Paul Kane/Getty Images
Paul Kane/Getty Images

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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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.

1. SHE KNEW OVER 1000 SIGNS.

Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.

2. SHE CHANGED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT LANGUAGE.

Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.

3. SHE WASN'T THE ONLY APE WHO SIGNED.

Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.

4. SHE HAD FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

5. SHE WAS A LOVING CAT MOM.

Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.

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