Ever feel like youʼve missed out on something momentous? You may well do after reading through these. Here are some of the best and most famous Hollywood movies that never were…
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Alejandro Jodorowskyʼs Dune would have been a remarkable film if it had ever been completed. It boasted some astonishing casting and some conceptual artists and writers that bring saliva to dry mouths. With stars like Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Orson Welles and, bizarrely, Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam IV, it certainly would have turned heads.
Dali was eventually fired for demanding a fee of £100,000 an hour, but not before recommending they use a certain H.R. Giger as conceptual artist. This was pre- Alien and Giger was not a well-known figure at the time. The hiring of the Swiss artist is significant as it brought him together with Dan OʼBannon. (Who was a part of the project and eventually went on to co-write Alien). Jean ʻMoebiusʼ Giraud and Chris Foss also worked on designs including amazing gothic castles and skeletal chairs.
But $2 Million dollars into production the project fell apart, with cost rising alarmingly the films backers pulled the plug, leaving us pondering just how much of a significant piece of movie history we missed out on.
Producer: Steven Spielberg
The legacy of Spielbergʼs aborted Extra-Terrestrial horror film are really quite profound. It was conceived as a follow up to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and centered on five alien beings who terrorise a family. One of the aliens was friendly and built up a relationship with the familyʼs young son.
The aliens also slaughtered farm animals in their quest to discover which species on Earth were truly sentient. The way they did this was by simply touching them, holding out a long finger, upon the end of which would glow a bright light. Sound familiar yet?
But Spielberg got cold feet and after the exertions of filming Indiana Jones and crazy Naziʼs he wanted something gentler and more heart-warming. So the idea morphed and eventually branched into two…
Enter Poltergeist, a film where a family is terrorised by the paranormal and, of course, E.T. which took the most powerful aspects of Dark Skies (the relationship between the benevolent alien and a young human) and turned it into one of his biggest achievements.
THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER
Director: Richard Williams
If someone was to work on a film for 28 years, youʼd expect it to be pretty darn good, especially if that person was Richard Williams, a master illustrator and animator of the Pink Panther films and the classic that is Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The Thief and the Cobbler was to be the greatest animated film ever made, the culmination of a lifeʼs work and centered on a Persian theme. Williams started the project in 1964 and it wasnʼt until 1990 that production started with his animation team lovingly creating beautiful hand-drawn, traditional artwork onto celluloid.
But Williams was a perfectionist and managed to go over-schedule, causing expenses to rise. Warner Bros studied the work Williams had done, and despite the animators needing to create just fifteen minutes more of footage, pulled the plug on him. Williams was out.
Unfortunately the story gets worse for Williams who then had to stand back as his involvement ended and look on as his lifeʼs work was systematically butchered. The title that eventually surfaced later on had very little left of Williams involvement and is a very dark blot in the copybook of movie studios.
Director: David Lynch
The very epitome of a ʻLynchianʼ film. Ronnie Rocket was a story about a 3-ft tall man, with bright red hair, severe physical problems and electricity. The film’s art direction would have featured a heavily industrial backdrop, setting the action against an “oil slick, smokestack, steel- steam-soot, fire-sparks and electrical arcs realm. He had just finished Eraserhead and then spent two years working on the script.
Possible cast members included Isabella Rosellini, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance, Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton. And the title role of Ronnie Rocket would have gone to Michael J. Anderson (who Lynch later cast in Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive) if the film had been made in the 1980s.
But the film simply never happened, despite it being Lynch’s baby. Financing was impossible, for a film that Lynch conceded wasn’t a commercial viability. Instead he turned to pre-written material and found The Elephant Man, so made that instead.
Lynch has never given up on Ronnie Rocket, and has said that it has not been shelved but simply gone into hibernation. There is hope yet.
Director: George A. Romero
At first reluctant to make another movie with zombies in it, Romero relented and wrote the initial screenplay for Resident Evil, a video game that owed much to him in the first place. Many were very impressed with the script, and it earned very positive reviews, but the studio rejected it and fired him, instead hiring Paul Anderson, who diluted it, made it more friendly and appealing to teenage kids.
The film wasnʼt well received and when the truth came out, many were outraged at the ousting and rejection of Romeroʼs version. Chastising the final film as having very little to do with what made the game so successful.
Romeroʼs version was much more faithful to the game. Making use of all the familiar aspects of the original story, the creepy mansion, the zombies, the dogs, even the keycards. This is because he wrote the screenplay based off of footage which his secretary had lovingly recorded for him, even completing the entire game in the process. Romero explained “I though Capcom loved it, everybody loved the script. But the guy that runs Constantin, it just wasn’t the way he wanted to go. I don’t think he knew anything about video games, or anything else. This is the guy that made House of the Spirits and Das Boot and I don’t think he knew the spirit of the video game was meant to be. Frankly, and of course I have an axe to grind there, but I really didn’t like the movies.”
The good news is that the Romero script is out there on the interwebs and is, as you would expect, really rather popular.
