Nurturing a Hollywood movie from concept to final cut is a delicate process. Numerous factors—from creative differences to bad timing—can kill an otherwise promising idea. Even big name actors, directors, and studios weren’t enough to save these aborted movie projects.
E.T.: Extra Terrestrial (1982) is one of the most popular family films of all the time, and it almost got a disturbing follow-up. Director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison outlined a sequel movie that would have had a spaceship filled with carnivorous aliens kidnap and torture Elliot and company. Luckily, Spielberg realized that taking the property in a dark direction wasn’t for the best, and the sequel never went into production.
The names attached to this would-be Superman movie have made it notorious among film fans. Tim Burton was set to direct, with Nicolas Cage starring as the title hero and Kevin Smith co-writing the script. The project was eventually killed, but not before the studio burned $30 million on it. The most that survives of it today is test footage of Cage in the iconic suit.
Several Pixar movies have had troubled productions, but Newt remains the only announced project from the studio that was canceled altogether. The film would have followed a pair of newts that are stuck together when they become the last members of their species. In 2011, Pixar’s then-CCO John Lasseter cited Blue Sky’s Rio (2011)—whose plot bore a striking resemblance to that of Newt—as a reason for their decision to pull the plug.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was a hit in 1988, and filmmakers immediately brainstormed ways to make the movie into a franchise. A sequel script was written in the 1990s, and Robert Zemeckis had agreed to return as director. Legendary Disney animator Eric Goldberg even produced test footage of a CGI Roger for the project. But due to the high cost of hybrid animation and Roger Rabbit’s risqué tone, Disney never moved forward with the sequel.
It’s hard to image a movie as iconic and self-contained as Casablanca (1942) getting a sequel, but filmmakers have been trying to make one happen for decades. One of the original screenwriters Howard Koch wrote a treatment titled Return to Casablanca in 1980. It would have followed Ilsa’s son on a quest to find his real father. Like the many Casablanca follow-ups that have been conceived, this one never made it off the runway. There have, however, been two Casablanca TV shows produced: One in 1955 and another in 1983. The latter version starred David Soul (Hutch from Starsky and Hutch) as a young Rick Blaine and featured a pre-Goodfellas Ray Liotta. It was canceled after two episodes.
Studio Ghilbli doesn’t typically make sequels, but Ponyo 2 would have been an exception. Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki was interested in directing a follow-up to his 2008 fantasy film, but he was reportedly talked out of it. Instead of diving into Ponyo 2, producer Toshio Suzuki convinced Miyazaki to adapt his own manga, The Wind Rises, for his next movie. Released in 2013, The Wind Rises remains his most recent feature-length production, and any plans to make a Ponyo sequel haven’t been announced.
Stanley Kubrick—one of the biggest directors of all time—nearly made a biopic about one of the most notorious figures in world politics. Kubrick owned more than 270 books on Napoleon and spent years researching the French emperor. Napoleon was supposed to be the director’s follow-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and he even wrote a 148-page screenplay covering the ruler’s life. Kubrick couldn’t convince his studio MGM to produce it, however, so he made A Clockwork Orange (1971) instead.
Before Godzilla: King of Monsters roared into theaters in 2019, a movie of the same title was conceived in the 1980s. Lake Placid (1999) director Steve Miner and The Monster Squad director/co-writer Fred Dekker were attached to the project. The movie would have brought the iconic Kaiju to theatergoers in 3D, and Powers Boothe and Demi Moore were in consideration to play the leads. Due to a lack of funding, however, the project never made it to production.
Baz Luhrmann is known for his over-the-top directing style, and he almost applied this approach to the story of Alexander the Great. Leonardo DiCaprio brought the project to his former Romeo + Juliet (1996) collaborator after obtaining the rights to the screenplay. The actor felt that the Greek King would be a career-defining role for him. Oliver Stone was planning a similar movie around the same time, and he rushed Alexander (2004) through production. DiCaprio and Luhrmann’s vision never had the chance to be realized.
