What Went Wrong on Bruce Willis Bomb ‘Hudson Hawk’?

Chris Tilly

Hudson Hawk was a famously troubled production. The 1991 action-comedy — which starred Bruce Willis as a cat-burgler blackmailed into pulling off a series of heists all over Europe — went over both schedule and budget, largely thanks to a script that kept changing. The resulting film was critically mauled, and ended up being a bomb at the box office.

So nearly 30 years on, we spoke to the film’s co-screenwriter Steven De Souza, then to director Michael Lehmann, to find out what went wrong. And in their separate interviews, on the phone with De Souza, and more recently face-to-face with Lehmann, they have very different recollections.

Blaming Bruce Willis

Danny Aiello and Bruce Willis in Hudson Hawk.

De Souza: “Bruce took over the whole movie. Started re-writing it and directing it. The studio flew me over to Italy. I was there for five weeks. Every day I’d say ‘Has he stopped re-writing?’ and they’d say ‘No.’ And there was no way I was going to pull the pencil out of his hand. But they had me there in case I could undo what he was undoing.”

Lehmann: “I have a very different perspective on it than Steve. By the way Steve is great, he’s a great writer, and he wrote some fantastic movies. Steve wrote the original draft, and it was a very, very different movie. I think I worked with him for a few minutes on it, but didn’t do it with him as much as I did with Dan Waters, who came in to re-write…. and Bruce Willis was not rewriting the script, ever.”

Blaming the Villains

Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard as the baddies.

De Souza: “The big problem with that movie; what really went wrong with it was when the villains got silly. Even at Disney. A Disney movie like Aladdin you can have the crazy parrot, but the villain is dead straight. So when the villains got goofy, that’s what really destroyed the movie. You can have as much fun as you want, but you’ve got to take the villains seriously.”

Lehmann: “The idea that the villains were not villains of the typical action movie type — of course! Our intention was to take that genre, and turn it upside down. I think Steve never really saw it that way. And to his credit it was never really presented to him as being that way. So he may be right in his assessment of it, but we were deliberately trying to go against the conventions of the genre while making fun of some of the conventions of the genre. Whether or not that worked is a question I can’t answer.”

Do the Filmmakers Like Hudson Hawk?

One of the film's expensive action sequences.

De Souza:Hudson Hawk deserved to get ripped. We all knew that.”

Lehmann: “Like the movie? I love all my children, you know? I love them all equally. But Hudson Hawk was a difficult experience to make, famously, and I really do like a lot of what we were able to get into it. Am I supposed to agree with many critics that the movie’s a failure? No I wouldn’t look at it that way. But are there things I’d like to have different in the movie? Of course.”

Will There Ever Be a Hudson Hawk 2?

De Souza [laughing]: “I think you can probably chalk that one off. I don’t know if that one will ever get a second look.”

Lehmann [shaking his head]: “Would you like to finance that?”

Chris Tilly
FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I'm Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.
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