Famed poet Mick Jagger once sang “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and in the case of the following movies that never were, that is certainly true. It’s tempting to file the “what if” films as cinematic masterpieces that were denied their moment in the sun. As the hypothetical almost always sounds better than the reality. A Batman movie with Poison Ivy and Bane trying to manipulate Mr Freeze into destroying Gotham sounds awesome in theory, but the reality was very different. Whereas a sequel in which the bad guy turns good to go back in time to save the hero from the first film, which is actually the past, sounds like an incoherent mess. But who here didn’t love T2?
Here we take a look at some movies that, for better or worse, never made it out of the depths of development hell. Movies that either had a lucky escape or an opportunity missed, depending on your point of view. Some like Martin Scorsese‘s Dean Martin biopic sound almost too perfect to never have seen the light of day (especially when we are about to get a 5thUnderworld movie). Others like a Nic Cage led Superman film seem almost too bonkers to exist in the real world. These films are forever filed on the “what if” shelf, alongside Burton’s Superman film and Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Let us know what side of the fence you land on. Enjoy!
15. Gladiator 2 – Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Nick Cave
Nick Cave, who has turned his hand to screenwriting with the excellent The Proposition, was approached to try and resurrect (literally) the hero of the Ridley Scott epic.“[Crowe] rang me up and asked if I wanted to write Gladiator 2,” Cave explained. “For someone who had only written one film script, it was quite an ask. ‘Hey, Russell, didn’t you die in Gladiator 1?’. ‘Yeah, you sort that out.’”
“So, [Maximus] goes down to purgatory and is sent down by the gods, who are dying in heaven because there’s this one god, there’s this Christ character, down on Earth who is gaining popularity and so the many gods are dying, so they send Gladiator back to kill Christ and his followers,” Cave explained. “I wanted to call it Christ Killer,” he continued. “In the end you find out that the main guy was his son so he has to kill his son and he was tricked by the gods. He becomes this eternal warrior.”
The final 20 minutes of the film involved Maximus chasing his son through time from the Crusades to the Western Front to the killing fields of Chechnya and finally to the operations room of the Pentagon. The Pentagon would presumably contain a lot of phones, which would see Crowe in his element.
14. Batman: Year One – Directed by Darren Aronofsky
In Aronofsky’s version, a young Bruce Wayne is found in the street after fleeing, following his parents’ murder and taken in by “Big Al,” who runs an auto repair shop. He would replace the more traditional version of Alfred. Michael Clarke Duncan was reportedly approached to play the role. Bruce is penniless as he has not come forward as the heir to the Wayne fortune, despite a widespread media campaign to find him.
Weird enough for you? Well it gets better.
-Selina is described as “a long, lean black woman” in her early 20s, a dominatrix who’s carved out a miserable existence for herself in a brothel called the Cathouse.
-Bruce doesn’t travel the world, he instead reads books on various types of combat and practices them.
-Bruce uses mostly chemical based weapons when fighting. He learns how to create them by reading “The Anarchist’s Cookbook”.
-James Gordon is suicidal and, at one point, puts a gun in his mouth and tries to kill himself.
-Carmine Falcone is omitted from the script and replaced by Gillain B.Loeb as the mob boss.
-At one point he dons a cape and hockey mask and resembles Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th films.
-Batman get his name after punching a criminal with the ring that has an intertwined T and W. It leaves a scar on the victims head that is mistaken for a bat. This leads the media to dub him “The Bat Man”.
13. Dino – The Dean Martin biopic
The Rat Pack were the original Las Vegas icons. Music, women, booze, gangsters, booze and more women. They were the embodiment of excess and success – and who better to bring that to the big screen than Martin Scorsese? Nick Pileggi, who scripted Goodfellas, wrote the script that would focus on the dark and gritty side of the charismatic entertainers.
