10 Great Films That Were Never Made

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You might not believe in heaven, but you should believe in development hell. This is a place where entertainment-industry ideas go to die. Since most people are already familiar with the greatest films in movie history, we decided to look at the greatest films that, for various reasons, unfortunately didn’t survive the production phase.

Just recently, Slate published a post on the Worst Movies Never Made. While this might be a good thing, our list is a bit more of a downer if you’re a cinephile. So grab a bucket of popcorn, put your feet up, and witness what you could have been watching this weekend if it was a perfect world.

1. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon

What the film was about:

Stanley Kubrick believed Napoleon Bonaparte was the greatest human being ever to have lived, calling his life “an epic poem of action.” To honor the French Emperor, in 1968 Kubrick set out to make a three-hour biopic of Napoleon’s entire life, from birth to death. Kubrick become engrossed with the project, reading a reported 500 books on the subject, hiring Oxford historian Dr. Felix Markham as mentor, and watching every film on Napoleon ever made. The ambitious project was meant to include full-scale battle scenes involving around 50,000 extras, and shot on location in France, Romania, and the UK.

Why the film didn’t get made:

In 1971, three other Napoleonic films were released, and all three failed to charm audiences. Despite this bad omen, the cost of producing Kubrick’s larger-than-life film was simply too great for MGM studios to manage. Kubrick put his beloved project aside and went on to make the more financially feasible A Clockwork Orange, always hoping to one day return to his Napoleon biopic until his death in 1999.

Below is a silent video of a fan flipping through 10 books found within a giant, hollow book released by Taschen documenting Kubrick’s vast research for the film.

2. Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman vs. Superman

What the film was about:

Before Superman Returns and Batman Begins, there was a lot of talk about injecting new life into the two DC superheroes by featuring them together in a single film. The Dark Knight was set to battle the Man of Steel in a screenplay written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Josh Harnett and none other than Christian Bale were considered for the role of Clark Kent, while a slew of leading men were looked at to fill the expensive suits of Bruce Wayne. The film was not planned to be an origin story, but rather a meeting of the two iconic men with capes, where they fought each other at first, then teamed up to save the day in the end.

Why the film didn’t get made:

A month before the project was ready to begin, Warner Bros. decided to focus their energy on a new JJ Abrams script that eventually turned into Superman Returns, while Petersen set sail to direct the Homeric-blockbuster Troy.

Below is a fan-made trailer for what could have been.

3. Alfred Hitchcock’s Kaleidoscope

What the film was about:

One of several projects that Hitchcock never completed was Kaleidoscope (aka Kaleidoscope Frenzy). In the mid-60s, Hitchcock wanted to revive his sinking career, so he planned to make a movie about a gay bodybuilder who went around killing then raping innocent women. The story was meant to be told entirely from the bodybuilder’s perspective. Hitchcock also wanted to experiment with hand-held filming, the use of natural lighting, and other innovative camera techniques for the time.

Why the film didn’t get made:

Hitchcock himself worried the subject matter might be too extreme, and ultimately MCA studios shut the movie down because they found the protagonist abhorrent and general idea revolting. Some of Hitchcock’s themes, however, would later be used in his 1972 film, Frenzy.

Below is footage from a documentary about the making of Hitchcock’s Kaleidoscope.

4. Peter Jackson’s Halo

What the film was about:

Video-game enthusiasts were delighted to hear back in 2005 that the master of fantasy, Peter Jackson, would be producing a feature-length film about the popular Halo series. The adaptation got underway with Neill Blomkamp filling the role of director. Even Bill Gates was excited at the thought of seeing a Microsoft game up on the big screen. Gates, always the suave business man, said he was confident that Jackson would “create an epic that not only thrills existing Halo fans, but also introduces millions of moviegoers around the world to this amazing saga.”

Why the film didn’t get made:

Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox backed out of the project when faced with a swelling budget and stubborn Microsoft who wouldn’t compromise on their contract for $5 million upfront and 7.5% of theater revenue. Investors were also worried that first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp, who later made the acclaimed District 9, wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure.

Below is the official teaser trailer for the abandoned film.

5. Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis

What the film was about:

For a number of years now, Coppola has been mulling over a script about an architect’s dream to transform a futuristic New York City into a Utopian state. Coppola compared the sci-fi project to an Ayn Rand novel. He reportedly met with several A-list actors — Nicolas Cage, Russell Crowe, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Parker Posey, Kevin Spacey — to discuss potential roles and captured a great deal of footage throughout New York with the film’s cinematographer, Ron Fricke (Baraka).

