7 Movies That Could Have Starred Michael Jackson

Getty
Getty

While his personal life was a perpetual source of controversy and speculation, singer, songwriter, and entertainer Michael Jackson (1958-2009) had an unchallenged run as the most successful recording artist of the 20th century. According to Billboard, Jackson has sold more than one billion albums. (Thriller, his most successful venture, moved more than 100 million copies alone.)

Jackson, however, harbored ambitions beyond creating music. Throughout his career, the musician made several attempts to become a movie star. Owing to his distinctive appearance and persona, disappearing into a role was an uphill battle—though he continued to pursue it, even taking acting lessons from longtime friend Marlon Brando. In honor of what would have been Jackson's 60th birthday, take a look at seven projects the singer tried his best to get involved in.

1. WILLY WONKA // CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)

When Jackson learned Warner Bros. had hired Tim Burton to reimagine Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—which had been previously filmed with Gene Wilder in 1971—the singer became so preoccupied with being considered for the role of eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka that he recorded a soundtrack to surprise studio executives. Although they loved the music, no one was behind the idea of casting him as Wonka. When they offered to pay an exorbitant sum for the soundtrack and give him a small supporting part, an offended Jackson dropped out of participating entirely. The role eventually went to Johnny Depp, who denied he based his portrayal on Jackson.

2. SPIDER-MAN // SPIDER-MAN (2002)

For years, Jackson had attempted to acquire Marvel Comics, which was experiencing financial issues in the late 1990s and had even filed for bankruptcy in 1996. In 1999, Jackson met with writer Stan Lee to discuss the possibility of an acquisition—though Lee had no direct involvement with Marvel at the time—and to get Lee’s thoughts on the potential for Jackson starring as Spider-Man in a feature film. According to Lee, Jackson felt buying the company would be the only way he’d get the part.

Jackson was unable to gather the financing needed to buy Marvel; Sony produced a Spider-Man feature in 2002 with Tobey Maguire. Curiously, Jackson also lobbied to be Professor Xavier in Fox’s 2000 adaptation of X-Men.

3. UNNAMED MIME // STREET DANDY

In 1984, Jackson was circling a script by Flashdance writer Tom Hedley titled Street Dandy, a musical about a New York café where a group of aspiring performers congregate. The “street dandy,” People magazine explained, was a mime and “fashion sensation." In 1987, producer Lynda Obst said the project was dead because the role was “too fanciful” for the singer. 1978’s The Wiz remains the only feature musical Jackson ever starred in.

4. PETER PAN // HOOK (1991)

Jackson, who had long been obsessed with the idea of flying, took a special interest in Peter Pan, author J.M. Barrie’s boy who never grew up. According to director Steven Spielberg, Jackson was close to being cast as Pan in Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook, which examined Pan’s life as a world-weary adult who discovers the young man he used to be. That twist was apparently disagreeable with Jackson, who didn’t envision a revisionist Pan in the same way Spielberg did. The role went to Robin Williams.

5. QUASIMODO // THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Jackson was so infatuated with the Victor Hugo story about deformed cathedral occupant Quasimodo and his love for a street dancer that he screened the 1939 film adaptation countless times. Screenwriter Tom Hedley recalled that he and Jackson spent many nights discussing the possibility of Jackson taking over the role of the hunchback. The project never got off the ground; Hugo’s story was later the basis for a 1996 Disney animated feature.

6. JAR JAR BINKS // STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

The critically maligned Star Wars prequel took a particular drubbing over computer-generated comic relief Jar Jar Binks. According to motion-capture actor Ahmed Best, who was recalling the controversy surrounding the role for a Vice interview in 2015, Jackson had petitioned director George Lucas for the role. “[Lucas] said, ‘Well, Michael wanted to do the part but he wanted to do it in prosthetics and makeup like Thriller,” Best said. “George wanted to do it in CGI. My guess is ultimately Michael Jackson would have been bigger than the movie, and I don't think [Lucas] wanted that.”

7. MIDKNIGHT

Jackson’s closest brush with a major starring role came in 1991, when Sony Pictures was actively developing a film titled MidKnight. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sony was heavily invested in the action-adventure film with an undisclosed plot rumored to involve a boy who can transform into a dancing knight at 12 a.m. Oscar-winning production designer Anton Furst (Full Metal Jacket, Batman) was rumored to be the studio’s choice for a director. Screenwriter Caroline Thompson told Vice in 2009 that part of the appeal for the studio was the idea that, as a knight, Jackson’s face would be obscured by a helmet for most of the running time. 

The project was part of a contract Jackson had signed with Sony, which also included projects like Jack and the Beanstalk. Owing to the negative publicity surrounding Jackson at the time, none of the proposed ideas ever got off the ground. During a meeting to discuss his film opportunities, Jackson allegedly "inexplicably placed his head on the table and began to cry uncontrollably.”

All images courtesy of Getty.

'143,' Fred Rogers's Code for "I Love You," Gets Its Own Holiday in Pennsylvania

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

"It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three."

That quote from Fred Rogers has become a symbol of the children's entertainer's legacy. The number 143, his special code for "I love you," is used by a charity inspired by Rogers, and it was spotlighted in the recent documentary movie Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now, Mister Rogers's favorite number has its own holiday in Pennsylvania.

As Philly Voice reports, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born in Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh and he spent his whole life in the area. By honoring the famous Pennsylvanian with his own holiday, the organizers behind the statewide 143 Day campaign hope to inspire residents to be kind to their neighbors on May 23 and every day of the year.

