Hollywood is a complicated place. While some movies appear to materialize overnight based on some brand new book hitting shelves, others can take years, even decades to hit screens. A few unlucky properties like Watchmen or The Lord of the Rings can even earn the “unfilmable” stamp, scaring off directors and producers while leaving scores of readers yearning to see a big screen version in cinemas.
Like Watchmen or Lord of the Rings though, some properties can surprise Hollywood by not only making it to the movie screen, but by becoming latter-day classics as well! Sometimes it just takes a while for a property to find the right moment, the right writer, or the right director. Another great example: Dune, the classic sci-fi novel, which has already been one pretty awful movie, one good miniseries, and now looks to try the cinematic approach again.
Which brings us to this list of films. All have long titillated Hollywood with the possibility of a great movie product, and all have gotten lost in Development Hell, that special, torturous purgatory for movies that can’t quite get made despite enormous passion or demand. Say a Hail Mary, get out some holy water and say a prayer for these movies, all of which could be great, but for the moment, remain 15 Movies Stuck In Development Hell!
15. Austin Powers 4
The Austin Powers series earned more than half a billion dollars worldwide in its heyday, an impressive figure for only three movies, the most recent of which came out more than ten years ago. In addition to the major money haul, its main characters, Austin, Dr. Evil, Mini-Me, all became pop culture icons, and phrases like “shagadelic” and “groovy” entered the lexicon. Given that Austin and his movies helped elevate studio New Line Cinema from a B-movie factory to a major Hollywood force (the profits from the Austin Powers movies helped bankroll Lord of the Rings), why has the ’60s spy not returned for more cinematic outings?
The answer is a complicated one. Financial troubles at New Line—which ultimately went bankrupt and sold to Warner Bros.—stalled the movie, as did a television deal to produce an animated series. Star/writer Mike Myers has said many times that he has a full idea for a fourth film that would revolve around Dr. Evil, and the actor hoped to move into production after the release of The Love Guru. That film ended up bombing in a major way, significantly hurting Myers’ reputation in the process. Myers had reportedly begun writing the script in 2011, though he had yet to finish it as of 2013. Myers and director Jay Roach continue to hope for a fourth film, though for the moment, Austin Powers 4 has yet to materialize.
Atuk, a comedy about an Eskimo coming to New York City, has rested in Develompent Hell for 40 years! Based on the novel by Canadian author Mordecai Richler, the movie follows the adventures of the portly title character as he visits the United States and, of course, falls in love with a beautiful filmmaker named Michelle. Fiddler on the Roof director Norman Jewison had planned to make the movie as early as 1971, though the script landed in Development Hell almost right away. Ten years later, Jewison had pegged John Belushi for the lead. Unfortunately, Belushi overdosed and died shortly thereafter, and the movie fell apart again.
Atuk made it before the cameras, albeit briefly, in 1988 with shock comic Sam Kinnison in the lead. Creative differences halted shooting, however, and amid threats of lawsuits, production was shut down. Kinnison died not long after, and Atuk landed in Hell again. The script has continued to attract interested actors over the years, including Chris Farley and John Candy, both of whom also died after reading it! Rumors that Atuk actually has a curse on it have since begun to circulate in Hollywood, and thus the script remains firmly chained in Development Hell.
Roland Emmerich’s Stargate became a modest hit in 1994. The film, which starred James Spader and Kurt Russell, followed the adventures of an Egyptologist and an army unit who get transported to an alien world ruled over by the ancient Egyptian Gods via the titular object. The movie established a cult following which only flourished as Stargate-SG1 became a genre TV hit, launching two spinoffs, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, by 2007. With interest in the franchise at a new pique, Emmerich announced a reboot of Stargate that would launch a trilogy. The new movies would also follow his intended arc for the original story, ignoring the popular television shows altogether.
