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12 Movies Steven Spielberg Almost Made

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With 28 feature films under his belt, Steven Spielberg is one of the most prolific directors working in Hollywood today. While he's directed more than his fair share of classic films, there are still a few blockbusters that Spielberg could have made throughout his career but didn't for various reasons. Here are 12 movies the Academy Award-winning director almost made.

1. Interstellar

In 2006, Steven Spielberg was attached to direct Interstellar for Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Entertainment. He loved the eight-page story treatment that featured wormholes and time travel from film producer Lynda Obst and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. Screenwriter Jonathan Nolan signed on to write the project in 2007, but Spielberg officially left the project when DreamWorks moved from Paramount to Walt Disney Pictures in 2009, and Nolan's brother Christopher stepped in to direct.

2. American Sniper

After the success of Lincoln in 2012, Steven Spielberg lined up an adaptation of American Sniper, a biopic about the military life of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was considered "the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," as his next project. Bradley Cooper bought the film rights to the autobiography with plans to co-produce and star. Spielberg was brought on to direct and produce for Warner Bros. Pictures and DreamWorks, but the director and movie studio dropped out of the project when his vision didn't line up with Warner Bros.' planned budget. Instead, Clint Eastwood stepped in to direct.

3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Steven Spielberg optioned The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 1991. He wanted Tom Cruise to play the lead role, but he dropped out to direct Jurassic Park and Schindler's List instead. If he had made The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it would've been the first time Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise worked together. However, the pair found each other again for Minority Report in 2002 and War of the Worlds in 2005.

"Tom and I had been friends for many, many years," he told Entertainment Weekly. "We had considered working together. Benjamin Button, we had talked about maybe doing together, long before Minority Report. But nothing quite gelled for either of us."

In 2008, David Fincher took on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt in the titular role and longtime Spielberg collaborators Kathleen Kennedy (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) and Frank Marshall (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as producers.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In 2000, then-Warner Bros. CEO Alan Horn offered Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to Steven Spielberg after the studio bought the film rights to the widely popular young adult book series. Spielberg had a few ideas of what he wanted do with a Harry Potter movie, including combining the first two books into one film and making it computer animated with Haley Joel Osment as Harry Potter. Alas, Warner Bros. and J. K. Rowling were deeply opposed to Spielberg's pitches.

"I just felt that I wasn't ready to make an all-kids movie and my kids thought I was crazy,” Spielberg told the BBC. “And the books were by that time popular, so when I dropped out, I knew it was going to be a phenomenon. But, you know I don't make movies because they're gonna to be phenomenons. I make movies because they have to touch me in a way that really commits me to a year, two years, three years of work."

He decided to make A.I. Artificial Intelligence instead, while Warner Bros. hired Chris Columbus to direct Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets.

5. Cape Fear

Before Martin Scorsese was brought on to direct, Steven Spielberg was attached to helm the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Spielberg left the project to focus on Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, but remained one of its producers with Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte already signed on to star.

6. The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3

After the success of The Sugarland Express in 1974, Spielberg was interested in directing the New York City subway heist film The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 for United Artists. Studio executive David Picker recognized that the young director had talent but thought the movie would be better suited for director Joseph Sargent, with Spielberg going on to make Jaws instead.

7. Big Fish

In 2000, Steven Spielberg was briefly attached to direct Big Fish. He reportedly wanted Jack Nicholson in the role of Edward Bloom, a retired businessman with a knack for spinning tall tales. Spielberg dropped out of the project to complete Minority Report and start production on Catch Me If You Can instead, while Tim Burton was brought in to direct Big Fish for Columbia Pictures. Albert Finney was cast to play older Edward Bloom, while Ewan McGregor played the younger version.

8. Memoirs of a Geisha

Steven Spielberg wanted to bring Memoirs of a Geisha to the big screen since the book was first published in 1997. He bought the film rights with intentions of directing it, but the director opted to take on A.I. Artificial Intelligence instead. However, Spielberg remained one of the film's producers, as Rob Marshall directed the film adaptation in 2005.

9. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Steven Spielberg agreed to direct The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Jim Carrey in the titular role in 2003. It would have been a co-production between Paramount and DreamWorks, but the director dropped out of the project in 2004 when a script couldn't come together in time. He opted to work on War of the Worlds and Munich instead, while Jim Carrey also dropped out to star in Fun with Dick and Jane.

Ben Stiller signed on to star and direct The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in 2011 and it was released two years later.

10. Rain Man

According to screenwriter Ronald Bass, Steven Spielberg began working with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise on Rain Man, but later forfeited his directing duties to make Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Barry Levinson was brought on to direct, and it won four Academy Awards in 1988, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dustin Hoffman.

11. White Lightning

In 1973, Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing Burt Reynolds in the action film White Lightning for United Artists. He worked on it for a few months before taking on The Sugarland Express because he felt he wasn't the right director for it.

"The one thing that came to me that I almost made was White Lightning, the Burt Reynolds picture," Steven Spielberg told Film Comment in 1978. "I spent two-and-a-half months on the film, met Burt once, found most of the locations and began to cast the movie, until I realized it wasn’t something that I wanted to do for a first film. I didn’t want to start my career as a hard-hat, journeyman director. I wanted to do something that was a little more personal."

12. E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears

During the success of its first theatrical run during the summer of 1982, Steven Spielberg considered making a sequel to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. He co-wrote a nine-page story treatment with screenwriter Melissa Mathison that followed evil aliens coming to Earth to kidnap Elliott and his friends, only to have E.T. come back to save the day. Smartly, Spielberg never made E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears because he felt that it "would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity."

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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