In the last few days, Universal has finally confirmed what many film fans have already secretly feared: that instead of giving Ron Howard carte blanche to take on the Herculean task of bringing Stephen King’s lauded Dark Tower series to the big (and small) screen, they are pulling the plug. No Javier Bardem as gunslinger Roland Deschain. No beam journey into Mid-World. No final confrontation with the ultimate evil… at least not under its studio shingle. Someone else can foot the enormous bill such an undertaking would require. While it may seem like 2011 is shaping up to be the year of the unmade movie—what with Tower, Guillermo Del Toro’s In the Mountains of Madness, and Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture Yellow Submarine remake all going belly up—the truth is that Hollywood passes on product all the time. Mostly, they get it right. Sometimes, they never even give the concept a chance to get it wrong.
Tinseltown’s history is awash in unrealized cinematic dreams, from the most ardent indie approach to the most mild of mainstream conceits. All stars have had their vanity vehicles rejected while name directors lose as many gigs as they get. In the end, most lovers of film don’t notice and the wheels of the medium’s machine continue to roll. However—usually long after the fact—we learn of projects studios passed on that, in retrospect, seem a helluva lot better than the junk they constantly spew in our direction. Would they represent a sizable risk? Absolutely, but does every Inception like experiment have to be the result of billions of dollars in creative carte blanche? No. Still, the legends live on, including the 10 titles selected here. As just a few of the Greatest Unmade Movies of All Time, there’s no guarantee of eventual success. On the other hand, many of these DOA ideas continue to intrigue, including the first one on our list:
Before it became a very short-lived victim of Fox’s fascination with TV animation (and the inevitable untimely cancellation of same), former Ren and Stimpy honcho Kricfalusi wanted to make a full length feature film about the manliest of superhero men. Via his Ralph Baskhi inspired style of surrealist cartooning, he would both simultaneously celebrate, and deconstruct, the entire comic book genre. Sadly, few studios saw any worth in exploring the idea, citing a lack of interest in the subject matter. Today, one could easily imagine the pitch playing along the lines of a gross-out comedy combo of Kick-Ass and The Incredibles.
Though his stage work rarely gets translated to film—they are too experimental and dense for undiscerning moviegoers—Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim has never really shied away from the medium itself. When then high profile director Rob Reiner got the idea to make a musical about a fictional movie musical in trouble (think a post-modern meta Singin’ in the Rain), he approached screenwriting god William Goldman to flesh it out. They then went to Sondheim, who surprisingly said “Sure!” Unfortunately, Hollywood circa the early ‘90s wasn’t interested in a showcase for singing and dancing and the project was abandoned.
Poor Terry Gilliam. He’s had as many cancelled projects—Good Omens, A Tale of Two Cities, something for UK virtual alt-hip-hop band Gorillaz—as fully realized ones, with this proposed Bruce Willis vehicle being one of the more promising. After the success of The Fisher King, the expatriate Python collaborated with Oscar nominated writer Richard LaGravenese on script revolving around a burnt-out cop who chases a missing child into a world of fantasy and wonder. Made up of “bits” he had lying around in his idea draw after Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, no one would pony up the $25 million budget. What a shame.
For a while there, it seemed like the release of each new Stephen King novel was followed by a report that Night/Dawn/Day/Land/Diary/Survival of the Dead director George A. Romero was planning on bringing the book to the big screen. The one most fans wanted was a sprawling epic take on the horror master’s post-Apocalyptic battle between good and evil. As with many unrealized projects, size (the book was close to 1000 pages long) and budget finally undermined the plan. The novel eventually became a so-so TV miniseries, while Romero went on to watch more of his projects become promises unfulfilled.
Of all the filmmakers featured on this list, no one has a more fascinating compilation of unrealized projects that the King of Dangerous Dream Logic himself. From Dream of the Bovine to adaptations of Red Dragon and Tai Pan, Lynch seems better suited at collecting concepts that getting down to realizing them. This, a weirdo comedy which was to star Steve Martin and Martin Short (rumored), dealt with the magical powers found in the spit of one small Midwestern townsfolk. While many associate him with trippy dramas and edgy thrillers, few picture Lynch as the king of laughter. The studios agreed.