When Christopher Nolan recently told Empire Magazine that he found “another wealthy, quirky character who’s orphaned at a young age” in Bruce Wayne, he put to rest the idea that he would ever direct a biopic of Howard Hughes, a prospect that once seemed like it would be his followup to “Insomnia” until Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” took precedence and he took the reins of the “Batman” franchise. More notable now for the fact “The Fighter” director David O. Russell was reported to have put Nolan in a headlock over casting Jude Law in the film (after pursuing him for “I Heart Huckabee’s,” which Law ultimately starred in), the film will become one of the great what ifs for Nolan as his plan to feature Jim Carrey in the germophobe era of the billionaire’s life will never come to pass. However, the project has plenty of company when it comes to great unrealized films by great contemporary filmmakers. Here are a few of the most intriguing:
Long before Phil Spector was on trial for murder, Tom Cruise began developing a biopic of the legendary music producer who shepherded artists ranging from The Ronettes to Ike and Tina Turner into superstardom. Cruise enlisted his “Jerry Maguire” director Cameron Crowe, but their script about the “wall of sound” inventor hit a wall when the duo couldn’t figure out an ending. Even though Crowe left the Spector project to direct “Almost Famous,” Spector’s specter has never really left Crowe since the director cast the music producer’s daughter in bit parts in “Almost Famous” and “Elizabethtown.” Also, in an eerie coincidence, Lana Clarkson, the slain actress at the center of Spector’s trial, made her acting debut in Crowe’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” At this point, Spector is more likely to be the subject of a TV movie than a big screen one. Still, who wouldn’t pay to see Cruise as a crazily coiffed Spector? Unfortunately, “Rock of Ages” may be as close as we get to see Cruise in music mode.
Ridley Scott – "Tripoli"
There are so many films on Ridley Scott’s to-do list that it’s ridiculous to point out just one, but he and Russell Crowe had been looking for a follow up to “Gladiator” and thought they found it when they set sail to the shores of “Tripoli,” a period drama penned by “The Departed” screenwriter William Monaghan. Crowe would play William Eaton, the U.S. diplomat during the Jefferson Administration who sought to overthrow the ruler of Tripoli on the Barbary Coast by joining Christian and Muslim soldiers in the region during the early 1800s.
Ben Kingsley had signed on to star alongside of Crowe and filming was supposed to start after Scott had finished making “Matchstick Men” in 2003, but Fox, the studio producing “Tripoli” had another Russell Crowe oceanic epic in the works with “Master and Commander” and deemed “Tripoli” not seaworthy at the time. Since then Crowe and Scott embarked on four other films together away from “Tripoli” and Keanu Reeves was bandied about as potential replacement for the lead. Yet while Monaghan said in a 2007 IGN interview that “’Tripoli’ will get made. There’s no way it can’t be,” it has never regained its momentum.
Robert Altman was known for open-ended conclusions to his films and the “Nashville” director followed suit, even in death, when he left behind an array of work as scattered as the dialogue in his films. The unfinished projects included a tell-all autobiography and a satiric film called “Paint” about a murder mystery in the art world that would’ve starred Salma Hayek. Yet the furthest along was a fictional adaptation of the documentary “Hands on a Hard Body,” which was planned to start shooting in February of 2007.
Billy Bob Thornton, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Hilary Swank were all prepared to put their hands on the $10 million Picturehouse comedy about eccentric characters who hope to win a truck by holding on to it the longest. Then-Picturehouse chief Bob Berney was publicly skeptical of an Altman-less “Hard Body,” but left the door open by not making an official decision, though it’s all but closed now. Still, a fictional retelling of the car contest found a new home recently – not on the screen, but on the stage where a new musical with music from Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and dance numbers by “Black Swan” choreographer Benjamin Millepied is in previews in San Diego before being bound for Broadway.
Mark Romanek – "A Cold Case"
Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling title, but before Kathryn Morris’ Lily Rush ever solved her first moldy mystery on the CBS procedural with a similar title, “A Cold Case” was ready to be Tom Hanks’s dramatic followup to the 2004 comedies “The Ladykillers” and “The Terminal.” “One Hour Photo” helmer Mark Romanek had signed on to bring his darkly acute vision to the film based on the true-life story of New York investigator Andy Rosenzwieg, who set out to solve the 27 year old murder of his best friend before retiring. John Sayles and “Forrest Gump” scribe Eric Roth worked on the adaptation of Philip Gourevitch’s bestseller, but “A Cold Case” frosted over when Hanks chose to conduct “The Polar Express” instead. Romanek scared up “The Wolf Man” as his next film before creative differences ensued and ultimately directed the brilliant adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go.”
At a recent retrospective screening of "Never Let Me Go" at the New Beverly Cinema, Romanek told the crowd when asked about "Cold Case," “It’s a movie I was going to do with Tom Hanks. Eric Roth wrote this incredible screenplay, Robert De Niro was going to be in the film…I’m going to start crying. And it had a life rights crisis at the last minute. We were in pre-production on it and it was going to be this beautiful, dry procedural. I hope to make it someday and in a way, it’s a part for Tom Hanks that might be a lot more affecting when he’s older. Like if he played it in his sixties or something, so we may come back to it some day.”
