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Lost & Abandoned: 10 Movies That Were Shot, But Eventually Scrapped

by Oliver Lyttelton
January 30, 2014 3:42 PM
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10 Movies Shot, Then Scrapped

Undoubtedly the biggest news story of 2014 so far (unless Apichatpong Weerasethakul replaced J.J. Abrams as director of "Star Wars: Episode VII" in between us writing this and it going live) revolves around Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight." It was announced as being the director's next movie, only for the script to apparently leak, reportedly through one of the potential actor's agents, and that caused Tarantino to announce that he was scrapping the project, at least for the moment. (He's also suing Gawker for helping disseminate the screenplay).

But for QT, it could have been a lot worse: plenty of other filmmakers have gotten a lot further along the production line — like shooting, or even completing, a movie — before having to abandon ship. So, to put things into perspective, we've picked out ten abandoned films by great -- or not so great -- filmmakers, ones that all got before cameras, but never made it into theaters, at least in the form in which they were intended. Hopefully, it'll provide us all with something to do while we wait for Mr. Tarantino to get going on his next project... 

Take a look below, and let us know any abandoned movies you wish you'd seen, and if you're favorite isn't on here, don't worry — we may do a follow-up post at some point, as there were so many to choose from...

Nailed (skip crop)

Who Made It? David O. Russell, working from a script by "Futurama" writer Kristin Gore, and "Axe Cop" duo Dave Jeser and Matthew Silverstein. The project was set to be Russell's next film after "I Heart Huckabees" when it went before cameras in 2008.
What Was It About? An oddball satire about a waitress who's shot in the head with a nail, and undergoes a severe personality shift. She travels to Washington to campaign for victims of bizarre injuries, and becomes involved with an unscrupulous congressman. Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal had the lead roles, with James Marsden, Catherine Keener, Kirstie Alley, James Brolin, Paul Reubens and Tracy Morgan also among the cast.
How Far Did It Get? Nearly completed. Almost every scene was shot, except the key one where Biel is shot in the head with a nail (a test screening report notes it was shot and included, but was so poorly rendered, it needed a reshoot). Still, the film recently received an MPAA rating, so that seems to suggest it's in some kind of viewable form now.
What Happened? Though Russell had something of a bad-boy reputation up to this point (totally turned around now thanks to his awards success), the problems with "Nailed" had very little to do with him — even if James Caan walked off set on the first day, reportedly after quarrelling with Russell on how to choke to death on a cookie in a scene — and a lot to do with the collapse of the film's financier David Bergstein. Bergstein and his company Capitol Films -- behind movies like "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" and "Spartan" -- were backing the $25 million comedy, but filming shut down after two weeks when “cashflow” issues caused problems with payment of the cast and crew. It geared up again, but production was shut down a further three times, normally when the SAG or IATSE unions ordered their members off the set due to non-payment. Bergstein blamed his financial troubles on the financial crash, and the collapse of his hedge-fund investors, though he's still being chased by debtors, and has a number of lawsuits pending. The last shutdown came only a few days before the movie was due to wrap (hence the film being in some kind of completed state, it seems), but Russell has expressed little interest in returning to complete it himself, saying in 2010: "There was a lot that was going on that I liked, but it was kinda a stillbirth, you know? So when that happens, the whole thing gets kinda weird." Given the way that Russell's work has changed in recent years, the chances of him going back seem fairly slim, but with much of the plot revolving around healthcare reform, maybe it was Obamacare that finally put the last nail in the "Nailed" coffin?

