It’s hard to imagine that amazing stories could slip through Hollywood’s fingers. Movies get canceled or have their funding pulled or otherwise fall apart all the time.
A comedy about Ronald Reagan fell through recently after its writer had been trying to get it made for years. The Reagan family objected to how their patriarch’s dementia was being used for humor (fair enough), so Will Ferrell pulled out and the movie crashed and burned. Kaput.
To paraphrase Warren Buffett, it takes twenty years to put a movie together and just five minutes for it to fall apart. We’ve missed out on so many surefire masterpieces over the years. Here are the 15 greatest would-be movies that Hollywood refuses to make.
15. Gladiator 2: Christ Killer
Yes, there was going to be a sequel to Gladiator. Russell Crowe’s character Maximus dies at the end of the first one, but that wouldn’t stop Hollywood from milking the cash cow.
So, a script for the sequel was written by Nick Cave, who very quickly realized while he was writing it that it would never get made. He titled it Christ Killer and it featured a 20-minute fight sequence in which Maximus realizes he has murdered his own son.
The story sees Maximus head down to Purgatory, where the dying gods send him to kill Jesus Christ because they’re jealous of his popularity. They also ask him to murder Jesus’ followers, so it was a bloodbath. The movie featured every conflict in the history of Earth right up to the Vietnam War.
During an interview with Marc Maron, Cave insisted that his screenplay for the movie was “a stone cold masterpiece” and a “popcorn dropper,” and indicated that he was well aware that it would never get made. Hollywood is always wary of offending the Christian conservative market.
14. Indiana Jones and the Monkey King
Indiana Jones and the Monkey King was a planned instalment of the Indiana Jones franchise that would have come after Temple of Doom. Eventually, the third film in the series was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Monkey King was written by Chris Columbus, the guy who first brought Harry Potter to the screen.
It was about Indy going to Africa to search for a city where he’d find the Fountain of Youth. On the way, he would battle monkey soldiers who guarded the city.
The script was deemed too absurd and far-fetched by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who were wary of such qualities on the heels of Temple of Doom, which was criticized for being those exact things. Instead, they made the brilliant Last Crusade, and saved the far-fetched monkeys for the abysmal Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
13. Kill Bill Vol. 3
Quentin Tarantino has a raft of unproduced projects, including a biopic of John Brown—the guy who, Tarantino says, “single-handedly started the road to end slavery”—and a sequel to Inglourious Basterds that would’ve had an emphasis on race and seen the return of Brad Pitt.
But perhaps the one we’ll miss the most is Kill Bill Vol. 3. Over the years, he’s teased fans of the first two with various hints that there’ll be another. He said that Kill Bill was intended as a trilogy and teased his social media followers by releasing his script for the opening scene.
However, he has also said, “There’s no script—there are just ideas and notes,” and most recently, the director disappointed fans by saying, “I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a Kill Bill Vol. 3. We’ll see. Probably not, though.”
12. At the Mountains of Madness
Guillermo del Toro, the filmmaker behind the Hellboy movies and Pacific Rim, has been forever trying to adapt the H.P. Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness. The visual style of his movies and the way he writes the monsters in his movies as tragic figures has indicated a huge Lovecraftian influence on del Toro’s career.
At the Mountains of Madness would’ve been the culmination of all those influences. When asked why the movie was taking so long to get made, del Toro said, “The studio is very nervous about the cost and it not having a love story or a happy ending, but it’s impossible to do either in the Lovecraft universe.”
Tom Cruise has been attached to star, while James Cameron was on board as a producer, but del Toro was unwilling to compromise on the R rating, so the studio canned the flick.
11. A Confederacy of Dunces
A Confederacy of Dunces is famously the funniest novel of all time, published 11 years after its author John Kennedy Toole’s suicide, and everyone working in comedy in Hollywood has at some point considered adapting it for the screen. It’s essentially a movie that everybody wants to see, but nobody wants to make.
Over the years, many actors, writers, and directors have been attached, including Harold Ramis, Richard Pryor, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, John Waters, Divine, Stephen Fry, John Goodman, Steven Soderbergh, David Gordon Green, Will Ferrell, Lily Tomlin, Paul Rudd, Mos Def, Rosie Perez, Olympia Dukakis, Jesse Eisenberg, James Bobin, and Zach Galifianakis.
