For every motion picture that graces our screens, there are untold numbers of projects that have never seen the light of day. Some scripts and concepts die quietly, unable to arouse the interest enough investors to become reality. Others sound like a dream on paper, but for one reason or several, never come to fruition. Others still get midway through production, then evaporate.
These are 25 movies that never got made. Although their concepts may be passed on to other artists, it is unlikely we will ever see these films as they were meant to be seen, and impossible for some.
We are left to wonder how these works may have influenced film history; some of them (“What Makes Pistachio Nuts?” “Northwestern”), although interesting, may have only been a drop in the bucket. Others (“Dune,” “The Tourist,” “Napoleon”) may have changed the face of cinema as we know it. We may never know, because the images and sounds of these filmmakers’ dreams can exist only in our minds.
1. Napoleon (Stanley Kubrick)
After “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Stanley Kubrick was at the height of his career. He and his team of researchers set about exhaustive research and planning for an epic biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. A script was written, locations in France and Romania were scouted, and even the Romanian army volunteered to take part in the production of the film.
Kubrick’s intentions for “Napoleon” are best summarized in one quote: “I have no idea how to describe what I’m going to do other than that I plan to create the greatest movie ever made.” We will never know if Kubrick was right, because “Napoleon” was cancelled. The then-recent failure of “Waterloo” and the prohibitive cost of the film ($5 million, around $30 million today) prevented Kubrick from bringing his grand vision to the screen.
Much of the research and development on “Napoleon” was repurposed into Kubrick’s highly acclaimed period epic “Barry Lyndon,” which actually ends 30 years before the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Although Kubrick kicked around the possibility of making the film for the rest of his career, nothing ever materialized. In 2013, Stanley Kubrick’s close friend Steven Spielberg announced intentions to develop Kubrick’s “Napoleon” screenplay into a TV miniseries.
2. Kaleidoscope (Alfred Hitchcock)
Alfred Hitchcock sent a shock to the world of cinema with “Psycho” in 1960, killing off the main character a third of the way through and following the killer the rest of the way. After a couple of underperforming films in the mid-60’s, Hitchcock planned another low-budget shocker that would have featured a gay bodybuilder who, when he sees water, becomes fueled with a murder-lust. He lures them by the water, to their doom.
The unmade film would have included scenes of prolonged strangulation, rape, necrophilia, bodies dissolved in acid, and so on. Hitchcock was planning to film in a “naturalistic” style with unknown actors, inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert.” The stills and title of the project suggest a psychedelic style inspired by the time period. He even shot some silent test footage.
The film was deemed far too violent by multiple studios, and even Hitchcock’s close friend Francois Truffaut disapproved of the dense, extremely violent content of the screenplay. Hitchcock went on to make three more successful films, including “Frenzy,” which recycled some ideas from “Kaleidoscope.”
3. Ronnie Rocket (David Lynch)
After his midnight movie sensation “Eraserhead” boggled the minds of cinema lovers everywhere, David Lynch started work on a new project called “Ronnie Rocket.”
This film would have followed a one-legged detective and the titular Ronnie (a three foot tall man with bright red hair who can control electricity) through a dark industrial world, described by Lynch as an “oil slick, smokestack, steel-steam-soot, fire-sparks and electrical arcs realm,” all set to a 50’s rockabilly soundtrack (probably interlaced with mysterious, windy sound effects).
Dino de Laurentiis, Francis Ford Coppola and Mel Brooks were all attached as producers at one point, but each of their companies either went bankrupt or backed out before serious work on “Ronnie Rocket” began. Lynch has shelved the project, declaring not dead but rather in hibernation.
Speculation suggests that Lynch may someday resurrect the project, but it is unlikely to surface anytime soon for two reasons: One, Lynch hasn’t made a feature film in eight years. Two, Lynch has said himself that the very world “Ronnie Rocket” is set in, a kind of elevated dream world inspired by old-school American industry, doesn’t exist anymore, saying “Cheap storm windows and graffiti have ruined the world for Ronnie Rocket.”
4. One Saliva Bubble (Lynch & Mark Frost)
Another as-yet-unrealized David Lynch project, first conceived in the mid-80’s, “One Saliva Bubble” has been described by Lynch as an “out-and-out wacko dumb comedy…Mark Frost and I were laughing like crazy when we wrote it.”
The plot goes something like this: One day, at a military research facility near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a security guard blows a raspberry so perfect, it produces a saliva bubble that floats into a control panel and sets off a chain of events that ends up switching the identities of several people in the nearby town. It was rumored to star Steve Martin and Martin Short, had it ever gone into production.
