With John Hillcoat’s ‘The Promised Land’ Back From The Dead, We Look At Other Films Currently In The Studio Graves
Last year, pre-production was halted immediately on “The Wettest Country” — aka John Hillcoat‘s "The Promised Land" starring Amy Adams, Shia LaBeouf, Ryan Gosling, Paul Dano, possibly Scarlett Johansson, Michael Shannon, etc. — potentially killing a film we were all very excited to see. But, stunningly, the film has found a new lease on life with the involvement of Tom Hardy (Hillcoat and LaBeouf are the only other principal talent that’s back so far), warming our hearts considering since we were ready to cast it onto the pile of would-be movies dead and buried.Studio belt-tightening has resulted in fewer production green lights with our favorite-sounding projects falling by the wayside because of cost or circumstance. Here are 10 — from a list of hundreds — we would be thrilled about if they were to make a zombified rise from the dead. Hopefully, you’ll see this as a recurring feature from time to time. There’s no shortage of great and sometimes legendary projects that unfortunately never came to pass. In fact, here’s five lost films of David Fincher’s and five good ones from Joe Carnahan that never got off the ground either. Dare to dream? Here’s 10 that will hold you for now.
What Killed It? Long considered a possibility, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay recently got together to brainstorm what would be the latest chapter in the series. Getting Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner together seemed difficult considering their current salaries (well, not so much Koechner) but all were willing to take reduced fees. But, after a series of pitches (one involving “Anchorman 2” as a boffo Broadway attraction for months before shooting was to begin), it became a numbers game: Paramount wouldn’t foot the bill on an expensive comedy that, like all of Ferrell’s pictures, had no overseas appeal.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It looks like McKay and Ferrell exercised all the mojo they could to get this project going, so it looks 100% dead as of now. But we’d really like to think that, while the list of good comedy sequels is startlingly short, Paramount would come to their senses and jump at the chance to employ Ferrell, Rudd, Carell and McKay at reduced prices, because “Anchorman 2” was never going to get any cheaper.
“A Confederacy of Dunces"
What Killed It? The power duo of David Gordon Green and Steven Soderbergh were championing a cinematic take on the world of ‘Dunces,’ and live script readings were staged, featuring Will Ferrell (don’t worry, he won’t be all over this list) as the rudely misanthropic Ignatius and an all-star cast including Paul Rudd, Mos Def, Alan Cumming and a young Jesse Eisenberg. Unfortunately, even with Drew Barrymore co-producing and attached to co-star, financing fell through at the eleventh hour, as they couldn’t find anyone willing to put up the big bucks for such an idiosyncratic project.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Interest in projects centered around New Orleans has definitely increased since the terrible tragedies of Hurricane Katrina, so cynical execs with fat pockets have to be aware of a higher Q-rating for the project’s location. Ferrell and especially Barrymore appear to have aged out of their roles, but Green, with three big studio comedies in a row (“Your Highness“ and “The Sitter“ arrive next spring and summer, respectively), has never been hotter. This was never going to be an affordable production, but it’s possible a fresh look at the numbers might convince indie financiers to come onto the project. Then again, Steven Soderbergh and Scott Rudin did get in an ugly lawsuit over this film once too so perhaps it’ll never see the light of day. As David Gordon Green — the director who took over for Soderbergh who moved over as a producer once he had written a draft with Scott Kramer — said back in the day, "There were too many cooks involved, too many producers, the egos of a lot of people."
What Killed It? Hard to say. Along with “The Rivals” and “The Trial Of The Chicago Seven,” this is one of the many orphaned Steven Spielberg projects over the years that no one else had tackled. Interest in “Interstellar” apparently peaked in 2007, when Jonathan Nolan rewrote an acclaimed screenplay by Kip Thorne that centered on the hard science-fiction premise of adventurers using wormholes to travel to different dimensions. In March, interest reignited when Nolan switched to Spielberg’s agency, suggesting the collaboration was in the offing. Since then, Spielberg has pushed forward with two 2011 releases, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” and “War Horse,” before moving into the long-gestating “Lincoln” and “Robopocalypse,” with chatter about an unneeded fifth installment in the “Indiana Jones” series continuing to threaten.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Spielberg’s shooting commitment to “Robopocalypse” seems tenuous, and it’s a ways off anyway, so why not pawn off that secondhand project and go for gold? “Interstellar” sounds like the kind of adventurous cinema we used to expect from Spielberg, and we can’t imagine he’d be so afraid of a challenge that he’d ignore a script by the beloved Nolan brother.
