Stanley Kubrick and Napoleon; Spike Lee and Jackie Robinson. Biopics that never happened.
They are Hollywood legends, what could have been. Maybe somebody screwed up or money ran out or suits from the executive offices fired off a resounding, "No!" They are the Greatest Movies Never Made.
This has happened for 100-plus years. Pioneering director D.W. Griffith routinely announced unrealized projects. So did Orson Welles, who adapted Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness in 1939, only to bust his budget limit and doom the project. Welles moved on to Citizen Kane. Here are a half-dozen recent examples of "great movies" or franchises that never faced critics or audiences. But we wish they did:
For better or worse -- who really knows? -- modern comic-book movies could have been so different. Among many, Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller wanted to re-boot the Caped Crusader with Batman: Year One, a raw, streetwise version in the late 1990s. Warner Bros. said no. Christopher Nolan eventually got the job. In the early 2000s, J.J. Abrams tried to re-invent Superman while Wolfgang Petersen simultaneously had a Batman vs. Superman script in play. Both directors failed. Meanwhile, long before Sam Raimi, James Cameron had plans for a 1990s Spider-Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doc Ock. Finally, post-Buffy, Joss Whedon tried in vain to get his Wonder Woman going.
David Lynch finally did it, badly. Before that, Ridley Scott had toyed with Frank Herbert's sci-fi masterpiece. But crazed Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) came closest, conceiving it as a 10-hour epic populated with an eccentric cast, among them Orson Welles, Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger. Financing fell through.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote:
Terry Gilliam is Hollywood's real-life Quixote, tilting at windmills. His version of the classic saga was shut down during production and turned into a great doc that chronicles his folly. Today, Gilliam is still trying to re-start it, having pulled the rights from a legal quagmire.
Napoleon: Even genius Stanley Kubrick could not figure out how to get big money to make his dream project on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, which he spent two years researching, writing and even scouting locations for -- before he died in 1999.
Star Wars VII, VII & IX:
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas loosely conceived his Star Wars saga as a nine-part franchise. Contrary to popular belief, the missing three were only casually mapped out, Lucas told me after Phantom Menace. But we still wonder what could have been if he filmed them with the original cast.
Jackie Robinson Biopic:
Spike Lee tried and failed for a decade to get it done with Denzel Washington after Malcolm X. Lee even teamed with the baseball legend's widow, Rachel Robinson, for the inside scoop on the man who broke Major League Baseball's colour barrier. Lee told me once he was angry because no one in what he considered "racist" Hollywood would finance this, or other biopics he brainstormed on Joe Lewis and James Brown. Now Lee is more sanguine ... and Brian Helgeland is shooting 42 (Robinson's Brooklyn Dodger number) for a 2013 release. Sigh ...