This article contains a spoiler for Gladiator.
If you’re one of those frustrated over the quality of many of the blockbusters that make it to the inside of a multiplex, then ponder the following. For each of these were supposed to be major projects, that for one reason or another, stalled on their way to the big screen. Some still may make it. But for many others, the journey is over. Here are the big blockbusters that never were…
The late Michael Crichton scored another residential on the bestseller list with his impressive thriller, Airframe. It was published in 1996, just after films of Crichton works such as Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Disclosure, and the immortal Congo had proven to be hits of various sizes.
So: a hit book, another techno thriller, there must be a movie in it, right? Hollywood agreed, with names such as Sigourney Weaver and Gwyneth Paltrow linked with the project. Demi Moore’s name was circling as well.
Even before the book was published, Touchstone Pictures picked up the rights for it, according to Variety paying $8-10m for the privilege. However, it never got made, and Michael Crichton eventually – according to this L.A. Times report – returned the money. The problem? Crichton couldn’t agree to a script that he liked. Instead, it’d be Timeline that made it to the screen next. And that didn’t exactly go to plan.
2. Alexander The Great
You wait ages for an Alexander the Great biopic to come along, and suddenly, two of them make it to the starting gate. As it happened, only Oliver Stone’s, er, “not very well received” take made it to the screen. The one that fell apart? It was a big budget passion project for Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann.
Leonardo DiCaprio – who would eventually star for Luhrmann in The Great Gatsby – was cast in the lead role. Unfortunately though, the film needed to raise $150m, and this was back in 2003, to get going. It reportedly struggled to attract the necessary international investment, and the project slowly ran out of fuel.
Luhrmann did keep battling, though. He delayed the movie until a 2006 release date to give himself time to sort other projects out. But then Stone’s Alexander film failed to hit in 2004, and by November of that year, Luhrmann’s Alexander The Great was officially dead. The writer/director was reportedly “devastated” when it fell apart.
3. Batman: Year One
History is positively littered with the empty capes and cowls of unmade Batman movies. Now, there’s a certain sameness to Bat-flicks, regardless of the overall tone or the level of realism involved. But Batman: Year One would have been unique.
You see, the Batman franchise was floundering in 2001. Fresh off the drubbing of Batman & Robin and the failure to launch of Batman 5 (Batman Triumphant), Warner Bros. was probably trying to find the right word for “reboot,” and a fresh start was needed.
Enter Frank Miller, writer of acclaimed comics like The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One (and who had tried his hand at Hollywood with a draft of RoboCop 2). Miller brought some questionable flourishes (you don’t want to know) to the Bat-mythology, which is amusing considering he was touted for having written the most acclaimed Batman origin story of all time, the story that this film shares its very title with.
The presence of Darren Aronofsky makes this one seem a little more palatable, but Warner Bros. got distracted, wandered off into a proposed Batman Beyond live-action film, and a stalled Bruce Wayne TV series (which morphed into Smallville and which we’ll try not to blame for Gotham), before returning to the origin story concept for Batman Begins…which is assuredly better than anything else that was on the menu.
4. Battlestar Galactica
Bryan Singer has had two major bursts of big success in his directing career thus far. His run from The Usual Suspects (1995) through to X-Men 2 (2003) was a strong one, and it was only when he turned down X-Men: The Last Stand to accept the slightly poisoned chalice of Superman Returns that things went a little awry. Following his Superman movie, Singer’s next two films experienced release delays, and arguably underperformed at the box office: that’d be 2008’s Valkyrie, and 2013’s Jack The Giant Slayer.
In between making those two though, and before his triumphant return to X-Men movies with X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Singer was set to develop a big screen take on Battlestar Galactica. This would go back to the original TV show rather than be centred around the Ronald D. Moore modern day reboot. Singer had, back in 2001, been developing a new TV show, that was canned in the light of the September 11th attacks. But he came back to BSG around 2009.
Universal was behind the film, and after his planned movie reboot of Excalibur died a death, Singer was developing the BSG film as late as 2011. It would have been scheduled as his next film after Jack The Giant Slayer.
However, when Matthew Vaughn elected not to return for the X-Men: First Class sequel, Singer took over for Days Of Future Past, and he’s now deep in the midst of making X-Men: Apocalypse. Back in 2013, he said that the BSG project was now “on hold”, and we suspect it’s likely to remain there for a long, long time.
