Cinephiles woke up on Sunday to some exciting and unexpected news about a project from a filmmaker who continues to inspire debate and discussion more than a decade after his death. Steven Spielberg announced he would be bringing Stanley Kubrick’s unmade, long-in-development “Napoleon” to television as a miniseries. This is nothing short of monumental news, but as devotees of Kubrick know, it’s just one of a handful of projects that he either decided not to make or never got the chance to.
So we decided to do a little bit of digging and take a look at the movies Kubrick had in the cooker over the years, and what happened to them. Some are back in development while others have been lost to the dusts of time, but all are pretty fascinating in their own regard. So sit back, and let’s take a look.
Easily the most well known and well documented of the unmade Kubrick films (“Aryan Papers” is a close second), the director’s voluminous research, notes, location scouting details and more inspired a massive book about the movie based on that material alone.
Originally proposed as his next project after “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Kubrick pitched the movie as a $5 million production (roughly $100 million in today’s dollars) with extraordinarily ambitious plans that included upwards of 30,000 men as extras for the battle scenes, and utilizing the front projection techniques that he had recently used on ‘2001.’ Ian Holm, Alec Guiness, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Magee were mooted as potential cast members, while David Hemmings (“Blow-Up,” “Camelot”) was eyed for the lead role of Napoleon. Kubrick also wanted Audrey Hepburn to play Joséphine, but the actress graciously turned down the part (you can read letters between the director and actress about the role right here).
To reiterate, the research was meticulous, with Kubrick using Felix Markham’s 1966 biography as a launching pad for his in-depth study that eventually grew to include an extensive index card library about everyone in Napoleon’s life, cross referenced to an exacting degree. And Kubrick even thought of using computers to catalog his notes, something that was pretty much unheard of at the time. "If you searched ‘Joséphine’ you were going to get possibly every portrait that was made of her at the time," “The Greatest Movie Never Made” editor Alison Castle said about the proposed database that was going to be created with the help of IBM.
MGM had initially greenlit the movie, and United Artists were offered the project, but both grew wary after similar epics like “War & Peace” and “Waterloo” struggled financially. "He had shelved ‘Napoleon’ after MGM and UA dropped the project," Kubrick’s longtime producer Jan Harlan told Filmmaker Magazine. "He was very sad since he was so well prepared and in full swing to do the film in Romania, France and England. But three weeks later he was back on track with various [other] ideas." And one of those was an adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange,” which would be his next film.
And while Spielberg now has the gig to bring "Napoleon" to life, the Kubrick estate did try to reach out to other filmmakers in the past. "Ridley Scott knows that we have the material and we put it to Ang Lee," Harlan told The Independent in 2010. You can read Kubrick’s 147 page screenplay from 1969 right here.
"Aryan Papers" (aka "Wartime Lies")
Another intensively researched project, this one actually very nearly happened, with casting in place and shooting practically imminent before Kubrick pulled the plug. One could write reams about this particular Holocaust tale, but we’ll try to keep it simple.
Based on the book by Louis Begley Jr., Kubrick penned a script entitled “Aryan Papers,” set in Poland during the Nazi occupation of WWII, telling the story through the eyes of a ten-year-old who recalls how his Aunt protected him by passing them off as Catholics in order to survive. Development started in the early 1990s, and according to “Kubrick: The Definitive Edition,” Joseph Mazzello (“Jurassic Park”) would’ve played the young boy. And it seems at least two actresses were committed to lead the movie — Uma Thurman and Johanna Ter Steege.
According to Thurman, "I was going to make a film with [Kubrick] — for a long time I was scheduled to make a film with him," she told MTV about "Aryan Papers" in 2008. "I was contracted to do it and things happened and he shelved the film. He never made the film."
"It was devastating because it was an incredible part," she reflected. "It would have been the part of my career, the best part I ever had been offered or had written for me, or anything."
