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The 25 Greatest Movies Never Made

The 25 Greatest Movies Never Made

The grass is always greener on the other side. We always covet what we can never attain. Last week, Sony Pictures Classics‘ must-see documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” opened in limited release; director Frank Pavich‘s funny, affectionate tale of Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s doomed attempt at adapting Frank Herbert‘s indispensable sci-fi classic for the big screen (our review). So ambitious and grand—legends like Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger, H.R. Giger, Mœbius, VFX wizard Dan O’Bannon, Salvador Dali and Orson Welles were some of the names mooted to be involved—perhaps Jodorowsky’s version was so insane it never could have really happened, or perhaps if it had, it would have been a epic fail (indeed David Lynch‘s version, which would eventually bring the story to the big screen in 1984, was one of that visionary director’s biggest stumbles, even according to Lynch himself).

The documentary, loving and insightful, also flirts with perhaps the essential idea behind these “what if?” scenarios: the film’s ambition is undeniable, but its "greatness" can only ever exist as a hypothesis because the actuality, had it happened, could well have been a spectacular folly. And if it had been good, or even excellent, it still wouldn’t have had that tantalizing, imagination-firing quality of being all things to all geeks, of dwelling in that realm of perfect imagination. As myths perpetuate and proliferate, "famously unproduced masterpieces" can sometimes loom larger in estimation than actually realized masterpieces that you can watch whenever you want, because just by actually getting made, a film is compromised from all the wondrousness it could have been, and reduced to what it is. With that (somewhat hilarious) paradox in mind, we thought we’d succumb to the temptation of "what if"-ing ourselves and recall some of the most delicious “oh-my-god, could-you-imagine?” unmade projects that have snagged our attention. Of course, the choices are numerous, so narrowing the list has proven an argumentative, though entertaining, process. 

So without further ado, let’s get speculative about 25 of the most exciting projects ever to hover in the ether just beyond our reach. Or for reductive purposes: the Greatest Movies Never Made.

Stanley Kubrick’s “Napoleon
What Was It?: Kubrick’s "Napoleon" was to be at once a character study and a sweeping, gigantic epic, covering not only his genius, but his early life in Paris and as a protégé of various affluent families.
What Happened?: In short, Kubrick went on an obsessive quest to turn over every stone and got caught down the rabbit hole of his endless and meticulous research. By the time he was done, interested studios like MGM and then United Artists essentially got cold feet, believing historical epics had gone out of vogue. 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. After names like Ian Holm, Alec Guiness, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Magee were thrown around, David Hemmings (“Blow-Up,” “Camelot”) was to play the lead, with Audrey Hepburn as Joséphine. The studio eventually balked at the price tag—it didn’t help that Rod Steiger’s “Waterloo” beat the film to screens and then flopped—and, unwilling to compromise his vision, Kubrick apparently thought it best to walk away.
Could It Ever Get Made One Day: No. You can read Kubrick’s 147-page draft from 1969 right here, but the man himself is dead. However, Kubrick fanboy Steven Spielberg is developing Kubrick’s version as a TV miniseries (much as he directed “A.I.” because Kubrick asked him to). WB has its own version in the works (sans Kubrick’s script or development notes) as a feature-length project that Rupert Sanders will direct. And Creative Differences (the company who produced Herzog’s 3D cave doc) announced in 2011 that they would be making a documentary of Kubrick’s unmade Napoleon film too. In fact, Kubrick’s list of unfinished projects is legendary. We wrote an entire lengthy feature dedicated to the dozen-odd films Kubrick developed but never made. 

Werner Herzog’s “The Conquest of Mexico
What Was It? A long-cherished project of Herzog’s which returns to his familiar theme of European colonialism in the New World, but sets out a fictional narrative told from the point of view of the conquered Aztecs, rather than the encroaching conquistadors.
What Happened? While it’s hard to find definitive detail on how far along in the process this film ever got, Herzog must have at least had at some point a strong outline, if not a fully finished screenplay, because it was the prohibitive budget that apparently scuppered his plans to make this film. Prohibitive, that is, for an independently financed project. It would have been chump change to a Hollywood studio, but none of those (those he approached anyway) were going to allow him the creative freedom he wanted to bring his vision to the screen.
Could It Ever Get Made? It’s easy to see shades of “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” “Fitzcarraldo” and even “Cobra Verde” in this idea, but Herzog’s never been one to shy away from going back to a thematic well, and this has been such a longtime passion project that it may still flare back to life. On the con side, even the mighty Herzog is getting on a bit and he’s not exactly known for easy shoots. It’s possible that he’s exorcized some elements of this story with his 1999 short documentary “God and the Burdened” (which you can watch a version of here) released as part of the “2000 Years of Christianity” TV series. But to get the kind of authenticity he’d no doubt demand, it’s likely that an inaccessible and difficult location shoot would be necessary, which is precisely the kind of thing that has scuttled similar projects in the past, notably James Gray’s Amazon-set “The Lost City of Z.” Then again, that jungle-set period epic is apparently now going ahead (starring Robert Pattinson who, coincidentally, will also appear in current Herzog project “Queen of the Desert”) so perhaps things don’t look as bleak on this front as they once did.

Ken Russell’s “Dracula
What Was It: A version of the Bram Stoker tale only told by the always-controversial, shit-starting enfant terrible Ken Russell. Also, partially autobiographical. “My Dracula would be a philanthropist with a taste for the blood of genius,” Russell is quoted as saying in “Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell.”
What Happened: In the 1970s, Ken Russell had more number-one hit films in Britain than any other filmmaker. The world was his oyster. Between “Tommy” and “Altered States,” Russell set his eyes on “Dracula,” which reportedly began as a ballet, and he wrote several screenplay drafts. His regular muse Oliver Reed was eyed for Dracula and the cast could have included Peter Ustinov, Peter O’Toole, Mick Fleetwood, Sarah Miles, Mia Farrow, Lucy Michael York , James Coburn and/or many others. The count was said to have been a Byronic anti-hero. "If you had lived for centuries would you go weak at the knees at a picture of a dull clerk’s fiancée and lock yourself away in a gloomy castle? I wouldn’t. I’ve come up with a reason why Dracula would want to live forever," Russell once wrote. Russell’s autobiographer Paul Sutton, in the introduction to the published “Dracula” script, claims two Hollywood pictures were inspired by Russell’s script and went as far to suggest plagiarism by Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula." But it was John Badham’s competing 1979 version of “Dracula” starring Frank Langella that seemed to be the nail in the coffin (!) for Russell’s take, who wouldn’t end up getting his bloodsucker yah-yahs out until the more modern vampiric tale, “Lair Of The White Worm,” in 1988.
Could It Ever Get Made: Russell is dead, so probably not unless some budding young English filmmaker becomes a Russell obsessive. But the filmmaker was so idiosyncratic, we doubt anyone would ever be as interested in his distinctive version as he was, much less do it justice. The whole screenplay was published though, so if you’re curious all you have to do is buy the book.

