Thousands of movies are made every year and have been almost all the way back to when we first figured out how to make them. We love the theater experience of plopping down before the big screen with soda and some snacks and relish in rehashing our favorite cult classics over and over at home.
But what about all the great movies that never saw the light of day? Many of them were pretty far into production when filming ceased, and still deserve a viewing in their incomplete form. Here are 15 great movies that were never finished.
The Works was a CGI film set in a post-apocalyptic future where a super-intelligent computer network controls the planet. The story centers on the lives two robots, Clyde and T-Square, though an actual plot has never been clearly defined. Despite its potential for mind-numbing amounts of cheese, “The Works” would have set a technological milestone as the first fully 3D animated film in history, predating “Toy Story” by nearly a decade.
The crew, comprised entirely of programmers and engineers, refused to hire directors or editors, and proceeded to routinely upgrade their systems to the best technology available at the time. But with every upgrade, the team had to relearn the software and start entirely from scratch. After years of struggle and delays, and with only a few minutes of footage to show for it, many of the top developers jumped ship to Lucasfilm leading to the company’s downfall. The movie was officially abandoned in 1986. Oh, and having a robot crab piloting a massive killer ant-mobile as your villain? …Awesome.
Passenger is a documentary-style Polish Holocaust film, directed by Andrzej Munk. The story follows Kapo, a guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and her relationship and escapes with a Jewish inmate. The film depicts a realistic portrayal of life in Polish concentration camps during the peak years of the holocaust, due to its bland, stark imagery, and true to life performances by mostly unknown actors.
The film remained unfinished after Munk died in a car crash in the middle of production. No attempt was made to complete the film, because no one knew how Munk wanted to end the story. His assistant had compiled what had been produced and later released the film in its unfinished form.
A Confederacy of Dunces
Based on the bestselling novel, A Confederacy of Dunces recounts the tale of Ignatius P. Reilly, a stubborn, eccentric armchair philosopher from Louisiana who believes his intellect superior to that of everyone else. What follows is a satire of everyday interactions and an exposition of how we affect the lives of those around us. Published 10 years after the author’s, it is widely recognized as one of the greatest American novels of all time.
The book’s journey to film is a perplexing one. In 1982, Harold Ramis was slated to write and direct an adaptation starring John Belushi and Richard Pryor. After Belushi’s untimely death, John Candy and Chris Farley were picked to replace them, but filming was put on hold after they passed away too, ascribing a curse to the film. Another adaptation by Steven Soderbergh was scheduled for release in 2005, starring Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, Mos Def, and Lily Tomlin. But after three decades as a work in progress, it’s status is still unknown.
The Residents, masked purveyors of avant-garde music, started work on a full-length feature film after noticing that their new studio in San Francisco could double as a sound stage. Though the script was only half-finished, intricate sets were designed, and filming took place between 1972 and 1976. The story goes something like this: armored alien shopping carts attack a village, who call upon Siamese twin wrestlers to protect them. Once the shopping carts are defeated, a gang of midgets tries to steal the villagers’ meat. The gang leader turns out to be the town priest, who falls in love with an Indian princess. Later, he commits suicide by jumping into a volcano.
Sounds like someone’s taken a few too many psychedelics… but seriously, would you expect anything less from a band who not only performs as giant eyeball’s in tuxedos but whose identities remain a mystery nearly 40 years after their inception? I didn’t think so. For those who are curious as to what this might have looked like, a 30-minute compilation of footage was released on VHS in 1984 under the title “Whatever Happened To Vileness Fats?”
Last Days of Coney Island
Last Days of Coney Island is a unique, animated tale that tells the story of an NYPD detective, his love affair with a street prostitute, and his interactions with the strange inhabitants of Brooklyn’s rundown Coney Island. Though the film was pitched to Pixar and DreamWorks, neither was interested in taking it on.
This prompted writer, director, and animator Ralph Bakshi to set up a home studio and hire a team of five to work on the film with an incredibly low budget.
Production was put on hold midway, as Bakshi began work on a sequel to the 1977 cult-classic “Wizards.” The project was never resumed and only a few interesting animation stills exist.
