Ever wonder what happened to that cool-sounding movie project you heard about a few years ago that still hasn’t been made? Ever wonder why a sequel that seemed like a sure thing seems to now be drifting aimlessly in limbo? Well, more than likely that project is stuck in what Hollywood calls “Development Hell”. Movies get stalled for an infinite number of reasons, but some are more common than others. For example, an actor may be holding out for a bigger paycheck, the studio may not give a greenlight until the filmmakers find a way to reduce the budget, or the director may have found another project he or she wants to do first. Sometimes, on a movie like Avatar (which James Cameron first concocted sometime in the 90’s), the filmmakers have to wait for technology to catch up with their vision. Other times, the strange can occur: did you know that Tom Cruise was originally going to star in Salt? When he dropped out and moved on, the main character was rewritten as a woman and presented to Angelina Jolie, who said yes.
BUT…the biggest thing holding up most in-development movies is the script. Either it isn’t done yet, or somebody isn’t satisfied with how the first draft ended up, so the studio has to commission a rewrite, perhaps with an entirely different writer (or writers). A lot of big name actors, producers and directors have script approval, so some movies can’t get made until the people at the top of the creative food chain are satisfied. And then, even when they are satisfied, the studio may then have hesitations. It’s a common conundrum in big budget filmmaking, causing some movies to be delayed months or years, even after the studio has publicly stated, “Yes, we’re making this.”
I have followed the Hollywood development process for more than 15 years now, and I often enjoy or get insanely frustrated following some movies from script to finished product. I thought it might be fun to share some of the current in-development projects I’m tracking that I’m most passionate about seeing brought to fruition sooner rather than later. With each one, I’ll give you its current status (based on the most recent available non-rumor information), who’s involved with the project, or who I think ideally should be involved in the project. One of these is scheduled for release next year, while a couple others may never be realized the way I (and many others) hope they will.
These are listed in no particular order.
1. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE & THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST
Key players: David Fincher, Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (composers), Jeff Cronenweth (cinematographer)
Unfortunately, out of all the projects on this list, this is the one clinging to life by the thinnest of threads. This saddens me, because it’s also the one I most want to see happen. Like many Hollywood insiders, I was baffled that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t a much bigger hit in 2011 considering the omnipresent popularity of Stieg Larsson‘s books at the time. The film grossed $102 million in the U.S. and $232 million worldwide, when it should’ve easily done twice that. I suspect a lot of egos were bruised on the Sony lot as those numbers came in. The thing is though, this movie DESERVED to be a smash hit! They fucking nailed it! The film was a critical hit, it was nominated for 5 Oscars, and the people who did see it in theaters loved it. I ADORE it. So why the fuck didn’t more people who loved the books so much go out and see it on the big screen? It’s one of the great box office mysteries in recent memory. Regardless, the fact that it wasn’t a smash hit made the sequels much less of a priority for Sony in the immediate aftermath, whereas if the first one had been a huge success, we’d probably have had the sequel in theaters this year or next. As things stand now, we’re at least two years away from The Girl Who Played with Fire becoming a reality. Mega sigh…
There are also several creative issues keeping the sequel at bay. I have not read the books, but from what I understand, the second and third books are very different from the first, and don’t feature Lisbeth Salander as prominently. Needless to say, that’s not what we want from the movies. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they’re also basically two books telling one story. Steven Zaillian, who adapted the first movie, has been working on Played with Fire for over a year, but they apparently still haven’t cracked how to make the second and third movies more Salander-centric than the books. David Fincher has repeatedly said he wants to make all 3 movies, but in his words, they’re still “figuring out” how to best adapt the second and third books. It’s to the point now where Zaillian has stepped aside and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (who wrote Se7en) has been hired to do a rewrite. Fincher has yet to make another movie since GwDT while they tried to iron out a script everybody was happy with, but he has essentially said, “Fuck it” and moved on, having committed to make Gone Girl his next project, based on the blockbuster novel by Gillian Flynn. That will star Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and is set up at Fox. Fincher is still interested, but got tired of waiting for it to come together and is now making his next film at another studio. Meanwhile, the Dragon Tattoo sequel seems to finally be rising on Sony’s list of priorities, and if push comes to shove, it looks like they may be willing to make it without Fincher (a TERRIBLE idea). Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara were signed on for all 3 movies from the get-go, but Fincher was not.
One of the rumors was that they’d figure out the scripts and then shoot both sequels at the same time, and I’d have been fine with that. But again, without Fincher, how much of the first movie’s greatness do you lose? I say a lot, perhaps too much to recover from. I’ll happily see these movies no matter what, but if David Fincher isn’t at the helm, my interest in them would immediately drop by 70-80%. That’s how important the “Fincher touch” was to the first movie. Sure, you can get it to look like a Fincher movie without him, but you don’t get that Fincher precision, and you probably don’t get Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross back to do the music, which was VITAL to the mood and tone of Dragon Tattoo. BREAKING NEWS: the director matters.
David Fincher starts shooting Gone Girl next month most likely for release October-ish 2014. In theory, if they can figure out the script in the meantime, The Girl Who Played with Fire COULD be Fincher’s next movie after that, but how involved could Fincher be in developing that script if he’s balls deep in making another movie? He doesn’t strike me as a guy who develops one movie WHILE he’s shooting another one. Again, this situation sucks. I specifically remember Fincher being so happy in Dragon Tattoo interviews about being involved with “a franchise for adults” as he’d put it. On top of all that, if Sony waits too long, Daniel Craig will become unavailable again once “Bond 24” gets rolling. This is the conundrum; a lot of things have to fall into place in the next 12 months for these movies to happen with David Fincher at the controls. PLEASE, MOVIE GODS, ALIGN THE STARS JUST THIS ONCE.
2. THE THIRD SHERLOCK HOLMES MOVIE
Key players: Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Kelly Reilly, Hans Zimmer
The good news is given the immense success and positive audience response to the first two films, this will definitely happen…eventually. We’re just not yet at the point where Warner Bros. can announce a release date, because a lot of people’s schedules need to align first. I’m a HUGE fan of both of these Sherlock films, and I’m almost ready to say that the second one was better than the first. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched the 2009 original, but they’re at least equals. I honestly thought Jared Harris‘ Professor Moriarty was one of the best movie villains of the last 15 years, and probably THE best since Heath Ledger‘s Joker. Everything about these movies has been inspired, from the choice of Guy Ritchie as director (it’s impossible to imagine what this franchise would be like without his trademark visual stylings), to the casting of the two leads, and of course bringing in Hans Zimmer to do the scores, which have been masterful and wildly original on both films. I also think these are the rare instances of blockbuster films that have also had fantastic scripts. No, they aren’t the more dramatic version of Sherlock Holmes we’ve been used to over the years, but this new twist on an old concept is precisely why they’re so cool. Also, if you want the calmer, more dramatic version, there’s the amazing BBC TV show starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan right now, you really can’t go wrong.
The third Sherlock Holmes film is currently being written, and all parties involved say they want to get the script right before moving ahead. I’m down with that, but it only took 2 years to get Game of Shadows in theaters after the first one, and it will likely be 4 years between the second and third films. Guy Ritchie is about to start shooting the adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., so he won’t be available until at least next summer, making it entirely logical that a December 2015 release date is in the cards. That sucks, but it does give them more time to hone the script, the first draft of which is being written by Drew Pearce, who just worked with Mr. Downey on Iron Man 3 in collaboration with Shane Black. Pearce is “wicked hot” as we’d say in Boston, as he also wrote the next Mission: Impossible movie. Robert Downey Jr. will of course be shooting The Avengers: Age of Ultron next year, but should be available in the fall to shoot Sherlock 3, as should Jude Law. Are you getting all this? Do you need me to write it down for you? Oh wait, I just did. Boom.
3. THE OTHER STEVE JOBS MOVIE
Key players: Aaron Sorkin
Not the independent Ashton Kutcher movie Jobs, which I have absolutely no interest in, but the movie based on Walter Isaacson‘s bestselling 2011 book Steve Jobs that’s currently being written by Aaron Sorkin. Sony bought the rights to the book almost immediately after it went on sale, but they’ve taken a deliberate pace in bringing it to the screen. I’m fine with them taking their time and giving Sorkin the space he needs to research and write the film properly, but it’s getting to the point almost 2 years later where I’m eager to hear some news about this project actually moving forward. It’s wise of the studio to distance itself from the Kutcher movie, which seems like it will come and go without much of a fuss (advance reviews haven’t been great). If they wait at least a year after Jobs to release their film, people should then be ready to go see a Steve Jobs biopic that’s actually worth a damn.
