Right now, studios seem to like cancelling movies more than they like making them. After a year in which the box office took a hit, and general economic problems continued, plugs were pulled on a number of high profile films ranging from “At The Mountains Of Madness” and “The Dark Tower” to “Akira” and “Arthur and Lancelot.” Only last week, Alex Proyas‘ Bradley Cooper-starring adaptation of “Paradise Lost,” having already been pushed back in an attempt to bring the budget down, was canceled altogether by Legendary Pictures.
So in memory of “Paradise Lost,” we’ve dug back into the vaults to find ten projects that should help Proyas & co feel a little better — every filmmaker has had at least one project fall apart on them, for one reason and another. We’ve tackled this subject in three previous installments (part one, part two, part three), plus two more focusing specifically on David Fincher and Joe Carnahan, but the number of films of real potential that were scrapped only gets greater every time. Check out the ten below.
“A Day At The U.N.“
What Killed It? It was a match made in comedy heaven: Billy Wilder, one of the greatest directors ever to tackle the genre, and the Marx Brothers, the trio behind some of the funniest films ever made. After staying near the United Nations while making “The Apartment,” Wilder was inspired, and pitched the idea of the Marx Brothers taking on the global organization. Groucho fell for the idea, and Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond penned a treatment which would involve Groucho, Harpo and Chico as a trio of robbers who, after pulling a heist, are mistaken for the Latvian delegation to the U.N. and cause all kinds of havoc. The film was set to go before cameras in 1961, but Harpo had a heart attack rehearsing for a TV special, making him uninsurable for the project, and Chico died in October 1961, putting any hopes of the film to rest.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Considering this was fifty years ago, and all the parties involved has since passed away, it probably can’t. The film was tailored for the Marx Brothers, and probably wouldn’t work with anyone else, and we certainly don’t want some kind of “Three Stooges“-style monstrosity with TV actors playing Groucho, Chico and Harpo. Best just to think about what could have been, eh?
What Killed It? Along with Alan Moore and Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman was responsible for the creative rebirth of comic books in the 1980s, and his epic “The Sandman” is, along with “Watchmen” and “Maus,” one of a handful of genuine masterpieces in the medium, a Greek tragedy of staggering scope and invention. As such, filmmakers were always going to come calling, and after the success of “Pulp Fiction,” that film’s co-writer Roger Avary was hired to direct, with “Aladdin” (and future “Pirates of the Caribbean“) writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio writing a script. And they did a solid job, combining the first two graphic novels into a narrative that was faithful, and yet its own thing, and Avary started talking about things like Jan Svankmeyer as influences. But hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters (“Wild Wild West“) balked, fired everyone and commissioned his own script, from William Farmer, who would later go on to fuck up “Jonah Hex” too. That draft leaked, causing fury on the internet, and even Gaiman weighed in to call it “…not only the worst ‘Sandman’ script I’ve ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read.” The project flatlined.
How Can It Be Resurrected: The epic length has always been an issue, but the recent creative renaissance on television seems to have pointed the way. James Mangold (“Walk The Line“) tried to set it up at HBO, unsuccessfully, but in 2010, it was announced that Warner Bros Television were putting the project in development, with “Supernatural” creator Eric Kripke seemingly the man in charge. He said last year that the project was on hold, but it might well come back, either on the small or big screen.
“Harold And The Purple Crayon“
What Killed It? Back in 1995, Spike Jonze was a 26-year-old upstart, a guy who’d done music videos and skate videos, but not much besides. But as someone who was clearly visually inventive, Jonze was picked by Sony to helm “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” an adaptation of Crockett Johnson‘s classic 1955 children’s book, about a 4-year-old who is able to create a magical world just by drawing it. The film had a well-regarded script from Michael Tolkin (“The Player“), and the presence of Johnson’s protege Maurice Sendak as a producer (he became friendly with Jonze, and later let him take on his own masterpiece “Where The Wild Things Are“), while Jonze was planning an inventive blend of live-action and animation. A little too inventive it seems, as Jonze said back in 2008, “It was so ambitious, yeah, in terms of effects and animation, and to make all those pieces tell one story. And I was only 24 then, so I just think I didn’t have that much experience, but I also didn’t have experience with studios. We worked on it for like a year and a half, and bit by bit, it just got away from what I had initially wanted to do.” Clearly, Jonze isn’t too upset that it never happened, given the compromises he was being forced to make, but after “Where The Wild Things Are,” we can only wistfully imagine how it might have turned out.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Seemingly it has been, albeit without Jonze. Reports surfaced in 2010 that Sony Pictures Animation had revived the project, with Sendak still linked as producer, along with Will Smith and James Lassiter. The plan this time was for a fully animated film, with Josh Klausner penning a new script, with a tone said to be similar to “The Neverending Story.” It might not be as visionary as Jonze’s vision, but we won’t write it off yet.
