gray and an outrage to the memory of the heroes of 1776 who fought to free this land of British domination." The President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which initially planned to boycott the film, eventually warmed up to Leigh; according to the film’s historical advisor, Susan Myrick, she believed that an Englishwoman was preferable to “a woman from the East or Middle West."

10. Renée Zellweger // Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Call it a reverse Scarlett O’Hara: instead of being angry that a British actor was playing a Southern character, Bridget Jones’s Diary fans couldn’t imagine the Texas-born Renée Zellweger playing Bridget Jones, who is a modern-day version of Pride & Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet. (What you can take away from this piece: Batman fans and Jane Austen fans are equally hardcore.) “The criticism has been hurtful,” noted Zellweger in a 2000 interview with The Guardian. “Not the bit about the fact that an American girl is playing this part. I can understand that. But it's the extremes to which it's taken. They'll slip something else in there like, ‘Nobody has even heard of her before;' ‘What's she ever done?;' ‘The unknown Texan comic.’ That's hurtful, d'ya know?” Co-star Hugh Grant came to Zellweger's defense, telling Entertainment Weekly, “She's very funny, and she's been living in England a long time now, mastering the accent. It'll be a triumph. I know it will." The time with a vocal coach—Barbara Berkeley, who worked with Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare In Love—paid off, and Bridget Jones’s Diary became a modern rom-com classic.

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Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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Chloe Efforn
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Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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