The most recent news item about the project was quite intriguing. If THIS story is true, Sorkin is taking a very unorthodox approach to the structure of the film. Apparently, he wants the entire movie to consist of just 3 scenes, each of them running 30 minutes and progressing in real time. I’m not sure whether “real time” means a single-take shot without any cutting, but you could easily cut your way through a scene without skipping ahead in time. Either way, it’s a very theatrical approach and certainly a big contrast to anything we’ve seen in a studio movie for several years. I think back to the good old days when filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock had the balls to try and do an entire movie as one uninterrupted shot, like he did with his classic, Rope. I doubt they’ll try to do these scenes as single shots, but wouldn’t that be cool? Anyway, the three big scenes would each be set right before one of Apple’s major product launches; the original Macintosh computer in 1984, the NEXT Cube in 1990, and then the iPod in 2001. I absolutely love this concept and the challenge it presents for a writer like Sorkin, whose specialty is long, dialogue-driven scenes. I’d like to have seen them go a little closer to the present and show Jobs at the head of what Apple would eventually become, but I’ll take what I can get.
I can’t wait to find out who they hire as director, and of course who will be cast as Steve Jobs. This has Oscar Movie written all over it, and I suspect the competition to land the role will be fierce. In a perfect world, Sorkin would reunite with The Social Network director David Fincher on the project. I suspect Fincher would find this kind of narrative challenge interesting, but I wonder if he’d want to do another movie based on the life of a tech giant so soon after Social Network. Then again, he’s done 3 movies featuring a serial killer, so he certainly isn’t opposed to tackling the same type of subject from different angles. One thing’s for sure, seeing as how Sorkin is writing it and Scott Rudin is producing (Rudin also produced The Social Network), I’m confident they’ll at least ask him about it (if they haven’t already).
I’m hoping we’ll get some real news on this project later this year after Jobs has come and gone, and that it’ll be ready for release next fall for the 2014 awards season. The way Sorkin is writing it, it shouldn’t be too expensive or take very long to film, so once all the pieces are in place, it should come together quickly. In theory, anyway.
Note: If they do shoot the film next year, it would all but eliminate the possibility of David Fincher directing, since he starts production on Gone Girl soon for release next fall. I find it highly unlikely a director as meticulous as Fincher would make two movies in one year, but I suppose stranger things have happened. Regardless, I could think of at least 10 other filmmakers who would be great for this project, but were it up to me I’d push hard to get Fincher. But ONLY if he doesn’t do The Girl Who Played with Fire. I’d much rather see him do that next.
4. THE FOURTH AUSTIN POWERS MOVIE
Key players: Mike Myers, Jay Roach (director), Mike McCullers (co-writer)
Remember Mike Myers? Yeah, I’d almost forgotten about him, too. Remember the talented version of Mike Myers before all the Shrek sequels? Me neither. Myers hasn’t done a starring role in a live-action movie since The Love Guru bombed spectacularly 5 years ago. The only other time we’ve seen him since then was that random cameo as a British officer in Inglourious Basterds. By my count, he hasn’t been in a good live-action movie since the last Austin Powers flick 11 frickin years ago. Yeesh. What the hell happened to this guy? Maybe he took his Shrek paychecks in singles and is still counting his millions, but I kinda miss him, and you can count me in the camp who has been desperately longing for news about another Austin Powers movie this entire time (Goldmember was released in 2002). I’ve said in the past how weary I am of franchises that wait 10 years or longer between installments, as recent results have shown that such a long time frame usually means they couldn’t come up with a worthy story in the first place. See: Indiana Jones and the What the Fuck Were They Thinking?! (19 years between movies), Scream 4 (11 years), Men in Black III (10 years). Why would it be any different for a fourth Austin Powers movie after all this waiting? I’m not sure that it would, but goddammit, in this case I’m willing to see them try. The Austin Powers movies are some of my all-time favorite comedies, and I dearly miss these characters. I still remember going to the midnight show of The Spy Who Shagged Me at age 19. Rarely have I laughed that hard and that often. Goldmember isn’t as good as the first two movies, sure, but it’s still hilarious and still left me wanting more.
