Filmmaking is a harsh business, and things don’t always work out for a project. A lot of things can go wrong: maybe the final product wasn’t what the creators wanted, or its box office performance was less than expected, or a whole list of other unforeseen circumstances. But one of the worst fates a film can suffer is never being released.
Plenty of films go unmade or even have their production halted partway through, but a good amount are finished and never released. Sure, there’s always streaming services, or even an on-demand release, but there’s still a significant power amongst audiences in a theatrical release. Unfortunately, some films never get to experience this power.
Some of these films deserved to fade into the obscurity of other unreleased films, be it because of their low quality, subject matter or context, while others just had bad luck. Whatever the reason, there’s clearly a much worse fate than development hell, unreleased hell. Each year, at least one or two completely finished films are added to the ever-growing list of unreleased movies, some finding solace in home media distribution. So, what are some of film history’s most infamous unreleased films?
Here are 15 Completed Movies That Never Made It To Theaters.
15. I LOVE YOU, DADDY
Perhaps one of the most controversial entries on this list is I Love You, Daddy, a film written and directed by Louis C.K. The film was set to be released on December 8 of 2017, but was canceled a week before due to the accusations of misconduct made against C.K. The film never saw a theatrical release, but C.K. is said to have bought the distribution rights from The Orchard.
The film’s subject matter didn’t help much, either. The film is about C.K.’s character as he tries to stop his underaged daughter from having a relationship with a 68-year-old filmmaker. The premise mirrors the life of Woody Allen, but apparently did little to point criticisms at him or the character that parallels him. 2017 saw the downfall of a lot of harassers and abusers in Hollywood, the main reason for the cancellation of I Love You, Daddy‘s release.
For much less horrible reasons, Zeroville is another finished film that has yet to be released. Based on the novel of the same name, Zeroville follows a young man who worships film and moves to Hollywood to be a set-builder in 1969, an impactful time for the film industry. The distribution rights for the film were acquired by Alchemy in 2015, but the film has yet to be released.
The reason for this is that Alchemy went bankrupt soon after and there has been no news of a new distributor. Sites like IMDB and Wikipedia still describe the film as “upcoming,” but there has been no news of its release date and the original trailer released in 2016 has since been taken down. The film also starred Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Megan Fox and Danny McBride.
13. The FANTASTIC FOUR
How could we not include this one? There have been numerous articles and studies of the infamous failed 1994 Fantastic Four film and even a full documentary about it, all of them delving into the reasons for the film’s failed production and release. Most accounts describe the film as an ashcan copy, a film made simply so the studio could retain the rights to the characters, the cast and crew being unaware of this during production.
Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four never saw a theatrical release and has never even had a home video release, though some illegal copies have circulated. These copies have garnered some reviews for the film, most of which are negative, but some praise its campiness and “so bad it’s good” qualities. You can easily find a copy online, but The Fantastic Four never got the theatrical release that was promised to fans during production.
12. FOOD FIGHT
This is perhaps one of the weirdest, if not the weirdest entries on this list, and not just because the characters disturbingly designed and animated, though that’s part of it. No, what really makes Food Fight! weird is the insane production and release history.
The film was produced with expected foreign-market pre-sales, already off to a financially poor start. To make matters worse, drives containing unfinished parts of the film were stolen, leading to a production halt and an animation style change. What started as a 3D version of Looney Tunes-styled animation was changed to very early motion-capture technology.
After several failed release attempts, the film was eventually auctioned off and released for a limited time in the UK, followed by a DVD release. The film has been called the worst animated movie of all time, most people criticizing the extreme product placement, which ironically didn’t even help fund the movie.
11. GODS BEHAVING BADLY
How can you not love that title? Especially when the premise is just as delightful. Based on the book of the same name, Gods Behaving Badly is about, you guessed it, Greek gods behaving badly, discovered living in the mortal world by two humans. Despite this cheeky and interesting premise, the film never saw a theatrical release.
Though it was completed in 2013, premiering at the Rome Film Festival, the theatrical release of the film was canceled most likely due to how bad it was. Actors, critics, and crew members alike all agreed that the film was terrible, unfunny, and outdated. After the first screening, the film never saw the light of day again.
This one is a bit of an outlier from the others, as it was never intended to have a theatrical release per se. Regardless, we’re going to include Gore, a Netflix original film chronicling the life of Gore Vidal. The film was set to star Kevin Spacey as Vidal, but after various sexual allegations came out against Spacey, Netflix dropped the project.
Not much is known about the Netflix biopic, aside from the reasons for its cancellation. Little information has been released regarding the production status after Spacey’s allegations. All we know is that principal photography began in July of 2017 and Netflix simply announced that the film would no longer be released in November of the same year, during post-production.
This one has quite a bit of mystery behind its canceled theatrical release, eventually finding distribution through iTunes, Amazon, and on-demand services. Stretch, starring Watchmen actor Patrick Wilson, follows a down-on-his-luck stretch-limo driver, ironically nicknamed “Stretch,” who goes on a wild adventure while chauffeuring around an eccentric billionaire.
The mystery of the film’s release lies in an unprecedented move pulled by Universal Pictures, which scrapped the film’s original release with no reason given. After failing to find another distributor, the rights went back to Universal, who eventually gave the film a home-media release. Why Universal chose to scrap the release is unknown: the cast included Chris Pine and Brooklyn Decker, and the film’s critical reception was above average, so poor reviews most likely weren’t the problem. Whatever the reason, Stretch never saw the big screen.