Why the film didn’t get made:

In short: 9/11 happened. Unable to escape how the terrorist attacks forever altered what it meant to live in New York, Coppola hasn’t been able to incorporate these historical changes with his vision for the film. In addition, Coppola has renounced the studio industry in favor of artistic freedom, and thus struggled to finance the film on his own.

Below Coppola talks about his latest film, 2009’s Tetro, and what happened to Megalopolis.

6. Bruce Lee’s The Game of Death

What the film was about:

Bruce Lee wanted to introduce the world to his own style of martial arts, Jeet Kune Do, and figured the best means of doing so would be through a movie. The plot involved Lee doing battle with Korean gangs in an attempt to rescue his younger brother and sister. Like a video game, Lee and his friends make their way up a five-story building fighting an increasingly difficult opponent on each level. One of these villains was played by basketball legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Why the film didn’t get made:

While filming, Hollywood enticed Lee to come to America to star in a new film with a lavish budget. Lee accepted the offer and dropped his current project to make Enter the Dragon instead. Before Enter the Dragon was released, however, Lee died from cerebral edema. Robert Clouse, director of Enter the Dragon, was hired to complete Lee’s original project, making do with whatever existing footage he could scrap together from Lee’s earlier footage. Clouse used a stunt double, footage from other shots, and scenes from Lee’s actual funeral. Although a version of The Game of Death was eventually released, it was by no means a polished finished product.

Below is footage from a documentary about Lee’s The Game of Death.

7. Orson Welles’s Don Quixote

What the film was about:

Another famous director known for starting several films without finishing them, Welles began his Quixote project in 1955 and kept talking about it until his death four decades later. Welles’s idea was to transport the Don Quixote character from the 16th century into present-day Spain, where the knight’s chivalry would be juxtaposed with modern mores. Welles filmed on and off again in Mexico, Spain, and Italy, assembling actors and crew members whenever he could along the way.

Why the film didn’t get made:

Schedule restraints and financial woes ultimately thwarted this film from coming to completion. All that remains is 300,000 feet of footage from scenes shot in various locations. In 1992, director Jess Franco used some of this extant footage to slap together a film titled Don Quixote de Orson Welles, which demonstrates some of Welles’s genius, but is far from exemplary of the pioneering director’s body of work.

Below is some rare footage of Welles’s Don Quixote set to a soundtrack by the Velvet Underground’s Nico.

8. David Fincher’s Rendezvous with Rama

What the film was about:

Fincher wanted to make a film based on Arthur C. Clarke’s 1972 sci-fi novel with the same name about a mysterious alien spaceship in the shape of a 30-mile-long hollow cylinder that drifts into the Earth’s solar system. Set in the 22nd century, a special team of experts are sent to investigate the abnormal vessel. Morgan Freeman was slated to produce.

Why the film didn’t get made:

Without a final script and lacking funds, the project languished and died before it could advance past the pre-production phase. Freeman himself worried that the intellectual content of the book wouldn’t translate well on screen. Plus, after being involved in a car crash, Freeman suffered health problems and didn’t have the energy to develop the project.

Below is a short film based on Rendezvous with Rama made by Aaron Ross while he was a student at NYU in 2001.

9. George Sluizer’s Dark Blood

What the film was about:

Dark Blood is the story of a young outcast named Boy, played by River Phoenix, who lives alone near a nuclear testing site. While waiting for the apparent Armageddon, Boy creates dolls that he believes possess special powers. One day he comes across a couple whose car has broken down and are in need of help. Instead of offering support, Boy takes the couple prisoner and decides to start a new society with the woman.

Why the film didn’t get made:

Eleven days before the end of production, River Phoenix died from an overdose outside Johnny Depp’s Viper Room in West Hollywood. Phoenix was 23-years-old. Sluizer has mentioned he might use some of the existing footage from his abandoned Dark Blood for a documentary about Phoenix sometime in the near future.

Below is raw test footage for the film featuring the late River Phoenix.

10. Russ Meyer’s Who Killed Bambi?

What the film was about:

Originally titled Anarchy in the U.K., this film was set to be the first to feature the Sex Pistols. Director Russ Meyer wanted the film to put a punk twist on The Beatles’s A Hard Day’s Night. Movie critic Roger Ebert wrote a script while the Pistol’s manager, Malcolm McLaren, handled producing duties.

Why the film didn’t get made:

Only a day and a half into filming, 20th Century Fox yanked all funding for the project after taking the time to read the script. Studio executives said they found the content too vulgar and shocking. Recently, Roger Ebert posted the entire screenplay for Who Killed Bambi? on his blog.

Below Russ Meyer, Roger Ebert, and Malcolm McLaren talk about the film in a short documentary.