The Lost & Unmade Projects Of Stanley Kubrick

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by Kevin Jagernauth
March 4, 2013 11:59 AM
16 Comments
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Cinephiles woke up on Sunday to some exciting and unexpected news about a project from a filmmaker who continues to inspire debate and discussion more than a decade after this death. Steven Spielberg announced he would be taking Stanley Kubrick’s unmade, long-in-development “Napoleon” and bringing it to television as a miniseries. This is nothing short of monumental news, but as devotees of Kubrick know, it’s just one of a handful of projects that he either decided not to make or never got the chance to.

So we decided to do a little bit of digging and take a look at the movies Kubrick had in the cooker over the years, and what happened to them. Some are back in development while others have been lost to the dusts of time, but all are pretty fascinating in their own regard. So sit back, and let’s take a look.

“Napoleon”
Easily the most well known and well documented of the unmade Kubrick films (“The Aryan Papers” is a close second), the director’s voluminous research, notes, location scouting details and more inspired a massive book about the movie based on that material alone. And all of that stuff gives us a pretty good idea of what he had in mind.

Originally proposed as his next project after “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Kubrick pitched the movie as a $5 million production (roughly $100 million in today’s dollars) with extraordinarily ambitious plans that included upwards of 30,000 men as extras for the battle scenes (remember, this was before CGI) as well as utilizing front projection techniques that he had recently used on ‘2001.’ A mix of big names and newcomers like Ian Holm, Alec Guiness, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Magee were mooted as potential cast members, while David Hemmings (“Blow-Up,” “Camelot”) was eyed for the lead role of Napoleon. Kubrick also wanted Audrey Hepburn as Joséphine, but the actress graciously turned it down (you can read letters between the director and actress about the role right here).

To reiterate, the research was extensive and meticulous, with Kubrick using Felix Markham’s 1966 biography as a launching pad for his in-depth study that eventually grew to include extensive index cards kept on everyone in Napoleon’s life, and cross referenced to an exacting degree. And Kubrick even thought of computer cataloging his notes, something that was pretty much unheard of at the time. "If you searched 'Joséphine' you were going to get possibly every portrait that was made of her at the time," “The Greatest Movie Never Madeeditor Alison Castle said.

MGM had initially greenlit the movie, and United Artists were offered the project, but both grew wary after similar epics like “War & Peace” and “Waterloo” struggled financially. "He had shelved 'Napoleon' after MGM and UA dropped the project," Kubrick’s longtime producer Jan Harlan told Filmmaker Magazine. "He was very sad since he was so well prepared and in full swing to do the film in Romania, France and England. But three weeks later he was back on track with various ideas." And one of those was an adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” that would be his next film.

And while Spielberg now has the gig to bring "Napoleon" to life, the Kubrick estate did try to reach out to other filmmakers in the past. "Ridley Scott knows that we have the material and we put it to Ang Lee," Harlan told The Independent in 2010. What screenplay Spielberg will eventually use remains to be seen, but you can read Kubrick’s 147 page draft from 1969 right here.
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16 Comments

  • KUBRICK | December 24, 2013 8:04 AMReply

    “I Stole 16 Million Dollars” AKA ”God Fearing Man”- both the projects are different. I stole 16 million dollars is based on 1930s bank robber Willie Sutton and God fearing man on Herbert Emerson Wilson.

  • David Kelly | March 28, 2013 12:13 AMReply

    You guys call Brando "Marlon Brandon"??? Come on, man...

  • sliptrod | March 19, 2013 5:47 PMReply

    I love it when directors rush to wear the "I'm not Kubrick" sign. So attractive.

  • Jeff | March 5, 2013 9:09 AMReply

    There's a reason why this is my favorite movie blog. Thanks, Playlist.

  • DeLarge | March 5, 2013 1:37 AMReply

    Unless you get someone extremely talented, like Paul Thomas Anderson attached to a Kubrick unfinished project, they will all turn out average in a best case scenario. It´s too bad Napoleon is getting the Spielberg treatment.

  • sliptrod | March 19, 2013 5:48 PM

    See my comment above.

  • Alphabet | March 4, 2013 6:11 PMReply

    Pg 4 mentions the seemingly nonexistent book "Stanley Kubrick: An Autobiography" (Kubrick didn't write an autobiography).

    Pg 5 gets the full title of "Dr. Strangelove" wrong.

    C'mon guys.

  • James | March 4, 2013 6:23 PM

    Page 2 calls Christiane Kubrick his daughter - she's actually his widow.

  • DG | March 4, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    I read there was a draft of AI at one point in which Jiggolo Joe was the main character, not sure where though. I hope they get someone good to direct Napolean, at least for the Egypt sections. Apparently there was some pretty cool phantasmagoric/creepy shit that went on with Napoleans men and the pyramids

  • Fitzcarraldont | March 4, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    Good article. There's a valid reason each of these projects was scuttled — Napoleon being the exception. As it stands Kubrick's oeuvre is perfect. He wisely jettisoned the weaklings.

  • PcChongor | March 4, 2013 2:07 PMReply

    Wish I could remember the name of the title, but in "The Kubrick Archives," Jan Harlan makes note of a particular Viking epic that Kubrick considered to be one of the greatest adventure stories ever told. He toyed with the idea of adapting it himself, but figured the budget of such a film would always preclude him from making it.

    Also of note, the version of "All The King's Men" Kubrick was interested in making wasn't the Robert Warren Penn version of 1949 fame, but rather, it was Robert Marshall's nonfiction account of MI6's attempted sabotage of the SOE's efforts during WW2, which ended in the deaths of a number of undercover operatives.

    "The more you know!"

  • Chris | March 4, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    Could you guys do a "Lost and Unmade Projects" series? I think it would be interesting with directors like Dennis Hopper or John Cassavetes?

  • Bob Roberts | March 4, 2013 4:39 PM

    I second that. Would love to hear about Scorsese/Max Ophuls/Coens/Linklater/PT Anderson/Howard Hawks and many more unmade projects. Although it might be too depressing it makes for nice dreams.

  • Leonardo | March 4, 2013 4:23 PM

    I have loved both articles, but i really want the "Lost Projects" to become a more regular feature on the site, that would be awesome.

  • BOBY | March 4, 2013 2:53 PM

    I agree ! And can I suggest Paul Verhoeven as the next candidate ? Between "Crusade", "Dinosaurs" and "Mistress of the Seas", I think he is the director with the most amazing and exciting unmade projects of the last four decades.

  • Rodrigo | March 4, 2013 2:29 PM

    Yeah, we've considered it. We did one on Terrence Malick. http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/the_lost_projects_and_unproduced_screenplays_of_terrence_malick

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