For anyone who wants the whole story on how “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” conquered Terry Gilliam, just rent the “unmaking of” documentary "Lost in La Mancha." However, as just a quick recap, Gilliam had set out to adapt Miguel de Cervantes’ classic about the self-styled conquistador starring Jean Rochefort as the titular protagonist and a pre-“Pirates” Johnny Depp as a contemporary marketing exec who Quixote mistakes for his sidekick Sancho Panza when he drops into the past. A hernia injury to Rochefort, a hailstorm that literally wiped out the production, and a host of other obstacles left Gilliam chasing windmills himself after the film’s financing fell through.
No stranger to long gestating projects including an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s "Good Omens," Gilliam remains hopeful about finishing “Don Quixote,” saying last fall that he was hopeful of financing a new incarnation of the project with Robert Duvall in the lead. But even if it never comes to pass, the “Brazil” director is in good company – Orson Welles adaptation of “Quixote” was also left unfinished.
Martin Scorsese – “Dino”
Amidst the 1990s swing of nostalgia for the retro cool of the 1950s, Warner Bros. commissioned a script from “Casino” screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi about the life of Dean Martin, which would reunite Pileggi with director Martin Scorsese. A planned cast of Tom Hanks as Martin, John Travolta as Frank Sinatra, Hugh Grant as Peter Lawford, Adam Sandler as Joey Bishop, and Jim Carrey as Jerry Lewis was lined up for Scorsese's first biopic since 1981's “Raging Bull” But “Dino” suffered a kick to the head when Warner Bros. allowed Scorsese a window to direct “Gangs of New York” for Miramax. Its long and expensive shoot led to the Rat Pack pic being shown the door. Scorsese would fulfill his commitment to Warner Bros. in 2003 by making “The Aviator,” but “Dino” remains on the shelf. He has since suggested he might make a Sinatra biopic instead.
Francis Ford Coppola has almost as impressive a career of films that never came to fruition as he does of films that have. Coppola's list of projects-not-made include his long-in-the-works adaptation of Jack Kerouac's “On the Road” (which he chose to produce for “Motorcycle Diaries” director Walter Salles) and a personal take on “Pinocchio” (following the tragic death of his son in 1985) that led to a lengthy legal battle with Warner Bros. over the film's rights. As much as we'd would've liked to have seen either of those films directed by Coppola, “The Godfather” director really broke our heart when he announced he was scrapping “Megalopolis,” an ultra-ambitious epic about the battles between art and commerce, history and the future, told through the architectural restructuring of New York City. The film, however, was hatched in early 2001 and crumbled in that same year following the September 11 attacks, though not without interest from actors such as Nicolas Cage, Russell Crowe, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, and Kevin Spacey. Coppola spent the rest of the decade tentative in his plans to return to the sci-fi epic, telling Ain't It Cool News in 2007, "I have abandoned that as of now. I plan to begin a process of making one personal movie after another and if something leads me back to look at that, which I'm sure it might, I'll see what makes sense to me." Unfortunately, it hasn’t added up yet.
David Fincher – “Rendezvous With Rama”
When Morgan Freeman started his own production company Revelations Entertainment in 1997, the first film announced was “Rendezvous With Rama,” an adaptation of “2001: A Space Odyssey” author Arthur C. Clarke's novel about a human crew who investigates an alien starship. Regarded as a classic among the sci-fi community, “Rama” also boasted a director worthy of such material, Freeman's “Se7en” helmer David Fincher. Ever since then, the film has become a veritable black hole of Freeman and Fincher's careers, emerging every so often online in the form of a conceptual sketch or a teaser clip, but nothing more. As Fincher went on to direct “Fight Club” and “Panic Room,” the $100-million film always seemed to be next on the director's slate, yet this “Rendezvous” never happened. And don’t even get us started on Fincher’s proposed adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’ “Torso” with Matt Damon, Rachel McAdams and Casey Affleck.
Penned by “On the Waterfront” screenwriter and author Budd Schulberg, “Save Us Joe Louis” is a drama about the 1930s rivalry between the African-American boxer and German Max Schmelling shortly before World War II. Spike Lee, who planned to direct the film in September 2001, told The New York Times earlier that year, "The subject matter is wonderful: Hitler, Goebbels, F.D.R., Mussolini. We see it in the same genre as the David Lean epics such as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’." Nonetheless “Joe Louis” wasn't heard from again until 2005, when Lee insisted that the film would follow “Inside Man.” He even found a leading man in “Hustle and Flow”’s Terrence Howard, but Lee's busy schedule after his first hit in years has left the director without time to lace up his boxing gloves. Lee told IGN in 2009 he promised Schulberg before he died that he’d get the film made someday, but the closest he’s gotten to the ring was a pilot for HBO called “Da Brick” inspired by Mike Tyson’s life and starring “Attack the Block” star John Boyega that didn’t get picked up.
Are there any unmade films we missed from great auteurs that you're dying to see get made? Let us know in the comments below.