12 Movies That Were Shot, But Never Finished
By Rudie Obias
Sometimes movies stop production due to financial problems, script issues, or just plain bad luck. Here are 12 movies that were shot, but never completed, and remain unfinished and abandoned.
1. Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales
In 1968, Richard Pryor and director Penelope Spheeris worked together on a subversive satire called Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals. While it's unclear what the film was about, it is believed that it followed a group of Black Panthers who kidnap a wealthy white man and put him on trial for all the racial crimes in American history. Spheeris had assembled a rough cut to screen for Pryor at his home, but Pryor's then-wife Shelley Bonis got into an argument with him about spending all of his time and money on the film. In a fit of rage, Pryor destroyed the negative.
According to the Richard Pryor biography Furious Cool, "Penelope spent days splicing the pieces of the film back together like a jigsaw puzzle. She reconstructed the forty-some minutes of film by arduously piecing together the mangled pieces, some only a few frames long. The result was so crumpled and patched together that the film danced all around as it ran through the projector gate."
Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales was thought to be lost until Spheeris found a brief clip in her archive and donated it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005. It was screened during a tribute to the comedian, when it sparked Pryor's widow Jennifer Lee to sue Penelope Spheeris and Pryor's daughter Rain for allegedly stealing the original negative during the 1980s. The lawsuit is still pending.
2. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Terry Gilliam's long-gestating The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was supposed to be a follow-up to his 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the project never came together in production. After Gilliam secured $32 million for his version of Miguel Cervantes's The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, he experienced a long string of bad luck—choosing a filming location near a military base, a freak flash flood that destroyed a majority of its elaborate and expensive sets, and the lead Jean Rochefort's health problems all contributed to a production shut down after a few weeks of shooting in early 2000.
Lost in La Mancha documented Gilliam's process and frustrations while making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The documentary was originally supposed to be a bonus feature for the film's home video release, but ended up becoming a full length feature itself, which was independently released in theaters in 2002.
Gilliam moved on to other projects such as Tideland, The Brothers Grimm, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus while also spending the last decade trying to re-launch The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (without success). He's currently still trying to finish the project and expects to start shooting in early 2015.
Towards the end of his career in 1968, Alfred Hitchcock was at a commercial and artistic low after the releases of Marnie and Torn Curtain. He wanted to re-invent himself as an experimental director, so he conceived Kaleidoscope, a very adult thriller that was full of murder, rape, necrophilia, bodybuilders, and serial killers. Not only was Kaleidoscope supposed to be a graphic murder mystery, it was also to incorporate many innovative and irreverent film techniques such as use of natural light, hand-held filming, and point-of-view camera work.
Unfortunately, Hitchcock couldn't find funding for his cinéma vérité art film, so he scrapped the project after an extensive pre-production process. About an hour of raw footage from Kaleidoscope exists, while Hitchcock recycled some of its elements for his penultimate film Frenzy in 1972.
4. The Aryan Papers
While Napoleon and A.I. Artificial Intelligence—which Steven Spielberg eventually made in 2001—are two of the most popular unfinished Stanley Kubrick films, The Aryan Papers was closest to getting off the ground. Kubrick wanted to make a movie about World War II and the Holocaust, but couldn't find the right story to tell until he read Louis Begley's "Wartime Lies" in 1991. The novel followed a Jewish boy and his aunt who survived the Nazi occupation of Europe when the pair acquired Aryan identity papers and pretended to be traveling as Polish Catholics.
Kubrick secured financing through Warner Bros, began to scout locations in the Czech Republic, and cast Jurassic Park's Joseph Mazzello to play the boy and Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege as his aunt. The project was ultimately scrapped when Warner Bros. realized that The Aryan Papers would come out one year after Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. So instead, Stanley Kubrick moved on to Eyes Wide Shut, which was his final film.
In 2008, before he was an Academy Award nominated writer and director for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, David O. Russell worked on a film project titled Nailed as his follow-up to 2004's I Heart Huckabees. Nailed followed a waitress, played by Jessica Biel, who survived a freak accident with a nail gun, but as a result spends the duration of the film shifting through multiple personalities. She then heads to Washington DC to campaign for victims of bizarre accidents, but gets romantically involved with a corrupt congressman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal).
Nailed was riddled with financial problems, which led to a number of production stoppages. Its financier David Bergstein and his production company Capitol Films were unable to pay actors and crew members after two weeks of shooting, and David O. Russell's reputation as a difficult director also contributed to Nailed's demise. James Caan reportedly walked off the film after the first day of shooting due to heated arguments with Russell over the proper way to choke on a cookie.
In 2010, Russell said of Nailed, "There was a lot that was going on that I liked, but it was kinda a stillbirth, you know? So when that happens, the whole thing gets kinda weird."
