Tarantino abandons his tenth film – five other times Hollywood giants cancelled big projects

By Kieran Foster, Assistant Professor in Film and Screen Studies, University of Nottingham

Quentin Tarantino has reportedly scrapped what was supposed to be his tenth and final feature film, The Movie Critic, deep into pre-production.

This decision is one in a long line of cancelled or unproduced projects left by the Hollywood wayside. For every film that makes it to our screens, hundreds if not thousands fail to make it – be it due to financial reasons, personal differences, or just the whims of the creatives involved.

The following list offers a snapshot of some of these “shadow” films – and a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.

1. Diablo Cody’s Barbie

The Barbie movie went through several iterations in the decade before its eventual release as Greta Gerwig’s billion-dollar 2023 behemoth. In a GQ article in 2023, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body) discussed her time on the project, which she joined in 2014. She found it difficult trying to present a modern, feminist version of the character which was still identifiable as Barbie.

“I didn’t really have the freedom then to write something that was faithful to the iconography,” Cody explained. “They wanted a girl-boss feminist twist on Barbie, and I couldn’t figure it out because that’s not what Barbie is.”

Comedian Amy Schumer was cast as the lead, but left the project citing scheduling difficulties in 2017. Cody left the project the following year, having never completed a full draft of the script.

2. Steven Spielberg’s Night Skies

Night Skies was conceived shortly after the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). In The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made (2001), author David Hughes explains that Night Skies was envisioned as a leaner and meaner film.

The initial treatment centred on a family’s farmhouse that is being stalked by malevolent aliens. By 1980, special effects creator Rick Baker was hired by Spielberg to create the extra-terrestrials, but this partnership ended in acrimony.

While filming Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Spielberg found himself longing to go back to the “tranquillity” of Close Encounters. He entirely reconfigured the project, instead focusing on a kinder and gentler alien, encountered by a boy yearning for a friend.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released in 1983, and Night Skies was confined to history as a fascinating “what-if”.

Director Sofia Coppola poses at a premiere for “The Beguiled” in Los Angeles, California U.S., June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni – RTS16SYD

3. Sofia Coppola’s Little Mermaid

In 2014, long before the release of Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid in 2023, Sofia Coppola was asked to direct a more faithful adaption of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.

Developed by Universal and Working Title, Coppola eventually dropped out of the project a year later citing “creative differences”. However, in an interview in 2017, Coppola elaborated on why she left, citing the size of the project as a barrier to her creative control. “For me,” she explained, “when a movie has a really large budget like that, it just becomes more about business, or business becomes a bigger element than art.”

This, coupled with the technical difficulties of realising her vision of shooting the film underwater, ultimately sank the project.

4. Guillermo Del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness

In 2010, a film package came onto the market that seemed unbeatable. An adaptation of American novelist H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal horror work, At the Mountains of Madness (1931), directed by Guillermo Del Toro, produced by James Cameron, and starring Tom Cruise. What could go wrong?

Within a year, however, the project was officially dead at Universal, who had baulked at the US$150 million asking price for what would have been an R-rated film (meaning viewers under 17 would require an accompanying parent).

Del Toro held out hope that the project could be revived. But the release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) and its plot similarities to Mountains – a group of explorers uncovering the secret origins of man with horrifying consequences – ultimately put an end to this ambitious horror adaptation.

5. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s Batgirl

Batgirl was announced in 2021, with Bad Boys for Life (2020) directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah signing on to direct. The cast included Brendan Fraser and Michael Keaton, alongside Leslie Grace as Batgirl.

What sets Batgirl apart from any of the other projects on this list is that the film was in fact completed, and only cancelled deep into its post-production.

Originally devised as a straight-to-streaming film for Warner Brothers’ fledgling streaming service HBO Max, a change in ownership and priorities saw the focus on streaming scrapped – with Batgirl paying the price. Warner decided to cancel and take a tax write-down on the US$70million (£56m) film, much to the dismay of many in the industry. The film was locked away, perhaps never to be released.

The Conversation via Reuters Connect


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