Movies That Were Never Made

The news that Steven Spielberg will make a miniseries on Napoleon, the biopic that Stanley Kubrick long developed but was never able to bring to life, made me think of all the other possible projects that litter the lanes of movie history, causing film fans to daydream and ponder the cinematic "what ifs." It was clear that it had been a project close to Kubrick's heart, and he had even envisioned casting a young Jack Nicholson in the lead, but sadly it never materialized. Now we will have to settle for Spielberg's version of the script that Kubrick had worked so hard to create. Luckily, Spielberg has a pretty decent track record as a filmmaker, but we will still be left only imagining what Kubrick's motion picture would have been, since even their last collaboration on A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which Spielberg completed after Kubrick's death, obviously looks like two separate visions meshed together in a disjointed amalgam.

There are a few good books available that chronicle in detail the many movies that never made it to the final stages to be enjoyed by audiences in theaters -- two of them are The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made by Chris Gore and Tales from Development Hell by David Hughes. 

Here's a list of some of the films that never fully materialized.


Barbarella - The original, starring Jane Fonda, is a cult classic, and fanboy interest was piqued when Robert Rodriguez was set to produce and direct. He wanted to cast his then-girlfriend Rose McGowan in the lead, but it never came to be.

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger refused to let anyone film his beloved novel, unless there was a way to cast his son, Matt Salinger, in the role of Holden Caulfield. That, of course, never happened, but Matt went on to have an acting career playing, among other roles, Captain America in a cheesy 1990 version of Marvel's patriotic superhero.

A Confederacy of Dunces - Harold Ramis tried hard to make an adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's novel starring John Belushi and Richard Pryor. What I would give to see that! Instead, it fell apart because of Belushi's untimely death. Other actors became attached to the project in later years (John Candy, Chris Farley, John Goodman, Will Ferrell), but who knows if we will ever see it happen. That original version that Ramis wanted to direct, however, would have been a true classic.

The Day the Clown Died - Now here's a story! Jerry Lewis actually completed a rough cut of this film, which he directed and performed the role of a German circus clown imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for political prisoners, but legal quarrelling among him, the producers, and the screenwriter have still not been resolved, leaving this film in perpetual limbo, likely never to see the light of day.


Dark Blood - River Phoenix died before production could be completed on this film. A final version was finally pieced together for eventual distribution, but who knows what the original would have been like?

Fahrenheit 451 - Mel Gibson tried really hard to adapt a new version of this excellent novel, but apparently author Ray Bradbury never approved the script.

The Fountainhead - Michael Cimino made a splash with The Deer Hunter but then crumbled with Heaven's Gate, one of the worst fiascos of Hollywood lore. We will never know, then, if his proposed adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel, which would have starred Kris Kristofferson, would have been a hit or another disaster.

Genesis - Dino de Laurentiis almost produced this epic retelling of the first book in the Bible, to be helmed by French director Robert Bresson, but it ended up being scrapped.

Jesus - In the early days of cinema, Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, who directed the brilliant The Passion of Joan of Arc in 1928, wanted to make a realistic verison of the life of the historic Jesus, but no one would finance it.

Kaleidoscope - Alfred Hitchcock literally cried when this project of his was nixed. He had already shot test footage and a shot list of hundreds of still photos (many of which you can find online), but the studio developed cold feet about the story dealing with a rapist killer bodybuilder. Apparently, studio execs hadn't read the script until Hitchcock had already gotten deep into pre-production and was about to go full force into filming. You can't make this stuff up! Hitchcock eventually added some of the themes in a more tame version in his movie Frenzy, but I don't blame him for crying. 

Leningrad - Sergio Leone passed away before he could film this movie that would have starred Robert De Niro.

The Life of Christ - Orson Welles was an incredible artist. His surviving work is only matched by the lengthy list of movies he wanted to make that never came to fruition (Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness, Don Quixote, The Little Prince), but this one, a retelling of the story of Jesus set as a Western, using dialogue straight from the King James Version of the Bible, seemed the most fascinating, especially since he wanted to cast himself in the lead during his prime.