6. Who Killed Bambi?
In 1978, Twentieth Century Fox wanted to make a movie starring The Sex Pistols after the British band's rise to fame. It was intended to be Hard Day's Night, but for punk music. Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious wanted director Russ Meyer and screenwriter Roger Ebert—the masterminds behind their favorite movie, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—to make Who Killed Bambi? However, after one day of shooting in England, Fox shut down the production after studio executives read the script. Apparently, Princess Grace of Monaco (one of the Twentieth Century Fox board members) objected to yet another X-rated movie from Meyer, despite the commercial success of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
Roger Ebert posted the entire screenplay for Who Killed Bambi? on his website.
7. The Works
New York Institute of Technology developed The Works in 1976 and it would've been the first 3D computer animated feature film ever—had it been completed. Graphics Researcher Lance Williams helmed The Works, whose production team consisted exclusively of programmers and computer engineers without the aid of a proper director or editor. The Works was ultimately scrapped in 1986 when the technology couldn't keep up with the film's high ambitions. Instead, Pixar's Toy Story ended up being the first 3D computer animated film when it was released in 1995.
8. Something’s Got to Give
In June 1962, George Cukor directed the screwball comedy Something's Got to Give for Twentieth Century Fox. Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, and Cyd Charisse starred in this remake of the 1940 comedy My Favorite Wife. After a few weeks into shooting, Fox halted production. The film was already behind schedule and over budget, both because of Marilyn Monroe's frequent illnesses, such as a severe sinus infection, fever, and bronchitis. She was subsequently fired from Something's Got to Give and the film was re-worked and re-cast as Move Over, Darling a year and a half later. Only 37 minutes of footage of Something's Got to Give exists.
Marilyn Monroe died in August, 1962, a few weeks after she was fired from Something's Got to Give.
9. My Best Friend's Birthday
Before Quentin Tarantino released Reservoir Dogs in 1992, he co-wrote and directed a comedy called My Best Friend's Birthday. Tarantino worked on the project with his video store co-worker Craig Hamann on and off between 1984 and 1987. It followed Clarence, played by Tarantino, who tries to surprise his best friend on his birthday, only to have his attempts backfire. The black & white amateurish film was partially lost in a fire at the lab where the 16mm negative was developed. Only 36 minutes of My Best Friend's Birthday's 70 minute running time survived.
The screenplay of My Best Friend's Birthday is now available online.
10. The Other Side Of The Wind
Orson Welles' final film The Other Side of the Wind started production in 1969 and ran infrequently through 1976. The film, which incorporated elements of found footage, was about an aged director, played by John Huston, at the end of his career and his heated rivalry with a younger director, played by Peter Bogdanovich.
The Other Side of the Wind's production experienced a plague of problems and obstacles, including Welles' problems with the IRS and the Ayatollah Khomeini's government seizing footage during the Iranian Revolution in 1979 (the Shah of Iran's brother-in-law partially funded the film).
Legal rights to the footage and the Welles estate contributed to The Other Side of the Wind's completion problems, but Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall are committed to finishing it for Orson Welles. "The problem is that a lot of different people own parts of it or claim to own parts of it. And so the chain of title is difficult to establish," Bogdanovich told The Playlist. "But it keeps inching forward and we keep getting closer and closer and things fall apart again. It's just a very, very difficult situation. I think it will get done some time, but not in the near future.”
11. Dark Blood
With only 11 days of shooting to go, director George Sluizer halted production on Dark Blood in 1993 after the untimely death of River Phoenix from a drug overdose. Phoenix played a character named Boy, a widower who lived in the desert near a nuclear testing facility. Dark Blood's film rights reverted to its insurance company, and Sluizer set on a 14-year quest to obtain footage and re-assemble the film to the best of his ability. The unfinished Dark Blood eventually screened during the Netherlands Film Festival in 2012 and the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival in 2013.
12. The Day the Clown Cried
Jerry Lewis' notorious and unfinished The Day the Clown Cried remains one of the most sought-after films in cinema history. The Day the Clown Cried was a European production about an ex-clown, played by Jerry Lewis, imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
The production suffered financial problems with producer Nathan Wachsberger unable to secure funds, so Lewis continued shooting with his own money. Once a rough cut was produced, Jerry Lewis was unable to work on the film due to a legal dispute with Wachsberger and its co-screenwriter Joan O'Brien over its rights. It is believed that there are only two copies of The Day the Clown Cried: one under lock and key in Jerry Lewis' personal archive and the other at Stockholm Studios, where it was made. Only brief behind-the-scenes footage exists.
During a Q&A in Los Angeles in 2013, Lewis said of the film, "I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all, and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad."