Most Hollywood players have a few movies under their belt that never see the light of day. With such variables as financing, studio influence, and big egos commanding a set, even the biggest actors and directors have projects that have gone unfinished or unreleased. Here are 15 filmmaking figures and their movies that never quite made it out of the gate.
In 2000, filming began on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The project reunited the Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas team of Johnny Depp and director Terry Gilliam. A series of accidents built one on top of the other during the film's shoot—jet planes passing overhead ruined the first day of production, a flash flood took out equipment, and Quixote co-star Jean Rochefort was diagnosed with a double herniated disc midway that forced him to drop out despite years of preparing for his role. As these setbacks compiled, Quixote was finally canceled during production. The documentary Lost In La Mancha chronicles the trials and tribulations of the film, and though production was set to revive in 2010, financing once again fell through.
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In 1984, a young video store clerk named Quentin Tarantino began production on My Best Friend’s Birthday. The black comedy was shot on black-and-white 16mm on a budget of around $5,000 with Tarantino’s friends rounding out the cast and crew. Unfortunately, a lab fired destroyed much of the footage, reducing the 70 minute film to 36 minutes. Though he was disheartened by the accident, Tarantino went on to write and direct Reservoir Dogs as his directorial debut. He has described My Best Friend’s Birthday as his “film school.”
George Clooney may be relieved this next movie stayed lost. Before he was a superstar, the actor cut his teeth in low-budget horror films. Among these productions was Grizzly II: The Predator, an animal-attacks horror film whose cast also featured Charlie Sheen, Laura Dern, and Louise Fletcher. Though principal photography was finished on the film, a producer would disappear with the production’s funding before special effects could be shot. The resulting film is a killer bear movie that barely features any bear at all. As such, it has never gotten an official release of any kind.
Orson Welles is known as the director, writer, and star of Citizen Kane, arguably the greatest film ever made. Despite this achievement, Welles would end his career as a Hollywood pariah who was forced to self-finance the majority of his films. This method of movie making led to over 18 productions that were started in some form or fashion but never completed. These productions include an adaptation of Don Quixote, The Merchant of Venice, and a version of Joseph Conrad’s Hearts of Darkness that would have pre-dated the more well-known version of the story, Apocalypse Now.
Academy Award winning actress Helen Hunt wasn’t always known for romantic comedies like As Good As It Gets. The actress cut her teeth on a low-budget science fiction film series known called Trancers. While the first film in the series emerged as a minor hit of 1985, a follow-up was planned as part of an anthology film called Pulsepounders. The 30 minute semi-sequel, Trancers II, was shot but never completed due to the financial collapse of the studio that funded it. While a completely different Trancers 2 would be made in 1991, a VHS workprint of the short was uncovered last year. Post-production will be completed on the “lost” film next year with Hunt’s lead performance intact.
In 1962, George Cukor began filming Marilyn Monroe for the film Something’s Gotta Give. The screwball comedy, which co-starred Carey Grant, was complicated by Marilyn Monroe allegedly coming down with an illness. Production attempted to truck on despite the complication and the actress filmed a now-infamous nude sequence that was to be featured in Life Magazine. However, Monroe's appearances on set became more scarce and, after showing up a mere twelve out of 35 days, the actress was eventually fired from the production. She would negotiate with Fox to return the project, but died from a drug overdose before filming could resume.
In 1972 Jerry Lewis wrote, directed, and starred in The Day The Clown Cried. The film’s premise was hugely controversial—a circus clown, imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, attempts to raise the morale of the Jewish children being detained. Filming was complicated by budgetary strain and, after production wrapped, a series of lawsuits kept the film from being released. Lewis retains a print, while the studio that funded it retains a negative.
Michael J. Fox
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Michael J. Fox is just one star who lent his voice talent to The Magic 7. Jeremy Irons, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ice-T rounded out the film's impressive cast. The animated film told the story of a pair of kids who joined a dragon to battle earth’s greatest enemies. Unfortunately, the environmentally themed movie has been postponed countless times since production began on the film in 1990. Even stranger, actors like Madeline Kahn and John Candy had their voices removed by the filmmakers after their deaths. The Magic 7 had a proposed release in 2005, but was once again indefinitely stalled due to a lack of funds.
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In 1986, Bill Murray took a featured role in the sci-fi comedy Nothing Lasts Forever. The film was directed by Tom Schiller, produced by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels and also starred Zach Galligan and Dan Akroyd. The film told the story of an artist (Galligan) who discovers a secret network of tramps that control the destiny of New York city. This sends him on a subsequent adventure to the moon. Thanks to legal issues from Warner Brothers, the film has remained unreleased, though screenings have occurred sporadically since 2004. The film remains one of Murray's favorites, so much so he has frequently performed Q&As at screening events.
The Sex Pistols
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Who Killed Bambi was a musical designed around The Sex Pistols (fronted by John Lyden, above) and intended for release in 1978. The film was to be directed by Russ Meyer (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) with film critic Roger Ebert scripting. Described as a punk rock version of A Hard Day’s Night, filming was apparently halted after a day-and-a-half. 20th Century Fox read the script and apparently deemed the content too shocking for release. Roger Ebert wrote about the project extensively in his autobiography Life Itself: A Memoir.
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Gossip was a 1982 British drama the was intended to be the film debut of a then-rising star named Gary Oldman. While the film began production under the direction of Don Boyd and with a screenplay by comedian Stephen Fry, filming collapsed after financing ran out. While a quarter of the film’s footage survives, Oldman’s scenes were never shot.
In 2007, John Cusack was set to team with Taken producer Luc Besson for the action thriller Stopping Power. Though filming was set to begin in Berlin, the budget soon fell through. Cusack has since sued the company for $5.6 million, citing a contract that stipulated he be paid whether the film was finished or not.
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Ronnie Rocket has been a film David Lynch has been trying to get made since the success of his 1977 debut Eraserhead. Though initial casting and pre-production began on the surrealist comed,y Lynch would deviate when financing fell through. He eventually settled on The Elephant Man as his follow-up and subsequently received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Though Ronnie Rocket is owned by a studio, Lynch has flirted with returning to project throughout his career, describing it as “hibernating.”
Richard Pryor intended for his big screen debut to be Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales. The film, directed by Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World), told the story of a white man who is brought on trial for raping a black woman. Unfortunately, due to Pryor’s preoccupation with completing the movie, his wife would shred the negative in a fit of rage. In 2005, a lawsuit was brought up by Pryor’s wife/attorney accusing his daughter, Rain, and Penelope Spheeris of attempting to abscond with the surviving print from their L.A. home. Though the film remains unreleased, scenes from it have been featured in retrospectives.
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In 1967, a young upstart director named Steven Spielberg began production on Slipstream. The bicyclist drama starred Tony Bill, who would later produce The Sting. Unfortunately, Spielberg’s hustling to get Slipstream made would eventually collapse as equipment and funding came up short. Footage from the film has survived and was featured in the documentary Citizen Steve.