Plenty of films have yet to make the hi-res journey to Blu-ray, but there are hundreds that never even made it to DVD. Empire has been digging, and we've exhumed these 25 movies never officially pressed onto a small, silver disc... to date. If you feel inclined, suggest your own lost treasures in the comments.
The rules, then. Availability in some regions but not others doesn’t count – these are films that, as far as we can ascertain, have never been released on DVD anywhere. Likewise, things that have been available but are now out of print do not make the cut. And we’ve kept it to films with either reasonably recognisable directors or cast. We didn't bother with Tales From the Quadead Zone, for example...
(Thanks to 20th Century Flicks in Bristol for the trawl through their VHS archive.)
The Keep (1983)
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Scott Glenn, Jürgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellen
What’s the Story? In between Thief and Manhunter, Michael Mann directed this dreamlike historical-horror oddity. During World War II, German soldiers unearth a dangerously powerful entity in a castle in Romania (specifically pegged as a Golem in the film but not in F. Paul Wilson’s original novel), who is understandably furious about the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews. Mysterious, sorcerous stranger Glaeken Trismegestus (Scott Glenn) arrives to save the day with a light show.
What’s the problem? Author F. Paul Wilson hates it, and Mann’s three-hour director’s cut was chopped in half by studio Paramount. Mann is doubtful that much of the cut footage still exists, and didn’t enjoy the experience anyway, so has been reluctant to revisit it - then there are the possible rights issues around Tangerine Dream’s score to consider. Released on VHS and LaserDisc and occasionally shown on TV, The Keep remains a mesmerisingly strange cult oddity that’s been difficult to see for the last couple of decades. But incredibly, having skipped an entire technology, it is currently available on Netflix. Hurry before it disappears again, and don’t hold your breath for any sort of restoration...
Grim Prairie Tales (1990)
Director: Wayne Coe
Starring: Brad Dourif, James Earl Jones, William Atherton
What’s the story? A gothic portmanteau Western in which two strangers spin scary tales around a campfire. Like most anthology films, the individual stories are hit-and-miss. But what makes Grim Prairie Tales such a lost gem are the wraparound segments in which Dourif’s uptight city clerk is forced to spend a long, dark night of the soul with Jones’ grotesque bounty hunter (and the corpse he’s got in tow).
What’s the problem? Unclear, but it barely got a VHS release, let alone anything subsequent. You may have caught it on Alex Cox’s Moviedrome on BBC2 in the 1990s. Wayne Coe never directed again, but still works as a professional story board artist.
The Wild Life (1984)
Director: Art Linson
Starring: Chris Penn, Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson, Rick Moranis, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid
What’s the story? Teenage post-high-school hi-jinks in an apartment complex in the LA suburbs. Cameron Crowe wrote it before he made his directorial debut with Say Anything..., and it’s often compared to the also Crowe-written Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Some have even called it a pseudo-sequel, although it isn’t officially that.
What’s the problem? The music rights. A jukebox soundtrack that lines up Prince, Madonna, Little Richard, Van Halen, Billy Idol, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix and many others simply seems to have made a digital-era release prohibitively expensive. Universal did offer a made-to-order disc in its Vault series for a while, but the version proffered chopped most of the choons.
The Last Movie (1971)
Director: Dennis Hopper
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Julie Adams, Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson
What’s the story? Hopper’s berserk follow-up to Easy Rider involves the making of a Western in Peru. When the director quits after the death of a stuntman, the locals start acting out the violent script for real and pretending to film themselves with fake cameras made of sticks. Legend has it that Hopper came up with a reasonably straightforward cut, but was persuaded by his peers to make it more ‘out there’, even handing it to Alejandro Jodorowsky to edit, before taking it back again.
What’s the problem? Its total failure and burial by studio Universal led directly to Hopper’s wilderness years. Hopper eventually retrieved the rights, and planned his own DVD release, but this never came to pass before his too-early death in 2010.
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Starring: Jon Cryer, Daniel Roebuck, Flea
What’s the story? A punk-rock road movie, in which two friends travelling across-country in a Volkswagen Beetle get into trouble with some rednecks over the murder of their buddy.
What’s the problem? Again, very likely the music rights to the manyl ‘80s rock, metal and punk bands on the soundtrack. Spheeris’ Decline Of Western Civilization documentaries remain unavailable for the same reason.
