First, an objective fact: Twenty years after its release, Face/Off remains a great and perfect movie. It’s the only movie in which Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swap faces before our very eyes and we all just go with it. But before Paramount had a hit on its hands, Marco Brambilla (Demolition Man) was attached to direct and Johnny Depp was eyed to star. Brambilla, according to Shortlist’s oral history, wanted a younger cast, and Paramount was trying to turn Depp into a movie star. Eventually, Depp dropped out because he — rather inexplicably — thought Face/Off was a movie about hockey. Per Shortlist:
Next came Demolition Man director Marco Brambilla, who wanted to make the cast much younger. As Colleary tells me, “That made no sense and we were totally against it on every level.” Around this time, Paramount were trying to turn 27-year-old Johnny Depp into a movie star. The studio said that they would only agree to including Nicolas Cage – who wanted to be in the film – if Depp could star opposite him. After finally reading the script, however, Depp refused to take part. Having read the title he thought the film would be about hockey. He was disappointed when he discovered that it was not about hockey. He was out – and with him so was Brambilla. As Colleary puts it, “A lot of things had to go wrong to help this movie along.”
Thank goodness for the hockey confusion, because we have the Face/Off we deserve.