18. The Conquest of Mexico (Werner Herzog)
Similar in theme and content to his two highly acclaimed films, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo,” Werner Herzog’s unmade “The Conquest of Mexico” would have portrayed conquistador Hernan Cortez’s march into the heart of the Aztec empire—as seen from the perspective of the Aztecs.
It would have been the most massive project the director had yet undertaken, and at the outset he refused to do it without studio backing. He soon realized the project was so large, there was no other way to complete it without financing from a studio. Herzog approached several studios to procure funding for “The Conquest of Mexico,” but was faced with resistance. Studios wanted to make changes to the script and scale down the budget. Ultimately, Herzog decided to abandon the project.
19. The English Speaker (Terrence Malick)
Terrence Malick is notorious for his consistent refusal to be interviewed about his work. In the 70’s, he turned out two critically acclaimed films: “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven.” After “Days,” he never made another feature film for 20 years, and nobody could seem to figure out where he was at or what he was doing. One of the most exciting new artists in the world of film had now seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.
The truth is that Malick had tried numerous times to shoot various projects following the success of “Days of Heaven,” including “Q,” a spiritual precursor to “The Tree of Life.” Many titles that Malick never got to make are known, but little is known about them or what they could’ve been, especially since Malick often makes changes to his scripts on the fly. The closest to getting made out of all of these projects is “The English Speaker,” Malick’s passion project which he only let his producer Bobby Geisler read.
Set in Vienna, “The English Speaker” is about a psychoanalyst and his patient, a woman who can understand German but speak only in English. “It’s as if he had ripped open his heart and bled his true feelings onto the page,” said Geisler upon reading Malick’s script. “it is indeed a remarkable script…like ‘The Exorcist’ as written by Dostoyevsky.”
Malick got into a dispute with the studio that claimed to own “The English Speaker,” and made his return to cinema with “The Thin Red Line” instead. To this day, the status of “The English Speaker” is unknown, but given Malick’s recent glut of films, resurrection of the project is possible.
20. L’Enfer (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Henri-Georges Clouzot produced some of the greatest films in the pre-New Wave era of French cinema, including “The Wages of Fear” and “Les Diaboliques.” He was famous for the obsessively detailed planning he put into his films, as well as his dictatorial nature on set and cruel treatment of actors. When the New Wave came along, the director’s meticulous methods seemed outmoded in the face of films like “Breathless” and “The 400 Blows.”
Seeking to compete with the New Wave, Clouzot planned a new film called “Inferno.” The script was about a man slowly going insane due to his wife’s supposed infidelities, and it was to employ a variety of new lighting techniques and experimental sound. Columbia pictures granted Clouzot an unlimited budget, so sure they were that the film would be a revolution.
Some 13 hours of test footage was shot for “Inferno” before the film was cancelled due to a glut of production problems, not the least of which was Clouzot suffering a heart attack. Clouzot’s “Inferno” never came to be, and the director made only one more film before he died in 1977.
Since then, Claude Chabrol adapted the script for “Inferno” for his 1994 film, and in 2009 the documentary “Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno” combined existing footage with staged readings of the original script to create an approximation of Clouzot’s vision.
21. The Idiot (Andrei Tarkovsky)
Andrei Tarkovsky is often revered as one of the greatest film artists of the 21st century. It was his stated intention to elevate filmmaking to a level of artistic respect equal to literature, even adapting famous works by several authors. At one point, he considered helming an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot,” about a prince who, after many years in a Swiss sanatorium, returns home to a Russia obsessed with money and power.
Though the Russian government often thwarted his attempts to shoot, it could be that the idea of shooting “The Idiot” simply slipped through his fingers. “The better the writer, the harder to adapt,” said Tarkovsky about Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot.” “[Adapting it] is tantamount to clay passing through the heat of an oven, where it can either attain form—both fire-resistant and waterproof—or it can melt up and turn into something formless and petrified.”
