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From A-Z: A Guide To The Lost & Unmade Films Of David Fincher

From A-Z: A Guide To The Lost & Unmade Films Of David Fincher

In advance of “Gone Girl” opening on Friday, Fincher Week continues here at the Playlist, and we’re moving forward on a subject that’s rather less heavy on Paula Abdul than yesterday’s guide to David Fincher’s music videos. It’s difficult to get any movie made, and as a result every filmmaker has their ones-that-got-away, a brace of projects that got lost down the back of the proverbial settee for one reason or another: indeed, the smartest filmmakers are the ones who develop multiple projects and proceed with whichever’s moving forward fastest.

But Fincher seems to have more “what-ifs” than most. In a features career of nearly twenty five years, Fincher’s only made ten movies, including some significant gaps (five years passed between the release of “Panic Room” and “Zodiac,” for example). And part of that time has been spent developing projects that never saw the light of day (or that saw the light of day with different filmmakers, or that might still be on the way).

Indeed, there are so many such projects that to help you guide your way through Fincher’s what-ifs, we’ve compiled an A-Z list of all the maybes, wish-they-hads, and still-mights of the directors’ career so far. Take a look below, let us know which one you most hope he returns to, and you can check out “Gone Girl” in theaters starting Friday.

A is for: “Automatic Detective”
Fincher teamed up with VFX company Blur Animation Studios back in 2008 to option the rights for this relatively little known sci-fi novel by A. Lee Martinez. Set in a ’50s-ish retro future, it focuses on killer robot-turned cabbie Mack Megaton, who gets caught in a film noirish mystery. Intended to be an animated feature, little’s been heard of the project since.

B is for: “The Black Dahlia”
Eventually filmed (badly) by Brian DePalma, back in the early 2000s, Fincher was attached to James Ellroy‘s crime classic “The Black Dahlia,” about two cops investigating one of L.A’s most famous and gruesome unsolved murders. Somewhat ahead of his time, Fincher originally wanted to make the movie as a sort of proto-“True Detective,” a five-hour $80 million miniseries featuring movie stars. This seemed to get streamlined into a feature at some point, with Mark Wahlberg attached in the lead role, but when he chose instead to do “The Italian Job,” the project lost momentum. Fincher and Ellroy stayed friends, with the latter contributing a commentary to “Zodiac,” and the two have another project in the works, as we’ll see in a moment.

C is for: “Chemical Pink,” “Chicago,” “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind” and “Cleopatra”
After “Fight Club,” Fincher was briefly set to reteam with producer Art Linson and writer Chuck Palahniuk on “Chemical Pink,” a novel by author Katie Arnoldi which is set in the world of female bodybuilding (Palahniuk was to write the screenplay). Fincher departed swiftly, handing over the reins to “Spun” helmer Jonas Akerlund, but nothing ever came of it (“Adult World” director Scott Coffey came on last year). Fincher was also one of a number of directors (including Curtis Hanson and Bryan Singer) attached to Charlie Kaufman‘s script “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind” before George Clooney took it on. And more recently, he was briefly involved in a new version of “Cleopatra” starring Angelina Jolie, before departing in favor of “Gone Girl.” Ang Lee replaced him on the project, but the film hasn’t moved forward.  At one point, there were rumors he was going to direct “Chicago” —it didn’t happen, but we hope he gets to a musical at some point (he loves the genre, and counts “All That Jazz” as one of his all-time favorites).

D is for: “[Lords Of] Dogtown”
After the success of the 2001 documentary “Dogtown & Z-Boys,” about a legendary group of skaters in 1970s California, plans moved ahead for a feature film version, with Fincher producing, and, uh, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst directing. Within a year, however, Durst departed, and Fincher replaced him in the director’s chair. That was only brief, however: within another year, the project was before cameras with “Thirteen” and “Twilight” helmer Catherine Hardwicke directing. It’s actually pretty good, with strong performances from Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, John Robinson and especially Heath Ledger.

E is for: Eighties Music Videos & Ellroy
Like many serious filmmakers, Fincher’s increasingly looking at television as a place for real creative freedom, and he revealed in an interview a few months ago that he’s got a couple of new projects in the work for the small screen. We revealed exclusively a few weeks ago that Fincher was developing a new project for HBO with James Ellroy. Soon after, Fincher spilled some more beans, suggesting that he had two new shows in the works. One, the Ellroy project, is “‘Sunset Boulevard‘ set in the world of soap operas,” while the other sounds like his most autobiographical project, “about music videos in the 1980s and the crew members who worked on them.” Hell yes! Please!

