Sometimes, a Steven Spielberg movie takes years to come to fruition. For example, eleven years passed between the optioning of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team Of Rivals” and the release of “Lincoln.” Sometimes a Steven Spielberg movie can come together at lightning speed, like this week’s “Bridge Of Spies” (read our review here), which went into production seemingly mere months after its announcement. And sometimes, a Steven Spielberg movie doesn’t get made
Spielberg’s been at the head of the A-list for directors for forty years now, and as such, has had his pick of the top projects over the decades. Inevitably, some of those movines don’t get made for one reason or another. It’s a list of projects almost as tantalizing as the ones that did get made.
We’ve picked out fifteen key movies from across Spielberg’s career that came close to going in front of cameras without ever quite getting there. We’ve kept our list to those that he never got before cameras at all — Spielberg’s also been attached to various projects eventually made by other filmmakers, including “Harry Potter,” “Cruising,” “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,” “Oldboy,” and “Interstellar,” but that’s probably material for a different list another day. So take a look and wonder what-could-have-been below.
“Flushed With Pride: The Story Of Thomas Crapper”
Spielberg’s big-screen career came reasonably close to getting off to a very different start, one that risked making him a filmmaker taken much, much less seriously. Under credit to Universal at the beginning of the 1970s, but still working mostly in TV, the filmmaker pitched three projects to the movie-wing of the studio. One was a re-telling of “Snow White” set in a Chinese food factory in San Francisco. Another was a movie about a stunt pilot in the 1920s, eventually called “Ace Eli And Rodger Of The Skies” — the studio passed, but Fox bought the pitch for $50,000 and wouldn’t let Spielberg write or direct. The movie was released in 1973 starring Cliff Robertson, without making much impact. And finally, Spielberg optioned a recently-published book called “Flushed With Pride: The Story Of Thomas Crapper,” a semi-satirical biography that suggested (possibly incorrectly) that Crapper was the inventor of the flushing toilet. The director approached future “American Graffiti” writers Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck about writing a screenplay. As Huyck says in
Joseph McBride’s Spielberg biography, “We came up with the great idea of doing it as ‘Young Tom Edison.’ But like ‘Little Big Man. We wrote a treatment, and we gave it to our
[mutual] agent, Guy McElwaine, who said ‘Steve, if this is the kind of movie you want to do, I don’t want to be your agent.” Cooler heads prevailed, and the director moved into features with “Sugarland Express” instead.
“Night Skies”/“ET 2: Nocturnal Fears”
Famously, one of Spielberg’s most beloved critical and commercial hits, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” started life in the very different form of “ Night Skies.” Cooked up when Columbia asked for a “Close Encounters” sequel, Spielberg’s treatment, initially called “Watch The Skies,” saw eleven evil aliens attacking a family on their farm. John Sayles, writer of Roger Corman pic “Piranha,” a favorite of Spielberg, was hired to write a script, which he fashioned after John Ford’s “Drums Along The Mohawk,” and Rick Baker even began designing the alien creatures, including one friendly guy called Buddy. But during production of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” Spielberg says he changed his mind, wanting to “get back to the tranquility, or at least the spirituality, of ‘Close Encounters,’” and a conversation with Melissa Mathison saw him shift focus onto a Buddy-like creature, and “E.T.” was born. Nevertheless, the idea didn’t disappear altogether: after “E.T.”’s blockbuster success, Spielberg and Mathison cooked up a nine-page treatment for a sequel called “E.T. 2: Noctural Fears,” which saw an albino group of creatures of E.T.’s species terrorizing Elliott, Gertie, and their family, and our alien hero eventually coming to the rescue. Much darker, more violent, and abandoning so much of what made the original special, the film was a real prospect, but was swiftly and wisely abandoned.
“Reel To Reel”
Like many filmmakers, Spielberg has long dreamed of making a musical, and like many filmmakers, he hasn’t yet gotten around to making one — the Busby Berkeley-nodding opening to “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” probably comes closest, though
he’s been developing a remake of “West Side Story” recently too. We could have seen one much earlier in his career — even before “E.T.,” Spielberg was working on a project called “Reel To Reel,” a semi-autobiographical musical about a young filmmaker. During pthe roduction of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” Spielberg flew Gary David Goldberg, later creator of “Family Ties” and “Spin City,” to London to work on an idea intended to become a movie musical. Described by Goldberg in the L.A. Times as “bi-autobiographical… it’s really about both of us,” the movie focused on hotshot filmmaker Stuart Moss, hired to direct a musical remake of “Invaders From Mars,” and the tumultuous production, taking in a drug-addicted country singer, a precocious child star, and a combative choreographer. Written to include various cameos — including Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Pauline Kael, and Mary Tyler Moore (the latter three in a dream sequence) — the film was formally announced in 1983, and at one point Spielberg relinquished the director’s chair to produce for “Heaven’s Gate” helmer Michael Cimino (what a fascinating combination that would have been…), but the project never progressed further.