“Justice League: Mortal"
What Killed It? Always sheepish on their superhero properties, Warner Bros. decided to take the jump with an impending writer’s strike. They settled on a good-enough script for a Justice League movie penned by frosh scribes Kieran Murloney and Michele Mulroney, a massive action spectacle featuring most of the popular characters from the team’s history. With a massive effects budget, and with “Mad Max” director George Miller at the helm, the choice was to go with complete unknowns, Armie Hammer, D.J. Cotrona and Teresa Palmer and Adam Brody signed as Batman, Superman, the villain Talia Al Ghul and The Flash, respectively. But a rapidly-ballooning budget put the eleventh hour kibosh on the film.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Well, should it be resurrected? Warner Bros. would risk alienating Chris Nolan, who has repeatedly claimed he had zero interest in seeing Superman and Batman together on the big screen. Still, the things we heard about this project, particularly on how they had on-call psychiatrists for each actor to bring their characters to life, sounded kind of exciting. And Jay Baruchel, who was signed to play the villainous Maxwell Lord (dubious, but whatever), revealed that it would have been a “dark” and “brutal” (and "expensive") film. But if there was a way to utilize the work that was put into the film thus far, and maybe refashion it as a picture without Batman or Superman, but instead with Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern leading the brigade? As long as we could keep George Miller, we’d say commission that rewrite immediately.
What Killed It? “Megalopolis” is one of the great what-ifs in cinematic history. Francis Ford Coppola had reportedly spent years writing this epic story about a man with riches beyond his dreams who builds his own utopia in New York City. Table readings were the stuff of legend, with actors like Kevin Spacey and Warren Beatty auditioning for parts alongside almost every leading man of a certain age that was available. Coppola’s vision was large, expensive, and as was said about the story, hopeful. Then, September 11th hit and Coppola reportedly shelved the script, too affected by the ensuing tragedy. Or so the story goes.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It’s funny that in Coppola’s film sabbatical, he was more likely to get the budget for this film than he would be today despite shooting three films in six years (“Twixt Now And Sunrise” being his latest, due this year). His latest interests are small, intimate stories, so his hunger to work on a different scale with more experimental storytelling may have curbed his urge for something epic. But the script, seen by few, has already attained legendary status, and it seems like the type of project that, unless protected under lock and key by family, would be made by someone long after Coppola’s passing. Why not pull it out of the dustbin, offer a rewrite to an Eric Roth, and let another filmmaker tackle the material with Coppola’s blessing?
What Killed It? Oliver Stone was set to jump into this drama about the My Lai massacre with a cast that included Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum, until eleventh hour reconsiderations about cost and subject matter left the film stranded. Which is disappointing, as Stone has worked with broad targets on “World Trade Center” (That Was A Terrible Day), “W” (He Was A Terrible Man) and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (Greed Is Terrible), so it would be exciting to see him tackling a sore spot that remains controversial for many.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It’s worth reminding the money men that after “Alexander,” his last three films performed decently compared to their budgets. Stone still has some box office cachet, and together with Willis and Tatum, that’s a solid enough foundation to build a financially risky picture. All they would have to do is find one of those crafty Euro indie companies (Wild Bunch?) to put up most of the capital and sell overseas rights to a “Bruce Willis action movie” so that a profit is guaranteed before Americans see a single frame.
