The Lost & Unmade Projects Of Steven Spielberg

Sometimes, a Steven Spielberg movie takes years to come to fruition. For example, eleven years passed between the optioning of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team Of Rivals” and the release of “Lincoln.” Sometimes a Steven Spielberg movie can come together at lightning speed, like this week’s “Bridge Of Spies” (read our review here),  which went into production seemingly mere months after its announcement. And sometimes, a Steven Spielberg movie doesn’t get made
at all.

Spielberg’s been at the head of the A-list for directors for forty years now, and as such, has had his pick of the top projects over the decades. Inevitably, some of those movies don’t get made for one reason or another. It’s a list of projects almost as tantalizing as the ones that did get made.

READ MORE: The 25 Best Performances In Steven Spielberg Movies

We’ve picked out fifteen key movies from across Spielberg’s career that came close to going in front of cameras without ever quite getting there. We’ve kept our list to those that he never got before cameras at all — Spielberg’s also been attached to various projects eventually made by other
filmmakers, including “Harry Potter,” “Cruising,” “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,” “Oldboy,” and “Interstellar,”
but that’s probably material for a different list another day. So take a look and wonder what-could-have-been below.

“Flushed With Pride: The Story Of Thomas Crapper”

Spielberg’s big-screen career came reasonably close to getting off to a very different start, one that risked making him a filmmaker taken
much, much less seriously. Under credit to Universal at the beginning of the 1970s, but still working mostly in TV, the filmmaker

pitched three projects

to the movie-wing of the studio. One was a re-telling of “Snow White” set in a Chinese food factory in San Francisco. Another was a movie
about a stunt pilot in the 1920s, eventually called “Ace Eli And Rodger Of The Skies” — the studio passed, but Fox bought the pitch for $50,000 and wouldn’t let Spielberg write or direct. The movie was released in 1973 starring Cliff Robertson, without making much impact. And finally, Spielberg
optioned a recently-published book called “Flushed With Pride: The Story Of Thomas Crapper,” a semi-satirical biography that suggested (possibly
incorrectly) that Crapper was the inventor of the flushing toilet. The director approached future “American Graffiti” writers Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck about writing a screenplay. As Huyck says in

Joseph McBride’s Spielberg biography,
 “We came up with the great idea of doing it as ‘Young Tom Edison.’ But like ‘Little Big Man. We wrote a treatment, and we gave it to our
[mutual] agent, Guy McElwaine, who said ‘Steve, if this is the kind of movie you want to do, I don’t want to be your agent.” Cooler heads prevailed,
and the director moved into features with “Sugarland Express” instead.

“Night Skies”/“ET 2: Nocturnal Fears”

Famously, one of Spielberg’s most beloved critical and commercial hits, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” started life in the very different form of “ Night Skies.” Cooked up when Columbia asked for a “Close Encounters” sequel, Spielberg’s treatment, initially called “Watch The Skies,” saw eleven evil aliens attacking a family on their farm. John Sayles, writer of Roger Corman pic “Piranha,” a favorite of
Spielberg, was hired to write a script, which he fashioned after John Ford’s “Drums Along The Mohawk,” and Rick Baker even began
designing the alien creatures, including one friendly guy called Buddy. But during production of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” Spielberg says he
changed his mind, wanting to “get back to the tranquility, or at least the spirituality, of ‘Close Encounters,’” and a conversation with Melissa Mathison saw him shift focus onto a Buddy-like creature, and “E.T.” was born. Nevertheless, the idea didn’t disappear altogether: after
“E.T.”’s blockbuster success, Spielberg and Mathison cooked up a nine-page treatment for a sequel called “E.T. 2: Noctural Fears,” which saw an albino group of creatures of
E.T.’s species terrorizing Elliott, Gertie, and their family, and our alien hero eventually coming to the rescue. Much darker, more violent, and abandoning
so much of what made the original special, the film was a real prospect, but was swiftly and wisely abandoned.