Scorsese put together an A-list and somewhat muddled cast. In the titular role of The King of Cool he would cast Tom Hanks. John Travolta would play Frank Sinatra, Jim Carrey would play Jerry Lewis, and Hugh Grant would play Peter Lawford, which seem somewhat reasonable. However he then signed Adam Sandler to play Joey Bishop and in the strangest casting choice of all… Wesley Snipes was announced as Sammy Davis Jr!!!
With the cast and the script in place, the film was deep into pre-production, before Miramax exercised a clause in Scorsese’s contract to make another passion project of his Gangs of New York.
By the time he had completed the film, his cast was no longer under contact, became unsuitable, or were facing jail time for tax evasion. Scorsese has recently been trying to get a Frank Sinatra film up and running, with Leonardo DiCaprio set to play Ol’ Blue Eyes.
12. Lord of the Rings with The Beatles
It’s tempting to just leave the headline “The Beatles make Lord of the Rings”, drop the mic, and walk away. Lennon was a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s opus and was trying to persuade Apple, who produced the Beatles music and had started a movie division, to buy the rights to a movie adaptation.
Lennon, who was adamant that the live action movie stay true to the books, wanted the role of Gollum. Apple loved the idea and approached a director – none other than Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick had just finished Dr. Strangelove and was in prep for 2001. He reportedly loved the idea and the wheels were set in motion to start acquiring the rights. When word of the negotiations got out United Artists swooped in with an incredible offer of over $250,000.
“It was something John was driving, and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage, but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Jackson said during a press tour for The Hobbit.
11. Forrest Gump 2: Gump And Co.
Based on the novel of the same name, Forrest Gump 2: Gump And Co. would see our hero trying to recover his ailing shrimp company. Leading him to again somehow be involved in every important world event of the decade.
-He creates new Coke.
-Crashes the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.
-Helps destroy the Berlin Wall.
-He works in a bible theme park where he re-enacts the David and Goliath story with a guy who mutters about Jodie Foster – this of course turns out to be John Hinckley, who famously tried to assassinate President Ronald Regan, claiming that Jodie Foster told him to do it. That idea makes slightly more sense than the end of Contact at least.
-He fights in Operation Desert Storm with his friend, an orang-utan named Sue (who survived a NASA mission who he met while an astronaut). Seriously how was this not made?
-In a moment of meta he meets Tom Hanks. Which sounds like it would be every bit as terrible as that god awful moment in Oceans 12 where Julia Roberts decides her character should pretend to be Julia Roberts.
-He is in the car with OJ while he is chased by police during which Forrest tosses the infamous bloody glove out the window.
-He meets Princess Diana and tells her that he didn’t like the tunnels in Paris.
-Throughout the book, Jenny appears to Forrest as a guardian angel, and advises him to “listen to Lieutenant Dan.” Lieutenant Dan frequently mentions a fondness for oysters, and oystering re-vitalizes the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.
-The film would end with Gump commenting on the Oklahoma City Bombing.
The final script was written and the film went into pre-production on September 10, 2001. The movie was then taken out of development after 9/11 with Screenwriter Eric Roth saying “we don’t think this is relevant anymore. The world had changed. Now time has obviously passed, but maybe some things should just be one thing and left as they are.”
10. Roger Rabbit 2: The Toon Platoon
The proposed sequel named The Toon Platoon began with Roger Rabbit’s early years, living on a farm in the Midwestern United States with a human called Richie Davenport. Roger travels west to seek his mother, in the process meeting Jessica Krupnick (his future wife), a struggling Hollywood actress.
While Roger and Richie are enlisting in the Army, Jessica is kidnapped and forced to make pro-Nazi Germany broadcasts. Roger and Richie must save her by going into Nazi-occupied Europe accompanied by several other toons in their Army platoon.
After they are successful in the mission, Roger and Richie are given a Hollywood Boulevard parade, and Roger is finally reunited with his mother – and his father, who turns out to be none other than Bugs Bunny.
The film was to be made by original producer Steven Spielberg, who wound up leaving the project when decided he could not satirize Nazis after directing Schindler’s List.
