Development hell is the bane of many a filmmaker's existence. Referring to a project that has been cooking up for so long that it is unlikely it will ever see the light of day, this is the thing that allows outlets to write about a new Guillermo del Toro project every couple of weeks, even though many of those films haven't yet gone into production.
Indeed, every filmmaker, especially big ones, has had more than their fair share of projects trapped in development hell or outright canceled. Take Sam Raimi, a man who revolutionized both horror and superhero blockbusters with "Evil Dead" and "Spider-Man" respectively. Despite huge successes, he's had just as many projects drastically altered or canceled along the way.
With "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" marking Raimi's return not only to superhero movies, but his first feature film in nine years, we're taking a trip down memory lane with a few of the movies Raimi almost directed.
Sam Raimi signed on to direct a movie based on "World of Warcraft" in 2009, but departed the project by 2012, citing scheduling issues and game publisher Blizzard not wanting to wait any longer, but that's not the whole story.
Speaking with Vulture in 2013, Raimi said he didn't like the script he was handed that was written by the folks at Blizzard. Instead, he chose to write an entirely original story with "Saving Private Ryan" screenwriter Robert Rodat. "We pitched it to Legendary and they accepted it, and then we pitched it to Blizzard, and they had reservations, but they accepted it," Raimi said. "Then Robert wrote the screenplay, and only once he was done did we realize that Blizzard had veto power, and we didn't know that. And they had never quite approved the original story we pitched them."
According to Raimi, by the time Rodat started again, Blizzard was out of patience, and they decided to go in a different direction. Though it is unclear what script he was working with at the beginning, Jones also had reservations about the "Warcraft" script. "It was the stale fantasy trope of, humans are the good guys, monsters are the bad guys," Jones told The New York Times when the film finally came out. "It just didn't capture in my gut what made Warcraft, the idea of heroes being on both sides." The final film was not based on "World of Warcraft," but on its prequel game, simply titled "Warcraft," and the film was a commercial disappointment.
What is interesting is how active Blizzard was in the development, at least at first. Nowadays, fans are much more vocal about films being faithful to the source material, and just look at how big of a hit "Arcane" was, and that TV show is made in-house by the game publisher. Though it is debatable whether the original plan with the script Blizzard had in mind would have been better, it's still interesting how much the subsequent filmmakers who joined the project wanted to stray away from it, and how little the final film resembled "World of Warcraft."
Though he made one of the most influential superhero movies of all time, Raimi could have given us a vastly different Marvel movie years earlier — a "Thor" movie. Back in 2018, Raimi told the tale of his first meeting with comics legend Stan Lee:
"After I did Darkman, Stan Lee called me and was like, 'Hey, kid, I liked your movie.' He took me out to lunch and said we should work together. I said I'd like to make a movie about Thor. We worked together writing treatments and took it to Fox and pitched it. And they said, "Absolutely no. Comic books don't make good movies."
This was in 1991, under a vastly different superhero movie landscape. After all, this was before "Blade" became a huge hit, and after "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" killed the Man of Steel's film franchise (temporarily). Still, that a studio would outright refuse a pitch for a superhero movie seems ludicrous today.
Though it is hard to imagine what a Raimi-directed "Thor" movie would look like, it isn't hard to imagine it being closer to the original comics and to the spirit of his "Spider-Man" movies than the MCU take on the character. For one, it's likely Raimi would have included Thor's alter-ego, Donald Blake, which was Thor's reincarnation on Earth without his powers or memories. This reincarnation was actually a construct by Odin to make Thor learn sympathy for the sick and weak. Just as Raimi's "Spider-Man" balanced superheroics with the drama of living a double life, a movie about Thor could have made for interesting drama about living as both a normal man and a god.
World War III
In 2016, Raimi signed on to direct what at first glance seems like a pretty ill-advised movie. Based on George Friedman's non-fiction bestselling novel, "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century," Raimi was going to make a movie titled "World War III" about, you guessed it, a third world war.
The book is written as a history text book for speculative future history, with events such as a second cold war with Russia and China that leave them fragmented and weakened, and Turkey and Japan becoming superpowers, then attacking the United States to trigger a third world war by 2050. Not only that, but the war is supposedly going to be fought mostly in space, with dominion over military bases on the Moon being a key theater for the war.
There is rather little information about Raimi's involvement and the big screen adaptation, which is probably for the better. Even back then, before an actual war on Europe broke out, the idea of watching a movie that is supposed to feel realistic and predicts another world war that devastates the world feels very stupid. If you want a movie about a futuristic war with bases on the Moon, just watch the surprisingly entertaining "Moonfall." And if you want a realistic show about space and history, but which is safely and clearly meant to be fiction, "For All Mankind" is the show for you.