“Against All Enemies“
What Killed It? If you were to say that American cinema hasn’t yet produced a great film about the war on terror, few would disagree. So it’s hard not to wonder about “Against All Enemies,” which would have been an adaptation of the incendiary memoir by Richard A. Clarke, the former chief counter-terrorism czar in the Bush administration. Sure, the directors involved — first a post-“Crash” Paul Haggis, then Robert Redford — might not have got the blood racing. But by all accounts, the script, from “Zodiac” writer James Vanderbilt, was a cracker, and under Haggis, it attracted Sean Penn to the lead role, with Vince Vaughn sought to play Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. But when Penn vehicle “All The King’s Men” tanked, Sony put the project in turnaround, and while Redford tried to resurrect it a year later at Capitol Films, financing never came together — unsurprising, given the lack of box office success of Redford’s “Lions For Lambs.”
How Can It Be Resurrected? There’s been no word in years, so we assume there’s no active development, and we wonder if filmmakers feel it’s less topical now, with George W. Bush out of office and Osama Bin Laden at the bottom of the ocean. We’d argue that it’s still a story worth telling: maybe a filmmaker like Steven Gaghan, Billy Ray or George Clooney might get interested down the line.
What Killed It? After “Die Another Day” became by some distance the biggest-grossing film in the James Bond franchise, back in 2002, MGM and producers Eon had a curious thought: could Jinx Johnson, the NSA agent played by Halle Berry, who had won an Oscar since filming the role, carry her own franchise? The idea of a spin-off had been considered once before, for Michelle Yeoh‘s character from “Tomorrow Never Dies,” but that never really seriously moved forward. But this time around, Eon hired regular Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to write the script, and most surprisingly, the genre-spanning British veteran Stephen Frears was tapped to direct. While we weren’t fans of “Die Another Day,” the idea of a Frears-helmed Bond-style actioner with Berry in the lead was an intriguing one, but alas, it wasn’t to be. The failure of “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life” made MGM nervous about female-led actioners, and the studio pulled the plug, asking Eon to focus on a 21st Bond flick instead.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Given the near total reboot of the Bond-franchise, and the fact that Berry’s career has sunk to the point that she’s making shark attack movies, it probably can’t. That being said, Purvis and Wade are still Bond stalwarts, so maybe it could be recycled for Naomie Harris‘ “Skyfall” character, should she make it to the end credits?
What Killed It? Guillermo Del Toro has so many projects that have yet to come to pass that we did a whole piece wondering which, if any, would ever get made. And seemingly, that goes double for films he was attached to produce. Announced back in 2007, “Born” was a screenplay by newcomer Dan Simpson, who co-wrote the script with horror veteran Clive Barker and British comic actor Paul Kaye. Del Toro was on board to produce alongside Barker and “Watchmen” duo Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin, and the film was to have starred real-life married couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. And it had a seriously ingenious conceit: Bettany would have played a stop-motion animator who moves to a small town with his pregnant wife, only to be menaced by his claymation creations (who would have been provided by “Elf” animators the Chiodo Brothers). Production was planned for February 2008, but first Connelly dropped out, then the film seemed to lose steam altogether. Simpson made his debut elsewhere, on torture porn “Spiderhole” (which got a U.S. release last summer from IFC), and hoped to make it after that film, but HandMade Films decided not to fund the production, which was meant to take place in New Zealand.
How Can It Be Resurrected? “Spiderhole” didn’t exactly set the world alight, but the script is still out there, and that conceit is pretty strong. Maybe if Simpson has success with his next project, the film could get new momentum.
“Alexander The Great“
What Killed It? We know what you’re thinking: “I saw this! Oliver Stone directed it, Colin Farrell starred in it, and it was a bit shit!” And you’re absolutely correct. But you might have forgotten that Stone’s film put paid to not one, but two rival films on the same subject, either of which might have ended up being superior to “Alexander.” After “Gangs of New York,” Martin Scorsese planned a version, penned by “The Usual Suspects“‘ Christopher McQuarrie and his friend Peter Buchman. Leonardo DiCaprio was thought to be starring, but the pair decided to make “The Aviator” instead, after which DiCaprio would shoot a rival project, “Alexander The Great” from Baz Luhrmann, based on a script by Ted Tally (“Silence of the Lambs“), and with the late Dino De Laurentiis producing. Fox, who were co-funding with Universal, pulled out late in 2002, but DreamWorks stepped in, while Scorsese announced he had jettisoned his own take and would produce Luhrmann’s, and Nicole Kidman was in talks to play Alexander’s mother. But with the film’s budget heading up to $140 million (a lot now, but even more a decade ago), and Oliver Stone’s rival project going before cameras, Luhrmann got cold feet, saying he didn’t want to be away from his family for so long.
