Top 10 Movies That Were Never Made

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It seems like every other week nowadays we see a trailer for a new movie that seems so terrible that we can only roll our eyes and wonder how such a film could have gotten funded in the first place. The answer is simple: Hollywood funds films that they believe will make money. As a result, we now have a second Smurfs movie in production while legitimately good films are stuck in production hell. This is a list mourning the fates of ten of the greatest films that never got to be completed.

They are ranked in alphabetical order by the director’s last name.

10. A Princess of Mars

Bob Clampett

This film is a bit tricky to explain. It’s true that the Disney adaption of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series entitled John Carter was released last month. However, the film that I want to talk about in this entry was a fully animated version of Burroughs’ novel A Princess of Mars, the first in his Barsoom series, that was envisioned by famous Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett. Clampett actually collaborated with Burroughs and his son John Coleman in 1935 to create raw animated footage to pitch to MGM studios. The footage included rotoscoped drawings of an athlete standing in for John Carter, Green Martians riding “eight-legged thoats,” and a fleet of rocket ships emerging from a Martian volcano. However, the test footage received poor reactions from test audiences. As a result, the entire project was abandoned. If the film had been completed, it would have beaten out Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the first American feature-length animated film by at least one year.

9. Megalopolis

Francis Ford Coppola

The Sphere (1971)

We continue this list with legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, a man who is no stranger to films with unspeakably difficult productions. Having helmed such classic and groundbreaking films as The Godfather series, Apocalypse Now, and the Palme d’Or winning The Conversation, the thought of Coppola directing a massive epic film in the style of Cecil B. DeMille seems like a film-lover’s dream come true. The film, entitled Megalopolis, would have followed the reconstruction of New York City after a “disastrous incident.” Coppola intended to fund his vision independently, using the funds he made from his three studio films from the 90’s (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jack, and The Rainmaker) to finance it. He even filmed a reported 30 hours of second unit footage around New York City. So what happened?

September 11th. In an interview after the attacks, Coppola stated, “It made it really pretty tough… a movie about the aspiration of utopia with New York as a main character and then all of a sudden you couldn’t write about New York without just dealing with what happened and the implications of what happened. The world was attacked and I didn’t know how to try to do with that. I tried.” While he hasn’t ruled out making the film in the far future, it doesn’t look like we will be seeing his vision any time soon. (Image by FaceMePLS – The Sphere, a sculpture by Fritz Koenig, originally stood in a WTC lobby and is now at Battery Park.)

8. Rendezvous with Rama

David Fincher

Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal Rendezvous with Rama is one of the most important and influential hard science fiction novels ever written. The story follows a group of astronauts who explore a 31-mile long cylindrical alien starship that drifts into our solar system. As a distinguished piece of science fiction, it only stands to reason that Hollywood would try to cash in on it (just as they would try to do with the book that inspired entry number six on this list). The most promising adaption saw none other than Morgan Freeman vying for producer and David Fincher as director. However, the film has been stuck in development hell. One of the main reasons was that Freeman said that the only way to make the film would be to use the technology from James Cameron’s Avatar to make it 3-D. This has been complicated by the fact that several times in the past Fincher has reportedly abandoned the project. However, movie nerds should rejoice because Fincher has retracted these statements and said that he and Freeman are still planning to make the film in a few years.

7. Kaleidoscope

Alfred Hitchcock

Considering that Alfred Hitchcock is widely considered one of the greatest directors to ever live, the news that he wasn’t able to finish a film is nothing short of a tragedy. The film that Hitchcock was never able to complete was tentatively entitled Kaleidoscope. As fans of Hitchcock’s work can testify, in his later years he began to depict sex and violence much more graphically than before, the most famous example being the infamous shower scene in Psycho. However, if Hitchcock had been allowed to make Kaleidoscope the way he intended, it would have blown Psycho’s adult content out of the water. The film would follow a “necrophiliac serial killer in New York City.” Let that sink in for a moment. Even more shocking is that the killer would be the main character! Hitchcock was not able to get his film accepted by any studio and he would eventually cannibalize many of the film’s ideas for the 1972 film Frenzy. While Frenzy was in itself a disturbing and graphic film, it was not nearly as shocking and explicit as Hitchcock’s original vision.