One of the bestselling video games of all time, Halo has long been rumored to receive the silver screen treatment. In 2005, Peter Jackson was chosen to executive produce. Jackson announced that Neil Blomkamp, an unknown at the time, would direct. Release was scheduled for 2008, but after three years of starting and stopping preproduction, Blomkamp announced that the project was officially dead. He had gone on to note that he didn’t think Master Chief would have worked well as a main character.
After the project’s failure, Microsoft contracted Blomkamp to create three shorts as a promotional campaign for Halo 3. Fans were blown away by the level of detail in the shorts, but Blomkamp firmly states that they had absolutely nothing to do with the film whatsoever. Blomkamp later directed the visually stunning “District 9”, proving naysayers that he can handle full length, intelligent sci-fi. There is a chance that fans will get to see Halo in the near future, thanks to an adaptation by Stuart Beattie, which is rumored to have been picked up by Steven Spielberg.
George A. Romero’s “Resident Evil”
Another adaptation of a popular video game franchise, Resident Evil is about a deadly viral outbreak and the mysterious chemical corporation that caused it. In order to accurately capture the feel of the game, Capcom hired none other than zombie guru George A. Romero to write and direct. But after reading Romero’s script, Capcom decided he wasn’t right for the project and replaced him with Paul W.S. Anderson. Romero claims that Capcom wanted something more akin to a war movie, which was not at all what he had in mind.
Anderson’s version of the film, starring Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez was released to mixed reviews (34% on Rotten Tomatoes) in 2002, upsetting many fans of the video game series. One can wonder how much better Romero’s version would have been. Or you could just make it yourself, as the script is available online for free.
David Lynch, king of “what the fuck just happened?” has more than a few unfinished films under his belt. Ronnie Rocket, however, seems like it could have been one his best works. In the film, Ronnie, a deformed redheaded midget is kidnapped by a pair of mad scientists who perform experimental surgeries on him, leaving him with strange electrical powers.
Simultaneously, a detective tries to escape a city full of increasingly odd characters (which may or may not be inside Ronnie’s head). Makes perfect sense.
Shooting was supposed to take place in Hoboken, New Jersey with Dennis Hopper playing a supporting role. Lynch felt that the film couldn’t be shot on a typical eleven-week shooting schedule, and that it would require a long time to not only build the sets, but live in them in order to translate the feeling of the script faithfully. Despite ten years of work on the film, conditions were never quite right to start filming. The project was finally abandoned around the release of his Oscar-nominated Blue Velvet.
King Shot is a metaphysical spaghetti western written and directed by avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. David Lynch was on board to produce the film, which featured a badass cast of Nick Nolte, Mickey Rourke, and Asia Argento as gangsters, with Marilyn Manson playing the role of a prophet. Jodorowsky’ is known for his transcendent, provocative, wildly imaginative tales, littered with psychedelic imagery and nearly indecipherable religious symbolism. King Shot would have been his first feature film since 1980’s “The Rainbow Thief”.
Shooting was scheduled to begin in October 2009, but its multi-million dollar funding was pulled just a few weeks earlier, bringing production to a standstill. So will we ever get to see another Jodorowsky film? Possibly. After King Shot stalled, Jodorowsky began preparations for “Son of El Topo”, the much rumored sequel to 1970’s epic “El Topo.” Funding has been provided by a group of unknown Russian producers. Whether or not it will ever see the light of day, the 81 year old filmmaker deserves credit for attempting yet another inconceivably large scale project.
The Thief and the Cobbler
Disney eat your heart out. The Thief and the Cobbler is an unfinished animated masterpiece that could easily be summed up as ‘Aladdin on acid’. The plot revolves around an evil Genie who desires to overthrow the king of a golden city, and marry the king’s daughter. He does this by secretly helping the city’s sworn enemies, an army of warrior cyclopses on a scale that puts The Lord of The Rings to shame. A quiet, unsuspecting cobbler falls in love with the princess and saves the day. Brainchild of animator Richard Williams, the film boasts stunning hand drawn visuals and mind-boggling optical illusions. Many scenes involve full 3D camera moves, though absolutely no CGI was used.
