Sometimes, movie releases are delayed because studios don’t know how to sell the film to audiences or because of financial or legal pitfalls. These projects are “shelved,” meaning they sit collecting dust, unseen by audiences for years (or even decades).
1. 'Margaret': Shelved for 6 Years
Margaret completed production in 2005, but it was shelved for six years because of lawsuits against director Kenneth Lonergan. He was contractually obligated to deliver a movie with a run time less than 150 minutes, but the final cut came in more than half an hour longer than that. Fox Searchlight shelved it until the lawsuits between the director and his financiers could be settled.
When it finally came out in 2011 in a limited release of just 14 theaters, Margaret’s run time was exactly 149 minutes and 49 seconds. Now on DVD, you can now enjoy the director’s cut that clocks in at 186 minutes.
2. 'Prozac Nation': Shelved for 4 Years
Although Prozac Nation made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, its distributor Miramax then shelved the film for more than four years due to lukewarm test screening reactions. Miramax was under the belief that they couldn’t sell the film to general audiences, so they quietly released it on the premium cable network Starz! in 2005.
3. 'The Cabin in the Woods': Shelved for 2 Years
The Cabin in the Woods was set for release in early 2010, but its distributor MGM was on the verge of bankruptcy. As a result, the post-modern horror film didn’t open until early 2012. When it finally did come out, the rising star power of Chris Hemsworth and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon gave The Cabin in the Woods a boost at the box office.
4. 'Take Me Home Tonight': Shelved for 4 Years
Take Me Home Tonight was completed in 2007, but it didn’t receive a theatrical release date until four years later. According to star Topher Grace, Take Me Home Tonight’s distributor Universal Pictures delayed it because they didn’t know how to market a youth comedy with so much cocaine and drug consumption.
"It's an audience film. It's not drama, but there was a real hesitation because there is so much cocaine in it, and our feeling at the time was, 'You can't do a movie about Prohibition without alcohol, and you really can't do a movie about partying in the '80s, at the age these kids are, without showing cocaine use," said Grace. Rogue Pictures acquired the distribution rights for $10 million and released the film in 2011.
5. 'Fanboys': Shelved for 1 Year
In 2009, Fanboys was finally released in theaters after a shaky post-production period that saw it sit on the shelf at The Weinstein Company for a year. After a re-shoot period where director Kyle Newman had a difficult time getting the cast together again, The Weinstein Company wanted to re-edit the movie's story from a group of teenagers breaking into Skywalker Ranch so their friend could watch The Phantom Menace before he dies of cancer into a road-trip-sex comedy. Without Newman’s consent, Little Nicky director Steven Brill was brought in to shoot new elements to remove the cancer plot and to make it more raunchy.
6. 'The Plot Against Harry': Shelved for 20 Years
Director Michael Roemer’s The Plot Against Harry premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969, but it could not find theatrical distribution because it tested poorly with general audiences. It sat on the shelf for twenty years until Roemer wanted to show it to his children. Both his kids and the film transfer technician working with Roemer thought the film was funny, so Roemer struck new prints and applied to the New York Film Festival. The Plot Against Harry belatedly found critical acclaim and commercial distribution in 1989.
7. 'Red Dawn' (2012): Shelved for 3 Years
Although the film was finished in 2009, the remake of Red Dawn sat on MGM’s shelf for three years. Before an expected summer 2010 release date, MGM had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was unable to finance projects. After MGM re-structured, Red Dawn was slated for 2011, but another controversy hindered its release.
MGM didn’t want to offend the emerging Chinese movie-going market, so producers decided to change the enemies’ nationalities. Throughout 2011, filmmakers painstakingly changed the Chinese invaders and their insignia into North Koreans using digital special effects.
8. 'A Thousand Words': Shelved for 4 Years
The Eddie Murphy comedy A Thousand Words completed production in 2008 with a release date planned for sometime in 2009. However, it didn’t open until 2012 because it was caught in a legal battle over distribution rights between Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks.
The studios split and equally divided about 200 film projects, but they couldn’t come to terms with two films that were already completed at the time of separation: A Thousand Words and The Lovely Bones. Considering that the latter is from Peter Jackson, an Academy Award-winning director, and the former tracked poorly with test audiences, Paramount and DreamWorks released The Lovely Bones and shelved A Thousand Words.
9. 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer': Shelved for 4 Years
While it was completed in 1986, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer wasn’t released until four years later because of its violent and bloody subject matter. Director John McNaughton experienced a long battle with the MPAA when he couldn’t deliver an R-rated version without compromising his vision. However, Roger Ebert felt a passion for Henry, and the critic led a campaign to see its release in theaters. The MPAA eventually gave it an unrated tag in 1990.
10. 'Repo Men': Shelved for 2 Years
Although the film was completed in 2008, Repo Men didn’t come out in theaters until two years later. Relativity Media and Universal Pictures shelved Repo Men when they learned that the film adaptation of cult rock musical Repo! The Genetic Opera was opening around the same time. Both featured similar titles and plots involving men tasked with repossessing organ implants when customers were unable to pay their bills. While the musical gained cult status, the other film failed to find an audience or admirers when it was released in early 2010.
11. 'Romance and Cigarettes': Shelved for 2 Years
John Turturro’s Romance and Cigarettes premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2005 but sat on the shelf for two years until its eventual self-financed release. It found distribution with United Artists, but was lost in the shuffle when Sony bought out the smaller company. Frustrated with the lack of movement, Turturro put up his own money to finance a limited release in 2007.
12. 'Rampage': Shelved for 5 Years
The William Friedkin film Rampage screened at European film festivals in 1987, but it didn’t receive a theatrical release until 1992. Its production company, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, filed for bankruptcy, which contributed to the five-year lag between premiere and release. When Rampage finally found new distribution with Miramax during the early '90s, Friedkin changed his point of view on the death penalty and shot a new ending, and re-edited the film accordingly. Instead of committing suicide in prison, the main character sends his victims’ families disturbing and violent letters and is scheduled for a parole hearing.
13. 'Blue Sky': Shelved for 3 Years
Blue Sky was completed in 1991, but it wasn’t released in theaters until 1994. Its distributor, Orion Pictures, filed for bankruptcy shortly after Blue Sky wrapped production and, after Orion's restructuring, the film was released and received widespread critical acclaim. Jessica Lange received an Academy Award for Best Female Actor in a Leading Role.
14. 'Lovers on the Bridge' (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf): Shelved for 8 Years
French director Leos Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge gained some critical acclaim when it premiered during the Cannes Film Festival in 1991. Impressed with how audiences and critics took to the film, Miramax acquired the distribution rights for the stateside market. However, Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein didn’t see any commercial appeal with Lovers on the Bridge and let it sit on the shelf for eight years. Director Martin Scorsese’s passion and enthusiasm for the film led to its release under the Miramax Zoë subdivision in 1999.
15. 'I Love Lucy: The Movie': Shelved for 48 Years
In 1953, MGM made a feature film version of the widely popular TV comedy I Love Lucy. It was made up of three episodes of the television show with new footage that bridged the gaps. However, MGM shelved the movie because studio executives believed it would interfere with the release of The Long, Long Trailer, which also starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. I Love Lucy: The Movie sat on the shelf for almost 50 years until it was screened at a fan convention in 2001.