“Reel To Reel”

Like many filmmakers, Spielberg has long dreamed of making a musical, and like many filmmakers, he hasn’t yet gotten around to making one — the Busby Berkeley-nodding opening to “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” probably comes closest, though

he’s been developing a remake

of “West Side Story” recently too. We could have seen one much earlier in his career — even before “E.T.,” Spielberg was working on a project
called “Reel To Reel,” a semi-autobiographical musical about a young filmmaker. During production of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” Spielberg
flew Gary David Goldberg, later creator of “Family Ties” and “Spin City,” to London to work on an idea intended to
become a movie musical. Described by Goldberg in the L.A. Times as
“bi-autobiographical… it’s really about both of us,” the movie focused on hotshot filmmaker Stuart Moss, hired to direct a musical remake of “Invaders From Mars,” and the tumultuous production, taking in a drug-addicted country singer, a precocious child star, and a combative
choreographer. Written to include various cameos — including Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Pauline Kael, and Mary Tyler Moore (the latter
three in a dream sequence) — the film was formally announced in 1983, and at one point Spielberg

relinqushed the director’s chair

to produce for “Heaven’s Gate” helmer Michael Cimino (what a fascinating combination that would have been…), but the project never progressed


As much as comic books have informed his films, Spielberg didn’t actually get around to directly adapting one until 2011’s “The Adventures Of Tintin.” It could have been very different, though, had he made a once-mooted adaptation of DC Comics property “Blackhawk.” Originally published in 1941
by Quality Comics (with Will Eisner among the creators), the characters were an international group of pilots, led by Polish Air Force pilot
Blackhawk, who wreaked vengeance on the Nazis (and after the war, other supervillains too). The characters languished somewhat in the 1960s and 1970s,
cancelled initially in 1968, then revived in January 1976 only to be scrapped again, but Spielberg appeared to be thinking of a movie adaptation sometime
in the 1980s, and planned to cast his “1941” actor Dan Aykroyd in the starring role. In fact, the film project seemed to help revive the
property, as Mark Evanier, who penned the 1982 reboot of the comic, later explained. “I believe what happened was that Steve Spielberg was
interested in possibly doing something with ‘Blackhawk’ and somebody even mentioned that Dan Aykroyd wanted to play the character… so suddenly DC thought
it was advantageous to have a comoic back on the schedule.” It doesn’t seem like the project got very far — Evanier describes it as “pie in the sky,” but
it was an intriguing proposition nonetheless. Years later, he also considered another superhero project, an adaptation of Rob Liefeld’s “ The Mark,” which would have starred first Will Smith, then Tom Cruise.

“After School”/“Growing Up/I’ll Be Home

Like all great auteurs, even Spielberg’s biggest budget movies have felt deeply personal, but the director has so far shied away from naked, or even veiled,
autobiography. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t considered it. On the set of ‘Close Encounters,’ Francois Truffaut

urged Spielberg

to make an American equivalent to the director’s own “Small Change,” saying, “You must make a movie about keeds. You must stop all this big stuff and
make a movie about keeds! If it’s the last thing you do!” As a result, the director approached Bobs Gale and Zemeckis, whose script “ 1941” he was already prepping, to write a movie with the wide brief of being about children, that he could shoot quickly on a low budget before
their epic war comedy could be filmed. Announced in 1978 as “a personal story of his own young adulthood,” the film was a foul-mouthed, R-rated comedy about
12-year-olds called “After School,” which Spielberg approved of. “I don’t want to make a movie about children that’s dimples or cuteness,” he said
at the time. “It’s my first vendetta film. I’m going to get back at about twenty people I’ve always wanted to get back at.” The film (retitled at some
point “Growing Up”) was set to shoot in May 1978 with a budget of just $1.5 million, but when Caleb Deschanel, recruited to shoot the film,
called the script “disgusting,” Spielberg got cold feet and backed out. Which isn’t to say he abandoned the idea of something more personal altogether: as
recently as 1999 he talked about a project called “I’ll Be Home,” about his own childhood, written by sister Anne (who also wrote “Big”),
but also mentioned his hesitations, telling the New York Times,
“My big fear is that my mom and dad won’t like it and will think it’s an insult and won’t share my loving yet critical point of view about what it was like
to grow up with them.”

