Some films stumble into production without a finished screenplay. Others are nixed long before the thought of even unpacking a camera. But some big films get agonisingly close to shooting, often with millions of dollars already invested in them.
Here are a few that fell at the final hurdle…
It’s agonising just how close a proper Bioshock movie got to getting the green light. In fact, it sort of did. As director Gore Verbinski told us last year, “we started building sets. We just started building them, and pre-vizzing some sequences. I just couldn’t manage a PG-13 version of the film, with the Little Sisters and the injections. To get an appropriate balance level. And yet it’s an art deco world, so there’s so much building of sets. We couldn’t go on location. Basically, we were constructing a space station”.
As such, the cost of the movie was high. The film Verbinski wanted to make would have cost $200m. After Watchmen, a hard R, struggled at the box office, Universal got cold feet, and was only willing to spend $80m, unless the film got toned down. Verbinski, and subsequent director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, refused. The movie was duly scrapped, in spite of extensive pre-production work already being completed.
Crisis In The Hot Zone
Based on the book by Richard Preston, 20th Century Fox snapped up the rights to make a movie, and got Ridley Scott interested in directing. From there, pieces seemed to be moving into place. The virus outbreak thriller attracted Robert Redford to star, with Jodie Foster also signed up.
The problem was that after the auction for the book rights, that Fox won, Warner Bros set about developing its own virus thriller, that would become known as Outbreak. Based on a spec script that it picked up, this was a straight race: the film that made it into production first would win. Tellingly, Warner Bros got Outbreak moving quicker, and when Crisis In The Hot Zone thus shut down, it put production of Outbreak on hiatus while the script was sorted out.
By the time cameras were rolling on Outbreak, Crisis In The Hot Zone wasn’t far off being ready to go itself. Fox was down nearly $10m when it admitted defeat, not helped by Robert Redford dropping out. Scott told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 that the film has shut down because “among other things, [Fox] did not honor its contractual obligation to approve available cast”.
Outbreak went on to be a solid hit. Crisis In The Hot Zone remains unmade.
The best film Arnold Schwarzenegger never made? Quite possibly. As David Hughes charts in his excellent book Tales From Development Hell, Crusade was to reunite Arnie with his Total Recall director, Paul Verhoeven. This was at the height of both of their powers, so inevitably, it was not to be a cheap film. Described as a Middle Ages epic, with touches of Spartacus and Conan, the film got to the cusp of production.
How close? Well, sets – extensive sets – had been built in Spain. Furthermore, the cast was in place. Alongside Schwarzenegger were to be Robert Duvall, Jennifer Connelly, John Turturro and Christopher McDonald.
But then it suddenly fell apart. Carolco, funding the picture, was getting more cash strapped by this stage. Yet in a recent Empire interview, Schwarzenegger recalled just what went wrong. “It was all written and ready to go but then Paul started going crazy. We had the final meeting with the studio and we were all sitting at this boardroom table. They said ‘so the budget is $100 million. That’s a lot of money. What kind of guarantees do you have that we will get it for 100 and it won’t go up to 130?'”
Verhoeven’s answer? “There’s no guarantee that we’re going to make it ’til tomorrow! I cannot have control over God – I don’t believe in God, why am I talking about God?”
Crusade shut down shortly afterwards, never to be made…
Hot off the success of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mike Myers had inked a deal with Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment, that saw him trouser a $20m+ salary. In exchange, he would write the screenplay for a movie of his Saturday Night Live creation, Dieter, and would also take the lead role. But he never did.
Instead, at a meeting in May 2000, everything changed. With an August 14th production date set, and with Bo Welch building sets for the movie, Myers told the assembled executives that he couldn’t fix the problems with the Dieter screenplay. Depending on which version of the story you believe, either Myers couldn’t make it work in time for the start of production, or couldn’t make it work at all. Expensive lawyers argued about this, before a settlement was eventually reached.
Universal had already contracted Will Ferrell and Jack Black to co-star in the film, and had 25 people already working on the film. In the middle of June, with Myers not budging, Dieter was shut down for good. Then the lawsuits came, with Premiere reporting back at the time that it was ultimately Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, then in the early days of DreamWorks, who ultimately acted as peacemakers.
The Shadow King
This one hurts. One of the very best directors on the planet of stop motion animated movies, Henry Selick was well into work on his fourth such movie – following The Nightmare Before Christmas, James And The Giant Peach and Coraline – with Disney footing the bill.