The world of Rapture, brought to life in the Bioshock videogames, had a cinematic feel to it from the minute it first appeared on screen. Clearly a labor of design love, it was little surprise that the Bioshock games – not least when they hit big – garnered the attention of the movies.
But Bioshock would not be a low cost production. Realising the game’s world on screen would take significant time and money, and set construction work got underway. The problem, however, wasn’t just the money. Gore Verbinski and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo were attached to the film, and they faced the battle of keeping faithful to the game, whilst managing a tight budget. There was, after all, no way that Bioshock was going to be anything less than an R-rated film. A hard-R at that, not least for the injection scenes alone.
Verbinski was insistent that it couldn’t be watered down, and, of course, an R rating is generally regarded as a limiter for box office success. With a nine-figure budget needed to make Bioshock, the studio in this case cut its losses. Universal thus paid up the bill for the work done thus far, and walked away from the film. Verbinski has told us that he’s not played a Bioshock game since, as it still feels just a little too raw for him.
6. Crisis In The Hot Zone
A simple case of competing projects again, this one. Based on the New Yorker article by Richard Preston, which was then expanded into his book The Hot Zone, Crisis In The Hot Zone had plenty in its corner. Ridley Scott was set to direct, Jodie Foster was cast to lead, and Robert Redford was also on board. But there were two problems. Firstly, Fox was struggling with the budget, and wanted to beef up a strong male lead role. Hence, Robert Redford’s inclusion. Foster was reportedly unimpressed, and as delays ensued, Warner Bros. was pushing ahead at full steam with Outbreak.
And Warner Bros, won the race. Outbreak started production, and thus Fox pulled the plug on Crisis In The Hot Zone. At that stage, Outbreak too shut down for a few weeks for script reworking, safe in the knowledge that it had won the race. The movie would be a hit for Warner Bros. in 1995, whilst subsequent attempts to remount Crisis In The Hot Zone have failed.
The fate of this would-be epic – and the fate of an entire Hollywood studio – ultimately boiled down to one solitary meeting. By 1994, Carolco was in a financially wobbly position to say the least, and it had to choose whether to bet its dwindling coffers on an expensive period movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven. Sets were already being built in Spain, but in a pivotal meeting between Verhoeven and Carolco, the director furiously refused to promise that Crusade wouldn’t go over budget. Carolco therefore decided to cut its losses and cancel Crusade, and thus, what could have been one of the best films of Schwarzenegger’s career was put to the sword.
Instead, Carolco decided to place its bets against another (almost) $100m epic – Rennie Harlin’s Cutthroat Island. The film sank at the box-office, and so did Carolco – regrettably, it was forced to file for bankruptcy shortly after.
8. Doc Savage
Doc Savage is like a cross between Superman, Indiana Jones, and James Bond, with a team of helpers who would give Ocean’s 11 a run for their money in the “highly specialized skills” department. For real, get this guy a movie franchise already.
Anyway, the closest we’ve come to a prestigious Doc Savage film (the 1974 movie starring Ron Ely, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze is strictly for pulp superhero completists) came in the early part of the 21st century, when Frank Darabont’s Darkwoods Productions went to work on a Doc Savage movie for Warner Bros and Universal. A script was commissioned based on an 80 page treatment by Brett Hill and David Leslie Johnson. Darabont would have served as co-director with Chuck Russell, who had recently directed Eraser starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. And speaking of Arnie…
Arnold Schwarzenegger was all set to play Doc Savage. Of course he was. Arnie’s physique looks like a James Bama Doc Savage painting brought to life. Arnie crowed about Darabont’s “fantastic” script, but it sounds like funding is what ultimately shut it down. “I think that’s right. They’re shy about making this kind of movie because it costs that much money,” Arnold said in 2002. The “that much money” he’s referring to was reportedly $220 million, scary by today’s standards, terrifying fifteen years ago.
“So maybe some day they will do this movie,” Arnie said. Maybe they will, but it won’t be this movie. Doc Savage is now at Sony with Shane Black writing, possibly directing, and with an eye on Chris Hemsworth to star as Doc.
9. Jodorowsky’s Dune
Alejandro Jodorowsky set out to make a version of Dune that would give viewers the experience of being under the influence of psychedelics, without actually having to consume any questionable substances. Pre-production was well underway, with famed comic artist Moebius crafting a 1200 page book of beautifully illustrated storyboards. With a cast that would have included Mick Jagger, Orson Wells, and Salvador Dali, designs by HR Giger, and visual effects by Dan O’Bannon, there’s no doubt that it would have put proverbial asses in proverbial seats.
