8 Interesting Films Stuck in Development Hell

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Source: Warner Bros.

[Update, 5/4/16: New information added throughout article!] Whether or not you felt it was worth the wait, the year’s release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the end result of a long and seemingly impossible quest to get the two superheroes in the same film. And with plans for a Wonder Woman and Justice League movie in 2017, fans will soon be getting two more films that for many years seemed doomed to an eternity in development without ever seeing the light of day.

But while Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and other DC Extended Universe movies managed to break out of the cycle of development limbo, there’s still a wide variety of exciting films just waiting for the opportunity to break free. Some of these films appear to be close to getting made, while others will almost certainly never get made. Here are eight interesting films, in no particular order, that remain stuck in development hell for a variety of reasons.

1. Ghostbusters 3

Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters (1984) | Source: Black Rhino Productions

First of all, just to be clear, this entry refers to an aborted project that would have involved the cast of the original Ghostbusters, not the rebooted version with a new cast that is coming out this summer. Dan Aykroyd originally wrote a script that revolved around the original group of Ghostbusters getting transported to a hell-like version of Manhattan, but according to Harold Ramis, “no one was motivated to pursue it,” and the script ended up being used as the basis for Ghostbusters: The Video Game.

Then, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, writer-producers on The Office, wrote a script that introduced a new group of young Ghostbusters with the old ones appearing in a mentor role, according to Ramis. However, the failure of their comedy Year One then put that version of the film in jeopardy. As if the story situation couldn’t get any more complicated, Aykroyd appeared on Larry King Now in May and said, “It’s based upon new research that’s being done in particle physics by the young men and women at Columbia University,” seemingly giving out concrete story elements.

However, Aykroyd has never exactly been the person to ask about the status of the film, having said the film was on the verge of production on various occasions for a decade. And then you have potential Ghostbusters 3 director Ivan Reitman, the director of the first two films, telling Slash Film, “we’ve been thinking of alternatives, and we’re actually making some real progress, and we’ll see what happens. That’s the most honest answer I can think of.” So who knows what’s really going on with this film on the script level since even the filmmakers can’t give consistent answers.

Script problems aside, one of the biggest issues with a potential Ghostbusters 3 has also been that actor Bill Murray reportedly isn’t interested in returning — which is probably the only consistent factor in the history of Ghostbusters 3′s development. “I would love to work with him again. I’d hope that he could be in this film. He could be, he might not be, I really don’t know,” Reitman told Slash Film. The lack of Murray’s Peter Venkman in a potential third film begs the question as to whether there’s even a point in trying to figure out this decade-long train-wreck. However, the final blow to the project came with the tragic death of Harold Ramis in early 2014. Plans for a sequel starring the original cast were scrapped, and a reboot starring a new, all-female crew was made instead.

2. Halo


Master Chief | Source: Microsoft

The story of Halo’s attempts to reach the big screen start in 2005 when Microsoft  hired screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd) to adapt the hugely popular game franchise for the screen. When the script was completed, it was sent to all the major studios where most studio-heads balked at Microsoft’s asking price of $10 million against 15 percent of the gross.

Then, 20th Century Fox  and Universal  decided to partner up for the film. Soon after, Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) was attached to be executive producer along with director Neil Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium), who at this time had not directed a feature film.

D.B. Weiss and Josh Olson were later involved in rewrites of Garland’s script while arguments over profit-sharing reached a standstill, causing the studios to pull the plug. Blomkamp and Jackson went on to collaborate on District 9 soon after — but not before Blomkamp’s seven minute Halo movie demo hit the internet and galvanized fans.

At this point, the rights to Halo have reverted back to Microsoft, but all the signs point to the film being made at some point. In 2009, Steven Spielberg expressed interest in making a Halo film and Blomkamp said 2013, “I still really love the world and the universe and the mythology of Halo. If I was given control, I would really like to do that film.” However, as of May 2016, the status of the Halo movie remains unknown, according to IMDb.

