The collaborative nature, financial risk, and logistics involved in taking a story from page to screen make the filmmaking process an unpredictable and laborious affair. Still, most productions resolve their particular issues in a timely fashion for better or worse. There are, of course, those projects whose catastrophic stories of reshoots, rewrites, endless edits, or plain disinterest from the studios let us know that sometimes perseverance is not enough to get a film seen. Occasionally, the reasons behind the struggle for a release date have to do with a stubborn artist, lawsuits, censorship, or even a national tragedy. Here are 17 distinct examples of these occurrences along with their varied conclusions.
[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. Today’s pick is “Frankie & Alice,” which you can read about below and catch On Demand.]
“Frankie & Alice”
It’s easy, if not logical, to assume that a film starring a popular Academy Award-winning actress would be guaranteed distribution at the very least; however, the unfortunate case of Geoffrey Sax’s “Frankie & Alice” will make you reconsider such wishful thinking. Completed back in 2008 and betting on Halle Berry’s star power, this drama about a woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder would have to endure a disjointed release strategy that would keep it in the shadows for several years. Following its premiere at the 2010 Cannes Market where it received a mixed response from critics, most of whom praised Berry’s performance, Sax’s film went on to open in just one Los Angeles theater in December of that same year — just enough to qualify for the Academy Awards. Although a wider theatrical release was slated for February 2011, the production company Access Motion Pictures never fulfilled that promise for undisclosed reasons. Even more baffling is the fact that Berry received a Golden Globe nomination and won other accolades for her role, all while the film remained unavailable for audiences to see. Finally, in April 2014, Codeblack Films, a division of Lionsgate focusing of African American content, resurrected the mental health-themed flick hoping that the recent increase in African American movie attendance would make it a success.
Obsessed with his quest for artistic perfection, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan was singlehandedly responsible for the 6-year delay of his sophomore feature, “Margaret.” Achieving success first as a playwright, Lonergan subsequently began working as a screenwriter for a diverse array of productions. His first film behind the camera, “You Can Count on Me,” earned him an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay in 2001 and positioned him as one of the most promising new directors at the time. After spending several years planning his follow up, Lonergan finally began production on “Margaret” in 2005. Starring Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo, and Matt Damon, “Margaret” tells the story of a young woman struggling with guilt — a tale that appeared to be on a similar path to greatness as its predecessor. Once Lonergan went into the editing room, however, the agony began. Having been given a “final cut” contract by Fox Searchlight, Lonergan delivered a cut that clocked in at about three hours — a length that did not satisfy the studio. Under pressure to shorten the film to 150 minutes or less, financier Gar Gilbert brought in industry giants such as Sydney Pollack and Scorsese’s masterful editor Thelma Schoonmaker to assist Lonergan with delivering a marketable cut. At the same time, post-production costs, which continued to increase with every extra day spent on the film, threw Gilbert, Fox, and Lonergan into a nasty court battle. There was, however, a light at the end of the tunnel: when “Margaret” finally got its long-awaited release in 2011, audiences and critics greeted it with mostly positive reviews. Scorsese even called the film, or at least one version of it, a masterpiece.
“Dallas Buyers Club”
Nightmarish is the most fitting adjective to describe not only the film itself, but also the ordeal behind the production of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s extraterrestrial flop “The Invasion.” Of course, the Frankenstein-like revisions that came after suggest such creative ownership is questionable. After a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his somber depiction of Hitler’s last days in “Downfall,” Hirschbiegel was lured into Hollywood by producer Joel Silver. Initially, the studio envisioned the film as yet another remake of Jack Finney’s novel “The Body Snatchers.” After reading Dave Kajganich’s new screenplay, however, they felt it was inventive enough to be considered an original work. With the studio behind him, Hirschbiegel began production in 2005 with stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. The final film, unfortunately, wouldn’t get to see the light of day until late 2007. The torturous road to release began after the film’s completion. Warner Bros. was utterly displeased with the film that Hirschbiegel delivered. Instead of the stunning moneymaker they had expected, the European filmmaker had crafted something far too cerebral for their taste. Willing to spend an extra $10 million on reshoots, Warner Bros. brought in the Wachowski siblings to rewrite parts of the screenplay to accommodate more action sequences. The “Matrix” directors, in turn, brought James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) on board to direct. The result was strange potluck of ideas, destined for disaster. Contrary to the suggestion made by its title, “The Invasion” couldn’t conquer audiences — bringing in a mere $40 million at the box office, when it actually cost $65 million to make the film from start to finish.
