Movies get cancelled all the time, sometimes at the last minute, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood has an enormous backlog of films that never quite saw the light of day. However, some of these near-misses are so amazing that they deserve to be talked about, if for no other reason than to speculate on how truly insane they might have been if they’d made it to the theaters. How many of these crazy movies do you wish had actually been made?
Paul McCartney’s “The Silver Surfer” Rock Opera
Producer Lee Kramer had only one goal in life: creating insane rock operas starring Olivia Newton-John. Having first achieved this with Xanadu, his blood lust was clearly unfulfilled — and so in 1980 he set out to make a Silver Surfer movie that would be scored by Paul McCartney.
Along with a little bit of concept art, Kramer claimed that — had it been made — this motion picture would have been on a scale comparable to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the score? To quote this madman, “the Surfer might have a chant or a fanfare made up of one thousand electric guitars”.
Leonardo DiCaprio & Baz Luhrmann’s “Alexander The Great”
There was a point where the role of Alexander the Great was so coveted by Leonardo DiCaprio that he obtained the film rights to a Christopher McQuarrie script on the conquerer. From there he worked with Universal, who brought the project to Martin Scorsese — them having recently worked together on Gangs Of New York.
But when Scorsese backed out, the project went to another director with similar experience working with the actor: Romeo + Juliet’s Baz Luhrmann. Needless to say, this would have been absolutely bonkers and not without a few musical numbers. But ultimately the project fell apart and we got the Oliver Stone version instead.
Steven Soderbergh‘s 3D Musical “Cleopatra”
A theory on why musicals and rock operas are rare is that it takes a certain deranged bravery to make an original one without shame. Steven Soderbergh apparently tapped into such a mindset when he set out to make a 3D telling of Cleopatra’s life starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Hugh Jackman.
Called “Cleo,” the planned-to-be late-2000s film was set for a $30 million budget before Jackman was forced to pull out and the plan eventually fell apart. And while there’s been no talk of reviving the project, there has been some talk of actually bringing the story to Broadway — where it probably was always meant to exist.
Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill 3”
Like maple syrup, a little Quentin Tarantino goes a long way. Which is why the Kill Bill series felt like being waterboarded by Mrs. Butterworth. And that goes especially for people who have appeared in his films — more specifically, Uma Thurman, who recently spoke out against the director’s somewhat reckless methods.
And so this is why we’re not getting a third Kill Bill anytime soon, despite there totally being a plan for how that would go. According to the director, the third film would have followed the daughter of Vivica A. Fox seeking revenge against Thurman’s Bride character. No word on if they would have renamed it “Kill Kiddo”.
Nicolas Cage’s “Superman Lives”
In a tale so notorious that there is even an entire documentary devoted to it, somewhere there is an alternate universe where we got a Superman movie directed by Tim Burton and starring none other than Nicolas Cage. And what’s stranger, at one point it had a script by Kevin Smith and featured a giant robot spider in space.
Smith is, of course, the one who made the story popular when he described the infinite insanity of working with producer Jon Peters — a man who now refers to himself as “the Trump of Hollywood” and was once kicked off the set of Man of Steel by Christopher Nolan. Needless to say it’s probably good we don’t live in this alternate universe.
Bruce Willis’ “Island of Dr Moreau”
Once again, you know your movie messed up when there’s a whole documentary about how wrong things went. Before John Frankenheimer took over, original director Richard Stanley had a clear vision that actually had the attention of Marlon Brando. But when Val Kilmer was brought in to replace Bruce Willis, things went terribly wrong.
Kilmer became so difficult that Stanley was removed from the film — causing Brando to completely phone-in his performance and constantly fight with Kilmer. It got so bad that co-star Fairuza Balk was actually caught trying to escape the production like a runaway prisoner. The resulting movie, as some of you may know, is pretty unwatchable.
Orson Welles’ “Heart of Darkness”
If there were ever a filmmaker that could have gone completely off the rails with CGI, it’s Orson Welles. He was a director ahead of his time, as evidenced by the doomed-production for Heart Of Darkness. Of the many budgetary reasons this film wasn’t made, one of the biggest had to be his plans for the cinematography.
Welles didn’t just require elaborate matte paintings and process shots, but to make a film that was entirely from the POV of one of the characters. This meant sweeping sets for a style the studio didn’t fully understand — and so ultimately he had to fall back on his second film idea: Citizen Kane.