F is for: “(The Sky is) Falling”
Even before “Seven” hit theaters in 1995, Fincher landed the coveted job directing this project,The Sky Is Falling,” one of the biggest, and most notorious, spec script sales of the 1990s. Written by Howard Roth and Eric Singer, it revolved around two priests who discover firm proof that God doesn’t exist, and go on a drug-addled killing spree and are pursued by a dying hitman who doesn’t want the evidence to get out. As you might imagine, in a post-“Natural Born Killers“-climate, it wasn’t an easy greenlight, and even with the success of “Seven,” it couldn’t make it to production (Gore Verbinski also tried to get the project greenlit later on). Curiously, Fincher and Singer (who went on write “American Hustle“) are set to re-team on another project (see below).

G is for: “The Girl Who Played With Fire”
The closest thing that Fincher had made to a franchise tentpole since “Alien3,” “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” was the director’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson‘s worldwide best-seller, and Sony were high enough on the franchise that development on the sequel, “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” was underway even before the first film hit theaters at Christmas 2011. But the movie underperformed: $200 million is pretty good for such dark material, but not when you spend over $100 million on the project, and Sony and MGM lost money. Nevertheless, development continued, with “Seven” scribe Andrew Kevin Walker hired to rewrite Steve Zaillian‘s original script, but rumors have flown that the meticulous Fincher wouldn’t be involved if the script moved forward. Nevertheless, in an interview earlier in the month, the director was optimistic, saying the studio “already has spent millions of dollars on the right and the script so it will result in something. The script that we now have has huge potential, I can reveal as much it is extremely different from the book.” But with the director tied up into 2016, if it does move forward, we’d still be surprised if he’d be involved.

H is for: “Hard Boiled” and “Heavy Metal”
A pair of graphic novel adaptations here. Back in 2001, Fincher was going to team with Nicolas Cage for an adaptation of Frank Miller‘s graphic novel “Hard Boiled,” about a cyborg tax collector out to save an enslaved robotic race. The project, which was intended to be very CGI heavy to an almost revolutionary extent, never happened, though Miller mumbled about helming the film himself in the late ’00s, and South African director Mukunda Michael Dewil has been involved more recently. Meanwhile, “Heavy Metal” is a long-time passion project, an R-rated anthology animation remaking the 1981 project (itself an adaptation of the popular 1970s sci-fi magazine). Initially dropped by Paramount (apparently as a bargaining chip over the running time for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), it moved over to Columbia, and Fincher enlisted A-list colleagues like Guillermo Del Toro, Zack Snyder, Gore Verbinski and even James Cameron to helm segments, but the studio balked at the idea of adult animation and dropped the project. Robert Rodriguez picked up the rights, and is currently considering a TV version for his El Rey network.

I is for: “In Bed With Madonna” (aka “Truth Or Dare”)
Famously and unhappily, Fincher graduated from music videos to features with “Alien3,” but he nearly did so a few years earlier with an even more unlikely project. Fincher made his name thanks to several Madonna music videos, and was originally set to direct “In Bed With Madonna” (or “Madonna: Truth Or Dare“), the behind-the-scenes concert movie chronicling the megastar’s 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour). But according to a Vanity Fair article at the time, Fincher and Madonna were romantically involved in advance of the shoot, and when they broke up, Fincher exited the project, being replaced by Alek Keshishian. The film went on to be the most successful documentary film in history up to that point.

J is for: “Jobs”
Earlier this year, it was briefly mooted that the director would re-team with “Social Network” writer Aaron Sorkin for another tech-world yarn, a long-gestating biopic of late Apple-founder Steve Jobs that’s set up at Sony. Fincher wanted to cast Christian Bale in the lead role, but it was really his fee (he wanted $10 million upfront) that caused the problem, and he dropped out, replaced by Danny Boyle. Fincher told the Guardian recently that the project “was definitely a possibility, but it got very sideways very fast.”

K is for: “The Killer”
Between “Zodiac” and “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,” Fincher was attached to this adaptation of a French graphic novel, about a professional assassin losing his sanity. “The Messenger” co-writer Alessandro Camon was penning the script, with Paramount and Brad Pitt‘s Plan B producing, but nothing much has been heard of the project since, likely as a result of the post-BB fallout between Fincher and the studio.