Williams helmed the project for 26 years before losing control of the film due to not meeting a 1991 deadline set by Warner Brothers. It was declared that Williams was way over budget and far behind schedule, though only 15 minutes of animation were missing. The rights to the film went back and forth between various parties, and slightly altered versions were later released as “The Princess and The Cobbler” and “Arabian Knight.” In 2006, a non-profit fan edit titled The Thief and The Cobbler: Recobbled Cut was released, filling gaps in the original film with storyboards and sketches.
There’s no denying that Alfred Hitchcock was responsible for some of the most influential horror cinema of all time. And though he has his fair share of unfinished films, this is one of the more intriguing ones. Hitchcock began work on Kaleidoscope in the late 1960s, following the flop of Torn Curtain. The film follows an attractive young serial killer with a penchant for necrophilia. The film was to be shot from the killer’s perspective, with Robert Redford and Michael Caine suggested for the lead role.
Though some shooting took place, the film was shelved. Some elements of the film later resurfaced in 1972’s “Frenzy.” Raw test footage of Kaleidoscope is available online, but if you’re itching for a completed first-person killer flick, check out the 1992 French film, “Man Bites Dog”. No necrophilia in that one though.
Originally intended as a follow-up to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Night Skies is a sci-fi horror film (based on a true story), in which a group of aliens with beak-like mouths and bug eyes hold a family of farmers captive. They proceed to examine (read: kill) all of their animals by touching them with a long, bony finger (E.T. anyone?) With names like “Scar”, “Squirt”, and “Buddy”, this could easily have been one of the creepier alien invasion films.
Due to the success of Close Encounters, rumors about Night Skies were abundant, including claims that Spielberg had reserved a seat on the 1980 space shuttle flight in order to capture a shot for the opening scene. Development of the film began in the late 1970s but was abandoned before production had started . Major elements of Night Skies would later be seen in “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” and “Poltergeist.” For now, it seems like M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” is about as close as we’ll get to this type of film.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune”
Jodorowsky makes it into this list twice due to overwhelming epicness. He had decided to create a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” without even having read the book. He had only begun reading it after purchasing the rights. The film was slated to star Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, and Gloria Swanson, and feature an original score by Pink Floyd, Magma, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. H.R. Giger (designer of “Alien”) and Jean “Moebius” Giraud were in charge of designing storyboards, costumes, and character sketches. Each planet was to have a separate designer and score, to giving each world a unique feel.
Dali was cast as the mad emperor of a planet, and granted a whopping $100,000 per hour salary. But just as the storyboards and scripts were nearing completion, funding had run dry. Around the same time, Frank Herbert paid a visit to the pre-production studio, only to find that two million of the nine million dollar budget had already been spent, and that the script was “the size of a phonebook,” resulting in what would have been a 14 hour movie.
The film rights were resold to Dino De Laurentiis and later directed by David Lynch. Lynch’s take on the film was universally panned by critics. Although Jodorowsky’s version of Dune was never made, the illustration and storyboard work inspired a mystical comic strip series known as “Incal.”
Here’s a film that was destined for cult classic status. Starring River Phoenix, Dark Blood is about “Boy,” a widower who lives on a nuclear testing facility in the Arizona desert, carving dolls that he believes possess magical powers, while waiting for the end of the world. When a Hollywood couple’s car break down in the desert, they are rescued by Boy who proceeds to hold them hostage.
With only 11 days left before the end of shooting, production was halted due to River’s untimely death from overdose. His autopsy revealed lethal levels of heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, and valium. The producers later sued River’s mother for $6 million, to recover lost funding, claiming that River never declared his drug use. The case was later dropped. Raw footage of the film has surfaced on YouTube.
Shortly after the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick developed an intense fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte. Spending years reading absorbing every iota of information, he set out to create “the best movie ever made.” He even planned to borrow 50,000 Romanian soldiers for the film because he “wouldn’t want to fake it with fewer troops.” Jack Nicholson was one of the main picks for the role of Napoleon.
After many years of research, the film never reached the production phase, as the studios deemed it too great a financial risk at a time when historical films were in decline. All was not lost, however, as Kubrick used much of his new-found knowledge to create the 1975 classic “Barry Lyndon.” The entire body of research for Napoleon is now available in book form as “Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made”. There are rumors that Ridley Scott will attempt to make the film a reality in the near future.