The project has always fallen through under various circumstances, like the head of the Louisiana State Film Commission getting murdered or Hurricane Katrina destroying half of New Orleans. Soderbergh said, “I think it’s cursed. I’m not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it.”
10. Night Skies
Steven Spielberg doing a horror movie? Doesn’t sound likely, does it? But back in the day, he did in fact plan to do a horror movie that he famously dubbed “Straw Dogs with aliens.” It was going to tell the story of a family in Kentucky who are tormented by a bunch of sadistic extraterrestrials.
Spielberg hired Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, to helm the movie and it was set to start shooting after Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, Spielberg being the lovable, happy, lighthearted, family-friendly guy went and got cold feet about the intensity and violence and terror of Night Skies and pulled the plug.
The elements of Night Skies evolved into the happy, Spielberg-directed E.T. and the dark, Hooper-directed Poltergeist. Still, it would’ve been interesting to see twisted, demented sci-fi horror from the creator of classic thrillers like Jaws and Duel.
Martin Scorsese is one the greatest film director who has ever lived. Few have captured audiences and balanced entertainment and art as ably as Scorsese. For years, he’s planned to make a biopic about composer George Gershwin. The closest he came to it was in the early 1980s when he had a terrific script by John Guare, the playwright behind Six Degrees of Separation.
Scorsese’s plan was to craft a huge, epic, vast-scale production, but the expense of creating such a movie put off the studios. They told the director, “We’d rather have one on Dean Martin.”
They started on the Dean Martin biopic, tapping Tom Hanks to play the crooner, while John Travolta was—for some reason—going to play Frank Sinatra and Jim Carrey was going to play another guy from the Rat Pack, but Scorsese was never happy with the script and that one fell through, too.
8. Moon Over Miami
Moon Over Miami was going to be a black comedy about a political scandal starring The Blues Brothers’ pair of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. However, dark comedies weren’t doing so well in the box office at the time, so the studios got cold feet and pulled out.
Aykroyd moved on to make a little movie called Ghostbusters, and Belushi died at a tragically young age, so Moon Over Miami never got made. Don’t worry, though, because in a sense, the movie did get made.
Not with Aykroyd and Belushi, but with Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence. That’s right, the scandal that Moon Over Miami was about was the ABSCAM scandal, the same story that was the inspiration for David O. Russell’s American Hustle.
A few years ago, Oliver Stone was set to make another movie about the Vietnam War called Pinkville. The story revolved around the United States government’s investigation into the My Lai massacre, the slaying of thousands of unarmed Vietnamese civilians by American soldiers.
However, Stone, whose other Vietnam movies include the critically acclaimed Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, has said that Pinkville is “not on the cards” anymore because he struggled to raise the funding for the movie, despite having a cast together that included Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Woody Harrelson, Toby Jones, and at one point, Shia Labeouf.
The lack of investors is because the film paints America as the enemy. It’s the same reason that Stone struggled to find funding for his movie Snowden because it was about how the NSA is spying on everything you do. You won’t find American money for a film that tars America.
6. Leningrad: The 900 Days
Sergio Leone, the fantastic Italian director who pioneered the spaghetti western with his Dollars trilogy, was set to make a sweeping historical epic about the 900-day siege of Leningrad called, aptly, Leningrad: The 900 Days.
He first became attracted to the historical subject matter when he was finishing up his edit of Once Upon a Time in America, his four-hour gangster opus, which is likely why he wanted that movie’s star Robert De Niro on board for Leningrad. De Niro was to play an American photographer who would be the audience’s point of view into the siege.
The movie was a huge risk for the studio and would’ve reportedly cost $100 million to produce, but still, they were willing to do it, and Leone was set to sign the deal in just two days when he died of a heart attack at the age of 60. What are the odds? The movie was never made.
5. The Tourist
Of course, there is a movie called The Tourist that got made, but that one sucked and had nothing to do with Clair Noto’s unproduced sci-fi masterpiece. Noto’s The Tourist is one of the most well-known unproduced movies ever.
The tone is similar to that of Blade Runner and it tells the story of a beautiful woman in present day Manhattan who is a part of a secret society of exiled aliens who are stuck on Earth and desperate to return to their home planets. The Tourist would have been a cross between The Hunger and Alien.
Noto said of the vision behind the movie, “I wanted to portray sexual agony and ecstasy in a way I’d never seen before, and science fiction seemed like the arena.” Many producers picked it up and let it go over the years, but none of them ever managed to get it made.
