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Why Are We Waiting? 16 Long-Delayed Movies

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This week, the long-delayed Bradley Cooper / Jennifer Lawrence drama Serena finally hits screens following its London Film Festival premiere. But why would a movie with two hot stars linger so long in limbo before arriving in cinemas? We look at some titles that had to wait, and the various reasons behind the delays…

Shot: 2012
Released: 2014 (London Film Festival)

What happened? This is one that you’d think would be a slam-dunk to slide swiftly into cinemas. You have respected indie director Susanne Bier coming off an Oscar win for Best Foreign Film with In A Better World, plus scorching hot stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who had powered David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook to success, and in Lawrence, the Lead Actress Oscar. But the film, about a Depression-era timber baron and his wife, didn’t arrive to compete in 2013. And it didn’t have a distributor. Trouble at t’filmmaking mill? Not so, according one “insider” quoted by The Hollywood Reporter. "Actually, it was just the opposite. There were no reshoots or anything like that. It was just a real precision edit because the story is about a woman's descent into madness. And Susanne is a total perfectionist." But when buyers got a look at the movie, hands didn’t exactly spring for chequebooks. Early reports pegged it a “mess”. You can decide for yourself because it's finally in cinemas.

Shot: 2005
Released: 2011

What happened? All eyes were on writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, who had enjoyed a resounding success with his 2000 directorial debut, You Can Count On Me. But though he quickly secured financing and studio support for his next film, which also boasted a cast including Matt Damon, Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo, Kieran Culkin and Allison Janney, it all went quickly downhill. The shoot itself was, by all accounts, a smooth one, but the real trouble set in during post-production. Gag orders and lawsuits kept much of the story under wraps but a picture emerges of Lonergan struggling to find the movie in the edit. A revolving door of editors culminated in regular Martin Scorsese snipper Thelma Schoonmaker stepping in to try to help. Lonergan reportedly took out a loan to try to finish the film, yet the legal wrangling meant yet more delays. It finally arrived in 2011 to terrific reviews but will feature in the history books more for its behind-the-scenes drama than anything on screen.

Shot: 2005
Released: 2008 (Following a run at festivals starting 2006)

What happened? Mandy Lane began life as a dream project of three friends, Chad Feehan, Jacob Forman and Tom Hammock. "I actually started it as my thesis at AFI," producer Feehan told Twitch Film. "The writer, Jacob Forman, and the production designer Tom Hammock and I did it as our thesis together. We started working on it in 2003, then graduated and got it financed and were able to hire our friends that we graduated with to make the movie.” They included director Jonathan Levine, who shot the film on a budget of $750,000 in Texas in late 2005. Though the filmmakers had made a deal to release the film via The Weinstein Company in 2007 following a festival run, the failure of Grindhouse got in the way. Financially, at least: TWC sold the film to Senator Entertainment, which was setting up its own distribution company. Senator, in turn, went bankrupt, which only did more to make the film seem cursed. Finally, Optimum Releasing nabbed the rights for the UK and put it out in February 2008, but the film had to wait until 2013 for a general US release, by which time Levine had made The Wackness, 50/50 and Warm Bodies. So at least his career wasn’t hurt by the delay...

Nailed

Shot: 2008
Released: Not yet.

What happened? With a respected name calling the shots (David O. Russell, who had last made I Heart Huckabees) and a recognisable cast in front the of the camera that included Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal, Nailed didn’t seem to be a dicey proposition, despite its odd story and political satire. It’s the story of Alice Eckle (Biel) who is accidentally shot in the head with a nail by a clumsy workman, eliciting wild sexual urges. The uninsured Eckle goes on a crusade to Washington to fight for the rights of the bizarrely injured. She meets an immoral congressman (Gyllenhaal) who takes advantage of her sex drive and capitalises on her crusade as Eckle heads into her own career in politics. Unfortunately one other David behind the camera, co-financier David Bergstein, wasn’t quite as reliable. The film shut down several times for cashflow issues and a key scene remains unfinished. "This has been a painful process for me," Russell announced in The Hollywood Reporter. "The multiple production delays and stoppages, which were caused by David Bergstein and preceded (producer) Ron Tutor's direct involvement with me, have now spanned two years, and the circumstances under which the film would now be completed are much different on several fundamental levels than when we embarked several years ago.” He took his name off the project and it has yet to see the light of day, despite a rough assemblage going before test screening audiences earlier this year.