As you might imagine when we’re talking about psychedelics and 1200 pages of storyboards by a visionary comic book artist, ambition and lack of adequate financing (the spice must flow, after all) ultimately killed Dune. The film rights were snapped up by Dino De Laurentiis in 1982, which he then used to produce the inescapable David Lynch version… which Jodorowsky gleefully describes as “terrible.”
Still, this is one of those cases where perhaps the dream of what we could have had is better than what we actually got. If nothing else, Frank Pavich’s documentary on the project, Jodorowsky’s Dune, is a masterpiece on its own, and it is essential viewing for any fan of science fiction, movies in general, science fiction movies in particular, psychotropic drugs, or watching science fiction movies while under the influence of psychotropic drugs.
10. David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Eastern Promises sequels
In an era when studios are tripping all over themselves to remake or revive films from the ’80s, it seems strange that David Cronenberg would struggle to find backing for a sequel to The Fly. Yet this is exactly what happened in 2012, when Cronenberg admitted that he’d wanted to make sequels to both his 1986 horror classic and his superb 2007 gangster drama, Eastern Promises. Unfortunately, tight purse strings meant that neither project got off the ground.
“What was in it that attracted them could not be done low-budget,” Cronenberg lamented. “So I think that was the problem.”
French new wave director Robert Bresson remains one of France’s most revered filmmakers, and he certainly left the world having contributed some very significant films to it. However, one he couldn’t get made was Genesis, a film that was to be a large scale adaptation of the Bible’s first book.
Legendary producer Dino de Laurentiis was backing the project, agreeing to stump up the not-insignificant bill for it.
But Bresson couldn’t get the film to work. Twice he committed to it in 1963 and 1985 – and twice he walked away, reportedly complaining that he couldn’t get the animal performers to do as he needed them to do.
Bresson never cracked his Genesis movie, even though in this case it wasn’t the funding that proved to be the problem. Rather, the director himself couldn’t find a way to realise the story on screen that he was happy with.
12. Ghost Soldiers
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise have, thus far, made two films together. The first, Minority Report, is an excellent adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, that was a box office hit in 2002. Then, a few years’ later, they scored a bigger hit with a less impressive film, War Of The Worlds.
Yet after they’d finished shooting Minority Report, they actually had another project that they were set to collaborate on. It was called Ghost Soldiers, based on the non-fiction book by Hampton Sides. The Ghost Soldiers of the title were survivors of an event in World War II known as the Bataan Death March. Its survivors had spent three years in a Japanese prison camp, and Josh Friedman had penned a working screenplay.
The plan was for Spielberg to direct and Cruise to star, but this one just seemed to fizzle out. Spielberg would instead commit to Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, War Of The Worlds, and Munich, and Ghost Soldiers quietly slipped off the radar, seemingly never to return.
13. Gladiator 2
This, surely, would have been one of the most bonkers mainstream sequels ever made. Unfazed by the problem presented by the original Gladiator, where Russell Crowe’s Maximus died heroically, musician-turned writer Nick Cave would have reincarnated Maximus as a kind of Highlander-like immortal.
Gladiator 2 would have reportedly seen Maximus return from the afterlife and witness major conflicts through history (including World War II and Vietnam) before settling down for a desk job at the Pentagon. Sadly, this delightful bag of refried madness was never filmed.
14. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters 3D
The thought of a 3D Godzilla movie with the King of the Monsters realised via stop motion animation and an enormous robotic head designed by Rick Baker is appealing, isn’t it? Godzilla had yet to terrorize American shores in an American production, but he nearly did in the mid 1980s with Godzilla: King of the Monsters 3D.
We’ve already said two magic words with “Rick Baker,” so now let’s add a script by The Monster Squad’s Fred Dekker for more nostalgia cred. Throw in a director, Steve Miner, already making a name for himself on the ’80s genre circuit with the first two Friday The 13th sequels, who wanted to deliver an epic, Spielbergian Godzilla movie, and this one is starting to sound like a winner.
Now, stick with us on this, because we know it’s going to be a little difficult to swallow. There was a time when Hollywood, believe it or not, didn’t think that every single previously established piece of intellectual property was a sure thing. That, and a hefty (for the time) $30 million budget, kept Godzilla in his slumber at the bottom of the sea.
