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10 Unmade Tim Burton Films: From 'After Hours' To 'Superman Lives' & More

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 11, 2012 at 1:00PM

It's curious that a director as idiosyncratic and... well, just plain weird as Tim Burton has become one of Hollywood's A-listers. But from 1989's "Batman" to 2010's billion-dollar grossing "Alice in Wonderland," the helmer's managed to turn his dark, gothic imagination into something that genuinely captures the hearts and minds of the general public. Indeed, films like "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and the upcoming "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," which are produced by Burton, show that he, like Alfred Hitchcock before him, has become one of the few directors who's become a true brand name: if they see his name involved with a project, an audience know what to expect, whether he directed it or not.
6
Beetlejuice

"Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian"
After the success of his breakout film, "Beetlejuice," Burton remained interested in a potential sequel, and after "Batman" became a smash hit, he hired writer Jonathan Gems, a frequent collaborator at the time who'd done uncredited rewrite work on the superhero flick, to develop a "Beetlejuice" follow-up. According to an interview with Gems in Fangoria, "Tim thought it would be funny to match the surfing backdrop of a beach movie with some sort of German Expressionism, because they're totally wrong together," and the two came up with a sequel where the Deetz family (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O'Hara and Winona Ryder) move to Hawaii and disturb the spirit of a sorcerer, forcing them to revive Beetlejuice to battle against him in a surf contest. Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder agreed to return in principle, and Burton brought on "Heathers" writer Daniel Waters to polish the script. However, both he and the director ended up being waylaid with "Batman Returns," and the Geffen Film Company brought on 'SNL' writer Pamela Norris to take another pass, but it wasn't enough to get the film the green light. In 1997, Gems said that, "You really couldn't do it now anyway. Winona is too old for the role, and the only way they could make it would be to totally recast it." But while we may never see Beetlejuice in Hawaii, talk of a sequel has been revived recently with reports that Burton's developing a script with "Dark Shadows" writer Seth Grahame-Smith.

Geek Love

"Geek Love"
One of the most beloved cult novels of the last 25 years, the National Book Award-nominated Katherine Dunn book "Geek Love" sounds like classic Tim Burton material: a Todd Browning-ish tale about a group of children whose carnival owner parents altered their genes to create their own freak show. With a cast of characters that include Arty, who has flippers for hands and feet and sets up a cult where the followers have their limbs amputated, Siamese twins Elly and Iphy, hunchbacked albino dwarf Oly, the protagonist, and telekinetic youngest daughter Chick, there were a host of memorable parts, but also a plot that seemed like it had the potential to be the director's masterpiece. Burton wasn't the first helmer on board -- curiously, "Night Court" star Harry Anderson optioned it to direct, and wrote a screenplay. But Burton soon picked up the slack, and it's remained a consistent interest. However, it seems to be something that he's a little afraid of doing, telling Ain't It Cool News in 2006 that, "I think it always just felt a bit daunting. If there's a book that you really love, there's something quite daunting about doing it justice in a certain way. I've sort of played around with it, but you get sidetracked and stuff. It is something that I do love. I do love the book. I just need to get rid of that fear factor of destroying a great book."

Fall Of The House Of Usher

"The Fall Of The House Of Usher"/"Go Baby Go"/"Hawkline Monster"
Jonathan Gems (the son of the late playwright Pam Gems) was Burton's go-to screenwriter in the 1990s, but only one film ever came out of the collaborations, trading card adaptation "Mars Attacks!" (which itself started out life as another Topps property, "Dinosaurs Attack!" before "Jurassic Park" put paid to that). But there were a number of other films that were in the works that sound kind of fascinating. Aside from "Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian," Gems also penned a version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall Of The House of Usher," updated and relocated to Burbank, California. Burton considered the project alongside "Catwoman" when he returned to the Warners fold in 1994, but "Mars Attacks" ended up taking priority. The pair also tried to scratch their itch for a beach movie with a script called "Go Baby Go!," a musical fantasy paying homage to the films of Russ Meyer, which was considered to follow up "Mars Attacks!" Perhaps most intriugingly, there was "The Hawkline Monster." Based on the novel by Richard Brautigan (which is subtitled "A Gothic Western") it involves two immortal gunman who are brought to Oregon by a pair of twin sisters to kill a monster in their basement that killed their father. A one-time project for Hal Ashby, who'd commissioned a script from Brautigan himself for Harry Dean Stanton and Jeff Bridges to star in, Burton came on in the late 1990s and got Gems to write a draft. Remarkably, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood were both in talks to star in the project together in the early 1990s, but Eastwood bailed, with Nicholson and Burton both following. What could have been... Also around this time was a potential remake of Roger Corman's "X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes" (which Gems wasn't involved in), but that too faltered, although Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has been circling it of late.  

After Hours

"After Hours"/"Mary Reilly"
Of course, like every filmmaker, aside from the projects that never got made at all, there are those that got made under different hands -- Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" reboot "Maleficent" with Angelina Jolie, which starts shooting shortly, was a one-time Burton project, for instance. And the director may have ended up on a very different path if he'd made the first film he was attached to: "After Hours." His shorts at Disney got Burton the attention of Griffin Dunne, who was developing the dark comedy to star in, and the young helmer landed the gig. However, when funding for "The Last Temptation of Christ" fell through, the script got the attention of Martin Scorsese, and Burton stepped aside. The director and star would later work together on "The Jar," his episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." The early 1990s saw him coming close to another project: an adaptation of the novel "Mary Reilly," a retelling of the story of "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde." Roman Polanski had originally been attached to direct, but Burton became involved in the 1990s when producer Peter Guber took the project from Warner Bros. to Sony. Christopher Hampton wrote the script, and Burton locked into the project, intending to shoot in January 1994, but when the studio put "Ed Wood" into turnaround, the director quit "Mary Reilly" in anger. The film made it into theaters in 1995, with Stephen Frears at the helm and Julia Roberts as the title character, but the poisonous reviews suggest that Burton may have dodged a bullet.

This article is related to: Features, Tim Burton, Dark Shadows, Beetlejuice, Man Of Steel, Ripley's Believe It Or Not


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