Producer: Peter Jackson
The problem for the Halo movie was the exorbitant price that Microsoft wanted from the studios. They initially asked for £10 million in advance and 15% of the box office takings. This put virtually everyone off except Universal who took it on after negotiating slightly better terms.
Universal partnered with 20th Century Fox to share the burden of the colossal costs, but when the filmmakers declined to reduce their profit margins to reduce cost the whole venture collapsed. 20th Century Fox withdrew leaving Universal to stump up the entire budget themselves, which would have meant making over $400 million just to break even (after Microsofts contractual payments).
The screenplay was written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Dredd) who was paid a cool $1 million for it, and it was even delivered to studio execs by a fully armored Master Chief in its own bound folder. For a couple of hours, Hollywood became Halowood.
Once Jacksonʼs name had been procured, Microsoft were left disappointed when he declined to direct and instead opted for Neill Blomkamp, a young South African director. Blomkamp had reservations from the start “My instinct was that if I crawled into that hornet’s nest it would be not good, and it was a clusterfuck from day one,” he admits. “There’s no question that there was a clash of worlds, for sure. The two sides weren’t seeing eye-to-eye.”
And that was the problem. Microsoft entered into a world they didn’t belong in, expecting to have it all their own way. Demands after demands after demands. They wanted complete control and in the collaborative film industry that simply isn’t possible. Under increasingly heavy demands and unease the project capsized under it’s own weight with money and political wrangling at the heart of it.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
In the mid-1960’s, Hitchcock embarked on a film idea that would have represented a radical change to his psychological style. A film that had at its heart a story of a serial killer, big on rape and necrophilia.
This would have been Hitchcock’s darkest film by far, to the extent that it worried him that some of the scenes would have been just too disturbing for the audiences. What would have made it more disturbing was that the film would have been told through the viewpoint of the killer with Hitchcock employing innovative shaky hand-held filming techniques to add to the unease.
The studio eventually turned down the film despite Hitchcock’s assurances that he could make it for less than a million dollars and promising a big name lead (Michael Caine was mentioned). The studio’s reason for rejection: The main character was too unlikeable. A decision and rebuttal which pissed Hitchcock off for the rest of his life.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
The life of Napoleon was a theme that fascinated Stanley Kubrick, and in the years 1968-1970 spent two years working on bringing his entire life story to film. The movie was to star Jack Nicholson as Napoleon and the reconstructed battles were to feature 50,000 extras, he even went so far as to hire the Romanian Army for some of the battle scenes.
Kubrick was so enamoured with Napoleon that visitors to his house found that his entire library was filled with books purely on that one subject. He hired assistants whose sole job was to trawl book shops and thrift stores hunting for anything on Napoleon. Another assistant was sent on a world- spanning trip to simply cover Napoleon’s very footsteps and even to bring back samples of soil that he would have walked on.
How obsessed was Kubrick? On the set of a Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell asked Kubrick why he was eating ice cream at the same time as his steak, to which Kubrick replied “This is how Napoleon used to eat.”
Ultimately the movie never happened, as Kubrick struggled with his first solo script and spent too long on the research. With the studio getting restless and costs escalating, MGM bailed.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece that never was. Megalopolis has been around a long time and the story revolves around an architect in a futuristic New York intent on creating a mini utopia within the city. Part sci-fi, part experimental film, Coppola has always struggled to get financial backing for a project that would be very expensive and not necessarily overly commercial.
Coppola only made Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Rainmaker and Jack in the 1990’s, purely to fund Megalopolis, and in that time virtually every big name in Hollywood has been linked with it. But what caused the final nail into the Megalopolis coffin was something nobody saw coming. Considering the real star of Megalopolis would have been the city of New York itself, 9/11 completely changed the context of the city and people’s perceptions. He struggled to rework the screenplay but eventually realised that he simply couldn’t do it without the story becoming dominated by one of America’s greatest tragedies.
There is still rumours of a Coppola Megalopolis with the director even mentioning that he had found a backer with unlimited funds. So you never know. One day…
Director: Tim Burton
Batman was doing good business in the nineties and Warner Bros were very keen on jumping on the bandwagon and fancied the idea of a Superman reboot. They turned to comics for inspiration and in particular the hugely popular Death of Superman storyline.
After various scripts were handed in and rejected, they turned to Kevin Smith for help, and he, in time, handed in a script that was really rather good, especially considering studio execs had told him ‘no flying, no red and blue costume and a giant spider in act 3.”
Nicolas Cage was hired as the lead, a move that didn’t go down well with fans who deemed the actor too recognizable. As time dragged on and on Smith’s recommendation the studio opted for Tim Burton as director, but unfortunately he didn’t want Smith’s script and hired another writer Wesley Strick to completely rewrite it from scratch.
This version of the script is now out there in the public domain and it makes pretty dire reading. A film that would have made Batman & Robin look good. In 2001 Smith threatened legal action against Burton for plagiarizing his work in his Planet of the Apes film. Burton responded by saying that he’d never read anything by Kevin Smith in his life. To this day Smith signs all Superman Lives posters with the words ‘Fuck Tim Burton!’