BBC Culture

Ten more great movies never made

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Christian Blauvelt is deputy editor of BBC Culture.

  • I, Claudius by Josef von Sternberg

    The Austrian émigré director had made a name for himself in 1930s Hollywood with depictions of the relationship between sex and power: vaseline-edged films like Morocco, Shanghai Express and The Scarlet Empress. An adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, a novel written as an autobiography from the perspective of the fourth Roman emperor, was to have been the culmination of this theme. Charles Laughton was to play Claudius and intended to base his performance on the mannerisms of the recently abdicated King Edward VIII. But a car accident that nearly disfigured co-star Merle Oberon caused the production to be shelved permanently. The novel was later adapted as a miniseries by the BBC in 1976. (Phillip Jackson/Rex)

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  • Jesus by Carl Theodor Dreyer

    The great Danish director saw a natural follow-up to his 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc in the life of Christ. He wrote a screenplay in the early 1930s that he continued to develop for decades with the aim of bringing “…the image of Jesus out of the gloom of churches… and [showing he] walked the earth as a man,” according to his foreward to the screenplay. This film would have presented Jesus as a man, not a god, and would also "stamp out the myth that the Jewish people are to blame for Jesus’ death.” A lack of funding prevented the film from being made, but it is possible to buy Dreyer’s screenplay. (Everett Collection/Rex)

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  • The Aryan Papers by Stanley Kubrick

    The director had wanted to make a film about the Holocaust ever since the mid-1970s, when he had briefly worked with Isaac Bashevis Singer on a project set in World War II. That was abandoned in favour of 1980’s The Shining – though one far-fetched conspiracy theory presented in the documentary Room 237 suggests The Shining may be an allegory for the Holocaust. Louis Begley’s 1991 novel Wartime Lies, about a woman and her nephew fleeing the Nazis, later inspired Kubrick, who intended to adapt it as The Aryan Papers with Julia Roberts or Uma Thurman in the lead. But a variety of factors – a growing depression over the subject matter, an interest to work instead on AI: Artificial Intelligence, and the feeling that Steven Spielberg got there first with Schindler’s List in 1993 – ultimately prompted him to abandon the project. (Corbis)

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  • Crusade by Paul Verhoeven

    In the mid 1990s the Dutch auteur behind Total Recall and Basic Instinct attempted to mount a lavish production about the Crusades, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Duvall and Jennifer Connelly. But unlike other sword-and-sandal schlock, this film would expose the European invaders’ intense anti-Arabian and anti-Semitic bloodlust. Sets were already built in Spain, but Verhoeven’s inability to commit to a $100m budget and studio Carolco’s massive flop in Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island caused the film to be scrapped. (Everett Collection/Rex)

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  • Tale of Sand by Jim Henson

    Muppet creator Henson developed an experimental live-action movie script in the late 1960s that would follow a low-key everyman who wakes up in a mysterious town then finds himself chased across the American Southwest by terrifying, fantastic creatures. In a pre-CGI filmmaking world it would have been terribly difficult to render these particular Henson fantasies, but in 2011 comic artist Ramón K Pérez published a graphic novel adaptation of the story. (Ramón K Pérez/Archaia)

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  • Yucatan by Steve McQueen

    The action-movie star of The Great Escape and Papillon left behind an epic adventure caper as his great unrealised dream when he died in 1981. Yucatan would have been about the search for lost Mayan gold and jewels. Or as the actor describes it himself in William F Nolan’s biography McQueen: "Our story will center on a guy who takes his cycle into the Mexican wilds on a personal treasure hunt. Naturally, I'll play the guy on the cycle." McQueen left behind 1,700 pages of notes about the project and a massive amount of storyboards. In recent years Robert Downey Jr has talked of reviving the project. (Corbis)

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  • Wasington by Lars von Trier

    Only two-thirds of the Danish provocateur’s USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy – a planned triptych of films following a young woman named Grace through a stylized 1930s America rendered on bare soundstages with nothing but outlines on the floor to indicate sets – have been made to date: Dogville and Manderlay. Von Trier indefinitely delayed the third installment Wasington, in which Grace would travel to Washington, DC, in favour of work on the Depression trilogy – Antichrist, Melancholia and Nymphomaniac. The director has not indicated that he intends to make Wasington in the near future, if at all. (Lionsgate/Everett/Rex)

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  • Return of the Jedi by David Lynch

    As Lynch was looking for his next project following the release of The Elephant Man in 1980, he was contacted by George Lucas. The Star Wars mastermind hoped to hire him to direct Return of the Jedi. They met, but Lynch describes getting an intense headache when looking at the many concept drawings Lucas had already commissioned and being put off when Lucas took him to lunch at a restaurant that served only salad – though Lynch does call Lucas “a living legend”. Many Star Wars fans have imagined what Lynch’s version of Jedi would look like, but the director has an answer for them: “In George`s imagination the movie was already done. It wouldn’t have made a difference with me doing it. It would have looked exactly the same.” (Corbis)

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  • Nostromo by David Lean

    After releasing A Passage to India in 1984, David Lean set about adapting Joseph Conrad’s novel with an all-star cast: Marlon Brando, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Quinn and Isabella Rossellini. Steven Spielberg came aboard as a producer, but Lean’s struggle with throat cancer doomed the project – and when he died in 1991 aged 83 the film fell apart entirely. (Columbia/Everett/Rex)

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  • Megalopolis by Francis Ford Coppola

    Following a rocky 1980s, the Godfather director found himself deep in debt. So he made three big-budget studio movies – Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jack and The Rainmaker – with the hope of recovering his fortune so he could make a true passion project: Megalopolis. The sci-fi epic would imagine a New York of the future devastated by an unforeseen tragedy and the subsequent efforts to rebuild. Apparently, he started to meet with actors in the late ‘90s but the attacks of 11 September 2001, all too similar to the tragedy Coppola envisioned, made the proposed film feel insensitive. Nearly 13 years after the attacks he still has revealed no plans to revive it. (Argenpress/Rex)

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