9. Superman Lives
This is, undoubtedly, the most infamous “what might have been” in superhero movie in history. After drafts by Jonathan Lemkin and Gregory Poirier titled Superman Reborn were not considered fit for purpose, the project found itself in Kevin Smith’s hands. Even with being forced to accommodate ridiculous demands from producer Jon Peters – no flying, no red-and-blue costume, and for Superman (don’t call him Superman) to “fight a giant spider” in the third act – the movie was still considered for production.
The story itself has been well documented by Smith and indeed in an actual documentary, in the excellent The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? What is less well known was who Smith had envisioned as his dream cast. Ben Affleck would have donned the cape as the Man of Steel, Linda Fiorentino would be Lois Lane, Frasier’s John Mahoney as Perry White which would have been glorious. Slightly less glorious would be the predictable choice of Jason Mewes as Jimmy Olsen with Micheal Keaton returning as Batman in a cameo during Superman’s funeral. Jason Lee was to provide the voice of Brainiac, which sounds every bit as crazy as Tim Burton’s choice of Tim Allen.
8. Return of the Jedi – Directed by David Cronenberg or David Lynch
Despite The Empire Strikes Back being acknowledged as one of the best sequels of all time, director Ivan Kershner was not asked back due to incurring Lucas’s wrath for going both over time and over budget on the film, and for being as described by producer Gary Kurtz as “being difficult for George to control.” Lucas would instead hire the relatively unknown (and at the time non-union) Welsh director Richard Marquand.
Before turning to a safe pair of hands, George Lucas was looking at two very different names to direct the last film in the Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi (or Revenge of the Jedi as it was then called). He approached two young up and coming directors: David Cronenberg and David Lynch. But Lynch declined Lucas’ offer in order to direct Dune, commenting that this Star Wars was “A Lucas thing”
Cronenberg turned down the offer citing “You’re really restricted by the format that’s been established,” he said. “So for a really inventive or innovative director, that’s being put in a straitjacket.”
7. Justice league: Mortal
DC have finally limped into their shared universe. However, in 2007 between directing Happy Feet movies and before he delivered one of the best action films in years with Mad Max: Fury Road, director George Miller was set to helm a Justice League movie.
The cast would include Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, Adam Brody as The Flash and “Immortan Joe” himself, Hugh Keays-Byrne, as J’onn J’onzz/the Martian Manhunter. Shortly before shooting was to begin in Australia, Warner Brothers announced the film was on indefinite hold, allowing an options lapse for the cast. The studio felt the script needed perfecting, which was impossible because of the writer’s strike.
6. X-Men Origins: Magneto
With the X-Men series seeming to be the one franchise 20th Century Fox were able to make a success of – Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen all failing to set the box off alight – the decision was made to milk the X-Men teat for all it was worth, with spin-offs for its two most popular characters, Wolverine and Magneto, scheduled to be released between X-Men movies much like Disney is currently doing with the Star Wars movies.
Comic mainstay David S. Goyer was hired to direct a script and pitched it as “The Pianist meets X-Men,” following Magneto trying to survive in Auschwitz. He meets Xavier, a young soldier, during the liberation of the camp. He hunts down the Nazi war criminals who tortured him, and this lust for vengeance turns him and Xavier into enemies. The film ran into trouble with the writers’ strike and then the subsequent failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which somehow didn’t stop him getting 2 more movies). All was not lost, however, as large parts of the script found their way into the (best parts of the) X-Men First Class script.
5. Spider-Man 4
In spite of the poor reception from fans and critics alike to Spider-Man 3, it still is the most successful Spider-Man movie to date, raking in close to a billion dollars worldwide. Director Sam Rami was eager to do a course correction after being unhappy with the script for the third movie and hired David Koepp, the writer of the first film, to do it. Rami had wanted to finally show the transformation of Dr. Curt Connors into the Lizard, with Dylan Baker reprising his role. He also had plans to upgrade Bruce Campbell to a more significant role, rumoured to be Mysterio.