Terry Gilliam, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

"The Man Who Killed Don Quixote"
Who Made It? Terry Gilliam, working from a script co-written with regular collaborator Tony Grisoni ("Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas," "Tideland," "Red Riding"). The pair moved on to the project swiftly after the release of "Fear and Loathing."
What Was It About? It's a spin on Miguel Cervantes' famous novel, about a present-day ad executive who's magically transported to 17th century Spain, where he replaces Sancho Panza as the right-hand-man to windmill-battling fantasist knight Don Quixote. In the original form, Johnny Depp was to play the time-traveler, with French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote. Depp's then girlfriend Vanessa Paradis was also in the cast, as were Miranda Richardson, Christopher Eccleston, Ian Holm, Jonathan Pryce and Bill Paterson.
How Far Did It Get? Gilliam started shooting the fully-financed film in 2000, and got a few days into production before it had to be shut down.
What Happened? Bad stinking luck. As you'll know from the excellent 2002 documentary detailing the lost project, "Lost In La Mancha," the film came together (relatively) smoothly, but as soon as production began, it became a catalog of disasters. First, it emerged that the major outdoor location was within earshot of a NATO target practice area, rendering much of the audio unusable. Gilliam pressed on, but the next day, the set was hit by a flash flood, changing the color of the landscape (meaning that earlier shots didn't match up) and washing away equipment. But worst of all, it soon became apparent that veteran French star Rochefort, who had spent a year learning English to play Quixote, was not a well man: he arrived on set with a prostate infection, and five days in, suffered disastrous back problems, which led to him being flown back to France for an emergency operation. With no sign that Rochefort was ever going to be able to ride a horse again, let alone any time soon, Gilliam and co were forced to shut down and turn the film over to the insurers, who gained the rights to the script when they took over. The director spent much of the next decade trying to buy back the rights to the project, which were tied up in legal battles between the producers and insurers, but Gilliam finally reclaimed the script in 2006, and started moving forward again in 2008, after the completion of the similarly ill-fated "The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus." Depp, now a global megastar, pulled out, so Ewan McGregor stepped in, and Robert Duvall was cast as Quixote, with shooting planned to get underway in the fall of 2010. But six weeks before that point, key financing collapsed, and a year or two later, Depp started developing a rival project with Disney. Still, there's always hope: Gilliam recently announced that he's hoping to shoot the film later this year, and is currently looking for cast, though Duvall recently indicated he's still attached.

My Best Friend's Birthday, Tarantino

"My Best Friend's Birthday"
Who Made It? Quentin Tarantino, no stranger to lost movies, as the brouhaha over "The Hateful Eight" has proved. He co-wrote the script with video store pal Craig Hamann, expanded from a short script by Hamann, and made his feature directorial debut on the project.
What Was It About?: A low-key black-and-white comedy about Clarence (Tarantino), who tries to surprise his best friend Mickey (Hamann) on his birthday, only for his efforts to backfire.
How Far Did It Get? The film, an out-and-out comedy without the genre elements in Tarantino's subsequent work, was actually completed, albeit with a shoot that lasted for four years, on-and-off. It was completed by 1987, five years before Tarantino's "real" directorial debut, "Reservoir Dogs."
What Happened? A freak accident. It's probably unlikely that the movie would have become a sensation, even as the early work of the cult filmmaker — it's very lo-fi and reasonably amateurish in the making, to the extent that it likely wouldn't have got much play even on the festival circuit. But sadly, it never even had the chance: once it finally wrapped, a fire in the development lab (the movie was shot on 16mm) destroyed almost exactly half of the picture, which was intended to run about 70-80 minutes. A roughly assembled version of what remained was debuted to friends in 1987, and played festivals once Tarantino became famous. The full script, and the surviving footage, made their way onto the internet a few years ago. You can watch the film below: while rough around the edges, it's a fascinating glimpse of the director's developing voice, and if nothing else, it should be of interest for fans of Tarantino in terms foreshadowing his later work (even Aldo Raine gets a namecheck, over twenty years before the character would appear in "Inglourious Basterds").

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  • Charles Ellis | April 18, 2014 11:12 AMReply

    Guys- what about the most legendary unfinished film of the 'studio era'- "Something's Got To Give" starring Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, and Cyd Charisse as directed by George Cukor? Also, what about the nearly-finished first version of "Solomon and Sheba" with Tyrone Power and Gina Lollobrigida? Mr. Power's fatal coronary on the set following an onscreen duel with George Sanders forced United Artists to reshoot with Yul Brynner as Power's replacement. Also the 1930 MGM musical "Great Day!" starring Joan Crawford- it was scrapped after a few weeks as Crawford didn't like the material (scuttlebut has it that L.B. Mayer also hated it and had the movie scrapped to teach Irving Thalberg a lesson). Another scrapped MGM project- the original version of "Annie Get Your Gun" with Judy Garland. She filmed several musical numbers and recorded all the song for the soundtrack, but she despised director Bubsy Berkeley and her additcions got the best of her, lending to her being replaced by Betty Hutton.

  • Mike White | February 26, 2014 6:51 PMReply

    I would love to see the original version of Smokey & The Bandit III - Smokey IS The Bandit.