Shot: 2004
Released: 2006 (Following Venice Film Festival premiere in 2005)

What happened? John Turturro began writing Romance And Cigarettes between scenes on Barton Fink in 1991, but had to wait more than a decade for his chance to make what he called “a very personal film. It’s a film about just people. I didn’t want to do it in a straightforward way because I think everybody has an imagination.” He definitely didn’t approach traditionally, making the movie a sweary, sexy musical in which James Gandolfini cheats on his wife (Susan Sarandon) with Kate Winslet’s tarnished English rose. But a roadblock appeared when original distributor United Artists was subsumed into Sony, and the executives there couldn’t see the appeal. “They didn’t see it with an audience,” Turturro has since said. “And for a movie like this, that’s an impossibility. If it had a brand name on it, like ‘A Pedro Almodovar Film,’ they would have said okay. But the truth of the situation with this movie is that when you put it in a room it plays like gangbusters.” It arrived internationally, but Turturro had to self-finance a run in the US to force Sony/UA to bring it out on DVD.

Shot: 2000/2001
Released: 2003 (Norway, 2005 straight-to-TV in the US)

What happened? Producer Paul Miller and director Erik Skjoldbjaerg (the latter of whom made the original Insomnia), grabbed the first draft of the script, adapted from Elizabeth Wurtzel’s depression memoir by Larry Gross. When Christina Ricci came aboard to star, she demanded a total rewrite of the script, with Frank Deasy coming aboard to work on the screenplay. Without a big name distribution partner, the film made it into the 2001 Toronto Film Festival and then? Limbo. “I went to every test screening, eight of them and at the last one, I thought we had a great movie on our hands,” Miller told The Guardian. “There were plans to release it, but the dates kept getting pushed back. But Christina was on the covers of Premiere magazine and Psychology Today, they brought out a tie-in paperback that sold 150,000 and then... no movie.” It eventually began to emerge in 2003 around the world, but the US was a much harder nut to crack – eventually, Prozac Nation ignominiously showed up on cable TV.

Shot: 1957
Released: 1984

What happened? Edward D. Wood Jr. originally shot what he called Revenge Of The Dead In typically cheap, quickie style as a sequel to his 1955 release Bride Of The Monster, utilising several of his acting troupe including Tor Johnson and Criswell with several of them playing the same roles. Trouble was, by the time that Dead was finished shooting in 1957, Wood didn’t have the cash to pay the lab fees to process the negative and the movie was doomed to the vaults, with the company holding the negatives effectively hostage. The film became largely lost to time, with some even starting to believe that it was all a figment of the director’s imagination. Yet there was more to the story than that, with reports of a brief 1959 release, though the story is fuzzy on whether the film enjoyed anything more than previews or a premiere screening. Then in 1983 millionaire Wade Williams was informed of the lost title by Wood’s widow, paid the late fees, took ownership of the results and pumped the thing out as Night Of The Ghouls, garnering a brief cinema run and simultaneous video release a year later.

Shot: 1987
Released: 1992

What happened? William Friedkin takes another deep-dive into the dark psychological waters of crime and killers. In this case, it’s loosely based on real-life serial killer Richard Chase, who terrorised Stockton, California in 1977. The film unspooled the story of serial killer Charles Reece (Alex McArthur), who drinks the blood of his victims in an effort to mitigate the blood poisoning he accredits to Satan himself. However, his crimes are so perverse and horrible that it drives formerly liberal prosecutor Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn) to try to prove that Reece is in fact sane, so that he can avoid an insanity plea and be sent to the chair. This one could have been a simple story of a film company – the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group – going bankrupt before the film’s release. But it doesn’t end there. The film was released in Europe in its original form and then Miramax picked up the rights. But in the intervening time Friedkin changed his thinking on the death penalty and headed back into the edit suite, resulting in a delay in the film hitting the US.

The Day The Clown Cried

Shot: 1972
Released: Not so far.

