Steven Spielberg has made a number of classic films, but what about the ones he didn’t make? What are the films Spielberg almost directed but had to drop for one reason or another? From Director Steven Spielberg has trawled the archives to find the great lost and unmade films of Spielberg’s career.
A Steady Rain
It was reported in the summer of 2011, that one of Spielberg’s many ongoing projects was an adaptation of the play A Steady Rain. The film would have definitely featured Hugh Jackman, who takes one of the leads in the stage production, but it was unclear if co-star Daniel Craig would join him. Broadway.com writes that the story concerns “two Chicago policeman who inadvertently hand off a young boy to a serial killer who claims to be the child’s uncle. When he later becomes the man’s latest victim, the officers’ friendship is threatened as they struggle to bear responsibility for their failure to assess the situation accurately.” No further news has been heard since these initial reports.
Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies
Telling the story of a 1920s stunt flyer, this project was written by Spielberg when he was still in TV. He initially showed an interest in directing it, but moved on to other things. The film hit the screen under the direction of John Erman in 1973, and Spielberg was unhappy with the result, calling it “a really sick film”.
Spielberg was attached to direct this Bradley Cooper-starring biopic about the life of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in May 2013, but dropped out in August of the same year. Variety reported: “When Spielberg originally came on to the project, sources told Variety that an offer hadn’t even been made and that something may have happened in the deal-making process that led to Spielberg leaving the project.” Clint Eastwood eventually took over directing duties and the film was released in December 2014.
One of a number of projects Spielberg has tried to get off the ground with Tom Cruise, this Western was mentioned in Issue #158 of Empire magazine in August 2002. It cited previous abandoned projects as “the western Arkansas, the F Scott Fitzgerald tale The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [later made by David Fincher] and, most famously, Rain Man.” Nothing is else known about the film.
Blackhawk is a DC Comics hero created by Will Eisner, Chuck Cuidera and Bob Powell in 1941. At some point in the late 70s/early 80s, Spielberg reportedly considered making a film about the character that would have starred Dan Aykroyd in the lead role. Writer Mark Evanier, who reinvented the comic in 1982, explains: “I believe what happened was that Steve Spielberg was interested in possibly doing something with Blackhawk and somebody even mentioned that Dan Aykroyd wanted to play the character. But I think that was just a pie in the sky, I don’t think there was ever an offer made – that somebody just inquired ‘Are the rights were available if we want them?’ and DC let that leak or it leaked somehow and all of a sudden some other studios went ‘Hey, maybe we’ll grab Blackhawk if Spielberg thinks it’s hot.’ So suddenly DC thought it was advantageous to have a Blackhawk comic back on the schedule.”
In 2008, DreamWorks bought the rights to a film adaptation of John Wyndam’s 1968 book Chocky. The BBC explains that the novel “is about a boy who appears to have an imaginary friend, but is actually taken over by alien entity.” The most recent news came in a 2011 report on IMDB, which stated that DreamWorks “continues to develop” the film for Spielberg.
Spielberg originally held the rights to direct this controversial film about New York’s gay scene, but dropped out. The job eventually went to William Friedkin, who discussed Spielberg’s early involvement with The Huffington Post in May 2013.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The previously mentioned Spielberg/Cruise Benjamin Button project was confirmed by the director in December 2011. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, he revealed: “Tom and I had been friends for many, many years. We had considered working together. ‘Benjamin Button’, we had talked about maybe doing together, long before ‘Minority Report’. But nothing quite gelled for either of us.” A new take on the story hit screens with David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in 2008.
Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?
In the June 16th 2009 edition of The Telegraph, Spielberg was linked to Horace Greasley and Ken Scott’s based-on-fact book about a British prisoner of war (Greasley) who falls in love with a German translator. The article explains: “Greasley was held captive for two-and-a-half years in a Nazi PoW camp in Lamsdorf, Poland, during which time he began a secret affair with a girl from a nearby village called Rosa. He would regularly sneak out at night for trysts with his lover and she would help him find food and equipment he could then smuggle back in to the camp. They were separated at the end of the Second World War, just after she fell pregnant with his child. But they got back in touch when the Government asked Mr Greasley to verify her story so she could work for the Americans as a translator. Sadly, Rosa died in child birth and they were never reunited.” Of Spielberg’s involvement, the article notes that “a leading Hollywood talent agency… are reportedly putting it before Spielberg in the hope it can be adapted,” but nothing more has been heard of the project since.
