This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Having excelled in both the artistic and commercial side of American cinema for almost 50 years, Steven Spielberg knows how to get a movie made. Showing no signs of slowing down, the director has 33 feature films under his belt to date and many other films where he’s credited as a producer, including those made by his companies Amblin Entertainment and DreamWorks Pictures.
Some of those films include projects he was originally intended to direct but were eventually set up for other filmmakers to helm, including Rain Man, Big Fish, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, American Sniper, and Interstellar, to name a few. Inevitably, we’re more tantalized by the projects that never came to fruition and the stories behind their disappearance from the roster of Hollywood’s busiest, most well-known filmmaker.
For instance, Night Skies is in many ways the lodestone of unmade Spielberg movies, having originally been mounted as a follow-up to 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When Columbia Pictures decided to develop John Carpenter’s Starman instead, the core premise of Night Skies inspired two separate mega-hits for the director – Poltergeist (which he produced and possibly ghost-directed) and, of course, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (which turned out to be an altogether warmer film than the Close Encounters sequel that Columbia wanted).
You may have heard of the name of that project because of the weight of its successors, but here, we’re aiming to explore some of the ones that came within striking distance of being made. These are the projects that were underway, some of them even close to the start of principal photography when they were waylaid, that never came to be.
To give you an idea, the first thing we’d observe is that he’s had almost as many unmade films set during World War II as produced ones. But within and without the following examples, there are things we’re yet to see him make, including superhero movies, musical comedies, and even a Stephen King adaptation…
For starters, here’s one very early Spielberg project that might just have a chance of getting made. Before Raiders of the Lost Ark hit screens in 1981, Spielberg was circling DC Comics’ Blackhawk, which originally ran from 1941 to 1968, intending to direct a film version. Before he and Lucas created Indiana Jones, Spielberg was planning to cast Dan Aykroyd as the eponymous leader of the elite WW2 flying squad, who took on the Nazis and assorted other supervillains in the comic series.
Although Indy came along and rendered a Blackhawk movie moot, the renewed interest created by the film announcement was enough to make DC revive the title in the mid-1980s. Blackhawk also got a reboot in the publisher’s more recent New 52 era and, in a nice circular fashion, is now back on the table as a potential film project for Spielberg to direct. Then again, almost 40 years later, there’s another Indiana Jones movie yet to come, so don’t be too surprised if this gets brushed aside again.
Reel To Reel
Production is currently underway on Spielberg’s first musical, a remake of West Side Story, but the director has been angling to make a musical from very early on in his career. It would have been highly ambitious for Spielberg to make Reel to Reel, a movie musical about a movie musical.
Taking inspiration from Spielberg’s own early experiences of troubled productions, the film would have followed a fictional director called Stuart Moss, who has to wrangle an unruly cast and crew after foolishly embarking on a musical remake of Invaders From Mars as his first film. Spielberg opted to direct Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom instead and scratched his musical itch with the opening “Anything Goes” musical number at Club Obi Wan.
E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears
Following the phenomenal, Oscar-nominated success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982, Spielberg re-teamed with screenwriter Melissa Mathison to write a treatment for a sequel, under the working title Nocturnal Fears. The film would have seen mutated, albino versions of E.T. turn up on Earth to abduct and torture Elliott and his friends, prompting their mate to come and rescue them with the help of his people.
It all sounds far more like Gremlins than E.T., and Spielberg and Mathison wisely decided between them that they should let this particular story lie. As a result, the first film stands as one of the rare box office mega-hits that never got a sequel and it’s all the better for it. While the original was all about phoning home, this could have been a cataclysmic butt-dial.
Spielberg’s relationship with The Talisman goes back before the hefty fantasy volume was published. He was so enraptured by Stephen King and Peter Straub’s novel at the work-in-progress stage that he used his post-E.T. clout with Universal to buy the rights to the book outright, rather than just securing an option to adapt it.
You can see why it appealed to the filmmaker’s sensibilities. The story follows a 12-year-old boy’s epic interdimensional quest to try and save his cancer-afflicted mother, encountering werewolves, gunslingers, and living gargoyles along the way. Alas, more than 30 years later, Spielberg hasn’t yet got the film version on its feet, though both he and King have been outspoken about their desire to see it on screen.
Later, Amblin developed the story into a 6-hour TV miniseries, but when US network TNT passed on it, Spielberg pulled it back to the feature film side, conceding that he is more likely to produce it than direct it. With the resurgence of King-based horror films that followed Warner Bros’ IT, the adaptation is back in development at Amblin as of 2019, with writer Chris Sparling working on the script with Mike Barker directing.
Outside of Blackhawk, here’s another project that might have seen Spielberg turn his hand to a World War II superhero movie. Written by Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld, the heavily Indiana Jones-inspired script was positioned as the first of a trilogy, starring Will Smith as a superhero who reluctantly harnesses incredible powers after an unexplained mark appears on his hand.