3. At the Mountains of Madness

Del Toro Notebook

Sketch inspired by At the Mountains of Madness by Guillermo del Toro | Source: Guillermo del Toro sketchbook via Reddit

At the Mountains of Madness would have been based on the famous horror novella of the same name written by H. P. Lovecraft. The story follows a group of explorers in Antarctica who discover the remains of an ancient, alien city, eventually finding that the creatures were once the creators of all life. The explorers also find out that they’re not alone, discovering six-foot tall blind penguins that serve as livestock for something much, much worse.

Director Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins wrote a screenplay based on the novella in the mid-2000′s and immediately ran into trouble trying to finance the project due to the dark nature of the story. But in 2010, it seemed like Del Toro had finally gotten the go ahead; it was announced that not only would the film be moving forward starring Tom Cruise and in 3D, but James Cameron would be producing. The above picture is from Del Toro’s personal journal sketches from the film (go here to check out some of Del Toro’s other sketches).

Then, in March 2011, which was only months before Del Toro had believed he was to start filming, Universal refused to greenlight the film due to Del Toro’s insistence that the film be R-rated. Del Toro then tried to shop the film around to other studios without any luck.

However, Del Toro said in January 2013 that he’d like to give the film one more shot and that Tom Cruise is still attached. “Once more into the dark abyss. We’re gonna do a big presentation of the project again at the start of the year,” he said.

4. Akira


Akira | Source: TMS Entertainment

Akira is one of the most famous Japanese manga series, which was later turned into one of the most famous animated Japanese films of all-time. The story depicts a dystopian version of the future as a teenage biker Tetsuo Shima begins to discover his psychic powers and threatens to unleash the imprisoned psychic Akira. Tetsuo’s friend, Shotaro Kaneda, is then forced to go on a mission to save his friend from his destructive powers.

Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Akira in 2002 and has been trying to get a live-action version of the movie made ever since. Around 2010, the film came as close as it’s ever been to being produced, with Leonardo DiCaprio attached as one of the film’s producers and Albert Hughes attached to direct; however, Hughes later dropped out over creative differences. Jaume Collet-Serra was then brought on to direct before the film was shut down for the fourth time.

The sheer amount of actors rumored to be involved in the film seem endless; DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Franco, Michael Fassbender, Justin Timberlake, Joaquin Phoenix have all been considered at one point for one of the two leads — and that’s only a fraction of the actors who have been considered.

In 2013, Jaume Collet-Serra entered the project once again as director. More recently, Marco J. Ramirez — who penned the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil series — was brought on by Warner Bros. to write the script, while director Christopher Nolan was rumored to be eyeing the project, albeit as a trilogy. However, as of May 2016, it still remains to be seen if the live-action Akira will ever make it out of development hell and into theaters.

5. The Tourist

Concept art for The Tourist by H.R. Giger

Concept art for The Tourist by H.R. Giger | Source: HRGiger.com

The Tourist is a science-fiction screenplay that’s been making the rounds since 1980. Written by Clair Noto, the script initially caught the attention of Quadrophenia director Franc Roddam along with well-known production designer HR Giger. The website io9 describes the film as “a darker, sex-charged Men In Black.” More specifically, itrevealed a secret alien world in Manhattan, including a secret alien club called the Corridor, where various aliens from all over the universe meet, have sex, and commiserate about being stuck on Earth.”

The film began its 30 plus years of development hell at Universal, but was immediately met with creative differences and personality clashes, according to io9. The structure of the script was influenced by the New Wave and director Brian Gibson and writers attempted to revise the script into a more conventional structure. At the same time, HR Giger was brought in fresh off the success of Alien and asked to design the aliens of the Corridor.

When the process stalled, Noto was able to use a rare clause in her contract to shop the script to another studio. It found it’s way to Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studio for a brief moment, with director Francis Roddam showing strong interest, but financial issues at Zoetrope caused the project to stall once again. Universal then came back for the screenplay rights and the project simply hit a dead end.

So where is it now? Well, Universal still owns the rights to the script, but it doesn’t appear that the film is any closer to making it to the big screen today than it ever was. As io9 laments in the title to their article on the project, The Tourist might be the greatest sci-fi movie never made.

6. Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian test footage

Actor Mark Pellegrino in James Franco’s Blood Meridian test footage | Source: Vice

Cormac McCarthy’s dark western Blood Meridian has often been referred to as unfilmable for many different reasons, but it hasn’t stopped directors from trying — the most recent being James Franco. Blood Meridian follows a teenager referred to as “the kid” and his experiences with the Glanton gang, which was a historical group of scalp hunters who massacred Native Americans and others in the United States-Mexico borderlands between 1849 and 1850.

If the synopsis doesn’t tip you off to one of the biggest problems, let’s make it clear: this book is unbelievably violent. In fact, it makes the violence in McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men seem tame in comparison. While McCarthy’s lyrical prose almost makes the violence in the book bearable, a film wouldn’t have the benefit of that beautiful prose — what you see is what you get. And what you get is violence that rivals and surpasses even a film like Hostel.

Of course, someone will figure out the key sooner or later and make a film of it despite the violence. Franco even reached the point of releasing test footage (via Vice) with actors Mark Pellegrino, Scott Glenn, Dave Franco, and Luke Perry, but now he joins Todd Field and Ridley Scott as directors who have tried and failed to get this film on the big screen.

But with All the Pretty HorsesThe Road, and No Country For Old Men  all having been translated to award-winning films, it’s only a matter of time before Blood Meridian does the same.

[Update, 5/5/16: Added casting news.] It appears that James Franco’s adaptation of Blood Meridian is beginning to gain traction. According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, Russell Crowe will star in the film along with Tye Sheridan, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Franco. At this time it’s still unclear what role Crowe or the other actors will play.

7. The Dark Tower series

The Dark Tower VII book cover

Cropped image of The Dark Tower VII book cover | Source: Scribner via StephenKing.com

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger is the first book in a series of eight novels by Stephen King, which are often referred to as his magnum opus. The story revolves around the gunslinger Roland Deschain and his pursuit of “the man in black” and his eventual journey to the titular Dark Tower.

Talk of a film adaptation of The Dark Tower started to gain momentum when J.J. Abrams was briefly attached to direct in 2007 before removing himself from the project, calling the adaptation “tricky.” Ron Howard then became attached to the adaptation, along with partner producer Brian Grazer, and the film has seemingly been on the verge of production ever since.

Universal and Howard were supposedly close to a deal at one point before the studio backed out due to Howard’s scope being too ambitious at a time when Universal was trying to cut costs — the very same reason the studio backed out of Del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness. Warner Bros. later came close to a deal before backing out for similar reasons.

In 2013, Howard and Grazer were able to secure funding from Media Rights Capital to produce a single movie based on The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger with Russell Crowe set to star as Roland Deschain. However, the studio eventually dropped that version of the project due to budgetary concerns.

Fortunately, this long-awaited movie finally seems to be getting some traction. In March 2016, Stephen King confirmed via his Twitter account that Idris Elba would play the gunslinger, while Matthew McConaughey would play the mystical foe known as the man in black. Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) is set to direct the movie, which is scheduled to begin shooting in May 2016, with a tentative premiere date of January 13, 2017. King fans likely have their fingers crossed that it’s the real deal this time.

8. Rendezvous With Rama

Rendezvous with Rama

Cropped book cover image of Rendezvous with Rama | Source: Spectra via Amazon

Written by Arthur C. Clarke, the writer of 2001Rendezvous With Rama tells the story of an alien starship that enters the Earth’s solar system and the group of explorers who journey to it in order to discover its secrets.

Actor Morgan Freeman has been the strongest driving force to get a film adaption of Rendezvous With Rama made, and he’s been trying since the early 2000′s. It nearly went into production in 2003 with David Fincher slated to direct, but the production later fell apart, and in 2008, Fincher said, ”It looks like it’s not going to happen. There’s no script and as you know, Morgan Freeman’s not in the best of health right now. We’ve been trying to do it but it’s probably not going to happen.”

As recently as 2013, Freeman told HitFix that he is still trying to get the film made. Here’s hoping this sci-fi film finally makes it out of development hell.

Additional reporting by Nathanael Arnold.

All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.

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