Great directors and the movies they never made

Directors Harold Ramis, Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola (WENN.COM)

Directors Harold Ramis, Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola (WENN.COM)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:58 PM ET

Hollywood has a long history of squabbling with mad geniuses, especially directors who dreamed up the greatest movies never made.

In honour of Chilean-born French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who unsuccessfully tried to give America his potentially dazzling version of Frank Herbert’s Dune in the 1970s, we look at 10 other filmmakers whose imaginations were bigger than Hollywood could tolerate or finance. Most of the 10 on this list did make some great films, but these men still failed to convince the studio bosses to green-light something big during their stellar careers.

The 85-year-old Jodorowsky is a special case right now because Frank Pavich’s brilliant documentary on the failed mega-project, Jodorowsky’s Dune, is now playing in select cities. The doc examines exactly how things went so wrong. But Jodorowsky is not the first to suffer at Hollywood’s hands, nor was he the last. It is a clash as old as the ancient intersection of art and commerce, and that easily covers the 125-year history of cinema.

D.W. GRIFFITH

The bitter pill is that Griffith’s greatest box office success — the influential The Birth of a Nation (1915) — is now rightly dismissed as racist propaganda for white supremacists. That is true even though this silent film, because of its technical innovations, revolutionized how feature films were made. After Birth of a Nation, Griffith had some success with Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921) but then routinely announced projects he never made. Sadly, he ended his career working part-time on two movies he did not get credit for: Of Mice and Men (1939) and One Million B.C. (1940).

SERGEI EISENSTEIN

Dismissed by his Communist bosses in the early years of the Soviet Union despite the brilliance of Battleship Potemkin (1925), Russia’s greatest silent film director went to Hollywood in 1930. There he proposed films based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man and Jack London’s Sutter’s Gold. Paramount Pictures countered with a project based on Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Eisenstein wrote a script. Paramount’s Jesse L. Lasky hated it. Meanwhile, an anti-Communist campaign in Hollywood targeted Eisenstein. Paramount bought tickets for the Russian filmmaker and his followers to go home to Moscow.

ORSON WELLES

At 25, Welles made Citizen Kane (1941), often cited as the greatest American film ever made. By the end of his mercurial life in 1985, Welles had written, planned and partially shot more films than he ever finished. Among the most famous — and potentially one of the greatest movies never made — is Heart of Darkness. This is the Joseph Conrad novel that gave Francis Ford Coppola the framework for Apocalypse Now (1979). Heart of Darkness was supposed to be Welles’ first film, but financing eluded him and he made Kane instead. Welles’ unfinished version of Don Quixote is also a matter of intense curiosity, because he shot hundreds of fragments which were never assembled. Other Welles’ projects that went un-done, at least by Welles: Monsieur Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin later bought the rights), Cyrano de Bergerac and Around the World in 80 Days.

STANLEY KUBRICK

As the very definition of a mad genius, Kubrick originally wanted to follow the extraordinary impact of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with his own Napoleon drama. The self-exiled American had spent years researching Napoleon Bonaparte’s life for this biopic, which was planned as an epic on a massive scale. Eventually, the studios balked at the price tag, got worried about the cast of 30,000 Kubrick imagined for the battle scenes and finally determined that historical epics were passe. Kubrick’s Napoleon joined a dozen other ambitious projects he never made. A giant coffee table book containing the script and various production notes was released in 2011.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK

It is difficult to believe that Hitch, the Englishman who perfected the cinematic murder mystery, ever had a problem getting projects financed. But later in life, when Torn Curtain (1966) failed, he tried in vain to film Kaleidoscope. That was probably a good thing. The story revolved around a necrophiliac serial killer who lured women to their deaths in New York City. Hitch wanted to shoot in B&W with graphic violence but his studio bosses said no, fearing he would destroy his “brand” as a Hollywood icon.

PAUL VERHOEVEN

You might gulp thinking of Verhoeven as a genius, after seeing Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992) and Showgirls (1995). But his early Dutch films were brilliant, including The Fourth Man (1983), and he gave Hollywood the original RoboCop (1987). Verhoeven dreamed of doing his own Middle Ages epic involving the Crusades and invoking elements of Conan and Spartacus. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star of Crusade, blames his pal Verhoeven for taking the project down when he brazenly refused to limit his budget to the studio’s $100 million limit.

TIM BURTON

The English filmmaker has made some genius movies, some of which became mega-hits. But his 1990s attempt to reboot a comic book hero in Superman Lives still stings. Comic book nerd Kevin Smith had written the screenplay; Nicolas Cage wanted to realize a boyhood dream to play a superhero; Warner Bros. was ready to rock it out. But things started to go terribly wrong when Wesley Strick (Batman Returns) started to monkey with Smith’s script, turning the enterprise into a fiasco. It never got made. But, what if?

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA

Coppola was hailed as one of the greatest American filmmakers thanks to The Godfather films, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. But he has rolled through his mature years promising more than he could deliver. No more so than his sci-fi epic about New York City in crisis. I personally heard more than once, directly from Coppola, how Megalopolis would be the crowning achievement of his late career. Then 9/11 gave New York a real-life crisis, and no studio ever wanted to cough up the big budget Coppola needed.

HAROLD RAMIS

Sweet dreams, Mr. Ramis. Your death on Feb. 24 means that the long-awaited Ghostbusters 3 — if it ever gets made — will not involve you. Ramis was a quiet genius of comedy. His madness was built into the characters he played, not the character he possessed in life. As for his other most famous unmade project, Ramis was supposed to write and direct a big-screen version of John Kennedy Toole’s much-loved novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. It was supposed to star Ramis’ pal John Belushi. But Belushi’s death by drugs in 1982 killed the project, and it was never resuscitated by others despite repeated attempts.

TERRY GILLIAM

As the American member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Gilliam has always been a breed apart as an artist, animator, actor, writer and director. Nothing has vexed him more than the failure of his vanity project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which is still being bandied about after more dead ends. “Will we get the old bastard back on his horse this year?” Gilliam asked early in 2014. The answer is probably and sadly no.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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