nullThe Nick Cave-scripted “Gladiator 2
What Was It? A sequel to the epic Ridley Scott drama “Gladiator” (2000) to star Cave’s fellow antipodean Russell Crowe again in the role that made him a megastar. But, huh, didn’t Maximus die at the end of Gladiator? Not a problem! Cave’s absolutely bonkers take had Maximus constantly reincarnated as an immortal warrior in a story whose theology would have encompassed both the pantheon of Roman Gods and Christianity (Maximus’ first task is to kill Jesus because the Gods are jealous of his increasing popularity) and would have spanned just about every conflict from ancient times up to Vietnam and beyond.
What Happened? That script happened. According to Cave, Crowe, who had drafted him in in the first place, responded with a brusque “Don’t like it, mate,” but Ridley Scott indicated that Crowe actually didn’t want to let it go and that they tried to work with it for a while, claiming he thought “as a piece of storytelling, it works brilliantly.” And of course it seems the kernel of the idea about Roman theology may have been planted by Crowe himself, who wanted to find a way to participate in a sequel, when the earliest version of it had actually been about his character’s son instead. But quite aside from it being about a gazillion miles away from what anyone would expect from a “Gladiator” sequel, and being so potentially blasphemous that Cave’s original title, “Christ Killer,” seems perfectly appropriate, there just doesn’t seem to be any possible universe in which this movie would get studio backing, and even Cave knew that. Despite insisting that the screenplay is “a stone-cold masterpiece” he also called it a “popcorn-dropper” during his Marc Maron interview, indicating he knew full well that the script would never get made.
Could It Ever Get Made? No. We just don’t live in that interesting a world, unfortunately. But you can read the whole thing right here.

nullSteven Spielberg’s Night Skies
What Was It? A Steven Spielberg idea touted rather famously as “ ‘Straw Dogs’ with aliens” about an extraterrestrial menacing a family in Kentucky.
What Happened? After the success of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Columbia naturally wanted a sequel, but Spielberg was not game. Instead, he came up with a horror treatment called “Watch The Skies” (also the ‘Encounters’ working title). Based on a real-life paranormal encounter account of a Kentucky family terrorized by aliens, this was a much darker reflection than the benevolent aliens depicted in ‘Close Encounters.’ Spielberg hired John Sayles (who had recently written Joe Dante’s “Piranha”) to pen the script (a review can be read here). Unsurprisingly too dark for Spielberg’s taste, he decided Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) should direct which really would have been all too perfect. Special special effects wizard Rick Baker was hired to create the creatures and it was scheduled to shoot after “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But after the scope, violence and intensity of that Tunisia-set shoot, Spielberg was all too happy to switch gears to the more tranquil “E.T.” and “Night Skies” was abandoned (it didn’t help that Sayles’ one and only draft needed work and they had parted ways). Spielberg would famously borrow and incorporate elements from “Night Skies” for both “E.T.” (falling out with Rick Baker in the process) and the similarly dark “Poltergeist,” which he would produce and Hooper would direct, under Spielberg’s alleged micromanagement.
Could It Ever Get Made? No, though ironically enough, the project might have been revived by Spielberg himself who wrote a treatment for “E.T.: Nocturnal Fear” with the original writer Melissa Mathison, whose concept is very, “Night Skies”-ish. Fortunately, Spielberg only took brief leave of his senses and decided an “E.T.” sequel would blemish its legacy and quashed the idea himself (and you can read that treatment right here).

nullDavid Fincher’s “Torso
What Was It? It’s based on Brian Bendis and Marc Andreyko’s award-winning graphic novel recreation of the true story of the Cleveland “Torso Murderer” investigation, headed by celebrity historical personage Elliot “Untouchables” Ness. In 2009, the film seemed squarely in the Fincher/serial killer wheelhouse, (in period and theme almost a mashup of his two previous films at that point: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Zodiac”) with a rumored cast including Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Gary Oldman.
What Happened? “Torso” appears to have been a victim of Fincher’s falling out with Paramount during the shooting and promotion of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The studio had butted heads with the director over the length and the cut of the film, and as soon as those fences were mended, fell out with him all over again over his recalcitrant “difficult” behavior during the press rounds. It just so happened that the rights to “Torso” were coming up for renewal at this time and the studio let them lapse, despite it being slated as Fincher’s next film and the script being ready, written by Ehren Kruger. The cover story was about financial issues and tightening of purse strings, with some rumors that in fact they wanted Fincher to direct the Keanu Reeves comedy “Chef” instead (also now defunct; Fincher has a bunch of wayside films, of which the other one we’re probably most excited by is “Rendezvous with Rama,” but since the studio also dropped Fincher’s “Heavy Metal” not so long before, it seems there has to have been some other factors at play).
Could It Ever Get Made? Definitely no and definitely yes: it won’t be Fincher, but the project has now been added toAin’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery’s upcoming slate, though he is reportedly not going to be using the Kruger script developed for the Fincher incarnation (which presumably Paramount still owns). For enthusiasts of the material, that has to be good news, with Lowery seeming like a good, if lower-profile, fit for the mood and tone of the source.