The Lost Indiana Jones Movies

Spielberg’s biggest and longest-running series, with four movies directed by him (and, he said this week, potentially a fifth on the way), Indiana Jones
has seen more than one discarded script or premise over the years, particularly in the nearly-twenty year gap between the third and fourth films. Some of
them even pre-date “The Last Crusade.” After “Temple Of Doom,” George Lucas wrote an outline for a script largely set in Africa, and
involving a search for the Fountain Of Youth, with a stowaway student, a female archaeologist, and a 200-year-old pygmy. Chris Columbus was hired to write
it in 1985, with the second draft called “Indiana Jones And The Lost City Of Sun Wu King,” “Romancing The Stone” writer Diane Thomas
was also working on a third movie that would have been set mostly in a haunted house, but she tragically died in a car accident before work was finished.
Development on a fourth movie began in the 1990s, with “The Fugitive” scribe Jeb Stuart the first to write a script, which included elements
from the finished film, including aliens and the Soviets as bad guys. Titled “Indiana Jones And The Saucermen From Mars,” the script (later
worked on by ‘Last Crusade’’s Jeffrey Boam) had a very different story, however, with Indy set to marry a woman who disappears on the wedding
day, leading to a plot involving flying saucers and cameos from many early characters from the series. Other writers including M. Night Shyamalan
and Stephen Gaghan were considered at various points, before Frank Darabont wrote a well-regarded script called “ Indiana Jones And the City Of The Gods,” with the villains being ex-Nazis hiding out in South America, but Lucas apparently didn’t like it. The
script was eventually redrafted to include many elements from “Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull,” including the crystal skull and multiple set pieces
(though no Shia LaBeouf character) — oddly Darabont never got screen credit of any kind.


One of the most famous figures of 20th Century America, Charles Lindbergh was the subject of Billy Wilder’s “The Spirit Of St. Louis”
in 1957, but while that film depicted Lindbergh’s record-breaking famous flight from Long Island to Paris, it didn’t show the darker sides of the national
hero, from the kidnap and murder of his infant son, to his fascist sympathies, racism, and anti-semitism. As such, it’s surprising that no one’s made a
biopic of him in a more warts-and-all manner, though Spielberg did in fact try: in 1998, he picked up the rights through DreamWorks to A. Scott Berg
’s Pulitzer-winning biography “Lindbergh.” The project was seemingly a priority for a while, but a year later, the director was telling the New York Times that, having made “Schindler’s List,” and
his ongoing work with the Shoah Foundation, had given him second-thoughts about making a movie about an anti-semite. “They’ve given me more of a moral
responsibility to make sure I’m not putting someone else’s agenda in front of the most important agenda, which is trying to create tolerance,” he said.
“One of the reasons I’ve considered not being the director is that I didn’t know very much about him until I read Scott Berg’s book and I read it only
after I purchased it, and I think it’s one of the greatest biographies I’ve ever read, but his America First and his anti-Semitism bothers me to my core,
and I don’t want to celebrate an anti-Semite unless I can create an understanding of why he felt that way. Because sometimes the best way to prevent
discrimination is to understand the discriminator.” The project fell away, though Dustin Lance Black has been working on a TV adaptation for Leonardo DiCaprio in the last year or so.

“Ghost Soldiers”

Tom Cruise
and Steven Spielberg had been friends for many years by the time they worked on “Minority Report” together, and had mooted various other
projects before that happened — Spielberg was originally set to direct “Rain Man,” and they nearly made a superhero movie called “The Mark
(see above). Once they did team up, and had a hit together, they were keen to find another project, which arrived in the form of “Ghost Soldiers.” Based on
a best-selling non-fiction book by Hampton Sides, it would have returned Spielberg to World War Two, telling the story of a U.S. Army Ranger mission
to rescue survivors of the Bataan Death March from a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines, with the help of local guerillas. Writer Josh Friedman
penned a draft of the script, but the film was seemingly scuppered by John Dahl’s “The Great Raid,” starring James Franco, which told
the same story — that film shot in 2002, not long after the announcement of the project, though it wasn’t released until 2005. Cruise, Spielberg, and
Friedman instead made “War Of The Worlds” together in 2005.


Ghost Soldiers” wasn’t the only Spielberg/Cruise project to be considered as a follow-up for “Minority Report,” with another sci-fi movie, “Spares,” also mooted at one point. The film was based on a novel by Michael Marshall Smith, about an ex-cop grieving from the death
of his child, working as a security guard at a farm for clones bred for organ donation, who goes on the run with seven of the clones. Yes, it’s similar in
set-up to both “Never Let Me Go” and Michael Bay movie “The Island,” but published in 1998, “Spares” actually pre-dated those two
projects. The rights were snapped up on publication by DreamWorks, and a 2002 issue of Total Film stated that the project was one of a number being
considered to reteam Spielberg and Cruise again. It never came to pass, though curiously, just a few years later, the studio did make the
similarly-premised “The Island,” likely killing any “Spares” adaptation, with or without Spielberg himself.