“The Hobbit” Trilogy
In one of the most epic feats in recent cinema history, New Zealand director Peter Jackson brought to life Tolkien’s fantastical universe with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Almost a decade later, the tentative idea of adapting “The Hobbit” into a two-part prequel saga started to become a feasible possibility. New Line Cinema, MGM, and Warner Brothers were up for the challenge and in 2008 hired Jackson’s longtime friend and monster specialist Guillermo Del Toro to direct. The Mexican director committed three years of his tight schedule to the project, but as the MGM financial debacle unfolded, the production ended up experiencing multiple delays, eventually forcing Del Toro to pull out come 2010. At that point it was only logical for Jackson to take over the films himself. Just as everything seemed on track, another complication arose: acting unions from the US, UK, Canada, and primarily Australia protested what they thought were unfair wages and working conditions of Kiwi actors working on “The Hobbit.” In response, Jackson denied the claims and threatened to move the production to Eastern Europe. As a result of having to deal with multiple unexpected production-related roadblocks, along with what was most likely the immense pressure to deliver a great product, Jackson ended up being hospitalized because he had developed a severe stomach ulcer. As a testament to his talent and dedication, however, the first two films were released in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and did very well. But the Middle Earth intrigue doesn’t end there. More recently, the release date for the final chapter in the trilogy was postponed due to a new lawsuit involving the Weinstein’s and Warner Brothers fighting over royalty payments on the new films. Currently, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is scheduled to open on December 12, 2014.
Unbeknownst to the Weinstein’s, an enraged fandom is a force to be reckoned with — especially when it involves wrecking Kyle Newman’s nostalgic ode to “Stars Wars” for financial gain. Developed from a screenplay by amateur writer Ernest Cline, a true fanboy of the intergalactic franchise, the film was completed and scheduled for release in 2007. Soon after, Newman was offered more funds to shoot a few additional scenes that he felt would fully realize his vision. To the fans’ dismay, when the cast and crew were finally available to create the new sequences, the Weinstein Company revealed they would have Steve Brill (“Mr. Deeds”) direct the reshoots. Not only was Newman no longer in charge, but the premise of the film had also been changed. In the original story, a group of friends attempt to sneak onto Skywalker Ranch with the intention of stealing a rough cut of “The Phantom Menace,” so their terminally ill pal can see it before it’s too late. Harvey, who is now seen as an emissary of the dark side, considered this subplot too grim to be marketable. Fans responded by taking to the Internet to express their outrage — beginning a campaign to pressure the company to keep the integrity of the film intact. For the Weinstein’s, the solution was simply to release both versions of the film on DVD, but this wasn’t going to cut it for the Jedi army. Following a storm of over 300,000 emails and aggressive online disputes between the reshoot’s director and fans, the company opted to grant their core audience’s wishes, and, after several delays, released the film as Newman intended. Alas, the damage had been done and the low box office numbers and poor critical reception sent the film deeper into obscurity.
Based upon the eponymous autobiographical novel by Elizabeth Wurtzel, this film adaptation fell victim to the author’s own facetious comments and a distributor that had absolutely no intention to bet on something risky. Inspired by the notion that the source material was a revered modern cult classic, Miramax acquired distribution rights for the screen version directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg following the film’s premiere in Toronto back in 2001. The story, which chronicles the highs and lows of a young woman’s battle with depression, was a tough sell. Critics were impressed by Christina Ricci’s raw and unapologetic performance as the troubled Wurtzel, but they were not as pleased with the film as a whole. The mixed reactions were enough reason for Miramax to question its investment, and, after subsequent test screenings with unsatisfactory outcomes, “Prozac Nation” was well on its way to being forgotten. Still, the most scandalous episode in this saga came when Wurtzel was interviewed not long after the events on September 11. Nonchalantly, the author stated she did not have “the slightest emotional reaction” and that she felt the images were “the most amazing sight in terms of sheer elegance.” She concluded by stating that she felt “everyone was overreacting.” In just a few sentences, Wurtzel managed to seal the fate of the film, providing Harvey Weinstein with the perfect excuse to shelve it (no one wanted to be associated with such jarring views). Although “Prozac Nation” never reached theaters, it did get released on cable television in 2005, which was subsequently followed by a DVD release.
