From the outset, David Fincher has honed a very distinctive visual style. Gritty and visceral, yet clean and precise, his back catalogue is very impressive. From Fight Club and Seven to The Social Network and Gone Girl, he has managed to make films that are both high quality and that people love. Yet they often also cost a lot of money and, due to the often uncompromising nature of his films, studios can be reluctant to give him exactly what he wants. The inevitable result is that differences become irreconcilable and projects collapse.
Below we look at some of the projects that have fallen by the wayside.
The story about fans of an obscure underground comic book who find themselves embroiled in a deep-level conspiracy and on the run for their lives, Utopia was one of the best pieces of British television in recent memory. So it was therefore somewhat inevitable that it would be remade for American audiences.
Whilst this might seem a bit strange to those who have seen the original (it is very well made and has none of the visual cheapness usually associated with British TV), it nonetheless became something of a beacon of hope for fans when the UK version was inexplicably cancelled after just two seasons.
This was not Fincher’s first foray into adapting British TV for an American audience. He had previously been involved in translating the ’80s British political drama House Of Cards into the critically acclaimed Netflix hit (for which he was executive producer and directed the first two episodes). So it seemed like the obvious choice.
However, before filming began Fincher left the project (which was to be written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn) due to conflicts over the show’s budget, which was rumoured to have reached the $100 million mark and, in August of this year, all the actors were released from their contracts, signalling the end of the line. However, HBO, not Fincher, retains the rights to it, so if it does appear on screens it is unlikely he will be involved.
While perhaps a premature appearance on this list, Fincher’s other HBO show (about a college drop out who moves to California to make sci-fi films, but ends up working on music videos), halted production in June of this year. Ostensibly to work on the scripts, HBO boss Michael Lombardo, said they were trying to “figure out the path forward.” However, given the cancellation of Utopia, it seems relations may be strained and that might not bode well for this project.
Fincher is also facing difficulty with his other other HBO show, Shakedown, a 1950s LA noir drama he developed with James Ellroy (LA Confidential). While also not officially cancelled, there has been no word on this for a long time and given the troubles with both Utopia and Video Synchronicity, it would be a surprise if this one suddenly found traction. It may transpire that perhaps, both sadly and surprisingly, Fincher and HBO just aren’t the right fit for each other.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
In 2013 Fincher was preparing to go to Australia to shoot this Disney 3D summer tent pole movie, but ultimately pulled out. From the sounds of things, it was going to be pretty far out. Speaking to Playboy, he offered a brief summary:
“We were doing Osama bin Nemo, a Middle Eastern prince from a wealthy family who has decided that white imperialism is evil and should be resisted. The notion was to put kids in a place where they’d say, “I agree with everything he espouses. I take issue with his means—or his ends.”
So obviously, the problem the studio had, which ultimately undermined Fincher’s position, was… the casting. Speaking to Little White Lies, he described the casting process.
“Once we got past the list of people we could cast as the different characters in the film, once we got past one or two names which made them very comfortable, making a movie at that price, it became this bizarre endeavour to find which three names you could rub together to make platinum.”
Obviously, from a filmmaker’s perspective, this is bizarre, but when you’re about to sink $200 million into a movie, some people want to make sure that money is going to come back, particularly after Disney had recently been burnt by the poor performances of both The Lone Ranger and John Carter.
While we won’t be seeing Fincher’s Osama bin Nemo any time soon, Bryan Singer (X-Men) has recently signed on to direct an unrelated adaptation of the Jules Verne novel.
Rendezvous With Rama
Morgan Freeman has been trying to get this Arthur C. Clarke adaptation off the ground for about 15 years so far, with little success.
For a while Fincher was attached to the project, about a team exploring an alien spacecraft which enters the solar system in the 2130s, but in 2008 Fincher declared the project (or at least his version of it) dead. There was no script at the time and, to make things more complicated, Freeman himself was injured in a car crash, leaving him in no position to make the film.