Joe, David Gordon GreenA Confederacy of Dunces
What Was It? John Kennedy Toole’s hilariously picaresque novel about the implacable Ignatius J. Reilly: a “huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter” and his adventures in New Orleans.
What Happened? In what could have been yet another touchstone classic under his belt, in the early 1980s, the late Harold Ramis (“Ghostbusters”) penned a script that he would direct. He envisioned it as a starring vehicle for John Belushi and Richard Pryor and Ruth Gordon were signed on to star. Belushi’s death in 1982, however, put the kibosh on the whole thing. Other iterations followed. John Candy, Jonathan Winters, and Josh Mostel were all names talked about in the ‘80s. Chris Farley and John Goodman‘s names were mentioned in the ’90s, but the most viable second attempt came in the late ’90s via Steven Soderbergh. A script was penned with Scott Kramer (producer on “The Limey”), but myriad legal woes made it thorny (much of them documented in Soderbergh’s journal/Richard Lester book, “Getting Away With It”). Soderbergh passed the torch on to David Gordon Green in the early aughts, post “Undertow,” and it was going to be his next project. The cast of Will Ferrell, Lily Tomlin, Mos Def, Drew Barrymore, and Olympia Dukakis was assembled, a reading was even staged, but the sticky legal woes (Miramax vs. Paramount vs. producers) quickly stuck a fork in it. Jack Black’s name was floated a few years later, and most recently, an iteration with James Bobin (“Flight of the Conchords,” “The Muppets”) and Zach Galifianakis (whose entire haughty comedic demeanor is arguably just the embodiment of Ignatius) came to light.
Could It Ever Get Made? Maybe once the legal drama is sorted. Broadway sounds like the most recent viable option, though it is still listed as in development on Bobin and Galifianakis’ IMDb pages for what it’s worth.

nullRidley Scott’s “Blood Meridian
What Was It? While a film based on Cormac McCarthy’s most famous, and probably best, novel has been mooted for a long while, the name that was associated with it for longest was Ridley Scott. The story is incredibly bleak and grisly, an anti-western following a young boy as he falls in with with a gang of psychotic scalp hunters in the U.S./Mexico borderlands who are in thrall to the hairless, quasi-mystical Judge Holden.
What Happened? While Pulitzer Prize winner McCarthy’s novels have been adapted often for screen (“All the Pretty Horses” “No Country for Old Men” “The Road”), it’s been with varying levels of box office return so they’re still a hard sell to studios. And “Blood Meridian” is an outlier even in McCarthy’s unflinching oeuvre, with the kind of extreme violence and uncompromisingly grim storyline that smacks of uncommerciality. So for the majority of the time Scott was trying to get his version of “Blood Meridian” off the ground, it was simply regarded as too dicey a proposition, especially as Scott claimed his version would have been ”double-x horrific… Hieronymous Bosch” with the film playing out more like a horror movie than a western. It is perhaps the only way to tackle a film version, but again, studios tend not to sink a lot of money into horror films so we can see why they’d be reluctant to stump up the budget required for this sweeping, bleak period tale.
Could It Ever Get Made? Scott has seemingly scratched his McCarthy itch by winning the bidding war for the novelist’s first screenplay and making “The Counselor.” But a “Blood Meridian” adaptation has hung around since without him, having director Todd Field attached at one point, with very vague, unconfirmable reports that Terrence Malick was interested in having Gene Hackman star in a version, and recently, more chillingly, being name checked as one of the many projects being eyed by James Franco as a potential directorial gig—though his uninspired adaptation of McCarthy’s “Child of God” instead took precedence. So while “unfilmable” is a tag that’s been attached to many a project over the years and proven false, we’ll give Scott the last word on this one—asked about the film some time after he’d left the project he said simply “I think it’s a really tricky one, and maybe it’s something that should be left as a novel.”