E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears
Following the success of E.T., Spielberg briefly considered a sequel called Nocturnal Fears. The film would have been set a few months after the original and seen unfriendly aliens land on Earth and attack Elliot and his friends. E.T., of course, arrives to save the day. A treatment put together by Spielberg and Melissa Mathison (who wrote the first film) goes into more detail: “The aliens onboard are EVIL. They have landed on Earth in response to distress signals designating its present coordinates. These aliens are searching for a stranded extraterrestrial named Zrek, who is sending a call for ‘Help.’ The evil creatures are carnivorous. Their leader, Korel, commands his crew to disperse into the forest to acquire food. As the squat aliens leave the gangplank, each one emits a hypnotic hum which has a paralyzing effect on the surrounding wildlife. These creatures are an albino fraction (mutation) of the same civilization E.T. belongs to. The two separate groups have been at war for decades!” Spielberg discarded the idea, and remains adamant that no E.T. sequel will ever see the light of day.
Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper
One of this list’s stranger entries, Flushed With Pride would have told the story of the man who invented the toilet. In the period between The Sugarland Express and Jaws, Spielberg approached future Temple of Doom writers Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck to put together a treatment for the biopic. “We came up with the great idea of doing it as Young Tom Edison,” Katz told Joseph McBride. “But like Little Big Man,” added Huyck. The project was eventually ended by Spielberg’s agent. Katz added: “We wrote a treatment and we gave it to our [mutual] agent, Guy McElwaine, who said, ‘Steve, if this is the kind of movie you want to do, I don’t want to be your agent.'”
Another Cruise/Spielberg project is referenced in Issue #67 of Total Film (August 2002): “Among the other projects these famed multi-taskers are working on, one stands out. It’s an adaptation of Hampton Sides’ book, ‘Ghost Solders‘, about survivors of the infamous Bataan death march endured by Allied POWs during the Pacific campaign in World War 2.” The project now seems to have been dropped.
Gods and Kings
Spielberg was linked with this ‘Braveheart-esque’ take on the life of Moses in January 2012, and was reportedly very close to signing on as director. However, news ran dry after the initial reports, and in March 2013, it was announced that he was no longer a part of the project.
Growing Up/Clearwater/After School
A project of many titles, this film was to have been directed by Spielberg from a script by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who wrote 1941. It was to tell the story of Spielberg’s youth in Arizona, but never got off the ground. E.T., which is also strongly based on Spielberg’s childhood, put the final nail in Growing Up/Clearwater/After School’s coffin.
Spielberg was offered the chance to direct the first Potter adventure, but declined because the project would have felt too much like treading old ground. Digital Spy reports: “I just felt that I wasn’t ready to make an all-kids movie and my kids thought I was crazy. And the books were by that time popular, so when I dropped out, I knew it was going to be a phenomenon. But, you know I don’t make movies because they’re gonna to be phenomenons. I make movies because they have to touch me in a way that really commits me to a year, two years, three years of work.”
In a 2001 post on Hollywood.com, Spielberg added: “I purposely didn’t do the Harry Potter movie because for me, that was shooting ducks in a barrel. It’s just a slam dunk. It’s just like withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts. There’s no challenge.”
And what would Spielberg’s take on Potter have been? Shorter and animated, according to then-Warner Brothers president Alan Horn. “I did think it would be worthwhile for Steven Spielberg to direct. We offered it to him. But one of the notions of DreamWorks’ and Steven’s was, ‘Let’s combine a couple of the books, let’s make it animated,’ and that was because of the [visual effects and] Pixar had demonstrated that animated movies could be extremely successful. Because of the wizardry involved, they were very effects-laden. So I don’t blame them. But I did not want to combine the movie and I wanted it to be live action.”
