Plenty of movies go through several different versions before they're released. Han Solo almost died at the end of Return Of The Jedi (cough). Ghostbusters almost had time travel, John Belushi, and Eddie Murphy. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were nearly stop-motion. But whereas all of those changes were undeniably made for the better, there are some movies that started out as ideas that were pretty close to perfect before countless behind-the-scenes changes doomed them to forgettable mediocrity.
#7. Guillermo Del Toro's The Hobbit Would Have Looked Amazing
It's well known that the path to The Hobbit's director's chair was paved with deep scratches in the floor, left by Peter Jackson as he desperately tried to claw his way to freedom. After spending nearly seven years filming the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Jackson quite reasonably wanted a break from Middle-earth, and agreed to help out with The Hobbit only on the condition that they get someone else to direct it. That someone was Guillermo del Toro, who proceeded to do two years of work on the films before ultimately quitting the project after he realized that New Line Cinema was content to take its sweet-ass time greenlighting production on his version. Judging by his preproduction work, del Toro's version would have been infinitely better.
Following in the footsteps of LOTR, del Toro wanted to do practical effects whenever possible and build needlessly complex backstories and characterization into things like orc armor, because that kind of attention to detail pays off in the finished product, and also del Toro is crazy:
New Line Cinema
Del Toro, pictured right.
He even went so far as to actually build the costume, despite the fact that he hadn't received the go-ahead from any higher-ups:
New Line Cinema
"Eh, if they don't want it I can always sell it to Gwar."
For reference, this is what that character wound up looking like in the finished film:
New Line Cinema
Like a "faces of meth" Panthro.
So, rather than del Toro's trademark visceral style of bone-gore monsters, we were given the most antiseptic version of a cartoon fantasy creature that somehow looked worse than any single orc in the original Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Del Toro set the bar as high as he possibly could for Smaug, the villainous dragon that was originally the climax of The Hobbit until the movie inexplicably decided to make it about a dwarf war. He declared that Smaug would be the first character they'd start designing and the last one to be approved. Del Toro reasoned that the dragon's design should reflect its ability to speak -- its mouth should be able to make the sounds that human mouths do. That style of dramatically outside-the-box thinking resulted in a weirdly awesome beast that was truly unlike any dragon that had ever appeared in a movie before:
New Line Cinema
But somehow still looking kind of like Benedict Cumberbatch.
Again, compare del Toro's design to what wound up in the finished film -- in this case, a very traditional dragon improbably speaking with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, complete with weirdly incongruous lip movements that del Toro decided would be the make-or-break line for audience believability:
New Line Cinema
"His mouth is all wrong! No one is going to believe that dragon can talk!" -Guillermo del Toro
What's more, Guillermo was prepared to bring some of his Hellboy cast with him, namely Doug Jones and Ron Perlman. Del Toro never got around to officially casting Jones, but Perlman was all set to play Beorn, the werewolf/bear (bearwolf?) skinchanger.
In short, The Hobbit was almost a weird, offbeat, 1980s-style fantasy movie, instead of the nine-hour cartoon it wound up becoming after del Toro left the project and dumped it in Peter Jackson's lap like a drowned cat.
#6. There Was Almost An Insanely Dark Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Sequel
Whether you like it or not, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a legitimate film franchise once again. But one thing that every Ninja Turtles fan can agree on is that we went a super long time without any Turtles movies. The original trilogy of films, which involved champion martial artists doing impressive karate stunts while wearing 50 pounds of Jim Henson Muppet armor, came to a close in 1993, despite the best efforts of Vanilla Ice. There was an animated film in 2007, a full 14 years later, and then another seven-year dry spell before Michael Bay's reboot.
But what you probably didn't know was that during that first decade-and-a-half-long hiatus, there were two efforts to make another live-action TMNT movie. The first was to be a direct sequel to the third film, called The Next Mutation, that was going to be based heavily on the comics that none of us read as children. The main premise revolved around the turtles continuing to mutate and gaining new powers: Leonardo gained the ability to turn into a T-1000, Donatello became telekinetic at the cost of his sight, Michelangelo would be able to Jedi-mind-trick people into believing he was human, Raphael turned into a demon crocodile monster, and Splinter turned into a werewolf on HGH. Check out some concept art by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the original Turtles creators:
And their co-creator, peyote.
But with tiger stripes for some reason.