  • Jake

    What about Shane Carruth\’s A Topiary? It may be one of the greatest scripts i have ever read and it was never made because Carruth could never get the financing. Steven Soderburgh and David Fincher were even executive producers

  • nicholas win

    I so would\’ve loved to see batman triumphant

  • Just read the book of Judith in the bible (Apocrypha) last night and the class agreed that Angelina Jolie would be perfect for the part – really – check it out…Brad as Holofernes?

    theophilies

  • Michael Dare

    Hal Ashby was intending on making Tom Robbins\’ Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Wolfe\’s The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, Richard Brautigan\’s The Hawkline Monster, Saul Bellow\’s Henderson, the Rain King, and Thomas Berger\’s Vital Parts.

  • Nikhil Dhawan

    I was looking forward to "The Tourist"

  • Felip Serra

    Re: "Napoleon"
    $5 million (1969?) is $100 million in today's dollars? Really? Seems a bit high…
    Also Audrey Hepburn was offered the role of Josephine was politely declined. You can read the letter in the Taschen book on the subject.

  • Martijn

    Crisis in the Hot Zone should have been mentioned! I read a bootleg script once. It was totally intense. Like a real-life Andromeda Strain. Instead WB beat Fox to the punch and made Outbreak which now reads as such a completely absurd movie. Thankfully many years later Soderbergh made Contagion which very realistically depicted a modern pandemic in a way no other film has.

  • Brendan

    Michael Mann's Gates of Fire
    Ridley Scott's Crisis in the Hot Zone
    Ridley Scott's Dune
    Ron Howard's remake of Colossus: The Forbin Project

  • I. P. Freely

    "Man's Fate" from the Andre Malraux novel about a political revolution in China, and it's
    futility, was to be directed by Fred Zinemann and then Micheal Cimino….

  • Sanker from India

    I have only read the intro so far but I need to say this. The opposite thing to imaginary movies possibly being amazing only because they exist in our imaginations would be films that are so mind altering that nothing is ever the same again. Take 2001: a space odyssey, for example. Now it may seem obvious and even inevitable to say that it's fantastic but before that first viewing I had no idea what was in store for me. After watching it and once the experience really sunk after the second viewing, my viewpoint if all cinema was forever altered. The film's brilliance, in this case, was something I couldn't even fathom before I saw it. Those kind of unexpectedly amazing experiences are the ones which I personally treasure the most.

  • Parker

    Alexander Payne's Downsizing with Sacha Baron Cohen, Paul Giamatti, Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep. I hope finally this will be happen. Downsizing's subject will be also current in the future…

  • Xian

    Curious about "Night Skies"… here's a script critique:
    scriptshadow . blogspot . com / 2010 / 02 / titan-week-night-skies . html

    Close the space on the link and cut/paste to address/url.

  • Simon B

    Nice piece. Just to add to MDL's comment, it seems you may have stumbled across The Greatest Movies You'll Never See (which I co-wrote and edited). 'Borrowing' the artwork for Moon Over Miami, which, like all the posters in the book, was specially commissioned, was a bit of a tip-off. Still, top marks for finding a few that escaped us.

  • avant576

    I yearn for Shane Carruth's A TOPIARY

  • Greg

    The Coen brothers' unrealized To the White Sea, which was to star Brad Pitt and boast no/minimum dialogue, is a project I'd dearly love to have seen. And speaking of the Coen brothers, they reportedly wrote a draft of a '30s-set The Shadow, with Sam Raimi set to direct. I just… I can't. No. That one hurts too much.

  • Thunderbubble

    Thanks for the Night Skies treatment.
    I would add Harlan Ellison's I, Robot screenplay to that list. I've always loved it's "Citizen Kane"-ish structure. In a sci-fi setting it would be incredible. Plus you get all the stories the way Azimov intended them to be told. Pure genius! Sigh…

  • fry

    Carl Dreyer's film about Jesus and Kurosawa's complete "The Idiot" are the biggest what-ifs for me.

  • MDL

    There's a book about this titled: The Greatest Movies You'll Never See. Might want to note it.

  • James

    I haven't read "Night Skies", but when Shyamalan's SIGNS came out, lots of writers said it borrowed heavily form Spielberg's unmade film.

  • Rick

    I was looking forward too Alex Proyas Paradise Lost

  • Benjamin

    What about Lem Dobbs' Edward Ford or Dan O'Bannon's screenplay adaptation of Theodore Rozsak's Flicker? Now THOSE are great scripts. It's a crime they never got filmed.
    As for Scorsese's innumerable could-have-been's, I've always wondered the most about the Elmore Leonard adaptation of LaBrava (quite possibly his finest novel) with Dustin Hoffman on the lead role way back in the 80's. Could have been pretty cool.

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