Song Of The South (1946)
Directors: Wilfred Jackson, Harve Foster
Starring: Ruth Warwick, Bobby Driscoll, James Baskett
What’s the story? Seven-year-old Johnny goes to live on a Georgia plantation with his mother and grandmother after the American Civil War, while his father’s away working in Atlanta. There he befriends the kindly Uncle Remus, and his live-action real life is interspersed with animated sequences as Remus recounts the various adventures of the trickster Br’er Rabbit.
What’s the problem? Children of the ‘80s could reliably watch clips of the Br’er Rabbit stories on bank holiday episodes of Disney Time. The whole film was occasionally on TV too, but has dropped off the radar in recent years due to its contentious racial stereotyping. Uncle Remus isn’t a slave, but he is an Uncle Tom, and as of 2010, Disney’s line (via CEO Bob Iger) was that the film is “antiquated” and “fairly offensive”. Any future release would need copious extra features engaging with its historical context. A set like that isn’t on the cards yet, although it remains the subject of discussion within the Mouse House.
Director: Hal Needham
Starring: Bill Allen, Lori Loughlin, Talia Shire
What’s the story? BMX racing drama, with young Cru Jones (Allen) passing up college against his mother’s wishes for a sponsorship deal and a shot at the Helltrack title. Needham was the stuntman-turned-director of Smokey And The Bandit and The Cannonball Run, but with this and Megaforce he didn’t have a great mid-'80s.
What’s the problem? Critically derided and a flop at the box office, Rad did actually gain some enthusiastic cult success on video – but not to the extent that an official digital version ever materialised. Like The Keep, it skipped disc completely and is now available from iTunes.
The Godfather Saga (1977 / 1990)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan
What’s the story? The Godfather Parts I and II, chronologically edited (so the De Niro sequences from Godfather II are no longer flashbacks, but shown at the start before the events of The Godfather) into a TV mini-series incorporating copious scenes deleted from the theatrical versions. The Godfather Part III was included in the process in a later VHS box-set release.
What’s the problem? Obviously you can get the Godfather Trilogy in a spiffy new Coppola-restored Blu-ray set with all the deleted scenes as extras. But the chronological edit remains a TV and VHS curio. Coppola only originally did the mini-series deal to raise the finance for Apocalypse Now, and it was obviously never his preferred version. Godfather II in particular suffers structurally from having the rise of Vito and the fall of Michael separated. But it’s a version many people still prefer and miss. AMC played it in 2012: the only time it’s ever been shown in high-definition.
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Jacqueline Bisset, Toshirō Mifune, Richard Roundtree
What’s the story? A film about a famous battle of the Korean War, from the director of Dr. No and Thunderball and starring Henry V, Yojimbo and Shaft. It sounds like a nailed-on cult classic – which it is to some extent – but it’s also one of the most notorious flops in cinema history.
What’s the problem? It died at the box office, losing $44m and establishing itself as the biggest disaster of 1982. It never got a VHS release, let alone anything subsequent. Adding to its limbo status is its unusual financial set-up: it was bankrolled by Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, with MGM taking distribution rights for a much lower-than-usual cut of the profits – of which there were obviously none anyway. While the Unification Church owned the Goodlife Television Network, they occasionally played Inchon there. Since they sold the Network, however, Inchon is back to not having an outlet of any description.
Let It Be (1970)
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg
Starring: The Beatles, Yoko Ono
What’s the story? A documentary about The Beatles, which, as it turned out, chronicled more-or-less their last days – although a lot of the footage of the band falling out with each other was cut to make to make the film less abrasive. The final product follows the band recording at Apple Corps Headquarters and staging an impromptu gig on the studio roof.
What’s the problem? Let It Be had a VHS release, and work was underway for a digital restoration incorporating the cut footage. But as the project progressed, the scenes of George Harrison’s temporary walk-out (the band considered replacing him with Eric Clapton) and the footage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave the surviving Beatles pause. Unnamed inside sources claim that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have now blocked any re-release, fearing that footage of the Beatles annoying one another would damage their global brand.
Meet The Applegates (1989)
Director: Michael Lehmann
Starring: Ed Begley Jr., Stockard Channing, Dabney Coleman
What’s the story? Lehmann directed this satirical black comedy horror in between Heathers and Hudson Hawk. It involves a family of giant praying mantises who take on human form and go and live a perfect family life in suburbia while Dad tries to wipe out the human race by engineering the end of the world at the nuclear power plant he works at. One of a slew of late ‘80s and early ‘90s comedy horrors – Society, Parents, The ‘Burbs etc. – picking the scabs of middle class America.