The studio executives struggled to wrap their heads around the deep philosophical themes, while the alien designs by legendary visual artist H.R. Giger were deemed far too sexualized. It’s one of those scripts that everyone thought was amazing, but no one wanted to take on the risk of making it, because it was a sexually provocative big-budget science-fiction movie.
Crusade is an interesting one. It was to be directed by Paul Verhoeven, the guy who gave us RoboCop and Total Recall, two uber-violent genre classics. He cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role of Crusade, which promised to be an extremely violent, historical blockbuster set during the times of the Crusades.
The script was riddled with controversies, like the faking of a miracle, the corruption of the First Crusade’s Pope, and social commentary on the anti-Arab and anti-Semite prejudices of the time. See, Verhoeven has never made movies for movies’ sake. RoboCop was a biting satirical commentary on corporate America, for example.
So, it had controversial subject matter and it was going to cost about $100 million, but it came close to production, thanks to the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was the most bankable actor at the time.
The cast also included big names like Robert Duvall, Jennifer Connolly, John Turturro, and Christopher MacDonald. But eventually, the studio, Carolco, decided to invest the huge blockbuster budget of Crusade into another film.
That film turned out to be Cutthroat Island, one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Carolco lost so much money that it went bankrupted.
Francis Ford Coppola directed four of the greatest movies ever made in the space of just seven years (The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, and Apocalypse Now), but he was planning what he promised would be an even greater one called Megalopolis.
It was always a dream project of Coppola, telling the story of a tortured man with a dream of building the perfect world. It would have had shades of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and be a huge, epic, futuristic piece.
In 2001, it came close to production, as Coppola had done a couple of movies that were only to butter up the studios to get them to fund his true passion project. The production of Megalopolis was set to utilize the computer technologies invented for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
However, the September 11 attacks happened and the story of rebuilding New York City seemed risqué. Coppola had huge ambitions for the movie, which was set to be bigger than Apocalypse Now and what he called a “vastly huge, enormous production,” planning “the greatest actors around.”
His intentions with the movie were for it to be more than just a movie. He said, “My feeling is that if we can show people what is possible, they will want it.” It’s a shame that it never got made.
2. Superman Lives
Ask any film fan about unproduced movies that would’ve been great and they’re almost guaranteed to mention Superman Lives. It was a proposed reboot of the Superman franchise with a screenplay by Kevin Smith.
It involved Superman fighting a giant mechanical robot spider, Brainiac giving Lex Luthor a “space dog” as a present—purely for merchandising opportunities and also to piggy-back on the success of Star Wars—and the bad guys blocking out the Sun so that Superman would lose his powers.
Tim Burton was hired to direct the movie and he assembled a hell of a cast. Nicolas Cage was set to play Clark Kent and the reason they cast him is so amazing. They cast him because he’s so weird and outlandish that audiences would really believe he came from another planet.
Cage, meanwhile, is a huge comic book fan and jumped at the opportunity to play Superman, with an aim to “reconceive the character.”
The other actors lined up were—get ready to cry at the fact this didn’t become a reality—Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor—okay, that one became a reality—Christopher Walken as Brainiac, Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman in unspecified roles, either Sandra Bullock, Courteney Cox, or Julianne Moore as Lois Lane, Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen, and Michael Keaton possibly playing Bruce Wayne aka Batman.
The legacy of the unproduced Superman Lives is so great that an entire documentary has been made about it called The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?
Often labeled “the greatest movie never made,” the movie world has been plagued for decades by the absence of Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon from celluloid.
Kubrick spent two years obsessed with Napoleon Bonaparte as he conducted extensive research for his movie, which would’ve been a sweeping historical epic filled with huge, Lord of the Rings-esque battle sequences using thousands of extras, but would’ve also been a contemplative character study of one of the most powerful military leaders who ever existed.
Kubrick was intended to make Napoleon straight after his mind-bending science fiction opus 2001: A Space Odyssey. His research left no stone unturned, consulting a Napoleon expert at Oxford University on his script, taking 15,000 location scouting shots and utilizing 17,000 slides of Napoleon imagery and information.
And then, after all that, the movie studios decided it would be too risky because historical epics were going out of style, so they passed on it and Kubrick’s years of writing and meticulous research went very quickly down the drain.