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Development hell


Development hell

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Development hell is media-industry jargon for a movie, television screenplay or computer game (or sometimes just a concept or idea) getting stuck in development and never going into production.

In the case of a movie or television screenplay, the screenwriter may have successfully sold a screenplay to a certain set of producers or studio executives, but then the executives in charge change, and these new people raise objections to all the scripts and casting decisions they oversee, mandating rewrites and recasting. As a director and actors become "attached" to the project, further rewrites and recasting may be done in order to accommodate the needs of the new talents involved in the project. Should the project fail to meet their needs, they might leave the project or simply refuse to complete it, causing further rewrites and recasting. Worse still is when a finished project (for example, a television pilot) is sent back for rewrites and recasting, which can often force a project to begin again from scratch. This process can last for months or years, and a project trapped in this state will more often than not be abandoned by all interested parties or cancelled outright. This process is not naturally an element of filmmaking. Many times, this "Hell" occurs simply due to the lack of foresight and competing visions of those parties involved. This revolving door in the film industry happens most commonly with projects that, to some, may have multiple interpretations and affect several points of view.



Sometimes the delayed development of a films pays off, read below for examples:

1000 Days

Sergio Leone intended to reunite with his Once Upon a Time in America star Robert De Niro for this $70 million epic about the Siege of Leningrad, but died before he could film it.

Alien vs. Predator

Based on Alien vs. Predator, Peter Briggs wrote a script for this movie in 1990. Paul W. S. Anderson was eventually hired to write and direct the movie, which was released in 2004, and though it debuted #1 at the box office the film was panned by critics and fans alike.


For years, the classic example of a film in development hell, the third film in the popular Alien series had a tumultuous production history. After the success of the 1986 film Aliens, 20th Century Fox immediately commissioned a sequel. No less than eight writers contributed scripts focusing on different characters in the series, as actress Sigourney Weaver expressed hesitation to return for a third film. When Weaver finally agreed to return, acclaimed director Vincent Ward joined the production to write and direct. However, shortly before filming began, the producers fired Ward over story disputes and replaced him with first-time director David Fincher. With a start date pending, screenwriters Walter Hill and David Giler struggled to re-write the script to utilize the partially constructed sets and costumes, as well as David Fincher's vision of a dark, nihilistic story. Ultimately, filming began without a finished script, resulting in major re-shoots to accommodate story changes. The budget spiraled from forty-five to sixty-five million dollars, and Fincher quit and disowned the film during post-production. The result was a commercially disappointing and critical bomb which alienated many fans of the series.

Basic Instinct 2

The film had been in "development hell" for the better part of a decade. In 2000, the sequel was announced to be a March 2002 release. However casting for the male lead was long and troublesome, with male actors declining the role perhaps because of the level of nudity required. Eventually no acceptable male lead was cast before production was slated to start in 2001 and the project was cancelled. Star of the original movie, Sharon Stone immediately sued the producers for breach of contract.

In 2004, just before the case was brought to trial, both sides settled for undisclosed terms. One condition of the settlement that was made public was that the movie would be made as originally planned. In April 2005, with the casting of David Morrissey as the male lead, the production began. The film was released in March 2006, and bombed at the box office.

Batman 5

A fifth film in the Batman franchise. After the box-office failure and critical bombardment of Batman and Robin, Warner Brothers Studios was unsure how to proceed with a fifth film. For a time, despite the failure of the previous film, director Joel Schumacher remained attached to the project, with Batman slated to battle The Scarecrow. Later, a film based on the Batman: Year One storyline, directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by comic book scribe Frank Miller was announced, but later abandoned over script troubles, and concern that the film would not remain true to the source material. A "reboot" film was finally released in 2005 titled Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, outside the continuity of the original film series.

Blake's 7: A Legacy Reborn

Set to take place 25 years after the end of the original series, this was planned to be a miniseries. Paul Darrow, who played Avon on the original was to be an executive producer and reportedly would have reprised his role briefly in order to pass the torch to the next generation of The Seven. Darrow, due to artistic differences with the production team, left the project in 2002. Since then, there has been no news concerning this revival.