What Killed It? In the wake of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Johnny Depp was back on the A-List, with his choice of any hot project, and he long leaned towards “Shantaram.” An extraordinary true story, “Shantaram” followed a drug addict bank robber who took on multiple identities to evade cops in several countries, eventually settling in Mumbai where he practiced medicine for the locals. The script by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) was much buzzed-about, and Peter Weir became attached, but the studio could never agree on the budget for what was definitely R-rated material. As the studio dithered, Depp quickly attached himself to a host of other projects, though “Shantaram” was always a possibility, even if Weir gave way to Mira Nair (“Vanity Fair”). It wasn’t until Disney’s plans to shoot two ‘Pirates’ sequels back-to-back that “Shantaram” breathed its last breath at a studio.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Depp’s suddenly very busy, but there has to be room for a palette cleanser, something that endears him to critics again as he’s about to embark on “Dark Shadows,” a sidekick role in “The Lone Ranger” and, if things pan out, two more ‘Pirates’ films. It would have to be a very exciting project (perhaps Kathryn Bigelow’s “Sleeping Dogs”) to push the possibility of “Shantaram” out of the picture. It’s been years since we’ve heard anything about the project, but the role is too good for us to hear nothing about it before Depp begins another ridiculously lengthy Disney excursion.
What Killed It? The candy-coated Isaac Adamson adaptation went through a sea of rewrites to accommodate producer/star Tobey Maguire, who was set to take on the nunchuks of international journalist-turned-graphic novelist Billy Chaka. ‘Suckerpunch,’ which attracted the attention of Barry Sonnenfeld and Gary Ross, is the first of a madcap series of novels about hardboiled gaijin Chaka stranded in Japan and forced to rely on his wits and unusual knowledge of J-pop culture to survive a shadowy world of gangs, thugs and rock stars. After several false starts, Maguire and Anne Hathaway were attached for a fall ‘09 shoot, but when Hathaway dropped out, the project fell apart, and with the (aborted) “Spider-Man IV” shoot looming, Maguire abandoned the film.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Since Maguire was the creative force getting this project into the right hands, it just doesn’t look likely now. Chaka’s always been a young-ish character, and Maguire is entering his mid-thirties. His odd periods between “Spider-Man” pictures remain underwhelming, as he worked sparsely (possibly due to the back condition he developed on “Seabiscuit”), casting doubt on whether the once-promising actor is even a leading man anymore. It’s more likely, though, that the enthusiasm Sony had for this project was in employing Spidey and the redhot Hathaway, the latter too expensive now, and the former not expensive enough.
“To the White Sea"
What Killed It? This was meant to be the grand kahuna of Coen Brothers films. After “Fargo” had connected and they had their biggest success with the off-kilter “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the duo was ready to go big, enlisting Brad Pitt for an $80 million WWII adventure pic that found him stranded in China after his plane crashed, unable to communicate due to unfamiliarity with the language. The hefty budget and period setting was only further troubling to the money men when they realized Pitt’s character would essentially be a mute, content with expressing himself in this new environment with gestures. With critical hits, box office success, and Oscars, the Coens thought that they could finally get their expensive passion project off the ground. That is, until the studio said, not at those prices.
How Can It Be Resurrected? The topic of “To the White Sea” reportedly remains a sore topic for the brothers, who apparently reacted to the project dying by jumping into the studio system, producing ersatz Coen films “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers” while pundits considered them done. After a couple of bona fide hits and a genuine Best Picture Oscar on their mantelpiece, a green light for an $80 million Coen brothers film seems like a slightly easier commitment. But it looks like all parties involve were simply happy to just move on and forget what some say was a dark time for the brothers.
“Untitled 1930s Noir"
What Killed It? With the writers’ strike looming, a lot of studios scrambled for product to shoot, giving filmmakers a chance to pitch pretty much any material they could get their hands on, no matter how unmanageable the budget might be. Michael Mann took this to heart and became the point man for two exciting-sounding projects, one a moody John Dillinger biopic called “Public Enemies” and another similarly expensive period piece. This untitled project, from a script by John Logan, had Leonardo DiCaprio attached and would be filmed entirely on soundstages, an action-thriller set in the 1930’s, where a private investigator gets caught in the middle of a mob war as he starts poking around regarding the murder of a young starlet. It’s likely the $100 million budget that kept studios away, but if Johnny Depp didn’t get involved in ‘Enemies,’ this could have played out very differently.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Easily. Mann is still deciding what his next project will be, while DiCaprio is coming off an $800 million success with “Inception.” Mann gets attached to several projects, but when you’ve got the attention of one of Hollywood’s bona fide leading men, someone has to pull the trigger. There’s a good chance this project fades into oblivion, but the premise and talent involved are too exciting to write off. That said, Mann also has the 1930s-set "Big Tuna" currently in the works so he may get his period gangster kicks out with that one instead.