Film history is littered with movies that have wound up on the shelf for some reason, either because of financial difficulties or, in the case of The Day The Clown Died, because its director and star decided it was too embarrassing to be released. We’ve written about all sorts of shelved or cancelled films before, from Roger Corman’s infamous Fantastic Four to the unreleased John Goodman comedy, Spring Break ’83.
Every so often, though, we’ll hear about curious-sounding projects that generate a bit of news before vanishing again. An animated film featuring the voices of Marlon Brando and Brendan Fraser, perhaps, or a modern comedy about old Greek gods featuring Christopher Walken as Zeus.
Here, then, are five strange, star-laden movies that, for reasons that aren’t always clear, have never seen the light of day…
Big Bug Man
In his later years, Marlon Brando became almost as famous for his on-set eccentricities as his abilities as an actor. On the disastrous Island Of Doctor Moreau, he insisted on wearing face paint and having diminutive actor Nelson de la Rosa (originally cast in a background role) as his sidekick. In The Score (2001), relations between Brando and director Frank Oz became so strained that Brando refused to act while Oz was around; several of Brando’s scenes were directed by co-star Robert De Niro instead.
The Score is widely described as Brando’s last film role before his death at the age of 80. In reality, Brando’s final performance was for Big Bug Man, an animated movie written and directed by Bob Bendetson. Bendetson was previously known as a TV writer, with episodes of ALF, Home Improvement, and The Simpsons among his most high-profile work. Big Bug Man, which he wrote and co-directed with Family Guy animator Peter Shin, was a $20 million family superhero flick, with Brendan Fraser providing the voice of Howard, a factory worker who turns into the title character after being bitten by an insect.
Brando was originally approached to play Nicholas Dunderdeck, the portly, villainous owner of the sweet factory where Howard works. For some reason, Brando decided that he wanted to play the much smaller role of Mrs. Sour, the factory’s evil old co-owner. “Strange as it sounds,” Bendetson told The Guardian in 2004, “playing an old lady in an animated picture was something Brando wanted to do for years.”
Brando didn’t take the role of Mrs. Sour lightly, either; the veteran actor reportedly wore a dress, blonde wig, and makeup to help him get into the spirit of the part. That he’d only be heard and not seen didn’t seem to matter to Brando.
Unfortunately, this final turn from the Hollywood legend – recorded a mere two weeks before his passing – hasn’t yet seen the light of day. Big Bug Man was initially supposed to come out in 2006, but its release was repeatedly delayed until it vanished from view entirely – the movie’s official website has gone, and even its IMDb entry has ceased to exist. To date, all that’s surfaced from the production are a handful of storyboards and the brief behind-the-scenes glimpse you’ll find above.
We may never get to see Big Bug Man, but there is an upside to the story: before he died, Brando told voice director Marice Tobias that playing Mrs. Sour was “the most fun I’ve had since playing Julius Caesar.”
Gods Behaving Badly
What happens when a bunch of run-down Greek gods share a flat in modern-day London? That was the premise of Marie Phillips’ 2007 novel, Gods Behaving Badly. Four years later, the book was picked up for a movie adaptation; it was to be directed by Marc Turtletaub, the producer of such indie hits as Little Miss Sunshine and Safety Not Guaranteed. Gods Behaving Badly attracted a great cast, which included Christopher Walken as Zeus, John Turturro as Hades and Sharon Stone as Aphrodite. Alicia Silverstone played the protagonist, an ordinary mortal named Kate.
Gods Behaving Badly was Turtletaub’s first movie as director and, by most accounts, the result didn’t turn out too well. The book’s author wrote in 2014 that she’d met one of the film’s actors while out shopping in New York. “Oh yes,” the actor said of the film. “It’s a fiasco.”
The fantasy comedy made its debut at the Rome Film Festival in 2013, where it was roundly panned by the few critics who saw it. “This outdated, unfunny satire feels like an extended SNL sketch from the early 90s,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “and one that probably would have been tossed into the waste basket.”
Prophetically, Variety described Turtletaub’s effort as “So wishy-washy, it’s possibly unreleasable.”
After that lone screening in Italy, Gods Behaving Badly descended into limbo, never to return.
Nothing Lasts Forever
In the same year that Bill Murray scored a global hit with Ghostbusters, he also appeared in the 1984 movie Nothing Lasts Forever, a sci-fi comedy from Saturday Night Live writer Tom Schiller. Largely shot in black and white, it’s about a struggling artist living in New York (which has become a fascist state) and takes a bus trip to the Moon. Zack Galligan, who’d scored a hit of his own that same year with Gremlins, starred as the young lead, Murray played a lunar bus conductor, while the supporting cast also included Dan Aykroyd, Sam Jaffe, and Eddie Fisher.