The main villain of the piece would be the Vulture, with John Malkovich signed on along with Anne Hathaway playing Felicia Hardy. Hardy would be reimagined as “Vulturess” instead of the Black Cat that she became in the comics.
4. Guillermo Del Toro’s Doctor Strange
Geek favorite Benedict Cumberbatch brought Doctor Strange to the screen this year. However, in 2007, Marvel had plans for a Doctor Strange movie with two other icons of nerdom; Guillermo Del Toro and Neil Gaiman.
Neil Gaiman had been working on Marvel titles 1602 and The Eternals, and had been tapped to write a Doctor Strange script. During the course of writing the script, Gaiman visited Del Toro on the set of Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and, when Del Toro expressed interest in directing both, Gaiman and Marvel jumped at the offer. Del Toro, unfortunately, has form in signing on to direct films that ultimately never get made as he jumped from Doctor Strange to The Hobbit, which he signed on to after leaving At the Mountains of Madness. He has since dropped out of Pacific Rim 2, Peter Pan, The Witches, a Hulk TV series, Justice League Dark and a dark re-imaging of The Big Bang Theory (probably).
3. James Cameron’s Spider-Man
In the mid 90s, Cameron wrote a script for a Spider-Man movie just as he completed shooting True Lies. Cameron was on-board to co-write and direct, with his future Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio pencilled in as Spider-Man and Arnold Schwarznegger rumoured to play Doctor Octopus. With the height of the comic boom in full effect and Schwarznegger still the biggest movie star on the planet, this was a sure fire hit.
So why was it not made? Well turns out Spider-Man had an enemy even he couldn’t defeat… Showgirls. That’s right, the box office bomb coupled with the failure of Cutthroat Island meant that the studio Carolco Pictures were unable to finance the movie. The comic book bubble would burst not long after and the movie rights to Spider-Man ultimately reverted back to Marvel, who quickly sold them to Sony to aid in their ascendancy from bankruptcy.
2. Quentin Tarantino’s Iron Man
In October 1999, 20th Century Fox (who owned the Iron Man movie rights at the time) had discussions with Quentin Tarantino to write and direct a Tony Stark feature with Tom Cruise already pencilled in to star. Tarantino had been in talks previously to do a Luke Cage: Hero for Hire movie with Laurence Fishburne.
Tarantino ultimately turned down the movie and, just a few weeks later, Fox sold the Iron Man rights. When the rights ended up at Paramount and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige got involved, Tom Cruise was still very much on the radar, with Feige commenting “There have been discussions (with Cruise) over the last several years and there are a number of factors involved. All we know is that we’re putting all the pieces in place and then we’ll find the best Tony Stark that we can get.”
Cruise ended up dropping out, after being unhappy with a draft of the script that focused on Howard Stark being the movie’s villain, which he felt didn’t stay true to the character’s comic roots: “When I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it’s gonna be something special. And, as it was lining up, it just didn’t feel to me like it was gonna work.” When Jon Favreau took the director’s seat, he overlooked bigger names for a then un-bankable Downey Jr, remarking that no one else can be such a “likeable a#@hole.”
1. Ash vs Freddy vs Jason
When the much anticipated Freddy vs Jason finally arrived after years of development hell. It was met with a chorus of “meh.” With the studios of the respective franchises, New Line and Paramount, so worried with satisfying fan expectations that the project lingered in development hell for over a decade before its eventual release in 2002. The script was passed through dozens of screenwriters, including David S. Goyer and Ronald D. Moore.
The main issue was trying to find how and why Freddy and Jason could actually fight each other. Perhaps the most intriguing idea that never made it to the screen was the involvement of Ash Williams of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, with Bruce Campbell reprising his role to take out the two horror icons. Rami was on board, but his ultimatum was eventually what would see the idea not come to fruition. He wanted Ash to be the sole survivor.