Director David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) announced just recently that his next project after his movie about Facebook, The Social Network, would be an English-language version of the best-selling novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's not really clear why he's tackling it—the Swedish-language movie out now is pretty great—but the sad news is that it takes Fincher further away from an adaptation he's been attached to for years, of Arthur C. Clarke's acclaimed science fiction novel Rendezvous With Rama.
This is not the first Fincher project to fall by the wayside—he was also supposed to adapt the graphic novels Black Hole and Torso—and it certainly won't be the last. But Fincher is just one of many filmmakers who have acquired or been brought onto projects with much fanfare, only for them to get lost in that famous Hollywood limbo known as "development hell."
There's a lot of reasons why that happens, and as David Hughes points out in his entertaining book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, it's been going on for decades. Remember Steven Spielberg's "bad aliens" film, Night Skies, or James Cameron's epic version of Spider-Man? Neither do we. But those and many others were all scheduled to be made at some point before the director lost interest, the studio got cold feet or the thing just generally fell apart.
So here's a look at 10 projects that have all been announced in the last decade, making fans giddy with delight, but have yet to show up at a multiplex near you. Some of them might still make it, while others are either dead or barely breathing. Each is interesting in its own way, and some—let's face it—could have been freakin' awesome. (This list is not comprehensive; are there projects you've been hoping would make it to the silver screen?)
Rendezvous With Rama
Synopsis: The crew of an Earth spaceship is sent to explore a gigantic alien vessel that has entered our solar system, its purpose and origin unknown.
Director/filmmaker: David Fincher
First proposed: Morgan Freeman's production company began developing an adaptation of Clarke's novel in the early '00s, with Fincher attached to direct.
Status: Funding difficulties have brought the project to a standstill in recent years, with Fincher himself saying in 2008 it was unlikely to happen. Looks like that recent fan-made trailer (above) is about as close as we'll get.
At the Mountains of Madness
Synopsis: Based on one of H.P. Lovecraft's greatest works, Mountains recounts the story of an expedition to Antarctica that finds terrifying evidence—both dead and alive—of an ancient, non-human civilization.
Director/filmmaker: Guillermo del Toro
First proposed: Del Toro announced that he wanted to do the movie and had written a screenplay in 2006.
Status: Del Toro has had trouble getting the project funded by both Warner Brothers and Universal, and with the next several years of his life dedicated to The Hobbit, there's no telling when it might happen. But he apparently still wants to make this—and we hope he does one day.
Synopsis: Based on the cult TV series, the movie centers on a retired government agent with too much information in his head who is kidnapped and sent to a resort-like prison. Renamed "Number Six," he is psychologically and physically tormented by a series of "Number Twos" who want to know why he resigned.
Director/filmmaker: Christopher Nolan
First proposed: Announced in 2006 as a possible vehicle for Nolan, to be tackled after The Dark Knight.
Status: Probably dead at this point. Nolan went on to make Inception and has Batman 3 in his sights, while the property was turned into a crappy AMC miniseries last fall. Too bad, since its surreal nature and themes of loss of individualism and totalitarianism would land right in Nolan's sweet spot.
Synopsis: Giant alien ships appear above Earth, piloted by aliens who gently guide humanity into a Utopian existence. They also look like Satan, which has left a lingering bad taste in our collective race memory. And, yes, they have a secret purpose too.
Director/filmmaker: Kimberly Peirce
First proposed: Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) first announced her intention to make the picture in a January 2008 interview with MTV.
Status: Not clear. Peirce told MTV she has written a script, but little has been said about the project since, and her IMDB page doesn't currently list it—not a good sign. It's also not mentioned on her own website.
Synopsis: The ghostbusters return for, uh, more ghostbusting. But will it be the old team or a new one? And will Venkman (Bill Murray) himself be a ghost?
Director/filmmaker: Ivan Reitman
First proposed: Dan Aykroyd has kicked around ideas for a third film since the '90s, at least.
Status: A second draft of the screenplay is reportedly in the works from writer Lee Eisenberg, and Harold Ramis recently predicted a Christmas 2012 release. But Murray seems to have little enthusiasm for the project, to say the least.
Creature From the Black Lagoon
Synopsis: A scientific expedition into the Amazon discovers a still-living prehistoric creature that is the missing link between reptile and humanoid.
Director/filmmaker: Guillermo del Toro, Breck Eisner, Carl Rinsch ...
First proposed: A remake of the classic 1954 Universal Pictures monster movie has been in development for years (del Toro wanted to make it at one point), but it got a little closer to reality in 2005 when Breck Eisner (The Crazies) signed on to direct.
Status: Eisner left the project a few months back, and Carl Rinsch—a protege of Ridley Scott who was briefly linked to the Alien prequel—is now in talks to take over. A script by Gary Ross exists as well, so we may yet see this one by 2012. (In 3-D, like the original?)
Evil Dead IV
Synopsis: No story has been announced, but we figure it will have something to do with Ash (Bruce Campbell) fighting the Deadites. Again.
Director/filmmaker: Sam Raimi
First proposed: Fans have clamored for a fourth Evil Dead film for years, but Raimi officially floated the possibility in 2007, when he was readying Spider-Man 3 for release.
Status: As late as 2009, Raimi said he and his brother Ivan were still working on a script for Evil Dead IV. But with Raimi now out of the Spider-Man business and developing a movie based on World of Warcraft, who knows when Ash might return?
Batman vs. Superman
Synopsis: A retired Bruce Wayne seeks revenge after the Joker kiils his fiancee, only to be stopped by Superman. That turns the two close friends into enemies, until they learn it's all a plot hatched by Lex Luthor to make them destroy each other.
Director/filmmaker: Wolfgang Petersen
First proposed: Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) first pitched this idea to Warner Brothers in summer 2001, with the studio seeing it as a way to resurrect both of their top superhero franchises.
Status: Once fast-tracked for a 2004 release, this project fell apart after Petersen (Troy) left, and the studio decided to reboot Batman on his own. Could we ever see it reactivated? Well, with Christoper Nolan in control of the Batman franchise and overseeing the next relaunch of Superman, anything's possible ... (According to the movie I Am Legend, above, the movie was made before the vampire apocalypse ... )
The Stars My Destination
Synopsis: Gully Foyle, the lone survivor of a wrecked spacecraft, becomes intent on revenge when a passing ship ignores his distress signal. He ultimately stumbles upon something that will change history.
First proposed: Universal Pictures announced that it had acquired the rights to Alfred Bester's classic SF novel in March 2006.
Status: Listed as "still in development." We might make it to the stars ourselves by the time this flick gets made.
Synopsis: On the mysterious planet Hyperion, seven pilgrims must evade the horrifying creature known as the Shrike and unlock the secrets of the Time Tombs—sent, like the Shrike, from the distant future—in an effort to stop man's galactic empire from being destroyed by a savage offshoot race that dwells in deep space.
Director/filmmaker: Scott Derrickson
First proposed: Hyperion, the first of a four-book cycle by writer Dan Simmons, was optioned by Warner in early 2008.
Status: Screenwriter Trevor Sands is reportedly adapting both Hyperion and the second book, The Fall of Hyperion, into one massive film, with Derrickson (The Day the Earth Stood Still) still attached to direct. Good luck with that—the Hyperion saga is one of the most dense and complicated sci-fi epics of the last 25 years.
(Also check out our companion list of the 7 'unfilmable' sci-fi books—and the filmmakers who could adapt them.)