Back in 2014, I wrote two blog pieces about unproduced sequels to hit films and popular franchises. Each had their own fascinating history and a variety of reasons why they were never made. Recent years have seen several documentaries that have chronicled potential blockbusters (or bombs depending on your perspective) with never-before-seen artwork, test shots, and even new information from first-hand sources. Among those docs include THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN LIVES and JODOROWSKY’S DUNE.
But what other unrealized projects are worth considering for a thoroughly researched documentary? This is where I dive into my Top 10:
10. John Hughes’ The Bee
The iconic writer/director who gave us such classics as THE BREAKFAST CLUB, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, and HOME ALONE was always writing until his untimely death in 2009. Having proven he could get an adolescent child carry an entire picture on his back, Hughes was looking to get even more ambitious in the early nineties when he attempted to produce a screwball comedy about a farmer trapped inside his house with a bee. As easy as it sounds to make today, CGI was still new and expensive in the early nineties and this project carried a heavy $50 million price tag just for telling the majority of the story from the bee’s perspective. It would bounce around different studios for years with Hughes in and out of the director’s chair to the point where he offered the gig to Home Alone star Daniel Stern. The failure of another ambitious project called BABY’S DAY OUT created resistance by studios to make The Bee a reality and it was credited as a reason for Hughes’ departure from Hollywood. While other documentaries such as DON’T YOU FOREGET ABOUT ME only focused on his teen films, a wider documentary about Hughes himself or this specific project would offer a lot more insight into this process and the reasons he left the business.
9. Sgt. Rock
Long before we got an MCU or a DCEU, Hollywood had a strange obsession with adapting a DC Comics character who happened to be an old school World War II hero who often aligned himself with the likes of Batman and the Justice League. Producer Joel Silver pursued a film adaptation since the late 1980s with Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to the role. Though he was Austrian, various screenwriters from David Webb Peoples to Shane Black to Steven E. D’Souza attempted to rework the character to fit Arnold’s persona on-screen. As of 2010, no movement has been made on the project with last word being that Bruce Willis would star and Guy Richie would direct. The complicated history of Sgt. Rock is absolutely worth telling here.
8. Jaws 3 People 0
The original 1975 adventure-thriller that made Steven Spielberg’s career still withstands the test of time. Its sequels, however, do not. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown knew this after achieving moderate success with 1978’s Jaws 2. Realizing they could thrill the audience only so much with a mechanical shark, the producers proposed a change in direction with a third installment: A full blown parody. Jaws 3 People 0 would have been a National Lampoon branded project following the success of ANIMAL HOUSE with John Hughes as screenwriter and GREMLINS’ Joe Dante as director. The comedy would see a film crew attempt a Jaws sequel only to be hunted by a real great white. Unfortunately, Universal Pictures did not find this funny at all and went with the terrible JAWS 3D instead. Though Zanuck, Brown, and Hughes have long since passed, Dante and other players involved could share their stories in a doc that would have shown a potentially bold re-telling of Jaws.
7. The Goonies 2
Of any classic eighties property, The Goonies always gets the polarizing response to sequel prospects. Some want the original cast as adults on a new adventure while others want the memories left alone. That did not stop the late Richard Donner from looking into ideas for a follow up. Over the years, concepts ranged from a straight sequel with the adult Goonies returning to One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship to a runaway train adventure with the Goonies and their own kids. None of these ideas could recapture the magic of the original. Sadly, with Donner’s recent passing, a Goonies sequel is long since dead. So why not give fans one more gift by sharing those what-if scenarios as a documentary with storyboard art and even the original cast doing voiceovers?
6. Ghostbusters III: Hellbent
The upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife will finally give longtime fans a legit third movie that sees a touch-passing premise and a final farewell to the original team. With multiple documentaries out there about the 1984 classic as well as a recently announced doc on GHOSTBUSTERS II, it is time for a larger piece on the ambitious Hellbent script that Dan Ackroyd and the late Harrold Ramis put together in the 90s. We know the story saw a new team taking on a Satan-like figure posing as Donald Trump in an alternate dimension of New York City. But how far did it get to production? Who were the stars of the day considered for the new team? We have only heard rumors and small talk over the years. A really good doc on this project would give clarity to where this project was headed before it got adapted into a successful video game.