Meanwhile, the lesser known Steege (perhaps most familiar to audiences for her role in George Sluzier’s “The Vanishing”) revealed she was kept on the hook, with promises that cameras would roll. She declined other work all with the expectation that the movie would shoot, with continual confirmation from Kubrick and Harlan. But as Thurman noted, the movie was eventually canceled. "We know that [Kubrick] was a perfectionist. We also know the dangerous thing for a perfectionist is that, at a certain point, he comes to a zero," Steege told The Independent in 2009, while Christiane Kubrick, the filmmaker’s widow, noted that the director became depressed "because of all the research he did" about the Holocaust.
And the detailed research had another effect on the movie. “We spent nearly two years, day in day out, researching that. And in that same period Spielberg got the idea for ‘Schindler’s List,’ did the pre-production, made the film, released it, and we were still shuffling index cards,” Kubrick’s assistant Tony Frewin told Vice. Kubrick, who had seen Oliver Stone‘s "Platoon" come out around the same time as "Full Metal Jacket," was concerned about having his Holocaust picture and Spielberg’s being released near to each other, and ultimately shelved it.
"Eyes Wide Shut" co-writer Frederic Raphael has long spun an anecdote that Kubrick had dismissed "Schindler’s List" by saying it was about "success," while the Holocaust is actually about "six million people who get killed." Whether or not this is actually true is unclear, but one should note that the Kubrick family have largely dismissed Raphael’s memoir, "Eyes Wide Open," about working with Kubrick.
Warner Bros. still has the rights to "Aryan Papers," and in 2005 William Monahan ("The Departed") was hired to write a new draft of the script. As for Harlan, he welcomes the notion of another filmmaker tackling the material. "It would have to be really a good director. In the wrong hands, this would become a very cheap movie. But if Ang Lee wanted to do it, I would jump to the ceiling!" he told The Independent.”The German Lieutenant”
After delivering one of the most vital anti-war movies of all time in 1957 with “Paths Of Glory,” a year later Kubrick was tinkering with the idea of doing another one. Shifting focus to World War II, Kubrick wanted to tell a story from the German point of view, and he teamed with former paratrooper Richard Adams to pen “The German Lieutenant.” According to the book “The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, & the Holocaust,” studios weren’t too interested in the project that was being developed under the Harris-Kubrick banner, but it’s nonetheless a fascinating story.
Set in 1945 in the dying days of the war, the plot centers on Lieutenant Oskar Kraus and Lieutenant Paul Dietrich, friends and officers who are ordered to be dropped behind enemy lines to blow up a railway bridge. It’s widely viewed by the soldiers as a suicide mission, and Kraus even flirts with deserting, but decides to stay with Dietrich who is enthusiastically embracing the job. But from the start the mission goes awry, with the soldiers dropped in broad daylight instead of under cover of night, resulting in many dying in the process. But Dietrich plows ahead with the goal of destroying the bridge, even as Kraus argues its futility as the German army’s defeat is inevitable. The Germans are eventually taken prisoner, and kept waiting in the middle of the bridge by American forces, who believe (rightly) that it has been wired to explode, but are still uncertain. Dietrich inspires his men to keep their plan secret, and when they are eventually ordered off the bridge by American troops, the bridge does indeed blow up. But is the mission a success? Was the cost of German lives worth it as the war is ultimately soon lost? With a coda that finds Dietrich in a tedious postal service job after the war, the implication is that his last heroic stand was meaningless.
While Kubrick would apparently later tell Jan Harlan he had no idea why he pursued this project, in an interview in 1959 with Film Quarterly’s Colin Young (collected in the book “Stanley Kubrick: Interviews”) the filmmaker shared what interested him about the subject matter.
