The film industry is a place for ideas but not all those ideas will reach the big screen. Many projects are announced each year and most of them will reach the pre-production stage but many will go no further. On average, only half of the films announced will ever be completed. For various reasons, many intended movies will just fade away. Some may die during the script writing stage, while other will actually begin production before the whims of fortune cause the demise of the project. Here is Part One of a list of 25 tantalizing unmade films that could have been classics.
The Adventures of Flash Gordon: In the mid-1970s, George Lucas was enjoying critical success from his American Graffiti films. Being a life-long science fiction fan, he was planning to make a big-Budget film version of Flash Gordon. He had many ideas for the film but he was beaten to the punch by Dino De Laurentiis who got the rights to the project first (although his version didn’t materialize on screen until 1980). It all worked out, however, because Lucas used many of the ideas he had originally intended for the Flash Gordon film and incorporated them into a little film he made in 1977 called Star Wars. (Parenthetically, De Laurentiis’ Flash Gordon film was not well received.)
Akira: The 1988 animated classic Akira is one of the popular and influential anime films ever made. Ever since the 1990s, there has been talk of bringing it to the screen but no one ever seems to be able to get it done. In 2011, it looked like a two-film adaptation of the anime would actually happen and it was well into pre-production before it was shelved. Exorbitant costs for the visual effects are always given as the reason for the repeated cancellations of the project.
Brazzaville: Casablanca 2: After the critical and financial success of Casablanca, Warner Brothers was thinking about making a sequel and even commissioned a script. The film was to be called Brazzaville, because of the line at the end of the original film when Louie (Claude Raines) suggests to Rick (Humphrey Bogart) that they flee to Brazzaville to join the Free-French garrison there. The Sequel was to follow Rick and Louie's "beautiful friendship" as they battle the Nazis for the French underground. Geraldine Fitzgerald was to be introduced as a Red Cross nurse who would be Rick's new love interest. Ultimately, the studio wasn't happy with the script concept and decided to leave well-enough alone.
Bugs Bunny CGI Movie: Before Toy Story, Shrek and the other popular CGI animated franchises, there was serious talk of making that wascally wabbit into the first full-length CGI animated feature. Warner Brothers backed off the project for various reasons (mostly budget) and made the semi-animated Space Jam (co-starring basketball star Michael Jordon) instead.
The Chinatown Trilogy-Part 3: Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson, is one of the greatest films of all time. Writer Robert Towne had originally conceived it as a trilogy of films, taking place at eleven-year intervals—in narrative time—chronicling the development of southern California by corrupt developers and greedy tycoons. In the original Chinatown, the plot involved water rights. The 1990 sequel, the Two Jakes, dealt with oil. The planned third movie would have been set in the 1950s and would have dealt with the building of the LA freeway system. Sadly, the second film underperformed both critically and at the box-office, so there was little interest in completing the trilogy.
The Conquest of Mexico: Director Werner Herzog had an ambitious vision for a historic drama about the Spanish conquest of Mexico done from the perspective of the conquered Aztecs. He wanted to make it without studio backing but found that the film would be so expensive that it could only be made with the financial support of a major Hollywood studio. He had many disagreements with the studios he approached, regarding changes in the script and budget issues, so he finally gave up the project.
The Crusades: In the mid-1990s, Paul Verhoeven wanted to make a spectacularly epic interpretation of the Holy Crusades. The film was to be produced by Carolco Pictures, and had a planned $150 million budget. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in negotiations for the lead role. The film would have been produced the same year as Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island. Carolco Pictures didn’t want to risk doing two big-budget films at once, so they chose Cutthroat Island, and Verhoeven made Showgirls instead. When Cutthroat Island flopped, Carolco Pictures went bankrupt and The Crusades never got made.
Don Quixote: There were two incomplete versions of this story. Orson Welles had written a script about the man from La Mancha and spent years trying to get the funding to complete it. He managed to begin filming in Spain with actor Francisco Reiguera, but sadly Reiguera died and Wells ran out of money. Years later, director Terry Gilliam began his own version of the story, called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, starring Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp. Health problems by Rochefort, numerous production disasters and lack of funds doomed the project. The collapse of the film was documented in the excellent documentary film Lost in La Mancha.
Evolution: Special effects master Ray Harryhausen planned to make a two-hour story about the evolution of the planet, with special focus on the age of the dinosaurs. There would be no actors or dialogue. The whole thing would have been done by stop-motion, accompanied by classical music. The money-men pulled out of the project because they didn't have confidence in the intelligence of the public to sit through two-hours of such material. Harryhausen never found the funding to complete this dream project.
Giraffes on Horseback Salad: In the 1930s, surrealist painter Salvador Dali wanted to try his hand at filmmaking. He wrote a script that captured the spirit of surreal style. The bizarre script was titled Giraffes on Horseback Salad and was meant to be an all-out assault on the senses, with unprecedented visuals. Dali had hoped that the Marx Brothers would star in his film because he considered them the surrealist masters of film. The studio rejected the film, deciding it was just too weird and abstract for audiences of the day. Also, the experimental visuals would have been cost prohibitive, so Dali’s foray into films never came to be.
Heart of Darkness: After the success of Citizen Kane, the legendary Orson Welles wanted to make a film adaptation of the Joseph Conrad’s novella. The production began to fall apart because the script was too long--at 184 pages--and had a large budget due to the special effects , miniatures, costumes, matte shots, huge jungle sets and other things. Studios were already leery of Welles when his pet project Citizen Kane had flopped at the box office, and so they wouldn’t give him the budget he asked for to make the film. Unable to raise the money on his own, Welles gave up on the project. Parenthetically, a popular (and modernized) adaptation of Heart of Darkness was later made by Francis Ford Coppola called Apocalypse Now.
House of the Wolfman: The Wolfman, played by Lon Chaney Jr., was part of a trio of the most popular movie monsters of the 1930s and 40s, along with Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster. The three monsters were to be teamed up in a trilogy of films. The first was the House of Frankenstein, which was rather profitable. The second film of the trilogy was the House of Dracula, which did not do very well, critically or at the box office. Therefore, the third part of the planned trilogy, the House of the Wolfman, was cancelled. Instead, the three monsters were utilized in the hilarious horror parody Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Later on this week we'll post part two of this list and you can lament at all of the other films that have been lost to development hell over the years in the film industry.
Rob Young is a freelance writer/editor and a walking encyclopedia of movie and TV trivia.