5. Neil Blomkamp’s Alien 5
While 1979’s ALIEN and its 1986 sequel ALIENS remain classics on their own, every sequel that came after them fell short of expectations. But when DISTRICT 9 director Neil Blomkamp started dropping his own artwork pieces for a legit follow up to the second film, it generated the most excitement fans have had for the ALIEN franchise in years. Even Sigourney Weaver had serious interest in playing Ripley again. Unfortunately, the failure of Blomkamp’s CHAPPIE as well as Ridley Scott’s unusual attempts at staying the course with the PROMETHEUS storyline stopped this sequel from happening. Fans deserve to know what really happened and how it could have potentially saved the franchise.
4. Superman: Flyby
This has potential to be a worthy sequel to the late Jon Schnapp’s documentary on Tim Burton’s SUPERMAN LIVES. With WB desperately looking to relaunch the Man of Steel on film in the 2000s, they turned to J.J. Abrams to develop a new take that distanced itself from the Richard Donner classic to give fans a new beginning. The strength of Abrams’ script had the likes of McG and Brett Ratner attached to direct at different points in time with every twenty something actor in Hollywood in contention to play Clark Kent/Superman. What stopped it all together was Bryan Singer pitching his take for a rebooted SUPERMAN III that would fail miserably on release. The stories behind this project are just as dramatic and as fascinating as what went down with the unproduced Burton film and should be told with Jon Peters further showing why he is a lunatic producer.
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Crusade
Imagine Arnold at the height of his popularity in the nineties reteaming with TOTAL RECALL director Paul Verhoeven for an epic period piece that could have rivaled BRAVEHEART? That best sums up this potential Middle Ages masterpiece where both talents could have excelled with big box office and Oscar-worthy notices. The Crusade script had the DNA of the first CONAN movie as well as Verhoeven’s early European work. The film was nearly set to go with Arnold acting opposite Jennifer Connelly, Gary Sinise, Robert Duvall, and John Turturro. Carolco, the studio behind the picture, would end up in financial troubles and hesitated over the film’s $100 plus budget. Between the failure of Arnold’s LAST ACTION HERO and the studio’s disastrous CUTTHROAT ISLAND, we never got to see what could have been for Arnold and Paul’s second collaboration. But both men are still around to retell this story.
2. Darren Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One
When 1997’s BATMAN & ROBIN killed the Dark Knight on screen, WB thought long and hard about how to relaunch the character to win back audiences. The common belief was that Batman had strayed too far into kid-friendly territory to sell toys and a need to return to its darker roots was warranted. For a time, the studio took on Darren Aronofsky’s pitch for an adaptation of Frank Miller’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE which marks Bruce Wayne’s first foray into the early days of the Dark Knight. This was no kid’s film. Aronofsky wanted a gritty seventies drama like DEATH WISH or TAXI DRIVER to expand the character’s origins beyond his parents’ murder, brand his enemies with the bat symbol, and incorporate seedier versions of classic villains and supporting players. We could have had an R-rated Batman film for once. WB got cold feet and went with Christopher Nolan’s middle-of-the-road take which saved the franchise. Though WB would dive into R-rated territory in Gotham City with 2019’s JOKER, the Aronofsky take is a wider story worth looking at and how it influenced the direction of Batman going forward.
1. James Cameron’s Spider-Man
Who could have made the ultimate superhero movie than the filmmaker who pushed the boundaries of film technology with T2 and AVATAR? In 1991, James Cameron was hired to direct a Spider-Man feature film for Carolco. He put together an edgy take on Peter Parker’s origins with Sandman as the main villain and Norman Osborn as a side villain before his Green Goblin turn. If produced at this time, the effects alone would have rivaled JURASSIC PARK and become a cinematic classic for the 1990s to pave way for the rest of Marvel on film. Like CRUSADE, it fell victim to budget issues, financial troubles with the studio, and a legal mess that did not resolve itself for years. While Sam Raimi’s 2002 film proved successful and brightened the future for Marvel, many still fantasize on Cameron’s take. If only a filmmaker can get him on camera to talk extensively about his time on the project…