“The Rivals”

Some of the projects on this list are ones that seem very much in Spielberg’s wheelhouse — aliens, adventurers, soldiers, etc. But some really aren’t, and “The Rivals” might be first and foremost among them. A spec script by Robin Swicord (who also penned one-time Spielberg projects “ Memoirs Of A Geisha” and “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button”), it told the true story of the theatrical feud between French actress Sarah
Bernhardt, once called “the most famous actress the world has ever known,” and her younger Italian rival, Eleanora Duse. Only a director of Spielberg’s
stature could have got a film about 19th century actresses hating each other near the start line, but once bought in 2003, the film,
to be produced by “American Beauty” team Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, became a priority: Nicole Kidman soon became attached to
play Bernhardt, and the film was planned to shoot in late
2004, in between “Munich” and “War Of The Worlds.” The latter seemed a more solid commercial prospect and was bumped up, but ‘Rivals’ remained in development for a while — by 2008, Marion Cotillard had come on board to play Duse. But when DreamWorks and Paramount split, the
project stayed at the latter, and little’s been heard of it since.

“The Trial Of The Chicago 7”

The last decade, from “Munich” onwards, have seen Spielberg tackling politics in a new way in his work, with that film, “Lincoln” and “ Bridge of Spies” marking a sort of trilogy that sees the director use historical events to comment on modern-day situations. They were nearly joined
by a fourth, as the helmer came within months of shooting “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” back in 2008. Scripted by Aaron Sorkin, the film would
have told the story of the trial of seven defendants, including Abbie Hoffman, who were accused of conspiracy, incitement to riot after the protests during
the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Already the subject of Brett Morgen’s partly animated documentary “Chicago 10: Speak Your Peace” by
the time Sorkin’s script found its way to Spielberg’s hands, the film was meant to be the director’s follow-up to “Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of Crystal Skull,” with an April 2008 start date mooted. Sacha Baron Cohen was signed to play Hoffman, and Will Smith confirmed he was in talks
to play Bobby Seale, while a Vanity Fair piece revealed that actors like Taye Diggs, Adam Arkin, Kevin Spacey and Philip Seymour Hoffman were all linked to the project. But the film reached a stumbling block over
fears, after the crippling WGA strike, that the Screen Actors Guild would down too during production: Spielberg pushed the movie, and
never picked it up again. Ben Stiller replaced him as director by the end of that
year, and Paul Greengrass

picked the movie up

in 2013, but fell off soon after, and neither got it going. Even so, Spielberg said just a few weeks ago that the
movie’s still in consideration, though he’ll likely produce rather than direct.


There’ve been disappointingly few great adaptations of John Wyndham’s novels, but with titles like “The Day Of The Triffids,” “The Kraken Wakes,” “The Chrysalids” and “The Midwich Cuckoos” (the latter of which does have a great screen version, with 1960’s “ Village Of The Damned”), he’s proved endlessly influential on the sci-fi genre. Could Spielberg have been the one to deliver another great Wyndham
adaptation? After “Chicago 7” fell apart, and with projects including “Cowboys & Aliens” (bullet dodged…) and “Indiana Jones”-ish book
adaptation “The 39 Clues” competing for his attention, DreamWorks optioned the rights to Wyndham’s novel “Chocky,” and Spielberg announced that it would be his next movie. The
film’s a dark story (previously adapted for a 1970s BBC TV series) about a father who becomes concerned that his son still has an imaginary friend, only to discover that the imaginary friend is actually
an alien consciousness communicating with his son’s mind. Seemingly clicking with many of the director’s interests, the project was mooted for a 2009
shoot, in part because financing on “The Adventures Of Tintin” was beginning to look shaky after Universal pulled out. But that film eventually came
through, and little’s been heard of “Chocky” since, sadly.