Clair Noto’s “The Tourist
What Was It: Set in contemporary Manhattan, “The Tourist” followed a beautiful 30-something female executive who counted herself among a secret group of exiled aliens on Earth desperately trying to get back to their home planets. Noto’s script, started in 1980, has often been cited as similar to "Blade Runner,” and its moody, atmospheric, and unexpectedly sexual overtones also suggested the alienation and tragic nature of “The Hunger” and the exotic mien of the creatures from Ridley Scott’s “Alien.”
What Happened: One of the most famous unmade movies ever, in short it languished in development hell forever, while its ideas proved so popular that it was plundered time and again, most blatantly by “Men In Black” which mostly lifted the concept wholesale, added heroic human agents as the leads, jettisoned the existential woe of estranged aliens, trapped and in-hiding on Earth, and of course made it a comedy. Legendary visualist H. R. Giger created a series of alien designs in the early 1980s and they, like the script, were much too sexualized and unsettling for the execs who were trying to grapple with an unwieldy story of morality, corruption, xenophobia, humanity and imprisonment, both physical and psychological. Citing influences such as Fellini and Antonioni, Noto once said of the screenplay “I wanted to portray sexual agony and ecstasy in a way I’d never seen before, and science fiction seemed like the arena.” But in development hell she remained, though briefly flirting with Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, before they went broke (legal problems began here, as another producer claimed she co-owned the option). Noto’s difficult nature saw her kicked off her own creation, which then spent years in the studio system (Universal, WB, Paramount, Joel Silver all being involved) as it was overdeveloped into something less nihilistic and more homogenized. And also, bland. In the end, it was a dark independent movie that should have stayed that way. Unfortunately, the Fox Searchlights of the world didn’t exist yet, thus the only option for the project was the studio world where it just didn’t fit.
Could It Ever Get Made One Day: Mostly no. As of the early aughts, Noto was back on the project and had written a new draft, but that feels like a fool’s errand now considering how the “Men In Black” pilfering rendered it obsolete. The upside is that nothing is ever truly new these days, and the idea of her concept being spoiled doesn’t even really matter anymore. The downside (and the reason it’ll probably never get made) is, “The Tourist” would be expensive, and studios rarely want to foot the bill for existential and dramatic sci-fi, especially if it’s not based, "Prometheus"-style, on a preexisting property. You’d need a filmmaker of hella stature with hella clout attached to even count it as a possibility.

David Lynch’s “Ronnie Rocket
What Was It? Conceived in the aftermath of “Eraserhead,” the story followed a detective seeking a mysterious second dimension, aided by his ability to stand on one leg, who is being stalked by the "Donut Men" who wield electricity as a weapon. Simultaneously, the tale of Ronnie Rocket unfolds, a teenage dwarf rock star who needs to be plugged into an electrical supply which gives him power over, um, power, which he can use to produce music or cause destruction.
What Happened? An ongoing talisman/pebble in Lynch’s shoe, “Ronnie Rocket” was suggested as his next project after almost every one of his early films from “Eraserhead” to “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.” But during that time, Lynch’s career blossomed, as did the number of projects he was attaching himself to. So while it got as far as casting in some of those incarnations (Dexter Fletcher was attached at one point, as was Michael J. Anderson who would go on to become a Lynch regular), as quickly as likely financiers stepped up, they fell away (or in the case of Coppola’s American Zoetrope and the Dino De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, went bust before the film could be shot).
Could It Ever Get Made? As recently as July 2013, Lynch spoke of the project as an ongoing possibility, but bemoaned the interim rise of “cheap storm windows and graffiti” as well as the disappearance of the authentic industrial smokestack landscape that is central to his vision of the film. He also, more detrimentally to the film’s chances perhaps, spoke about his own doubts as to whether the script was ready and whether the story would ever “go over.” So while it sounds fascinating and tantalizing and we certainly want to see Lynch back behind the camera soon, the possibility of it being for this project seems remote. And we really can’t see anyone else taking it on.

Either Alain Resnais/Stan Lee collaboration
What Was It: Alain Resnais meets Marvel’s Stan Lee, and they try to make two movies: one more Resnais-like, one more Lee-esque. Unlikely, but true. The first project was “The Inmates”: a Bronx-set story that had "to do with the whole human race, why we’re on Earth, and what our relationship is with the rest of the universe,” Lee said in a 1977 interview. Despite its far-out, science fiction-like surface, Lee described it as a very human, very philosophical story—perhaps not different from Resnais’ 1968 “sci-fi” film “Je t’aime Je t’aime," and said that he had written a treatment for it. (Interesting note: the book “Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book” described it as the polar opposite: a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of an imminent alien invasion of Earth). The second project was “The Monster Maker,” which according to Sean Howe‘s “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” centered on a disenchanted Roger Corman-esque B-movie maker dreaming of more, who makes a film centered on the dangers of pollution and toxic waste. It was of course an autobiographical allegory of Lee wanting to make something of substance.
What Happened? While he made some of the most treasured and opaque arthouse films in cinema, including "Last Year At Marienbad" and "Hiroshima Mon Amour," the French filmmaker was a devoted comic-book fan since childhood (it’s how he learned English) and he had once hoped to adapt Herge’s Tintin book, “The Black Island” and the comic “Red Ryder." He met the great Stan Lee in New York in 1971 and was instantly hooked by the comic book author’s “loveable” personality, “He told me that he has written more than 7000 stories, and would like to try something else," Resnais told the Harvard Crimson the following year. But “The Inmates” would never go beyond a treatment—Resnais wanted a screenplay written by Lee himself and Lee wanted the auteur to find a script collaborator. “The Monster Maker” would go further; a script was completed and then sold for $25,000, which Resnais and Lee split. But the producers wanted myriad changes, which Resnais resisted completely. “Alain, I’ll change it, I’ll change it!” Lee recalled saying in a 1987 interview to which his “nutty” friend Resnais replied. “’No, you wheel not change a word!’ Well, the goddam script is still sitting there, on a shelf somewhere.” In a 1998 interview collected in “Stan Lee: Conversations,” the Marvel mogul said he was going to try torevive “The Inmates,” but obviously that never happened. Of "The Monster Maker” he said, “[it] would require so many changes that I just don’t have the time."
Could They Ever Get Made: Renais passed away recently, and you’ll never get the Renais-Does-Marvel touch without the man himself. Lee’s sounds like it will languish unmade too (though shouldn’t someone at least make it into a comic?)