Fine, this is the one we've all followed closely for years, arguably Raimi's most famous project that never was. Despite the critical failure of "Spider-Man 3," it made enough money that Sony was still going ahead with a fourth film, announced already in 2008. "Spider-Man 4" was supposed to add a bunch of new characters, including one of Raimi's favorite villains, Vulture (to be played by John Malkovich). He was originally going to appear in the third film before the studio pushed for Venom instead. Anne Hathaway was also going to play Black cat.
Then there's the detail that makes the loss of this movie all the sadder. Back in 2016 concept artist Jeffrey Henderson posted a bunch of concept art of the movie, including the storyboards of a planned montage with villains "we knew would never be used as main antagonists." One of those villains? Mysterio (you know, the main villain of "Far From Home") to be played by none other than Raimi's frequent cameo artist Bruce Campbell. The scene was also meant to include Shocker, Prowler and Rhino.
By 2013, Raimi blamed himself for the cancellation of the film, saying he simply didn't have a script he was happy with in time to start production. In the end, he went to Sony directly and told them to just go ahead with their planned reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man" and continue without him, and that's the last we've heard from his version of the wall-crawler.
But wait! Earlier this year, Raimi gave a sliver of hope to fans. When asked about how "No Way Home" opened the door for Tobey Maguire to return as Spider-Man and future stories starring him, Raimi had this to say:
"I've come to realize after making 'Doctor Strange' that anything is possible, really anything in the Marvel universe, any team-ups. I love Tobey. I love Kirsten Dunst. I think all things are possible. I don't really have a story or a plan. I don't know if Marvel would be interested in that right now. I don't know what their thoughts are about that. I haven't really pursued that. But it sounds beautiful."
Kazorn And The Unicorn Animated Film At Sony
In 2012 Raimi became attached to an animated film titled "Kazorn & the Unicorn" to be co-directed by Troy Quane and Kelly Asbury ("Shrek 2"). The film was described as following "the adventures of a young man and a unicorn as he seeks to locate a powerful weapon and prove his worth to his true love."
Sadly, the project never really moved forward publicly, with Sony Pictures Animation barely adding a section about the film to the website for a bit before taking it down quietly. Still, the premise sounds interesting, and more importantly, concept artist Nikolas Ilic has posted some art for the film, teasing a Genndy Tartakovsky-like adventure with a mix of 2D and 3D characters.
Sadly, Sony Pictures Animation has a rather long list of unmade films that sounded or looked interesting, many with acclaimed and well-known filmmakers. From Jon Favreau's pre-"Iron Man" animated film "Neanderthals," to an R-rated project produced by Robert Zemeckis about killer garden gnomes, to a CG/live-action "Alf" movie, to Tartakovsky's notoriously cancelled "Popeye" film -- which had test animation that looks better than many animated movies today.
Somehow, there are still not one or two, but three different movies about the Bermuda Triangle in development at three different studios. In 2015, Skydance tapped Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (the team that wrote "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") to rewrite an original script by "Friday the 13th" reboot writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift about the infamous Bermuda Triangle. By 2017, Raimi had signed on to direct the movie, which was being described as a "mystery thriller." The film even tapped Ryan Reynolds to star at one point.
Though we do not know what Miro and Bernard's script is about, it can't possibly be weirder or better than the 1978 film "The Bermuda Triangle," which is a "Final Destination" style film in which a ship crew searches the remains of Atlantis in the triangle, and a girl gets possessed by a doll and tells everyone the order in which they'll die.
Funny enough, though Raimi is no longer attached to the project, this one is still alive and well. Even funnier is that this one has a connection to "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," with Raimi being replaced by Scott Derrickson, whom Raimi replaced as director for the upcoming Marvel movie. As of 2020, the film is still in development, with Chris Evans possibly starring too.
The Last Of Us
Back in 2014, less than a year after the game came out, Screen Gems announced a movie version of "The Last of Us," with creative director of the game, Neil Druckmann, writing, and Sam Raimi producing. That film was even going to possibly star "Game of Thrones" star Maisie Williams as Ellie, the young co-protagonist of the game.
Sadly, this never came to be, with the film getting trapped in development hell until Craig Mazin came on board to make it a TV show for HBO in 2020. Last year, Druckmann revealed the film fell apart due to the studio wanting a big action movie. "When I worked on the movie version, a lot of the thinking and notes were like 'how do we make it bigger? How do we make the set pieces bigger?'" Druckmann said. "It didn't work for 'The Last of Us' and I think that's ultimately why the movie wasn't made."
This is quite unfortunate to hear, if not really surprising. "The Last of Us" and its sequel are two of the best games of the past decade, but the series is not a shoot-out fest. Instead, it is more of a survival thriller with a focus on stealth, and an intricate and emotionally complex story without that much room for big action set pieces.
In any case, it seems Raimi departed the project as it transitioned to being a TV show. Luckily, the project is still on track, even if it may take a little while.
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