According to production artist William Stout (who built models and drew storyboards for the film, and whose work can be seen in films like the original Conan The Barbarian and Pan’s Labyrinth), Miner was viewed with some suspicion by the studios given the cost of the film. “In the view of the majors he was just some hack horror guy, and it would be insane to give him a big budget movie. If we could have come in with a Friday The 13th budget, it would have gotten a green light, but our budget was vastly higher.”
Anyway, Steve Miner went on to direct many more things, chief among these in our hearts is 1989’s Warlock starring Julian Sands.
15. Green Lantern 2/The Flash
Since Green Lantern was intended to truly launch the first DC cinematic universe for Warners (by 2011, Superman Returns 2 was stillborn, and it was increasingly obvious that Christopher Nolan had no interest in making his Batman movies fit in anybody else’s sandbox), they commissioned a script for Green Lantern 2 from Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix scribe Michael Goldenberg.
But once the first film debuted to tepid reviews and box-office, the writing was on the wall, and it’s not clear just how far things got. But there was another movie in active development at the same time that Green Lantern was hitting cinemas that was definitely going to occupy the same narrative space: The Flash.
Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim wrote a fun, faithful script, and a fella by the name of Greg Berlanti, currently making dreams come true as the showrunner of The Flash TV series, was set to direct.
That TV series, by the way, shares a number of similarities with this script, like Barry’s penchant for voiceovers, his living with the West family after the murder of his mother, and a wheelchair-bound Eobard Thawne who heads up STAR Labs (complete with a particle accelerator key to unlocking parallel universes).
To bring things full circle, it even featured a Marvel-style post-credits stinger that would have brought Hal Jordan to Central City to crack wise at Barry Allen… just to make it perfectly clear where everyone’s intentions were.
Well, something good came out of this, but we’ll get to it in a second. Microsoft had, and probably still has, plans to bring the Halo games to the movies, and not in a small way. At the moment, there’s a TV version, and the Halo: Nightfall film that was released on disc earlier this year. But no blockbuster movie.
The original plan, though, had Peter Jackson overseeing the transition of Halo from videogame to movie, with Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Dredd) penning the screenplay. Furthermore, Neill Blomkamp was set to direct, and at that stage it would have been his directorial debut.
Microsoft clearly had confidence. In June 2005, it delivered Garland’s screenplay to every major motion picture studio, along with a sheet of terms. The message was clear: agree to the terms, you could make an offer for the movie. And the clock was ticking.
Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t help itself here. While an expert in technology, movies clearly isn’t its field, and it wanted a lot of control, and a lot of cash. Movie studios rarely give one, yet alone both. Reports suggested that Microsoft wanted $10m up front, and then 15% of the box office takings. Oh, and a guarantee to move the film into production quickly, with a budget of at least $75m.
Pretty much every studio turned the movie down straight away. Fox and Universal remained interested, and struck a deal to co-produce. Blomkamp would tell author Jamie Graham, for his book Generation Xbox, that “it was a clusterfuck from day one… There’s no question that there was a clash of worlds, for sure.”
Universal still stumped up around $10m in development costs, and WETA started work on props for the film. But as costs escalated, Universal wanted to trim the budget, and save on the cost of having Peter Jackson on the payroll. Microsoft wouldn’t reduce its slice of the cake, nor would Jackson, and the Halo movie died fairly quickly. Whilst there’s been talk of resurrecting it since, it still looks a long, long way off…
17. Hickok And Cody
In 1991, producer Joel Silver was still just about at the height of his powers, and the western was having its latest mini-resurgence. Dances With Wolves had won the Best Picture Oscar, and Unforgiven was just around the corner.
Silver, thus, tried to package his own western, Hickok And Cody. This would tell the story of Buffalo Bill against Wild Bill Hickok, and Silver had a script under development. In the middle of 1991, Harrison Ford had been set to star in a movie for Paramount called Night Ride Down, but when that fell apart, he expressed his interest in the Hickok And Cody film. Silver would need to package it quickly, and as Premiere reported at the time, he swiftly got on the phone to Die Hard director John McTiernan. Warner Bros. was linked with the movie.
