When it comes to legendary movie projects that were never actually made, Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon goes near the top of the list. Kubrick wrote the script in 1961 and did a large amount of pre-production work on the project in the late 1960s, following the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But due to cost concerns by studio MGM, the film fell apart.
Kubrick never returned to the project, and he died in 1999. But it has since taken on the air of legend, becoming the subject of a book called The Greatest Movie Never Made and the script was even released online. From time to time there has been talk of a revival of the script by a new filmmaker, including a 2013 attempt that would have been directed by Baz Luhrmann and produced by Steven Spielberg, who previously directed another leftover Kubrick project, 2001’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. But that never moved forward to production either.
Now, there’s once again talk amongst interested parties to make this famously unproduced film. This time, it would be in the form of a miniseries for HBO, and with True Detective director Cary Fukunaga behind the camera.
According to a Tumblr page devoted to Kubrick, the late director’s longtime executive producer, Jan Harlan, said at a recent Kubrick retrospective in the U.K. that Napoleon “is going to happen” on HBO, as a six-hour miniseries directed by Fukunaga and with a script by David Leland. The project has not been confirmed by HBO, nor is there any news about casting or when the project might get underway. It’s also unknown where the vintage script by Kubrick would end and Leland’s would begin.
If done right, this could be spectacular. Anyone who has seen the first season of True Detective (or Sin Nombre or Beasts of No Nation) knows that Fukunaga is a special talent, one that could be trusted to bring a version of Kubrick’s singular vision to the screen. The project would also have the benefit of more modern technologies than Kubrick ever dreamed of, as well as the backing of HBO, which has shown a willingness to spend big money on huge projects. An hours-long program, with frequent battle scenes, filmed in multiple countries for a massive amount of money? That sounds an awful lot like Game of Thrones.
Then again, should this project go forward, Fukunaga and HBO will have their work cut out for them. Spielberg directing A.I. was one thing — a filmmaker of roughly equal stature stepping in to replace a recently deceased legend. But great as Fukunaga is, he’ll have huge shoes to fill. Even if the HBO Napoleon project is well-received, a lot of viewers will be left wishing they could have somehow gotten to see Kubrick’s version.
At present HBO developing Napoleon is unconfirmed, but Screen Rant will have more information for you as it is made available.