“Gladiator 2″ with Time-Travel
Legendary rock musician Nick Cave looks like the kind of guy who would get into a bidding war with HR Giger over a Latvian castle. He’s a real Monster Mash kind of dude, otherwise known as the last person you’d expect to write a sequel to Gladiator. A sequel that, by the way, would magically revive Russell Crowe’s character (as requested by Crowe himself).
If you’re wondering how, the film would have actually opened with Maximus in the afterlife. Joined by a ghostly guide, he was to take on the Gods themselves before time travelling into Rome and fighting 100 alligators before becoming immortal — the film ending with him serving in Vietnam. No idea why this wasn’t made.
Wesley Snipes’ “Black Panther”
We give the X-Men films so much credit for launching the success of Marvel movies that it’s almost like Blade never existed. And to thank for that we have Wesley Snipes who, before playing the vampire hunter, had pushed to make his very own Black Panther film.
What stopped him? In short: a budget. With Marvel struggling at the time, the thought of spending multi-millions to properly portray the wonders of Wakanda was just too daunting of a task. But with this failure came the success of another Marvel property and a long road to where we are today.
A Horror Sequel to E.T.
Pretty much every cinematic success has been considered for a sequel at one point or another — but it takes guts to completely change the tone of a blockbuster kid fantasy. But this was the plan for a second E.T., which would have introduced an entirely new species of monstrous aliens.
According to a 9-page treatment written for the film, Elliot and his buddies would come upon another bright light in the forest. But instead of getting a lovable space goblin, they would be kidnapped by interstellar baddies… only to be eventually rescued by the titular alien hero. Oh, but not before they got tortured. Fun!
Darren Aronofsky’s “Batman: Year One”
Before Christopher Nolan brought Batman back from the abyss, Warner Bros. was exploring all sorts of directions for the Masked Manhunter. And much like Batman Begins, there were a lot of ways to ground the flying rodent. Pi director Darren Aronofsky had one such design in mind, and in the late 90s began to collaborate with Frank Miller.
The idea behind Batman: Year One was to show us a world in which Bruce Wayne didn’t inherit a great fortune, opting instead to prowl the streets as a grimey crimefighter while wearing a re-tooled hockey mask. Ironically, the idea once seen as crazy was inspired by such films as Taxi Driver… something we now know isn’t such a crazy idea after all, considering the upcoming release of the standalone Joker film.
Star Trek 2 – Spock Kills JFK
It sounds suspiciously reductive to say “there was a draft of Star Trek II in which Spock (Leonard Nimoy) stood on the grassy knoll and fired a bullet into John F. Kennedy”, but that’s literally what would have happened in the first revision of Gene Roddenberry’s extremely time travel-heavy script.
The reason makes a little more sense, as the story would follow the Enterprise going back in time to fight the Klingons — only to accidentally save Kennedy’s life. And so, in order to restore the timeline, Spock was forced to take matters in his own hands. It’s similar to the classic Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever,” but even when you explain it, it still sounds unbelievable.
Alfred Hitchcock’s James Bond
From the dialogue to the music to the credits, Dr. No set the standard for so many Bond tropes that it’s hard to picture a world without it. But before they landed on this film, Eon Productions initially considered tackling Thunderball as an intro into the world of 007.
And who did Ian Fleming want to direct? Alfred Hitchcock, of course! Having personally sent him a telegram about the matter — Hitch ultimately declined Fleming because (as rumor has it) he had just finished North by Northwest and didn’t want to do another spy film.
Terry Gilliam’s “Watchmen”
The mere whisper of a Terry Gilliam Watchmen adaptation should be enough to make your body excrete wads of cash. Without knowing the details, just the fact we didn’t get this is immediately a national tragedy. But it gets even sadder once you know what the story would have been. More specifically — the absolutely meta ending the notoriously experimental Gilliam had planned.
In this unseen version, Doctor Manhattan goes back in time to stop himself from being created. The result of which would have been the characters suddenly finding themselves in Times Square and encountering a kid reading a Watchmen comic, implying that they’ve been reduced to fictional characters.
Peter Jackson’s “Halo”
The story of the Halo movie’s downfall is one of great hubris — as it begins with Microsoft literally sending the script to different studios by a courier dressed as Master Chief, the lead character from the popular video game series. The studios were then told that they only had a few hours to read the script and make an offer — prompting Fox and Universal to team up and make a deal.