What’s the problem? Possibly to do with the bankruptcy of studio New World, although that hasn’t stopped other New World titles (Hellraiser, House, The Punisher) from reaching DVD. The NW catalogue was with Anchor Bay for years, but the Applegates rights are now at Lionsgate. It’s probably safe to say it’s just nobody’s top priority and has fallen through the cracks, but it has been broadcast in HD on the Showtime channel.
Dead Solid Perfect (1988)
Director: Bobby Roth
Starring: Randy Quaid, Kathryn Harrold, Jack Warden
What’s the story? The saying goes that the best golfing movie ever made is Caddyshack, and the worst is Caddyshack II. And somewhere in the middle there’s this: an HBO golf dramedy with Randy Quaid, from around the same time as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s based on a bestselling novel by Dan Jenkins; Tangerine Dream did the soundtrack; and it’s apparently one of PGA champion John Daly’s favourite films.
What’s the problem? It has quite the following among golf enthusiasts, and collectors will pay pretty high prices on eBay for a tape. But without a Kevin Costner, an Adam Sandler or a Bill Murray, it’s perhaps historically been considered by the moneymen just that bit too niche to be worth reviving. Plus, of course, Quaid’s recent transformation into conspiracy-theorist sex-tape loon has probably kiboshed its chances of ever seeing the light of day again in the future.
Conan Doyle’s Master Detective Sherlock Holmes (1932)
Director: William K. Howard
Starring: Clive Brook, Reginald Owen, Miriam Jordan, Ernest Torrence
What’s the story? Significant as the earliest surviving Sherlock Holmes “talkie”, bridging the gap between the silent era and Basil Rathbone’s 14-film stint beginning in 1939. It’s based on the 1899 stage play by William Gillette, which had already been filmed at least twice before. The story mashes up Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal In Bohemia and The Final Problem with some other weird embellishments and a Holmes who’s nothing really like Holmes. After defeating Moriarty, the famously asexual detective gets married at the end!
What’s the problem? It’s in the public domain, so you can watch a ropey copy in YouTube, but it has neither the historical importance of the first silents or the “classic” cache of the Rathbone films. As such, nobody’s ever bothered to restore it properly.
City Of Hope (1991)
Director: John Sayles
Starring: Vincent Spano, Chris Cooper, Angela Bassett, Gina Gershon, John Sayles, David Stathairn, Lawrence Tierney
What’s the story? Considered by many to be Sayle’s masterpiece (it’s currently at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes), City Of Hope is a series of interlocking stories set in New Jersey, taking in political corruption, racial tension, petty crime, bent cops and personal dramas. It’s often compared to Paul Haggis’ Crash, with the comparison almost always in Sayles’ favour.
What’s the problem? A tangle of rights issues. Sayles would like to get the film back and release it himself, but has so far been unable to cut through the Gordian legal knots. Amazon Prime offers a pan-and-scan version for streaming, but Sayles’ widescreen original remains elusive.
I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Director: Gene Fowler Jr.
Starring: Michael Landon, Yvonne Lime, Whit Bissell
What’s the story? A drive-in B-movie classic, in which dysfunctional teen Landon starts attending hypnotherapy sessions to cure him of his antisocial tendencies. Sadly he ends up with an unscrupulous therapist who uses regression therapy to send him on a lycanthropic rampage. Famous enough that its title alone became an indelible part of pop culture. Teen Wolf, very obviously, owes it a debt.
What’s the problem? Rights tangles again: original studio American International Pictures merged with Filmways who were bought by Orion who later went bankrupt. Orion had distribution deals with Warner and MGM. Somewhere in all that, the Teenage Werewolf is howling for release. There’s a remastered DVD listed on the German Amazon (Der Tod Hat Schwarze Krallen – “Death Has Black Claws”) but it seems never actually to have come out.
The Road Back (1937)
Director: James Whale
Starring: John ‘Dusty’ King, Slim Summerville, Andy Devine, Dwight Frye
What’s the story? Whale was best known for his Universal horrors (Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House), but he intended this sequel to All Quiet On The Western Front to be the crowning glory of his career. Its story sees the soldiers of the 2nd Company returning home and struggling to readjust to civilian life after the horrors of World War I. But its anti-war and anti-German stance made Universal nervous, and it was drastically cut to dull its message. Whale later cited it as the worst job he ever had.