6. Dune

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Much like the aforementioned Rendezvous with Rama, Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the true masterpieces of science fiction. Known for its truly epic scale and size, adapting Dune for the screen would be no small feat. But that didn’t stave off director Alejandro Jodorwsky, director of such cult classics as The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre, and El Topo. Jodorowsky’s script for his adaptation would have resulted in a 14-hour movie. But that’s not all. Jodorowsky was planning to cast Orson Welles as the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Salvador Dalí as the Emperor Saddam Corrino IV. The film’s soundtrack would have been comprised of new material by such artists as Pink Floyd and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Pre-production for the film consisted of a team comprised of such legendary artists as Chris Foss, Jean Giraud (Moebius), and H. G. Giger. If Jodorowsky had been able to complete his film, it literally would have been the likes of which nobody had ever seen or comprehended before. But the production fell through, the rights for filming Dune were sold, and- instead of the olympian space epic that Jodorowsky had in mind- audiences were given a mediocre adaptation by David Lynch.

5. Napoleon

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick is one of the very few directors who could make a legitimate claim to having never made a bad film. Kubrick’s legendary perfectionism and craftsmanship led to several films which have since been named the greatest ever made, such as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange. His untimely death in 1999 prevented him from completing what could have been the greatest film of his career: a large scale biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte. When he died, Kubrick had done a massive amount of pre-production work, such as scouting locations, writing a script, and enlisting the help of the Romanian army to film the epic battle scenes.

While Kubrick has passed on, his script has survived and can be read online. Considering how another one of his uncompleted projects, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, was completed after his death by other filmmakers, it stands to reason that one day somebody might use Kubrick’s script and create the film that he always dreamed of.

4. The Game of Death

Bruce Lee

Considering his massive influence on the film industry, it is tragic to learn that Bruce Lee died before he could complete what would be his last feature-length film: Game of Death. While working on it, Lee was offered the chance to star in Enter the Dragon, a film that would be the very first kung fu film produced by a Hollywood studio. So, Lee put the production of Game of Death on hold while he completed Enter the Dragon. However, he died before he could return to work on Game of Death. Thankfully, over 100 minutes of footage was completed before Lee died. Some of this precious celluloid was misplaced in the Golden Harvest archives in Hong Kong, but Robert Clouse (director of Enter the Dragon) used the rest, plus some new footage to cobble together a film that was released in 1978. The 1978 film was also entitled Game of Death, but Bruce Lee’s original vision for the film is forever lost.

Read more about how freaking awesome Bruce Lee really was.

3. Who Killed Bambi?

Russ Meyer

Who Killed Bambi was originally envisioned as a punk rock version of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. The film was set to star the British band The Sex Pistols, the direction of nudie-cutie legend Russ Meyer, and a screenplay helmed by none other than Roger Ebert. Yes, THAT Roger Ebert. Roger Ebert would later claim that only a day and a half’s worth of shooting was ever completed before their production company, 20th Century Fox, pulled all of the film’s funding after reading the script. What little footage that survives includes the singer Sting assaulting Sex Pistols’ drummer Paul Cook. In 2010, Ebert posted the complete screenplay of Who Killed Bambi on his blog. Maybe it’s a good thing that the film was never completed. Considering how violently the Sex Pistols’ music rocked society, a Sex Pistols’ film may have signaled the start of the Biblical Apocalypse.

2. Dark Blood

George Sluizer

While most people may be more familiar with the increasingly odd antics of his brother, Joaquin, the legacy of River Phoenix has lived on in the hearts of lovers of independent filmmaking. After establishing himself as one of the most promising young actors of his generation in such films as Stand by Me and My Own Private Idaho, River died of drug-induced heart failure in 1993 at the age of 23. His timing was particularly unfortunate considering that at the time of his death he was working on a film entitled Dark Blood with director George Sluizer. The film was supposed to follow River as a character simply named ‘Boy’ who makes dolls that he believes contains magical powers while living on a nuclear testing site. With only eleven days of shooting left at the time of River’s death, the film was abandoned. At the current time of the writing of this article, Sluizer has announced plans to released the film in 2012 with the aid of Joaquin Phoenix. However, said film reportedly contains many changes from the original film envisioned in the early 90s.

