“I enjoyed writing it because I knew on every level that it was never going to get made… It’s what’s called a popcorn dropper.”
Nick Cave on his script for Gladiator 2
There’s a Hollywood adage that “no-one sets out to make a bad movie,” and while Uwe Boll has done his best to turn the balance of probability in favour of all other filmmakers, all-too-often that’s the end result. For every truly great film there are approximately 15 million that don’t quite measure up. And for every 15 million that don’t measure up, there are roughly 60 bazillion scripts that don’t make it past the first draft. In a seemingly endless sea of sequels, prequels, reboots and reimaginings, we should probably be glad some never make it to second draft, let alone cinemas. Others, though, seem to be tragic missed opportunities, just too weird to live, and in their unrealised states they’re the Schrödinger’s cats of cinema.
The stories of these projects, and in some cases the wide availability of their scripts, generate a level of interest in direct proportion to their unlikeliness. Sometimes too weird to live is simply too good to be true, as with the story of Orson Welles’ Batman, which teased an abandoned script and pre-production photographs but turned out to be just a persuasive hoax by Kick Ass creator Mark Millar. That’s not to say there’s any shortage of vaguely unbelievable but true stories out there. In order of likelihood, we could have had David Lynch’s Revenge of the Jedi (he was offered, didn’t want to do it), Quentin Tarantino’s Casino Royale (he offered, they didn’t want him to do it) or Terry Gilliam’s Watchmen (he thought it unfilmable, funding fell through). Add to that list Rob Zombie’s The Crow 2037, Oliver Stone’s Planet of the Apes, James Cameron’s Spider-Man, Darren Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One, George Romero’s Resident Evil and, perhaps most heartbreakingly, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, all projects for which abandoned scripts actually exist.
For every well-known writer-director, in fact, there’s an ever-growing list of unrealised projects, cherished by fandom. David Lynch, for example, has Ronnie Rocket and One Saliva Bubble, Terry Gilliam has The Detective Defective, Tarantino has Kill Bill Vol 3, Killer Crow and most recently The Hateful Eight, The Coen Brothers have To The White Sea and George Romero has Diamond Dead. Some of those still have a chance of being made – Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote famously refuses to die and his Good Omens adaptation may find a home on television, while production of his latest feature, The Zero Theorem (2013) had been twice stalled and twice recast before cameras rolled. Spielberg’s plundering of Kubrick’s pile of unmade scripts has already given us AI Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001) and might soon see his infamous Napoleon project realised as a television series. Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice 2: Beetlejuice Goes Halloween is apparently still a going concern, and might even not be terrible. Unlike, for example, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Prometheus (2012) – which itself reportedly put paid to Guillermo del Toro’s At The Mountains of Madness project – and Scott’s threatened Blade Runner sequel, which presumably will be awful. All of which teaches us that hit film plus name writer-director adds up to “never say never”. The future remains relatively bleak for most, though.
For every successful film, there’s a mooted sequel, if not a franchise. Proposed sequels are, for various reasons, particularly prone to obsolescence. They fail to manifest, variously, because the film(s) preceding them underperform and they’re subsequently cancelled, agreement can’t be reached on a fitting follow-up, the creative team and/or the money men go cold on the idea or because key cast members age out of their roles and/or simply die waiting for the green light. Some scripts are replaced by all-new drafts that make them obsolete (sometimes even cannibalising elements of the original script) or they simply miss their shot (a draft of Forrest Gump 2: Gump and Co, for example, was apparently delivered on September 10th, 2001 and quickly deemed anachronistic, a fate which also befell Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis project). For all those reasons, say hello and goodbye to Casablanca 2: Brazzaville, ET The Extra Terrestrial 2: Nocturnal Fears, Roger Rabbit 2: The Toon Platoon, William Gibson’s Alien 3 (the one with no Ripley), Eric Red’s Lost Boys 2, Se7en 2: Ei8ht, Eric Red’s Alien 3 (the one in a bio-dome), Tom Mankiewicz’s pre-Burton Batman, David Twohy’s Alien 3 (the one on a prison planet, but no Ripley), Joel Schumacher’s Batman Triumphant and Batman: DarKnight, Quentin Tarantino’s Double V Vega, Vincent Ward’s Alien 3 (the one with Ripley, but on a wooden planet).
There are also some projects that have begun to be considered simply unfilmable, from originals like Lem Dobb’s legendary 1979 script, Edward Ford, to literary adaptations like James Joyce’s Ulysses (Sergei Eisenstein fancied a crack at one point) or John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (Stephen Soderbergh’s script for Will Ferrell got as far as a staged read-through). Zeppelin vs Pterodactyls was the original Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus; these days Hammer Films would probably have the means to take it beyond a tentative promotional poster. In the midst of all these, you find films so strange, so misguided or just so fundamentally unlikely that you wish they had been made, even though, to paraphrase Nick Cave, they simply had no fucking chance. Those, my friends, are the Popcorn Droppers.
This article is taken from Physical Impossibility #2: Popcorn Droppers, which is on sale now from selected stockists. The zine features original writing by Sean Welsh, Ryan Balmer, Matt Carman, Craig McClure, Paul McGarvey and Harriet Warman with original illustrations from Laura Aitchison, Ciara Dunne, Stephen Kelly, Jon Paul Milne, Jack Somerville, ID Stewart and Kseniya Yarosh.
You can also buy a copy directly, here. It costs £4 + 90p postage within the UK (1st class Royal Mail). NB If you are an international customer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org prior to ordering, and I’ll get back to you with a postage quote.
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