8. NOT SAFE FOR WORK
Once again we have a movie that Universal had the distribution rights to, but was hesitant to release. Not Safe For Work is a movie directed by Joe Johnston, known for Captain America: The First Avenger and Jumanji. But, unlike his other hits, it did not have a life on the big screen, eventually seeing release in on-demand platforms.
Not Safe For Work follows an office worker who is trapped in his workplace where he must survive with a killer on the loose. The film received somewhat mixed reviews, and the reason that it went without a theatrical release is unknown. But, like Stretch, it saw some success in its on-demand release. It’s surprising that a film from a prolific director like Johnston was removed from a theatrical release, and we’d sure like to know the reason why.
7. ACCIDENTAL LOVE
Originally titled Nailed, the film Accidental Love had such a messy production that the original director (David O. Russell) not only disowned it, he didn’t even want his real name used in the credits, using a pseudonym instead. The film was halted several times and suffered from various financial difficulties, including a deal that meant 50% pay cuts for the producers. All of these factors caused multiple walkouts, including the director himself.
With all the drama and with the production company going bankrupt, everyone involved never expected Nailed to get released, but Millennium Entertainment acquired the property, assembled a completed cut of the film, renamed it, and tried to get a theatrical release. This never happened, and after only one LA screening, it was released on-demand.
6. SPRING BREAK ’83
With a title like that, you must be thinking this was a straight-to-DVD National Lampoon movie, but you’d be wrong. Spring Break ’83 is a film that completed production around 2009, but never saw a release of any kind. It follows a group of bullied high schoolers as they take revenge on their now-college student bullies during spring break.
Sounds fun enough, but filming wasn’t as fun for the actors, none of whom were paid – leading to actor and crew unions having the film shut down near the end of production. Some additional filming apparently took place and Big Sky Motion Pictures planned for an official release for Spring Break ’83, but it has yet to happen and there hasn’t been a single screening thus far.
5. HIPPIE HIPPIE SHAKE
Based on the life and memoir of Oz editor Richard Neville, a frontrunner of Australlia and the UK’s counterculture, Hippie Hippie Shake unfortunately never saw a theatrical release. The film is about Neville’s role in UK’s 1960’s counterculture as the editor and creator of Oz Magazine’s UK version and the trial that came from its obscene content.
Hippie Hippie Shake had a long history of troubled production; it began development in 1998, but didn’t begin production until 2007, and in 2011 it was stated the film would not be released in cinemas. The film’s first release delay resulted from controversy surrounding the film’s female lead. Further delays were caused by creative differences which lead the director and writer to walk out, and the final product’s release was eventually scrapped.
4. AREA 51
Directed by Oren Peli, of Paranormal Activity fame, Area 51 did technically have a theatrical release, but it was limited and never got a true run in cinemas. Area 51 follows a conspiracy theorist who breaks into Area 51 after a mysterious experience. As interesting at this might sound, the plot was deemed generic, one of the many downfalls that critics pointed out.
Area 51‘s negative reception was, surprisingly, not the reason for its limited theatrical release, as Peli seemed to have planned an on-demand release after production had finished. Perhaps initial reactions to the film are to blame for lack of a distributor, but nothing is certain. Regardless, Area 51 only had a weekend-long release in Alamo Drafthouse theaters before going to on-demand platforms.
3. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
Orson Wells, director of what is often cited as the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane, was successful in the fields of theater, radio, and film, achieving critical praise for all three endeavors. One of his few unsuccessful projects was The Other Side of the Wind, a film meant to act as a satire of the changing of filmmaking styles that came in the ’70s. Despite taking six years to film, The Other Side of the Wind‘s post-production was never completed.
Because the film was unfinished, though it was close, it never saw release, which was unfortunate for Wells, who hoped it would act as his comeback piece. But, decades later, this project has found a new hope. Though this should technically exclude it from our list, The Other Side of the Wind has resumed post-production and is slated for a Netflix release.
2. TOMORROW NIGHT
Another unreleased film of the now blacklisted Louis C.K. was Tomorrow Night, a black-and-white absurdist comedy that never made it past Sundance Film Festival. The film was a bit of a showcase of various comedians and comedy actors, including Steve Carell and Amy Poehler. Tomorrow Night was an absurdist comedy with a plot that got continuously more and more ridiculous, ending on a dark note.
The film was not well received at Sundance, which was the reason why C.K. had a difficult time finding a distributor for it. The film also had a number of production issues relating to funding. It was personally financed by C.K., but the amount wasn’t enough and fellow comedians stepped in to help finish. After failing to get a distributor, C.K. settled for putting the film up for digital download.
1. UNCLE TOM’S FAIRY TALES
If that title wasn’t strange enough, it gets worse. The full name of the unreleased film was Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie For Homosexuals. The premise is the horrible cherry on top, as it was said to be a comedy about a white man going on trial for raping a black woman. Pryor’s role in the film was unknown and it is unclear how much of the film was finished, though a copy of the negatives presumably exists, implying that most of principal photography was finished.
Even weirder is that the film was directed by Wayne’s World director, Penelope Spheeris, who supposedly stole the only copy of the negatives, which Pryor had accused his wife of destroying due to her jealousy of his time spent on the project. Thought it was never released, Uncle Tom’s Fair Tales was a wild ride before and after its production.
Have you seen any of these movies? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!
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