“To begin with, one of the attractions of a war or crime story is that it provides an almost unique opportunity to contrast an individual of our contemporary society with a solid framework of accepted value, which the audience becomes fully aware of, and which can be used as a counterpoint to a human, individual, emotional situation,” he said. “Further, war acts as a kind of hothouse for forced, quick breeding of attitudes and feelings. Attitudes crystallize and come into the open. Conflict is natural, when it would in a less critical situation have to be introduced almost as a contrivance, and would thus appear forced, or — even worse — false. Eisenstein, in his theoretical writings about dramatic structure, was often guilty of oversimplification. The black and white contrasts of ‘Alexander Nevsky’ do not fit all drama. But war does permit this kind of contrast — and spectacle. And within these contrasts you can begin to apply some of the possibilities of film — of the sort explored by Eisenstein.”
Kubrick would move on to other projects, but you can see what he might have intended with “The German Lieutenant” by reading the script right here.“A.I.”
The only "unmade" Kubrick project to get produced so far, this is still a sore spot for many fans of the filmmaker, with some unfairly criticizing Steven Spielberg for supposedly softening what they feel would’ve been a darker story under Kubrick’s guidance. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
The film, about an 11-year-old boy robot who longs to be real and earn the love of his human “mother,” first came onto Kubrick’s slate in the 1970s when he commissioned Brian Aldiss, who wrote the short story the film is inspired by, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” to pen a treatment. Development continued over the years, and it’s widely believed Kubrick was waiting for the right technology to come along to make the movie, but according to “Stanley Kubrick: A Biography” his interest was reignited in the material thanks to something else.
The director was approached by producer Julia Phillips to make “Interview With A Vampire,” with financing coming from record mogul David Geffen. Kubrick declined, but decided to take another stab at the fantasy genre with ‘Super-Toys’ and rang up Aldiss once again. The two had previously disagreed on how to approach the material back in the ‘70s, with Aldiss sharing: “Stanley was intrigued by the story, but then ‘Star Wars’ came out…and it was clear he was very jealous of ‘Star Wars.’ He didn’t think it was as good as ‘2001.’"
Kubrick wished to make a better sci-fi film, but Aldiss soon saw through his intentions. “He said that what we really wanted was a whole lot of archetypical situations: a poor young boy who somehow had to make good, and had to fight some terrible evil in order to win the hand of the princess. Then we realized we were actually describing ‘Star Wars.’"
Aldiss and the filmmaker couldn’t seem to get on the same page, and the writer claims the influence of “E.T.” inspired Kubrick to take the movie into the territory of fable. “I couldn’t see how we could turn this vignette into a film. We stuck at it for a while, but it wasn’t working. Then, gradually, I realized; this wasn’t ‘Star Wars,’ it wasn’t ‘E.T.’ It was fucking ‘Pinocchio’! The Blue Fairy! I worked with him for about six weeks, and I couldn’t get rid of that Blue Fairy.”
Aldiss stayed on to consult, and Kubrick dialled up Arthur C. Clarke for his input, and on his suggestion Bob Shaw was brought in to help with the script. According to Shaw, Kubrick gave him a copy of Aldiss’ story, “Pinocchio,” and the book “Mind Children” by famed robotics and artificial intelligence professor/scientist Hans Moravec, noting that he wanted elements from all in the script that would now center on David’s father, some kind of robotic butler.
That idea was scrapped, and after sci-fi writer Ian Watson made an attempt with the material, it was author Sara Maitland who refocused the story on David and his mother. And what she came up with was slightly different than what finally appeared on film. In her version, David’s mother is an alcoholic, and the film ends with David once again experiencing a reconstructed memory sequence, with the young boy making his mother a Bloody Mary one last time, something he did through his life to try and earn her love.
But Kubrick had something different in mind, with Maitland telling The New York Times that the director “wanted a coda in which the new race of robots, because of a technological limitation, cannot keep the the mother alive after reviving her. The movie would end with David in his mother’s bedroom, watching her slowly disappear.”
Maitland didn’t like this twist. "It must have been a very strong visual thing for him, because he wasn’t usually stupid about story,” she said. “He hired me because I knew about fairy stories, but would not listen when I told him, ‘You can have a failed quest, but you can’t have an achieved quest and no reward.’"
