It’s sometimes easy to point out a lack of creativity on Hollywood’s part when it comes to the movies that usually get produced — especially given the the current climate, in which studios are increasingly relying on huge tentpole films to pay off on massive financial gambles. But even if Hollywood plays it safe now more than ever, that doesn’t mean studios don’t pursue wacky ideas from time time, even if they don’t ultimately go anywhere.
If you look into the history of Hollywood films that weren’t produced, there’s no shortage of strange and fascinating films that almost made it to production before being shut down for one reason or another. Many films have seen years of director changes and rewrites before ultimately falling through the cracks. Only the lucky few finally make it to the big screen, leaving behind a number of “what ifs” in their wake. And some of the best films never made are also among the strangest.
Here are five of the craziest films that Hollywood almost made.
5. Revenge of the Jedi (Directed by David Cronenberg or David Lynch)
At a time when Return of the Jedi was still being referred to as Revenge of the Jedi, Star Wars creator George Lucas had two names in mind during the director search: David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises, The Fly) and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Eraserhead).
For Cronenberg, the inquiry didn’t make it very far: The writer-director wasn’t interested in directing someone else’s material. ”I got a phone call. I was in my kitchen and it was one of the producers. He said, ‘What would you think of doing Star Wars?’” Cronenberg said in an interview with MTV. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t usually do other people’s material.’ And then there was a kind of click. … I blew it right away.”
As for Lynch, he more or less had the keys to the car but decided against signing on. At the time, Lynch had just become one of the biggest names in Hollywood with his films Eraserhead and The Elephant Man. Because Lynch had established a commercial style with The Elephant Man while also making a name for himself among industry players with Eraserhead (director Stanley Kubrick reportedly told Lynch during the filming of The Elephant Man that Eraserhead was his favorite movie), Lucas saw in Lynch a visionary who would be able to put his unique stamp on Return of the Jedi.
But, as with any visionary director, control was a sticking point — and Lynch ultimately passed because of it. “I went to meet George Lucas, who had offered me the third Star Wars to direct, and I’ve never even really liked science fiction. I like elements of it, but it needs to be combined with other genres. And, obviously, Star Wars was totally George’s thing,” he explained in the book Lynch on Lynch. Of course, Lynch would later go on to make the sci-fi film Dune, which turned out to be one of the worst outings of Lynch’s otherwise strong career.
4. The Tourist (Written by Clair Noto)
Clair Noto’s unproduced screenplay The Tourist is a part of Hollywood sci-fi lore. The script first started making the rounds in 1980 and is described as a darker and sex-charged Men In Black. Noto’s screenplay was structurally inspired by the French New Wave; it employs an unusual plot structure and is about a secret alien world in Manhattan.
The Tourist has received no shortage of attention, despite it having never reached production in more than 30 years. Initially, Quadrophenia director Franc Roddam and production designer H.R. Giger (Alien, Aliens) were brought in to visualize the film before the project stalled, leading Noto to exercise a clause in her contract to shop the script to another studio. The script found its way to Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studio, where director Francis Roddam showed strong interest in making the film. Development stalled once again, and original studio Universal Pictures came back and acquired the rights again.
Although Universal still owns the rights to this strange sci-fi screenplay, there hasn’t been any news in the past several years that would suggest it’s any closer to being produced.
3. Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (Starring The Clash)
In 1970, director Martin Scorsese discovered Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, and in 1979, after he had established himself as a star director with Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, he acquired the rights to the novel. However, Scorsese immediately ran into logistical problems producing the 19th century look of New York; the film wouldn’t be put into production until 1999, with the help of Harvey Weinstein. But before any of that, Scorsese imagined the film as a radical period piece starring punk rock band The Clash.
In what is one of the more fascinating “could have beens” on this list, Scorsese originally wanted to make the 19th century New York underworld epic starring members of The Clash with a soundtrack provided by the band. The Clash originally came to the attention of Scorsese after he saw them in the film Rude Boy, directed in a documentary style by Dave Mingay. Rude Boy is about the experiences of the band through the eyes of a fan-turned-roadie.
If the Scorsese had his way, it might have been Joe Strummer and fellow band members marauding through the streets to now-classic songs by The Clash, rather than the more conventional period piece we saw in theaters, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis. Unfortunately for Scorsese, by the time he wanted to get the film produced, he had just experienced his first flop — the musical New York New York – while the success of Star Wars changed the Hollywood landscape forever.
2. Batman Year One (Directed by Darren Aronoskfy)
Before Warner Bros. settled on Christopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman, the studio spent nearly a decade trying to figure out the best way to bring the popular caped crusader back to the silver screen. But of the seemingly endless string of Batman films that almost came to be, none were crazier than Darren Aronoskfy’s proposed Batman: Year One.
At the time, Aronoskfy was coming off the recent success of Requiem for a Dream, which made him one of the most sought-after young directors at the time. Aronoskfy worked closely with graphic novelist Frank Miller (Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns) to create one of the strangest and most radical Batman scripts ever made. Aronoskfy explained in the book Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? written by David Hughes: “My pitch was Death Wish or The French Connection meets Batman. In Year One, Gordon was kind of like Serpico, and Batman was kind of like Travis Bickle.”
If that sounds strange, it’s nothing compared to the actual content of the screenplay. According to Hughes’s book, Batman: Year One would have featured a “Young Bruce Wayne [who] is found in the street after his parents’ murder, and taken in by ‘Big Al’, who runs an auto repair shop with his son, ‘Little Al’. Driven by a desire for vengeance towards a manifest destiny of which he is only dimly aware, young Bruce (of deliberately indeterminate age) toils day and night in the shop, watching the comings and goings of hookers, johns, pimps and corrupt cops at a sleazy East End cathouse across the street, while chain-smoking detective James Gordon struggles with the corruption he finds endemic among Gotham City police officers of all ranks.”
Aronofsky and Miller’s script was likened to Taxi Driver in that Bruce Wayne/Batman would slowly become a bloodthirsty superhero meting out increasingly vengeful justice without the aid of vast wealth. In the end, Warner Bros. passed on the project due to both its dark content and radical departure from usual Batman lore.
1. The Lord of the Rings (Starring The Beatles and directed by Stanley Kubrick)
Easily one of the strangest movie “what ifs” considered, there was once talk of a Lord of the Rings film adaptation starring The Beatles, with none other than Stanley Kubrick approached to direct. And it was actually The Beatles — specifically John Lennon — who were adamant about getting a feature film made.
After Apple Films saw the success of Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, and Yellow Submarine, the production company knew the kind of potential a Lord of the Rings adaptation might hold, considering Lennon was one of the film’s biggest supporters. The film’s roles were reportedly already set: Lennon would play Gollum, Paul McCartney would play Frodo, Ringo Starr would take on Sam, and George Harrison would be Gandalf.
Apple Films would later feel confident enough with both the film’s idea and The Beatles’s interest to approach Kubrick about directing. Kubrick would ultimately turn the offer down because he believed the scope of the film was too big to translate to the screen.
It also didn’t help that Apple Films didn’t officially own the rights at the time; the studio still needed J.R.R. Tolkien’s approval — according to director Peter Jackson, who would later successfully do what Kubrick believed was impossible, Tolkien was not very receptive of The Beatles taking on The Lord of the Rings. “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 Hobbit press tour last year.
While the entire idea seems absolutely bizarre, especially now that Jackson has established a modern take on Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, imagining what could have been is hard to dismiss. Of course, it’s impossible to say for sure how interested Kubrick ever really was in the project — it could be just as likely that he just didn’t want to hurt Lennon’s feelings.
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