What’s the problem? All Quiet On The Western Front is these days lauded as culturally and historically significant, but The Road Back remains a footnote to that story. Neutering the film to appease the Nazi regime (or “cultivate the good will of Germany” as it was worded) is not Universal’s finest hour. Without the materials to reassemble Whale’s director’s cut and put the mistake right, it’s an episode they would likely prefer stays in the vaults.
So Red The Rose (1935)
Director: King Vidor
Starring: Randolph Scott, Margaret Sullavan, Walter Connolly
What’s the story? A romance from the director of Duel In The Sun, set during the American Civil War. Sullavan plays a Southern plantation owner whose world gets turned upside down by the conflict between the Confederacy and the Union. But even in her darkest hours, she has her love for Randolph Scott to sustain her. Aww. It wasn’t a great success, to the extent that studios were wary of Civil War films for a few years afterwards, until the juggernaut hit Gone With The Wind cheered them up again in 1939.
What’s the problem? Probably rights. It was made by Paramount but sold to Universal in the ‘50s for television distribution. DVD rights would presumably need a new negotiation between those two parties, and they’ve both got much higher priorities.
Freddy’s Nightmares (1988-1990)
Director: Various (including Tobe Hooper and Mick Garris)
Starring: Robert Englund, Brad Pitt, Lori Petty, Jeffrey Combs, George Lazenby
What’s the story? Okay, this is a TV series, but given that it’s a spin-off from a high-profile film franchise (A Nightmare On Elm Street, if you need telling) we’re allowing it. An anthology horror show, it ran for 44 episodes, each introduced and wrapped up by Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. Occasionally he was actually in the stories too, most notably Tobe Hooper’s pilot, which gives us the Krueger back-story and trial.
What’s the problem? Not enough people want it: Elm Street die-hards alone do not have the numbers to make a remastered disc release worthwhile, which seems unfair when you can get the entire Friday The 13th show. Eight VHS tapes were released (containing 16 episodes between them), and Warner Bros. released the first DVD in an intended set in 2003. But nobody bought it, so the vast majority of Freddy’s nightmares remain in the basement, which is probably a relief to Brad Pitt and all the others who made early-career appearances. You can see a couple of episodes as extras on the Elm Street Blu-ray box set.
The Great Gatsby (1949)
Director: Elliott Nugent
Starring: Alan Ladd, Betty Field, Ruth Hussey, Shelley Winters
What’s the story? The second film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, and the first sound version (sadly the silent one is lost). Ladd is Gatsby, and had planned to direct until he fell out with studio Paramount over the rest of the casting. Richard Maibaum, who went on to pen loads of the James Bond films, wrote the screenplay.
What’s the problem? The 1974 Robert Redford version got a bit of a revival in the wake of Baz Luhrmann’s recent film, but nobody much talked about this one. It plays pretty fast and loose with the book, which has irked some viewers, and Paramount actually withdrew it when the Redford version happened. It occasionally surfaces on YouTube, with some presuming it might now be in the public domain. A spiffy new “preservation print” was created for a Film Noir festival in 2012, so there is a decent new copy out there, but there are still no plans to release it widely.
Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)
Director: Tom Schiller
Starring: Zach Galligan, Lauren Tom, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd
What’s the story? A prolific director of shorts for Saturday Night Live, Tom Schiller moved into features here, bringing several SNL alumni with him. It has still never been released and Schiller never directed a feature again. It revolves around Galligan living in a dystopian New York controlled by the Port Authority. He stumbles upon an underground network of tramps who secretly rule the world, and gets sent on a mission to the Moon in a bus with Bill Murray. John Belushi would also have been a part of the madness, but tragically died just a few weeks before filming started.
What’s the problem? Perhaps nervous about potentially having another 1941 on their hands (the notorious Spielberg misfire starring many of the same people), Warner Bros. pulled Nothing Lasts Forever from its release slot and never showed it anywhere. These days it has “cult classic” written all over it, but it remains unavailable, Warners claim, due to unspecified rights problems. It was finally shown on TCM at the start of this year, and Murray and Aykroyd have both said they’re up for making some DVD extras. But the studio line remains that it’s a long way down their priority list.
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jayce Bartok, Giovanni Ribisi, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn
What’s the story? Linklater’s fifth film, made the year after Before Sunrise, is based on the play by Eric Bogosian; Bogosian also wrote the script. A kind of slacker reworking of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, it revolves a round a Gen-X gang of friends who hang out at their local convenience store and occasionally hassle the clerk. One of their former number who’s since gone off and become a rock star, comes back to visit. Souls are searched.
