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.
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 Made” editor 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.