It would have been interesting to see Fincher given a free hand to tackle a science fiction film (following the troubles of Alien 3), but looks like it is not to be, at least not with his involvement.
Mission: Impossible 3
Two films in and this franchise had yet to find a distinctive tone, with sharp differences in tone and style. It wasn’t until JJ Abrams came on board for Mission: Impossible III, that the series began to develop a distinctive, consistent voice, embracing the silly popcorn movies they naturally were.
Needless to say, Fincher’s take was going to be darker. A lot darker. Revolving around the illegal trade of human body parts in Africa, Fincher wanted to make a hard R-rated version, which he described as “a really cool idea, really violent.” So, it isn’t hard to see why the studio balked.
That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been a great movie, but it is hard to see them matching the success they have since enjoyed.
In 2008 there were plans to remake the 1981 film Heavy Metal. Like the original, it was, according to Variety, “being conceived as an R-rated, adult-themed feature,” which would “be stamped by the erotic and violent storylines and images that remain the trademark” of the magazine on which it was to be based.
Like the original, it was supposed to be comprised of eight or nine separate animated segments, each handled by a different director. Fincher was “spearheading” the project and was also going to direct one.
Other directors linked with the project included Kevin Eastman (co-creator of Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, who owned the magazine and has no directing credits) and Tim Miller (who just made his feature-length directorial debut with Deadpool). Later, Fincher stated that Zack Snyder, Gore Verbinski, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron were all on board as well.
So, it could have been really great, or a total hodgepodge of weirdness.
In any event, it didn’t happen but in 2014 it was reported that Robert Rodriguez was looking to convert it into a TV series.
The Girl Who Played With Fire
With the first of the Millennium trilogy (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) costing about $90 million and making “only” $232 million worldwide, this book adaptation starring Daniel Craig was not the monster hit the studios had been expecting.
Unsurprisingly, the second has yet to materialise (the original release date was 2013) and given the time that has elapsed and the relative silence on the topic, the odds of Fincher (or anyone else, for that matter) getting another crack at the franchise any time soon seems slim.
Lords Of Dogtown
Though originally a producer on this film about young Californian skaters in the 1970s, Fincher took the reins when the original director, Fred Durst (yes, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst) dropped out.
At the time, it was claimed Fincher had left Mission: Impossible 3 to work on this film (see above for why this seems unlikely), but there were arguments over the use of real skateboarders (which he wanted) instead of actors who were taught how to skate. There was also the little issue of the reportedly $70 million budget.
In the end, he too left the project (though presumably not to focus on making a nu-metal album) and it was subsequently directed by Christina Hardwicke (Thirteen, Twilight).
Way back in 1999 Fincher had the opportunity to bring Spider-Man to the big screen, but eventually passed. Sam Raimi ened up directing and basically created the template for the modern superhero movie, forging the path for all that was to follow. At least until Christopher Nolan arrived on the scene with Batman Begins.
Needless to say, Fincher’s take would have been very different. Raimi, Fincher believed, “wanted to do the Marvel comic superhero,” which strongly suggests Fincher did not. If he had been given the freedom to explore the character, it seems we would have ended up with something closer to The Dark Knight, (the origin story would have been covered in the first 10 minutes). “It was a very different thing, it wasn’t the teenager story. It was much more of the guy who’s settled into being a freak.”
He was also considered for the reboot starring Andrew Garfield (with whom he had worked on The Social Network), but that also didn’t happen.
Back in 2001, it was reported that Fincher was attached to direct the adaptation of Hard Boiled, a three-issue comic book mini series, written by Frank Miller. Nicolas Cage was reportedly to star in the film about an insurance investigator who might also be a murderous cyborg tax collector.
The project fell through and was never made, though in 2008 Miller himself was supposedly in talks to direct, but that never happened. Given that was the year the Miller’s directorial debut, The Spirit, came out it doesn’t seem to be too big a loss.