Hollywood has a long history of movies that were planned or proposed but never made. These often fascinating films inspire the imagination with a combination of “what if?” and “why not?” There are also a few examples of films that made it to the moment of production before being sidelined by some inexplicable or unexpected reason. Their legacy is usually one of last minute changes of heart or cast/crew. And then there are the MIA movies, the films that were completed, prepped for a general release, and then abandoned. These are the most frustrating of the bunch, actual projects that could be viewed and judged on their own merits if it weren’t for rights issues, estate arguments, studio stubbornness, or an overriding belief that whatever is contained on the shelved celluloid would ruin reputations and reap nothing but audience anger.
It happens more often than you know. Dozens of movies make into limited release every single week, many the result of contractual obligation that require some manner of public exposition. But there are also instances where no amount of legal ink ensures a sighting. For almost all the movies listed below, quality is questionable. In other situations, the solution remains in the hands of the very lawyers who created the chaos in the first place. Sometimes, a star hopes to avoid being embarrassed and there are those titles who period presentations end up being contemporary controversies. Still, the possibilities and probabilities remains fascinating, resulting in this list of the most fascinating MIA movies of all time. Not all are worthy of such legendary status, but until they can stand up and “speak” for themselves, there’s rumor and innuendo, and the dreams of film fans everywhere.
An important document about the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, this 1955 film focuses on famed area DJ Bill Randle and has remained unreleased due to that most common of commercial pitfalls, rights issues. In particular, director Arthur Cohen captured footage of formative musical acts such as Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and the Comets, and Johnny Ray long before they were household names. Said performances were never cleared, meaning the most important aspect of this movie—seeing important acts from rock’s infancy—couldn’t be used. Rumors suggest Universal now owns the title and intends to keep it buried in its vaults.
Otherwise known as the movie Roger Corman made in order to secure the continuing rights to the popular Marvel property. When a German producer approached Stan Lee about adapting the characters into a film, he had only three years to get a deal done. With time running out, he turned to the King of the B Pictures in order to get something made and FAST. The result was this un-releasable $1 million travesty with F/X so low budget they move beyond laughable and into the range of performance art. After some contractual back and forth, the film found a very limited release before disappearing into the realm of movie myth.
Before he became the six billion dollar man (at the box office, that is), Johnny Depp was struggling to jumpstart his idiosyncratic muse. Calling on friends Marlon Brando (in one of his last performances) and Frederic Forrest, he decided to make a post-modern look at the Native American issue in the US. Co-writing, acting and directing (his one and only attempt behind the lens, so far) he played a man so desperate for money that he agrees to star in a snuff film. Depp’s efforts premiered at Cannes to decidedly bad reviews and while it was eventually released in Europe, it has never been available in the US.
The tagline for this failed animated film should have read “28 Years in the Un-Making!” Indeed, cartoon icon Richard Williams, perhaps best known as the pen and ink supervisor on the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? had a vision for this take on Mulla Nasruddin, a “wise fool” of Near Eastern folklore. Produced independently and meticulously illustrated, the filmmaker would have an eventual falling out with Warner Brothers over additional financing. The incomplete footage was sold to another company who ‘cobbled’ together a version far removed from Williams’ intentions. While some have struggled to turn an available workprint into a reflection of the final film, this remains an unfinished curiosity.
Believe it or not, there was a time when David O. Russell was a Hollywood pariah. His reputation, enhanced by YouTube video of his blow-ups while on the set of I Heart Huckabees, almost cost him his career. His next project was a weird comedy about a young woman (Jessica Biel) who is struck in the head by a nail via a careless workman. Heading to Washington to champion the rights of the unusually injured, she meets a crocked Congressman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who exploits her problems. Shut down several times over money and actor issues (James Caan bailed halfway through), it’s supposedly complete, though Russell now disowns it.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.