What happened? No list on this subject is complete without mention of this infamous Jerry Lewis Holocaust disaster. Originally even he balked at starring in the story of German circus clown Helmut Doork, who is thrown into a Nazi camp after making drunken jokes about Hitler. Once there, his clowning amuses the Jewish children separated from their parents, initially to the authorities’ displeasure. But then, the guards realise he can be used to distract the kids from their terrible fate and he ends up accompanying a group to Auschwitz, hoping they will eventually be freed. But when he realises their true fate, he begs to stay entertaining them, even volunteering to go with them into the gas chamber.

So you can see why the comedian and actor might have had a problem with the film. Still, he agreed to make it, figuring that it would be an important film and might even win him some awards. The finance ran out before the end and Lewis actually put up his own money to finish it, but the result was so appalling that it was quickly put on a shelf in a locked basement room with a sign on the door reading ‘Beware Of The Leopard’. All right, what really happened was that Lewis couldn’t come to terms with everyone involved with production and it was never released, going on to become something of an urban legend. Comedian Harry Shearer is among the few who have seen it. “It’s a perfect object,” he told Spy Magazine in 1992. “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.”

Shot: 2006
Released: 2009

What happened? What was supposed to be a light-hearted paean to fan culture and geek enthusiasm got bogged down by reshoots and arguments. Kyle Newman directed the original version of the film, which finds a group of friends trying to help their cancer-stricken buddy infiltrate Skywalker Ranch and see an early cut of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace before his condition worsens. Initially, worked progressed swiftly and spirits were buoyed when George Lucas gave it his stamp of approval and offered the use of the original Star Wars lightsabers sound effects; Kevin Smith was also impressed, requesting a cameo.

But a planned 2007 release was pushed back by The Weinstein Company to accommodate extra shooting with a boosted budget. Then, trouble set in. Steve Brill brought in to oversee reshoots and an edit that removed the cancer storyline. "The motivation was stripped out of the movie so it was more like, 'Hey, we're drunk. You wanna go break into Skywalker ranch?'” Newman later told TheForce.net. “It ultimately didn't work and that's why it, I think, came back to us, the original team, to at least restore it as much as we could in the time given.” And that was after competing test screenings held to see which version played better. The final cut eventually arrived in early 2009 after several different release dates came and went.

Shot: 1997
Released: 1999

What happened? It’s never a good sign when you release trailers for a film – then still labouring under its original title, Eaters Of The Dead – with a summer 1998 release date that comes and goes with no sign of the final product. This one comes courtesy of Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel, which finds a Muslim poet (Antonio Banderas) taken in as "the thirteenth warrior" by a band of Vikings (led by Vladimir Kulich) on the hunt for a band of monstrous murderers. There is much violence, but probably not quite as much as happened around the film. Disney, which was releasing the film through its Touchstone label, became seriously worried after terrible test screenings of John McTiernan’s cut.

Then Crichton himself got involved and there arose the unusual situation of two different teams working on two different versions of several scenes, with the cast walking between soundstages. “I would get stuff like one guy would say, ‘Don’t tell the other guy what we’re doing.’” Kulich recalled. “It was a little bit tragic because one day Crichton said, ‘Vladimir, it doesn’t matter what you do over there, because I have final cut.’ And sure enough, his cut was the final cut.”

Shot: 2009
Released: 2012

What happened? Several factors impacted this one. Already derided by some online for its attempt to reimagine the 1984 action thriller – itself far from perfect – the remake, under director Dan Bradley enjoyed a smooth enough shoot. But then a double punch of problems hit. Firstly, studio backers MGM announced that it was going in bankruptcy, which meant that any films in development, in production or awaiting release were suddenly sitting on the shelf as the company shuttered its distribution department.

Then, after months of waiting to see what would happen, Bradley and producer Tripp Vinson were informed by new heads of the studio that the film would have to be altered to change the enemies – originally the Chinese – to North Korean. “It was just their intuition that they didn't want to offend a really big film market,” Vinson said later. “But whatever the reason is, the decision came down that some sort of change had to be made and I will say also that I am appreciative that (producers) Roger Birnbaum and Gary (Barber) gave me the money to do it and to do it right. They could have chintzed it. They weren't invested in the movie, they didn't live with the development and the production, and it wasn't their film. And they gave me a lot more money to make it releasable.” All involved hoped the delay might mean that the recent boost in leading man Chris Hemsworth’s star power might be useful. It was not.