“Alien vs. Predator”
Joining two of Hollywood’s most adored science fiction franchises proved to be an extremely difficult task that spanned over a decade. The madness began when writer Peter Briggs delivered the first screenplay for an “Alien vs. Predator” film in 1991, which included various elements taken from a comic book of the same name. Fox acquired the project but the studio rapidly lost interest since the future of both franchises was uncertain. As time went by, other incarnations of the concept came to the surface, including a successful video game in 1999 and a new screenplay by James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox that was apparently based entirely on Dark Horse comic book series. Following the release of “Alien Resurrection,” which did well financially but didn’t surpass the studio’s expectations, conversations about a crossover film featuring the two extraterrestrial life forms reemerged. In the summer of 2002, director Paul W.S. Anderson was selected to helm the long-awaited monster battle. Anderson, whose resume includes the video game adaptations “Mortal Kombat” and “Resident Evil,” decided to go in a different direction by crafting his own screenplay. Devoted fans were outraged by Fox’s decision to hand the reins to Anderson, predicting that the final product would most likely be just as disappointing as Anderson’s other work. Their hypothesis turned out undoubtedly correct; although the film was a blockbuster smash, Anderson was criticized due to several choices critics and audiences found generic and absurd. Blaming Fox, the director responded by saying his director’s cut would have been better and that the released version was, in fact, the studio’s PG-13 version.
“Under the Skin”
“View from the Top”
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a great number of films were subjected to edits and digital modifications in order to avoid any depictions of the twin towers or any elements relating to the events. Films that were too difficult or too expensive to alter were just given a different release date, as was the case with the romantic comedy “View from the Top,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The film’s opening date was pushed back an astonishing year and a half — from December 2001 to March 2003. Dealing with an ambitious small town girl trying to make it as a flight attendant in California, “View from the Top” included numerous sequences involving airplanes, passengers, and airport staff. Miramax cited these plot elements as the reason behind the delayed release. Two years later, when the star-studded film came out, that statement was perceived by many as a mere excuse to cover up the dreadful result. Besides being ridden with clichés, the final cut, which is said to have been re-edited on several occasions, was just over 80 minutes — even after the production included a gag reel at the end. Furthermore, during an interview in 2006, Paltrow, who was reportedly paid $10 million for her performance, called “View from the Top” a “terrible movie” that Harvey Weinstein talked her into doing. Perhaps the Oscar-winning actress would be willing to return her sizable paycheck in order to delete this title from her filmography.
“The X-Files: I Want to Believe”
Agents Mulder and Scully became pop culture legends by tirelessly investigating conspiracy after conspiracy for nearly a decade on “The X-Files.” Their ambivalent relationship, in the midst of spooky paranormal activity and government cover-ups, was so enticing to audiences that in 1998, Fox decided to put the pair on the big screen. “The X-Files: Fight the Future” was a massive success, raking in $189 million worldwide. Fast-forward to 2001 with a successful first film under their belt and the end of the ninth and final season closing in, the studio and the show’s executive producer Chris Carter felt it was time for a sequel. While it appeared as if everyone involved was willing and excited to make it happen, by the time the series finale aired nothing concrete was in development for a follow up feature film. Six years would pass before “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” would be released. Carter, who was the writer, director, and producer of the film, stated that production was delayed because of prolonged negotiations between himself and Fox over specific clauses in his contract as a showrunner. Once the dispute was settled, the studio urged Carter to get to work on the film before the looming writer’s strike of 2007 could endanger the project. Opening a week after Nolan’s massive “The Dark Knight,” “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” took in $68 million, managing to surpass its $30 million budget. Star David Duchovny, however, did not hesitate to verbalize his disproval of the release date, citing the choice as the cause for the film’s underwhelming box office return.
“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”
After observing the positive response to Danny DeVito’s 1989 screen adaptation of Warren Adler’s novel “War of the Roses,” some of the studios demonstrated further interest in developing more of the author’s material. In the late ’80s, TriStar was set to produce a film adaptation of another Adler novel, “Random Hearts,” starring Dustin Hoffman, who, at the time, was receiving praise from critics for his performance in Barry Levinson’s “Rain Man.” A few years later, however, the project was passed on to James Brooks to direct with Kevin Costner as the star, which also never came to pass. Adler claims to have lost track of what had happened to his story, which centers on a man and a woman who find out their partners had been having an affair prior to dying in a tragic plane crash. While reading the trades one day in 1998, the author discovered that Columbia was finally going to start production with Sydney Pollack directing and Harrison Ford in the leading role. Upon the film’s release, both critics and the general public showed little regard for the problematic drama. Upset with the result, Adler was outspoken about his discomfort with the changes the studio had made to the original premise of his novel. The cross novelist went so far as to write a piece on his website in which he explains his intention to investigate how certain screenplays wind up in what is known as “development hell.”