But it was not to be. Silver, ultimately, couldn’t convince John McTiernan to take the project on (he instead made Medicine Man), and without a top director on board, Ford too opted for another job instead. Ford did say he would like to return to Hickok And Cody at one stage, but it never happened. When he finally got round to a western – the far more recent Cowboys & Aliens – it would not be a memorable two hours at the movies…
18. Justice League: Mortal
It’s funny to think that the internet didn’t react positively to the news of a George Miller Justice League movie in 2007. Christian Bale was at the height of his popularity as Batman, and we had only just met Brandon Routh as Superman, and it appeared (we were wrong) that DC was on the way to a shared cinematic universe… before that was a word we heard thrown around all the time.
So the fact that a seemingly unconnected Justice League movie was being made was difficult for some folks to swallow. What nobody knew was that Justice League: Mortal boasted a rather good (and remarkably faithful) script by Michele and Kiernan Mulroney and would have featured some spectacular sets and costumes courtesy of Weta Workshop.
Justice League: Mortal had an ensemble cast that would have consisted of Adam Brody (The Flash), Armie Hammer (Batman), Common (Green Lantern), DJ Cotrona (Superman), Megan Gale (Wonder Woman), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Martian Manhunter), Santiago Cabrera (Aquaman), with Zoe Kasan as Iris Allen. On the villainous side we had Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord and Teresa Palmer as Talia al Ghul.
Ultimately, it was a combination of the 2008 writer’s strike and the peculiarities of an agreement to make films with Australian tax breaks that put Justice League: Mortal to bed. As anyone who has seen Mad Max: Fury Road can tell you, that’s a real shame.
You can read more about George Miller’s Justice League movie right here.
19. Bryan Singer’s Logan’s Run
We could probably do an entire list comprised solely of blockbusters that Bryan Singer has wanted to make throughout his career. There’s something to be said for boundless energy and creativity meeting up with the harder walls of reality.
In 2004, which may have seen Singer’s star burning brightest, he was set to reunite with Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie to bring Logan’s Run back to the big screen. Dan Harris (who worked with Singer on Superman Returns) described their vision for Logan’s Run as “not a remake of the movie. It’s a remake of the concept of the movie plus the book.”
That makes more sense than it sounds, when you think about it.
Unfortunately, in the wake of Superman Returns, the director decided he wanted to catch his breath, and Warner Bros started chasing other talent, which included Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski and Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn. They didn’t have any more luck with the project than Mr. Singer did.
Singer was still speaking wistfully about his Logan’s Run around as late as 2009, but it wasn’t to be. Warner Bros. won’t quit on this one, though, with recent talk of turning this into a female-fronted modern dystopian flick. That version of Logan’s Run might actually have a hell of a lot to say about how Hollywood treats female stars once they turn thirty, actually…
20. Masters Of The Universe 2
Cannon Films was already in the financial doldrums when it experienced the one-two squelch of Superman IV and Masters Of The Universe in 1987. But, valiant to the end, Cannon dusted itself off and made plans for a cut-price Masters Of The Universe sequel. The studio even took the not unusual step of announcing Masters Of The Universe 2 at Cannes, even as Dolph Lundgren refused to return as He-Man.
Former surfer and model Laird Hamilton was hired to fill the lead, Albert Pyun was brought in as director, and sets had been built and costumes stitched together. But then some missed payments left Cannon without the license to He-Man, and the project had to be abandoned, along with a proposed Spider-Man movie. Brilliantly, Pyun recycled the sets and costumes from both projects into one low-budget action movie: the Jean Claude Van Damme gem, Cyborg.
Francis Ford Coppola rose to prominence with contemporaries who did very well out of science fiction (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas especially). But Coppola himself has never done much with the genre. Mainly because he was channelling his sci-fi efforts into a film that ultimately wouldn’t get made: Megalopolis.
Coppola told AintItCool a few years back that he was so keen to make Megalopolis that he took on studio films such as Jack and The Rainmaker to help make it happen. The film would tell the story of the reconstruction of New York City after a major disaster had befallen it, and he’d got to the stage where he was meeting actors and doing tests for the film.
Megalopolis, however, was quickly shelved in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York, back on September 11th 2001. “It made it really pretty tough… a movie about the aspiration of utopia with New York as a main character and then all of a sudden you couldn’t write about New York without just dealing with what happened and the implications of what happened. The world was attacked and I didn’t know how to try to do with that. I tried,” he said. The full interview is here.
Coppola hasn’t fully ruled out Megalopolis finally happening, but it seems a very, very long shot.
