The 10 Most Infamous MIA Movies

A look at 10 movies that were made, and then shelved, by their respective makers, becoming Hollywood myths in the process.

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.

#10 - The Pied Piper of Cleveland

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.

#9 - The Fantastic Four (1994)

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.

#8 - The Brave

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.

#7 - The Thief and the Cobbler

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.

#6 - Nailed

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.

Next Page





Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.