1. Heart of Darkness

Orson Welles

Orson Welles may very well be the patron saint of uncompleted film projects. While frequently cited by critics and other filmmakers as one of the greatest directors who ever lived, he found great difficulty in finding financiers for his projects. The great challenge in writing about Orson Welles in the context of this list is picking just one of his unfinished projects. I could have easily written about his abandoned productions of Don Quixote, The Merchant of Venice, and The Other Side of the Wind. But I’ve instead chosen his little-heard-of plan to film Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The film would have been Welles’ very first. Welles intended it to be done entirely in long takes from the point of view of Marlow (played by himself, of course) as he sailed down the river. The film was meticulously planned out but ultimately failed to gain funding, as it was impossible to complete on budget. It was because of his failure to finish Heart of Darkness that Welles was forced to begin work on another film…one that would later be entitled Citizen Kane.


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72 Comments

  1. “Stanley Kubrick is one of the very few directors who could make a legitimate claim to having never made a bad film.”

    Oh, he made one. His earliest outing, Fear and Desire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_and_Desire). It plays like a slightly more expensive student film, full of ennui and way too much inner dialogue. It’s uneven and very, very experimental that plays more like an art house flick than any of his later movies.

    Kubrick, embarrassed by the film, later tried to buy up every single last copy of the film. He mostly succeeded, but the few copies in private collections ended up dribbling out occasionally. It finally showed on television in 2011 on TNT (where I saw it) and will be released on Blu Ray later this year. My suggestion: unless you’re a completist, don’t buy it.

    • Killers Kiss may also qualify as a “bad movie”. It’s watchable as an extra feature on The Killing Blu Ray from Criterion, but other than some interesting camera angles, it is pretty bad cinema on its own.

        • Can you explain what Eyes Wide Shut was, because I can’t? I’d like to hear someone’s explanation.

        • Sure…

          What people expected EWS to be was a sexy thriller full of sexy sexiness and thrilling sex.

          What it was… was an exploration of the joy of faithfulness and family and the destructive nature of lust and selfishness. .

        • OK, thanks for that. If you don’t mind speaking some more about it, can you tell me why it worked for you on that level? What was your take on what Kubrick was saying in regards to those subjects? Were there any specific scenes which really hammered the point home to you?

          I went into the movie not really knowing what to expect, but expecting to see something that looked “Kubrickian.” The sex scenes had been discussed alot, but honestly, I found them quite tame, and they didn’t really progress the story in any direction for me. Compared to something like “Caligula,” the sex was almost non-existent, or it at least had so little impact on me that I can’t even remember it.

        • Nothing really specific, just the impression I got. Alice’s admission of lust for the sailor sends Bill on the path that puts his marriage at risk. Bill’s lust for importance among the rich and his clients makes him emotionally distant from his wife. In contrast, scenes about families are brightly lit with Christmas trees and the typical expected family joy of the season. The exception is Zeigler’s Christmas party which is brightly lit for the attendeess, but hides a darker secret (the drug-addled hooker). I’d say that this serves to contrast the real world (within the movie) with Zeigler’s hidden life. But again – that’s just my impression.

          The other option is that the entire movie is a long, lustful dream, which would be in line with the title of the original novel: Traumnovelle (Dream Story).

          And you’re right – it’s not overly Kubrickian. It’s a dark film, sure, but the ending is surprisingly happy with nary a hint of the cynicism that endings like Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, or FMJ give us.

          And yes – the sex scenes, while fairly graphic for an R-rated film, were Kubrickianingly distant affairs.

      • Agreed. I still have no clue what that movie was supposed to be. I can usually conjure up at least one mental image of a movie that sort of summarizes it for me, but this one just defies any kind of summary because it made so little sense. I’ve read analyses on it, and none of the analysis even makes any sense. Compared to his other movies, this one brings to mind that old Sesame Street song…”one of these things is not like the others..” It doesn’t even seem to share his cinematic style evident in the other movies.