From there it just kept ballooning. Peter Jackson was brought in to produce, who brought in Guillermo del Toro to direct. They brought in Neill Blomkamp (District 9) to rewrite Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina) original script — the result being something the studio did not like. And so, thanks to the gritty imagination of Blomkamp, the whole thing imploded.
Alien III on a Wooden Planet
The feature debut of David Fincher went less than ideal, as the director had been hired onto Alien 3 to replace Vincent Ward. Fincher went on to piss off a lot of fans when he killed off several major characters, which has to make you wonder what exactly the original plan for the series was.
The answer is even weirder than you’d think — while the original script still included devoutly religious characters, it would have taken place on a sort-of wooden Death Star planet monastery floating through space. There’s no telling if this was brilliant of crazy, but the concept art looks pretty awesome.
Jurassic World with Human/Dinosaur Hybrids
Ironically, the first drafts for a fourth Jurassic Park were scrapped because they didn’t properly balance science and action. As dinosaur effects artist Stan Winston had put it, “too much adventure will make it seem hollow.” Somehow this pickiness would eventually lead to a series with nonsense gyroscope vehicles and dinosaur auction mansions.
But before all that, there was a Jurassic Park 4 script from William Monahan and John Sayles — the premise of which being that there was a secret genetics lab creating a grotesque army of dinosaur/human hybrids. We’ve since seen the concept art from this idea, the results of which looking more like a horror film than a sci-fi adventure.
Jack Black’s “Green Lantern”
In retrospect, getting the guy behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to make a Green Lantern movie starring Jack Black is actually not the worst version of this story to adapt. Writer Robert Smigel saw the obvious comedy in a superhero whose power comes entirely from a piece of jewelry.
And that was exactly the plan: to make a true-to-comics adaptation about a regular dude who stumbles upon a power ring. One particularly great moment from this script includes Black’s character moving the earth to save it from an asteroid, only to will Superman into existence in order to fix the mess he causes.
Stanley Kubrick’s “Napoleon”
While his entire career feels like a series of obsessions, Stanley Kubrick was most obsessed with Napoleon. So the concept of him actually making an epic about the subject sounds frightening even without the details, especially in a time long before CGI. This is, of course, part of why the film was never made.
For starters, Kubrick wanted 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry for the battle sequences (again, this is before CGI, so these would have to be 50,000 actual actors and 10,000 actual horses). And due to his attention to detail, he even sent an assistant to travel every place Napoleon had been, collecting things as minute as the dirt on the ground. In the end the studios found the project way too risky, something they were probably right about.
Bo Derek’s “X-Men: Dazzler”
While she finally got a minute of screen time in the totally un-watched Dark Phoenix, it turns out that putting the glam rock X-Men character Dazzler in a film has been thought about for a long time — beginning all the way back in 1979. As you can imagine from that date, the first draft was absolutely bananas. Like, we’re talking fever dream-levels of absolute unfiltered insanity.
With Bo Derek attached, the Jim Shooter script would have brought Spider-Man and the Avengers into a futuristic New York run by evil queens. The result would have been a battle comparable to Avengers Endgame as Dazzler fought to save her friends. And somehow this would include the band KISS, an evil Cher, and a fight between Robin Williams and Rodney Dangerfield, playing themselves.
Brigitte Nielsen’s “She-Hulk”
Now that it appears like the Mark Ruffalo Hulk has been retired by the MCU, it might finally be time to start thinking about a She-Hulk film. After all, if Marvel wants to make movies until time explodes they might as well bring out every possible variation of every superhero.
Also, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time such a film was considered. Rumor has it that Brigitte Nielson — best known for the adaptation of Red Sonja — was briefly considered for such an endeavor. Little is known about the actual story, but had it happened it would have been the first movie to feature any Hulk character.
The Beatles’ “Lord of the Rings”
When the Beatles signed on to make movies with United Artists, they had agreed on a three-picture deal. Their breakup resulted in only two of those getting made, which was probably a blessing considering what their third film was going to be: The Lord Of The Rings… directed by Stanley Kubrick.
At least that’s what the quartet desired… and if you assume they hoped to play the four hobbits, you’d be wrong. While Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr would play Frodo and Sam — the roles of Gandalf and Gollum would have gone to Harrison and Lennon.
Guillermo del Toro‘s “At the Mountains of Madness”
Considering how much studios concern themselves with broad appeal, a big-budget R-rated adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft‘s famous novella The Mountains Of Madness directed by Guillermo del Toro sounds more like a genie wish than reality. But there was a brief moment in time where it wasn’t just going to happen, but it was going to star Tom Cruise.
