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SPOILER WARNING: The first 10 minutes of Alien: Covenant is discussed without restraint below so bookmark and come back when you see the movie.
About five minutes into Alien: Covenant, a random occurrence has drastic effects on the colonist ship, The Covenant. All its human passengers are in hypersleep, but an accident causes damage to the ship that forces the crew to wake up. One crewmember's sleep pod malfunctions and the passenger burns to death in his chamber while his crew struggles to release him. At some point during that scene, you probably thought to yourself, "Wait...is that James Franco?" Yes, it was James Franco, and he dies in the first 10 minutes of Alien: Covenant. It's pretty weird to cast a big name actor for such a role, but it turns out Franco's part was originally bigger. According to Alien: Covenant screenwriter Dante Harper,
The writer of Alien: Covenant, Dante Harper, laid out the story to The Hollywood Reporter. While James Franco was seen briefly in the introduction clip that was released online, his character -- the captain of the ship and romantic interest to Katherine Waterson -- barely factors into the movie at all. Well, originally his character's backstory would have been elaborated on, but it ended up hitting the cutting room floor. Poor, James Franco. He didn't even get to be mutilated by a xenomorph.
It sounds like James Franco's character was always intended to die right at the start of the movie, but we would have seen more of him in flashbacks. The only lines he has in the movie come from a video recording that Katherine Waterson's character plays while mourning. It's a change that doesn't really affect the movie too badly, but it sounds like it would have provided some very necessary character definition for some of the bigger players. Plus, it's really distracting to see someone burn to death and you can only think about if it was James Franco or not.
You can see Alien: Covenant (and not James Franco) in theaters right now.