One of the more ambitious projects in recent memory, “The Dark Tower,” was canceled earlier this week by Universal Pictures. It’s not a surprise, as the studio also recently put the kibosh on a $150 million-budgeted R-rated take on “At the Mountains of Madness” by Guillermo del Toro and Ron Howard, and Akiva Goldsman‘s multi-platform, multi-film Stephen King adaptation was arguably more risky and definitely much more expensive. We here at The Playlist root for movies to be good, but we mostly root for movies to be made, for a director to complete their vision and for it to have a chance to reach an audience and possibly become a part of the popular culture.
As such, every year films fall by the wayside because they weren’t ready because they cost too much or because the filmmakers had moved on due to a variety of circumstances. So here’s a look at 10 canceled projects that never saw the light of day, as well as some thoughts on how they can be resurrected. We’ve done this before — you can read about 10 more projects here and another 10 right here. And if you want separate knowledge of the lost films of David Fincher and Joe Carnahan, check here and here.
“Pompeii” Dir. Roman Polanski
What Killed It? “Pompeii” was meant to be a huge international blockbuster with Orlando Bloom and Scarlett Johansson set to star in the true-life story set in 79 A.D. about a young engineer who attempts to repair a massive aqueduct before Mt. Vesuvius blows with “Chinatown“-esque political machinations playing out in the background. With a budget of $130 million and shooting locations already set, acclaimed director Roman Polanski jumped on board. However, securing that budget proved to be a more difficult task than previously imagined, and shooting dates were postponed due to the 2008 writer’s strike. Reluctant to commit to a rushed strike shoot, Polanski bowed out and the project died a quiet death. Robert Harris, who penned the book “Pompeii,” later teamed with Polanski for “The Ghost Writer.”
How Can It Be Resurrected? Perhaps this project HAS taken on a second life, albeit in a new medium. Ridley Scott is developing a four-hour miniseries based on the original novel with Robert Towne adapting. Meanwhile, drive-in trash director Paul W.S. Anderson is currently developing a big-budget film about the Pompeii disaster centered on a slave bound for Naples after Vesuvius blows, who heads back to rescue his love and best friend from a city that has been reduced to rubble.
“Inside Man 2” Dir. Spike Lee
What Killed It? “Inside Man” was a much-needed box office hit for Spike Lee in 2005, combining the tough New York sensibilities of his earlier work with a crowd-pleasing heist formula provided by Russell Gerwitz’s topsy-turvy script. Once the studio requested a sequel, Gerwitz got to work, putting together a narrative involving a diamond heist that would rejoin Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), thief Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and mover-shaker Madeleine White (Jodie Foster). Apparently that draft wasn’t up to standard, so Lee enlisted Terry George to create an entirely new narrative involving these characters. But years later, Lee has made it clear that the studio is uninterested in this pitch as well, financing couldn’t be raised, and thus “Inside Man 2” was dead. Meanwhile, plans to shoot “Brooklyn Loves MJ” and the terrorist blockbuster thriller “Nagasaki Deadline” have also passed him by, even with the latter produced by James Cameron.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It’s pretty implausible that those three characters would encounter each other again, but the original was so much fun that we’d be on board. But it seems as if the studio has passed on the film for good, and as years go by, it becomes harder to justify spending money on a six-year-old film that didn’t generate $100 million domestically.
“Green Lantern: The Robert Smigel Edition”
What Killed It? There was a movie that came out a little over a month ago. It was called “Green Lantern.” Do you remember it? It had a superhero of some sort. Well, it wasn’t the first cinematic interpretation of that character to be pitched to Warner Bros. Back in 2004, prolific “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “Saturday Night Live” writer Robert Smigel had drafted a treatment of the Emerald Guardian that was comedic in tone. Jumping off from the popular “Emerald Dawn” storyline, Smigel’s script found a magic ring being granted to middling reality TV star named Hal Jordan, a part written specifically for Jack Black. Once word got out that the WB was preparing a comedic take on a hero many consider “sacred” to the DC brand name, they killed the project. Even Smigel, who wrote a script where Green Lantern chases girls, wears a fanny pack, and conjures up Superman to save the world, admitted the fans were likely to rebel.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Hal Jordan got his time in the sun in last month’s “Green Lantern,” but the GL mythos actually allows room for multiple characters using that title. So Smigel’s comedic take can be brought back to life as an alternative to the often deadly-serious last film with a new lead character. The only issue with this is that the initial film was a tremendous box office flop derided by critics. If Warner Bros. is serious about a sequel, they might have to start talking “reboot,” and if they do, there’s no more drastic reboot than the Robert Smigel script they have sitting in a drawer somewhere.