As Liefeld tells in in a series of tweets from July 2015, Spielberg agreed to direct the film in early 1998, but the very next day, Smith informed him that the director had departed the project due to disagreements about producing and merchandising. Development trundled on until 2002 before the film was officially cancelled. Smith would eventually play an unenthusiastic original hero in 2008’s Hancock instead.
The Curse Of Monkey Island
Spielberg has long harboured the desire to make an old-fashioned pirate movie, having produced Richard Donner’s The Goonies and later admitted to having less fond memories of his post-modern Peter Pan movie, Hook. After Disney turned down his idea of a movie based on Pirates of the Caribbean (wait for it), Spielberg looked into adapting the popular LucasArts video game series Monkey Island for the big screen.
The Curse of Monkey Island would have marked not only his first animated feature but also his first collaboration with producer George Lucas since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Spielberg worked on the screenplay with writer Ted Elliot while Lucas was finishing Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones.
However, while the project was listing towards development hell, Elliot and his writing partner Terry Rossio were snapped up by Disney, where CEO Michael Eisner had warmed to the idea of developing a Pirates of the Caribbean movie as a direct-to-video feature. Once director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer got on board, The Curse of the Black Pearl became an enormous sleeper hit in cinemas in summer 2003, while Spielberg and Lucas moved back onto Indiana Jones instead.
There hasn’t been any more movement on a Monkey Island feature, but Spielberg did also look into making an animated adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel The Pirate Latitudes. His first proper animated effort came in the shape of 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, another long-gestating project that has a swashbuckling feel of its own.
In between Minority Report and War of the Worlds, Spielberg had several other potential collaborations with Tom Cruise in the works, including a western called Arkansas and a film of the non-fiction WW2 memoir Ghost Soldiers. Back in the realm of sci-fi, Spares would have seen Cruise as a security guard who goes on the run with a gaggle of young clones from a “spare farm” where their destiny is to serve as organ donors.
Although the script was based on a novel by Michael Marshall Smith, this also sounds very reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which eventually got its own film adaptation in 2010. But if anything killed off Spares, it was likely Michael Bay’s DreamWorks-produced 2005 thriller The Island, which had Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson going through very similar motions.
Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods
We’ve detailed the numerous unproduced drafts of the fourth Indiana Jones film on the site in the past. After making Schindler’s List, Spielberg was reluctant to revisit the Nazis in the more light-hearted adventurous playground of an Indy sequel. Still, for a while there, the potential fourth film would have found Nazis hiding out in South America after the end of World War II as its main antagonists, rather than getting the Soviet Union involved.
Written by Frank Darabont, the script for Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods is not difficult to find online. It features many of the elements that would appear in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, including crystal skulls and an alien intervention rather than a divine one. Furthermore, the turncoat sidekick character that would become Ray Winstone’s Mac was originally called Yuri, a younger Russian colleague of Indy’s who was earmarked for Simon Pegg to play.
This 2004 draft, which was originally readied for production following War of the Worlds, is funnier, smarter, and considerably more enthralling than the film we eventually got. Spielberg and Harrison Ford were all for it, but producer George Lucas vetoed it and a new script was sought ahead of the film’s eventual production in 2007. The rest, as they say, is history.
Often criticised for the lack of female protagonists in his film, Spielberg was reportedly interested in bringing the outrageous story of two feuding stage actresses to the screen. The Rivals was a film about French theatre star Sarah Bernhardt and younger Italian actress Eleanor Duse, whose constant competition culminates in them playing the same role on the same night and letting the audience decide, once and for all, which is best.
With Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow on board as the stars, this was originally set to shoot in the year that Spielberg was making Munich and War of the Worlds. When the latter film took precedence, this one was pushed back. Further developments saw Marion Cotillard replace Paltrow after she dropped out, but when DreamWorks split from Paramount in 2009, the project stayed with the bigger studio, ending the director’s involvement with it.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
For many film fans, an Aaron Sorkin-written, Spielberg-directed drama is going to sound like the one that got away. Charting the infamous trial of seven defendants accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, The Trial of the Chicago 7 also had a star-studded cast attached, including the likes of Will Smith, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Spielberg was set to make the film after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but various factors, including the impending WGA and Screen Actors’ Guild strike (not to mention Ledger’s tragic death in January 2008) delayed the film and he has since moved on. More than ten years later, Sorkin is planning to direct the film himself, with Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Eddie Redmayne joining the still-attached Baron Cohen.
Based on John Wyndham’s 1968 novel, Chocky seems like it’s right in Spielberg’s wheelhouse, with its familiar echoes of the “boy and his alien” friendship from E.T. After he optioned the book, this became one of a few directing projects that he considered in the late 2000s, when it looked as though funding for The Adventures of Tintin might fall through.
Previously adapted on ITV in the 1980s, the story is about a child who appears to have an imaginary friend but is actually talking to an invisible alien consciousness. But soon after the project was initially announced in 2008, Sony Pictures agreed to co-finance Tintin, which drew the director’s attention elsewhere once again.