David Cronenberg’s “Frankenstein
What Was It? Cerebral Horror maestro Cronenberg’s take on Mary Shelley’s classic novel.
What Happened: Details on this one are pretty fuzzy, but it seems like it was nothing more than an idea, albeit a pretty inspired one, from Canadian film producer Pierre David. He approached Cronenberg in the ’80s with it and the filmmaker offhandedly said yes. "He said, ‘Listen, tell me what you think… "David Cronenberg’s Frankenstein"?’ " Cronenberg recalled of the producer’s pitch. He replied “Sounds good to me. What about poor Mary Shelley?” And the next thing Cronenberg knew, there was a full-page ad in Variety touting, “David Cronenberg’s Frankenstein.” Evidently, Cronenberg did think about it a little bit. “It would be a more rethinking than a remake. For one thing I’d try to retain Shelley’s original concept of the creature being an intelligent, sensitive man. Not just a beast,” he is quoted as saying in the collection of interviews “Cronenberg on Cronenberg," but, beyond that nothing seemed to happen. Other projects that interested the director included “American Psycho” (which he was briefly attached to, as was Brad Pitt) and “Total Recall,” which he spent a year working on. Producers said his version was too much like Philip K. Dick (uhh, the original author) and they wanted “Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars.”
Could It Ever Get Made? Arguably Cronenberg already made a Frankenstein-type movie of sorts with “The Fly” in 1986. And 1994’s overambitious Kenneth Branagh version did seem to be coming from a similar place with regard to humanizing the monster somewhat. But with the director’s interests seemingly shifted elsewhere, it does seem like the time for a Cronenberg take on this classic tale has well and truly passed.

Orson Welles’ “Heart of Darkness
What Was It?: An adaptation of Joseph Conrad‘s bleak psychological horror masterpiece.
What Happened?: While Orson Welles‘ completion anxiety is well-documented and is attributable to the broken heart he suffered with the butchering of “The Magnificent Ambersons” (his career was really never the same afterwards), his attempt at mounting ‘Darkness’ was years before his soul would get wholly crushed by the Hollywood machine. Welles’ famous Mercury Theater, The Mercury Players and their eventual move to radio gave him wunderkind status and he landed in Hollywood in 1940 at the age of 25 with carte blanche—RKO gave him an unprecedented deal of complete creative control and freedom for his first two pictures (one which would eventually become “Citizen Kane”). Purportedly the first screenplay that Welles ever wrote, “Heart of Darkness” was also the first film he would try to realize. Welles was planning to shoot the film in about 165 long panning shots, representing the protagonist Captain Marlow’s point of view as he began his long, slow-death journey through the jungles of Africa (Welles would also play the lead, of course). He seemed committed to shooting it the (very impractical) way he had imagined and RKO soon deemed the would-be technical innovation too expensive (plus it was supposed to be an allegory on fascism and the beginning of WWII was said to have hurt it). The material too was just too challenging, and all of it enough to make studio heads uneasy enough to pass on.
Could It Ever Get Made: Seems deeply improbable for reasons beyond his death, but if someone wanted to faithfully make it, the script can be read here (and a one-off production was staged in 2012). Francis Ford Coppola obviously went on to almost kill himself adapting it into “Apocalypse Now” which is maybe more reason to let it lay as is. You can check out Welles’ radio version of the story here.

Tim Burton’s "Superman Lives"
What Was It? Maybe the most famous aborted superhero reboot in history. Way back in 1996, work began on a new Superman movie that was inspired in part by the caped hero’s return to the cultural consciousness following the "Death of Superman" comic book storyline. Kevin Smith, a noted comic book enthusiast and world-class nerd, was hired to write the screenplay (a process hilariously detailed in one of his lecture tours), in part because of the scene in "Mallrats" when characters discuss a Kryptonite condom. Throwing away most of an earlier draft of the screenplay (entitled "Superman Reborn" and written by Jonathan Lemkin), Smith set about creating a deeply soulful and highly reverential take on the hero. After Smith submitted his second draft, the studio hired Tim Burton as a director, on Smith’s suggestion. Warner Bros., on their part, were keen on seeing what the filmmaker’s take on the material would be, especially after the wild success of the original "Batman." Burton, still wounded by the catastrophic failure of "Mars Attacks!," wanted a surefire hit. Nicolas Cage, another super-nerd and comic book freak, signed on to play the title role.
What Happened? Everything that could go wrong, did. Wesley Strick, who had worked on "Batman Returns" for Burton, was brought on and began lobotomizing Smith’s script. Tests went on with Cage encased in a suit embroidered with pulsating colored lights, and shooting locations were picked out in Pittsburgh. But the script never came together. Strick’s draft seemed nonsensical and overtly violent (with Braniac and Lex Luthor eventually becoming a single entity dubbed "Lexiac" in the script). Subsequent drafts by Dan Gilroy turned off Burton and mere months before the movie was slated to hit theaters, in time for the character’s 60th anniversary, the movie was shelved. Burton went off to do "Sleepy Hollow," Cage departed, and yet work on the screenplay, seemingly in the vacuum of space, continued, with two more hugely expensive original drafts (one by William Wisher and the other by Paul Attansio) later submitted to Warner Bros. And subsequently ignored. 
Could It Ever Get Made? The short answer is no. The main problem with "Superman Lives" is that it was a cool concept whose script seemed to never cohere into something that could be seen as a singularly feasible goal. And with Warner Bros. now positioning Superman as a character who not only anchors his own franchise but serves as the sun which the rest of the DC cinematic universe will orbit, it seems unlikely that they would put so much time and effort into a project that was, by all accounts, so hopelessly strange and rudderless.

Robert Bresson’sGenesis
What Was It?: Robert Bresson’s unrealized adaptation of the “Book of Genesis” (“La Genès”), the first book of the Christian Old Testament.
What Happened?: Well, for one the story would have had to span the creation of the universe all the way to the building of the Tower of Babel. And back in the day, Bresson didn’t have Terrence Malick’s VFX team for “The Tree of Life.” That said, when first conceived sometime in the 1960s, Bresson likely wasn’t thinking of pulling off all the big-bang stuff in that near-sci-fi-ish manner. A devout Christian, it would seem like an obvious project of interest, but as we noted in a 2012 retrospective of his work, reducing Bresson’s filmmaking outlook to “religious” was missing the point and failed to address his preoccupation with the sensual details of people, life, humanity and existence. His austere reverse-engineering approach was essentially to strip things down so nakedly, performance, emotion, etc., and therefore reveal some unknown, greater truth. Evidently, one of Bresson’s reported issues with making the film, was that unlike the human “models” he employed (his words, he didn’t like professional actors) he would be unable to train the animals to do as they were told. Sounds hilariously implausible, but keep in mind the story of Noah’s Ark and the snakes of Adam and Eve are in Genesis. How he could have ever pulled it all off seems mind-boggling, which is probably why it never came close. He did nurture the idea for 35 years and in 1963 Dino de Laurentiis was going to produce, but it fell through. He would try to mount the project one more time in 1985, thanks to "an exceptional pre-production grant” he had received, but this attempt failed too.
Could It Ever Get Made? Bresson shuffled off this mortal coil in 1999, so nope. Other never-to-pass Bresson projects include the story of St. Ignatius of Loyola, an unproduced script revolving around The Holy Grail, an adaptation of Madame de La Fayette’s “La Princesse de Clèves,” and he even reportedly attempted to work with friend and contemporary Albert Camus on an undisclosed adaptation of the existentialist’s work.

