For every movie that hits cinemas or streaming services, there are countless more that are canceled before they are finished. Filmmaking isn’t an easy process, and many movies flounder in the face of financial constraints and creative differences. Here are the stories behind a few of the many science fiction and fantasy movies that were never made—some of which could have been amazing, and others which were rightfully abandoned.
10 Quentin Tarantino’s Star Trek
In 2017, it was announced that Quentin Tarantino had set his sights on making a Star Trek film. In his own words, he basically wanted to make “Pulp Fiction in space.” His idea was based on an episode from the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series called “A Piece of the Action,” which was set on an Earth-like planet with a culture inspired by 1920s gangs.
Tarantino pitched his idea to Star Trek producer and director J.J. Abrams, who liked it enough to assemble a writers’ room. That led to Tarantino teaming up with Mark L. Smith, who had written the screenplay for The Revenant (2015). Smith says the plot had “a little time travel stuff going on” and “a lot of fun” with Chris Pine’s version of Captain Kirk.
In a deviation from previous Star Trek media, Tarantino also declared, “If I do it, it’ll be R-rated.” However, at the end of 2019, he announced that he was no longer pursuing the project, although he didn’t give a reason why.
9 Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4
Sam Raimi intended for Spider-Man 4 to serve as a satisfying conclusion to his Spidey series. “I was very unhappy with Spider-Man 3, and I wanted to make Spider-Man 4 to end on a very high note,” Raimi recalled in 2013. But he ended up leaving the project because “we had a deadline, and I couldn’t get the story to work on a level that I wanted it to work.” He also knew that Sony was developing a reboot alongside his film anyway, which ended up being the Andrew Garfield-led The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).
Raimi’s fourth installment was going to feature the Vulture, played by John Malkovich, as the main villain. Anne Hathaway was slated to play Felicia Hardy, Peter Parker’s new love interest, who would also take up the Vulture’s mantel to become the Vulturess. Artwork released by concept artist Jeffrey Henderson also revealed that Mysterio would have made an appearance. Very recent rumors have offered hope, though. Some insiders saw the project may come to fruition after all.
8 Batman Unchained (aka Batman Triumphant)
After the terrible reviews of Batman & Robin (1997), director Joel Schumacher wanted to go down a darker route in the follow-up. “I felt I disappointed a lot of older fans by being too conscious of the family aspect,” he told Variety in 1997. “I’d gotten tens of thousands of letters from parents asking for a film their children could go to. Now, I owe the hardcore fans the Batman movie they would love me to give them.”
Batman Unchained (often called Batman Triumphant, although screenwriter Mark Protosevich has no idea why) would have seen Scarecrow and Harley Quinn team up against Batman. “I remember going to the set of Face/Off and asking Nic Cage to play the Scarecrow,” Schumacher recalls. Batman would also hallucinate his past foes, with planned cameos from Danny DeVito as the Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, Jim Carrey as the Riddler, and Jack Nicholson as the Joker.
However, it was the abysmal reception of Batman & Robin that killed the movie. Warner Bros. explored a few other directions after its cancellation—including Clint Eastwood playing an older version of the Dark Knight—but none came to fruition until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005.
7 David Fincher’s Rendezvous with Rama
Director David Fincher and actor Morgan Freeman spent years trying to adapt Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973), which is about a massive alien spaceship entering the solar system. Fincher started trying to make it a reality in 2000, and although by 2008, he admitted “it looks like it’s not going to happen,” hope still sprung eternal.
In 2011, Fincher reported, “The question was can we get a script that’s worthy of Morgan and can we get a script that is worthy of Arthur Clark and can we do all of that in an envelope that will allow the movie to take the kinds of chances that it wants to take.”
Despite Fincher and Freeman’s passion for the project, that version of the film is officially dead. However, a new version is now on the cards, with Denis Villeneuve serving as director. Plus, Freeman is still on the production team.
6 David Cronenberg’s Total Recall
Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990), based on Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966), is a fun sci-fi action flick. Still, if it had been up to David Cronenberg, the original director, it would have had a much darker tone. Producer and screenwriter Ronald Shusett worked with Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the screenplay for Alien (1979), to write a script for the movie before bringing Cronenberg in to write and direct.
Cronenberg went through 12 versions of the script, but his vision wasn’t gelling with Shusett’s. According to Cronenberg, Shusett told him, “We want this movie to be like Raiders of the Lost Ark goes to Mars,” to which the director replied, “Okay, well, I’m not doing that movie,” and quit. Cronenberg still made his mark on the film, though. For instance, he created the character that later became Kuato, the psychic mutant who is fused to his brother’s abdomen.
