Steven Spielberg's Interstellar?! The 19 Films He Nearly Made

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Like recreational drugs and photobombing red carpets, guessing what Steven Spielberg’s next film will be is one of Hollywood’s favourite pasttimes. With the news that he will be directing Roald Dahl’s The BFG in early 2015 (possibly slipping in an untitled Tom Hanks thriller about an attorney enlisted by the CIA to negotiate the release of a U2 pilot during the Cold War before that), it now leaves a lot of rumoured Next Steven Spielberg Films in limbo. There's his long gestating adaptation of sci-fi novel Robopocalypse, the historical biopic Montezuma (about Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes), religious drama The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara (the true-life story of an Italian Jew who in 1858 was removed from his parents by the Papal States and raised as a Catholic) and a remake of West Side Story.

Over the years, the director has circled and dallied with a multitude of projects — some genuine, some seemingly journalistic inventions (i.e. Angels And Demons) — that for whatever reason didn’t end up on his resume. Here are some of the notable Spielberg projects that went MIA.

White Lightning

When did Spielberg consider it? 1973

Following his TV movies Duel and Something Evil, Spielberg’s debut feature film was initially set to be McKlusky, a Burt Reynolds car chase picture. The director had started casting and location scouting in the South until he realised he didn’t want to make this as a debut. “I didn’t want to start my career as a hard-hat, journeyman director,” he said. “I wanted to do something a little more personal.”

Did it happen? Yes, it was made by Joseph Sargent as White Lightning and started a run of Burt Reynolds “Good ol' boy” films. A sequel, Gator, followed.

Made instead: The Sugarland Express

Flushed With Pride: The Story Of Thomas Crapper

When did Spielberg consider it? circa 1973

Spielberg asked American Graffiti writers Willard Hyuck and Gloria Katz to adapt the biography (by Wallace Reyburn) of Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the toilet. The pair came up with the idea of doing it like Little Big Man. But when Spielberg presented the bad taste concept to his agent, “Steve, if this is the kind of movie you want to do, I don’t want to be your agent.”

Did it happen?
No. But at least Spielberg eventually made Hook, a film about a different Pan.

Made instead: Jaws

The Taking Of Pelham 123

When did Spielberg consider it? 1974

After Spielberg completed The Sugarland Express, he was keen on Peter Stone’s hijacking-of-a-New-York-subway-train suspenser, based on the novel by John Godey. While United Artists exec David Picker saw Spielberg’s immense talent in Sugarland, he thought that Pelham 1-2-3 was “director proof” so wanted to save Spielberg for something else. At this time, Spielberg also turned down MacArthur, a biopic of WWII General Douglas MacArthur.

Did it happen?
Yes. Directed by Joseph Sargent (who seemed to be going through a phase picking of Spielberg hand-me-downs), it starred Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw and became a cool-as-fuck ‘70s thriller. An inferior Tony Scott-Denzel Washington-John Travolta remake followed.

Made instead: Jaws

Lucky Lady

When did Spielberg consider it? 1975

During Jaws’ pre-production, Spielberg gave serious attention to a Willard Hyuck and Gloria Katz script called Lucky Lady, a knockabout romp about 1930s rum-runners. Paul Newman was keen for Spielberg to direct, but Universal wouldn’t let the director out of his commitment to Jaws.

Did it happen?
Yes. Eventually starring Gene Hackman, Liza Minelli and Burt Reynolds, Lucky Lady, directed by musicals maestro Stanley Donen, was a creative and box office disaster, dubbed by Katz, “an appalling movie.”

Made instead: Jaws


When did Spielberg consider it? 1978

Post-Close Encounters, Spielberg got interested in William Goldman’s novel Magic, a chilling little tale about a ventriloquist controlled by his dummy. The director had even gone as far as talking to Robert De Niro about playing the lead. Spielberg also nearly directed The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars And Motor Kings but dropped out over delays due to Jaws’ extended post production. John Badham eventually directed.

Did it happen?
Yes. Directed by Richard Attenborough (who would play a pivotal role in Spielberg Jurassic Park flicks) and Anthony Hopkins (who would portray President John Adams in Amistad), Magic turned out to be a creepy little corker. Spielberg later said that Attenborough’s film “was a hell of a lot better than I would have done.”

Made instead: 1941

Steven Spielberg

When did Spielberg consider it? 1981

Before taking E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial to Universal, Spielberg tried to sell the studio on the idea of a musical he developed with writer Gary David Goldberg, best known for creating Family Ties and Spin City. The musical was described in Variety as “a semi-autobiographical story….about a young director making his first movie” and Spielberg worked on the movie with Goldberg during downtime on Raiders in London. Eventually, Universal declined and decided to go with the little alien story instead.

