Directed by Paul Verhoeven Almost directed by David Cronenberg
“Cronenberg’s Total Recall would certainly have been a very different movie than the one ultimately produced,” production artist Ron Miller recently told io9 about working on the film with his wife Judith. Cronenberg was brought onto the project by producer Dino De Laurentiis and created dozens of drafts of the Philip K. Dick short story adaptation, but no one was particularly impressed. The studio wanted “Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars,” and Cronenberg’s version stayed faithful to the source material. Eventually the filmmaker left the project and made The Fly instead, but Miller’s production artwork inspires thoughts of a far stranger story that included a surreally shapeshifting Kuato — who at one point in the movie transforms into “a kind of phosphorescent vagina.” (Visit io9 for more artwork, as pictured above.)
Directed by Steven Spielberg Almost directed by Tim Burton
Author Michael Crichton wanted an adaptation of his dino tale Jurassic Park to look nothing like Hammer Films’ 1960’s low budget cavewoman fave One Million Years B.C. and eventually put his trust in director Steven Spielberg — who wanted to make the movie with full-scale, realistic dinosaurs. The project was a hot commodity, and before Spielberg won the rights, one of four serious contenders waiting in the wings was Tim Burton — who had just finished wrapping up his Nightmare Before Christmas. It seems like a bizarre matchup, but given that the quirky, gothically inclined filmmaker wanted to make a Beetlejuice sequel set in Hawaii, we believe it.
Directed by Marlon Brando Almost directed by Stanley Kubrick
In a previous life, Marlon Brando’s 1961 brooding western One-Eyed Jacks had Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling adapting the Charles Nieder story — essentially a version of the famous Billy the Kid tale. Serling’s version was rejected, but producers looked to now prominent director and screenwriter Sam Peckinpah, who was making a name for himself in television at the time with projects like Gunsmoke and The Rifleman. Stanley Kubrick was hired to direct, and the famed filmmaker fired Peckinpah to bring in Paths of Glory collaborator Calder Willingham — that is, until Kubrick himself was fired by producers and screenwriter Guy Trosper was hired, leaving Brando an opportunity to direct. Almost a year and a handful of hours worth of footage later, Brando’s film was eventually recut to its existing length. It’s not the worst western on the block, but the film’s schizophrenic history leaves us wondering what magic Kubrick could have worked behind the camera.
Directed by Ridley Scott Almost directed by Roger Corman
Creature savvy B-filmmaker Roger Corman fell in love with Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett’s Alien screenplay, which the duo described as “Jaws in space.” The early version of their script included an all-male cast, was extremely “Lovecraftian” and “less deadpan and matter-of-fact.” Corman’s notoriously low budget repertoire apparently didn’t make the grade, and the writers latched onto 20th Century Fox’s excitement about sci-fi movies after Star Wars blew up in theaters across the nation. Eventually Ridley Scott took over and created a film that still scares the hell out of us to this day.
Directed by William Friedkin Almost directed by Peter Bogdanovich
There was a list of huge names lined up as potential directors for terrifying possession tale The Exorcist, including Stanley Kubrick (who rejected it immediately), Bonnie and Clyde director Arthur Penn (who had a teaching gig at Yale at the time), Mike Nichols of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf fame (who didn’t want to deal with child actors), Point Blank director John Boorman (who said it was too cruel toward children), and On Golden Pond filmmaker Mark Rydell (who was originally hired, but was replaced by writer William Peter Blatty). The Last Picture Show director Peter Bogdanovich was also considered for the role, but passed it up to work on other projects later regretting the decision. Blatty opted for William Friedkin since he wanted the story to have the same kind of energy as the director’s gritty thriller, The French Connection. His frenetic style definitely feels more at home with the dark story.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Directed by Blake Edwards Almost directed by John Frankenheimer
What Holly Golightly wants, she gets. The same thing applies to the actress who brought the New York society girl to life in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hepburn wasn’t initially happy with the prospect of playing a woman of “questionable virtue,” not wanting the role to damage her public image. She took the opportunity to make some demands about the project, one of them involving the director. Wanting to ensure the film’s success, she booted Manchurian Candidate director John Frankenheimer from the movie — who was the producers’ original pick — and was delivered Blake Edwards as his replacement. This, of course, is just one dramatic backstory about the legendary feature that includes a history of egotistical orchestrations surrounding production.
Directed by David Lynch Almost directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
What we wouldn’t give to see the surreal insanity that would have been Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune. The esoteric filmmaker’s plan for the sci-fi epic would have included names like Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, Moebius, H.R. Giger, and others. Mapping out his masterpiece, Jodorowsky quickly spent $2 million of the $9.5 million budget, with a script that would have ended in a 14-hour film. Eventually production shut down, the rights to Frank Herbert’s novel were sold to producer Dino de Laurentiis who hired David Lynch, and the resulting mess is what finally made it to screens in 1984. “I did not want to respect the novel, I wanted to recreate it. For me Dune did not belong to Herbert as Don Quixote did not belong to Cervantes, nor Edipo with Esquilo,” Jodorowsky said later. A behind the scenes look at the director’s struggle with the production is set to debut sometime this year, featuring commentary from Giger and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, among others.
Directed by Steven Spielberg Almost directed by Dick Richards
Before Spielberg became a household name with his adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel about a killer shark haunting the waters of quiet summer resort town, Tootsie producer Dick Richards was in line for the gig — along with The Great Escape filmmaker John Sturges. Unlike Sturges, however, Richards seemed more than anxious to create a whale film, continually referring to the fishy antagonist as a massive marine mammal and not a bloodthirsty predator. He was kicked off the project. Bruce the shark approved of the outcome despite eventually being blown to smithereens.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola Almost directed by Sergio Leone
Incredibly, Francis Ford Coppola was not the first choice to direct one of the greatest films that has ever graced the screen, The Godfather. Studio heads specifically wanted an Italian-American director to lend some authenticity to the feature — or as the head of Paramount Pictures put it, he wanted to be able to “smell the spaghetti.” Western maestro Sergio Leone was Paramount’s first pick, but the director wanted to focus on his own gangster movie, Once Upon a Time in America. Peter Bogdanovich was also offered a seat in the director’s chair, but once Coppola got over his fear that the movie might glorify violence, he quickly accepted the offer. Under Coppola’s lead, production was rocky almost leading to his dismissal, but he made it through despite enormous pressure from the studio to craft a massive hit during a financially troubling time.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Directed by Chris Columbus Almost directed by Steven Spielberg
Making this list has taught us that Hollywood is six degrees of Steven Spielberg, and Harry Potter is no different. The shortlist of directors that almost made the first adaptation of J. K. Rowling’s wizarding tales included giants like Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Rob Reiner, and M. Night Shyamalan — but one name topped the list for the studio: Steven Spielberg. The blockbuster filmmaker wanted to create an animated film casting Haley Joel Osment as the voice of boy wiz Harry Potter. He wasn’t sure if the movie would be challenging enough, however, and opted to start working on A.I. instead. Can you envision Spielberg’s animated treatment elevating the film’s built-in hype or squashing the magic completely?