In August 2009, Spielberg was attached to an adaptation of the play Harvey (also memorably made into a James Stewart film in 1950). Will Smith, Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Hanks were reportedly considered for the Stewart character, but the project was abandoned by December of the same year.
I’ll Be Home
An autobiographical project that’s been in the works for years, I’ll Be Home sounds a little like E.T without E.T. A 1999 interview with Stephen J. Dubner of the New York Times mentions: “I ask Spielberg if he might ever make a film that’s truly about himself. Yes, he says, somewhat wistfully. It’s called ‘I’ll Be Home’. It’s about his family, written by his sister Anne, who was a co-writer of ‘Big’. Spielberg has considered making ‘I’ll Be Home’ for years. ‘My big fear,’ he explains, ‘is that my mom and dad won’t like it and will think it’s an insult and won’t share my loving yet critical point of view about what it was like to grow up with them.'”
The film was subsequently mentioned in an interview from Empire #158 (August 2002):
“Empire: ‘Will you ever get around to your autobiographical project, I’ll Be Home?’
Spielberg: ‘Some day. I don’t know when, but some day. It’s very personal, that’s what scares me the most…I’m not ready to go public yet.’”
Little else has been said about I’ll Be Home since.
There are many Indiana Jones adventures that never made it to the screen, but this is one of the most interesting. Before pre-production on Temple of Doom got underway, author Michael Crichton approached Spielberg with the idea of basing Indy’s second adventure on his book, Congo.
In his biography of the director, John Baxter writes: “After Spielberg’s failure to float Congo with [Brian] De Palma, [Crichton] suggested it as an Indiana Jones episode. He pointed out that one of the book’s most original inventions, a baby gorilla given the power of speech through a computer strapped to its back, was a perfect foil and sidekick for Indy. ‘Steven…thought [the talking gorilla] could be done with a mechanical ape,’ Crichton recalls. ‘But I said that you can do that with E.T. because we’ve never seen anything like him, but everyone knows what a gorilla looks like – and if it looks fake, you’re dead. It’s in every scene.’ ‘He said, ‘Well, I’ve had a lot of success with mechanical animals.’ I replied, ‘You sure have! I’m not going to argue with you, Steven, but I think you have to look carefully.’ And the next thing I knew, he wasn’t doing the picture. So that presented a tremendous problem back in those days.’
Spielberg and Crichton would work together in the 1990s on Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, as well as long-running medical TV show E.R.. Congo was made in 1994 with Spielberg collaborators Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall producing.
Neil Jordan’s 1999 drama about a woman who fears that her dreams are connected to those of a murderer began life as a Spielberg project, according to an profile of the film’s writer Bruce Robinson. It reads: “In the back garden [of Robinson’s house] there is a swimming pool that, he jokes, was paid for by Steven Spielberg (Robinson wrote a script for a Spielberg project that became the film In Dreams).”
This sci-fi epic based on the work of physicist Kip Thorne began life as a Spielberg project in 2006. Jonah Nolan was hired to script in 2007, but despite reports that it would be Spielberg’s next project, Interstellar slipped into development hell. It re-emerged in January 2013, when it was announced that Christopher Nolan would direct. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, Interstellar reached cinemas in November 2014.
The Last Starfighter
In a November 2014 exchange with movie blog /Film, Seth Rogen revealed that Spielberg tried and failed to secure the rights to 80s kids sci-fi flick The Last Starfighter. Rogen tweeted: “Spielberg himself told me he couldn’t get the rights after I told him how long I’d tried.” No further details are known, but it’s likely Spielberg was attempting to secure the film with an eye on producing, rather then directing.
