Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

8 Movies That Started Shooting Without a Completed Script

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Typically, a screenplay is the backbone or blueprint for a movie—but occasionally, a film will go into principal photography without a finished script, with writers frantically trying to complete scenes for a quick and dirty production. Sometimes, it works, and sometimes ... it doesn't.

1. Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder's Academy Award-winning film noir Sunset Boulevard went into production with the script unfinished. This was partly due to poor production planning, but also Wilder and his co-producer/co-screenwriter Charles Brackett's plan to get the film made without getting objections from censors and studio executives. Wilder and Brackett used the working title A Can of Beans and submitted pages to censors and executives piecemeal during production to disguise its cynical and scathing look at the studio system.

After a preview screening of Sunset Boulevard, MGM executive Louis B. Mayer told Wilder, "You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!"

2. Lawrence of Arabia

David Lean's masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia bore little resemblance to its original script, penned by screenwriter Michael Wilson. Lean brought on British playwright Robert Bolt to re-focus the film on T.E. Lawrence, played by Peter O'Toole, instead of its overly political point-of-view with the Arab Revolt. The late re-write didn't stop the production; Lean started shooting without a finished script. To further complicate the production, Bolt was arrested due to his involvement in an anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, which hampered the screenplay's completion.  

3. Iron Man

According to star Jeff Bridges, Iron Man—the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—went into production with just an outline when the studio rushed production in March 2007 to make the movie's May 2008 release date. "They had no script, man. They had an outline," the actor, who played Obadiah Stane (a.k.a. Iron Monger) told io9. "We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn't know what we were going to say. We would have to go into our trailer and work on this scene and call up writers on the phone, 'You got any ideas?' Meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come on. You would think with a $200 million movie you'd have the sh*t together, but it was just the opposite. And the reason for that is because they get ahead of themselves. They have a release date before the script."

4. Edge of Tomorrow

The science fiction film Edge of Tomorrow began production in 2012 with just a rough outline of its action and story, which was based on a Japanese best-selling novel entitled All You Need Is Kill. However, according to producer Erwin Stoff, Doug Liman's direction made it possible to press forward without a screenplay.

"It definitely is not the most calm-inducing experience to be facing the start date without a script. You have to have a cast-iron stomach," Stoff told the Los Angeles Times. "What made me hire Doug is, he has an ability to take a tried and true genre and find something completely new in it, push the familiar genre elements to the back and use the genre to explore something brand new and completely original."

5. Casablanca

Most movies shoot out of order for budgeting and logistic reasons. However, when Casablanca started shooting on May 25, 1942, its scenes were shot in sequential order because only the first half of the script was ready for production. Instead, its writers completed the screenplay during production, while they had Casablanca's source material—a stage play titled "Everybody Comes to Rick's"—as an outline and guide. Throughout its entire shooting schedule, Casablanca went through four different screenwriters to re-write and finish its screenplay.

6. Topaz

Topaz, one of Alfred Hitchcock's last films, is based on the novel of the same name. Author Leon Uris initially started adapting his own book for the big screen, but Uris and Hitchcock didn't see eye-to-eye on the direction of the movie (Hitchcock wanted more black humor and a humanized villain), so the author left the project just a few days before shooting was scheduled to begin. Hitchcock hired screenwriter Samuel Taylor to complete the screenplay, while Topaz went into production without a finished script. It was reported that scenes were shot only hours after they were written.

7. Alien 3

Due to the Writers Guild of America strike in 1987, development on Alien 3 was put on hold until the strike was resolved. Once Hollywood writers were able to go back to work, a two-film treatment for Alien 3 and Alien 4 was scrapped—but not before set designers started building expensive sets and models based on concept art for the two films. A story had to fit around what was built and waiting at Pinewood Studios in England, and Twentieth Century Fox had already announced a release date of 1992, before a director or script were finalized. The production went through two directors—Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward—before landing on David Fincher for his directorial debut.

With $7 million sunk into developing the story and pre-production, Alien 3 started shooting without a finished screenplay in 1991. Fincher didn't have enough time to prepare the film for a proper production and was struggling with re-writing the script and re-shooting scenes, studio interference, and a looming release date. After production was complete, Fincher left the project before the movie was assembled in editing.

“We have had to make a lot of changes in the script as we’ve gone along,” star Sigourney Weaver told Empire Magazine. “We were building the sets before we had a script and having to cast it quickly, because of time concerns. That was not the way that Fincher wanted to do his first film."

8. Jaws

While the blockbuster Jaws is now seen as a milestone in cinematic history and Steven Spielberg's career, its production was plagued by numerous difficulties—filming in the open water instead of a tank on a studio stage at Spielberg's insistence, mechanical problems with the shark, and the lack of a completed script while shooting. As a result, the production took more than 100 days to complete with a budget that ballooned to three times its initial cost. "We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark," said Richard Dreyfuss of his experience making Jaws. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb was brought on to finish and re-write the script during principal photography in 1974.

Universal Pictures
Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  


Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  


Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.


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