Martin Scorsese‘s “Gershwin

What Was It? Scorsese’s biopic of the great American composer George Gershwin.
What Happened? It was the victim of studio politics and indecision. “Taxi Driver” screenwriter Paul Schrader wrote the original script in 1983 which was going to be a big, lavish and epic production (you can read/request his draft here)—bigger than “The Cotton Club” in scale and scope. Then John Guare (“Atlantic City,” the play"Six Degrees of Separation") wrote the draft that Scorsese actually wanted to make. The movie was owed to Warner Bros., but they were eventually interested in another Scorsese picture (they also were skeptical about the cost/return prospects on "Gershwin"). “Ultimately, when it was time to do ‘Gershwin,’ they turned to me and said, ‘We’d rather have one on Dean Martin,’ ” Scorsese said circa 2004. The problem was, while Tom Hanks was eyed for the lead of “Dino” (Martin’s birth name), and Nick Pileggi (the author and screenwriter of "Goodfellas" and "Casino") was going to write the script, that one wasn’t even started, while “Gershwin” was ready to roll. WB wouldn’t budge, Scorsese and Pileggi “killed [themselves] working on that script” that eventually wasn’t to Scorsese’s liking anyway (too unflattering on the Rat Pack subjects) and it had legal issues to boot. So both are basically DOA now, though "Dino" got further along with casting—somehow John Travolta was going to play Sinatra and Jim Carrey would have also played a Rat Packer.
Could It Ever Get Made? Martin Scorsese has half a dozen passion projects he wants to make, “Sinatra,” “Silence” (which seems like it’ll be next), “The Irishman” (which will reunite him with the “Goodfellas” team plus Al Pacino), so in short, no. He’s barely going to get to all of these as it is.

Terrence Malick’s "The English Speaker
What Was It? Specifics are notoriously scarce (to the tune of a single screenplay draft popping up once on eBay in 2010 before being snaffled away and never reappearing), but this highly personal passion project was based on the pioneering study by “talking cure” proponent and Freud forerunner Josef Breuer of 1880s psychoanalysis patient Anna O, a hysteric given to melancholia, personality changes and a form of aphasia in which she could understand only German, but replied in English, French or Italian.
What Happened? There are a few Malick projects we could have slotted in here (for a more comprehensive rundown, look into Lost and Unproduced Malick Projects here), but this one, along with “Q,” which largely morphed into “The Tree of Life,” and a film based on the same “Sansho the Bailiff” fable that yielded the famous Mizoguchi film, formed the trinity of projects that Malick got really excited about during his self-imposed 20-year Parisian exile. The screenplay, according to producer Bobby Geisler, one of the very few people ever allowed to read it, was “as if [Malick] had ripped open his heart and bled his true feelings onto the page,” while author Peter Biskind described it as “‘The Exorcist’ as written by Dostoevsky.” But perhaps because he felt so passionately, the project got sucked into the whirl of controversy and recrimination that surrounded the tortuous process of getting “The Thin Red Line” to screens. Malick in fact held the finishing of his war elegy for ransom, demanding in perpetuity rights over “The English Speaker” to ensure no one but him could direct it. The producers held out, though, and in the dust cloud thrown up by the eventual breakdown of the relationship between Malick, Geisler, and “The Thin Red Line” producer Mike Medavoy, it’s hard to see exactly where the rights landed.
Could It Ever Get Made? Assuming the rights are in fact Malick’s, there’s still hope for this one, but with a major caveat: the similar-sounding “A Dangerous Method” by David Cronenberg may have burned potential backers on stories of 19th Century psychoanalysis for the foreseeable future, despite how different, more philosophical and more metaphysical Malick’s approach would no doubt have been. But really, we have to ask, if this is the burning passion project that it’s always been billed as, why has New Prolific Malick not lit a fire under it already? We have to assume it’s either a rights issue, or simply that the passion of 1992 has been dimmed in the interim. We, however, continue to carry a torch.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Kaleidoscope
What Was It? Alfred Hitchcock’s unrealized story about a necrophiliac serial killer in New York City who lures women to their death.
What Happened?: Perhaps his most famous unproduced project, “Kaleidoscope,” also titled “Frenzy,” (he’d use the title later) came at a time of crisis; Hitchcock was reeling from the commercial and critical failure that was 1966’s political thriller “Torn Curtain.” He evidently approached many writers including Robert Bloch (the author of the book “Psycho”), Samuel Taylor, and Alec Coppel (the writers of “Vertigo”), but eventually settled on his friend, playwright/screenwriter Benn Levy (Hitchcock’s 1929 film, “Blackmail”). In many ways it was a kind of prequel to the events of “Shadow of a Doubt”—the life of the killer before he went out to hide from the police with his niece. In a 2012 interview with The Playlist, Steven Soderbergh summed up what eventually happened quite well: the filmmaker lost his nerve thanks to the studio folks who planted doubt in his head. “[Hitchcock] wanted to come to New York and shoot a black-and-white movie that had real violence in it. [Universal chief Lew] Wasserman talked him out of it. Just said basically, ‘Don’t do that, you’ll fuck up your brand.’ He had this really hardcore fucked-up movie that he wanted to come and do on the cheap and the people that were part of the cottage industry that he had created all talked him out of it. I just thought, ‘God, how horribly sad that we didn’t get to see that.’ " Indeed. [Shot test-footage can be seen here, btw.] To boot, it didn’t help when he showed the script to friend François Truffaut who found its unrelenting sex and violence too disturbing for his taste.
Could It Ever Get Made? Unlikely, though a screenplay was completed. And don’t let its namesake fool you. While elements of “Kaleidoscope” were recycled for “Frenzy,” the latter 1972 film shot in England was an adaptation of Arthur La Bern‘s novel “Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square,” which also featured a serial rapist-killer, but it’s a different story.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Idiot
What Was It? Tarkovsky’s take on Dostoevsky’s classic story of a holy fool enmeshed in a tangle of love between two women, whose moral fortitude does him zero good in a world of corruption and immorality.
What Happened? Throughout the 1970s, Tarkovsky tried and failed to make a film version of “The Idiot.” However he praised Akira Kurosawa’s 1951 version of the movie, and the "holy fool" figure can be seen in several of the protagonists of his films (“Andrei Rublev,” “Solaris” and “Stalker,” 1975’s “The Mirror” have several allusions to Dostoevsky’s work) and the novel was evidently always on his mind. According to Tarkovsky’s younger sister, Marina Tarkovskaya, adapting the novel was a lifelong dream and the state-funded and controlled Russian government (who had to approve all such movies) would never let him make it and kept stringing him along. "Andrei dreamed about filming [it], but they casually told him: ‘You are too young and inexperienced. Let some time pass!," she told the Voice Of Russia in 2012. “In the end, they kept feeding him with promises for 10 years, and that cherished dream of his life was never realized. Let me stress that Andrei was never a dissident, but the leaders of the USSR still perceived him as a stranger, a person with internal freedom, that was what they could not forgive." An August 1983 letter from a Russian Deputy Chairman, confirms that Tarkovsky had signed a contract to write an ‘Idiot’ screenplay for Russian film studio Mosfilm, but in an 1984 Italian press conference, Tarkovsky declared he would never return to the home country. He then passed away three years later at the age of 54.
Could It Ever Get Made? No. It’s unclear whether a screenplay was ever written, but in the proposal he wrote, Tarkovsky stressed the impossibility and perhaps futility of it all. Adapting ‘The Idiot’ in his estimation was “tantamount to clay passing through the heat of an oven where it can either attain form—both fire-resistant and waterproof—or melt up into something formless and petrified."