It sounds like a quirky film, alright, but it isn’t its lack of marketability that has left it sitting on a shelf for over 30 years and counting. According to Slate, legal problems involving the movie’s use of copyrighted music and clips from classic movies have left it stuck in limbo. Aside from a couple of airings on TV, Nothing Lasts Forever has never had a theatrical or home release; someone leaked it to YouTube about five years ago, but this was blocked by Warner Bros.
Bill Murray is clearly proud of the movie, since he’s held screenings of the movie with Schiller fairly regularly over the past 10 years or so. With any luck, this Murray oddity will get a proper release soon.
Web Cam 3D
The premise of this Euro-slasher isn’t particularly odd, but the story surrounding it is. Word of Web Cam 3D first broke in 2009, when it was billed as a “high-tech thriller” about teens trapped in a house wired up with a bunch of webcams. The twist is that the maniac who’s arranged everything leaves the fate of his victims up to the viewers watching everything unfold on the internet.
The director was a relative unknown – Spain’s Antoni Sole – but the cast sounded great, with horror legend Robert Englund joined by Michael Madsen. Oddly, Bryce Dallas Howard’s also listed as a cast member on Wikipedia, though this appears to be some kind of mistake. At any rate, the movie seemed to be making progress for a while, with a teaser trailer and poster heralding its existence and a shoot date set for 2010.
In April of that year, however, Englund told Movieweb that filming hadn’t yet started, and that the production’s location had been uprooted from Barcelona instead of Buenos Aires. “It’s going to be fun,” Englund said, cheerily.
Looking again at the teaser trailer, though, a few things become apparent: one, that it appears to be comprised entirely of stock footage, and two, that it doesn’t make any mention of its top-billed stars.
Since 2010, not a peep has been heard from the movie; we can’t even figure out whether or not a frame of footage was shot, since its listing has vanished from IMDb entirely. Its director has moved onto other things, too, since his current film appears to be a thriller called Foe.
“This movie is talking about a man called Johan Meyer who is archaeologist,” Foe‘s IMDb description reads, “he have to translate old language from Babylonian civilization, but he have to do it in limited time and under threat of death from an unknown man.”
Foe’s listed as a 2016 film, though we can’t find any details about a precise release date – only a solitary trailer on Vimeo. Web Cam 3D, meanwhile, appears to have disappeared into the movie-making ether, never to return.
Empires Of The Deep
A romantic, 3D fantasy epic along the lines of Avatar, Empires Of The Deep was the brainchild of Chinese billionaire Jon Jiang. Originally budgeted at around $50 million and announced in 2009, the movie was about the love between a human hero and a mermaid queen, set against the backdrop of a battle between warring undersea nations. There were warriors astride massive crabs, mechanical submarines, and Olga Kurylenko (Quantum Of Solace, Oblivion) wearing a huge seashell as a hat. Jiang had big plans for his would-be blockbuster, with distribution in 160 countries, tie-in videogames and maybe even a theme park.
The things seemed to get a bit out of hand.
First came the announcement that the budget had doubled to $100m, making it the most expensive production in Chinese history at the time. Then the New York Times revealed that the script, originally written by Jiang himself, had gone through 40 different drafts from 10 Hollywood screenwriters. More worryingly still, it was said that four directors had come and gone: Catwoman director Pitof, Jonathan Lawrence, Michael French and Scott Miller. Aside from Pitof, none had directed such an expensive film before.
Empires Of The Deep was supposed to come out in 2011, but a chaotic production – and apparent money problems – took their toll. A trailer eventually emerged in 2012, claiming that Empires Of The Deep would be released in 2013; tellingly, it looked like an old Doug McClure movie directed by Ed Wood.
Keen to know more, we contacted one of the screenwriters: Randall Frakes, best known for the cult film Hell Comes To Frogtown.
“Due to the nature of the subject matter and the producer/original writer’s concepts,” Frakes told us via email, “which were at best muddled and at worst incomprehensible to an international audience, I did not hold out much hope of this film being accepted by the general public, either in Europe, the States or even in China.”
Frakes expressed some doubt as to whether Empires would ever come out, which seems borne out by the strange disappearance of its official website and those of the numerous production companies involved in the film’s making.
Around the same time, a Chinese actor contacted Den Of Geek and described some of the problems that went on behind the scenes on Empires. Actors and production companies had allegedly gone unpaid, and when financing fell apart altogether, Empires was left in limbo. Jiang had apparently managed to set up a new company and was attempting to prepare Empires for release in the summer of 2013. To date, Empires Of The Deep remains at large.