Casino Royale

The next film in the James Bond series appeared to be in a state of development hell as EON Productions, the production company behind all previous 20 official films, had for over a year gone without casting an actor to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Daniel Craig was chosen for the role in October 2005. Filming began in January 2006, having previously been delayed for a year. One contributing factor is the buyout of MGM by Sony.


Originally slated to go into production in the early 1980s, and to star Frank Sinatra, Goldie Hawn and Liza Minnelli, the film never got past the development stage due to the death of director Bob Fosse. After a successful stage revival, Miramax attempted to produce a film version starring Madonna and Goldie Hawn. Filming was repeatedly delayed over troubles involving developing a suitable script, hiring a director and casting issues, with actors like Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Cameron Diaz, Gwenyth Paltrow, Rosie O'Donnell signing on to the project, only to drop out shortly thereafter. The project remained in development hell, with various names attached to the project until screenwriter Bill Condon and director Rob Marshall constructed a feasible story concept and found stars willing to remain committed to the project. Eventually, the film would be released in 2002, and would also garner six Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 2002.

Crisis in the Hot Zone

A bidding war between producers Linda Obst of Fox and Arnold Kopelson of Warner Bros. over Richard Preston's non-fiction article published in New Yorker magazine led to two rival productions. While Kopelson steamed ahead with his own virus movie Outbreak, Obst's film - to be directed by Ridley Scott - became bogged-down in endless rewrites to satisfy its two leads, Jodie Foster and Robert Redford. Even after Outbreak was released, Obst insisted she would still make the film. Preston turned his article into the book The Hot Zone.

Ça Ira

Roger Waters' opera Ça Ira labored in a self-imposed development hell from its conception in 1987 until its release in 2005.

Don Quixote

A number of directors have attempted to adapt Cervantes' famed work to the screen, often with results so disastrous, some consider the property to be cursed. Most notably, Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam have experienced disaster with their attempted productions. Welles spent as many as twenty years trying to film a version of the novel, routinely beginning filming only to lose funding and shut down production later. Though many of his lead actors died during production, Welles coninued to work on the film until his death in 1985. An incomplete version was released in 1992. Terry Gilliam long dreamed of a project entitled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, starring Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort. After beginning production in 2000, Gilliam and his crew were plagued by disaster, including flash floods, hail and noise from fighter jets. Furthermore, star Rochefort developed a double herniated disc and had to quit the film. The film was cancelled, though Gilliam has attempted to restart production numerous times since. A documentary of the attempted making of this movie called Lost in La Mancha was released. Disney also tried making a 2-D animated version of the story, but the project died due to the direction it was heading. Employees thought the film was too dark and the film was never made.


The movie of the video game was in development hell ever since it was first proposed at about the time of the original Doom game, circa 1994. In 1994, Universal Pictures acquired rights to make a Doom movie, however they sat on the project and the rights expired. Columbia Pictures then acquired the rights but also sat on the project until the rights expired. About 8 years later, in 2002, Warner Bros. announced that they acquired rights to the Doom movie which lingered in development hell for the past 8 years with certain contractual agreements made with id Software, one being that if Warners did not get the movie into production within a couple of months, rights would revert back to id Software. Warners got the movie into pre-production, but something occurred during pre-production that stalled it, and rights reverted back to id Software. In 2003, Universal Pictures reacquired rights to the Doom movie and got it into production in 2004. The movie was released on October 21, 2005, but received mostly poor reviews, and flopped at the box office.

Dragon Ball Z

A live-action movie base on the smash hit anime. The movie was announced in 2002: however, it has been in development hell ever since.


This film moved from potential director to potential director (amongst them Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott) throughout the 1970s until David Lynch was placed in control of it. The film was eventually released in 1984.[1]


Another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to languish in years of development, a film had been announced as soon as the stage version proved a hit. Ken Russell originally planned to direct with Liza Minnelli in the lead, but disagreements with Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice ultimately stalled the project. Various stars, including Barbra Streisand, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meryl Streep, Bette Midler, as well as stage stars Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige were annouced over the years, but the film would not be released until 1996, directed by Alan Parker and starring Madonna.

Freddy vs. Jason

Announced as early as 1987 as a cross-over of the popular slasher films A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, the film was finally released in 2003 to a very mixed reception, even among fans.