Paul Verhoeven’s “Crusade
What Was It? An Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring, immensely violent, historical blockbuster epic with a nice line in shit-stirring controversies, including the faking of a miracle, the revelation of the corruption and venality of the First Crusade and the papacy at the time, as well as pointed commentary on anti-Arab prejudice and anti-Semitism. Exhaustive plot detail can be found here, and a breathless script review is here.
What Happened? So close, and yet so far … “Crusade” almost got made in 1994, despite its massive budget and what seems now like a seriously dicey concept in light of the heebie-jeebies Hollywood gets over anything the Christian conservative lobby might object to. But why wouldn’t it have? At the time, Schwarzenegger was the most bankable star in the world, and was coming off “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” which had itself broken the $100 million budget barrier, and yet turned out to be the most lucrative film in Carolco’s history. Verhoeven was similarly hot following ”RoboCop” “Total Recall,” and “Basic Instinct” and furthermore had a good working relationship with the star, as well as a proven record in delivering high-concept popcorn entertainment that also shaded in satire or social commentary. The script had been worked over, a top-notch cast attached including Robert Duvall, Jennifer Connolly, John (or possibly Nicholas) Turturro and superlative “that guy!” villain Christopher MacDonald, with shooting scheduled to begin in summer 1994. But that was just a little too late—despite Carolco’s recent successes, they had overstretched their production capabilities and Verhoeven was, he claimed “too honest. I was stupid” when it came to the budget process—an assessment co-writer Gary Goldman agreed with, saying “[Paul] doesn’t really lie about budgeting, which is a mistake because there’s no way to get these movies made without lying." In fact, pulling out was itself costly, as Schwarzenegger had a pay-or-play deal in place, and several million had already been spent on preproduction. Costlier still, the shingle regrouped and decided instead to put their eggs into a different big-budget basket. That film? “Cutthroat Island,” which bankrupted them.
Could It Ever Get Made? Online geek petitions to the contrary, realistically "Crusade" is the kind of ’90s production that wouldn’t get made anymore: aside from its controversial aspects as regards Christian history (waay more heretical than "Noah"), the era of the action megastar is kind of passed. Verhoeven himself has more “serious” projects about religious history in the works (read: probably non-Hollywood) so it’s very likely this one will remain forever a hypothesis.

Salvador Dali’s “Giraffes on Horseback Salad
What Was It? A 1937 surrealist comedy screenplay, adapted from Dali’s original idea called “The Surrealist Woman,” which was to feature the Marx Brothers as it stars, alongside a distinctly Dali-esque cast of giraffes in gas masks and dwarves as Groucho et al., the central woman and her suitor journey through a “surrealist cabaret.” 
What Happened? With Dali also a part of Jodorowsky’s “Dune,” perhaps the great surrealist is the patron saint of this list. From the details online (which you can read here), the script he wrote, which was only rediscovered in 1996, sounds like it would have been potentially the most amazing thing ever, but also very possibly borderline unwatchable. Groucho thought something similar, anyway recounting later about the project that while Dali had been enthusiastic, saying ”Have I got a script for you!”… “He didn’t. It wouldn’t play.” However Harpo liked it and carried on a correspondence with Dali, who even embarked on a short film scenario solely featuring Harpo, seeing as they got along so well and “liked the same type of imagination.” Sadly that never came to pass either, and when asked in 1973 about the project, Dali became enraged, beating at nearby pigeons with his cane and declaring “nobody would dare to do Dali’s script!”
Could It Ever Get Made? Nope, nor should it. I mean, with Dali and all the Marx Brothers now gone, what on earth would be the point? Some ideas can exist outside of the mind created them, and be taken on by other people—this, from everything we’ve read about it, is emphatically not one of those ideas.

Sergio Leone’s “Leningrad: The 900 Days
What Was It? An adaptation of Harris Salisbury’s non-fiction book “The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad,” which tells the story of the one of the most punishing encounters in the history of WWII’s Eastern Front, Leone’s picture would have be told through the eyes of an American photographer, to be played, potentially, by Robert De Niro. He is trapped in the city as the battle begins, falls in clandestine love with a Russian woman and together they fight to survive the siege, only for him to be killed on liberation day.
What Happened? One of several potential Leone projects never made, Leone had already been attracted by this property back in 1982 while finishing up with “Once Upon a Time in America.” And while it seems that a script was never completed, Leone reportedly had already outlined the story and chosen the first shot—which was going to be, in typically grand, sweeping Leone fashion, a long unbroken cut (described in detail here) starting from the hands of Russian composer Shostakovich playing his “Leningrad Symphony” tracking out to follow a tram packed with armed Russians across the city, past the line of defensive trenches and out to a German Panzer division sweeping in. By 1989, Leone had financing in place to the tune, reportedly of a cool $100 million, and was due to film in co-production with a Soviet company (kind of a big deal in 1989, one would have thought), but just two days before he was due to sign the deal to direct it officially, Leone had a heart attack and died at the age of just 60.
Could It Ever Get Made? There’s no way that the particular vision of Leone’s could be brought to the screen, especially as no script was ever completed (director Jean-Jacques Annaud claimed Leone had wanted him to take over the project, but bailed when he discovered the “screenplay” was in fact a suitcase full of books on the subject, turning in the tedious "Enemy at the Gates" later instead). In 2003 Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) had suggested he wanted to direct a similar-sounding project called “Leningrad,” with Nicole Kidman in the role of the woman, but that went cold too. So, even if this exact story does someday make it to screen, Leone’s intentions, outside of that minutely described opening, will always be beyond our reach.

