Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Road House'

How Did Jake Gyllenhaal’s ‘Road House’ Remake Get So Controversial?

Public disagreements, problematic casting, and accusations that the studio used AI to finish production during labor strikes—the drama behind the scenes of Amazon’s Road House remake has become more newsworthy than the movie itself.

Recommended Videos

It’s been a while since a production generated this many headlines, possibly since 2022’s Don’t Worry Darling and the attendant controversies involving Olivia Wilde, Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, and the Zapruder film of hocking loogies. There’s nothing quite as sexy happening with Road House, director Doug Liman’s loose remake of the 1989 film starring Patrick Swayze as a bouncer hired to take out the riff-raff at a notoriously rowdy Missouri bar. Jake Gyllenhaal subs for Swayze in Liman’s version, which swaps Missouri for the sweaty Florida Keys and turns the protagonist into a former UFC fighter with a chip on his shoulder (and a heart of gold, of course). In a modern twist, the villains are wealthy criminals scheming to take the eponymous bar away from its owner (Jessica Williams) and replace it with a high-end resort.

So how did this movie—a well-intentioned remake with a buzzy cast, from a director with a solid track record—become such a problem?

Doug Liman takes on Amazon

Produced by Joel Silver (who also backed the 1989 film) and Amazon-owned MGM Studios, Road House is bypassing theaters and going straight to Prime Video on March 21, less than two weeks after its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. In a January guest column for Deadline, Liman revealed that he’s skipping the premiere to protest Amazon’s refusal to release Road House in theaters. “The movie is fantastic, maybe my best,” wrote Liman, a filmmaker whose credits include Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Edge of Tomorrow, and The Bourne Identity. “I’m sure it will bring the house down and possibly have the audience dancing in their seats during the end credits.”

Amazon purchased MGM in 2022 with plans to invest “a billion dollars into theatrical motion pictures, releasing at least 12 a year,” and “touted it as ‘the largest commitment to cinemas by an internet company.'” As for Road House, Liman said, “I signed up to make a theatrical motion picture for MGM. Amazon bought MGM. Amazon said make a great film and we will see what happens. I made a great film.” The filmmaker continued:

We made Road House a “smash hit” – Amazon’s words not mine, btw. Road House tested higher than my biggest box office hit, Mr. and Mrs Smith. It tested higher than Bourne Identity, which spawned four sequels. I’m told the press response has been Amazon’s best since they bought MGM.

After watching the trailer for Road House, I’m inclined to side with Liman: this movie was designed to be seen in a theater with a crowd. Jake Gyllenhaal slapping men in the face with an open hand is too awesome for TV. And having attended the SXSW Film Festival several times, I can confirm that Road House will almost certainly be a hit there.

Liman ended the column (which is worth reading in full) by lamenting the algorithm-driven decision making that’s become more prominent in the streaming era:

The reality is there may not be a human villain in this story – it may simply be an Amazon computer algorithm. Amazon will sell more toasters if it has more subscribers; it will have more subscribers if it doesn’t have to compete with movie theaters. A computer could come up with that elegant solution as easily as it could solve global warming by killing all humans.

A few weeks later, Variety published a story on the behind-the-scenes battle over Road House, confirming that the release strategy only changed when Amazon purchased MGM. However, according to the report, Liman agreed to Amazon’s terms in exchange for a higher budget. Per Variety, “Sources familiar with the negotiations say the filmmakers and Gyllenhaal were given a choice: Make the film for $60 million and get a theatrical release or take $85 million and go streaming only. They opted for the latter.”

Despite the deal, producer Joel Silver “continued to push for a theatrical release and grew so combative that the studio threatened to cut ties with him.” In late 2023, Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke followed through, firing Silver from Road House “for verbal abuse of several staffers, including Amazon Studios and MGM marketing head Sue Kroll and Amazon film head Courtenay Valenti.”

Conor McGregor and Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Road House'
(Amazon Studios)

Jake Gyllenhaal plays mediator

In an interview with Total Film to promote Road House, Gyllenhaal addressed the conflict between Liman and Amazon, confirming that the film was always planned as a streaming release. “I adore Doug’s tenacity, and I think he is advocating for filmmakers, and film in the cinema, and theatrical releases,” Gyllenhaal said. “But, I mean, Amazon was always clear that it was streaming.”

“I just want as many people to see it as possible,” he continued. “And I think we’re living in a world that’s changing in how we see and watch movies, and how they’re made. What’s clear to me, and what I loved so much, was [Liman’s] deep love for this movie, and his pride at how much he cares for it, how good he feels it is, and how much people should see it.”

A lawsuit and AI accusations

On February 27, R. Lance Hill, screenwriter of the original Road House, filed a lawsuit in California’s federal court accusing MGM and Amazon of copyright infringement. According to Hill’s complaint, he attempted to claw back the rights to Road House per a provision in copyright law that allows authors to reclaim their original works when a claim expires. Hill says he filed the necessary paperwork with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2021, requesting to reclaim the rights when the current claim expired. At the time, United Artists—a subsidiary of MGM—held the rights to Road House; its claim was set to expire in November 2023.