22. Nostromo (David Lean)
Revered British director David Lean took an extended hiatus from filmmaking from “Ryan’s Daughter” in 1970 to “A Passage to India” in 1983, which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. He planned to take his revitalized career to the next level with an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel “Nostromo,” about an Italian sailor, a beautiful Englishwoman and a dozen other characters whom all play various roles in a scheme to smuggle silver out of an imaginary South American country.
Lean had managed to get several big talents to sign on for a role in “Nostromo,” including Peter O’Toole, Marlon Brando, Alec Guinness, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Quaid. Steven Spielberg entered the production as a producer, then offered up some script changes to Lean, who didn’t care for it a bit.
Once Spielberg left, funding fell through and the project was stalled. Schedule conflicts from many involved prevented an effective script from coming together. David Lean even tried to write it by himself and found he could not do Conrad’s story justice.
Eventually, a workable script and shooting schedule was produced. Then David Lean died six weeks before shooting, and “Nostromo” was eventually adapted into a TV miniseries.
23. Night Skies (Steven Spielberg)
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” went over budget and had difficulty coming to the screen, but was ultimately an enormous hit and grossed over $200 million. Spielberg started envisioning a sequel, which went through several stages before becoming a completely different movie. It was first dubbed “Night Skies,” about a teenage girl and her autistic younger brother, who would be fighting off grasshopper-eyed aliens who have been mutilating cattle in the countryside.
Spielberg described it as “Straw Dogs” with aliens. Soon the script became “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” a more broad family oriented film. If the film had been made as “Night Skies,” it could have potentially been a much darker film. Spielerg even offered the script to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Tobe Hooper at one point. Some of the ideas from the outline of “Night Skies” were recycled in the Tobe Hooper-directed (Spielberg produced) “Poltergeist.”
24. Leningrad: The 900 Days (Sergio Leone)
After wrapping work on his epic 4-hour gangster film “Once Upon a Time in America,” Sergio Leone planned another epic-scale project, this one set during one of the longest and most violent sieges in WWII. It was to be based on Harrison Salisbury’s non-fiction book, “The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad,” and it would have starred Robert De Niro as an American photographer caught behind enemy lines.
It took Leone until 1989 to acquire enough finances ($100 million) to get Leningrad made, seven years after “Once Upon a Time in America” was finished. The film was set to shoot the next year, but Sergio Leone died only two days before he was supposed to sign the contract.
25. Dune (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
The mother of all unmade movies, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” was conceived as an Olympian space opera of unprecedented scale, which would have ultimately come out to a 12 hour movie.
Producer Michel Seydoux approached Jodorowsky, who directed the midnight movie classic “El Topo” and the psychedelic head trip “The Holy Mountain,” and told him he would finance any kind of film he wanted to make. Jodorowsky told Seydeux he wanted to make “Dune,” based on a description of the story a friend had given him (Jodorowsky had not read the novel at that point.)
His vision was massive, and he constructed a team of brilliant minds that would seem to be the envy of any studio: Jean-Girard Moebius to do the storyboards, Dan O’Bannon for the special effects, Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack, H.R. Giger designing the villains, and David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali to star. For the icing on the cake, it was all to be shot on 70mm film.
Virtually every single aspect of pre-production was completed, and Jodorowsky’s team of visionaries was set to get in front of the cameras until funding dissolved. Seydoux and Jodorowsky shopped “Dune” and its concept art to every studio in Hollywood, but failed to procure the $5 million necessary to shoot the film.
The Frank Pavich-directed documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” explicitly details the journey of “Dune,” and posits that, even though the movie was never made, Jodorowsky’s “Dune” has had a considerable influence on Hollywood films since its demise, from movies like “Star Wars” and “Alien” all the way up to “Contact” and “Prometheus.”
The dissolution of his dream project disheartened the maverick director, and he made films only sporadically over the next few decades, most notably the cult horror film “Santa Sangre” and his recent semi-autobiography “The Dance of Reality.”
Author Bio: Jack Forey is a junior Film Studies major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He writes film-related pieces for the Daily Nebraskan, and is an amateur filmmaker who currently makes short films under the banner of “SWISSFRENCH” films. He loves dogs and watching Werner Herzog movies.