“Hands on a Hard Body” Dir. Robert Altman
What Killed It? Probably the saddest way for a movie to evaporate. “Hands on a Hard Body” was a critically acclaimed documentary of the same name from 1997 in which residents of a small Texas town compete in a deceptively simple competition to see who would win a Nissan Hardbody truck. The rules are simple: place one hand on the truck and never let go. The event came to a memorable, unfortunate end (not seen in the doc) when a man let go of the truck, walked across the street, and fired a shotgun into his own face. A narrative film based on the documentary was in the planning stages at now-defunct Picturehouse with Robert Altman on board to direct, with Billy Bob Thornton and Hilary Swank in discussion for potential roles. But Altman fell ill and eventually passed on in late 2006, months before production was to start. Bob Berney, the head of Picturehouse, solemnly told Variety, “This was conceived as a Robert Altman film, and I’m not sure there can be any other way to do it.” And it wasn’t the only Altman picture left behind — the auteur was also involved with “Paint,” a comedy about a documentary filmmaker investigating a murder in the New York City art world. Salma Hayek and James Franco were attached to star in what would’ve been a follow-up to “The Company” but the project never materialized.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It’s not certain as to whether Altman had finished the script for ‘Body’ that he wrote with Stephen Harrigan, but if so, there’s a potential Altman-esque script lying there, waiting to be brought to the screen. Perhaps Altman protégé Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed second unit on Altman’s final film “A Prairie Home Companion,” could be persuaded to bring the story to life. For those of you desperate to get a feel for “Hands on a Hard Body,” the documentary is readily available, but there’s also a lengthy subplot in the 2003 indie “The Safety of Objects” that dramatizes a similar event.
“The Prisoner” Dir. Christopher Nolan
What Killed It? Development hell, naturally. “The Prisoner” was a big-budget adaptation of the trippy BBC sci-fi series from the ’70s where Patrick McGoohan played a retired government agent with memory loss trapped in a mirror world where he’s pursued on all sides. Christopher McQuarrie penned a script, and after a brief flirtation with Simon West in the director’s chair with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role, the project caught the fancy of Christopher Nolan, who became attached in the wake of “Batman Begins.” Fans were skeptical about the movie’s potential to capture the show’s maddening paranoia, and Nolan became busy in a hurry, leaving producers to re-fashion “The Prisoner” into a little-watched AMC miniseries.
How Can It Be Resurrected? A studio executive will tell you the “brand” has already been tainted by it’s association with the miniseries. But at this point the title is so forgotten that it can provide a solid jumping-off point for an eager director willing to take on a new science fiction world. With studios hungry for tentpoles at every turn, we wouldn’t be surprised to see “The Prisoner” go the way of “Logan’s Run” and take on life with an entirely new creative team.
“The Rivals” And “The Trial of the Chicago Seven” Dir. Steven Spielberg
What Killed It? No matter how high-profile Steven Spielberg may be as a filmmaker, he tends to play things very close to the chest. So it’s hard to know what killed these two projects. During his busy early-aught phase, The Bearded One became attached to “The Rivals,” a script about the rivalry between Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse, two real 19th century actresses who fought over the same roles, the same jobs, and eventually, the same lovers. Reportedly, Spielberg met with Nicole Kidman for the role of Bernhardt, the older of the two, but the project eventually fell through the cracks.
“The Trial of the Chicago Seven,” meanwhile, was a hot script from the pen of Aaron Sorkin, detailing the aftermath of the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention. The film was to focus on the ensuing trial where seven of the eight were forced to attend court to clear their names, despite independent accounts claiming equal force being used by eight separate police officers. Reportedly, only one casting decision was made — Sacha Baron Cohen was set to take on the role of iconoclastic rebel Abbie Hoffman. However, while Nikki Finke claimed Spielberg wanted to use unknowns and keep the production lower budgeted, Vanity Fair editor Jim Windolf mentioned in an “Indiana Jones” piece that materials lying around the Amblin Entertainment production house included headshots and material related to Will Smith, Kevin Spacey and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had all been rumored for the project at the time. Supposedly, the threat of the writer’s strike caused Spielberg to postpone production and the project ended up landing in the laps of both Ben Stiller and Paul Greengrass, though both passed.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It’s believed Spielberg himself owns the script to “The Rivals,” so it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to see that project lurch back to life. ‘Chicago Seven’ seems like a more likely candidate to be filmed, as it’s hard to ignore a Sorkin script. Certainly for Spielberg, who alternates between popcorn movies and awards season bait, this could be one to re-consider down the road.
“Painkillers” Dir. David Cronenberg
What killed it? Well, David Cronenberg, it seems. While the intriguing-sounding project, based loosely on French artist Orlan’s manifesto “treatise on L’Art charnal” written in 2000 and formally brought to Cannes in 2002 (with a mysterious poster, to boot), Cronenberg later expressed disinterest, citing the Cannes appearance as an effort to gain enthusiasm for a project that he had long since abandoned. In 2006, around the time that “A History of Violence” was coming out on home video, he told the Toronto Star that the film is “dead.” He continued: “I feel like it’s not something I want to pursue. I know [producer] Robert [Lantos] announced it at Cannes, but he was being a good producer by trying to make it become a reality. He was trying to excite me about my own project again. So it was a strange kind of situation, but for some reason, it just feels like it’s something that I’ve done already so I’ve decided not to do it. He and I agreed to let it die. It still exists as a script, but that’s it.” This is a real shame, as the film, which first starred Nicolas Cage (later replaced by Ralph Fiennes who starred in “Spider“), would have featured a lead character impervious to pain who is recruited to be a subversive terrorist agent. It would have been firmly planted in the auteur’s body horror niche, while expanding it beyond the horror realm in an effort to attack current social and political issues.