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis
What Was It? Described by Coppola himself as being "a little like an Ayn Rand novel," the film was primed to be an ambitious, sprawling, big-budget sci-fi epic about an extraordinarily wealthy architect in a futuristic New York who tries to build a utopian mini-city. The script alone ran to 212 pages (you can read a highly critical review here), and almost every big name in Hollywood was mooted for a part in the large ensemble, with the likes of Kevin Spacey and Warren Beatty attending table readings.
What Happened? With test footage already in the can, financing secured (no mean feat—Coppola later claimed he had done three back-to-back studio films in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Jack” and “The Rainmaker” purely so he’d be able to get financing for “Megalopolis”), all seemed to be going full steam ahead. And then 9/11 happened, and suddenly the idea of shooting a film in, and supposedly very much about, New York City that didn’t somehow contend with this incredibly traumatic event was inconceivable. As Coppola said “It made it really pretty tough… a movie about the aspiration of utopia with New York as a main character and then all of a sudden you couldn’t write about New York without just dealing with what happened and the implications of what happened. The world was attacked and I didn’t know how to try to do with that.” By the time for it to become a viable property once more, ardor had rather cooled, not least Coppola’s own.
Could It Ever Get Made? In 2007 Coppola said “I have abandoned that as of now… I plan to begin a process of making one personal movie after another and if something leads me back to look at that, which I’m sure it might, I’ll see what makes sense to me” and indeed that seems to have been the path he’s pursued till very recently. Later in 2009 he said, “Someday, I’ll read what I had on ‘Megalopolis’ and maybe I’ll think different of it, but it’s a movie that costs a lot of money to make and there’s not a patron out there.” Of course recently such a patron seems to have materialized, but for a different New York City epic, and with the filmmaker now 74 years old, we should maybe retire ideas of “Megalopolis” ever coming to the screen with him at the helm.

Louis Malle‘s “Moon Over Miami
What Was it? A black comedy about a political scandal to be directed by French Maestro Louis Malle and to star John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.
What Happened? Let’s back up a bit. Political scandal? It was the ABSCAM scandal. If that acronym sounds familiar, it should. Essentially, it’s the same story of David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” Malle was hot in the U.S. after “Atlantic City” (five Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director) and so the movie was past a green light and heading towards a start date very quickly. John Belushi would have played Melvin Weinberg, the same character that Christian Bale played in the 2013 film (or a version of him anyhow) and Aykroyd would have played the more straight-laced FBI guy (the Bradley Cooper role). Belushi was looking to stretch his wings, but Spielberg’s "1941" was a bust, "The Blues Brothers," while a huge hit, was derided in the press for going over budget, and the dark comedy "Neighbors" was a big disaster no one went to see. While he and Aykroyd had decided to work apart, their solo successes were few, so the “Ghostbuster” convinced his crazy ‘SNL pal to take the part (Belushi could have starred in the Ivan Reitman paranormal comedy too). Aykroyd loved the script too, but Belushi didn’t even have a chance to read it. He died all too young at the age of 33 in 1982. The project was abandoned.
Could It Ever Get Made? See “American Hustle,” i.e. no, it’s been done and done well.

The Nick Cave-scripted “Gladiator 2
What Was It? A sequel to the epic Ridley Scott drama “Gladiator” (2000) to star Cave’s fellow antipodean Russell Crowe again in the role that made him a megastar. But, huh, didn’t Maximus die at the end of Gladiator? Not a problem! Cave’s absolutely bonkers take had Maximus constantly reincarnated as an immortal warrior in a story whose theology would have encompassed both the pantheon of Roman Gods and Christianity (Maximus’ first task is to kill Jesus because the Gods are jealous of his increasing popularity) and would have spanned just about every conflict from ancient times up to Vietnam and beyond.
What Happened? That script happened. According to Cave, Crowe, who had drafted him in in the first place, responded with a brusque “Don’t like it, mate,” but Ridley Scott indicated that Crowe actually didn’t want to let it go and that they tried to work with it for a while, claiming he thought “as a piece of storytelling, it works brilliantly.” And of course it seems the kernel of the idea about Roman theology may have been planted by Crowe himself, who wanted to find a way to participate in a sequel, when the earliest version of it had actually been about his character’s son instead. But quite aside from it being about a gazillion miles away from what anyone would expect from a “Gladiator” sequel, and being so potentially blasphemous that Cave’s original title, “Christ Killer,” seems perfectly appropriate, there just doesn’t seem to be any possible universe in which this movie would get studio backing, and even Cave knew that. Despite insisting that the screenplay is “a stone-cold masterpiece” he also called it a “popcorn-dropper” during his Marc Maron interview, indicating he knew full well that the script would never get made.
Could It Ever Get Made? No. We just don’t live in that interesting a world, unfortunately. But you can read the whole thing right here.

Steven Spielberg’s Night Skies
What Was It? A Steven Spielberg idea touted rather famously as “ ‘Straw Dogs’ with aliens” about an extraterrestrial menacing a family in Kentucky.
What Happened? After the success of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Columbia naturally wanted a sequel, but Spielberg was not game. Instead, he came up with a horror treatment called "Watch The Skies" (also the ‘Encounters’ working title). Based on a real-life paranormal encounter account of a Kentucky family terrorized by aliens, this was a much darker reflection than the benevolent aliens depicted in ‘Close Encounters.’ Spielberg hired John Sayles (who had recently written Joe Dante’s “Piranha”) to pen the script (a review can be read here). Unsurprisingly too dark for Spielberg’s taste, he decided Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) should direct which really would have been all too perfect. Special special effects wizard Rick Baker was hired to create the creatures and it was scheduled to shoot after “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But after the scope, violence and intensity of that Tunisia-set shoot, Spielberg was all too happy to switch gears to the more tranquil “E.T.” and “Night Skies” was abandoned (it didn’t help that Sayles’ one and only draft needed work and they had parted ways). Spielberg would famously borrow and incorporate elements from “Night Skies” for both “E.T.” (falling out with Rick Baker in the process) and the similarly dark “Poltergeist,” which he would produce and Hooper would direct, under Spielberg’s alleged micromanagement.
Could It Ever Get Made? No, though ironically enough, the project might have been revived by Spielberg himself who wrote a treatment for “E.T.: Nocturnal Fear” with the original writer Melissa Mathison, whose concept is very, “Night Skies”-ish. Fortunately, Spielberg only took brief leave of his senses and decided an “E.T.” sequel would blemish its legacy and quashed the idea himself (and you can read that treatment right here).

David Fincher’s “Torso
What Was It? It’s based on Brian Bendis and Marc Andreyko’s award-winning graphic novel recreation of the true story of the Cleveland “Torso Murderer” investigation, headed by celebrity historical personage Elliot “Untouchables” Ness. In 2009, the film seemed squarely in the Fincher/serial killer wheelhouse, (in period and theme almost a mashup of his two previous films at that point: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Zodiac”) with a rumored cast including Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Gary Oldman.
What Happened? “Torso” appears to have been a victim of Fincher’s falling out with Paramount during the shooting and promotion of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The studio had butted heads with the director over the length and the cut of the film, and as soon as those fences were mended, fell out with him all over again over his recalcitrant “difficult” behavior during the press rounds. It just so happened that the rights to “Torso” were coming up for renewal at this time and the studio let them lapse, despite it being slated as Fincher’s next film and the script being ready, written by Ehren Kruger. The cover story was about financial issues and tightening of purse strings, with some rumors that in fact they wanted Fincher to direct the Keanu Reeves comedy “Chef” instead (also now defunct; Fincher has a bunch of wayside films, of which the other one we’re probably most excited by is "Rendezvous with Rama," but since the studio also dropped Fincher’s “Heavy Metal” not so long before, it seems there has to have been some other factors at play).
Could It Ever Get Made? Definitely no and definitely yes: it won’t be Fincher, but the project has now been added toAin’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery’s upcoming slate, though he is reportedly not going to be using the Kruger script developed for the Fincher incarnation (which presumably Paramount still owns). For enthusiasts of the material, that has to be good news, with Lowery seeming like a good, if lower-profile, fit for the mood and tone of the source.