  2. I’ve always believed that “Apocalypse Now” was a modern version of “Heart Of Darkness”–Good List-Well Written.

  3. Peter Boucher on

    Regarding # 3 “Who Killed Bambi” I have never heard of (most likely due to the fact that it was incomplete and was and also the fact that it was directed by Russ Meyer he’s a piece of work if you ask me surrounded by big vixen women all of the time) Having The Sex Pistols as the stars of the movie, would have been a catastrophic disaster in movie film land. However, regarding The Sex Pistols, a must see is “Sid And Nancy” (1986) which focuses mainly on Sid Vicious (the bassist for The Sex Pistols as portrayed by Gary Oldman) and his obvious self destructive ways and Chloe Webb who portrays Nancy Spungen, Sid’s long suffering girl friend. There is no need for loving or hating Punk Rock Music, just watch Oldman and Webb as they are superb in this movie. Just a reminder, if you should happen to be in New York City, stay at The Chelsea Hotel, Room No. 100. That is the room where Sid (on the throes of a Heroin Trip) stabbed Chloe to death. He was apprehend by the NYPD and was jailed which eventually led to his suicide inside of his cell by hanging himself with the Bed Sheets that he was provided with.

    • Sid Viscous did not commit suicide in jail. He overdosed on heroin the day after he was released from Riker’s Island.
      And he killed Nancy, not Chole.

      • Peter Boucher on

        @ Riff. Sorry for the misinformation. as I got carried away and, Yes, He did die of a heroin overdose after he was released from Riker’s Island (a great place to raise your kids…….yeah right !!!) in New York. Then again, he would probably have been dead concerning the deadly nightlife he endured. It sounds like your into Punk Rock of the late 70′ and early 80’s, Does the name G.G. Allen ring a bell with you ???

  4. Don Quixote by Terry Gilliam. Would’ve starred Johnny Depp. Instead we got a flop-umentary called Lost in La Mancha, which trailed the failure of the over-reaching, over-budget film to make it out of the gate.

    • How about “Good Omens” by Terry Gilliam? I’d pay good money to see Robin Williams and Johnny Depp as the devil and angel in an adaptation of the Gaiman/Stephenson novel. Alas, it seems to have been tabled indefinitely.

      • Murgatroyd on

        Um … Gaiman and Pratchett, not Gaiman and Stevenson.

        And speaking o movies in Development Hell, what about Stranger in a Strange Land?

        • Gaiman and Pratchett, of course. My bad! I sit corrected.

          Stranger in a Strange Land would be X or NC-17 right out of the gate, if it were remotely true to the book. I didn’t know anyone was even considering trying to make it into a movie. They’d have their work cut out for them, for sure.

        • Stranger In A Strange Land wouldn’t work on Mars as it was originally written; it would have to be set on a distant planet similar to Pandora in Avatar (there is no air on Mars) and it’s probably dated anyway. A better novel to adapt would be Greg Bear’s Moving Mars, instead.

    • That one immediately came to mind. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote seemed like a “return to form” for Gilliam, and Depp certainly would’ve added a lot. They attempted to get it back off the ground a few years ago but it remains stalled.

    • Agreed, but it’s amazing how lousy David Lynch’s version was. I mean, David Lynch is almost as mad as Jodorowsky, don’t you think?

  5. “Full Metal Jacket” is another bad Kubrick film. There was never any question that Kubrick’s movies – especially, those from “Lolita” onward – were well made,but no matter how well the film is made,if the dimensions of the script and characters aren’t very deep, the overall film still comes up short. I still haven’t seen Eyes Wide Shut,but I hear the same things,so it wouldn’t surprise me.

    • You are incorrect. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it a “Bad Film”. That would be a film that is more widely acknowledged to be bad for any number of reasons. For example, Twilight is a bad film, but it is still loved by many people.

  6. “Full Metal Jacket” is a bad film? I would have to respectfully disagree on that one. Once again, different strokes for different folks,I guess

  7. I read the novel “Lolita” by the Russian writer (who’e name escapes me at the moment) before I saw the movie. They were both silly.