The book Stanley Kubrick’s Napoloen: The Greatest Movie Never Made goes into exhaustive depth on perhaps the most famous of the late director’s unrealized projects. Steven Spielberg – who, of course, finally brought Kubrick’s A.I. to the screen – has talked of making a television series from the project. And given the wealth of research and preparation Kubrick had done, there’s clearly lots to go at.
This project dates back to even before A Clockwork Orange was made, when Kubrick was deep into researching Napoleon’s life. He started work on the film in the mid-1960s, following the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Vice reporting that Kubrick “sent an assistant around the world to literally follow in Napoleon’s footsteps.”
The planned movie would have been three hours long, charting the emperor of France’s life. He amassed tens of thousands of photos and pictures, and had arranged to borrow tens of thousands of real-life soldiers to help with the production. David Hemmings, Audrey Hepburn, Alec Guinness, and Laurence Olivier were set to lead the cast.
The project started to crumble however with the release of Waterloo (the film, not the song) in 1970. When that didn’t quite do the expected business, movie bosses became less convinced that Kubrick’s Napoleon was worth the financial risk. And whilst he tried to resurrect the film in the 1980s, Kubrick’s Napoleon never made it to the screen.
There’s a great article at Vice on it, here.
23. Night Skies
When Close Encounters Of The Third Kind became an unexpected success in 1977, Columbia Pictures became enthusiastic about the idea of a sequel. Spielberg wasn’t hugely enthusiastic, but then, he didn’t want a sequel to Close Encounters being made without his involvement, either – a situation he found himself in with Jaws 2, which ended up being directed by Jeanot Swarc after he turned it down.
Spielberg therefore came up with something called Night Skies, which dramatised a real-life case called the Kelly Hopkinsville encounter, where a remote homestead was reportedly besieged by aliens. Playing up the horror aspects of Close Encounters, Night Skies seemed to have little to do with that film’s cosmic sense of awe and wonder. John Sayles wrote the screenplay, Ron Cobb was in talks to direct, while special effects genius Rick Baker was hired to create the aliens.
Regrettably, Spielberg lost interest in the horror and anarchy of Night Skies, and began thinking about a more sedate film about a boy and a friendly alien instead.
Night Skies was scrapped, but echoes of it lived on in such films as E.T., Gremlins, Poltergeist,and Critters.
24. Nocturnal Fears
E.T. would, of course, become yet another hit for Steven Spielberg. And once again, there was thought given to making a sequel to what was otherwise a pure and self-contained adventure story. Together with Melissa Mathison, who wrote the original E.T., Spielberg came up with a treatment for a film called Nocturnal Fears.
Here’s an excerpt: “The evil creatures are carnivorous. Their leader, Korel, commands his crew to disperse into the forest to acquire food. As the squat aliens leave the gangplank, each one emits a hypnotic hum which has a paralyzing effect on the surrounding wildlife…”
The story would also have seen Elliott and his siblings abducted and tortured by these aliens, before the friendly E.T. arrived to rescue them. Perhaps sensing that all this was a bit much considering how good-natured the original E.T. was, Spielberg wisely dropped the idea early on.
25. Sylvester Stallone’s Poe
“What fascinates me about Poe is that he was such an iconoclast,” Stallone once said. “It’s a story for every young man or woman who sees themselves as a bit outside the box, or has been ostracized during their life as an oddball or too eccentric. It didn’t work for him either.”
For years, Stallone has been enthusiastic about directing a film about the writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe – in fact, it’s something Sly’s wanted to make since at least 2005. He even has a star in mind – Robert Downey Jr, who he reportedly wrote the script for. In the intervening years, John Cusack has played Poe (in James McTeigue’s tepid The Raven), and Idris Elba’s producing an adaptation of the Poe Must Die book trilogy. To date, Stallone’s Poe doesn’t look any closer to getting made.
26. Rendezvous With Rama
One of Arthur C Clarke’s most celebrated novels, Rendezvous With Rama was published in 1973, and a movie adaptation’s been stuck in development hell since the early 2000s. David Fincher was attached to the project around the year 2001, which could have resulted in something truly special, but it wasn’t to be, alas: seven years later, Fincher had moved onto other projects.
The problem, it seems, lies in adapting Clarke’s sprawling work of sci-fi into a script; as of 2012, Morgan Freeman, whose production company has been working with Rendezvous, admitted that a satisfactory screenplay still hadn’t been produced.