A Confederacy of Dunces
What Was It? John Kennedy Toole’s hilariously picaresque novel about the implacable Ignatius J. Reilly: a "huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter” and his adventures in New Orleans.
What Happened? In what could have been yet another touchstone classic under his belt, in the early 1980s, the late Harold Ramis (“Ghostbusters”) penned a script that he would direct. He envisioned it as a starring vehicle for John Belushi and Richard Pryor and Ruth Gordon were signed on to star. Belushi’s death in 1982, however, put the kibosh on the whole thing. Other iterations followed. John Candy, Jonathan Winters, and Josh Mostel were all names talked about in the ‘80s. Chris Farley and John Goodman‘s names were mentioned in the ’90s, but the most viable second attempt came in the late ’90s via Steven Soderbergh. A script was penned with Scott Kramer (producer on “The Limey”), but myriad legal woes made it thorny (much of them documented in Soderbergh’s journal/Richard Lester book, “Getting Away With It”). Soderbergh passed the torch on to David Gordon Green in the early aughts, post “Undertow,” and it was going to be his next project. The cast of Will Ferrell, Lily Tomlin, Mos Def, Drew Barrymore, and Olympia Dukakis was assembled, a reading was even staged, but the sticky legal woes (Miramax vs. Paramount vs. producers) quickly stuck a fork in it. Jack Black’s name was floated a few years later, and most recently, an iteration with James Bobin (“Flight of the Conchords,” “The Muppets”) and Zach Galifianakis (whose entire haughty comedic demeanor is arguably just the embodiment of Ignatius) came to light.
Could It Ever Get Made? Maybe once the legal drama is sorted. Broadway sounds like the most recent viable option, though it is still listed as in development on Bobin and Galifianakis’ IMDb pages for what it’s worth.

Ridley Scott’s “Blood Meridian
What Was It? While a film based on Cormac McCarthy’s most famous, and probably best, novel has been mooted for a long while, the name that was associated with it for longest was Ridley Scott. The story is incredibly bleak and grisly, an anti-western following a young boy as he falls in with with a gang of psychotic scalp hunters in the U.S./Mexico borderlands who are in thrall to the hairless, quasi-mystical Judge Holden.
What Happened? While Pulitzer Prize winner McCarthy’s novels have been adapted often for screen (“All the Pretty Horses” “No Country for Old Men” “The Road”), it’s been with varying levels of box office return so they’re still a hard sell to studios. And “Blood Meridian” is an outlier even in McCarthy’s unflinching oeuvre, with the kind of extreme violence and uncompromisingly grim storyline that smacks of uncommerciality. So for the majority of the time Scott was trying to get his version of “Blood Meridian” off the ground, it was simply regarded as too dicey a proposition, especially as Scott claimed his version would have been ”double-x horrific… Hieronymous Bosch” with the film playing out more like a horror movie than a western. It is perhaps the only way to tackle a film version, but again, studios tend not to sink a lot of money into horror films so we can see why they’d be reluctant to stump up the budget required for this sweeping, bleak period tale.
Could It Ever Get Made? Scott has seemingly scratched his McCarthy itch by winning the bidding war for the novelist’s first screenplay and making “The Counselor.” But a “Blood Meridian” adaptation has hung around since without him, having director Todd Field attached at one point, with very vague, unconfirmable reports that Terrence Malick was interested in having Gene Hackman star in a version, and recently, more chillingly, being name checked as one of the many projects being eyed by James Franco as a potential directorial gig—though his uninspired adaptation of McCarthy’s "Child of God" instead took precedence. So while “unfilmable” is a tag that’s been attached to many a project over the years and proven false, we’ll give Scott the last word on this one—asked about the film some time after he’d left the project he said simply "I think it’s a really tricky one, and maybe it’s something that should be left as a novel.”

David Lean’s Nostromo
What Was It? An adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo, A Tale of the Seaboard” as directed by David Lean and produced by Steven Spielberg for Warner Bros.
What Happened? Centering on an integrity-filled sailor who became involved in a plot to smuggle silver out of a South American mining town, the book was written in 1904 but had to be modernized, which gave Lean and his writers problems. Lean was also in his 70s and hadn’t made a movie in 15 years. Developed for over five years with four different screenwriters, playwright Christopher Hampton worked on it for years, and they even went location scouting in Mexico. Marlon Brando, Alan Rickman, Paul Scofield, Peter O’Toole, Isabella Rossellini, Christopher Lambert, and Dennis Quaid were names that were bandied about, but development was just too slow. Spielberg often wanted to work with his idols and David Lean was one of his particular icons, so he injected some dynamism into the project by coming on board as a producer around the time of “Empire of the Sun,” but his notes to the legendary filmmaker were apparently irritating and unwanted. Hampton took six months off to write the adaptation of his own play "Dangerous Liaisons" and this caused further delays (leading Lean to employ formerly-estranged “Lawrence Of Arabia” screenwriter Robert Bolt). Budget issues were a factor (WB would only put up 50% of the sprawling cost), Spielberg eventually pulled out citing creative differences and poor health dogged Lean for the last few years of his life. This would cause major insurance issues as the film carried on; the studio insisted on a standby director in case he couldn’t finish and suggested names like John Boorman, Peter Yates and Arthur Penn (Lean would like Robert Altman; they would eventually go with Guy Hamilton). All of it would end up moot. Lean died in 1991 of throat cancer with the project frustratingly unrealized.
Could It Ever Get Made? Seems highly doubtful, but the screenplay can be read here. Extra credit: Ridley Scott tipped his cap to the story, naming the ship in “Alien” the Nostromo, a theme that carried through into "Aliens" in which an escape ship is named Sulaco, after the mining town setting of Conrad’s novel.

Honorable Mention
There are a few notable exclusions from this list that we’d like to shout out: Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s "Inferno" should rightfully be at the top of anyone’s unmade masterpieces list, but we’ve written about that one rather recently. Other legendary projects that never quite came to pass include Jerry Lewis’ “The Day the Clown Cried” (which we’ve written about extensively; including in this similar feature; the comedian also wanted to reportedly make “The Catcher in the Rye”) and Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” which we purposely left off the list because it’s perhaps the most well-known of all of them and knock on wood, it’ll get made in the near future.

