5 strange, great, and plain awful movies stuck in development hell


The process of moviemaking is not a simple one. The process is a long one, taking a minimum two years to happen. You have to have a production company, director, producers, script, actors, financing, and marketing. So much goes into making a movie, and many get stuck languishing in studio shelves for years. These movies are stuck in development hell.

Some films eventually make it out – but others most certainly don’t. And if they do, they’re a mess. 


Yes, it is indeed nightmare fuel animation.

In the wake of Pixar’s smash hit Toy Story 1 and Toy Story 2, movie studios everywhere were looking for a new idle inanimate thing to come to life in animation.

The obvious choice, and choice that would almost surely pay for itself with product placements – food. Some big name brands got involved, like Mr. Clean, Charlie Tuna, and Mrs. Buttersworth to name a few, without countless more appearing as cameos. It even got very big name actors involved. Before the days of making himself an internet meme, Charlie Sheen was ‘winning’ a role in Foodfight

The story of it falling apart is fascinating and has even been chalked up to industrial espionage. The belief is a rival studio may have deliberately leaked it in such an attempt to cause the studio to collapse or have the many products that had signed up for the film to pull out. The film was initially scheduled for a December 2003 release, but never made it for a theatrical release.

When it was released in 2012, it racked up a reputation as one of the worst films ever made. And it deserves it.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Image: Warner Bros.

The Mad Max trilogy by George Miller is so massive for a trilogy that has only probably one good movie. Mad Max 2 is so goddamn good. It’s up there as one of the greatest films to come out of Australia. 

After the threequel, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the franchise hit an awkward spot. George Miller seemed done with it, audiences didn’t really get much out of Thunderdome, and Mel Gibson’s shenanigans in the 2000s didn’t help the cause of a continuation. 

From personal experience, I’ve known of people who had been working on finding locations to shoot a potential fourth movie since 2005. They even declared Broken Hill, where the original films were shot, to be too green and lively to use — eventually setting on Namibia. 

Mad Max: Fury Road finally came out in 2015, and it is a marvel of a film. Beautifully shot, well-written, and just a joy to watch. Easily the best film of this lot of development hell-addled films — even picking up a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards and Best Director nomination for George Miller.

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower Banner
Image: Sony

Stephen King’s magnum opus series, spanning several thousand pages and encapsulating almost all every novel he’s ever written, is a notorious entry. The Dark Tower encompasses eight books, and one short story. It took 22 years to complete the saga, with another entry on the 30th anniversary of the first book.

First talks of a film or TV adaptation began in 2007, with murmurs of studios circling to buy the rights and adapt. For a while it was going to be a Game of Thrones-style multiseason epic on HBO, then it was going to be a Marvel Cinematic Universe style long-form storytelling cinematic experience… then it just became a very bad movie. 

It is astonishing to me that a movie starring the talents of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey could be so dull and rushed. Turning an eight-book arc into a quick 95 minute movie is akin to making an adaptation of The Old Testament and New Testament into a 10 minute YouTube video. 


Book cover of The Incomparable Atuk. Image: Wikimedia Commons

A movie so renowned for its development limbo that it’s supposedly part of a curse. Atuk, based on the book The Incomparable Atuk by Mordecai Richler, was first acquired for a cinematic adaptation in 1971 by Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof, Moonstruck). The book follows a Canadian Inuit who moves into a major city and becomes a caricature of big city living but is co-opted by locals as a hero of Canadian nationalism.

Several attempts were made to cast the film, but every actor who expressed interest in the lead role died – and the legend states even being in the presence of those reading the script can trigger the curse.

John Belushi was the first to fall victim, with the actor reading for the role in early 1982 before dying just a few months later in March of that year. Various others to have died after interest was expressed include Chris Farley, John Candy, and even those who knew of the script such as Michael O’Donoghue and Phil Hartman

The film even started filming at one point, but fell apart within 8 days after some classic Hollywood creative differences. It’s possible it could one day enter production again and finish production – but maybe the legend is better than it becoming reality.

Superman: Flyby

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

There were several attempts after the Christopher Reeve films finish to reboot Superman, and most of them never got to see the light of day. One of the most interesting of these Superman projects that got stuck in development hell was Superman: Flyby. J.J. Abrams was drafted by Warner Bros. to write a new Superman film around 2000, and turned in his script with hopes he could direct it – but was turned down.

The film’s history was troubled, with directors jumping on and off over a four-year period. McG was twice attached to direct the J.J. Abrams script but fell out twice, and Ratner (X-Men 3) too was set to helm the film. The film had enough problems attempting to cast a Superman actor, with many dropping out due to a fear of being typecast and locked into a multi-picture deal.

Henry Cavill even screen-tested for the film, but would have to wait another decade to be cast as Superman, in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The logistics of casting and issues behind the scenes of where to shoot doomed the project, and in the end the studio ran with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns script.

Since then, the entirety of J.J. Abram’s script for Superman: Flyby has been released online.