  • Jerry Fan | February 26, 2014 6:50 PMReply

    The guys at The Projection Booth podcast claim to have seen the finished The Day the Clown Cried

  • darwin | February 16, 2014 2:57 AMReply

    Run, Ronnie, Run written/starring comics David Cross and Bob Odenkirk (of legendary Mr.Show fame) was fully finished in early 2000's yet not theatrically released by the studio...

  • Steve | February 9, 2014 1:17 PMReply

    I remember being told once that, unbeknownst to most, Kevin McClory's infamous rival James Bond film "Warhead" actually began filming - and that the footage circulates among a VERY small number of fans.

    I somewhat doubt this, though.

  • Michael H. | February 6, 2014 11:24 AMReply

    Great article, some real curios in here. I've always wanted to see the Welles movie, wish that was available. David Carradine shot some version of Mata Hari where he cast his daughter and shot the film over a period of years to age her naturally. I've never seen even a clip from it, but that would be cool to see.

  • Dean Treadway | February 5, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    Excellent article!

  • Tombeet | February 2, 2014 9:04 AMReply

    How about the Napoleon project by Stanley Kubrick and the project by Fellini when he planned to get made after 8 1/2 but never got around to do?

  • Dwigt | February 18, 2014 6:32 PM

    Napoleon was never shot. Kubrick lost his backing from MGM and moved to Warner, where he shot A Clockwork Orange as a warm-up to Napoleon. Then he did Barry Lyndon instead.

    There's a piece here about the Fellini project here but I can't post the link (due to the anti-spamming filter).

    I have also made a lot of research about this one, so here's some additional info.

    Fellini started Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna after 8 1/2 and Juliet of the Spirits. It starred Mastroianni (Mastorna actually stands for Mastroianni Ritorna or something like that) and Sofia Loren, and was based on a script by Fellini, his usual collaborators, and Dino Buzzati. It was to be produced by De Laurentiis.
    At the time, Fellini was having some kind of a fall out with Flaiano, Rondi and Pinelli, who had worked with since I Vitelloni or even before. He was more and more worried about sustaining his inspiration, as shown in Juliet of the Spirits, which is quite the misfire. He was having responsibilities at his production company with Rizzoli, Federiz, that were giving him anxiety. And he was very much into omens, and felt that the project was somewhat cursed.
    Sets were built for Il viaggio, like a fake airplane and a replica of the Koln cathedral. And the movie was shot for a few weeks. Fellini had a heart attack, or at least that was the explanation given to the insurance company and the project was canceled.
    Some footage of the set later emerged in the mock documentary (think of a shorter Intervista made two decades before) named A Director's Notebook shot for NBC as part of their Experiment in Television series. At that point, Fellini had switched to Bernardino Zapponi as his main collaborator for scripts, decided to embrace gaps in his narrative and was starting to put together Satiricon.

    I don't know if Fellini's heart attack was genuine or if it was just a pretext, like Bob Dylan's motorcycle "accident" in 1966 which allowed him to back out of a stadium summer tour which would have likely killed him, given the pressures around him and his speed intake at the time. I just know that Fellini smoked several packs a day in the early sixties but gave up totally a few years later, up to the point he had a smoke-free policy for people who worked with him.

  • Mehrine | February 2, 2014 9:26 AM

    "10 Movies That WERE SHOT, But Eventually Scrapped".

  • Sarah | January 31, 2014 1:05 PMReply

    Regarding "Inferno" it should read "L'Enfer" , not "L'Infer".

  • Tally | February 4, 2014 1:08 PM

    Cancel everything

  • Sanker From India | January 31, 2014 11:47 AMReply

    To be honest I didn't enjoy "The Fighter" or "Silver Linings Playbook" as much as I enjoyed "Three Kings". I feel David has gone a tad too mainstream. Reviews of "American Hustle" too give me that mellow-mainstream-disappointing-Russell feel that I didn't like about Fighter or SLP although I should reserve judgement for when I watch it. I remember the first viewing of "Three Kings" giving me a wicked crazy awesome jolt! I really want to catch up with "Spanking The Monkey" and "Flirting with Disaster". My point is I wish "Nailed" came out and Russell didn't mellow down so much :(

  • richard arndt | January 31, 2014 10:59 AMReply

    You should have mentioned the 1934 I, Claudius too as the surviving footage is absolutely fascinating. I'd love to see the Welles, the Clouzot or the Eisenstein before anything else although the Gilliam Don Quixote is interesting as well.

  • Sam | January 30, 2014 7:57 PMReply

    umm, "Nouvelle vague" was the film movement's name..

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