Did it happen?
No, but Spielberg did plough his passion for musicals into the opening of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom.

Made instead: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

When did Spielberg consider it? 1982

During his research for Close Encounters (pictured above), Spielberg unearthed the story of the Sutton family who reported sightings of aliens and lights in the sky above their farmhouse in Kentucky. Perhaps putting the movie into development to stave off studio (Columbia) pressure for a Close Encounters sequel, Spielberg hired John Sayles to flesh out the story. Sayles turned into a very un-Spielberg like story of marauding aliens, unable to decide whether cattle or humans are the dominant life-forms, who begin conducting experiments on a terrified hick family. The project hit a stumbling block, first in the creation of expensive alien effects that made the studio baulk and, more importantly, a change of heart from the director who, alone in the desert making Raiders Of The Lost Ark, was looking for something more benign and spiritual.

Did it happen?
No. Night Skies concluded with the single friendly alien Buddee left injured on Earth. This idea, as rewritten by Melissa Mathison, became the opening of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which went onto win four Academy Awards and spent eleven years as the highest grossing film of all time. The horror elements of Night Skies turned up in 1982s Poltergeist and 1984s Gremlins. Spielberg later turned to direct a more malevolent form of E.T. in War Of The Worlds in 2005.

Made instead: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

When did Spielberg consider it? 1983

Perhaps unsurprisingly given its box-office gross, Spielberg briefly considered following up his boy-and-his-alien classic. Set a few months after the events of the original, evil carnivorous, albino aliens attack Elliott and friends, and E.T., whose species has been at war with the baddie aliens for decades, returns to save the day. Happily, Spielberg quickly saw sense and dropped it.

Did it happen?
Hell will freeze over before this happens.

Made instead: The E.T. Ride at Universal studios.

Rain Man

When did Spielberg consider it? 1989

In 1987, Spielberg worked for several months with Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise and screenwriter Ronald Bass on the screenplay for Rain Man, the story of an autistic savant (Hoffman) and his relationship with his brother (Cruise) on a road trip to Los Angeles. Bass would later acknowledge the extent of Spielberg’s contribution to the project, something not reflected in the film’s awards glory.

Did it happen?
Yes, Barry Levinson took over and directed the film to Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hoffman) and Screenplay. At the time, Spielberg felt the finished film was “emotionally very distancing. I think I certainly would have pulled more tears out of a rather dry movie.” He later realised his dream, conceived when he first saw The Graduate, to work with Dustin Hoffman on Hook.

Made instead: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Cape Fear

When did Spielberg consider it? 1991

Spielberg planned a straightforward remake of J. Lee Thompson’s thriller about a convict Max Cady (Robert Mitchum in the original) who torments the hell out of his defence lawyer Max Bowden (Gregory Peck) and family. It was Spielberg’s intention to cast Robert De Niro as Cady, but he let the project go to pursue Schindler’s List.

Did it happen?
Yes. Martin Scorsese — who Spielberg once approached to direct Schindler’s List — directed the film for Spileberg’s Amblin. Pitching De Niro against Nick Nolte, the film turned into a typical Scorsese project, full of twisted sexuality (thumb-sucking), religious imagery and over the top style.

Made instead: Schindler’s List

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

When did Spielberg consider it? 1991

Spielberg was initially attached to direct the F. Scott Fitzgerald novella about a man who grows young, with Tom Cruise in the title role. “Tom and I had been friends for many, many years. We had considered working together. Benjamin Button, we had talked about maybe doing together, long before Minority Report. But nothing quite gelled for either of us.” Prior to Minority Report, the pair also tried to get Western Arkansas off the ground.

Did it happen?
Yes. David Fincher directed the Oscar nominated film in 2008 starring Brad Pitt. It was produced by Spielberg’s longtime producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.

Made instead: Hook

Memoirs Of A Geisha premiere

When did Spielberg consider it? 1998

Spielberg had intended to follow Saving Private Ryan with an adaptation of Arthur Golden’s novel about a coming-of-age geisha, to be shot in Japanese in Japan. The project didn’t happen with Spielberg directing, with DreamWorks co-partner David Geffen reputedly saying, “I don’t think it is good enough for him.”

Did it happen?
Yes. Spielberg remained as a producer on the 2005 film, directed by Rob Marshall and starring Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh. Spielberg’s resident composer John Williams created the (beautiful) score, perhaps giving some feeling of what Spielberg’s version might have been like.