For more on contemporary unproduced projects that have gained legendary status, like Baz Luhrmann’s “Alexander The Great," Guillermo del Toro‘s "At the Mountains of Madness," James Cameron‘s "Spider-Man," Steven Soderbergh‘s 3D musical "Cleopatra," Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill 3” (here’s an in-depth rundown of QT’s unmade projects), and any number of interesting Spike Lee projects (read: 10 Lost, Unmade & Possible Future Projects Of Spike Lee). Additionally, there are myriad David Fincher projects outside of those mentioned above, Spike Jonze’s unrealized version of “Harold & The Purple Crayon,” Neill Blomkamp’s “Halo,” dozens of still-unmade Michael Mann projects, as well as Christopher Nolan’s abandoned Howard Hughes project and his would-be big-screen adaptation of the seminal ‘60s TV show “The Prisoner.” Tim Burton’s got a closet full of movies he’s never made and Martin Scorsese has at least four or five passion projects he’d like to make before he shuffles off this mortal coil.

On the more classic, vintage side, Orson Welles was obviously the tragic king of unrealized film projects while projects from Michael Cimino, Akira Kurosawa, Bernardo Bertolucci, Salvador Dali-meets-Disney, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Max Ophüls, along with Greta Garbo‘s would-be triumphant return to the screen are among those we’ll be looking at next. But if you are jonesing for more right now, let us point you in the direction of a wealth of extra-credit material: “Lost & Abandoned: 10 Movies That Were Shot, But Eventually Scrapped” and “Shelved Movies: 18 Films With Delayed Releases” “5 Superman Movies That Never Took Flight,” “10 Unmade Tim Burton Movies” the “Lost & Abandoned Projects Of J.J. Abrams,” “5 Marvel Movie What Ifs” “5 Unmade Movies From The Legendary Sergio Leone,” “5 Things [Films] We’d Rather See David Lynch Do Than Open His ‘Mulholland Drive’ Club in Paris” and the aforementioned run downs of Tarantino and Spike Lee projects that never came to pass. Advanced readers should also check out our “Ten Dead Projects We’d Like To See Resurrected” and we have a few of those (parts 2 and parts 3 as well) and finally “20 Superhero Movies That Couldn’t Fly All The Way To The Big Screen.”

Tell us what you think about our picks in the comments—would they actually have been any good in completed form or are they better off endlessly pursued, never caught, as our very own cinematic white whales? -Rodrigo Perez & Jessica Kiang with Drew Taylor

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Comments

Jake

What about Shane Carruth’s A Topiary? It may be one of the greatest scripts i have ever read and it was never made because Carruth could never get the financing. Steven Soderburgh and David Fincher were even executive producers

nicholas win

I so would’ve loved to see batman triumphant

Just read the book of Judith in the bible (Apocrypha) last night and the class agreed that Angelina Jolie would be perfect for the part - really - check it out...Brad as Holofernes?

theophilies

Michael Dare

Hal Ashby was intending on making Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, Richard Brautigan’s The Hawkline Monster, Saul Bellow’s Henderson, the Rain King, and Thomas Berger’s Vital Parts.

Nikhil Dhawan

I was looking forward to "The Tourist"

Felip Serra

Re: "Napoleon"
$5 million (1969?) is $100 million in today's dollars? Really? Seems a bit high…
Also Audrey Hepburn was offered the role of Josephine was politely declined. You can read the letter in the Taschen book on the subject.

Martijn

Crisis in the Hot Zone should have been mentioned! I read a bootleg script once. It was totally intense. Like a real-life Andromeda Strain. Instead WB beat Fox to the punch and made Outbreak which now reads as such a completely absurd movie. Thankfully many years later Soderbergh made Contagion which very realistically depicted a modern pandemic in a way no other film has.

Brendan

Michael Mann's Gates of Fire
Ridley Scott's Crisis in the Hot Zone
Ridley Scott's Dune
Ron Howard's remake of Colossus: The Forbin Project

I. P. Freely

"Man's Fate" from the Andre Malraux novel about a political revolution in China, and it's
futility, was to be directed by Fred Zinemann and then Micheal Cimino….

Sanker from India

I have only read the intro so far but I need to say this. The opposite thing to imaginary movies possibly being amazing only because they exist in our imaginations would be films that are so mind altering that nothing is ever the same again. Take 2001: a space odyssey, for example. Now it may seem obvious and even inevitable to say that it's fantastic but before that first viewing I had no idea what was in store for me. After watching it and once the experience really sunk after the second viewing, my viewpoint if all cinema was forever altered. The film's brilliance, in this case, was something I couldn't even fathom before I saw it. Those kind of unexpectedly amazing experiences are the ones which I personally treasure the most.

Parker

Alexander Payne's Downsizing with Sacha Baron Cohen, Paul Giamatti, Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep. I hope finally this will be happen. Downsizing's subject will be also current in the future…

Xian

Curious about "Night Skies"… here's a script critique:
scriptshadow . blogspot . com / 2010 / 02 / titan-week-night-skies . html

Close the space on the link and cut/paste to address/url.

Simon B

Nice piece. Just to add to MDL's comment, it seems you may have stumbled across The Greatest Movies You'll Never See (which I co-wrote and edited). 'Borrowing' the artwork for Moon Over Miami, which, like all the posters in the book, was specially commissioned, was a bit of a tip-off. Still, top marks for finding a few that escaped us.

avant576

I yearn for Shane Carruth's A TOPIARY

Greg

The Coen brothers' unrealized To the White Sea, which was to star Brad Pitt and boast no/minimum dialogue, is a project I'd dearly love to have seen. And speaking of the Coen brothers, they reportedly wrote a draft of a '30s-set The Shadow, with Sam Raimi set to direct. I just… I can't. No. That one hurts too much.

Thunderbubble

Thanks for the Night Skies treatment.
I would add Harlan Ellison's I, Robot screenplay to that list. I've always loved it's "Citizen Kane"-ish structure. In a sci-fi setting it would be incredible. Plus you get all the stories the way Azimov intended them to be told. Pure genius! Sigh…

fry

Carl Dreyer's film about Jesus and Kurosawa's complete "The Idiot" are the biggest what-ifs for me.

MDL

There's a book about this titled: The Greatest Movies You'll Never See. Might want to note it.

James

I haven't read "Night Skies", but when Shyamalan's SIGNS came out, lots of writers said it borrowed heavily form Spielberg's unmade film.

Rick

I was looking forward too Alex Proyas Paradise Lost

Benjamin

What about Lem Dobbs' Edward Ford or Dan O'Bannon's screenplay adaptation of Theodore Rozsak's Flicker? Now THOSE are great scripts. It's a crime they never got filmed.
As for Scorsese's innumerable could-have-been's, I've always wondered the most about the Elmore Leonard adaptation of LaBrava (quite possibly his finest novel) with Dustin Hoffman on the lead role way back in the 80's. Could have been pretty cool.

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