Book Review: Tales From Development Hell (New Updated Edition)


Titan Books provided the City of Films with a copy of David Hughes’ book “Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?”

Once in a great while I will come across a book that I can’t put down and end up finishing it over the course of hours or days, often forgetting to eat or sleep in the process.  Luckily for me such a book recently took over my weekend and I’m here to share a review.



I don’t read a lot of fiction, just keeping to reference and guide books for the most part. My favorites of course are about films and filmmaking; Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and more recently Scorsese by Ebert are great examples. I’m happy to say Tales From Development Hell fits nicely into my criteria to be entertained and educated at the same time.

“Development hell” is a period during which a film is trapped in development due to issues like financing, cast, script approval, and ego just to name a few. TFDH shares some stories that will interest some and frustrate others. What could have been or what should have been, it’s all up for debate – and the history is researched impressively in this book which features exclusive interviews with the writers and directors involved.

Many of the titles discussed have come to fruition, but the journey there was not easy. What it took for The Lord of the Rings to get to the big screen and how one version included a little band known as The Beatles, I can’t even make this up.

“We talked about it for a while” Paul McCartney told Roy Carr, author of The Beatles at the Movies, “but then I started to smell a bit of a carve-up because, immediately, John wanted the lead.” According to Carr, however, Lennon was interested in the role of Gollum, with McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr opting for Frodo, Gandalf, and Sam respectively.

One chapter in the book even shares the history of various Batman adaptations including Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One starring Clint Eastwood.

“I told them I’d cast Clint Eastwood as the Dark Knight, and shoot it in Tokyo, doubling for Gotham City,” he says, only half-joking. “That got their attention.”

I suggest there’s a good reason a question mark follows the book’s title; some of these projects are just painful and I feel some are stuck in limbo for a few good reasons. Take Crusade for example, one of my favorite chapters because of how ridiculous this film sounds. It would have Arnold Schwarzenegger reunite with Total Recall director, Paul Verhoeven in a middle ages epic. The film is described as “part Spartacus, part Conan the Barbarian.”

The project began during Total Recall when the pair discussed a screenplay about the Crusades that Schwarzenegger had read. Arnold would play a rogue named Hagen who early on in the screenplay burns a crucifix into his back to fake divine piety and escape a hanging. Total Recall co-writer Gary Goldman helped rework the material, he says in the book, “It was an anti-war statement, basically saying that the Christians had no business going there.”

The film was in pre-production in 1993, some sets were even built in Spain and a cast that included Robert Duvall, Jennifer Connelly, and John Turturro were ready to go. It all came to a stop when the budget reached $100M and the production company Carolco went bankrupt following the release of the infamous bomb that is Cutthroat Island.

I’ve only really hinted at what you can expect from this book, all these lost projects and more are covered in great detail in this book.  I would love to share some more with you but you would be doing yourself a disservice from actually reading these tales yourself.  If you love stories about the inner workings of Hollywood, this is a quality read and a great conversation piece for you and your movie aficionado friends.

talesTales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?

Note: This an updated version of the 2004 edition.
Release Date: February 2012
Author: David Hughes
Paperback: 368 pages

See examples of movies stuck in development hell.