Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sam Raimi has a long list of movies he never got to make

Sam Raimi in 2013
Photo: Ethan Miller (Getty Images)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,244,127-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: Sam Raimi’s Unrealized Projects

What it’s about: Sam Raimi has been directing movies for 40 years, from 1977’s It’s Murder! to cult-classic The Evil Dead to 1998’s emotionally wrenching thriller A Simple Plan, to his 2000s series of Spider-Man movies. But Raimi has also spent the last 40 years not directing movies, as while every director has projects that fail to pan out, Raimi has nearly 50 films that died in the planning stages.

Biggest controversy: A few of these are movies he actually did make. The first two entries on the list—The Book Of The Dead, and Relentless, ended up being reworked into Raimi’s second and third films, The Evil Dead and Crimewave. The first began as an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft short story Within The Woods, but went through enough story changes to merit a new name. The second was a Coen Brothers script Raimi retitled after several rewrites. Likewise, Raimi and his brother Ivan wrote a script for a film called The Curse in the ’90s, which was abandoned when Raimi was tapped to direct Spider-Man, but he revisited the script and filmed it as 2009’s Drag Me To Hell.

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Strangest fact: The 1990s could have been the decade of the superhero movie, had Raimi had his say. He and Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee pitched a Thor movie to 20th Century Fox in 1990, but “they didn’t understand Raimi’s and Lee’s idea,” and passed. Raimi then lobbied to direct a third and fourth Batman movie after Warner Brothers parted ways with Tim Burton following Batman Returns, but was passed over in favor of Joel Schumacher for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. One can only wonder where the Bat-franchise would have gone if those two films had avoided Schumacher’s camp sensibility and gone with Raimi specialties like “character development” and “nipple-free costumes.” Then again, would we want to live in a world where we couldn’t quote Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terrible ice puns?

Thing we were happiest to learn: Raimi dodged a few bullets here. He was the original director for the Warcraft movie but dropped out because he hadn’t finished Oz The Great And Powerful. (Duncan Jones took over Warcraft, to critical and commercial scorn.) He was also attached to an adaptation of The Last Of Us (a project that has recently been resurrected as a series). While that game has more story to it than Warcraft, based on every previous video game-to-film adaptation, we feel reasonably safe in saying even Raimi may have been hard pressed to turn a Playstation shoot-’em-up into cinematic gold. But we’ll keep our collective fingers crossed for Craig Mazin (Chernobyl)’s production for HBO.

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: If we’re Tobey Maguire, that Tobey Maguire missed out on a lot of work. Despite a middling fan reaction to 2007’s Spider-Man 3 (and likely thanks to the film’s tremendous box-office success), plans were underway to shoot a fourth and fifth movie back-to-back, with a sixth in development, all with Raimi directing and Maguire slinging webs. At the time, Movieline reported Anne Hathaway had been cast as Black Cat, and John Malkovich would play Vulture. Raimi had also planned on casting Bruce Campbell as Mysterio at some point. But Sony cancelled all three movies after Raimi felt he couldn’t meet the series’ schedule and that the fourth film had a “not so exciting script.” Instead, he planned to reteam with Maguire on a 2014 adaptation of Joe Abercrombie’s novel The Blade Itself, but after initial announcements, that project disappeared. (Maguire has not had an onscreen role since 2014, when he played Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice, although he has produced several films and voiced the narrator in The Boss Baby.)

Also noteworthy: We almost got a Xena reboot in 2016. NBC was developing a reboot of the syndicated cult hit Raimi created in 1995, and he was brought back to executive produce. But NBC spun its wheels, and it was never clear whether original series star Lucy Lawless was on board (at one point she tweeted that the reboot was just a rumor). In 2017, the new series’ writer-director left over “insurmountable creative differences,” and NBC cancelled its Xena plans.

That wasn’t Raimi’s only flirtation with television that went nowhere. Starz greenlit a Raimi-produced live-action series based on anime Noir in 2011, but it never aired because of “difficulty to get the project creatively to a good place.” In 2010, Deadline reported Raimi producing a series for ABC about a female prosecutor, an adaptation of Brian K. Vaughn’s Smokers for Fox, and a CBS procedural about a Scotland Yard detective who joins the LAPD, none of which made it to air. Raimi and David Cronenberg were reportedly working on a TV adaptation of Wendy Moore’s novel The Knifeman in 2012; in 2015 NBC ordered a Raimi-produced series Miracle Man, about an Afghanistan vet who can perform miracles (no relation to Alan Moore’s comic Miracleman). Neither of those materialized either.

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Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Wikipedia’s page on Development Hell has some insight as to why well-known directors like Raimi leave so many failed projects in their wake. According to concept artist Sylvain Despretz, “Development hell doesn’t happen with no-name directors. It happens only with famous directors that a studio doesn’t dare break up with. And that’s how you end up for two years just, you know, polishing a turd. Until, finally, somebody walks away, at great cost.” (Our favorite part of that quote is that the phrase “polishing a turd” seems to also have its own Wikipedia page, although it in fact redirects to “lipstick on a pig.”)

Further Down the Wormhole: The one thing we were hoping to learn from this page and didn’t was whether Raimi would have given us Bruce Campbell as Batman. The actor, who’s collaborated with Raimi on the Evil Dead series, Crimewave, and short-lived TV series Jack Of All Trades, (as well as a recurring role on Xena), didn’t get to play the World’s Greatest Detective, but did play a private investigator on Burn Notice. Which isn’t the next-best-thing by any means, but we’re always happy to see Campbell getting some work.

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We’re also always happy to see stories about private investigators, a noble profession that traces its origins to Eugène François Vidocq’s detective agency, Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le commerce et l’Industrie, founded in 1833 in France and largely staffed by ex-convicts. Private investigation became more respectable in the U.S. with the advent of the more succinctly named Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Among other exploits, the Pinkertons prevented an 1861 assassination attempt against Abraham Lincoln with the help of America’s first female detective, Kate Warne. We’ll look at her story—which now that we think about it, would make a great movie for Sam Raimi to direct—next week.

Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in fall 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.

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