nobody ever wins a fight

The Behind-the-Scenes Brawling of Road House, Explained

A director boycott, a screenwriter lawsuit, and allegations about AI have already bruised the Prime Video remake, which is set to premiere at SXSW next week.
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Laura Radford

In the original 1989 cult classic Road House, Patrick Swayze’s world-weary bouncer, James Dalton, outlines three simple rules for bar brawling: “One, never underestimate your opponent—expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside—never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.” Nobody seems to be listening to that last part in the lead-up to 2024’s Road House remake, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a skilled former fighter deployed to straighten out a problematic bar.

This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that R. Lance Hill, who penned the story for the 1989 film and cowrote its screenplay under the pen name David Lee Henry, had sued Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and its parent company, Amazon Studios, over alleged copyright infringement. But this isn’t the first time backstage drama has plagued Road House. Below, a breakdown of the various controversies the film has endured in the run-up to its release, from AI fears to a fit about its streaming debut.

A Director’s Boycott

The year’s first punch was thrown by director Doug Liman, who, in an op-ed for Deadline, stated that he would be boycotting the SXSW premiere of Road House in protest of its Prime Video debut. Apparently, Liman was under the impression that the movie would be released theatrically first. In the aftermath of 2022’s Amazon-MGM merger, wrote Liman, “Amazon asked me and the film community to trust them and their public statements about supporting cinemas, and then they turned around and are using Road House to sell plumbing fixtures.”

He concluded that relegating the film to a streaming-only existence “hurts the filmmakers and stars of Road House who don’t share in the upside of a hit movie on a streaming platform. And [it deprives] Jake Gyllenhaal—who gives a career-best performance—the opportunity to be recognized come award season. But the impact goes far beyond this one movie. This could be industry-shaping for decades to come.”

The Alarm of AI

According to Variety, producer Joel Silver was also against the idea of the film skipping theaters for a streaming-only release. Discord over that decision reportedly led to his parting ways with the project (on which he still holds a producer credit), and so did allegations that he verbally abused two female Amazon executives, as Variety reported back in November 2023. However, in the earlier Variety piece, sources for Silver pushed back on the accusations of verbal abuse; an associate of Silver’s, private investigator Anthony Pellicano, told the outlet that the split was “amicable,” adding, “He was not fired. There were just disagreements with creative concerns.”

One such issue allegedly was the prospect of using AI to complete the film. Silver’s side insisted that he had left after vocalizing concerns about the production’s potential use of the technology, while Amazon strongly denied that there’d been a desire to use AI.

Making It a Legal Matter

The alleged use of AI is also a cornerstone of screenwriter R. Lance Hill’s suit, which seeks declaratory relief and to block distribution of the project. In the filing, Hill alleges that he was able to have the copyright for Road House revert back to him from United Artists in November 2023. He claims that in November 2021, well before that 2023 deadline, he officially notified United Artists and its successor companies, Amazon/MGM, about his plans to take back the copyright for the screenplay.

Hill alleges in the suit that once Amazon was aware of this request, the studio took “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)” during the SAG-AFTRA strike last year. Despite claims that Amazon deployed AI to “replicate the voices” of the actors, the film was still allegedly completed in January 2024—around two months after the copyright deadline.

A source close to the studio told the Times that if AI was used during production, it was only during early cuts, adding that filmmakers were instructed to remove any AI performers from the final version. “The lawsuit filed by R. Lance Hill regarding Road House today is completely without merit and numerous allegations are categorically false,” an Amazon MGM Studios spokesperson said in a statement to various publications, including the Times. “The film does not use any AI in place of actors’ voices. We look forward to defending ourselves against these claims.”

Leading Man Woes

Not even leading man Jake Gyllenhaal—whose UFC-fighter costar, Conor McGregor, comes with his own string of controversies—has been immune to drama. In late January, a French publication alleged that Gyllenhaal’s erratic preproduction behavior contributed to his abrupt exit from a different film, one costarring Vanessa Kirby.

According to an interview with that film’s director, Thomas Bidegain, in the French magazine Technikart, both leads left the movie Suddenly during preproduction in Iceland. In that piece, it was alleged that Gyllenhaal, at various points, rehearsed scenes in a “Pepé Le Pew–like accent” and dove into a body of freezing water in his underwear, telling his director, “When I see the sea, I swim in the sea.”

Bidegain didn’t address those specific allegations in a subsequent piece for Variety, but he did confirm that both Gyllenhaal and Kirby had requested rewrites on the film. “We each had our own idea of what the message of the film was,” the filmmaker said. “I tried to smooth things over once, twice—and then I just realized it wasn’t going to work out, so it had to stop.” A spokesperson for Gyllenhaal declined to comment on Variety’s piece, and Kirby’s representatives did not respond to the outlet’s request for comment. (Vanity Fair has reached out to reps for Gyllenhaal and Kirby for comment as well.)

Gyllenhaal has not publicly commented on those creative differences, but he recently stepped into the ring to defend Prime Video’s release plan, confirming Variety’s previous report that Road House had long been intended to skip theaters. “I adore Doug’s tenacity, and I think he is advocating for filmmakers, and film in the cinema, and theatrical releases. But, I mean, Amazon was always clear that it was streaming,” Gyllenhaal recently told Total Film magazine. “I just want as many people to see it as possible. 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.”

Gyllenhaal continued: “If the job of a story is to move people, I have been moved in both forms. I’m a deep lover of cinema and the theatrical release—but I also do really embrace the streaming world.”

Boycotts and brawls aside, Road House is set to debut via Prime Video on March 21.