The Weird History of the "Ashcan Copy"

Earlier this year, an incredibly rushed and slapdash TV version of Robert Jordan’s fantasy series The Wheel of Time was shown late at night on the FXX cable channel. It was confusing. It wasn’t part of an ongoing series, it was only a half-hour long, and it seemed to have been made for almost no money.

The adaptation, which was broadcast essentially as an infomercial (producers paid to have it shown), is only the latest example of a phenomenon known as the "ashcan copy."

What exactly is an ashcan copy, anyway?

It’s a film likely created so a company (Red Eagle Entertainment, in this case) can retain the rights to produce an adaptation of a sought-after intellectual property. Litigation with Harriet McDougal, widow of Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan, is now under way, so the wrangling is far from over. 

The phrase comes from the Golden Age of comic books. Publishers would sometimes print a handful of quick copies (meant for the ashcan, or trash) to retain legal rights to character names, titles, or work they had commissioned. Just like today, it was the basic concepts that companies were trying to protect—not the work itself. 

A fantastic film? Hardly 

Perhaps the most notorious earlier example of an ashcan copy is the unreleased, awful Fantastic Four movie from 1994. 

Produced by B-movie impresario Roger Corman, the whole production cost $1.5 million, was shot on a tight schedule, and was never officially released

The whole production is a far cry from the massive superhero movies released these days, but the cast and crew seriously believed they were making a film for a wide audience. A documentary about the film—and their dashed hopes—is on the way.

Not so hellish, really 

Dimension Films is also responsible for an ashcan copy. The studio had made some eight Hellraiser movies, and while the original, Clive Barker-directed film was a grisly classic, successive installments of Pinhead’s S&M-themed horror escapades produced diminishing returns. 

The studio decided to apply the usual Hollywood solution to a worn-out franchise—rebooting it. But as plans dragged on, executives realized they were at risk of losing rights to the entire property. Thus, they slapped together plans for a ninth film, giving the cast and crew just two weeks to create it.

Hellraiser: Revelations was shown in a single theater and later released on DVD. Barker’s response to the film was classic, if crude. But he’s apparently forgiven Dimension; he’s been working on a script for that reboot. 

For there to where again?

Lest you think that ashcan copy cinema is a recent development, there was a simplistic version of The Hobbit made for the same, mercenary reasons back in 1966.

Animation director Gene Deitch created an elaborate story treatment of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel for producer Bill Snyder. But a potential deal with 20th Century Fox fell apart in early 1966, leaving the property in limbo.

Meanwhile, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings became a massive success in paperback, and The Hobbit was red-hot. Snyder realized he had an opportunity: His contract “merely stated that in order to hold his option for The Lord of The Rings, Snyder had to ‘produce a full-color motion picture version’ of The Hobbit by June 30, 1966. Please note: It did not say it had to be an animated movie, and it did not say how long the film had to be!” Deitch wrote in his book How To Succeed In Animation (Don't Let A Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!).

So Deitch filmed a 12-minute montage of still images and narration, which was (again!) shown in a single theater. Snyder kept the rights, later selling them for a tidy sum.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.


"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"


"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks


"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert


''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times


"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age


"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with


“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair


"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"


"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN


"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV


"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World


"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman


"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

There's a Simple Trick to Sort Movies and TV Shows by Year on Netflix

Netflix is stocked with so many movies and TV shows that it’s not always easy to actually find what you’re looking for. And while sorting by genre can help a little, even that’s a bit too broad for some. There’s one helpful hack, though, that you probably didn’t know about—and it could make the endless browsing much less painful.

As POPSUGAR reports: By simply opening Netflix up to one of its specific category pages—Horror, Drama, Comedy, Originals, etc.—you can then sort by release year with just a few clicks. All you need to do is look at the top of the page, where you’ll see an icon that looks like a box with four dots in it.

Screenshot of the Netflix Menu

Once you click on it, it will expand to a tab labeled “Suggestions for You.” Just hit that again and a dropdown menu will appear that allows you to sort by year released or alphabetical and reverse-alphabetical orders. When sorted by release year, the more recent movies or shows will be up top and they'll get older as you scroll to the bottom of the page.


This tip further filters your Netflix options, so if you’re in the mood for a classic drama, old-school comedy, or a retro bit of sci-fi, you don’t have to endlessly scroll through every page to find the right one.

If you want to dig deeper into Netflix’s categories, here’s a way to find all sorts of hidden ones the streaming giant doesn’t tell you about. And also check out these 12 additional Netflix tricks that should make your binge-watching that much easier.



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