Then, Hollywood struck. Emmerich’s long-awaited sequel to Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence, bombed at the box office, significantly hurting his sway with Fox, which had signed up to produce the reboot. As of November 2016, Emmerich has said the reboot has stalled, and it’s unlikely to go into production anytime in the near future.
12. The Crow
Audiences in 1994 made The Crow into a sleeper hit. As directed by Alex Proyas, the film centered on a murder victim who returns to live to exact revenge on his killers one year after his death. The movie starred actor Brandon Lee, son of the legendary Bruce Lee, in what was set to be his breakthrough role. Tragedy struck during filming, as a prop gun malfunctioned, mortally wounding Lee. Two sequels followed, though the series never quite recovered from Lee’s departure.
Blade director Steven Norrington had announced a reboot of The Crow in 2008, only to have development stall. Legal issues kept the movie from being made for several years amid a revolving door of casting, with names like Mark Wahlberg, Luke Evans, and Tom Hiddleston all announced for the lead at one point or another. By 2015, the movie had stalled due to the bankruptcy of parent production company Relativity Media. Hope glimmered for a moment earlier this year when Jason Momoa signed on for the lead, though just this past week, rights issues have once again (seemingly) halted production.
11. Bill & Ted 3
The first two Bill & Ted films became surprise hits and helped establish the career of Keanu Reeves as a leading man. The adventures across time and space of the dim-witted, titular rockers continued to earn cult followers long after their 1989 debut, and by the mid-00s, rumors began to circulate that Reeves and co-star Alex Winter (who, of late, has gravitated towards directing rather than acting) both showed interest in doing a third installment in the franchise. By 2010, Reeves had announced that the script for a third film was in the works, and he and Winter were both game to reprise their roles.
Since then, Dean Parisot has signed up to direct, though progress on the sequel has slowed. Winter and Reeves had both insisted on script changes, and studio MGM had secured the rights and funding for a potential film. Despite the enthusiasm of Reeves and Winter, however, the movie has yet to get the green light. Winter has said filming could begin in 2017, though official announcements have yet to place Bill & Ted 3 in production.
10. Terminator 6
James Cameron created a monster franchise with his 1984 sci-fi action picture, The Terminator, which helped launch the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger as an A-list action star. The first sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, earned even better reviews than the first, and broke new ground with its use of computer-generated special effects. Cameron had wanted the franchise to end there, though immense financial incentives eventually lured Schwarzenegger back for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003. A six year hiatus followed, before the abysmal Terminator Salvation threatened to kill the series completely. Schwarzenegger returned in 2015 for the equally maligned Terminator Genisys, which failed to impress at the box office.
So what will become of the Terminator franchise? Studio Paramount had intended Genisys to kick off a new film trilogy and a tie-in TV series, though the underperformance of the film stalled development. Paramount officially dropped plans for sequels or spinoffs earlier this year, effectively leaving the series dead in the water. Schwarzenegger continues to insist a sequel will happen, though at the moment, the Terminator series has taken up residence in Development Hell.
9. Masters of the Universe
With the Transformers movies, and to a lesser extent, the GI Joe franchise, proving that toy lines can launch hit movies rather than the other way around, Hollywood has begun to eye other toy properties, including a reboot of the original toy-to-film franchise, Masters of the Universe. The first movie debuted in 1987 and capped off the craze that began in the mid-80s with a toy line and television cartoon. It remains a cult classic today.
Director John Woo had shown interest in a Masters of the Universe reboot as early as the 1990s, with former collaborator Nicolas Cage interested in headlining the movie. After several attempts to begin production, Joel Silver acquired the rights, and intended to produce a reimagining of the series more akin to the film 300. Disputes with parent company Mattel made Silver depart the project, which then landed at Sony. A number of directors and writers have tried to get the movie before the cameras over the years, including Jeff Wadlow, Terry Rossio, and most recently, McG, but as of now, Sony has not announced a start or release date. McG continues to meet with actors and work on production art in hopes that the film will still happen.
