5 Great Films Never Made

Book Cover, Notre-Dame de Paris [1831]

I. Tim Burton’s “Notre Dame de Paris

What is it all about?

In 2011, it was announced that Tim Burton is working on his version of Notre-Dame de Paris with Josh Brolin, but the project never moved beyond the early stages. This film was supposed to be an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris, which tells the story of three characters’ lives entangling against the backdrop of medieval Paris. Esmeralda, a beautiful girl who often dances in the square in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, has become the object of ardent passion on the part of three distinct men: severe Archdeacon Claude Frollo, the hunchback and bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, Quasimodo and dashing Captain Phoebus.

Why this project had the potential to be great?

As far back as 2013, I wrote a post where I talked about 10 classics I would love to see made into major films and Victor Hugo’s novel was at the very top of my list. Tim Burton’s penchant for the unusual and the grotesque would have made this adaptation a dark, intriguing “feast for the eyes”, especially given all the recent advances in special effects technology which could render Quasimodo vividly and bring his world of old Paris and Cathedral-climbing to one magnificent spectacle. Tim Burton is great in establishing that “creepy fairy-tale” atmosphere (Sleepy Hollow (1999)) is one such example) that the film needs and he could have done the book justice. True, there were at least three other well-known cinematic adaptations of the book (in 1923, 1939 and in 1956), but, an “update” or a “remake” is desperately needed since the story is timeless and moving and, at least in my humble opinion, has such a big cinematic potential.

Book Cover, Alexander the Great [1973]

II. Martin Scorsese’s “Alexander”

What is it all about?

At one point a loose adaptation of Robin Lane Fox’s book Alexander the Great was meant to be directed my Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio starring in the lead role, but that film never materialised. For example, in 2001, it was reported that: “The film, [which will detail a version of the life of Alexander the Great], will focus on Alexander’s coronation as king of Macedonia and his subsequent megalomania” (The Guardian/Hollywood Reporter). Den of Geek also reports: “The film was actually a passion project of his star Leonardo DiCaprio who in his youth was eager to play Alexander the Great…and was convinced Alexander the Great could be the role of a lifetime“. DiCaprio wanted Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby (2013)) on board too and even bought the rights to the script by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects (1995), Edge of Tomorrow (2014)). Film Alexander directed by Oliver Stone and starring Colin Farrell was finally released in 2004, but its reception was less than great.

Why this project had the potential to be great?

As it is evident from such films as The Aviator (2004) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Martin Scorsese can make great biopics, and if there is “his favourite actor” on board – charismatic Leonardo DiCaprio – chances are a picture would be very successful. The story of Alexander the Great would have been in safe hands with these two (and there are similarities between the ancient depictions of Alexander and DiCaprio himself).

David Lynch on the set of Eraserhead [1977]

III. David Lynch’s “Gardenback”

What is it all about?

When David Lynch was a film student, he suggested two scripts or rather two sets of ideas to be presented as experimental films for the American Film Institute. Gardenback and – what eventually became known as -his film Eraserhead. Needless to say, the story of Eraserhead was picked and Lynch never developed Gardenback beyond a few ideas and concepts. This is a pity because, I believe, it would have been a good film. Lynch later told journalists that Gardenback was supposed to be about “a happy couple Henry and Mary, whose lives are disrupted when Henry “looks at a girl, and something crosses from her to him. That something is an insect which grows in Henry’s attic, which is like his mind. The house is like his head. And the thing grows and metamorphoses into this monster that overtakes him. He doesn’t become it, but he has to deal with it, and it drives him to completely ruin his home” (Source: Psychobabble200, Cinefantastique Magazine, September 1984).

Why this project had the potential to be great?

The premise of Gardenback sounds like a delicious cross between Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Lynch’s own film The Elephant Man (1980). Undoubtedly, given freedom and resources, Lynch would have made from these abstract ideas something very thought-provoking and philosophical, focusing on one eccentric character who has problems with some of his “body parts”. David Cronenberg has done it with The Fly (1986), Tim Burton has done it with Edward Scissorhands (1990) and David Lynch would have done it with Gardenback.

A creative poster of Jodorowsky’s “would-be” Dune

IV. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune”

What is it all about?

As we know, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi film Dune will come out some time this year (hopefully?), but a number of directors since the release of Frank Herbert’s book in 1965 also expressed an interest in bringing the story to the screen. One such director who made a considerable inroad into making his film a reality is the Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who worked on the project in the 1970s and even assembled a team to work for that purpose, producing concept art and storyboards. Unfortunately, his project never resulted in any film. Frank Herbert’s story is set in some very distant future and centres on Paul Atreides, whose family “controls” planet Arrakis. This ownership is set to be contested since the planet is the only one producing a special drug that is able to enhance mental faculties and make space navigation a reality. David Lynch’s film Dune was released in 1984 and, although it was a big flop at that time, it has since gathered quite a fan following.

Why this project had the potential to be great?

Jodorowsky is a mind behind such thought-provoking, artful films as The Holy Mountain (1973) and El Topo (1971). There are arguments that his script, art and storyboards for Dune, which he also sent to a number of studios, inspired such films as Star Wars, Alien, The Terminator and The Fifth Element. In all likelihood and as is seen from his concept art, his Dune would have been a highly imaginative and original work. There is also a documentary about the making of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune (trailer).

Book Cover, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax [2004]

V. Anthony Minghella’s “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

What is it all about?

In 2007-2008, Anthony Minghella expressed his interest in adapting to screen Liz Jensen’s 2004 book that tells of a young boy, prone to accidents, who comes into the care of one psychologist interested in the boy’s most recent near-fatal fall. Anthony Minghella sadly passed away in 2008, and around 2015, Anthony Minghella’s son, Max Minghella, wrote his first screenplay – The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, that became the mystery film of 2016. Sadly, this thriller of a film did not do as well as was expected, generating generally a negative response from both the audience and critics.

Why this project had the potential to be great?

Anthony Minghella (1954 – 2008) might have been the director of only seven major films, but The English Patient (1996) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) certainly rank among the most beautiful films to come out in the late twentieth century. I think Minghella would have been perfect as a director of Jensen’s novel, imbuing it with nuance, tension and philosophy. Similar to The English Patient, the book The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is concerned with the theme of memories and near-death experience, emphasising various perspectives on the same complicating situation.

9 thoughts on “5 Great Films Never Made

  1. Excellent choices! Frankly, I didn’t know about Tim Burton’s project. I will add three “great” Hitchcock movies never made: Mary Rose (a ghost story), No Bail for the Judge (a thriller) and The Short Night (a spy melodrama).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Yes, Hitchcock had quite a number of potentially great unfinished projects. Mary Rose sounds good, quite supranatural, and if done with subtlety, could have been good, I suppose. I knew only about Hitchcock’s The Blind Man, but, like Mary Rose, it is quite far from being realistic.

      Liked by 2 people

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