  8. Kubrick didn’t finish his Napoleon film because of his death in 1999, he didn’t finish it because a film named “Waterloo” bombed in 1970. Both Kubrick and his financial backers dropped the plans to make the film, even with the amount of work already done (I guess costumes had already been created). Kubrick simply shifted to a much different project, “A Clockwork Orange.”

    Kubrick’s would later use much of his pre-production work for his masterful “Barry Lyndon.”

    I’m actually more intrigued about Kubrick’s potential Holocaust films that were never made.

    • Yeah, Kubrick used those Napolean locations for Barry Lyndon. Apparently he abandoned his potential holocaust movie when he learned about Spielberg’s project, Schindler’s List.

  9. Full Metal Jacket… once it left Parris Island and ventured into Kubrick’s ludicrous depiction of Vietnam and the men who fought there…was perhaps the worst theatrical production I have ever seen. No wait; Eyes Wide Shut was as bad if not worse due in large part to not having anyone with even the scantest bit of acting chops. He allowed, or perhaps demanded, that his “actors” make the silliest faces imaginable whenever they were stuck on which eyebrow to twitch next. Terrific cinematographer. Marvelous writer. Awful at reigning in the hams he employed. There isn’t one Kubrick effort without the prerequisite awkward moment or two or three that should have been embarrassing for so talented a man.

    • artfrankmiami on

      Gunny, as I understood it, and gleaning some insight from Fredric Rafaeal’s book about writing the screenplay with Kubrick, Kubrick wanted Cruise and Kidman to be as boring and normal as possible–fish out of water I guess. The hot actors of the moment were Cruise and Kidman and that probably helped a lot getting the movie made. Kubrick supposedly shot 60 takes for simple scenes to wear out any artifice in the performances. And Hammy performances? Nothing more hammy than Jack Nicholson in The Shining, which with the exceptions of the elevator and Big Wheel scenes I thought was a bore. Someday I’ll force myself to watch it again.

    • The point wasn’t to make an extremely accurate depiction of Vietnam it was an allegorical depiction of war and what it does to man and for that it is a very accurate depiction. I would agree though the whole “never made a bad film” was a little too much Eyes Wide Shut was ludicrous and a slow paced endeavor which took over 400 days to shoot.

    • That’s not quite fair. Both Cruise and Kidman can act in the right circumstances. (See Tropic Thunder and To Die For, for examples.) It’s just that they’re seldom asked to because of their looks and star power.

      Personally, I usually find those two dull to watch, and I hated Eyes Wide Shut except for the Leelee Sobieski sequences. But I thought EWS *might* have turned out OK if Kubrick had lived to edit it properly, instead of leaving a mass of redundant footage that other people were too awed to cut.

  10. Chris M. Barkley on

    One MAJOR exclusion from this list: Harlan Ellison’s adaption of Isaac Asimov’s I, ROBOT, (copies of which are in book form and are still available) and was at one point, was on Warner Brother’s production schedule with Irwin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) directing.

    Read Ellison’s script and compare it to the 2004 piece of garbage directed by Alex Proyas and starring Will Smith. And weep.

    • The reason Ellison’s movie was never made is likely because nobody trusted Ellison at that point (also, after writing the execrable script for The Oscar, nobody was going to let him write another one or follow his advice for writing a film script about Asimov’s book.) Don’t believe me? Watch The Oscar and then get back to me about I, Robot:

  11. When science fiction authors think they’re philosophers, the results are uniformly dreadful. Star Trek I and V, and a lot of Heinlein. But at the base of that steaming pile is Dune. When Duke Atreides, the only character in the novel worth caring about, dies halfway through, you have a problem. 14 minutes of Dune would be hard to stomach, let alone 14 hours.

    As for the people who think Rendezvous With Rama is so “important,” please explain why. I found it a nice but harmless piece of adventure fluff, and I don’t see the slightest reason it would have to be made in 3-D. If you can’t create the appearance of depth in a 30-mile long cylinder, try Googling “perspective.”

