Alfonso Cuaròn‘s surprisingly intimate sci-fi thriller Gravity has been both a critical and box office success, generating some Oscar buzz for star Sandra Bullock. The film had a long road to its triumph, and there were a few narrow misses along the way to bringing us the movie as it exists now. Thinking of just how different Gravity could have been, or how it could have fizzled out before it even got to production, makes the film all the more amazing to watch.
The production went through a number of potential actresses before settling on Bullock, including Angelina Jolie, Blake Lively, and Natalie Portman. Scheduling conflicts and, in Lively’s case, concerns about young age eventually took them all out of the running, but Sandra Bullock arrived to save the day. Finding the male lead was also difficult: Robert Downey Jr. was initially cast, but had to drop out due to obligations with the Iron Man films. George Clooney only jumped into the film at the last second. Can you picture what Gravity would have looked like if it had starred Blake Lively and Robert Downey Jr.?
There was even some juggling with the studios. The project was originally picked up by Universal, not Warner Bros. WB only came onto the film after Universal had abandoned it.
On top of all of that, there were also conflicting ideas about the nature of the story and what the final product would look like. Cuaròn told io9:
“When you go into the process, yes, there are a lot of ideas. People start suggesting other stuff. ‘You need to cut to Houston, and see how the rescue mission goes. And there is a ticking clock with the rescue mission. You have to do flashbacks with the backstory.’ But we were very clear that this was the film that we wanted to make.”
An expensive, unconventional project like Gravity was a huge risk for any studio to take. As Cuaròn put it, “The studio was flying in the blind.” The film took years to complete and they couldn’t be sure how the final project would turn out or how audiences would react. The outstanding success of Gravity is thrown into high relief when you realize that it almost wasn’t. What would have happened if one actor had been changed, or if one more executive had decided that the project was too risky to take on?
“What we were trying to do was a film about adversity and the possible outcome of a rebirth. All of things that fall apart metaphorically, and in the life of this woman.”
In this case, after a lot of struggle and some threats of falling apart, everything worked out for the best.