27. Roger Avary’s Sandman
David Hughes’ excellent book, Tales From Development Hell, goes into tremendous detail on many stories of big, unmade films/ One of which was an attempt by Roger Avary to bring Neil Gaiman’s Sandman to the screen.
The project is finally moving forward, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt producing and Jack Thorne penning a screenplay. But previously, Pirates Of The Caribbean writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were working on the film. They put together a screenplay draft in the 1990s that covered the first two volumes of Sandman. Warner Bros brought in producer Jon Peters though, and the studio swiftly turned the screenplay down.
It took Roger Avary, who was off the back of winning an Oscar for Pulp Fiction, to tell Warner Bros that it had called it incorrectly. Avary liked the script, and wanted to direct it. A second draft was duly written, and Avary looked like he might bring the script to the screen.
But Jon Peters – infamous for his involvement in the failed Superman Lives project – apparently simply didn’t understand Sandman. And whilst Neil Gaiman was subsequently praising of the work of Elliott and Rossio on adapting Sandman, he noted that Peters did not get the character.
Avary and Peters couldn’t see eye to eye, and the director left the project in 1997. It stayed firmly in development hell for well over another decade.
28. Seven 2
Imagine Morgan Freeman reprising his role as the quiet, world-weary detective William Somerset in a sequel to Seven. Now imagine that, for some reason, Somerset now has psychic powers. Weirdly, this is exactly what New Line was planning after David Fincher’s 1995 thriller made a big impression at the box office.
They’d acquired a serial-killer script called Solace, and planned to rewrite the lead role to accommodate William Somerset. David Fincher wasn’t too keen on this idea, however – diplomatic to the last, he said he’d rather have “cigarettes put out in my eyes” than direct it – and the Seven connection was ultimately dropped. Solace is due out this year with Anthony Hopkins in the lead role.
29. Sgt. Rock
Sgt. Rock, a character created by Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher who killed innumerable Nazi douchebags in the pages of DC Comics, came as close to being made as you can get without actually cutting a trailer. They even made up buttons to hand out at the San Diego Comic Con, long before movie studios staked their claim to what was a (relatively) humble little gathering of fans. Most importantly it had a gang of action movie gods hard at work on the project.
Sgt. Rock was to be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (they had an in-story explanation for why this screen version of Rock spoke with an Austrian accent), who would have been paired with Predator director John McTiernan. There was a script already completed by Steven E. de Souza (you may know him as the writer of Die Hard and virtually everything else you love). Joel Silver was the producer.
Why didn’t it happen? Well, unlike many of the other movies on this list, this time it wasn’t the money. It was politics. Kinda.
Apparently, Arnold had agreed to do the movie on the condition that they shoot the film in the US, while the location scouts had already gone and chosen perfect locations in Yugoslavia. Mr Schwarzenegger wasn’t pleased. He left the project, and in the ensuing chaos, so did John McTiernan.
Every now and then there are signs of life around Sgt. Rock (Bruce Willis’ name came up after Arnold left), but with names like Arnie, Mctiernan, de Souza, and Joel Silver attached, we can practically watch this one in our heads.
You can read more with Steven E de Souza on Sgt. Rock and other projects right here.
30. The Simpsons Movie 2
The Simpsons continues its non-stop run on TV, with more seasons commissioned and many more episodes ahead of us. But not on the radar, at least not anytime soon, is a sequel to 2007’s The Simpsons Movie.
The film was described then as a bunch of episodes knocked together, and it still very much feels like that. That said, there have still been conversations about a follow-up, but the weight of production work on the TV show has left it on the back burner. Producer Al Jean has gone on to describe the chances of another film as “50/50.”
There was an idea of taking The Simpsons into space for a further movie, but as it turned out, the idea was used earlier this year for the TV show. As Jean told Entertainment Weekly, “our feeling is that the first movie was pretty successful and we don’t want the second movie to be any less successful. And I’m not talking about financially only – I’m also talking about no one wants to do a movie where people think ‘Why did they do that? It wasn’t necessary’.”
So, er, a bit like the first movie. The full interview with Al Jean is here.
31. Superman: Flyby
Superman Lives would have been more a horrid curiosity than a genuine blockbuster, destined to follow Batman Forever and Batman & Robin into toyetic excess and internet punchline history. JJ Abrams’ Superman: Flyby, on the other hand, divisive though it may have been, coulda been a contender.