Frost and Lynch wrote the script together in 1987, a full three years before “Twin Peaks” aired on TV. One could imagine the blend of small town humor and drama seen in “Twin Peaks” factoring significantly into “One Saliva Bubble.” The reasons for it never coming together are murky, but this author speculates that studio executives simply felt a comedy from the director of “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead” simply wouldn’t do well.
5. Megalopolis (Francis Ford Coppola)
After scoring a Palme D’Or for “Apocalypse Now,” Francis Ford Coppola produced a series of low-performing, mediocre and otherwise forgettable movies in the 80’s. In the late 90’s, he began pre-production on his dream project “Megalopolis,” an epic science fiction film in which New York is destroyed in a mega disaster, then rebuilt with a utopian vision for the future.
Coppola claims to have directed “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Jack” and “The Rainmaker” all to procure enough funding to make “Megalopolis” a reality. Actors in consideration for the film include Kevin Spacey, Warren Beatty, Paul Newman, Nicolas Cage and Robert De Niro. A final draft of the script, concept art and even some 30 hours of second-unit shooting were completed, and “Megalopolis” seemed like a distinct possibility.
Then came September 11, 2001, which occurred in the middle of Coppola’s second-unit shooting. “I feel like history has come to my doorstep,” said Coppola, believing that his project would now be all the more relevant because of the tragedy. He sought to re-write the script with 9/11 in mind, but found that the subject matter of his dream project could not be reconciled with the reality of September 11th. The project was shelved and has yet to be revived, although Coppola is rumored to working on a new, epic film set in New York.
6. Rendezvous With Rama (David Fincher)
“2001” author Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rondezvous with Rama” was published in 1972, and is considered one of his most essential works. Morgan Freeman has been trying to get a movie made of the book for over a decade now.
Freeman would produce and act in the film, with David Fincher directing., “’Rendezvous with Rama’ asks the greatest of all questions: are we all there is?” says Freeman, expressing his passionate interest in Clarke’s story. “Obviously we are not all there is, but we don’t know what kind of entity exists outside of us.”
David Fincher said in 2008 that the project looked dead, citing Morgan Freeman’s poor health. Freeman asserts that the movie is going to get made some day, even telling Neil DeGrasse Tyson at one point, “We ARE going to make that movie.”
The project would most likely require a large budget—it has been said that it would need to use technology like James Cameron used in “Avatar”—but given the status both Morgan Freeman and David Fincher both hold in Hollywood, it’s not unlikely that the film could still happen, and maybe soon. Morgan Freeman is just waiting for the right script to come along.
7. Torso (David Fincher)
Not to be confused with the Italian horror film “Torso,” David Fincher’s “Torso” would have been based on the graphic novel of the same name by Michael Bendis.
The graphic novel was based on the Cleveland Torso Murderer, who famously decapitated and dismembered his victims between 1935 and 1938; the murderer has never been caught. If “Torso” would have been made, it would have continued Fincher’s line of critically successful serial killer films, which included “Se7en” and the more recent, Palme D’Or-nominated “Zodiac.”
The film had Matt Damon and Gary Oldman attached at one point, with Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Skeleton Key) to write the screenplay. It was to be David Fincher’s next project after “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but then the rights ran out and Paramount refused to put u the money to renew them.
“Torso” fell by the wayside as Fincher went to work on “The Social Network,” which earned eight Academy Award nominations, winning three. The film may still get made eventually, depending on whether interest in the project can be rekindled at Paramount.
8. The Tourist
Clair Noto’s “The Tourist” is a fine, if tragic, example of an innovative original screenplay getting filtered through the studio system and becoming something totally different in the process. “The Tourist” is about a diverse group of aliens who live on Earth in secret, sometimes wearing disguises to blend in.
At night, they go to a clandestine nightclub called “The Corridor” to have sex with other aliens and humans and lament their being stranded. The main character is Grace Ripley, an alien disguised beautiful business executive, who uncovers a conspiracy within The Corridor to murder humans.
“I wanted to portray sexual agony and ecstasy in a way I had never seen before, and science fiction seemed like the arena.” H.R. Giger famously drew up some provocative alien designs for “The Tourist,” and he was only one of several artists considered to design the aliens of the Corridor; Noto wanted each species to be designed by a different artist, so that the creatures would be as alien from each other as the styles of their respective artists.
Clair Noto wrote the script for Universal, under the supervision of executive Sean Daniels, who after receiving the completed script from Noto immediately passed it on to another screenwriter for a rewrite.
So begins the downfall of “The Tourist,” as a nearly endless string of rewrites and additions dulled the edges of Clair Noto’s screenplay. The outlook for “The Tourist” these days isn’t good; Noto has said that directors have read “The Tourist” and picked at some of its ideas, and a modern production would only appear derivative.