Last week we reported on Steven Spielberg’s plans to direct an adaptation of the cult sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One. Color us excited. The novel involves players of a video game journeying into a virtual reality world rife with pop culture references and Easter eggs to the real world. The player who can decipher all the mysteries and references in the world wins the opportunity to control it. In Spielberg’s capable hands, it has the potential to be a technical marvel and a modern classic.
That is, if he actually makes it. Ready Player One poses some unusually problematic challenges on just a practical standpoint. Cline’s story falls into the “unfilmable novel” territory, not just for the digital world necessary for a filmmaker to recreate, but also in terms of licensing. To get the rights to depict the many iconic film and TV characters in Cline’s story would cost a small fortune. Screenwriter Zak Penn has supposedly worked around some of those pitfalls to make it doable, and locking Spielberg represents a big step forward for the project, but Spielberg is also prepping the Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG, and he just this month won a bidding war for Lynsey Addario’s memoir, for which Jennifer Lawrence is to star.
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Ready Player One however isn’t the first film Spielberg has been attached to direct that sounds great on paper but that he never actually made. Lincoln took over 12 years to finally come together, and in that time he has made plans for and dropped out of numerous projects for one reason or another.
If he had made these 8 films though, the face of pop culture as we know it today might look a lot different.
Many of the complaints around the 2014 box office champ American Sniper had to do with the whitewashing of Muslim characters. Chris Kyle’s rival sniper Mustafa, an Olympic gold medalist who in the film Kyle vows to best, never speaks a word, just murders. Spielberg had a solution to this problem, expanding Mustafa’s story and emphasizing the rivalry in greater detail. Spielberg’s vision however proved far too costly for the studio, and Warner Bros. eventually turned to a high-powered director well known for keeping pictures on budget: Clint Eastwood.
Spielberg has never been one for violence in his movies. Action and death yes, but sheer bloodshed and carnage no. It’s the reason he ultimately passed along the 1991 remake of Cape Fear to Martin Scorsese, who’s a natural with this sort of thing and has a way when working with Robert De Niro. “I wasn’t in the mood; it’s as simple as that,” he said in a 1991 New York Times piece. “I just couldn’t find it inside me to make a scary movie about a family being preyed on by a maniac.”
Spielberg spent five months working on Rain Man, Barry Levinson’s eventual Best Picture winner, only to drop out in order to finish Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. According to Joseph McBride’s biography on Spielberg, he felt disappointed about the finished product, saying he found the film, “emotionally very distancing. I think I certainly would have pulled more tears out of a rather dry movie.” Spielberg mainly wanted to make the film to work with Dustin Hoffman, which the two eventually did in Hook.
The Trial of the Chicago Seven
Any Aaron Sorkin written screenplay should not be languishing on the shelf for this long, and back in 2007 it looked as though a real dream team of a film might come together when Spielberg expressed interest. He reportedly convinced Sacha Baron Cohen to join the cast, along with Will Smith, Kevin Spacey, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film is based on true events in 1968 when counter culture protesters in Chicago were arrested with conspiracy to riot. As of 2013, Paul Greengrass was eyeing Sorkin’s script.
News that Spielberg might remake Oldboy starring Will Smith was met with such derision back in 2009, fearing that it was bound to lose the violence and brutal punch that made Park Chan-wook’s film a cult classic. Film School Rejects first had word that the remake would be based on the original manga, not the original film. But legal hurdles and miscommunication between Smith and Spielberg left it dead in the water. Thankfully the outrage over Spike Lee’s Oldboy was muted enough to just let that version be instantly forgotten.
Spielberg spent over two months prepping what would have been his first movie, White Lightning, a genre picture starring Burt Reynolds as an ex-con going undercover. Full of car chases and action, it sounds right up Spielberg’s alley. But he revealed several years later in an interview with Film Comment, “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.” White Lightning was made in 1973 and Spielberg went on to do The Sugarland Express as his feature debut.
Even Spielberg can’t find a replacement for James Stewart. The director had plans for a remake of the 1950 film Harvey, though it was billed as a different adaptation on Mary Chase’s original play. Of course, Spielberg approached partner-in-crime and plausible Stewart-successor Tom Hanks. Once Hanks turned it down, Robert Downey Jr. was teased as a replacement, but like a six-foot tall rabbit, Spielberg just couldn’t see it.
Technically, Spielberg is still on board with Robopocalypse. Plans for the film, based on Daniel H. Wilson’s sci-fi novel with a Terminator-esque vision of the future, were first formulated in 2010 before the book was released. Spielberg eventually tapped Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) to write the screenplay and Chris Hemsworth, Ben Whishaw, and Anne Hathaway to star. But in 2013, Spielberg put the film on indefinite hold. Considered too big and too expensive, (the film was projected to cost $200 million for production alone, and was to be financed jointly by two studios) and not quite ready with the script, Spielberg wasn’t about to spend another decade on a film after putting 12 years into Lincoln.
This list doesn’t even include the many films Spielberg has been offered and considered over the years, including Harry Potter, a West Side Story remake, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Interstellar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Tom Cruise, and E.T. 2.