How Can It Be Resurrected? A year after it was scrapped, De Laurentiis said publicly that he was hoping to get the film going again in 2006 for a 2007 release, partly inspired by the savage reviews and box office failure of Stone’s film. But it never came to be, and the producer’s passing likely means it won’t, although with DiCaprio and Luhrmann working together again on “The Great Gatsby” at present, we suppose they might want to dig this up.
“The Yiddish Policemen’s Union“
What Killed It? Having only ever made original projects for the first twenty years of their career, it’s a little odd that the Coen Brothers had their greatest successes with adaptations: the Oscar-winning “No Country For Old Men” from Cormac McCarthy’s book, and “True Grit,” from Charles Portis‘. But they’ve also had more trouble getting adaptations made. They planned a wordless take on James Dickey‘s brutal WW2 survival tale “To The White Sea” with Brad Pitt, but couldn’t get financing, while they could never crack Elmore Leonard‘s “Cuba Libre” (which was, to be fair, only a screenwriting gig). But the most recent is the one for which perhaps they were the best fit: “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” an alternative universe noir set in a world where Alaska became a Jewish state after the Second World War. Scott Rudin had picked up the rights before it was even written, and brought the Coens, who Chabon calls his “favorite living filmmakers,” on board straight after “No Country For Old Men.” And no wonder as their sensibilities were perfect for the twisty plot and quirky characters of the source material. They were meant to tackle it after “A Serious Man,” but “True Grit,” and then this year’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” took precedence, and there’s been nothing heard from it for a long, long time.
How Could It Be Resurrected? Technically, it’s never been killed, and the Coens have a habit of working on projects for years — “Fargo” famously was sitting in a drawer since the “Barton Fink” days — so maybe it’ll be next after ‘Llewyn Davis’ But we wouldn’t be surprised to see Rudin get it going again with someone else.
“House Of Re-Animator“
What Killed It? While the “Re-Animator” series isn’t exactly the strongest franchise out there, the first film is still a brilliant horror-comedy classic, and when series creator Stuart Gordon announced he was proposing a fourth film for theatrical release, we showed some interest. It wasn’t until we learned the premise that we became truly excited. Gordon intended to bring Dr. Herbert West to the White House, where his responsibilities included restarting the heart of Vice President Dick Cheney, while William H. Macy was set to play George W. Bush. We’re surprised the film got as much traction as it did, as they couldn’t shore up nearly enough funds to make the film happen until, sadly, it was no longer relevant. Gordon said in 2010 that he saw no reason to make the film anymore.
How Can It Be Resurrected? In this form, it’s extremely unlikely, and Gordon’s not made a theatrical film since 2007’s “Stuck,” focusing instead on theater work. But it’s possible that a “Re-Animator” sequel of some kind could get going down the line, although a remake is more likely, ultimately.
What Killed It? Though talk of a “Silver Surfer” film has been around forever, the character has usually proved fairly hard to translate. Fox probably made the right move by placing him in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” as a supporting character hinting at a rich history. Before the film’s release, they hired respectable scribe J Michael Straczynski (“Changeling“) to spin off the character previously known as Norrin Radd into his own galaxy-spanning universe, with the film following directly on from his introduction in ‘Rise of the Silver Surfer,’ returning him to his home world and battling Galactus. Unfortunately, the film performed below expectations, and for the most part botched the characterization of the Surfer, an intergalactic do-gooder with near-infinite powers, and Straczynski said in 2009 that with Fox disappointed at how the “Fantastic Four” sequel performed, there was little likelihood of his project getting made, and nothing’s been heard since.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Fox are moving ahead with a reboot of “Fantastic Four,” with “Chronicle” director Josh Trank said to be the main contender to direct (though he says he hasn’t been contacted about it), which means that Straczynski’s version with Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne as the surfer is dead and gone. The studio may try to launch a ‘Surfer’ movie off the franchise again, but it’s likely years away at this point.
— Oliver Lyttelton & Gabe Toro