L is for: “The Lookout”
Scott Frank‘s noir script “The Lookout” —about a young man with memory issues forced into helping with a robbery— was one of the hottest properties of the early 2000s, with Sam Mendes, Steven Spielberg and Michael Mann among the directors considering the project. Fincher stuck with it longer than most, boarding the project after “Panic Room.” When he eventually departed, Frank took over and made his directorial debut on the project himself (it’s very good and underseen), and has said that the version of the script he filmed was the one he developed with Fincher.

M is for: “Mind Hunter”
Long before “House Of Cards,” Fincher’s first foray into television was set to be “Mind Hunter.” The director teamed with Charlize Theron for the project, an adaptation of the book “Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit,” which was set up at HBO with “Dexter” writer Scott Buck penning the pilot. The project didn’t move forward there, but we’ve heard rumors lately that it’s not dead and could end up landing at Netflix at some point.

N is for: Captain Nemo & The Nautlius
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” is Fincher’s great white whale of the last few years, his adaptation of Jules Vernes‘ sci-fi classic set to land him at the unlikely destination of Disney. “Contagion” writer Scott Z. Burns wrote a script that focused on “technology and commerce and humanity,” set during the Civil War, and set to be shot in 3D, and it got as far as location scouting down in Australia, but casting proved to be a sticking point. Brad Pitt flirted with the project before departing, while Daniel Craig and Matt Damon both turning the project down afterwards. Fincher then wanted Channing Tatum, while Disney wanted Chris Hemsworth, no agreement could be reached, and Fincher left the project last year. The director recently told Little White Lies that it was partly the casting and partly Disney’s corporate culture that saw the film fall apart: “You get over $200 million —all motion picture companies have corporate culture and corporate anxieties. Once we got past the list of people we could cast as the different characters in the film, once we got one or two names which made them very comfortable, making a movie at that price, it became this bizarre endeavor to find which three names you could rub together to make platinum… It became very hard to appease the anxieties of Disney’s corporate culture with the list of names that allowed everyone to sleep at night. I just wanted to make sure I had the skill-sets I could turn the movie over to. Not worrying about whether they’re big in Japan.” Reports surfaced a little while back that Disney may still be developing the project, but no new director has been announced yet.

O is for: Orson Welles
A long-time passion project of Fincher’s in the early part of his career was “Mank,” a script penned by none other than the director’s father Howard Fincher (who worked as a journalist at Life magazine). The screenplay was a biopic of Herman J. Mankiewicz, one of the best known and best paid screenwriters in the early years of Hollywood who famously feuded with Orson Welles over credit for “Citizen Kane,” and who descended into alcoholism afterwards. Fincher was set to make it his follow-up to “The Game,” with Kevin Spacey attached as Mankiewicz and with a $12 million budget, but as he told Empire, backers pulled out when he insisted on making the film in black-and-white. Interestingly, Fincher also told Empire that his father’s other script was based on the story of famed artist couple the Keanes, who will have their story told in Tim Burton‘s upcoming “Big Eyes.”

P is for: “Passengers” and “Pathfinder”
This isn’t the endlessly-gestating Keanu Reeves-starring intergalactic romance, but an earlier script with a similar name from “Alien3” concept designer Greg Pruss, which was on the director’s desk for a while. The concept was very much Fincher-esque: a New Yorker discovers that alien-like creatures have been hijacking humans, including himself, and using them for sex, violence and drug-fuelled joyrides. The script drew attention in part because the stage directions were written in the first person, but development never seemed to move forward. Another post-“Fight Club” project around the same time that Fincher was very briefly attached to was actioner  “Pathfinder,” penned by “Moonstruck” writer John Patrick Shanley, about a CIA agent trying to stop his former cellmate in a Serbian jail from blowing up some stolen plutonium. It didn’t get much further, and Fincher moved on to “Panic Room.”

Q is for: “[S]quids”
Yeah, we cheated it a bit here. “Squids” was a project written by David Ayer after he broke through with “Training Day” and “U-571,” based on the scribe’s time on board a U.S. Navy submarine. Fincher bought the rights in 2000, and considered directing after “Panic Room,” but it never materialized. Don’t bank on a resurrection here: Ayer, in a recent interview, said that the script “sucked.”