The first film of a proposed trilogy that would have rebuilt the character from the ground up, Flyby sets up an entire Superman mythology of its own, some parts familiar, some less so. The more controversial elements of the project, namely a Krypton that didn’t explode and a Lex Luthor who was actually a Kryptonian sleeper agent were excised by the superior (and far less expensive to film) second draft.
Potential Supermen included Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki, Josh Hartnett, and (wait for it) Henry Cavill. Potential Lois Lanes included Scarlett Johannson and Selma Blair. Potential for studio executives going into cardiac arrest at the thought of a $300 million budget was quite high.
Director McG’s ironic fear of flying chased him off the project. He was replaced with Brett Ratner…who was then replaced with McG. It didn’t matter. It was too late. We got the much more sedate (and affordable) Superman Returns instead, but there are faint echoes of Superman: Flyby’s popcorn munching carnage and harder science fiction ambitions on display in Man Of Steel.
32. Total Recall 2
One of Schwarzenegger’s biggest hits from a time when his box-office powers were blazing most brightly, Total Recall was another slab of ultra-violence from director Paul Verhoeven. Plans were afoot to make a sequel throughout the 1990s, with the project going through a number of drafts – some based loosely on another Philip K Dick story, Minority Report.
Talk of Total Recall 2 continued well into the decade, as its ownership passed from the defunct Carolco and over to Dimension Films. By most accounts, the script given to Schwarzenegger in 1998 was a great one – Bob Weinstein, according to the book Tales From Development Hell, said it was “the best script that’s ever been offered to him.” But Arnold didn’t agree, and chose to do a thematically similar film, The 6th Day, instead. After 12 years and several more drafts, Arnold still hadn’t got his ass to Mars, and Total Recall 2 was finally abandoned.
33. The Tourist
Hailed by some as one of the great missed opportunities in sci-fi, The Tourist could have been one of the freakiest studio movies of the 1980s. Written by Clair Noto, The Tourist was about a hidden underworld of alien refugees in Manhattan, cut off from their home planet and locked in their own curious, tentacle-laden community. The late, great HR Giger produced some spectacular concept art for the movie, which passed between a number of studios and directors throughout the decade.
Ultimately, The Tourist was never made – perhaps because it was just too spiky and strange for most studios to get their heads around, as promising as its ideas seemed.
34. The Train
Nearly a decade after the classic Alien, director Ridley Scott planned to reunite with Swiss artist and Starbeast designer HR Giger. The project, initially called Dead Reckoning and later renamed The Train, was written by Jim Uhls, and was a sci-fi horror film that sounded like an unholy hybrid of Alien and Blade Runner. It was set in a future Los Angeles, where a genetically-altered creature runs amok on a crowded subway train.
Somehow, the movie never quite got in motion, and Scott eventually abandoned it in favour of Thelma And Louise. These days, all that remains of it is Giger’s wonderful artwork and ideas – some of which ended up in a brief nightmare sequence in the 1995 film Species.
35. Tron 3
Tron: Legacy, released in 2010, left all kinds of things in place for a future sequel, including a greater role for Cillian Murphy as the villain, Edward Dillinger Jr. But just when things seemed to be moving earlier this year, with the news that Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund were in the process of reprising their leading roles, Disney decided to put Tron 3 on hold. Disney, it seems, is placing its funds in more lucrative areas, including the numerous live-action remakes of its animated back catalogue.
36. True Lies 2
James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger were initially keen to make a follow up for their mix of spy flick and action movie, True Lies. The original hit big in 1994, and Cameron had planned to move onto True Lies 2 once he’d finished with Titanic.
Titanic, though, would prove to be an exhaustive effort. It ran massively over budget and massively over schedule, with the release date moving several times. But then when it was released it won 11 Oscars, and became the highest grossing film of all time at the box office (the only film to ever make more was Cameron’s Avatar). All of a sudden, Cameron could make pretty much anything he wanted.
He still retained an interest in True Lies 2 though, but as we covered in this piece here, it was the attacks on September 11th 2001 that ultimately aborted the project. Cameron couldn’t reconcile the comedy undertones of True Lies with a story about terrorists. And whilst occasionally rumours surface about a sequel being back on track, neither Cameron nor Schwarzenegger have it on their radar. That’s the way it’s likely to stay.