All-Star Cast: In a weird way, this may have actually contributed to the film's failure. The characters in the novel are almost uniformly self-serving, amoral, and unsympathetic. The filmmakers chose to cast actors like Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, and Bruce Willis, whom audiences then found some of the most likable actors in Hollywood.
Exemplified in Siskel & Ebert's review of the film:
Roger Ebert: You know, one of the- in a movie that is filled with so many disappointments, the biggest disappointment for me was the Bruce Willis character.
Roger Ebert: They really- they really missed a chance here. I mean, why do they get so tied up with the notion that they have to fill up a movie with stars that they don't look at a book and see who this drunken, British, freeloading, little guy was? And why not get somebody who can play that fascinating character instead of having a big lump of-of dead space there, taking up so much screen time?
Executive Meddling: Way too much with the film adaptation, as The Devil's Candy recounts. Excessive amounts of Doing It for the Art caused trouble too; the shot of Maria's plane arriving in New York City warrants a whole chapter's worth of recounting for how much trouble the second-unit crew took to get it exactly right.
Old Shame: Morgan Freeman considers this film the one major nightmare of his career. He recalled that being in the film was like being on an aeroplane that you knew was going to crash.
Revised Ending: The original script ended cynically with the supposed victim of the hit-and-run walking out of the hospital, suggesting that the whole scenario was concocted. That ending did not test well with audiences and was dropped.
Troubled Production: Very troubled. So much that there was a book written about the production - The Devil's Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood (1991), written by Julie Salamon. For example, Melanie Griffith left the production for two weeks and came back with a boob job.
Wag the Director: According to the book Devil's Candy, Bruce Willis was "was generally disliked by most of the cast and crew [due to his ego]." In one instance, during the filming of a scene in which Willis was with Alan King (the scene in which the character played by King dies), Willis challenged the crew to make the whole scene move along faster, allegedly because it was very hot on the set. Although Willis was called out of the set by Brian De Palma to discuss the incident, this particular scene ended up being considerably shorter and simpler than originally intended.
Uma Thurman as Maria Ruskin. Tom Hanks got on well with Thurman in the screen test phase and pushed for her to be cast, but she wasn't the name that Melanie Griffith was at the time. Michelle Pfeiffer also turned it down.
Walter Matthau originally was offered the role of the judge but demanded a fee of $1 million. The producers balked at meeting his price and signed Alan Arkin instead for a modest $150,000. Then complaints about the book negatively stereotyping black people resulted in a Race Lift and recasting.