8. The Kurt Cobain Biopic
Few rock stars have a legacy like that of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of grunge band Nirvana. Cobain helped kick off a rock Renaissance in the early ’90s and became one of the most lauded rock stars of all time, only to take his own life in 1994. Following his tragic suicide, Cobain’s image and song catalog became even more popular, and for years, Hollywood has eyed the rocker as the subject of a major biopic.
Cobain has become the subject of innumerable books over the years, including Heavier than Heaven, an acclaimed, if somewhat controversial, biography. Universal Pictures began eyeing the book as the partial basis for a biographical film, with James McAvoy and Ryan Gosling both vying for the lead role. The proposed movie later landed in Development Hell after Universal expressed dissatisfaction with the script, and as of 2016, the movie remains there. A narrative feature may have also been derailed by Montage of Heck, the well-received 2015 documentary about Cobain directed by Brett Morgan and produced by Cobain’s daughter Frances. Morgan’s film featured the participation of Cobain’s family, bandmates, and widow Courtney Love, all of whom have come to view the movie as somewhat definitive.
The cyberpunk anime Akira became an immediate cult film upon its release in 1988, and Hollywood has since considered remaking the film in live-action. The story chronicles a teenage psychic living in a post-apocalyptic future who sets out to find the title character, another psychic who can help rescue the world from tyranny. Long regarded as a watershed film in the sci-fi genre, and a groundbreaking anime, rumors of a live-action remake have circulated since 2002.
Tinseltown has since announced a number of directors as being attached to the project, as well as various target release dates, though the production has yet to come to fruition. Studio Warner Bros. has confirmed owning the rights to the property, and in 2015 made a hard push to sign director George Miller onto the project. Most recently, the studio has met with Justin Lin regarding the live-action remake, though for the moment, Akira has stalled in Development Hell.
6. The Jetsons
Universal began an unfortunate trend in 1994 by beginning the adaptation of a number of famed animated properties into major studio movies, starting with The Flintstones. Though lambasted by critics, the movie did significant box office business, paving the way for other cartoon-to-live-action films like Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs, and Yogi Bear. Yet one particular title has long made Hollywood studios salivate: The Jetsons.
The original cartoon followed the antics of a typical family living in the distant future. Paramount had tried to tap the property as early as 1985, though script and rights issues delayed the film. The rights eventually landed at Universal, which hoped to produce The Jetsons as a follow-up to The Flintstones. Universal announced development of the movie in 2001, and the project has gone through a number of writers and directors since. Most recently, the studio announced interest in producing an animated version of the movie, and the script continues to undergo rewrites.
5. A Confederacy of Dunces
Writer John Toole never lived to see his satirical novel Confederacy of Dunces become a monumental bestseller. For that matter, he didn’t even live long enough to see the book published, having committed suicide in 1969. Eleven years later, his mother managed to get the only copy of his manuscript into the hands of a publisher, and the novel would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.
With the book proving to be a bonafide hit, Hollywood began work on a film adaptation. Harold Ramis planned to write and direct a big screen version with Jim Belushi and Richard Pryor in 1982, though Belushi’s death halted development. John Goodman, John Waters (seriously), and Stephen Fry have all made attempts to kickstart the project as well over the years. Steven Soderbergh came close in 2005, signing up Will Ferrell, Lily Tomlin, Drew Barrymore and Mos Def for the leads, and getting the go-ahead from the studio, Miramax. Just prior to production, however, Miramax reneged on the deal and canceled the movie. A stage version starring Nick Offerman debuted to strong reviews in 2015, though Hollywood has shown little interest. Soderbergh has even gone so far as to call the property “cursed!”