Amazon acquired the rights to Road House when it bought MGM. According to Hill, the company ignored his copyright claim, going “so far as to take extreme measures to try to meet this November 10, 2023 deadline, at considerable additional cost, including by resorting to the use of AI (artificial intelligence).” Hill alleges that, in a rush to meet the production deadline and dodge Hill’s copyright claim, Amazon used AI to “replicate the voices” of actors who were on strike with SAG-AFTRA at the time.

A spokesperson for Amazon MGM denied Hill’s claims, while a source told the Los Angeles Times that “if AI was used during production, it was only during early cuts of the film. Studio executives instructed the filmmakers to remove any AI or nonunion performers from the final cut.”

Hill’s lawsuit aims to block the release of Road House, which seems unlikely this late in the game.

The controversial casting of Conor McGregor

There’s one element of Road House that no one seems eager to discuss: the casting of former UFC champion Conor McGregor, who makes his acting debut as one of the film’s antagonists. McGregor has a history of run-ins with law enforcement, including a 2018 incident in which he was charged with physical assault, criminal mischief, and reckless endangerment for attacking a rival fighter’s bus. In March 2019, McGregor was arrested in Florida and charged with robbery and criminal mischief after attacking a fan and destroying his phone. The charges were dropped when the fan, who was allegedly taking a photo without McGregor’s permission, reached a settlement with McGregor’s legal team.

Also in March 2019, The New York Times reported that McGregor was under investigation in Ireland for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a Dublin hotel room in December 2018. In October 2019, a second woman accused McGregor of sexual assault. Prosecutors ultimately decided not to press charges, and in January 2021, a civil case was filed against McGregor in Ireland’s High Court.

McGregor was arrested again in October 2019 for physically assaulting an older man in a Dublin pub. Video from the incident, which occurred in April 2019, was published by TMZ in August.

In September 2020, authorities in France arrested McGregor on suspicion of indecent exposure and attempted sexual assault. The investigators dropped the case eight months later due to a lack of evidence.

Less than two years later, in January 2023, a woman met with Irish police to formally accuse McGregor of physical assault in an incident that allegedly took place on his yacht in 2022. According to her statement, the woman suffered injuries when she jumped from the yacht to escape McGregor. “It was as if he was possessed,” the woman said of McGregor in her official statement to police. “I knew that I had to get off the boat because I thought that he was going to kill me.” That same month, the Daily Mail reported that arsonists set the woman’s car on fire outside her home in Ireland. Police were contacted again the following month when a brick was thrown through her window. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the woman dropped her lawsuit against McGregor shortly thereafter.

Last June, McGregor was involved in two additional incidents while attending Game Four of the NBA Finals in Miami. The fighter allegedly went overboard during a promotional skit with the Miami Heat mascot, Burnie, sending performer Chris Brown to a local emergency room. The following day, a woman accused McGregor of sexual assault in an incident that allegedly took place in an arena restroom during the Finals game.

By the time Deadline announced McGregor’s casting in Road House in August 2022, the UFC champion had been accused of assault by numerous women, in addition to his extensive history of physical assault and reckless behavior. Not exactly the sort of guy you want to risk hiring on an expensive movie—of course, maybe he’s the perfect guy to realistically portray an asshole with a habit of assaulting people. Based on the trailer for Road House, McGregor isn’t exactly giving a grounded performance.

(featured image: Amazon Studios)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article 10 Best Movies Like ‘The Proposal’
The-Proposal, Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White
Read Article Is There a ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ English Dub? Answered
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Read Article The Latest Trailer for Dakota Johnson’s New Movie Is a Major Improvement on the First
Dakota Johnson in 'Daddio'
Read Article ‘Alien’ Is Returning to Theaters This Month
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in 'Alien'
Read Article Pamela Anderson Joins Liam Neeson in ‘Naked Gun’ Remake
(L-R) Liam Neeson at the 'Marlowe' premiere, Pamela Anderson at the Vanity Fair Oscar party.
Related Content
Read Article 10 Best Movies Like ‘The Proposal’
The-Proposal, Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White
Read Article Is There a ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ English Dub? Answered
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Read Article The Latest Trailer for Dakota Johnson’s New Movie Is a Major Improvement on the First
Dakota Johnson in 'Daddio'
Read Article ‘Alien’ Is Returning to Theaters This Month
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in 'Alien'
Read Article Pamela Anderson Joins Liam Neeson in ‘Naked Gun’ Remake
(L-R) Liam Neeson at the 'Marlowe' premiere, Pamela Anderson at the Vanity Fair Oscar party.
Author
Britt Hayes
Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic with over a decade of experience. She has written for The A.V. Club, Birth.Movies.Death, and The Austin Chronicle, and is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush. Britt's work has also been published in Fangoria, TV Guide, and SXSWorld Magazine. She loves film, horror, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casually dissociating. Her brain is a cursed tomb of pop culture knowledge.