Unknowable movies

There’s a superb article over at io9 about movies that were never made.

As any fan of cult films can tell you, the development process of movies is a frustrating one, especially when you obtain details along the way and then everything changes. There are so many examples of this situation, and some of the stories below may be familiar while others are sure to blow your mind.

We gleaned a ton of info for this article fromtwo 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.)

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.

22. Roger Corman’s Spider-Man
We posted a long history of the unmade Spider-Man films here, but in a nutshell, Roger Corman was going to make a low-budget film based on a treatment by Stan Lee. Spidey is a college student in a love triangle with Mary Jane and a sexy KGB agent, and he fights Doctor Octopus while preventing nuclear war.

23. Albert Pyun’s Spider-Man
The director of the original Captain America movie was also supposed to direct a Spider-Man film, and got as far as building sets — which he recycled and used in his Cyborg movie instead. At one point, Cannon Films’ version of Spidey would have been a crazy mutant, who actually looked like a giant spider, and he would have fought a villain named Dr. Zork.

24. James Cameron’s Spider-Man
Cameron was working on his Spider-Man movie for years — there’s a detailed “scriptment” and tons of storyboards online. He wanted Peter Parker to be more of an angry geek, who fights Electro. Cameron came up with the idea of giving Spidey organic web shooters instead of mechanical ones.

27. Geoffrey Wright’s Silver Surfer
Producer Bernd Eichinger was trying to make a Silver Surver movie for years, with Geoffrey Wright signed up to direct. One script draft had the Surfer hanging around with a twelve-year-old street sex worker, along the lines of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. Another draft had the Surfer summoning Galactus and then losing his powers due to a solar energy experiment — transforming into an ordinary human — all in the first 10 pages. (And then the now-human Surfer falls in love with a young cellist, named Kat.) Oh, and there was going to be a metallic, CGI version of the Punisher.

29. Jodorowsky’s Dune
One of the most famously bizarre film productions of all time, this would have lasted 11 or 12 hours, and featured Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam IV. A team of designers including Moebius, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger, developed amazing designs, but in the end the film fell through. (Although Jodorowsky said that in his mind, “the film was made.”)

36. E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears
A bunch of giant albino cousins of E.T. arrive and kidnap Elliott and his friends, so they can experiment on them and stuff. E.T. has to come back and save his friend. This sequel never got past the treatment phase.

37. Time Bandits 2
Terry Gilliam wanted to make a sequel to his classic film about time-traveling little people who stole a map from God — and after the huge success of Twelve Monkeys, this seemed actually possible. But even though two scripts were written, no studio wanted to make Bandits 2, and Gilliam eventually lost interest. But Gilliam still tried to make a sequel to Bandits, first as a series of TV movies on the Hallmark channel, and then as a comic book.

38. Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian
According to Geekscape, Tim Burton was asked to do a Beetlejuice sequel right after his success with the first Batman film. And the sequel would have involved the Deetz family moving to Hawaii, with Beetlejuice following them and linking up with some ancient Tiki gods. Urgh.

39. Roger Rabbit 2
Robert Zemeckis has been trying to make a Roger Rabbit sequel for decades. At one point, it would have been a World War II prequel called The Toon Platoon, featuring toons and Nazis. More recently, a few years ago he was talking about animating the human characters via motion-capture, the same as his Polar Express and Beowulf films. Producer Frank Marshall was recently speaking of this sequel as something that came close (past tense) to being made.

(lots more at io9)

Since the DP readers are so knowledgeable, I have to ask… are there any unmade movies that the article missed?

7 thoughts on “Unknowable movies

  1. ET 2? Wow… that would have been epically bad… so much so, that I strangely wish it had been made.

    It’s funny… as I read that list… the two things that struck me were the horrible ET idea… and how awesome it might have been to get the “too much like the Phillip K Dick” version of Total Recall that was rejected. I haven’t seen the new movie, but I gather it is supposed to stick to the story a little more.


  2. “Oh, and there was going to be a metallic, CGI version of the Punisher”.

    – Mr. Hughes should do his comic book research, there was a robot minion of Galactus called the Punisher during the original Kirby/Lee run, several years before Frank Castle took the name. I imagine this is what the proposed Silver Surfer film was going to use.


    • That’s probably true and makes more sense than a CGi Frank Castle… but looking at the details of the Silver Surfer film who can really tell? A cosmic take on Taxi Driver? **shudder**


  3. Well, there was Night Skies a sort of nasty spin-off from Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was to be scripted by John (Piranha, Alligator, Brother from Another Planet) Sayles. It featured a family under siege by vicious little aliens but with a nice ET befriending a child, however that concept metamorphosised into the benign ET The Extra-Terrestrial. Elements of Night Skies later turned up in Poltergeist and Gremlins (and arguably the non-Spielberg Critters!). Before Bryan Singer brought us the misconceived Superman Returns, producer Jon Peters was hot for the Death and Return of Superman story, bizarrely he was obsessed by the notion of Superman dressing in black and fighting a Robot Spider! Would Tim Burton’s version been better than Singer’s or *even worse*? No man can say🙂.
    Prior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Philip Kaufman was working on a developing a version called Planet of the Titans, which could have been *interesting*. Of course, William Goldman worked on a peculiar treatment for a third Alien while both Spielberg and Tarantino have wanted to make Bond movies at different times. Off the top of my head the following projects *could* have been made, Battle Angel Aelita, Star Trek Star Fleet Academy, The Defective Detective (Gilliam), the George Miller Justice League, Superman Vs Batman, Magnum PI, Stargate SG-1 The Movie (probably the producer’s pipe dream), The Stars My Destination, a Raiders of the Last Ark sequel set in a haunted house (rejected by Spielberg because of Poltergeist, this became Temple of Doom), and *many* more. Can you imagine David Lynch’s take on Revenge/Return of the Jedi? Boba Fett singing Roy Orbison songs and The Emperor as a Pervert?!


  4. Forgot to mention that the dubious concept Spielberg and Melissa Mathison cooked up for Nocturnal Fears was *suspiciously similar* to Night Skies (alias Watch the Skies)! I also just found out there’s a Wikipedia entry on Night Skies too, more information can be found in John Baxter’s and Joseph McBride’s Spielberg biographies. David Hughes books aren’t bad either. I also recall that Rendezvous with Rama was in-development once as well, not to forget John Boorman’s proposed Lord of the Rings (well, Excalibur is better than Jackson’s films…at least in my eyes ;)) adaptation.


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