How 1991’s The Addams Family marked every director who’d turned the film down

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It was a struggle to find someone to direct 1991’s The Addams Family – but the 20 or so helmers who turned the film down were still recognised on set.

Terrifyingly heading towards its 30th birthday next year, the 1991 live action take on The Addams Family is still a delicious, pretty timeless family comedy. It was – no small feat – bettered by its sequel two years later for my money, the wonderful Addams Family Values. The less said about the subsequent, recast Addams Family Reunion the better.

Just getting that first Addams Family feature made though was a battle and a half. I’ve covered it more extensively in a podcast episode, but the gist goes something like this.

20th Century Fox started developing the film with producer Scott Rudin, but then learned it didn’t have the rights. Instead, a legendary company called Orion Pictures did. Orion wasn’t selling either, and in fact would buy up the remaining rights to the characters from the estate of creator Charles Addams. It put the film on the path to production.

Scott Rudin came back in, various people went to and fro on the script. Umpteen rewrites happened, the search for a director began – which I’m coming to – and even when the film went into production, Orion had to sell the picture to Paramount Pictures whilst it was shooting, in an unsuccessful attempt to stay in business.

Never mind making Mank about the writing of Citizen Kane. I want Netflix and director David Fincher to do a docudrama on the behind the scenes of The Addams Family.

Anyway: a major hurdle the film had to face was luring a director to it. Hindsight is easy, but nobody saw this was going to become a hit, certainly of the scale it became.


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The feeling was that the characters had slipped out of the public eye, and few people were going to queue up to watch their big screen adventures.

Still, the list of potential directors was ambitious, and the process began of approaching them all. One by one, the rejections came in.

Tim Burton was, pretty inevitably, high on the list, but he had a commitment to shooting Batman Returns so had to turn it down. He was the known person who’d been linked with the director’s chair and said no. Turns out though that there were a whole host more.

At least 19 people were apparently sounded out about the job and it either didn’t work out, or they turned the chance down.

Eventually, Barry Sonnenfeld – at that stage in his career an acclaimed cinematographer, primarily working with the Coen Brothers – would take on the project and launch his own directorial career (which would go on to include the first three Men In Black films, Get Shorty and Wild Wild West).

However, the set of the film paid due deference to the people for whom the movie wasn’t meant to be. As such, as well as having a traditional director’s chair made up for Sonnenfeld to sit on, chairs were ordered for the helmers who rejected the project as well.

In all, at least 20 different director’s chairs were made for the set, and their existence has come to light as part of an auction listing. Sonnenfeld has put some of his collection up for sale over the next week or two, and amongst the lots are – yes! – the very seats. Take a look at this extract from the catalogue…

Some of the names aren’t surprising. Robert Zemeckis, Joe Dante, Ivan Reitman, Penny Marshall (Sonnenfeld was her DP on the smash hit Big), Garry Marshall, John Landis and Chris Columbus were to varying degrees obvious choices.

One or two actors were seemingly at least afforded a conversation about the film, with the names of John Cleese and Elizabeth Wilson in the mix. Wilson would take on a role in the finished picture. Scott Rudin himself got a chair too: perhaps he had a ‘if we don’t find someone, I’ll direct it myself’ moment?

Intriguingly though, there were some really unusual choices considered.

Stanley Donen was Hollywood royalty, having directed Singin’ In The Rain at the height of his career. Likewise, Arthur Hiller may have been two decades on from Love Story, but he seemingly warranted at least a chat.

Again, it’s hard to tell just how serious or exploratory the conversations were, but they certainly got to a point where a chair was rustled up.

A few more names. Herb Gains is a producer now, but had been assistant director or first assistant director on the likes of Dirty Dancing, Sea Of Love and Blue Steel.

John Badham’s repertoire of 80s hits included Short Circuit and WarGames of course, following his huge success in the 70s with Saturday Night Fever. Terry Gilliam meanwhile was juggling The Fisher King when The Addams Family came around. And then there’s Krull helmer Peter Yates, who was better known for Bullitt, but dammit, I love Krull.

It’s hard to quarrel with the two Addams Family films that Sonnenfeld directed, but it’s not hard to see that some of the names on the long-ish shortlist could have taken the film in a very different direction.

The chairs, incidentally, go up for auction on December 18th,  and the guide price is $400-600 if you were thinking of stumping up (or not if you’re reading this after said auction). They’re described as “a wink and a nod to the many directors who declined to direct”.

You can find out more on the production of The Addams Family here. And here’s the link to the full auction catalogue.

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