4. Tron 3
Disney long dithered on green-lighting a sequel to the studio’s 1982 cult classic Tron. The movie had proven prescient with its depiction of virtual reality and video games, and as the reputation of Tron grew, the House of Mouse finally produced Tron: Legacy in 2011. The film received mixed reviews but did solid box office business, and Disney made no secret that it hoped to produce a number of sequels in the Tron franchise. A third film would have found the protagonist of the second, Sam Flynn, returning to the computer world to team up with the program Tron to stop an evil program that had escaped into the real world. According to star Garrett Hedlund, the follow-up–supposedly titled Tron: Ascension–,was set to “blow Legacy out of the water.”
Unfortunately, Tron Legacy cost an enormous amount to produce, and its not-so-massive box office haul made Disney lower the priority on sequels. Script issues further delayed the movie, which also faced budget issues thanks to bombs like John Carter and The Lone Ranger. The failure of Tomorrowland in 2015 finally doomed Tron: Ascension to indefinite Development Hell, as the company opted to focus more on genre pictures from Lucasfilm and Marvel. Rumors of Ascension’s resurrection continue to circulate, but for the moment, the project seems unplugged.
3. The Sandman
Writer Neil Gaiman caused a stir in 1989 with his dark fantasy comic book The Sandman. The story follows Dream, the incarnate of all men’s dreams, as he seeks to rebuild his kingdom after decades of imprisonment. The comic ran for 79 issues until 1996, and combined elements of fantasy, horror, and mythology into a story of epic proportions.
Warner Bros., which owns the rights to the comic, wanted a movie version as early as 1996. Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, who would later make a splash with the Pirates of the Caribbean series, penned the script for director Roger Avery. Creative differences later forced Avery to depart. Since then, the project has languished in Development Hell, in part, because of difficulties with Gaiman—he’d rather see no movie made than one that compromises his creative vision. The film almost made it to production with Joseph-Gordon Levitt set to direct and star, but development once again ran into creative difficulties. Levitt departed the project over script disputes back in March, as did writer Eric Heisserer, who has said he considers the project better suited to television. For the moment, The Sandman remains asleep in the fiery pits of Development Hell.
William Gibson changed the literary and pop culture landscape with his revolutionary 1984 tome, Neuromancer. Set in a world of organized crime, drugs, and computer hacking, the novel sparked the cyberpunk genre and popularized terms like “cyberspace” within the vernacular. Hollywood loves a great sci-fi story, and has long sought to bring Neuromancer to the big screen.
The earliest announcements of a Neuromancer film date back to 1988, when a computer game adaptation announced a movie in the works in its promotional material. A number of incarnations of the film have followed since, though all met with failure. Cube director Vincenzo Natali signed on to direct a film version in 2010, and he even collaborated with Gibson in writing the script. By 2013, casting had begun, though budget issues caused the project to stall again. Natali has said he still intends to direct the film, as soon as funding and his schedule will permit. As of 2015, the film had secured funding from a Chinese company, though Natali had departed, leaving the film waiting for another writer and director.
1. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Poor Terry Gilliam! One of the smartest and most imaginative directors around, Gilliam has long dreamed of directing a film version of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a goofy time travel tale based on the notorious literary knight. Gilliam first secured funding for a low-budget, indie production in 1998 which would have starred Johnny Depp, though a host of problems—including fighter jets, floods and a herniated disc—caused the production to get canceled. That aborted version would become the subject of the documentary Lost in La Mancha.
Legal dealings left over from this early production relegated the film to Development Hell until 2009. Gilliam had wanted Depp to return, though scheduling conflicts caused further delays, until the actor had to withdraw altogether. Production almost got started in 2015 thanks to a deal with Amazon Studios, though the film stalled again when actor John Hurt, who was set to play the title role, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Gilliam revived the project yet again in early 2016 with Adam Driver set to star, though when proposed funding never materialized, the movie again landed in Development Hell, where it has since become something of a Hollywood legend for all its aborted versions.
Do you have another favorite property currently languishing in Development Hell? Which of the films on our list would you most want to see on the big screen? Tell us in the comments.