R is for: “Rendezvous With Rama,” “The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud” and “Red Sparrow”
Perhaps the best known of Fincher’s projects-that-got-away is “Rendezvous With Rama,” an adaptation of the sci-fi classic by “2001” author Arthur C. Clarke. Detailing the arrival of an enormous alien ship in the solar system, and the human crew who set out to explore it, it’s a long-time passion project of Morgan Freeman, who hired Fincher to direct after they worked together on “Seven.” Development has been going on for over a decade, but the filmmakers couldn’t find a script they were happy with (it’s not the most dramatic story, in truth), and in 2011, Fincher was pessimistic about the project, saying “it’s great, but it’s just a really expensive movie, and talk about the bones being picked by so many other stories.” More recently, Fincher re-teamed with “Seven” writer Andrew Kevin Walker for a planned remake of one of his favorite films, 1973’s past-lives-themed thriller “The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud.” The film was planned to be the director’s follow-up to “The Social Network,” but little’s been heard of it since. And only a few months ago, Fincher started circling an adaptation of spy novel “Red Sparrow.” Penned by “American Hustle” writer Eric Singer (who came close to working with Fincher on “The Sky Is Falling,” see above), and once linked to Darren Aronofsky, it’s a present-day thriller about a Russian intelligence officer who falls for the CIA agent she’s meant to be targeting. ‘Dragon Tattoo’ collaborator Rooney Mara was linked to the female lead, and it could be the director’s next film, but as he’s tied up with “Utopia” for all of 2015, don’t expect the project on screens until 2017 at the earliest.

S is for “Seared”, “Stay,” “Strangers On A Train,” “Spider-Man” and ‘Star Wars: Episode VII”
Given the reputation of high-end chefs for perfectionism, you can see why Fincher would be drawn to that world, and he’s been involved with two separate projects over the years set in restaurants. The first, “Seared,” was an adaptation of Anthony Bourdain‘s best-selling memoir “Kitchen Confidential,” a “Shampoo“-ish like hard-R sex comedy that was going to star Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro. The film was meant to shoot in the early 2000s, but Fincher was burnt out after the arduous production of “Panic Room,” and Bourdain’s book was turned into a short-lived TV comedy starring Bradley Cooper. A few years later, Fincher was back on the grill, with an untitled comedy penned by “Eastern Promises” and “Locke” writer Steven Knight, which the director described in an interview as “good and chewy. It’s like a celibate sex comedy, if that means anything. It’s really about the creative process.” Keanu Reeves was to have taken the lead role, but Fincher got distracted with “The Social Network.” But the project kept moving and just went before cameras, starring none other than… Bradley Cooper. Why do you hate Fincher’s food movies, so much, Cooper? John Wells is directing, and Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Bruhl, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Lily James and Emma Thompson are also starring.

Another prospective post-“Panic Room” project was “Stay,” a then-hot spec script by25th Hour” writer (and future “Game Of Thrones” showrunner) David Benioff. Revolving around a psychologist trying to stop a student from committing suicide, the film was eventually directed by Marc Forster with Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling and Naomi Watts, and proved to be a giant box office flop. Earlier, Fincher was also attached to a potential remake of Hitchcock’s Patricia Highsmith adaptation “Strangers On A Train,” though that came to naught as well.

And though he’s usually done his own thing, Fincher has flirted occasionally with the tentpole world occasionally. The director was offered the chance to helm the “Spider-Man” franchise back in 1999 (and again in the late 2000’s when the series was rebooted), but told io9 that “I wanted to start with Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin, and I wanted to kill Gwen Stacy,” and was planning to open the film by dispensing with the origin story not just in one sequence, but one shot, with the movie being “much more of the guy who’s settled into being a freak.”

And only this week, Fincher confirmed that he had had a meeting about “Star Wars Episode VII,”  but seemingly didn’t think he’d get to do what he wanted, saying “my favorite is ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ If I said, ‘I want to do something more like that,’ then I’m sure the people paying for it would be like, ‘no! You can’t do that! We want it like the other one with all the creatures!'”

T is for: “Torso”
One graphic novel adaptation that Fincher came closer to making was “Torso,” a screen version of Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko‘s comic, which focuses on a post-Capone Eliot Ness trying to track down a serial killer leaving limbless torsos around Cleveland. And it would have been different from “Seven” and “Zodiac,” with Fincher saying in 2007 “I’m not interested in  the serial killer thing. I’m interested in Eliot Ness and the de-mythologizing of him, because ‘The Untouchables‘ was only two, three years of his story. There’s a whole other, much more sinister downside to it. We want to make the ‘Citizen Kane‘ of cop movies.” The project has been in the works since 2004, but looked to be gearing up after ‘Benjamin Button’ in 2008, when Matt Damon, Rachel McAdams, Casey Affleck and Gary Oldman were attached, and production was closing in. However, the film reportedly became another victim of the director’s disagreements with Paramount, and the rights lapsed. It’ was revived last year, with “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” writer/director David Lowery set to direct.