The problem with this project is finding any reliable information on it, as there have been zero official announcements from Myers or New Line saying it’s actually happening. The most recent solid info I can find is from two years ago, when Myers’ representatives approached the studio to say that Myers was indeed still interested. The last thing we heard about a potential storyline was in 2008, when it was reported Myers wanted to do a movie focusing more on Dr. Evil and his son. This was allegedly inspired by the fact that Myers’ father had recently died at the time. There’s no telling if that’s still the story we’d be looking at, or if several more years passing has made Myers reconsider that concept. Jay Roach, who directed all 3 previous films, has also said he’s interested, but he can’t make up his mind until he hears from Myers and sees a script. Basically, nobody knows jack shit about the status of this movie right now in August of 2013, and it’s likely we won’t hear anything until one random day when there’s a big announcement that a script is ready, Myers is onboard, and the studio hypes up a release date. Until then, we wait. And wait. And wait.
Looking at it from a practical standpoint, there are few actors in Hollywood more in need of a comeback than Mike Myers, and if he still gives a shit about being a movie star and having a career, he’s got the perfect vehicle for him to make a big splashy return to the limelight. The big question is how must he still has left on his comedy fastball, particularly considering his most recent efforts. Myers turned 50 this year, which doesn’t bode well for his ability to come up with material that 17-30 year olds are gonna find hilarious, but shit- if Sylvester Stallone can make a really good Rocky movie at age 60 and still believably be kicking ass in Expendables movies at age 66, Mike Myers can still be funny as a 50-year old Austin Powers/Dr. Evil. Or so I’m hoping.
5. RIDLEY SCOTT‘S EXODUS
Key players: Ridley Scott, Steven Zaillian, Christian Bale as Moses (maybe)
Once the studios saw how successful History Channel’s The Bible miniseries was, many of them pushed fast-forward on all their religious projects. That includes Fox, which had already bought this idea based on a pitch from writers Adam Cooper and Bill Collage. No doubt they see a chance to capitalize, even though clear-thinking people realize the audience has ALWAYS been there for this kind of movie. I guess they completely forgot that in 2004, Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ grossed $612 million worldwide. Anywho, the Cooper/Collage script has since been retouched by the great Steven Zaillian, and is allegedly in ready-to-shoot condition, with Ridley Scott already signed to direct as his next project after The Counselor is released this fall. The studio is “in talks” with Christian Bale to star as Moses in some version of the Exodus story. That’s all the info we have right now.
Of course, this classic story has been told to death on the big and small screens, the most recent theatrical version being DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt in 1998. That film is not only one of the most beautiful animated movies ever made, but it’s also one of my favorites. What we HAVEN’T seen is this story told in live-action using the full might of today’s technology, and THAT is something worth getting excited about, even for people like me who aren’t religious. There are only a handful of directors qualified to make a movie of this scope, and Ridley Scott would have to be in the top 3 of any such list. I could definitely see Bale as Moses, if Hollywood must insist on having us believe a white guy did all that stuff in the Middle East more than 2,000 years ago. But that’s another debate for another day.
Fox has already set a release date for this project, next December 12th. This means Scott would have to dive straight into it the instant he finishes The Counselor (which should be very near completion as of this writing). I’m not saying it’s impossible, but this is a massive project to design, cast, shoot and complete post-production on in just 13-14 months. However, if anyone can do it, it’s Ridley Scott, Master of Epics. Point is, there’s still a chance this movie gets delayed.
To me, the best part of this project is that it pushes a Prometheus sequel farther into the future. I enjoyed Prometheus despite it being a Lindelof-y mess at the screenplay level, but I’d rather see Scott doing other things at this point. I’m happy he made a smaller-scale movie in The Counselor, but I’m ready for the return of Epic Ridley.
INSTA-UPDATE: Of course this would happen. The day I posted this blog, it was announced that actor Joel Edgerton is now in talks to play Rameses, the Egyptian ruler who torments Moses and his people. I guess they’re all-in with the white guys-as-Middle Easterners thing, huh? I’ll be very interested to see how that plays out, but it’s positive news with regards to the movie actually moving forward as planned.