But according to the director, that pesky hard-R rating ultimately scared off major studios and resulted in the Lovecraft project’s cancellation — giving very little hope for a bloody look at Cthulhu. Because if the biggest names in the industry can’t make this highly-anticipated story work, who in the hell can?
James Cameron‘s “Spider-Man”
There was a time where everything director James Cameron touched turned into box office gold. And until we see what Avatar 2 holds, for all we know this is still true. That’s why it’s so weird to imagine what would happen had he gone through with his plans to make a Spider-Man series of films.
Not only would Cameron’s Spider-Man movie have been more adult-themed, it would’ve featured bizarre sex scenes and clear allegories for puberty. Also, there was a good chance Arnold Schwarzenegger would have played Doctor Octopus. None of this really seems to add up to a moneymaker, but who are we to argue with the highest grossing director of all time?
David Lynch’s “Ronnie Rocket”
For David Lynch, there’s really no such thing as a project being too crazy to pursue. Ronnie Rocket, for example, isn’t officially cancelled, but rather a “hibernating” project he might eventually get around to. Because you never know when the world will need a three-foot tall man with control over electricity.
Yes, that is the plot of this movie — which was at one point planned to star Twin Peaks actor Michael J. Anderson. Along with a spark-summoning character, the film was to involve an alternate dimension and a villainous group called the “Donut Men.” So basically just your standard Lynch plot.
David Cronenberg’s Return of the Jedi
By all accounts, there was never an alternate script for Return of the Jedi that was terribly different than the film we got. However, if there was ever a way to make that third Star Wars movie wildly different, it would be hiring either David Lynch or David Cronenberg to direct it — something Lucasfilm actually tried to do.
According to Cronenberg (a horror director known for grotesque films like The Fly), the offer didn’t last long — as he basically just said “no” to them right away. But considering that the offer came to him, it’s insane to imagine just what the alternative would have been. Specifically, how the director would have handled such creatures as the Jabba and the Sarlacc pit.
Joss Whedon’s “Wonder Woman”
In terms of the broad strokes, the plot to Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman script is not unlike other superhero films — and likely would have been a success at the time it was written. All that said, the finer points and details make it an extremely difficult and arguably sexist read.
Whedon, a man who is reportedly less-than-great with women, completely fetishizes the role of the titular Amazonian warrior. Along with devoting huge chunks of the script to describing her physical appearance as “curvaceous” and “taut”, the writer includes a very cringy scene in which our hero does a sexy dance to get the villain’s attention. Oof.
Steven Spielberg’s “The Curse Of Monkey Island”
There was a time where doing a movie based on the popular Monkey Island series of comedic pirate adventure games would be seen as pure insanity, especially if it were directed by Steven Spielberg. But that time has long passed thanks to projects like The Adventures of Tintin and the upcoming Sonic film. It turns out anything is possible with clueless enough movie executives.
That isn’t to say that this once-pursued Spielberg project would have been a terrible failure — as it was being written by POTC: Curse Of The Black Pearl writer Ted Elliott. Fans of the games have pointed out that many of the ideas present in Monkey Island were recycled into Pirates, which became a wildly successful film.
George Miller’s “Justice League: Mortal”
It’s extremely possible that Mad Max: Fury Road might be the greatest action film ever made, all thanks to director George Miller, who paradoxically also made Happy Feet and Babe. Any franchise would be lucky to have Miller’s attention, and at one point that franchise was The Justice League. Just imagine!
Titled Justice League: Mortal, the production was fully cast, with costumes in production at Weta Workshop. Actors included DJ Cotrona as Superman and Armie Hammer as Batman. With Miller directing from a script that was apparently action-packed, it’s nothing short of tragic that the plug was pulled mere days from production.
Batman vs. Godzilla
Honestly there’s not much to go on when it comes to reporting just how close the world was to seeing Godzilla go toe-to-toe with Batman. But even if this existed as a fleeting thought in one executive’s brain, that’s enough to be hyped for it. Because it absolutely, 100% should be a thing that happens.
According to what we do know, the proposed film would have ended with the Caped Crusader scaling Godzilla’s body like a regular God Of War before tying a bomb to his neck. This would have knocked the beast out so that scientists could strap him to a rocket and blast him into orbit. Why isn’t this a movie yet?