Sticking with imaginary friends, another project that crossed Spielberg’s desk in the same period was Jonathan Tropper’s adaptation of Mary Chase’s play Harvey, the story of an eccentric alcoholic who befriends a 6-foot-tall rabbit that only he can see. The play was previously adapted for the screen in 1950, with James Stewart starring as Elwood P. Dowd.
That’s apparently why Tom Hanks, Spielberg’s first choice to play Elwood, turned down the part – he didn’t want his turn to be directly compared to Stewart’s performance. Instead, the director turned to a post-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and the project was fast-tracked to start production in 2010. However, Downey and Spielberg reportedly had creative differences over Tropper’s script, and the project was put into turnaround. Netflix is currently developing an unrelated film version of Chase’s play.
Untitled George Gershwin biopic
With Chocky and Harvey no longer underway, Spielberg turned his attention to a biopic of composer George Gershwin. His recent interest in real-life American characters subsequently led to films like Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and The Post, and after casting Zachary Quinto as Gershwin, this earlier effort was set to go before the cameras while Tintin was in its lengthy post-production period.
However, the director was transfixed by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse after seeing the acclaimed stage adaptation in London in 2010, and when Richard Curtis and Lee Hall’s script for a film version came his way, he jumped at the chance to direct it that same year. He has since said that he’d like to revisit his Gershwin film, but it’s unclear if Quinto or screenwriter Doug Wright will still be attached.
Following a slew of Academy Award nominations for War Horse and his subsequent project Lincoln, Spielberg was once set to re-enter the summer blockbuster arena with Robopocalypse. With a script adapted from Daniel H. Wilson’s script by screenwriter Drew Goddard, it’s by far the biggest film he never made.
20th Century Fox initially scheduled the film to open in 2013 on Independence Day weekend. Chris Hemsworth, Anne Hathaway, and Ben Whishaw were signed up to star in the science-fiction actioner, which took “a realistic look” at a conflict between humans and a sentient A.I., some 15 years into the future. In the press, Spielberg was enthusiastic about making another sci-fi film in the vein of Minority Report.
So, what went wrong? Well, the director thought that the budget was ballooning out of control and the point of the film was being lost. From the sounds of it, the direction in which they were headed was similar to World War Z, an extensively reshot adaptation that nevertheless arrived on time in summer 2013. Robopocalypse was initially pushed back to April 2014 and then cancelled altogether when Spielberg decided to search for a new, “more personal and more economical” version of the script.
After a few more low-key dramas and a quaint and charming take on The B.F.G., Spielberg returned to big-budget filmmaking with last year’s Ready Player One. As of 2019, Robopocalypse is still in the works with Michael Bay set to take the helm after he’s finished making the Netflix action movie Six Underground, continuing the insane run of “one for me, one for the robots” cycle that we thought had ended two Transformers films ago.
The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara
As with Tintin before it, Spielberg found room for a smaller-scale drama during the lengthy VFX post-production on Ready Player One. In 2016, that looked like it was going to be an adaptation of David Kertzer’s The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, a historical chronicle of the title character being kidnapped and forced to convert to Catholicism in the 19th century.
Oscar Isaac was lined up to play Mortara, with Spielberg’s latter-day fave Mark Rylance in the frame to play Pope Pius IX, working from a script by Lincoln writer Tony Kushner. But as with War Horse and his Gershwin film, the filmmaker cancelled the project to direct The Post instead, after reading Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s 2017 script about the Washington Post’s coverage of the Pentagon Papers. The film gained a Best Picture nomination at last year’s Oscars, while Mortara seems to be on the back-burner.
I’ll Be Home
To finish with, a project that’s been in the works for a very long time. At the urging of director Francois Truffaut, who acted in Close Encounters, Spielberg set out to make a film about his childhood with writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Determined to make “a personal story” about young adulthood, they prepped an R-rated comedy about 12-year-olds called After School – frankly, it doesn’t sound a million miles away from the Seth Rogen-produced Good Boys.
Later retitled Growing Up, the script was put on hold when Spielberg showed the script to his peers and got some mixed feedback. Within a few years, E.T. gave the director a chance to make a film that acknowledged his own childhood, but it didn’t have the personal edge that he’d intended for Growing Up, nee After School.
The first mention of I’ll Be Home came in a 1999 interview with the New York Times, in which Spielberg is asked if he’ll ever make a film that’s truly about his own life. Written by his sister Anne Spielberg, this script still gets mentioned every once in a while.
He told the NYT: “My big fear is that my mom and dad won’t like it and will think it’s an insult and won’t share my loving yet critical point of view about what it was like to grow up with them.”
With Blackhawk and a fifth Indiana Jones in the works after West Side Story, perhaps we’ll never see Spielberg overcome those reservations and make a truly personal film. As he enters his sixth decade of directing feature films, it’s impossible as it is to imagine a cinematic landscape without him, but maybe he’ll eventually come back around to the idea of an autobiographical piece.
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