Films people agreed to make to get their dream projects made

From Demolition Man and James Bond through to Speed 2 and Steven Seagal: the movies filmmakers took on to get other projects made.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

One for the studio, one for yourself? That’s sometimes been the case when it comes to making movies, and we suspect – under the surface – it happens more than we’re ever told. However, every now and then, it becomes clear that someone has signed up for a movie, with getting the film they really, really want to make as the hidden reason. Such as in these cases…

Nigel Hawthorne: Demolition Man

The late, great Nigel Hawthorne wasn’t much of a fan of the much-liked Sylvester Stallone-Wesley Snipes showdown, Demolition Man. In his autobiography Straight Face, Hawthorne called the experience of making the film “miserable”, and wasn’t impressed with the time lost on set waiting around for Stallone and Snipes.

But then Hawthorne was a man on a mission. His decision to take on a big Hollywood production was informed by his desire to bring the stage play The Madness Of King George III to the big screen. He’d played the role of George III on screen in Alan Bennett’s play to great acclaim, but there were question marks over his movie presence and bankability.

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As it turned out, by the time Demolition Man was done, funding for The Madness Of King George had been secured (the ‘third’ was infamously dropped from the title, with the excuse given that the Roman numeral was causing audiences into thinking it was a sequel). It was feasible he never needed to make Demolition Man in the first place – The Madness Of King George would prove to be a more profitable film, and it’d snag Hawthorne an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA, too.

On the flip side, that film did not have three sea shells in.

Sean Connery: Diamonds Are Forever

Whilst Sean Connery had plenty of reasons to return to the role of James Bond following the bumpy commercial performance of the first official 007 movie without him – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the deal was significantly sweetened by letting him make two other films he was keen to back.

Connery took home an impressive £1.25m salary for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, his fifth James Bond movie. But he also had it written into his contract that he’d be able to make two movies of his choice once he’d completed his 007 duties. As it happened, only one of those two films got made. A plan to bring Macbeth to the screen using only Scottish actors fell apart, when it was discovered that Roman Polanski was working on a screen adaptation of the Shakespeare play.

The other film did get made though, and it was Sidney Lumet’s impressive The Offence. Furthermore, Connery put a chunk of his Diamonds Are Forever salary – a film he doesn’t give the impression of having much fun being involved in – to setting up the Scottish International Education Trust.

He would, of course, return as Bond one last time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again

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Macaulay Culkin: Home Alone 2

There was little doubt that Macaulay Culkin would have appeared in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York either way. Yet his father and then-manager, Kit Culkin, was hunting for an edgier project for Culkin, who at the time hadn’t yet hit his teens.

Kit Culkin settled on the dark thriller The Good Son, which at the time was a planned low budget movie based on a script by Ian McEwan. The film would explore the evil side of young children, and 20th Century Fox had the project in place, with Heathers director Michael Lehmann attached. Mary Steenburgen was to play the mother of two boys, with Jesse Bradford also cast as the evil one of the two.

But that latter role was the one that Kit was eyeing for Macaulay, and he made the casting of his son a condition of him signing his Home Alone 2 contract. Thus, The Good Son was put back a year, Lehmann left the film, not keen on the casting, and Steenburgen was no longer available.

Instead, the Kit Culkin-approved Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With The Enemy) signed on the dotted line to direct, and Elijah Wood was cast opposite Culkin. The eventual film floundered, although it’s better than its reputation suggests. It’s hardly a pleasant evening’s viewing, though.

Home Alone 2 would, however, be a huge hit. So Fox probably has no regrets about its decision.

Steven Seagal: Under Siege 2

Originally entitled Rainbow Warrior, the movie On Deadly Ground would be the sole directorial outing to date for action movie star Steven Seagal. It was a project close to Seagal’s heart, although he was set to originally make his helming debut with Man Of Honor, a project set up at Fox that also collapsed at Fox when the budget ballooned.

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The budget duly ballooned on On Deadly Ground too, with the cost rocketing to £50m. A lot of money, particularly then, for a first time director. But when the first Under Siege movie became a surprise hit in the early 90s, Warner Bros became open to backing the project. Yet it wanted an insurance policy, and as such, Seagal committed to Under Siege 2 as part of the On Deadly Ground deal (he would also take on a small role in Executive Decision for the studio, but that wasn’t believed to be related to this deal).

On Deadly Ground, that co-starred Michael Caine, was a controversial project in its own way, but also one that didn’t make its negative cost back at the box office. It grossed just shy of $39m.

Warner Bros, though, cashed in those Under Siege chips, and enjoyed a $100m+ take for the sequel, that arrived in 1995. Mind you, it cost a cool $60m to make, so in all, it’s probably fair to say both parties took a few bruises on this one.

Christopher Reeve: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

The late Christopher Reeve didn’t have many nice things to say about Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in his excellent memoir, Still Here. He concedes his involvement in the nucleus of the idea for the movie (nuclear weapons, a more enviornmentally-aware Superman movie), but also took the job on the condition that Cannon Films – that then had just picked up the rights to Superman films – would fund a pet project of his.

That project was Street Smart, the script for which had been sitting on Reeve’s shelf for years before he eventually read it. The core of the story follows a journalist in New York who makes up a story about a pimp, but soon finds himself embroiled in the dangerous world of a real one. Panic In Needle Park helmer Jerry Schatzberg directed, and Morgan Freeman would co-star. It’d be a reasonably well reviewed movie too, but it got stuck in the Cannon Films sausage factory of the time.

The company had nearly 30 films on the go, and Cannon thus put virtually no money into advertising and promoting Street Smart. It quickly disappeared as a consequence of that. As for Superman IV? Er, it’d be fair to say that the Cannon purse string problems were felt there too…

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Sandra Bullock: Speed 2

Sandra Bullock had a hefty bargaining position when it came time to determine her involvement in the planned Speed 2: Cruise Control. Director Jan De Bont was already set to return, but Keanu Reeves soon passed on the project, and that meant that Fox needed his co-star in the first Speed movie – that’d be Bullock – to sign on the dotted line.

She used her bargaining power well. As well as landing an eight figure salary, she got a commitment from 20th Century Fox to back a film she particularly wanted to make, Hope Floats. The studio agreed to make the film, that was directed by Forest Whitaker, and once that assurance was in place, Bullock signed up for the now-infamous Speed sequel.

As it happened, Hope Floats was the better business decision. Whilst the Speed sequel struggled to recoup its investment, Hope Floats took over $80m in cinemas alone, off a $30m budget…

The Wachowskis: Bound

It’s movie legend now, that when the Wachowskis pitched The Matrix to Warner Bros (pretty much in its entirety), the chiefs at Warner Bros at the time greenlit the film, without much idea as to what they were getting. Warner Bros in the 90s, after all, had a very tried and tested blockbuster formula (born out of a heavy reliance on star talent, and relationships with key directors), and The Matrix was significantly away from its comfort zone.

The Matrix made its way to Warner Bros via producer Joel Silver, and he first employed The Wachowskis on the Sylvester Stallone-Antonio Banderas movie Assassins. The Wachowskis had written the screenplay to that one, although the finished movie bore just a passing relationship to it. At that stage, though, they also let him see the screenplay to The Matrix. Silver loved it, but they were insisting on directing. His suggestion? Go and direct something else first.

The terrific thriller Bound was a film that was more than likely to have been made by the pair at some point, but the far more economical project thus leapt up the priority list. The sisters made their directorial debut with the film, and its success helped grease the wheels with Warner Bros, who duly stumped up the just-shy-of-$70m Matrix budget. Again, it would prove a wise decision.

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