In July 2015, comic creator Rob Liefeld took to Twitter to write about a project called The Mark. The film was set to be directed by Spielberg and star Will Smith, but eventually fizzled out. Liefeld wrote: “In January 1998, after deal making process and meetings of 3 months, Spielberg agreed to direct my project with Will Smith, The Mark. I was summoned to a celebratory drinks with all the CAA agents at the adjacent hotel. Spielberg’s guys, Will’s guys. Everyone excited. Next day, we were to have a meeting at 5pm to start the formal work process. I was a producer and my spec script was the basis for the deal. It was understood that a new script by one of Spielberg’s guys was the next step. I drive up from OC, get there at 5. Grim faces greet me. Will stand up pats me on the back. ‘Steven is out, there were producing and merchandise points that we didn’t agree on… Gonna be fine.’” Roland Emmerich was also attached to the film, and there was talk of it being made as a TV show by Nickelodeon in 2002. The project eventually died and little else is known about it.
The Mask of Zorro
Spielberg briefly considered directing this DreamWorks production, but opted instead to helm Saving Private Ryan. Stanley Kubrick advised his friend to hire Spanish director Julio Medem, but he rejected the opportunity and the job eventually went to Martin Campbell.
Following the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Columbia was hoping Spielberg would make a sequel. Spielberg wasn’t keen on directing, but suggested putting a script together and hiring an up-and-comer to helm. Writer John Sayles, who had impressed Spielberg with his script for Joe Dante’s Jaws-inspired Piranha, took on writing duties and Rick Baker created some alien concepts, but the film ultimately fell through. It would have been an altogether darker film, telling the story of a family who are terrorised by alien visitors, and Spielberg didn’t feel ready to tell such a story. Elements of the project made their way into E.T., Poltergeist and – possibly – War of the Worlds.
Spielberg and Will Smith considered filming Nobuaki Minegishi’s manga Oldboy in 2008/09. The story had been made in 2003 by Park Chan-wook, but Smith said that he and Spielberg’s film would not be a remake. “We’re looking at that right now. Not the film though, it’s the original source material. There’s the original comics of ‘Oldboy’ that they made the first film from. And that’s what we’re working from, not an adaptation of the film…”.
They eventually dropped the project and it moved to Spike Lee. During promotion for the film in November 2013, its writer Mark Protosevich, who was also involved when Spielberg was helming, told The Playlist: “I got approached by Will Smith because we had worked together on ‘I Am Legend’. Will wanted me to write this version that Steven Spielberg was interested in directing. That was five years ago…[There was never anything more than] initial meetings talking about it. Steven’s son was a big fan of the original, and he said to his dad, ‘You can’t cop out on this, it has to be raw, disturbing and you have to keep the ending.’ And he was onboard with that. I don’t know if that ever got to Will, but needless to say a lot of times it just became a moot point.”
Spielberg spent five months working on a script for the Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman-starring drama before pulling out to honour his agreement with George Lucas to direct a third Indiana Jones film. Spielberg passed all his notes on to eventual director Barry Leveson and the film went on to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay at the 1989 Oscars.
Empire #184 (October 2004) makes reference to three films that were intended to be put into production after The Terminal: “In the future, there’s the large scale War of the Worlds epic, The Rivals with Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow and the ongoing adventure of Indy IV.” This projects seems to have disappeared. According to Contact Music it would have been a period piece about “the rivalry between 19th century stage stars, SARAH BERNHARDT and ELEONORA DUSE – who competed in their careers as well as in social circles and romantically. More youthful than Bernhardt, Italian-born Duse became a threat to the older actress and, as the rivalry escalated, both would play the same part on the same night to allow critics the chance to compare their performances.”
Something Wicked This Way Comes
In the late 70s/early 80s, Spielberg was interested in filming Ray Bradbury’s story of a sinister circus which threatens to invade a small town. The project never got beyond the initial stages though and, like Night Skies, elements of it likely made their way into E.T. and Poltergeist.
Detailing another Spielberg/Cruise project, Total Film #67 (August 2002) wrote: “More recently, a project called Spares – about human clones – was considered.” This would have been based on the Michael Marshall Smith novel of the same name, which Wikipedia says is about “Jack, [who] goes on the run with clones who are used for spare body parts for rich people when he realises they are people with feelings.” This project seems to have been dropped, and Wikipedia adds that Smith believes the novel will never reach the screen.
