For every movie that makes it to your local cineplex, there are dozens that never come into existence. In another universe, Mel Gibson directed Fahrenheit 451, Terry Gilliam directed Watchmen, and Batman fought Godzilla. The history of movies is crammed full of weird almost-weres and could-have-beens. A lot of people seemed to be startled the other day when we mentioned that David Cronenberg could have directed Return of the Jedi.
So here’s some reference material: a list of some 100 movies that never happened. This list probably could have been 200 movies, but we gave up when we hit 100.
We gleaned a ton of info for this article from two books by David Hughes: The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, and Tales From Development Hell. But if you want to learn more than just the bare-bones summaries about these films, you should definitely pick up both books, which are jam-packed with weird and fascinating anecdotes about Hollywood at its most dysfunctional. (Read an excerpt from Development Hell here.)
We asked Hughes which unmade version of an existing film he wishes he could see, and he says:
I liked the original Total Recall, but I think David Cronenberg had a better handle on the story. And who would I have liked to see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? ANYONE but the nitwits who made it!
So here’s our list of movie projects you’ll never get to see:
1. David Cronenberg’s Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi
Actually, there’s not much to say about this. Cronenberg was approached about doing the third Star Wars film, but as soon as he said he was leery of doing someone else’s material, the conversation was over. This was back when Jedi was still called Revenge, not Return, and there’s lots of speculation that this could have been a darker version, in which Han Solo dies.
2. David Lynch’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
It sounds as though the discussions over Lynch directing Jedi were slightly more serious. Lynch actually met with George Lucas, who pitched him his ideas for the third movie — and Lynch was seriously considering taking it on. But when he looked at all the designs for the creatures Lucas wanted to introduce in the film, Lynch got a terrible headache and had to bow out. So he could direct Dune, instead. There are fan vids (including one at left) trying to imagine what Lynch’s film would have looked like.
Philip K. Dick
3. David Cronenberg’s Total Recall
Cronenberg spent a year working on Total Recall, before the producers reportedly told him that the problem was he was trying to make “the Philip K. Dick version,” and they didn’t want that. Instead, they wanted “Raiders of the Lost Ark goes to Mars.” We posted a ton of exclusive concept art from Cronenberg’s movie a while back.
4. Total Recall 2
After the first Recall made a squillion dollars, there were several attempts to make a sequel — with directors like Jan de Bont (Speed) and Star Trek’s Jonathan Frakes on board at various times. The main stumbling block: Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t like any of the scripts that people came up with. You can read the whole, pain-inducing saga of the various story ideas they tried out here.
5. Terry Gilliam’s A Scanner Darkly
According to this site, Gilliam was disappointed by both Blade Runner and Total Recall — so after The Fisher King, when Gilliam’s stock was high in Hollywood, he tried to adapt Scanner Darkly to film. Said Gilliam, “I saw how to make Scanner cheaply, and for it to be disturbing.”
6. Charlie Kaufman’s A Scanner Darkly
If you had to think of one person who ought to adapt a PKD story to film, it would be the writer of Being John Malkovich. Kaufman said he wrote this script soon after Malkovich: “I got it as an assignment. There was a director attached, an Australian woman named Emma(-Kate) Croghan. She had just directed an independent comedy [Strange Planet] and she was attached [to the project] by Jersey Films and then they brought me on.” And then the studio lost interest. Kaufman’s script is easy to find online, but Kaufman says you should just read the book instead.
7. King of the Elves
This is Dick’s best-known venture into fantasy, about a man who becomes the ruler of a group of elves (and one dwarf) in Mississippi after he saves them from a troll. Disney announced this project as an animated film back in 2008, around the same time Wall-E and Tangled were announced. Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker (Brother Bear) were going to direct, and the film would have been out about nowish. But apparently the film’s not dead — as of last year, a new script was being written by Michael Markowitz (Horrible Bosses), and Chris Williams (Bolt) might direct. We could still see Elves in 2013, albeit a very different version. On the other hand, there’s been no news for a year.
Great SF Novels
8. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
According to Hughes’ Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, Richard Gere owned the rights to this novel right after his success with Pretty Woman, and wanted to star in it. Later, NeverEnding Story producer Bernd Eichinger had the rights and hired Neal Adams to do concept art. Still later, Paul W.S. Anderson was set to direct it, but wound up doing Event Horizon instead. Since then, a number of scripts have been written, but the film’s gotten no closer to happening.
9. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Kimberly Peirce, director of Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, was attached to direct this film in 2002, but there’s been no forward motion since then. As recently as 2008, she was talking up the possibility, saying it would be a huge film: “You go to that movie with a certain appetite for spectacle.” She’s currently making Carrie instead.
10. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
You have to give Morgan Freeman credit for tenacity — he’s been trying to make Rama for over 15 years at this point. Clarke’s novel about exploring a massive alien vessel that shows up in the solar system is “a tough nut to crack,” Freeman told MTV a couple years ago. David Fincher was signed to direct it in 2007, and is still orbiting according to Freeman.
11. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Haldeman’s classic war story was going to be a PBS TV movie at one point, but more recently Ridley Scott seemed really intent on making a huge 3-D movie version, using technology inspired by Avatar. And it appears that we got Prometheus instead. (At left: concept art that was reportedly made for the film.)
12. The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
There have been many, many reported attempts to get a Hyperion film off the ground — at one point, Martin Scorsese was rumored to be directing and Leonardo DiCaprio was going to star. More recently, Warner Bros. was said to be producing a film version, with a 2010 release date. And then Bradley Cooper, riding high on his Hangover 2 success, came up with a film treatment and expressed interest in possibly directing. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for this one.
13. Count Zero by William Gibson
Director Michael Mann was going to make this book into a movie called Zen Differential, with a 1998 release date. (Although later script drafts changed the title back to Count Zero. The storyline was changed to make it less tied to the Sprawl Trilogy. The screenplay was online at one point, but has since been removed.
14. Joseph Kahn’s Neuromancer
Various directors, including The Mask’s Chuck Russell and the Madonna video director Chris Cunningham, were lined up to adapt Neuromancer at various points. But the film really seemed like it was going to be made when Detention director Joseph Kahn was lined up. As recently as 2009, he was working on it. There’s storyboards and concept art from Kahn’s take online. Kahn told io9, “I wanted to make Trainspotting in the Sprawl.”
15. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
As Hughes mentions in the above quote, there were many attempts to make a Hitchhiker’s movie. Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam were both having vague discussions at various points. Ivan Reitman was going to film it at one point, but he thought the answer the question of Life, the Universe and Everything being 42 was “too anticlimactic.” Michael Nesmith from The Monkees also wanted to make it in partnership with Adams. And after Men in Black’s success, Hollywood tried again, with Austin Powers director Jay Roach on board. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles creator Josh Friedman wrote a script draft that was widely reviled.
16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
There have been a couple of TV movies based on Huxley’s novel — a 1980 BBC version, and an American version starring Leonard Nimoy. (See clips.) But no big screen version, ever. Leonardo DiCaprio’s father has owned the rights for ages, and at one point, DiCaprio and Ridley Scott were going to make a film. But more recently, Scott has referred to Brave New World as a story that should have been a book. (Although, amazingly, he still talks about the futuristic Monopoly movie as a going concern.)
17. Jon Favreau’s John Carter of Mars
The Iron Man director was attached to direct an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel for quite a long time, and we talked to him about it last year. Favreau planned a less ambitious version of the story, mostly focusing on Carter finding himself among the Tharks and slowly moving up in Thark society. There is fucktons of Phil Saunders concept art for Favreau’s version — see gallery at left.
18. Wolfgang Petersen’s Ender’s Game
We were actually pretty stoked for the Enemy Mine director to take on Orson Scott Card’s novel, and Petersen was working on it for a few years. But Petersen bailed out of the project in 2008.
19. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Terry Gilliam was eager to make a film version of this apocalyptic fantasy back in 2001, and got as far as having a script written. At one point, Johnny Depp and Robin Williams were going to star. But — as seems to have been the case with many Gilliam projects — couldn’t get the financing together.
20. Ridley Scott’s I Am Legend
Long before Francis Laurence made the third movie version of Richard Matheson’s novel, Scott was signed up to direct a Los Angeles-set version, in the wake of his disastrous 1492. And Arnold Schwarzenegger was a potential star, at a point when the studio thought Batman and Robin would be a huge hit. Scott wanted to create huge underground “anti-cathedrals” full of feral mutants, but the studio pulled the plug over budget concerns. Some of Scott’s ideas wound up in the movie Gladiator instead.
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