There are no guarantees in show business. For all of the billions of dollars invested in making movies, there’s always a chance that a film just won’t break even at the box office. Even worse, sometimes things happen during post-production that result in a complete film never being released to the public at all. Studios are out a few million, actors lose a hard-earned credit on their résumé, and the world is deprived of a potential cinematic masterpiece. Here are some films that are out there, somewhere, but have never been officially released to the world.
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Before a cinematic universe was even a gleam in Marvel’s eye, the company raised money by selling off the film rights to some of their characters. German production company Neue Constantin bought the the Fantastic Four for about $250,000 in 1983—and then sat on them until 1992. Faced with the expiration of the agreement and needing to actually make a film in order to retain their rights, they slapped together a hasty, low-budget product in under a month… and the results were more painful to watch than the Thing’s bathroom routine.
The Fantastic Four got as far as showing trailers in theaters before Marvel caught on and bought back the rights to the property for a few million dollars, with the intent that all copies be destroyed in the interest of saving the publisher’s brand, then still in recovery after other cinematic failures. A copy of the film leaked out, however—much to Marvel’s chagrin—and quickly became one of the more legendary bootlegs to be found at any given comic con.
Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)
With a cast including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Zach “Gremlins” Galligan, Nothing Lasts Forever is the strange brainchild of Saturday Night Live alum Tom Schiller and Lorne Michaels. Because of unknown legal issues, the film never made it to either the big screen or home release, though it’s appeared on German and Dutch TV, and a single unceremonious airing on Turner Classic Movies.
Even the film’s description makes the plot a bit difficult to understand. It takes place in a Brazil-like surrealist world where the Port Authority has actual authority over all of New York, underground hobos actually rule the world, and Bill Murray is a bus driver who happens to make trips to the moon. The whole thing seems too strange to exist, but if you dig long enough, you can still find yourself an unauthorized copy to enjoy.
Big Bug Man (2006)
It’s strange to think that Marlon Brando’s last work has never been seen, and stranger still to know that it was an adult animated comedy, and that it found the mighty Brando starring opposite Brendan Fraser. According to CBS News, Brando was asked to play the role of a huge, burly, Brando-like man, but instead opted to play the part of “Mrs. Sour,” an evil, droopy old lady. All of Brando’s lines were recorded in his home, where the ailing thespian insisted on being dressed as an elegant woman, makeup and all.
While the finer details remain unknown, the cartoon follows a man who gains superpowers after being bitten by bugs, and how he struggles against corruption as the last moral person on Earth. It’s clearly not children’s fare, especially considering that the movie poster depicts one character literally kissing another character’s butt, but we still hope to experience Brando’s last role someday—especially since he told the crew that it was the most fun he’d had since appearing in 1953’s Julius Caesar.
Dark Blood (2012)
River Phoenix plays a man named Boy who lives in the middle of a desert. Boy becomes enamored with a married woman whose breaks down while driving nearby. There’s a kidnapping, a fight with an axe against a jealous husband, and a whole lot of waiting for the apocalypse.
Only a few scenes from Dark Blood were left unfilmed at the time of River Phoenix’s death, and although director George Sluizer managed to cobble together a final cut after years of effort, it’s never seen release outside of a few film festivals. Before editing the film himself, Sluizer even proposed that River’s brother Joaquin could stand in for the missing actor, a la Paul Walker’s brothers in Furious 7, but Joaquin refused to take part.
The Last Film Festival (2013)
A comedy about a movie so bad that it’s been rejected from almost 4,000 festivals, The Last Film Festival is about what happens when a director finds himself in the last showing available to him and his ill-fated production. Drama and comedy—and Chris Kattan—ensue.
Dennis Hopper, who played the movie-within-a-movie’s producer, had finished enough of his scenes in The Last Film Festival to make a complete cut, but production stopped short at the time of his death in 2010. The film’s writer and director, Linda Yellen, took to Kickstarter to raise the final chunk of money she needed to complete the film, and as of mid-2015, she’d raised over $10,000, with promises that digital downloads would be available that October. Nothing has been released to date, but a trailer is available on Kickstarter, so we might just see this film yet.
All American Massacre (1998)
Horror fans are pretty serious about their continuity, and the complicated mess of sequels, prequels, and reboots released after Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre don’t make it easy to follow. In 1998, the director’s son, William Hooper, added his own entry to the list with All American Massacre, a 1970s-set prequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 that has never been publicly released.
The film’s biggest bonus is that it includes actor Bill Moseley reprising the famous role of Chop Top, Leatherface’s deranged brother. It also promised to elaborate on the origins of the original murderous family. Years later, William turned to Kickstarter to complete post-production, but failed to secure the $8000 funding—possibly due to the trailer that accompanied the campaign, which struck some fans as amateurish. The film’s Facebook page has gone from intermittent updates to silence, so it’s possible that horror fans will never have the bloody satisfaction.