“The Cabin in the Woods”
Completed back in 2007, the production team on Christian Alvart’s film was the victim of a dangerous incident that should have served as a premonition for what would ensue. While shooting a scene involving fire in Vancouver, the flames got out of control such that they not only burned down the entire set, but also damaged the neighboring buildings. In spite of the incident, “Case 39” was completed on time — only to be locked away for more than three years. After the film missed its original US release date, which was scheduled for February 2008, most people involved lost interest. The delay was attributed to negative feedback from test screenings, which resulted in the ending being re-shot. Furthermore, management changes at Paramount were also said to contribute to the delay in the release of the film. In several interviews Alvart stated he believed the project was never a priority for the studio and that every time their slate changed, his film was moved to the back of the line. On the other hand, stars Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper distanced themselves from the film by refusing to talk about it. When the film opened abroad, however, it ended up performing well in countries like Spain and Mexico, much to everyone’s surprise. Noticing the unusually positive response in these Spanish-speaking markets, the studio finally decided to release the film in October 2010, focusing their publicity efforts on the Hispanic audiences. It should go without saying that their tactic didn’t lure people into theaters back at home.
“Take Me Home Tonight”
Retro escapades seem to be a recurrent theme throughout Topher Grace’s career. His role as the socially awkward Eric Forman in the now iconic TV sitcom “That ’70s Show” made him a household name. Leaving behind his small screen days, Grace ventured into developing the concept for “Take Me Home Tonight,” then titled “Kids in America,” a comedy set in the ’80s about a directionless MIT graduate who decides to attend a wild party with some of his closest friends. Financed by Relativity Media and set to be distributed by Universal, the raunchy comedy wrapped production in 2007, but the studio held off from releasing it due to their concerns about the depiction of drug use. Apparently, the cocaine-induced moments were too many and too racy for a R-rated movie. In his defense, Grace explained how he and his team felt that a film about the ’80s could not have been made without showing the excessive use of the infamous white substance. Encouraged by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer via their production company Imagine Entertainment, Grace and company decided to leave every scene untouched. Purchased for $10 million by Relativity itself, “Take Me Home Tonight” was eventually released in 2011. Overwhelmingly ignored by the public and disliked by the press, the final chapter of this nostalgia trip ended up an enormous disappointment.
“The Thief and the Cobbler”
Dreaming of greatness, animator Richard Williams embarked on a mission to create the most breathtaking animated feature ever made. His consuming passion would drive him to work on the project for almost 30 years. This labor of love would never be fully completed, and the heartbreaking defeat would signify a great loss not only for Williams but also for all those who appreciate the art form. The concept was slightly inspired by the intricate designs of Persian miniatures, which provided the film with a distinctively unique style. Production began in 1964 when the film was known as “The Amazing Nasruddin,” then as “The Mighty Fool,” then simply “Nasruddin!” and finally as “The Thief and the Cobbler.” Trying to really push the boundaries of what animation could be, Williams hired a group of artists that included Disney’s Art Babbitt and Ken Harris, known for his work on the Looney Toons’ characters. Throughout most of the ’70s, Williams financed the film by working on smaller projects such as advertisement campaigns, but he was approached to direct the animated sequences for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in the ’80s. His work there would earn him two Academy Awards and a deal with Warner Brothers to finish his beloved masterpiece. Contractually obliged to meet a delivery deadline and unable to do so, Williams lost control of the film in 1992. Now in the hands of the Completion Bond Company, “Thief” was passed on to TV animator Fred Calvert, who would add songs, cheap gags, and edited it as a generic narrative to resemble Disney’s “Aladdin.” Miramax purchased this abominable version and released it in 1995 as “Arabian Night.” Williams moved on to writing books on the craft and sharing his knowledge so that the art of hand-drawn animation would not be lost. Last December, the Academy screened the last unfinished cut by Williams before Calvert’s alterations. This iteration will perhaps be the closest to Williams’ original vision anyone will ever see.