Shot: 1986
Released: 1990

What happened? The subject matter – a loose reworking of the life of actual serial killer Henry Lee Lucas – was always going to be challenging. John McNaughton’s film only compounded that – bleak, brutal and bloody, it can be tough to watch, even with Michael Rooker’s searing main performance. And that’s even besides the violence, as it takes a hard stare at the mundane nature of a killer such as Lucas. Finished in 1986, it debuted that year at the Chicago Film Festival, but then ran into certificate issues with US ratings board the MPAA. They slapped the film with an X certificate, which would have effectively ended its box-office chances before it began, and refused to offer details on how McNaughton and the producers might edit it to lower the rating. Despite support from the likes of Roger Ebert, a protracted wait meant that the film finally arrived in the US in 1990 as UR or ‘unrated’. The BBFC had its own issues once the movie arrived over here in 1991 – it ended up losing 113 seconds by the time it hit video shelves after its cinema run, and was only released uncut in 2003.

Shot: 1941
Released: 1942

What happened? It might appear that this one didn’t have as long to wait to see the inside of a cinema as some of the others on this list, and that’s true from one point of view. But Ambersons had a long, complicated history marked by studio wrangling and different edits. Orson Welles’ adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1918 novel chronicles the declining fortunes of a wealthy, proud Midwestern family at the turn of the 20th century. After its initial preview screening, Welles decided it had to be shortened from its initial 135 minute cut, and editor Robert Wise trimmed it, but audiences still did not respond well. That’s when studio bosses at RKO got involved, as Welles had traded his final cut in a deal for another movie that he never directed. The studio cut an additional 40 minutes and reshot the ending. The “final” film (featuring input from Wise, assistant director Fred Fleck and Welles Mercury Theatre business manage Jack Moss) arrived in 1942, but made a loss. There is believed to still be a rough cut of Welles original out there somewhere, but the negatives of the scenes snipped by the studio were destroyed to free up vault space.

Shot: 1949-1953
Released: 1957

What happened? A Howard Hughes production! Which usually meant one thing: chaos. And boy, did this one deliver on that front. A Cold War action adventure starring John Wayne and Janet Leigh, it sounds a simple enough proposition. But with the actors worried about the “silly” script – Wayne has since called it one of the worst films he ever made – the film saw contributions from several directors (Josef von Sternberg, writer Jules Furthman, second unit director Philip Cochran, Ed Killy, Byron Haskin, Don Siegel, and Hughes himself) during a torturous three years and change. And even then, the aeronautics-obsessed Hughes wasn’t satisfied, tinkering with the film for a further four or so years, by which time he’d sold RKO Pictures and had to make a deal with Universal to release it. Originally intended to showcase some of America’s cutting-edge jet technology, most of the craft portrayed in the film were obsolete by the time it hit cinemas in 1957. But at least Hughes was pleased – it reportedly became his favourite film.

Shot: 2012
Released: 2015

What happened?
Three years might not seem like a huge gap, but the story of the fourth outing for George Miller’s post-apocalyptic Aussie anti-hero really starts in 1998, when the director announced he was returning to desert climes for more action. Back then, there were still rumours that Mel Gibson might return, but they didn’t pan out. Versions came and went – Max had a son! Then he didn’t! It’ll be anime! No, it won’t! – and release dates were announced but never met. Finally, in 2009, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron were confirmed to head the cast of a tale that saw Hardy’s Max encountering and helping a road convoy led by Imperator Furiosa (Theron). It was happening at last! And… then it wasn’t, as freak weather issues hit the planned Australian locations. Eventually, Miller managed to wrangle a shoot in South Africa in 2012, but reports began to spread that he was over schedule and over budget and Warner Bros. sent an executive out to discover what was going wrong. There were reshoots last year and, at this July’s Comic-Con, we got our first proper look at footage with a trailer. It’s been a long wait, but from the initial glimpse of the film, there’s definitely a chance our patience will be rewarded.