According to Richard Brooks of The Sunday Times, in addition to a treatment, Kubrick had also done tests with robots and even shot early footage with a young actor (who many believe was Joseph Mazzello, who was also cast in Kubrick’s aborted “Aryan Papers,” with some reports suggesting Kubrick was doing filming on "A.I." every few years). There was a “provisional budget” of $100 million while (unlikely) rumors persisted that Aphex Twin was going to score the movie. However, Chris Cunningham — the famed music video helmer, who directed Aphex Twin’s "Windowlicker" — was tapped by Kubrick to create a robot that would “play” the young boy in the main role.
"I spent the entire year just developing this one robot head," Cunningham told the The New York Times in 1995. Four years later he would direct the robot-centric “All Is Full Of Love” video for Bjork.
Spielberg’s film would eventually tweak Kubrick’s desired ending further, with David finally getting the love he sought. Kubrick actually first offered the movie to Spielberg feeling he would have a better hand on the material, but Spielberg declined, insisting Kubrick should make it. But after the director passed away, the Kubrick family once again approached Spielberg with the material, and this time he accepted, and brought the movie to the multiplex.“Downslope”/”One-Eyed Jacks”/”Operation Mad Ball”
War was a longstanding subject of fascination for Kubrick. One project under consideration was "Downslope," set during the American Civil War, following Col. John S. Mosby who seeks justice after Custer hangs his men. A script was co-written by Kubrick and Civil War historian Shelby Foote, with a budget of $100 million (in today’s dollars) being tossed around, and according to “Stanley Kubrick: A Biography,” Gregory Peck was eyed as a potential lead. While that incarnation never happened, in August of last year it was announced that eOne was now tackling the material with plans to turn it into a TV movie, with a new screen adaptation by Brit screenwriter Stephen R. Clarke.
The filmmaker also spent six months working with Marlon Brandon on the western “One-Eyed Jacks.” He rewrote Sam Peckinpah‘s original script, and while he was planning to direct, Brando eventually took over to helm the picture himself.
Meanwhile, in 1957, after seeing the comedic war movie “Operation Mad Ball,” Kubrick and his producer James B. Harris liked it so much that they approached Ernie Kovacs with plans to reprise his character in a television series that would follow the commandant of a boy’s school. Development was started, and the trio actually went to Black Fox Military Academy to meet with a real-life commandant. While by all accounts these initial meetings were a success, the project never came to life. Kubrick would later scratch the war comedy itch with “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.”
“I Stole 16 Million Dollars” AKA ”God Fearing Man”
Based on the book “I Stole 16 Million Dollars,” according to “Stanley Kubrick: A Biography” the project, now known as "God Fearing Man," is based on the true-story tale of Herbert Emerson Wilson, a priest who became the biggest bank robber in America in the early 20th century. Kubrick co-wrote the script with Jim Thompson (“Paths Of Glory,” “The Killing”), and it was set up under Kirk Douglas’ Bryna Productions banner but the actor passed on it. It was also offered to Cary Grant. However, it’s another Kubrick project that’s come back to life thanks to Stephen R. Clarke, and it’s now being looked at as a potential miniseries.
"The Burning Secret"/"Natural Child"
With MGM initially turning down “Paths Of Glory,” Kubrick decided to direct another property at the studio, “The Burning Secret.” According to “Stanley Kubrick: Visual Poet 1928-1999,” the filmmaker was excited as it was based on a book by Stefan Zweig, who penned the story that inspired “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” directed by Max Ophuls, a helmer Kubrick admired. He worked on the screenplay with author Calder Winningham. According to “The Wolf At The Door: Stanley Kubrick, History & Holocaust,” the story centered on a baron visiting a spa in the mountains, who sets out to seduce a woman, and befriends her son in the process.