    • Peter Boucher on

      @ Steve D. I am in 100 % agreement with you. I think “Rendez-vous With Rama was good book, but then again it was written by Arthur C. Clarke. My Dad is 82 years old and before I was born, he was a bookworm and still is. He practically forced me to read it which I did. If its made into a movie, well, so what. My genre of reading is much different then his. I am into Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey anything biographical. One movie you won’t catch me at that’s coming out is “Atlas Shrugged” that’s too deep for me. And speaking of Heinlein, in my own collection, I do have “Stranger In A Strange Land”, thats “calling my name out”. My favorite sci-fi writer has always been Richard Matheson.

      • Atlas Shrugged part 1 came out and I’ve heard it is a wonderful piece of garbage that 5 out 41 critics on Rotten Tomatoes were positive, they recalled DVDs and didn’t even recoup the money for the movie. I have it in my Netflix queue but haven’t watched it yet. Matheson has some of the best stuff that has been translated to movies and TV

        • Peter Boucher on

          Hello Nick and Thank You for your reply. Well, you have made my decision and “Atlas Shrugged” is out for me. Regarding Richard Matheson, he was always my favorite. Especially the many original episodes of the “Twilight Zone” he made. He was also the author of “The Incredible Shrinking Man”. I have seen the movies dozens of times and how the movie uses the mathematical formula known as the “Square-Cube” theory. Yet, I have never read the book which I am dying to get my hands on. I have this morbid phobia of Tarantulas and I live in Arizona, the Tarantula Capital of he United States……..go figure. I tried to pinpoint why I fear them, I concluded that the movie was the reason. But the movie (made in 1957) has special effects that stand up to even today’s standards. I love it.

        • I have an original of The Incredible Shrinking Man and have watched the original movie as well as Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman (at best a decent comedy) great movie and wish that they would put some of these on Blu Ray for upgrade to preserve them.

      • Peter, you’re the only person I’ve ever heard say that. I doubt the youbnger generation even knows who Matheson was. While he’s not my favorite, he certainly wrote a lot of great stuff.

        Someone was talking a minute ago about works that would make great movies. Has anyone considered James Blish’s trilogy, “After Such Knowledge.”? (I know, I’m using the new trend in punctuation. Forgive me.) With the kind of special effects that are possible today, the scene of Dis, capital city of Hell, rising from the earth might be awe-inspiring. And the scene where the U.S. army drops a bomb on the city and the demons go through rapid metamorphoses would be incredible.

  12. I don’t think Orson Welle’s Heart of Darkness was abandon because of budget. He did have a contract to make a film. It is entirely possible that he could have trim the budget enough to get this into production. I think it was rather Welle’s second guessing whether the subjective camera throughout the film was in fact going to work successfully.

  13. larry evans on

    do a top ten screenplays never to see the light of day – “Ain’t That America” by Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke) was a modern day “Grapes of Wrath” about the decline of Pittsburgh’s steel industry and it perhaps might top that list – it did win some best “non-produced screenplay” award I believe…

  14. Sorry this list is a joke without what could have been one of the finest movies ever made. The Vega Brothers was a project by Tarantino I wish I could have seen.

  15. “Rendezvous with Rama” is a good book. It is not nearly the greatest SF novel, nor is it particularly influential.

    It’s not even the best book by Clarke himself.

  16. Dune was remade in 2000- commonly called Dune 2000 and a Children of Dune based on that came- it was very successful and true to the Book…
    Dune 1984 was a disappointment to me… but Dune 2000 was all that!

    • It would also have been interesting to see how Empire Strikes Back would have turned out if union red tape hadn’t stop Steven Spielberg directing it.

  17. …JJ Benitez’s Trojan Horse

    A famous sci-fi book (actually several books make the saga) among spanish-speaking readers.

    I’ve always thought It’d make a great movie. If they could adapt Angels&Demons to the silver screen (not that I liked it), this one deserves a chance!!!!!

  18. What about Kieslowski’s The Divine Comedy trilogy?? It would have been pretty amazing to see what he could do with it after Three Colors..

  19. Im surprised no-one mentioned the movie Shi , It was to star Tia Carrere , they put out advertising for the movie but they lost funding before it could be made

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