Wait, there's more! The mutations affect Casey Jones (who gets Taser hands) and April (who gets giant breasts that apparently turn her evil). Also, the Foot Clan would finally start carrying guns and stop trying to beat a quartet of giant monsters with traditional ninja weaponry:
Ripped from the pages of every 12-year-old boy's sketchbook in the 1990s.
The Next Mutation movie didn't get past this early conceptual stage, which is a shame, because it clearly would've been the most uncomfortable Ninja Turtles film to watch with children. Another attempt at a Turtles sequel was made in 2001, which also would've followed a darker, comic-inspired storyline:
It's unclear what exactly these different pitches were going for, but that last one was directly based on a piece of art from the comics in which the Shredder is killed and Raphael takes his place as the knife-suited ruler of the criminal underworld:
And destroyer of waterbeds.
So, yeah -- there was a time when Hollywood was considering making a Turtles movie where Raphael was Shredder. As crazy as that idea may sound, transport yourself back to 2001 and imagine someone telling you that Michael Bay was going to make a Turtles film starring Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, and realize that "crazy" is occasionally just a matter of dates.
#5. The Justice League Movie Was Almost Made By The Director Of Mad Max: Fury Road
Before George Miller made the greatest action movie of all time in Mad Max: Fury Road, he was tagged to direct a Justice League film. Had he been allowed to make the movie, it would at the very least have resulted in a trailer that was good for more than just being made fun of on Twitter.
Right around the time Marvel started making approximately all the money, two writers turned in a Justice League script that threw all that "origin story" nonsense to the wind and instead dropped us right in on an already-formed Justice League. The movie opens with a funeral before backtracking an unspecified amount of time to Wonder Woman addressing the U.N. and Alfred telling Batman that Gotham's crime has been reduced to "nuisance" levels, which is probably "depression-era Chicago during a heat wave" to everyone who isn't Batman. We ultimately discover that Bruce Wayne is currently in a relationship with a woman who is secretly working with the government and a supervillain to unleash some skullduggerous plot upon the Earth, and the Justice League has to pull together to save the day. The Flash is killed in the process, and the movie ends with his funeral, which is the same one we saw in the very beginning. Um, spoilers, we guess.
And instead of going with the dark, gritty designs favored by most superhero movies, the Justice League concept art portrayed the Justice League like Greek Gods, because that's basically what they are:
He was eight years ahead on the "make Aquaman look cool" thing.
But before Miller could get things going, the Writers Guild strike permanently derailed the movie. There's actually a documentary in the works about it ... which is currently experiencing production problems. Given this evidence, we are not convinced that the writers strike wasn't enacted as part of a plot to keep this movie from being made -- judging by Fury Road, a Justice League film directed by George Miller would've likely been so awesome that the entire world would've simply imploded around it.
From the scene where Wonder Woman huffs silver spray paint to enter Themyscira.
#4. The Planet Of The Apes Prequels Were Originally Much Crazier
20th Century Fox
Since the original film series, there have been two separate attempts to reboot the Planet Of The Apes franchise. The first was an aggressively forgettable Tim Burton film from 2001, and the second was the surprise hit prequel Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, which starred James Franco but owes absolutely none of its success to that fact.
The movie ends with a bunch of genetically enhanced apes retreating to a forest near San Francisco where they can live in peace as humanity meets a rapid and horrifying demise. The original script for Rise, however, ended a bit differently:
20th Century Fox
Still better than Aperaham Lincoln.
Far from peacefully standing by while humans obliterate themselves, the original ending had a full-on revolution between apes and humans, with the chimpanzee Caesar gazing dispassionately upon the apocalypse he had wrought from the ruptured skull of the Statute of Liberty, because we apparently cannot have a Planet Of The Apes film that doesn't reference that giant piece of copper.
Obviously, that ending would've led to an entirely different Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (the sequel released two years later), which was originally supposed to take place nearly a century into the future with fully evolved apes who spoke English, partied, smoked cigarettes, and listened to rock 'n' roll while still beating the shit out of each other with bone clubs, 2001-style:
20th Century Fox
*Play For Full Effect*
However, a few weeks before shooting, the director decided that 100 years was too much of a jump and that it would be way more exciting to see the apes slowly building a society and learning to speak conversationally (Note: It is not). So the original concept was scrapped in favor of a more straightforward "humans versus apes" storyline, and a more open-ended climax involving the apes all hanging off the Golden Gate Bridge watching human warships approaching was replaced with the subtlety-destroying ending wherein Caesar just tells his fellow monkeys to expect a war with the humans. In the movie's defense, this has never been a series renowned for its subtlety.