Kubrick also apparently wanted to adapt Winningham’s 1952 book “Natural Child,” about “ two young men and two young women living the bohemian lifestyle of the time.” The sexuality of both stories was apparently deemed unlikely to pass the Production Code, and they weren’t developed further. However, in 1988, “Burning Secret” would be brought to the big screen in a new adaptation by director Andrew Birkin.
"Lunatic At Large”
Stanley Kubrick was always a big fan of pulp crime fiction author Jim Thompson. He called Thompson’s pulpy noir “The Killer Inside Me,” about a sadistic, psychopathic, Texas sheriff, "probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.” Kubrick loved the writer so much that he got him to adapt Lionel White‘s crime novel "Clean Break" (which became Kubrick’s "The Killing”) and Thompson also penned “Paths Of Glory.” Though Thompson received little credit for either screenplay, they would work together once more on a from-scratch crime project called “Lunatic At Large.”
Set in New York in 1956, ‘Lunatic’ tells the story of an an ex-carnival worker with serious anger-management issues, and the nervous, attractive barfly he picks up in a Hopper-esque tavern. The screenplay included a car chase over a railroad crossing with a train bearing down, and a romantic interlude in a spooky, deserted mountain lodge. One of the film’s biggest set pieces was a nighttime carnival sequence in which the lead female, lost and afraid, wanders among the tents and encounters a sideshow’s worth of familiar carnie types: the Alligator Man, the Mule-Faced Woman, the Midget Monkey Girl, the Human Blockhead.
Kubrick was pleased with the finished screenplay, but became sidetracked with “Spartacus” and never revisited it. Years later it was lost, but Kubrick still hoped to make it. “I remember Stanley talking about ‘Lunatic,’ ” his son-in-law Philip Hobbs told the The New York Times in 2006. “He was always saying he wished he knew where it was, because it was such a great idea.” The screenplay was discovered years later, and Stephen R. Clarke took a run at it. In 2010 it was announced that Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell were reportedly attached to star in the new iteration, but there has been zero movement since.
“The Passion Flower Hotel”/”Perfume”/”Colette”/”Foucault’s Pendulum”
Over the years there have been a number of other projects Kubrick eyed. While he only made two films with producer James B. Harris — “The Killing” and “Lolita” — they kept in touch, and from time to time talked about collaborating again. One such proposed project was “The Passion Flower Hotel” according to “Stanley Kubrick: A Biography.” It would return them to erotic territory, with the story centering a group of young women from an all-girls school who sell sexual services to the boys at an all-boys school down the road.
The book also notes that prior to tackling “Wartime Lies,” Kubrick briefly flirted with idea of helming an adaptation of Peter Suskind’s novel “Perfume.” Tom Tykwer would eventually direct the movie, with a screenplay by Andrew Birkin, who helmed “Burning Secret,” another book adaptation Kubrick had toyed with. Also in the pre-”Wartime Lies” phase, Kubrick was apparently considering a biopic on the life of the colorful French novelist Colette.
Finally, Kubrick had at one time inquired about turning Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum” into a movie. However, the author still felt stung over Jean Jaques-Annaud’s not-so-well-received 1986 movie “The Name Of The Rose,” and Kubrick’s request was rejected…but not by Eco directly. The word came from one of the writer’s associates, who figured Eco would have turned it down. But this wasn’t the case, and Eco’s efforts to reach Kubrick didn’t pan out. The author would later share his regret that the pair weren’t able to collaborate.
Other projects offered to Kubrick include "The Lord Of The Rings," which John Lennon approached the filmmaker with when The Beatles were attached. Kubrick turned it down, citing the enormity of the project. Kubrick also considered an adaptation of Robert Marshall‘s non-fiction, "All The King’s Men," optioning the book that told the true story of the MI6’s attempt to dismantle Winston Churchill’s Special Operation’s Executive.
Thoughts, opinions? Which of these Kubrick projects are you sad didn’t get realized, and which do you hope get brought back to life? Let us know in the comments section below. —additional reporting by Rodrigo Perez