After falling out of “Chicago 7,” Spielberg shot the motion-capture elements of “The Adventures Of Tintin,” and in mid-2009, after flirting briefly with spy franchiseMatt Helm,”
and with DreamWorks then cementing their deals with 20th Century Fox and Reliance, he finally picked out his next project: a remake (or
more accurately, another adaptation of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play) of the 1950s Jimmy Stewart classic “Harvey.” A
deceptively dark tale about a gentle, eccentric alcoholic who believes his best friend is an invisible six-foot rabbit, the redo was penned by Jonathan Tropper (now co-creator of Cinemax’s “Banshee”), and the helmer came on in the summer of 2009 with hopes of shooting early in 2010
for an awards season release. But it came a cropper over casting: Tom Hanks was approached, but was reportedly not keen on courting comparisons to
Stewart’s original turn, and after some mention of Will Smith, Robert Downey Jr, newly revived after “Iron Man,” was made an offer.
But supposedly Downey Jr and Spielberg didn’t mesh on script rewrites, and when the star fell
away, Spielberg dropped the project altogether.


Spielberg’s proven to be rather biopic-friendly in recent years: alongside “Lincoln” and “Bridge Of Spies,” the director was also developing
The Rivals,” “Chicago 7,” “American Sniper” (eventually passed off to Clint Eastwood) and a biopic of Formula 1 driver James Hunt,
that would have starred “Magic Mike”’s Alex Pettyfer, but was scuppered by Ron Howard’s rival project “Rush.” But one of the
more intriguing possibilities was a movie about the legendary composer and pianist George Gershwin. Penned by “Quills” writer Doug Wright (a
Pultizer-winner for “I Am My Own Wife,” the movie would have told the story of the “Rhapsody In Blue” composer, who bridged the classical,
jazz and Broadway worlds before passing away tragically early at the age of 38.

The film even got as far as landing a lead

, with “Star Trek” star Zachary Quinto landing the title role, and was planned to shoot in April 2010. But though it was deep into prep, the
director ultimately decided to shoot “War Horse” instead, and the Gershwin movie fell away. In a 2013 interview, Quinto said “I don’t know whether
it’s on Steven Spielberg’s roster… we would talk about it, but he’s obviously got a billion dollar company to run and a lot of considerations beyond
that specific project.”


Plenty of movies on this list got close to production, but few got closer than “Robopocalypse,” the most recent lost Spielberg movie here. Based on
a 2011 novel by Daniel H. Wilson, adapted by “Cabin In The Woods” and “The Martian” scribe Drew Goddard, it was a realistic
look at a war between humanity and a sentient A.I — soon after he came on board in 2012, Spielberg told Time Out, “It’s a movie about a global war between man and machine. I had a great time creating the future on ‘Minority Report’ and it’s a future that is
coming true faster than any of us thought it would. ‘Robopocalypse’ takes place in 15 or 20 years, it’ll be another future we can relate to. It’s about the
consequences of creating technology that makes our lives easier, and what happens when that technology becomes smarter than we are.” Originally set by Fox
for a July 3rd, 2013 release date, and mooted to be shot at least in part with IMAX cameras, the movie was delayed a little to let him finish up “ Lincoln,” aiming for April 2014, and got tantalizingly close to production, with Chris Hemsworth, Anne Hathaway and Ben Whishaw all
signed on to star. But in early January 2013, the film was indefinitely postponed,

with the director commenting
, “We found that the film was costing a lot of money and I found a better way to tell the story more economically, but also much more personally. I found the
personal way in, and so I just told everybody to go find other jobs. I’m starting on a new script and we’ll have this movie back on its feet soon.” The
delay was said to only be six to eight months, but little’s been heard of the movie since.

Aside from all the other movies Spielberg was attached to that other directors went on to make, from Burt Reynolds vehicle “White LIghtning
to “American Sniper,” there are a few others out there that haven’t gone away entirely. Another Cruise project was a Western called “Arkansas,” while the director was also attached to an adaptation of the play “A Steady Rain,” which starred Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman on
Broadway. He’s also long been planning a movie about Martin Luther King, and reportedly

has talked to David Oyelowo

about reprising his “Selma” role, while his “West Side Story” remake is still out there in the ether too. And he may follow the upcoming “Ready
Player One” with the Javier Bardem-starring “Montezuma,” or the Tony Kushner-scrioped “The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara.”

Anything else we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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