The initiative encourages schools, businesses, and citizens to share their acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #143DayinPA. A "kindness tracker" on the campaign's website keeps how many time the hashtag has been used, and so far, over a 6000 acts of kindness have been shared online. And if someone has trouble thinking of ways to honor the spirit of Mister Rogers, the campaign's "kindness generator" can come up with a suggestion for them.

One hundred and forty-three was more than just a fun saying for Fred Rogers: It was a lucky number he made part of his lifestyle. The television personality even went so far as to go swimming every day to maintain his weight at the number.

[h/t Philly Voice]

10 Bizarre Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
Top Knot Films

Documentaries have grown considerably more ambitious since Fred Ott’s Sneeze, an 1894 clip that documents the irritated sinus cavities of its subject in just five seconds. They can inspire, as in the case of 2019’s Academy Award-winning Free Solo, about bold mountain climber Alex Honnold. They can shine a light on cultural overachievers like Fred Rogers, the subject of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And they can parse political history, with films like 2003's The Fog of War shedding light on decisions that shaped the world.

Other documentaries set out to chronicle true stories that, were they presented as a fictitious, might be hard for people to believe. We’ve profiled such films in previous lists, which you can find here, here, and here. If you’ve already made your way through those tales of cannibals, tragic love affairs, and twist-laden true crime, here are 10 more that will have you staring at your television in disbelief.  

1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

When Idaho native Jan Broberg was 12 years old in 1974, her neighbor began to take an unseemly and inappropriate interest in her. What begins as a disturbing portrait of predation quickly spirals into an unbelievable and audacious attempt to manipulate Jan’s entire family. Director Skye Borgman’s portrait of seemingly reasonable people who become ensnared in a monstrous plot to separate them from their daughter has drawn some shocking reactions since it began streaming on Netflix earlier this year.

2. The Wolfpack (2015)

Confined to their apartment in a Manhattan housing project for years by parents wary of the world outside their door, the seven Angulo siblings developed an understanding about life through movies. The Wolfpack depicts their attempts to cope with reality after finally emerging from their involuntary exile. Hulu subscribers can watch it now.

3. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

The highly marketable conceit of director Tim Wardle’s documentary is that triplets born in 1961 then separated spent the first 18 years of their lives totally ignorant of their siblings. When they reconnect, it’s a joy. But the movie quickly switches gears to explore the question of why they were separated at birth to begin with. It’s that investigation—and the chilling answer—that lends Three Identical Strangers its bittersweet, haunting atmosphere. It’s currently on Hulu.

4. Tickled (2016)

A ball of yarn bouncing down a flight of stairs is the best metaphor we can summon for the narrative of Tickled, which follows New Zealand journalist David Farrier on what appears at first glance to be a silly story about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” In the course of reporting on this unusual subculture, Farrier crosses paths with people who would prefer their hobbies remain discreet. When he refuses to let the story go, things grow increasingly tense and dangerous. HBO subscribers can see the film, and it’s also available as a $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime.

5. Billboard Boys (2018)

In 1982, an Allentown, Pennsylvania radio station sponsored a contest in which three men agreed to live underneath a billboard. The last man remaining would win a brand-new motor home, a considerable incentive in the economically-struggling area. Three contestants went up, but things didn't go as planned. It's available for free to Amazon Prime members.

6. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

How far would you be willing to go for a new pick-up truck? That’s the deceptively simple premise for this documentary chronicling an endurance contest in Longview, Texas, where participants agree to keep one hand on the vehicle at all times: The last person standing wins. What begins as a group seeking a prize evolves into a battle of attrition, with all the psychological games and mental fortitude that comes with it. The film can be hard to find, but you can watch the first nine minutes on YouTube for free (above) and then catch the rest for $9.99 on iTunes.

7. My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

At the age of 4, upstate New York resident Marla Olmstead began painting sprawling abstract art that her parents sold for premium prices. Later on, a 60 Minutes report called into question whether Marla had some assistance with her work. Was she a child prodigy, or simply a creative girl who had a little help? And if she did, should it matter? My Kid Could Paint That investigates Marla’s process, but it also sheds light on the world of abstract art and the question of who gets to decide whether a creative impulse is valid. You can rent the film for $3.99 on Amazon.

8. Beware the Slenderman (2016)

In 2014, two Wisconsin girls came to a disturbing decision: In order to appease the “Slenderman,” an internet-sourced boogeyman, they would attempt to murder a classmate. The victim survived, but three lives have been altered forever. Beware the Slenderman explores the intersection where mental illness, social media, and urban mythology collide to result in a horrific crime. It’s available to HBO viewers or as a rental on Amazon for $3.99.

9. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)

For years, Richard Kuklinski satisfied his homicidal urges by taking on contract killings for organized crime families in New York and New Jersey. Following his arrest and conviction, he agreed to sit down and elaborate on his unusual methodologies for disposing of victims and how he balanced his violent tendencies with a seemingly normal domestic life that included marriage and children. (You can see an example of Kuklinski's chilling disposition in the clip above.) In addition to The Iceman Tapes, which originally aired on HBO, Kuklinski participated in two follow-ups: The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman in 2001 and The Iceman and the Psychiatrist in 2003. See them on HBO or watch the original and both follow-ups for free on Amazon Prime.

10. Tabloid (2010)

Filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) details the unusual love affair between beauty queen Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson, who alleged McKinney kidnapped and assaulted him after believing he had been brainwashed by the Mormon church. That’s only the beginning of this twisty—and twisted—story, which illustrates how people can perceive the same event in completely different ways. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

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