The Man Who Killed Don Quixote - There is an entire documentary, titled Lost in La Mancha, showcasing how this film by Terry Gilliam, starring Johnny Depp as Sancho Panza, came so close to being completed, but crumbled after numerous bad breaks.

Mask of the Red Death - Legendary director Akira Kurosawa wanted to bring Edgar Allan Poe's tale to life. We will never know if it would have been as amazing as his William Shakespeare adaptations.

Megalopolis - For years fans of Francis Ford Coppola heard rumors of his ambitious science fiction project, but it never became reality, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attack made his post-apocalyptic tale too close to reality for nervous financiers and studio executives.

Noriega - Imagine an Oliver Stone directed motion picture about the deposed Panamanian dictator starring Al Pacino. It came close, but the script ended up being a made-for-TV movie on Showtime directed by and starring someone else instead.

Nostromo - David Lean died before he could adapt Joseph Conrad's novel, but it would have starred Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, and Christopher Lambert. Oh, what could have been!

Pompeii - Roman Polanski came close to filming this epic, but an actor's strike delayed it so he went on to film The Ghost Writer instead.

Red Harvest - Another great director, Bernardo Bertolucci, wanted to film Dashiell Hammett's bloody pulp detective mystery for the silver screen, but never had the chance.

Rendezvous with Rama - Actor Morgan Freeman has tried for decades to adapt Arthur C. Clarke's acclaimed novel. The closest he came was having David Fincher attached to direct.  Maybe someday!

Revenge of the Jedi - Before George Lucas changed the name to Return of the Jedi and made other changes to the script for his concluding film in the original Star Wars trilogy (including replacing Wookies with Ewoks and letting Han Solo live), he approached David Cronenberg to direct. (Lucas also approached David Lynch.) Now, that would have been a vastly different motion picture than the version we finally saw by Richard Marquand.

Something's Got to Give - Director George Cukor fired star Marilyn Monroe who was unreliable on the set due to her personal problems and then considered trying to get her to clean up her act and resume the role, but she died before that could happen.

Stranger in a Strange Land - This is one of the projects that I hope someone someday is able to make happen. Robert A. Heinlein's novel is a classic and hopefully someone can do it justice. Tom Hanks came close, but it's been a hopeless endeavour.


Superman Lives - So many versions of the Man of Steel almost made it to the screen as Warner Bros. tried desperately to revive the franchise. The most bizarre was Tim Burton's effort, with Nicolas Cage cast in the lead. They had hoped Burton could do for Superman what he did for Batman, but despite a lot of investment, it never reached the filming stage (but there are plenty of production designs, and even the script, available online to whet our appetite for what could have been.)

Who Killed Bambi? - Get a load of this -- a punk rock version of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, starring the Sex Pistols and Sting, directed by Russ Meyer, with a script written by Roger Ebert. After a few days of filming, studio executives pulled the plug after finally reading the script. Only in Hollywood.

William Tell - Errol Flynn was the star, desperate for another hit, but financial shenanigans by the producers closed the production a third of the way into filming.

With Wings as Eagles - Arnold Schwarzenegger was attached to star in a number of interesting movies that never happened, including The Crusades, which would have been directed by Paul Verhoeven, but this World War II thriller always intrigued me.

There are others that eventually made it to the screen in the hands of other filmmakers, but the original concepts by other artists never materialized -- Harlan Ellison's adaptation of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot; Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune that would have starred Orson Welles and Salvador Dali; John Boorman's Lord of the Rings that would have starred the Beatles; James Cameron's Spider-man; and Jon Favreau's A Princess of Mars, (which would have been surely better than John Carter).

The titles listed above, however, are some of the ones that will always haunt my imagination as I wonder what classics we may have missed due to the fickleness of fate, never to be seen.

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