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Review by C.J. Bunce

Stanley Kubrick’s The Lord of the Rings starring The Beatles.  Peter Jackson’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.  George Miller’s Justice League.  Robert Rodriguez’s Barbarella.  Shane Black’s The Monster Squad.  Two John Carpenter movies you’ve never seen.  If you’re wondering what the best movie was in any given year, you have plenty of options.  You can look for the movie that had the biggest take at the box office.  You can look to critic reviews.  You can scroll through the Internet Movie Database.  You can review awards lists or Alternate Oscars.  Or you can just watch the movies and choose for yourself.  Underexposed! The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made, a new book arriving this month from Abrams, could have been called False Starts–it’s a book about movies that almost made it to the big screen.

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Peppered with movie poster mock-ups from art group PosterSpy, filmmaker and film enthusiast Joshua Hull tracked down interesting histories of some of the best and most quirky movies that almost got made, but were either abandoned, had legal rights issues, lack of funding, lack of interest, or simply were not made to save audiences from a bad idea.  They aren’t from obscure creators, either.  The list includes projects from Alfred Hitchcock to Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg–and some are ideas that sound like they could have been pretty great.  What were they thinking?  Find out in this book.  

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This isn’t a book of what-ifs–most of the movie selections had some kind of real, tangible beginning–maybe a script was written, a director signed, actors cast, or the film was made and shelved.  John Hughes was working on a film co-starring Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald called Oil & Vinegar.  Sofia Coppola was making an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid that might have starred either Chloe Moretz or Maya Hawke.

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Anyone who likes movies will appreciate Hull’s work here.  He provides some background on the project, like how far the film made it into production, who wanted the film made, and who didn’t.  Some of these were truly pie-in-the sky efforts, but others might have been made had a creator’s most recent project not have tanked–the biggest reason many of these films didn’t proceed was doubt by a studio exec after a success was followed by a failure.  This applied to even the biggest names in Hollywood.  The Coen Brothers, The Wachowskis,  Joel Schumacher,  David Fincher,  David Lynch, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott and more–every director has a pile of movies they wanted to make and didn’t, but these are some of the projects you probably never even heard about.  

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The best of these must be John Carpenter’s Shadow Company, a project that couldn’t sound more consistent with the 1980s oeuvre of the director, complete with long-time collaborator/producer Walter Hill and script by Shane Black and Fred Dekker (who provides a foreword for the book), and Kurt Russell saving the day, this time as part of a company of soldiers left for dead in Cambodia.  When their bodies are returned to the U.S. for burial, Russell’s character is there when they return to life.

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So many movies see like they would have worked, especially Sofia Coppola’s The Little Mermaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the title role of Cleopatra.

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Hull discusses a reboot of Gregory Mcdonald’s Fletch franchise, which was to be directed by Kevin Smith.  The weirdest is a battle between Kubrick’s The Lord of the Rings starring The Beatles (Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Samwise, John as Gollum, and George as Gandalf) or Jason (as in Friday the 13th) vs. Cheech & Chong.

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The poster artwork, by fans and professionals, provides a good supplement to these Hollywood stories, with many posters that further will make readers wish some of these projects had been realized on the big screen.

Fun for any movie buff, Underexposed! The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made is now available here at Amazon, in a hardcover edition that will partner nicely with the books in TCM’s library of classic and genre films (reviewed here).