William Friedkin made "The French Connection" in 1971 and "The Exorcist" in 1973, two films that were instant classics. Each raked in cash from theaters.
In 1977, he released his next movie, "Sorcerer," a big-budget thriller revolving around four criminals transporting unstable dynamite through South America. But the movie’s biggest bomb was at the box office, netting between $9 million and $12 million worldwide. So what happened?
Ultimately, the film’s fate was sealed due to bad luck and bad casting choices. "Star Wars: A New Hope" had released one month before "Sorcerer," eclipsing whatever thunder Friedkin’s film may have had. And "Sorcerer" had barely any star power.
The film’s leading role was written for Steve McQueen, but McQueen wanted Friedkin to cast his new wife, Ali McGraw, in the film or make her an associate producer. Friedkin said no, and McQueen declined. The leading role went to Roy Scheider, while the other stars were international names unknown to domestic audiences.
"I probably shouldn’t have done 'Sorcerer' 'cause it was written to be a star-driven vehicle, and there were no stars in it. I made a big mistake with McQueen," Friedkin said in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood."
Reviews at the time of release were lackluster, too, although the movie is now considered a forgotten masterpiece that was rather tough to make. During filming, Friedkin contracted malaria, and around 50 people had to be replaced "because they got gangrene and various other diseases during the making of it," he told Esquire.