How Can It Be Resurrected? If Cronenberg changes his mind then it could easily be a “go,” although that seems unlikely, especially given his recent gravitation to more “serious” fare. He says that the finished draft of the script exists, so it’s feasible that some other filmmaker could pick it up and try to mount it, although we don’t see Cronenberg going along with that idea either. Instead, this should exist as a tantalizing what-if… until someone gets a hold of the screenplay.
“Good Omens” Dir. Terry Gilliam
What killed it? Terry Gilliam is no stranger to canceled films. We presume you’ve seen “Lost In La Mancha,” detailing a version of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” that Gilliam, to this day, continues to try to make. Meanwhile, he’s left in his wake such projects as a Nikola Tesla biopic, an adaptation of “A Tale of Two Cities” and even an ambitious reworking of “Watchmen.” But it’s Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett‘s “Good Omens” that has long slayed him. Gilliam became attached to the fantasy novel in 2002 and through the years, names like Johnny Depp, Robin Williams and Pete Postlethwaite have been linked to the film — a satiric take on good and evil involving the Anti-Christ arriving on Earth and two demons attempting to stop him because of their love of the modern life. The financing never came into place, however, even when Gaiman’s name was attached to “Beowulf,” “Coraline” and “Stardust” over a period of a few years.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Well, one Python out, another in. While Gilliam has struggled to put the pieces together on this adaptation, it appears Terry Jones and co-writer Gavin Scott have stepped up to the plate with a television series pitch, one expected to air in 2013. Meanwhile, Gilliam continues to be unable to get financing for anything.
“Halo” Dir. Neill Blomkamp
What killed it? Fox and Universal did, apparently, though the wealth of finger-pointing has been the subject of much penmanship in all corners of the web. Long story short (feel free to pour over this excellent Vulture article for more in-depth info): faced with a $135 million price tag and having spent around $12 million in screenwriting and producing fees, Universal stalled on the project when Fox balked at sharing costs. Producer Peter Jackson’s apparently heavy price tag as mentor to would-be director Neill Blomkamp also hurt efforts to piece the project together. Blomkamp put out several Halo shorts promoting “Halo 3,” with effects provided by WETA Digital. He then dug into “District 9,” expanding the short “Alive in Joburg” that got him the “Halo” gig in the first place. The film was a massive success, grossing $210 million worldwide off of a $30 million budget, and prompting the possibility of a sequel.
How Can It Be Resurrected? The franchise continues to dominate — “Halo: Reach” was the third bestselling game of 2011 and Microsoft is looking to re-release the original “Halo” with improved graphics and Kinect support, while “Halo 4” will begin a new trilogy. Whoever takes up the directing reins though, it won’t be Blomkamp, who spoke to SlashFilm in 2009, saying “when you work that long on something and you have it bottom out and collapse… I mean, I got ‘District 9’ out of it, I think I’m probably better off because it’s more of a personal film. But yeah, I love the world of ‘Halo.’ I don’t think I would go back there.” Blomkamp’s next effort will be the sci-fi flick “Elysium.”
“Hail Caesar” Dir. the Coen Brothers
What Killed It? It could be simply excitement that emerges whenever Joel and Ethan Coen discuss a new project, but “Hail Caesar” was knocked around as a potential directing vehicle for years, and it wasn’t until 2008 when they admitted it hadn’t even been written. It was to be the third film in their “Numbskull Trilogy” according to mooted star George Clooney, comparing it to “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” and plot descriptions suggest it would be about a troupe of actors in the 1920s putting on a play about ancient Rome. A July 2004 issue of Empire confirmed the project’s existence and added the potential involvement of Tim Blake Nelson, but there’s been no movement since and no suggestion that it may happen in the near future. Clooney and the Coens are regular acquaintances (Clooney scouted locations in upstate New York three years ago for “Suburbicon,” a Coen script he was to direct), so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s still in the works.
How Can It Be Resurrected? The Coens are currently working on a script based on the 1960s folk scene, focusing on the life of Dave Von Ronk. Beyond that, who knows? They may take a shot a “Hail Caesar” or even direct “Suburbicon,” which Clooney commented on in 2008, saying the Coens may still be interested in directing, though he would take an acting role. That said, you can file this away along with the “The Big Lebowski” spinoff centering on Jesus and the proposed “Barton Fink” sequel as projects that will probably never happen.
With additional reporting from Drew Taylor and Mark Zhuravsky