5 Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
One of the most famous unmade sci-fi films is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). Jodorowsky was known for his surreal but successful films, which led to producer Michel Seydoux offering to bankroll whatever he wanted to make next. Jodorowsky chose Dune, but he made substantial changes to the source material. His version would have ended with Paul Atreides transforming into a sentient planet.
Writer Dan O’Bannon and artist H.R. Giger, both of whom went on to work on Alien, were attached to the ultimately doomed project. Jodorowsky cast his own son in the role of Paul, and the Padishah Emperor was going to be played by none other than Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. Jodorowsky picked Pink Floyd to do the music. However, studio executives balked when Jodorowsky revealed his plans. Not only was the inflating cost a problem, but the director planned for the movie to have a 10 to 12-hour runtime.
4 Ghostbusters III: Hellbent
Ghostbusters actor Dan Aykroyd spent years trying (and ultimately failing) to get his idea for Ghostbusters III made. Subtitled Hellbent, Aykroyd’s script was based on a story developed by himself and co-star Harold Ramis. The film was set in an alternative version of Manhattan called Manhellton, and the Ghostbusters would fight the devil with the help of a younger team.
In 1999, Aykroyd explained that the movie was struggling to get off the ground because “the cost is too excessive for the studio to see it to be economically feasible. It is a shame, too, because everyone wants to do it. Even Bill Murray said he would work a few days on it.”
By 2007, Aykroyd’s hope in the idea was renewed: “With CGI and animation, the way these cartoons are done, we can do everything I wrote in that script for a lot less money.” This included a portrayal of Central Park as “this huge deep mine, green demons there, surrounded by black onyx thousand-foot high apartment buildings with classic red devils.” Ramis even hoped that Ben Stiller would play one of the new Ghostbusters.
While the movie never came to be, Aykroyd has described Ghostbusters: The Video Game (2009), which sees the team end up in a dimension called the Ghost World, as “essentially the third movie.”
3 George Lucas’s Star Wars Sequel Trilogy
In the book The Star Wars Archives: 1999-2005, published in 2020, George Lucas revealed his idea for the Star Wars sequel trilogy. He explained that the films would have been set soon after the original trilogy and would have been “about how Leia—I mean, who else is going to be the leader?—is trying to rebuild the Republic… Luke is trying to restart the Jedi.”
While Leia is trying to put the universe back in order, Darth Maul would become “the godfather of crime in the universe because, as the Empire falls, he takes over.” The other villain would be Maul’s apprentice, a girl called Darth Talon, who appears in the comic books. But Lucas ended up not committing to the project because his daughter was about to be born, and “I’d decided I’d rather raise my daughter and enjoy life for a while.”
2 Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian
Written by Jonathan Gem, Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian was about the Deetz family moving to Hawaii to build a holiday resort, but the land they were developing would turn out to be an ancient burial ground. Warner Bros. wasn’t keen on the idea because they wanted Tim Burton to direct a sequel to Batman (1989) instead.
The project was shelved, and by 1997, Gem considered it to essentially be dead, stating, “Winona [Ryder] is too old for the role, and the only way they could make it would be to totally recast it.” However, in 2013, there were rumblings about the movie following an older Lydia, with Ryder reporting that “it sounds like it might be happening” and “I would be really interested in what she is doing 27 years later.”
Production on the sequel is now in motion, but whether or not it’s going with the Hawaiian concept remains unknown. The film’s working title was recently revealed to be “Blue Hawaii,” but only time will tell whether this is merely a nod to Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian or an indication that it’s actually the original concept.
1 Superman Lives
In 1996, Warner Bros. approached Kevin Smith and offered him a few script-rewriting jobs, one of which was Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, to which he replied, “Didn’t we say all we needed to say with the first Beetlejuice? Must we go tropical?” The one he was interested in was Superman Reborn, later retitled Superman Lives. Although writing a Superman movie was a dream come true for Smith, producer Jon Peters had some strict (and strange) requirements: he didn’t want Superman in the classic blue, red, and yellow suit, he didn’t want him to fly, and he wanted him to fight a giant spider.
Nicholas Cage was cast as Superman, and Tim Burton was hired to direct, bringing with him a new screenwriter. Preproduction was barreling forward, with sets and costumes being made, but the script continued to flounder. In 1998, Warner Bros. decided to shelve the project until “such a time as the budget is appropriate and the script realizes its potential.” Although that time never came, a CGI version of Nic Cage as Superman fighting a huge spider was briefly included in The Flash (2023).