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10 Unmade Tim Burton Films: From ‘After Hours’ To ‘Superman Lives’ & More

10 Unmade Tim Burton Films: From 'After Hours' To 'Superman Lives' & More

It’s curious that a director as idiosyncratic and…well, just plain weird as Tim Burton has become one of Hollywood’s A-listers. But from 1989’s “Batman” to 2010’s billion-dollar-grossing “Alice in Wonderland,” the helmer has managed to turn his dark, gothic imagination into something that genuinely captures the hearts and minds of the general public. Indeed, even films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the upcoming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which are produced by Burton, show that he, like Alfred Hitchcock before him, has become one of the few directors who’s a true brand name, with audiences knowing what they can expect when they purchase a ticket.

But despite his success, Burton, like every filmmaker, isn’t necessarily able to get everything he wants made. The path of his career has been littered with a number of projects that either didn’t get made at all, or got made with radically different interpretations and visions to them. With the director’s latest, “Dark Shadows,” hitting theaters today, we’ve rounded up ten projects that Burton was involved with that he ultimately ended up not directing. Check them out below.

Superman Lives
Having essentially birthed the modern-day superhero movie with 1989’s “Batman” and its sequel, “Batman Returns,” three years later, Burton has flirted with the comic book genre frequently since departing the franchise. Back in 1993, Burton elected not to return for a third “Batman” movie with Warner Bros., but remained on board as a producer, while also developing a script for a “Catwoman” spin-off that would have seen Michelle Pfeiffer reprise her role. “Heathers” scribe Daniel Waters, who had introduced the character in “Batman Returns,” penned a script, but turned it in on the day that “Batman Forever” opened to huge numbers; the success of that film meant that Warners weren’t interested in a darker script. Pfeiffer and Burton lost interest, and the character was eventually brought to the screen in the 2004 Halle Berry monstrosity. Burton wasn’t done with DC heroes, though. In 1996, he signed on to direct Kevin Smith‘s script for “Superman Lives,” which would tell the story of the death and resurrection of everyone’s favorite Kryptonian. Nicolas Cage was slated for the lead role, with Kevin Spacey, Jim Carrey and Chris Rock among the actors circling. Burton brought first Wesley Strick (“Cape Fear“) and Dan Gilroy to rewrite the script, and the film got into heavy pre-production, with construction on sets started, and costume tests with Cage in the Superman suit taking place. But the budget got out of control, and the director clashed with megalomaniacal producer Jon Peters, eventually bailing to make “Sleepy Hollow” instead.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not
A pairing of Burton with Jim Carrey would seem to be natural, but to date, it’s never quite happened, despite Carrey playing the Riddler in the Burton-produced “Batman Forever,” and “Lemony Snicket” being a film that might as well have been helmed by the director. But for the best part of the last decade, the duo were planning on working together. Burton was long-attached to “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,” from his “Ed Wood” writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, which reimagined Robert Ripley, the creator of the franchise of oddities and freaks, as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer on the search for a magical lost tribe of people. After a few false starts, the film was finally set to go ahead in the summer of 2006, with a December 2007 release planned, and Gong Li and Dan Fogler in supporting roles. But with both director and star unhappy with the script, and Paramount concerned over the $150 million budget, the plug was pulled only weeks before shooting was set to begin in China. Carrey’s long-time collaborator Steve Oedekerk was brought on to rewrite the script, and it looked ready to go after Burton wrapped on “Sweeney Todd,” but the director departed the project in the summer of 2007. Chris Columbus came on board in 2008, but it never quite happened. Only last year it resurfaced, with Carrey still attached, and Eric Roth (“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button“) writing the script, but we suspect Burton is long gone.

Mai The Psychic Girl
An anime-adapted musical by ’80s New Wave favorites Sparks and directed by Burton? It could have happened. “Mai The Psychic Girl,” which follows a fourteen-year-old psychic chased by the sinister Wisdom Alliance, was one of the first manga series to be published in English, helping to popularize the form in the West. Sparks were early adopters, intending to turn the series into a movie musical, and persuaded Carolco Pictures to pick up the rights in August 1991, with Burton coming on board to develop the project. However, Burton went over to Disney for “Ed Wood” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and by the time he came out again, Carolco had gone under. Francis Ford Coppola developed the project for a while in the 1990s, but as recently as 2010 it was reported that Burton was again developing the project, although it’s unclear if it’s as the Sparks musical, or as a more traditional adaptation.

Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian
After the success of his breakout film, “Beetlejuice,” Burton remained interested in a potential sequel, and after “Batman” became a smash hit, he hired writer Jonathan Gems, a frequent collaborator at the time who’d done uncredited rewrite work on the superhero flick, to develop a “Beetlejuice” follow-up. According to an interview with Gems in Fangoria, “Tim thought it would be funny to match the surfing backdrop of a beach movie with some sort of German Expressionism, because they’re totally wrong together,” and the two came up with a sequel where the Deetz family (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder) move to Hawaii and disturb the spirit of a sorcerer, forcing them to revive Beetlejuice to battle against him in a surf contest. Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder agreed to return in principle, and Burton brought on “Heathers” writer Daniel Waters to polish the script. However, both he and the director ended up being waylaid with “Batman Returns,” and the Geffen Film Company brought on ‘SNL’ writer Pamela Norris to take another pass, but it wasn’t enough to get the film the green light. In 1997, Gems said that, “You really couldn’t do it now anyway. Winona is too old for the role, and the only way they could make it would be to totally recast it.” But while we may never see Beetlejuice in Hawaii, talk of a sequel has been revived recently with reports that Burton’s developing a script with “Dark Shadows” writer Seth Grahame-Smith.

Geek Love
One of the most beloved cult novels of the last 25 years, the National Book Award-nominated Katherine Dunn book “Geek Love” sounds like classic Tim Burton material: a Todd Browning-ish tale about a group of children whose carnival owner parents altered their genes to create their own freak show. With a cast of characters that include Arty, who has flippers for hands and feet and sets up a cult where the followers have their limbs amputated, Siamese twins Elly and Iphy, hunchbacked albino dwarf Oly, the protagonist, and telekinetic youngest daughter Chick, there were a host of memorable parts, but also a plot that seemed like it had the potential to be the director’s masterpiece. Burton wasn’t the first helmer on board — curiously, “Night Court” star Harry Anderson optioned it to direct, and wrote a screenplay. But Burton soon picked up the slack, and it’s remained a consistent interest. However, it seems to be something that he’s a little afraid of doing, telling Ain’t It Cool News in 2006 that, “I think it always just felt a bit daunting. If there’s a book that you really love, there’s something quite daunting about doing it justice in a certain way. I’ve sort of played around with it, but you get sidetracked and stuff. It is something that I do love. I do love the book. I just need to get rid of that fear factor of destroying a great book.”

The Fall Of The House Of Usher“/”Go Baby Go“/”Hawkline Monster
Jonathan Gems (the son of the late playwright Pam Gems) was Burton’s go-to screenwriter in the 1990s, but only one film ever came out of the collaborations, trading card adaptation “Mars Attacks!” (which itself started out life as another Topps property, “Dinosaurs Attack!” before “Jurassic Park” put paid to that). But there were a number of other films that were in the works that sound kind of fascinating. Aside from “Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian,” Gems also penned a version of Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Fall Of The House of Usher,” updated and relocated to Burbank, California. Burton considered the project alongside “Catwoman” when he returned to the Warners fold in 1994, but “Mars Attacks” ended up taking priority. The pair also tried to scratch their itch for a beach movie with a script called “Go Baby Go!,” a musical fantasy paying homage to the films of Russ Meyer, which was considered to follow up “Mars Attacks!” Perhaps most intriugingly, there was “The Hawkline Monster.” Based on the novel by Richard Brautigan (which is subtitled “A Gothic Western”) it involves two immortal gunman who are brought to Oregon by a pair of twin sisters to kill a monster in their basement that killed their father. A one-time project for Hal Ashby, who’d commissioned a script from Brautigan himself for Harry Dean Stanton and Jeff Bridges to star in, Burton came on in the late 1990s and got Gems to write a draft. Remarkably, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood were both in talks to star in the project together in the early 1990s, but Eastwood bailed, with Nicholson and Burton both following. What could have been… Also around this time was a potential remake of Roger Corman‘s “X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes” (which Gems wasn’t involved in), but that too faltered, although Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has been circling it of late.  

After Hours“/”Mary Reilly
Of course, like every filmmaker, aside from the projects that never got made at all, there are those that got made under different hands — Disney‘s “Sleeping Beauty” reboot “Maleficent” with Angelina Jolie, which starts shooting shortly, was a one-time Burton project, for instance. And the director may have ended up on a very different path if he’d made the first film he was attached to: “After Hours.” His shorts at Disney got Burton the attention of Griffin Dunne, who was developing the dark comedy to star in, and the young helmer landed the gig. However, when funding for “The Last Temptation of Christ” fell through, the script got the attention of Martin Scorsese, and Burton stepped aside. The director and star would later work together on “The Jar,” his episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” The early 1990s saw him coming close to another project: an adaptation of the novel “Mary Reilly,” a retelling of the story of “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” Roman Polanski had originally been attached to direct, but Burton became involved in the 1990s when producer Peter Guber took the project from Warner Bros. to Sony. Christopher Hampton wrote the script, and Burton locked into the project, intending to shoot in January 1994, but when the studio put “Ed Wood” into turnaround, the director quit “Mary Reilly” in anger. The film made it into theaters in 1995, with Stephen Frears at the helm and Julia Roberts as the title character, but the poisonous reviews suggest that Burton may have dodged a bullet.

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