Good Omens

Terry Gilliam expressed interest in directing an adaptation of this novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, but it has been stuck in development hell for several years.

Judge Dredd

For many years the 2000 AD comic strip had been touted as prime film material but various attempts to get the project off the ground floundered. Eventually a film was made, and released in 1995, starring Sylvester Stallone, but was widely regarded as disappointing by fans of the comic strip.


A screenplay of the William Gibson novel was optioned soon after the novel was first published in 1984, and has been in development hell ever since. Because the rights to the story and characters are owned by the studio that owns the screenplay, the character Molly Millions had to be replaced with a generic girl named "Jane" in the movie version of Gibson's related short story Johnny Mnemonic.


Derek Jarman's science fiction take on the Gospel According to Luke was due to star David Bowie, but Bowie refused to allow his name to be mentioned when raising finance, so the project died.


A feature film version of another Neil Gaiman project, the BBC miniseries and HarperCollins novel Neverwhere, was originally bid for by Jim Henson Studios after the TV series was complete.

Red Dwarf

The film version of the hit BBC Sitom has been in development since the mid 1990s, but after numerous delays, there is still no news on production starting.


Jonathan Larson's rock opera, based on Puccini's La Boheme, long thought unfilmable. Until 2001, the film rights were held by Miramax Films with Spike Lee set to direct. Lee, however, wished to completely restructure the story to deviate from the La Boheme-inspired story, omit most of the songs, and cast pop stars such as Justin Timberlake in the leads. After Lee left the project, other directors, including Baz Luhrmann and Rob Marshall turned it down, before Miramax sold the rights to Revolution Studios, where the project was finally produced in 2005, directed by Chris Columbus.


Based on the Palladium Books role-playing game of the same title, said to be optioned by producer Jerry Bruckheimer. According to Palladium CEO/head writer/editor Kevin Siembieda, the movie will not get a green light "until Jerry Bruckheimer gets a script that he loves." With Bruckheimer's production company primarily occupied with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, production on Rifts can be expected to start no earlier than late 2007.

Rush Hour 3

The third installment in the Jackie Chan action series has been delayed due to wrangles between Chan and co-star Chris Tucker. Tucker however, recently accepted $28 million to reprise his role of Detective James Carter for the film, making him one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.


Announced as a film as early as 1986, the film labored in development for years, even with respected and powerful directors expressing interest in the project. Most notably, James Cameron long considered the film a dream project to script and direct, and intended to cast Michael Biehn, and later, Leonardo DiCaprio as Spider-Man and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Octopus. A long-running lawsuit prevented any film production for a number of years, as well as concern over the quality of special effects. The film was finally released in 2002, directed by Sam Raimi. A sequel followed two years later.

Star Blazers

A live action Star Blazers film based on the cult animated series AKA Space Battleship Yamato was announced in the mid 1990 by The Walt Disney Company who bought the rights and commissioned a script. The script was said to have leaked over the internet but several facts concerning their plans were made publicly known by the producers of the tentative project, such as the decision to change the name of the titular starship from Yamato/Argo to Arizona and the decision not to use the classic character names. Because of these and several other elements announced, fans enthusiasm for the project cooled, realizing that the movie, if it had been made would not have been a faithful adaptation of the original work. As of this writing (2005), Disney's movie rights to Star Blazers have long since expired and there are no plans for renewal.

Superman Returns

A remake/additional film of Superman, titled Superman Lives, was initially proposed by producer Jon Peters; it was to be directed by Tim Burton and would star Nicolas Cage. This project was ultimately canceled though there are several known versions of the script that took on possible storylines such as Superman's death at the hands of Doomsday and his resurrection, departing from the established mythology at varying degrees. Director Kevin Smith is said to have written a script for this picture and in interviews has discussed several alleged elements of his involvement with the project including the producer's insistence that Superman could not fly. Wolfgang Petersen was attached to develop a joint Superman/Batman film, Batman vs. Superman, but this also fell through. A second script by J.J. Abrams had various directors attached with Brett Ratner, and McG actually commissioning set designs. In 2004 it was announced that production would start on a new script with Bryan Singer as director; this version is slated for release in 2006.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The movie version of the Douglas Adams radio series, book and TV series was in development hell for over 20 years since it was first suggested in 1982. It finally escaped it in 2003 and was released worldwide in April 2005, following Adams' death.