St Agnes’ Stand
This was to be a Martin Scorsese film that Spielberg would produce. Normally productions won’t make it to this page, but the prospect of a Scorsese/Spielberg collaboration is too good to resist. In April 2003, EW reported that an adaptation of Thomas Edison’s novel St Agnes’ Stand was on Scorsese’s slate. It was to be written by Charles Randolph (The Life of David Gale) and would tell the story of “a wounded fugitive who finds himself aiding a wagonload of nuns and orphans, who’ve prayed to be rescued from Apache Indians.” The film appears to have been abandoned.
Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Spielberg was one of a number of directors George Lucas considered for Return of the Jedi, but he had to decline due to the dispute Lucas had with the Directors Guild of America at the time. David Cronenberg and David Lynch were also in line before the job went to Richard Marquand.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
This was highly anticipated when it broke, largely because it would have marked the first collaboration between Spielberg and The West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin. The film would have been based on the famous Chicago Seven, who in 1970 were found not guilty of conspiracy and incitement to riot with relation to the protests that took place in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Sacha Baron Cohen, Will Smith, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger were rumoured to star at various times, but the WGA strike meant Spielberg couldn’t start shooting in April 2008 as intended and he eventually put the project on hold. Paul Greengrass has since been attached.
Untitled George Gershwin Biopic
Spielberg has long spoken of his desire to make a film about legendary composer George Gershwin. In 2010, it seemed that the project was gaining steam, when it was rumoured that Zachary Quinto would take the lead role. However, that never came into fruition, and progress on the film has seemingly halted.
Untitled Love Story Project
In an interview with Empire (issue #164, February 2003), Spielberg very briefly mentioned having “two love stories in development right now”. Nothing has been heard of either since.
Untitled Musical Project
Spielberg has often spoken of his desire to make a musical, but the closest we’ve got so far is the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:
“I think if I make a musical it will be criticised for being a Luddite attempt at a genre long dead. I want to go back to the 40s and Minelli and Stanley Donen.” (Empire #164, February 2003)
“I’ve always wanted to make a musical. Not like Moulin Rouge though – an old-fashioned, conservative musical where everyone talks to each other, then breaks out into song, then talks some more. Like West Side Story or Singin’ in the Rain. Yeah, I want to make a musical. I’ve been looking for one for 20 years. I just need something that excites me.” (Total Film, September 2004)
The earliest mention of a musical project I can find comes in a 1982 interview with Premiere magazine’s Susan Royal. Royal asks Spielberg if he would like to make a musical and he replies: “Funny you should mention that. I’m planning one right now. Quincy Jones and I are developing it. I’ve got to be secretive about it, though. I never really discuss my ideas until they’ve been fully realised usually in scope and stereophonic sound. I’m a big fan of Quiny’s. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to combine what he does best with what I do well and make a ‘dangerous’ movie.”
Spielberg and Jones would eventually work together on The Color Purple, for which Jones wrote the score.
A remake of the 1947 Norman McLeod comedy The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was in the works for a number of years, with various directors and stars linked. Jim Carrey had been connected with the lead role since 1994 and he would have starred in Spielberg’s version, which the director agreed to helm in May 2003. He left the project in April 2004 to film War of the Worlds and Munich, and Ben Stiller took over, releasing his take on the film in December 2013.
Before choosing The Sugarland Express, Spielberg was considering directing Burt Reynolds vehicle White Lightning as his first theatrical release. In a 1978 interview with Mitch Tuchman of Film Comment, Spielberg explained: “The one thing that came to me that I almost made was White Lightning, the Burt Reynolds picture. I spent two-and-a-half months on the film, met Burt once, found most of the locations and began to cast the movie, until I realised it wasn’t something that I wanted to do for a first film. I didn’t want to start my career as a hard-hat, journeyman director. I wanted to do something that was a little more personal.”