Movies like The Fly (1986) made David Cronenberg one of the biggest names in the body horror genre. In the 1980s, viewers nearly got to see his take on the gruesome classic Frankenstein. The director had planned to channel some of Mary Shelley’s original ideas by making Frankenstein’s monster a more sympathetic and complex character. For reasons that are unclear, the project never progressed.
One of the first stories Orson Welles attempted to bring to the screen was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He came to studio executives with a 174-page script, but the ambitious nature of the project made it a hard sell. Fortunately, things still worked out for the young filmmaker. When Heart of Darkness fell through, he successfully pitched his backup idea: Citizen Kane.
John Kennedy Toole’s 1980 novel A Confederacy of Dunces has proven impossible to film. A film adaptation has been stuck in various circles of development for decades; big names like Harold Ramis, John Waters, Steven Soderbergh, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, John Goodman, Will Ferrell, and Zach Galifianakis have all been attached to the project at one point. As of now, there are no active plans to adapt the story to film. However, in 2017, it was announced that Susan Sarandon would star in an adaption of Butterfly in the Typewriter, Cory MacLauchlin’s book about the fascinating back story behind Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, and how we came to ever even read it in the first place. There hasn’t been much news surrounding that film’s production either.
Pulp Fiction (1994) remains one of the most beloved movies in Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster filmography. Fans nearly got to revisit the world of the film in a movie titled Double V Vega. The Pulp Fiction prequel would have focused on John Travolta’s character Vincent Vega and his brother Vic (played by Michael Madsen in Tarantino’s 1992 film Reservoir Dogs). Tarantino reportedly came up with a plot but didn’t get far beyond that in the development process.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski are best known for directing The Matrix (1999) movies, but they have a diverse filmography—and they nearly dipped their toes into the horror genre with a low-budget film titled Carnivore. The movie would have focused on cannibals who prey on millionaires. They wrote a script, but the movie never went anywhere.
The Halo video game series came close to getting the big screen treatment in the mid-2000s. Alex Garland, the director behind Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018), was attached to write the script, and The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson had signed on to produce. Guillermo del Toro was considered to direct before the studio ultimately went with District 9 (2009) director Neill Blomkamp. Due to creative differences between the filmmakers, the studio, and the video game’s owner Microsoft, the project fell apart.
Prior to his days as an action star, Sylvester Stallone came close to portraying a literary icon. Stallone had planned to write and star in an Edgar Allan Poe biopic—titled Poe—early in his film career. He eventually accepted that he wasn’t the right person to play the macabre writer, but he got far enough to do some costume tests.
Before the Jurassic Park franchise was rebooted as Jurassic World in 2015, Jurassic Park IV was planned as the next installment in the series. The surviving concept art has become infamous online. It shows dinosaur-human hybrids that would have veered the series into full horror territory. A leaked script revealed that the creatures were bred to be fighting machines—a concept that was eventually explored in the Jurassic World movies, albeit through much less creepy means.
Disney first adapted Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1954, and for years they planned to remake the movie with director David Fincher at the helm. The film was intended to be a 3D showcase with lots of CGI special effects. Will Smith and Brad Pitt were even in talks to star. Casting disagreements—and likely the disastrous box office performances of other live action Disney epics like John Carter (2012) and The Lone Ranger (2013)—ultimately sunk the project in the mid-2010s.
Gigantic, Disney’s retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale, made it far in the development process. There’s even a reference to it in the Disney movie Zootopia (2016). After numerous delays, the project was officially canceled in 2017 due to story problems.
To get out of directing the sequel to his hit movie Beetlejuice (1988), Tim Burton pitched an idea he thought studio execs would hate. Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian would have followed the Deetz family as they unknowingly stay at a tropical resort located on an ancient burial ground. To Burton’s surprise, the studio loved the idea and were set to produce it. The director’s involvement in Batman Returns (1992) ended up taking priority, and the project fell through. In 2017, however, Winona Ryder got the rumor mill swirling again when she was asked about the possibility of a Beetlejuice sequel ever happening and stated, “I think I can confirm it.”