Big Hopes Falling Flat

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Big Hopes Falling Flat

Ah, cinema hype, the ceaseless cyclone of title announcements, casting updates, and critical buzz that movie buffs know all too well. If there is a golden rule of cinema hype, it's this: never, under any circumstances, get totally psyched up about a movie until you see its name on the marquee of your local theater. There are a million reasons that a film can be scrapped at various stages of production, so it's best to just play it safe and keep your hopes low. The films on this list never even made it past conceptualization, yet some were so hyped they already had fans foaming at the mouth.

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"Gladiator 2"

After Ridley Scott's Gladiator thrilled audiences worldwide and took home the 2001 Oscar for Best Picture, chatter immediately began about a potential sequel. In an unexpected move, studio executives initially attached kooky Aussie crooner Nick Cave as head writer for the project. In a 2013 episode of Marc Maron's podcast, Cave opened up about early talks with Russell Crowe, as well as his vision for the sequel.

"(I said) hey Russell, didn't you die in Gladiator? And he replied 'Yeah, you sort that out.'"

So Cave went about concocting an idea for how to bring back Crowe's Maximus character, and it's...bonkers. The writer explained:

"He goes down to purgatory, and is sent down by the gods, who are dying in heaven because there's this one god, there's this Christ character down on Earth who is gaining popularity, and so the many gods are dying, so they send Gladiator back to kill Christ and his followers. I wanted to call it Christ Killer, and in the end you find out that the main guy was his son, so he has to kill his son and he was tricked by the gods. He becomes this eternal warrior and it ends with this 20-minute war scene which follows all the wars in history, right up to Vietnam and all that sort of stuff and it was wild. It was a stone cold masterpiece."

Yup, you read that right: Nick Cave not only wanted to have Maximus miraculously transcend time and space to fight in "all the wars in history," but he wanted to call it Christ Killer, and considered his script a "stone cold masterpiece."

Believe it or not, the plan to make Gladiator 2 was nixed early on in development. It isn't clear exactly who was responsible, as Nick Cave claims Russell Crowe was against it, while Ridley Scott says that Crowe was into it, but big studio financiers were not. In either case, we'll have to rely on our imaginations to suss out what Gladiator 2 might've looked like.

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"Halo"

When Microsoft announced a film adaptation of the beloved military sci-fi video game franchise in 2005, excitement started to mount. Then, when Lord of the Rings mastermind Peter Jackson was reported as executive producer, with Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Ex Machina) handling the screenplay and Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) directing, people were pumped.

Video games don't exactly have the best track record when it comes to transitioning to the silver screen, being decent at best (like Tomb Raider), or downright horrendous at worst (like Mortal Kombat). But this time would be different, right? With millions of dollars poured into the budget and top-tier talent running the show, what could go wrong? Well, for starters, Microsoft immediately proved themselves to be newbies in the movie industry with aggressive, far-fetched demands for the film's production.

They sent actors dressed up as Halo soldiers to dramatically deliver scripts and term sheets to major studios, and then cockily invited them to an auction at which they would bid on the rights to the project. Those terms? Oh, just $10 million upfront, 15% of the box office revenue, assurance for fast-tracked production, and a budget of no less than $75 million, according to a book about the initiative. Unsurprisingly, they were turned down by every studio they talked to in early rounds. After a while, Fox and Universal succumbed to temptation and took the deal.

Unfortunately, production costs immediately began to skyrocket, so top brass at Universal approached Microsoft producers and politely asked them to reduce their share of the cut, and suggested scooting Peter Jackson out of the project and off the payroll. Microsoft flat out refused, and hopes of the film actually being made soon fizzled out as worlds continued to collide. Not to be completely undone, Microsoft has drummed up a few live-action web miniseries since the debacle (Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, Halo: Nightfall), but none of them hold a candle to the majestic spectacle that was supposed to be the official Halo movie.

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"Night Skies"

When Steven Spielberg was making Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he learned of the 1955 Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter, a real-life reported case in which residents of a small Kentucky farmhouse claimed that they'd been attacked by creatures that descended from a UFO. The family alleged that they'd been able to hold the aliens back from encroaching with their hunting rifles, barely making it through the harrowing event.

Given the sweet, inspirational nature of Close Encounters, Spielberg wanted to crank it up a bit for the sequel and produce a horror/sci-fi thriller. Finding the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter to be perfect fodder, Spielberg tapped Piranha writer John Sayles to handle the screenplay. Initially titled Watch the Skies, it also focused on a rural family who came into contact with aliens, but tweaked it into a more drawn out affair. In his version, the aliens start by mangling farm animals before getting gory with the humans. The farmers would also prevail, except one of the aliens' children would be left behind, ultimately befriending the youngest boy of the family.

But as Spielberg began filming Raiders of the Lost Ark, the violence and adventure he was immersed in made him rethink his now titled Night Skies idea. He realized that he wanted to return to spirituality and emotional substance akin to Close Encounters, rather than go the dark, slasher route. While he was on the Raiders set, he read over the Night Skies script with Harrison Ford's future wife, Melissa Mathison. He was taken aback by how much she loved the subplot involving the boy befriending the abandoned alien child, so he reworked the idea in a script that eventually became E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Still very intrigued by the concept of a small town family under attack by supernatural forces, Spielberg created a second split off of the Kelly-Hopkinsville tale involving ghosts rather than aliens. That movie? Poltergeist. With E.T. and Poltergeist being two of the biggest blockbusters of the early 1980s, it's safe to say that Night Skies was one scrapped film idea with a happy ending.