The Last Temptation of Christ

A dream project of director Martin Scorsese, the film version labored in development for over ten years. Scorsese assembled a cast and crew no less than three times with stars like Robert DeNiro, Aidan Quinn, Sting and Barbara Hershey, only to have production cancelled or funding withdrawn at the last minute, usually under pressure from conservative Christian groups. The film was finally produced in 1987 starring Willem Dafoe amid protests by conservative Christians over its portrayal of Jesus Christ as conflicted about his divinity. Scorsese, however, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

The Lord of the Rings

Since the famous series of novels grew into cult popularity in the 1970s, various directors including John Boorman, Ridley Scott, and Stanley Kubrick had attempted to film a live-action version of the novels. Even The Beatles considered optioning the books with the intention to star. However, each ran into the problem of condensing the story into a manageable running time and eventually abandoned the project, considering it to be technically unfilmable. The animator Ralph Bakshi told part of the story in an animated version released in 1978, but when the film bombed, he was forced to abandon the notion of a continuing film. With the advent of computer generated imagery, a trilogy of highly successful films directed by Peter Jackson were released starting in 2001. The final film in the trilogy Return of the King 2004, went onto win 11 Academy Awards including, Best Picture.

Ironically, royalty disputes have stalled a planned film of the prelude novel The Hobbit, which would reunite the cast and creative team from the Lord of the Rings film series.

The Phantom of the Opera

Based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, production on the film began in the early 1990s, with original stage stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. However, when Brightman and Lloyd Webber divorced, the project stalled. Various directors including Shekhar Kapur and stars such as John Travolta and Antonio Banderas came and went, before the film was finally produced in 2004 directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler.

The X-Files 2

A sequel to the 1998 film and long-running television series has been in development since the original film proved a success. Various release dates have been announced, but production has yet to begin. At one point the film was to be directed by M. Night Shyamalan.


A potential film of Alan Moore's graphic novel was proposed in the 1990s with Terry Gilliam tipped as director. In 2005, a new production was announced with Paul Greengrass as director, but shortly before casting the production was cancelled. As of 2006, Warner Bros. has resumed pre-production on the film, with Zack Snyder in negotiations to direct.


Plans for a film adaptation were rumored as early as the 1970s, but the film would not see a release until 2000, mainly due to script problems. No less than six writers contributed to the final shooting script.

Video games

Duke Nukem Forever

A sequel to 3DRealms big-selling first-person shooter Duke Nukem 3D on the PC (released Jan 1996), the game was announced in April 1997 and is currently still in development. The long and tortured development period has been put down to lack of manpower early in the project, game engine changes, content remakes and team members leaving during the development. As of 2006, 3DRealms have said they are firmly on track to getting the game into production, but have yet to give out any firm release dates or new media since 2001 [2]. Whenever questioned on a release date their stock reply is always "When it's done".

Sonic X-Treme

Sonic X-treme was a planned installment in the Sonic The Hedgehog series, but never made it to market. Sonic X-treme was planned to be the first Sonic release for the Sega Saturn, and the first 3D Sonic title. Sega gave it a release date of Christmas 1996, but disputes between Sega's American and Japanese divisions and the declining health of the game's producer sent it to development hell until Sega finally shelved it in 1997. There is at least one known copy of a Sonic X-treme demo, which was sold at an auction.

See also

External link

Home | Up | Backlot | Breaking down the script | Cameo appearance | Camera dolly | Clapperboard | Closing credits | Development hell | Feature film | Film budgeting | Film crew | Film finance | Film industry | Filming location | Filmmaking | Footage | Front projection effect | Greenlight | Hollywood accounting | Movie ranch | Option | Pan and scan | Post-production | Pre-production | Previsualization | Principal photography | Screen test | Screenplay | Second unit | Shelved | Shot | Sound stage | Stand-in | Storyboard | Take | Test screening | Voice-over | Script breakdown

Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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