Made instead: A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

When did Spielberg consider it? 2001

After Warner Bros. secured the rights to the (then) four Harry Potter novels (it was about to blow up huge at this point), then-president Alan Horn offered the idea to Spielberg to direct. According to Horn, Spielberg wanted to combine two of the books and do the project as computer animated movie, an idea WB (and JK Rowling) resisted. Other sources suggest Spielberg turned it down because it lacked a challenge. "I just felt that I wasn't ready to make an all-kids movie and my kids thought I was crazy,” Spielberg told the BBC. “And the books were by that time popular, so when I dropped out, I knew it was going to be a phenomenon. But, you know I don't make movies because they're gonna to be phenomenons. I make movies because they have to touch me in a way that really commits me to a year, two years, three years of work."

Did it happen?
8 films. 4 directors (Chris Columbus. Alfonso Cuaron. Mike Newell. David Yates). Worth $21 billion in movie ticket sales, TV rights, home entertainment sales and merchandising revenue.

Made instead: A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Big Fish

When did Spielberg consider it?** **2003

“Spielberg hooks Big Fish” ran the headlines as the director landed (we’ll stop now) John August’s screenplay, based on Daniel Wallace’s novel, about the relationship between a travelling salesman, Edward Bloom, renowned for telling huge, colourful, patently untrue stories, and his estranged son, who tries to sort fact from fiction. Spielberg reputedly considered Jack Nicholson for the role of Edward.

Did it happen?
Yep. Tim Burton directed the family fantasy with Albert Finney as older Edward and Ewan McGregor playing the younger Edward in fantasy sequences. The film was produced by Spielberg’s first features producer, Richard Zanuck.

*Made instead: *Minority Report

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

When did Spielberg consider it? 2003

In 2003, Spielberg eyed adapting James Thurber’s short story with Jim Carrey as the timid dreamer with a hyper-active imagination (Spielberg and Carrey had also considered Meet The Parents together).

Did it happen?
After going through Mean Girls’ Mark Waters and Pirates’ Gore Verbinski, Ben Stiller directed and starred.

Made instead: War Of The Worlds

The Rivals

When did Spielberg consider it? 2004

Based on a screenplay by Robin Swicord, the writer of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and Memoirs Of A Geisha, The Rivals detailed the, er, rivalry between 19th Century actresses Sarah Bernhardt and the upstart Eleonara Duse, to the extent that both actresses would play the same part on the same night so that critics could compare. Spielberg eyed Nicole Kidman as Bernhardt and Gwyneth Paltrow, who briefly appeared in Hook and who is the director’s goddaughter, for the lead roles, but the project failed to materialise.

Did it happen?
Not yet. Sounds great.

Made instead: The Terminal

Christopher Nolan

When did Spielberg consider it? 2007

Spielberg’s father Arnold was an amateur astrophysicist, so Spielberg had a personal interest in the scriptment by Cal Tech physicist Kip S. Thorne about a group of explorers who travel through a wormhole into another dimension. Jonah Nolan was hired to write the screenplay before the project fell into the black void of development hell.

Did it happen?
Nope. Not yet. Will probably never ha….Sorry, Christopher who? Oh. It’s out from Christopher Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, on November 7.

Made instead: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

When did Spielberg consider it? 2008

It sounded like the dream team. Steven Spielberg and The West Wing / The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin dramatizing the trial of seven protesters against the Lyndon B. Johnson administration whose clashes with police and subsequent court case became a cause celebre in 1968. The film got as far as casting, with Sacha Baron Cohen as ringleader Abbie Hoffman, Will Smith as Black Panther activist Booby Seale as well as Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Taye Diggs, Alan Arkin and Kevin Spacey. Yet the 2008 SAG actors strike put the project on hold and Spielberg subsequently moved on, also flirting with remakes of OldBoy and James Stewart imaginary rabbit flick Harvey.

Did it happen?
Not yet, but Ben Stiller and Paul Greengrass have been linked to it since.

Made instead: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull/The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

American Sniper

When did Spielberg consider it? 2013

Post Lincoln, rumours to Spielberg’s next projects ran from an adaptation of John Wyndham’s Chocky (a tale of a boy who appears to have an imaginary friend but is actually taken over by an alien) to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Lattitudes to The Grapes Of Wrath. In May 2013, it was announced that Spielberg would be directing American Sniper, the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL with over 150 kills, with Bradley Cooper as Kyle. In August, Spielberg dropped out of the project.

Did it happen?
Yes, with Clint Eastwood directing Cooper and Sienna Miller. It’s due in 2015.

Made instead: It's looking like the Tom Hanks cold war thriller, followed by Roald Dahl's The BFG.