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"Gump And Co."

When Forrest Gump came out in 1994, it charmed the pants off of audiences with the misadventures of a lovable halfwit with his college football heroics, valor in Vietnam, and shrimping boat schemes. On paper, it's a bizarre tale, but the moral innocence of its titular character resonated with many, and it cleaned house at the 1995 Oscars, earning awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, to name a few.

Six months after the awards ceremony, Winston Groom published Gump and Co., a sequel to his novel that the Tom Hanks vehicle was based on. Groom's follow up begins with Forrest telling the reader, "Don't never let nobody make a movie of your life's story," an opening which should fill the reader with a sense of worry about the integrity of the novel. Many agree that Groom was trying too hard and doing too much with Gump and Co., yet the opportunity for a potential cash cow sequel had many Hollywood execs drooling at the mouth.

Despite the book ebbing actual character development in favor of more serendipitous historical shenanigans (Gump invents New Coke, crashes Exxon, and tears down the Berlin Wall), no one cared that the sequel would basically be a trite rehashing of the original film. Some other absurdities of Gump and Co. included Forrest kidnapping Saddam Hussein to feed him pork chops, winning an Oscar for being the "most lovable certified idiot in America," and even Tom Hanks showing up to break the fourth wall and rant about chocolate. Also in the book: Ronald Reagan, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hillary Clinton, and Rudy Giuliani.

With Paramount financing the project, they were able to get Eric Roth, screenwriter of the original Forrest Gump film, back on board as well as original director Robert Zemeckis. After six years of hard work, Roth submitted his finished product on September 10, 2001. After the tragedies of the next day took place, the film was placed on a backburner indefinitely. When Hanks, Roth, and Zemeckis sat down a while later to discuss the project, they decided to scrap it for good. They thought the post-9/11 world deserved something more profound and less full of absurd fluff, and went their separate ways; a decision that was probably for the best.

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"Megalopolis"

Everyone knows his movies, they stand among the ultra-classics like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Outsiders, but there is one project that Francis Ford Coppola has been chasing for years, a true Moby Dick if there ever was one: Megalopolis. He's often described it as his ultimate "dream project," and he's put ample blood, sweat, and tears into trying to make it happen.

What exactly is Megalopolis? The most fleshed out draft that exists is 212 pages, and its story is sprawling and epic. It's essentially a progression of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, a 1927 German expressionist film that's widely heralded as the predecessor for all modern science fiction cinema. The film's protagonist, Serge Catalane, a brilliant architect, sets out to revolutionize New York City, taking bold steps to make it the multifaceted hub of the world. His plan flies directly in the face of current (fictional) Mayor Frank Cicero, who favors a more conservative and mild renovation of the city. The story spans five years, includes an absurd amount of main characters (think Game of Thrones on steroids), and details underage sex scandals. Intended to be a commentary on modern America, it covers most utopian and dystopian futuristic ideals.

But for the last couple decades, Coppola's movies have been scattered and confused, shells of the gems he used to create. Why? They could just be the products of a genius mind grown bored and sidetracked. His works have become independent, self-financed, and toned down, suggesting that he is reaching the end. But when he was talking about Megalopolis back in 2001, he spoke of a "vastly huge, enormous production," which would cast "the greatest actors around." A film that would tell "the story of a man's battle to build an ideal world, a hero's fight to realize his dream to build a city of the future." He was even quoted as saying, "My feeling is that if we can show people what is possible, they will want it." This was a man striving to go beyond his goal as merely a director to become a social visionary. But the scope of his project was so broad, so vast, that it remains a dream. A final line from Coppola: "You live for the work, to be challenged. The things that I did make didn't really live up to what I would love to make. If I didn't have this script (Megalopolis), I could not hold my head up, I would be crushed."

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"Poe"

When most people think of Sylvester Stallone, they think of boxing and gun-toting, a true action man's action man. But what most people don't know is that Stallone's dream project is a biopic of Edgar Allan Poe. But what about Poe does he find so inspiring? According to him, "What fascinates me about Poe is that he was such an iconoclast. It's a story for every young man or woman who sees themselves as a bit outside the box, or has been ostracized during their life as an oddball or too eccentric. It didn't work for him either. His work was too hip for the room, but he developed the modern mystery story. He was also one of the great cryptologists; there were very few codes he couldn't crack. He was just an extraordinary guy."

When asked if he would play the titular character, he said, "I'm not playing Poe. 'Yo, Poe!' It won't work! It'll be some young actor because he dies at 39, but it's gonna happen." Stallone really wanted the main actor to be Robert Downey Jr, but his remarks on the project remain minimal according to a 2009 interview: "Stallone wrote a great script that he wants to direct about Edgar Allan Poe." Not exactly words of confirmation.

Though the film seems to have a bleak and hopeless future, Stallone does have a few words to say about its current status. "I do have a script that's gone through 20 mutations. Every few years I take it out and rework it and update it. I will direct it, but it's never gonna live up to the hype. No matter what I do it's going to bomb, totally. When you've been talking about something for 30 years, it's impossible (to live up to those expectations)."

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