What’s the problem? Warner Bros. had this on their DVD schedule back in 2007, but it never materialised. The soundtrack is the likely culprit: a DVD or a Blu-ray would involve making costly new payments to the likes of Sonic Youth, Beck, Ministry, The Flaming Lips, Skinny Puppy and Meat Puppets. So you can’t get a disc, but the film does sporadically show up on streaming platforms.
Director: Phil Karlson
Starring: Lee Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O’Connell
What’s the story? You know the Michael Jackson song about the boy and his rat? It comes from this, the sequel to 1971 horror hit Willard. Having had enough of his former master by the end of the last film, giant rat Ben and his swarm befriend young Danny Garrison. And it’s all fun and games until people start getting gnawed in the face.
What’s the problem? Rights issues around production company Bing Crosby Productions (no, really: Bing Crosby financed a rat horror). Very few BCP films are widely available anymore: even the original Willard seems only to be for sale in Spain. The excellent remake with Crispin Glover, however, is easy to get hold of (Glover even sings Ben over the end credits). The producers of the new version got around the rights issue by making clear it was a completely new adaptation of Stephen Gilbert’s novel Ratman’s Notebooks. Calling it Willard again wasn’t a problem because it’s just the name of the main character.
Dream Demon (1988)
Director: Harley Cokliss
Starring: Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, Timothy Spall, Jimmy Nail
What’s the story? A British horror roughly contemporary with the likes of Hellraiser and Paperhouse. On VHS, this sat in the Palace Horror series alongside The Hills Have Eyes, Basket Case and The Evil Dead, but it hasn’t had the afterlife of any of those things. Upper class English rose Redgrave and spikey American goth Wilhoite find themselves linked by a house: Wilhoite through a pre-adoption childhood she can’t remember, and Redgrave by the nightmares the house is giving her. Spall and Nail are muckraking tabloid journalists who get sucked into the layers of surreal dreams that the women battle through. It's like Inception, if Inception had a zombie Spall getting punched right through the head.
What’s the problem? Likely due to the bankruptcy of Palace Pictures. Palace only had distribution rights to a lot of their hit titles (like the aforementioned Evil Dead and Hills Have Eyes) which is why they’re still available with no problem, having been picked up again by others. But Dream Demon was actually produced by Palace and three other companies that no longer exist either. This explains the probably baffling ownership tangle.
Naked Tango (1991)
Director: Leonard Schrader
Starring: Vincent D’Onofrio, Mathilda May, Esai Morales, Fernando Rey
What’s the story? Schrader (Paul’s older brother) wrote the screenplay for Kiss Of The Spider Woman, based on the novel by Manuel Puig. Six years later, he was “inspired” by Puig to write and direct this steamy melodrama. May plays a French trophy wife in 1920s Argentina. She runs away, but gets dragged into an obsessive relationship with gangster/pimp Cholo (D’Onofrio), centred mostly on dancing, with an occasional bit of violence for that extra frisson. Sometimes they dance with knives. One time they dance in an abattoir. One time she’s naked – hence the name. There’s a sex scene where May is lying on fifty shades of broken glass. It’s intense.
What’s the problem? Probably rights again. New Line picked up the distribution in the US, and Warners did the VHS. But there were at least six production companies involved in the film’s creation, most of which never made anything again.
A Fistful of Fingers (1995)
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Graham Low, Oli van der Vijver, Nicola Stapleton, Jeremy Beadle
What’s the story? Five years before Spaced and a decade before Shaun Of The Dead, Edgar Wright made a comedy Western. In fact he made it twice, but this was the version that got released. We gave it one star (sorry Edgar!) but the joke everybody likes and remembers is the shoot-out with pointed fingers instead of guns. That schtick would resurface in Wright’s oeuvre…
What’s the problem? After Shaun, Wright was approached by Fistful’s distributors about a DVD, but nothing ever came of the discussions. Wright seems simultaneously embarrassed by his amateur cult classic, and up for doing some sort of release with a lot of “pretty darn silly extras” and “very daft commentaries”. Extras cost money, so maybe that’s the sticking point. Wright wants any disc release to have explanatory context. Who’s going to pay for that?
As a side note, Wright’s even earlier Rolf Harris Saves The World was never released by anybody. And you’d have to say it still looks unlikely.