#4. Francis Ford Coppola's Megalopolis
Three of the greatest films of all time were made by one guy, in one seven-year span. In 1974, two of the nominees for Best Picture were directed by that same guy. Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather films, come on, you know who he is) has been coasting on it ever since.
That's why no list of unmade masterpieces would be complete without Megalopolis, Coppola's pet project about a futuristic New York that's had pretty much every Oscar winner of the last decade attached to it at some point or another (including Nicolas Cage, Russell Crowe, and even some talented actors like Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, and Kevin Spacey). This, dear readers, was the mythical Good New Coppola Movie that Hollywood, and America, had been waiting three decades for. They've probably already etched the name of this thing onto a whole box of awards, just waiting for Coppola to actually make the damn film.
Why it didn't get made: Too ambitious, too expensive, maybe too much to undertake for an aging, talent-atrophying Coppola. They did some shoots in New York at some points, but were put on hold by 9/11; then the film's distributor went broke. It just seems like one of those cursed projects.
And while we're on the subject: George Lucas, not Coppola, was originally hired to direct Apocalypse Now. Considering what a drawn-out torture the Apocalypse production turned out to be, there's a good chance that in that alternate universe, Star Wars never happened. Dude.
#3. Howard Stern's Fartman
Ah, Fartman. Hey, don't look at us like that. Shouldn't a well-rounded renaissance man be able to long equally for a Francis Ford Coppola epic and for a film about a superhero who can propel himself through the air using only his own gas?
Fartman is Howard Stern's Megalopolis. He's been trying to make a movie about the character since 1992, and he's serious about it. They had a writer and director lined up at one point, with a budget of $10 million or so from New Line. Writer J.F. Lawton spoke of the screenplay as if it was a 120-page excuse for a series of gratuitous lesbian love scenes.
Could this have been the worst movie ever made? Sure. But knowing Stern, the odds are good that every member of the audience would have left the film changed in some way.
Why it didn't get made: The studio wanted it PG-13, which ran somewhat against Howard's vision for the film. So instead we got 1997's autobiographical Private Parts, a pedestrian, friendly movie which mostly existed to prove to the world what a nice guy Howard is.
And while we're on the subject: If you think this sounds like the superhero movie that would kill superhero movies once and for all, picture this: Larry and Andy Wachowski wrote a Plastic Man script back in 1995. The star, according to internet rumor, was going to be Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens.
#2. Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven's Crusade
While 300 was tearing up the box office, somewhere Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven were glancing at each other and rolling their eyes, maybe making a sarcastic jerk-off motion with their hands.
Back in 1995 Arnold was set to star in the sword-in-guts epic Crusade, on a budget of $150 million with director Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall). The script (by Walon Green, who wrote The Wild Bunch) is considered one of the most brutally violent things ever put to paper.
Why it didn't get made: The studio, Carolco, wanted to make a big-budget pirate movie first. The result was Cutthroat Island, the biggest financial bomb in Hollywood history. Meanwhile, Verhoeven went off to direct Showgirls, one of the worst films in Hollywood history. The Cutthroat Island losses then forced Carolco into bankruptcy. Arnie went on to become governor of California, where his first act was to rope off the whole scene and declare it an official disaster area.
And while we're on the subject: To this day comic fans bemoan the loss of James Cameron's Spider-Man project from the early '90s. Well, if it had gotten made, Arnold was set to play Dr. Octopus.
#1. Will Ferrell's A Confederacy of Dunces
Probably no single project in Hollywood history has been attempted as many times, by as many people, as A Confederacy of Dunces. For 26 years, directors, actors, producers, writers and studios have come and gone. So why, in a Hollywood where thousands of quickly-forgotten projects wash in and out like the tide, do they keep coming back to Dunces?
It's because the book, by John Kennedy Toole, is the funniest thing ever written. Don't try to argue. Scientists have proven it (they have a computer or something). The novel is one big, intricate clockwork of a joke, plot threads converging in ways so ridiculous it's almost impossible to grasp it all with one reading. You don't think of them awarding Pulitzer prizes to balls-to-the-wall comedies, but they gave one to Dunces.
Will Ferrell was all set to star in this one as recently as a year ago, with Lily Tomlin and Drew Barrymore and Mos Def (fans of the book will have an easy time guessing who plays which character). But, once again, the studio pulled the plug.
Why it didn't get made: Will Ferrell has said it's the movie everyone in Hollywood wants to make, but no one wants to finance. They're right to have doubts. Anyone who saw the Hitchhiker's movie knows how hard it is to translate a funny novel to the big screen. Too much of the comedy lies in the language, in pages of narration that won't be in the film. Whenever it's time to write the checks for Dunces, somebody always gets cold feet.
This film will always be the weird girl at the book store, the enigmatic one who listens only to bands you've never heard of and who just rolls her eyes when you try to make a joke. Hollywood doesn't need that girl, not with a line of slutty cheerleaders right behind her.
And while we're on the subject: Did we mention the project is cursed? John Belushi was set to star in the film in 1982, but just days before he was to meet with producers, he died. Then John Candy was on board, before his death in 1994. Then Chris Farley, before he died in 1997. Then, all plans to film in New Orleans were halted after the city was devastated by hurricane Katrina. Don't get us wrong, we want to see Dunces on the big screen. But there is a significant chance that, upon release, the sky itself will burn with unholy fire and the rivers will flow red with the blood of the innocent.