U is for: “Utopia”
Fincher’s next project is a small-screen remake of a British miniseries by playwright Dennis Kelly, about a conspiracy theory revealed by a mysterious graphic novel. The show, which will air on HBO, has been written by “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn, and as revealed yesterday, Fincher will direct every episode of the first season, falling in the footsteps of pal Steven Soderbergh with “The Knick.”

V is for: Veneral Disease
One of the best known “alternative” graphic novels around (it even made a cameo in this summer’s “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes“), Charles Burns‘ 1970s-set “Black Hole” is the story of a group of Seattle teenagers who spread between themselves a sexually-transmitted disease that causes physical mutations. A script by fantasy author Neil Gaiman and “Pulp Fiction” co-writer Roger Avary attracted Fincher in 2008, though he replaced them with “Edge Of Tomorrow” scribe Dante Harper. Another Paramount project, most had assumed that the film was dead after the aforementioned falling out with the studio, but the trades revealed that the project was still alive, and that Fincher was still attached, now set up at now set up at Brad Pitt’s Plan B. Fingers crossed it happens sooner rather than later.

W is for World War Two
Fincher and the subject of war seems like a tantalizing prospect, and a decade ago, the director was attached to a project called “Fertig” (later renamed “They Fought Alone“), about the titular American soldier, who led an American-Filipino guerilla army against Japanese forces during the conflict. Penned by “Gladiator” scribe William Nicholson originally, Fincher brought “Chinatown” writer Robert Towne on, with Pitt interested in the project, but seemingly unwilling to commit. Fincher told Empire that “I still have to talk [Pitt] into ‘Fertig,’ and suggested that the script was still in the works, saying “I think all of the criticisms leveled at the script, up until this point, have been valid ones, but I also think it’s just one of the great fucking stories. I talk with Robert Towne twice a week and he’s working… it could be one of the five greatest movies ever made. It’s that huge.” Nothing’s been heard of the film since, but let’s hope they crack it one day.

X is for: [e]Xecutive Producer
Unlike some directors, Fincher doesn’t seem to spend his spare time producing projects for other filmmakers. There are a few exceptions, some of which are surprising. He was executive producer on “The Hire” series of short films for BMW starring Clive Owen, helmed by the likes of John Woo, Tony Scott and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and also took the title on one-time project “Lords Of Dogtown.” Most incongruous, though, is his credit on forgotten Brittany Murphy/Matthew Rhys rom-com “Love And Other Disasters.” The film was directed by Keshishian, who took over the job of the Madonna concert movie from Fincher way back when (see above), so one assumes that Fincher lent his name to the project to help an old pal get a feature made? In 2012, it was also announced that Fincher was going to produce a project called “IOU,” from “Mean Creek” director Jacob Aaron Estes, and he and Steven Soderbergh were at one point going to help Shane Carruth get “A Topiary” made as well.

Y is for Your Mission, If You Choose To Accept It
The closest Fincher ever came to making a true franchise picture was “Mission: Impossible 3” —at one point, the director was planning to followPanic Room” with the Tom Cruise blockbuster. Fincher described the plot (reportedly involving organ trafficking in Africa) as “a really cool idea, really violent,” but eventually dropped out, later telling MTV, “I think the problem with third movies is the people who are financing them are experts on how they should be made and what they should be… you’ll never hear me say ‘Whatever is easiest for you'” (Joe Carnahan was weeks from beginning production on a different script in 2004 when he too was fired, and J.J. Abrams eventually made the threequel). In the same interview, Fincher also revealed that he took a meeting on a Bond movie, seemingly “Goldeneye,” but had similar issues (a good thing too, as he made “Seven” instead).

Z is for The Zombie Priest
Well, we had to get to Z somehow. The Zombie Priest isn’t the name of a Fincher project, but he might yet be the villain in one: he’s the arch-nemesis of “The Goon,” a comic book hero that Fincher was once planning to bring to screens in animated form. A period tale about a Popeye-ish figure fighting evil, it was announced in 2008 that Fincher was teaming with Blur Animation Studios for a CGI-feature of the character, with Clancy Brown voicing the main character, and Paul Giamatti as sidekick Franky. The film’s been searching for funding almost ever since, and in 2012, took to Kickstarter to finance a story reel to help the project find backers. It raised over $400,000, but little’s been heard of it since.

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