With 150 artists already recruited for the movie, the film was given an October 2013 release date, and shooting had begun back in 2011. However, come August 2012 and all was not well with The Shadow King. Specifically, Disney decided that the film was not “coming together in a manner that pleased the studio”. It halted production on the project, giving Selick permission to shop it around to other studios. But as it stands, to the best of our knowledge, The Shadow King remains half made, with no sign of it coming back to life. A real, real pity.
Man Of Honour
Once upon a time, Steven Seagal was box office gold. Well, bronze, but he could pull in a bit of cash. As such, he was set to make his directorial debut earlier than he actually did, with a project called Man Of Honour.
This was off the back of Under Siege‘s box office numbers, and Seagal was two weeks away from filming the $32m (and this was back in 1993, so that’s no small sum) project in New York. 20th Century Fox was set to back the project, in conjunction with Morgan Creek Productions.
Seagal had reportedly invested over $1m in the film himself, but when Fox studio chief Joe Roth left to go to Disney, its days were numbered. As Empire reported back in February 1993, “Steven is so pissed off”.
He would instead turn his attentions to The Rainbow Warrior, which migrated into his spluttering directorial debut, On Deadly Ground.
Masters Of The Universe 2
Cannon Films enjoyed a moderate success with its take on Masters Of The Universe, starring Dolph Lundgren. By Cannon’s standards, it wasn’t a cheap film to make, and it just about returned cash to its coffers in the end. Cannon wanted a sequel, confident that it would do better, although Dolph Lundgren dropped out, leaving Laird Hamilton cast as He-Man.
Albert Pyun was hired to direct the film, and he would also, at the same time, shoot Cannon’s planned Spider-Man movie, before it lost the rights to do so. But two weeks into this ambitious production, things went wrong. Cannon’s cheques to Mattel and Marvel for the licensing rights bounced, and Albert Pyun had two weeks of footage in the can, a bunch of costumes, and all the sets.
Masters Of The Universe 2 was clearly dead. But Pyun would take the weekend and write a draft of a film that would use the material and sets that he had at his disposal. That film would be become a Jean-Claude Van Damme favourite: Cyborg. It would go on to make Cannon a fair bit of money, probably more than Masters Of The Universe 2 would have garnered…
To date, Newt is the one Pixar film that’s had a greenlight reversed, and co-head of the firm, Ed Catmull, sheds some light on why in his book Creativity Inc.
Newt was to tell the story of the last male and female blue-footed newts on the planet, who had to get along else the species was doomed. Naturally, they hated each other. Gary Rydstrom, who helmed the Pixar short Lifted, was to direct, and the film got quite the way along into production.
But Pixar approached Newt differently. It housed the production team, thinking it was a good thing, in a different building, away from the rest of Pixar and its processes. Up director Pete Docter eventually came in to try and save the film, but by the time he did, it was too far down the line and nobody could see how the story could work. The decision was made to pull the plug, not helped by the fact that Blue Sky Studios had successfully released Rio, which shared similar themes (not that that stopped the battle between Antz and A Bug’s Life once upon a time).
Pixar, already secretive, is now even more careful which projects it formally announces.
We won’t bang on about this one, because we’ve covered what happened many times on the site. The bottom line: Sony had Sam Raimi and his Spider-Man team (led by Tobey Maguire) all set to return again, for Spider-Man 4. John Malkovich was set to play The Vulture, but the cost of the film – $250m+ – proved too rich for Sony, not least in the aftermath of disappointing reviews (if not box office) for Spider-Man 3. It hit the reboot button instead, a decision it’s still struggling, in business terms at least, to fully justify, two Amazing Spider-Man films later.
Again, quite a well known one this, although its story is going to be told in detail in the upcoming movie The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?
Well, what happened was that Warner Bros poured millions into developing a new take on Superman and for a while, this is the project that was in pole position. Nicolas Cage was cast as Clark Kent/Superman, and costume tests of him in the role have subsequently leaked out. Furthermore, Kevin Smith took a crack or two at the script, but eventually it landed at the desk of Tim Burton. In the book Burton On Burton, the director laments the year he wasted trying to get the film off the starting blocks. But as the costs of Superman Lives escalated, Warner Bros got nervous. Come crunch time, the studio blinked, and Superman would not live again until Bryan Singer came along…
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