Spring Break ’83 (2010)
Conceived in the great tradition of terrible 1980s college frat movies, Spring Break ’83 stars a cross-section of stars from today and yesterday, including Jamie Kennedy, John Goodman, Morgan Fairchild, and Lee Majors. We’ll probably never know whether the comedy relic is worthwhile, because the whole thing was shut down due to the fact that the production company wasn’t paying anyone.
Even after the plug was pulled, additional filming went forward a few months later and director Mars Callahan told followers his cut had been completed. Big Sky Pictures’ website hosted dozens of production photos and even a preview of the beginning of the film, but to date, the completed production is stuck in limbo.
Gods Behaving Badly (2012)
Based on a comedic book about gods living in New York City and kinda being jerks, Gods Behaving Badly features an all-star cast that includes Christopher Walken as Zeus and John Turturro as Hades. It’s hard to find a reason why this film never made it past one film festival in Italy, but Variety’s critic called it “remarkably feeble,” also saying that it completely wasted an excellent cast.
Hollywood Reporter went on to say that the whole thing seems like a bad 1990s Saturday Night Live sketch, which is a pretty pointed insult. Some of the only things that have surfaced from this film are a bit of the campy CGI opening sequence and some pictures of Walken wearing a ridiculous curly wig and a gold headband, all probably best left unseen.
The Day the Clown Cried (1972)
The first words that come to mind when you think of Jerry Lewis aren’t usually “Holocaust clown,” but that’s the long and short of “The Day the Clown Cried”, directed by and starring the legendary comedian. The brutal narrative reportedly follows a failed German circus performer who’s placed in a concentration camp and forced to escort children into a gas chamber—and it only gets darker after that. It is based on a script of the same name by Joan O’Brien, who had co-written the original script with Charles Denton ten years previously.
Lewis plays a washed-up German circus clown named Helmut Doork during the beginning of World War II and the Holocaust. Although he was once a famous performer who toured North America and Europe with the Ringling Brothers, Doork is now past his prime and receives little respect. After Doork causes an accident during a show, the head clown convinces the circus owner to demote Doork. Upon returning home, Doork confides his problems to his wife Ada, and she encourages him to stand up for himself. After going back to the circus, Helmut overhears the circus owner agreeing to fire him after the head clown issues an ultimatum. A distraught Helmut is arrested later by the Gestapo for ranting about Germany and drunkenly mocking Adolf Hitler in a bar. Following an interrogation at the Gestapo headquarters, he is imprisoned in a Nazi camp for political prisoners. For the next three to four years, he remains there while hoping for a trial and a chance to plead his case.
He tries to maintain his status among the other inmates by bragging about what a famous performer he once was. His only friend in prison is a good-hearted German named Johann Keltner, whose reason for being interned is never fully revealed but is implied to be his outspoken opposition to the Nazis. The camp receives a large group of Jewish prisoners, including several children. The other prisoners goad Doork into performing for them, but he does not realize he actually is not very good. The other prisoners beat him up and leave him in the courtyard to sulk about his predicament. He sees a group of Jewish children laughing at him from the other side of the camp, where the Jewish prisoners are being kept away from everyone else. Delighted to be appreciated again, Helmut performs for them and gains an audience for a while, until the new prison commandant orders that he stop.
Helmut learns that fraternizing with Jewish prisoners is strictly forbidden. Unable to leave the children in a state of unhappiness, he continues to perform for them. The SS guards break up one of his performances; they knock him unconscious and warn the children away from the barbed-wire fence. Horrified, Keltner fights off one of the guards, but he is quickly cornered and beaten to death. Doork is placed in solitary confinement. Seeing a use for him, the commandant assigns him to help load Jewish children on trains leading out of the internment camp, with the promise his case will be reviewed. By a twist of fate, he ends up accidentally accompanying the children on a boxcar train to Auschwitz, and he is eventually used, in Pied Piper fashion, to help lead the Jewish children to their deaths in the gas chamber.
Knowing the fear the children will feel, he begs to be allowed to spend the last few moments with them. Leading them to the “showers,” he becomes increasingly dependent on a miracle, but there is none. He is so filled with remorse that he remains with them. As the children laugh at his antics, the film ends.
While the film sounds like a bleak dramatic masterpiece, Lewis has repeatedly vowed it’ll never be seen by the public. Other sources, including Lewis’ own website, complicate this further by claiming that the proper rights to the original screenplay were never properly secured, making it impossible to legally release the film. A small number of Hollywood’s elite have reportedly seen rough cuts of the film—including Harry Shearer, better known to most as the voice of Ned Flanders, who called the film “drastically wrong” and remarked that it’s even worse than anyone could imagine.
In 2012, Les Misérables did something kinda new by recording their entire musical film live, without any fancy studio overdubs. Critics gave the whole thing a lukewarm reception, but Misérables wasn’t the first film to be produced this way. One earlier example is 2004’s Temptation…which we’ll never get to see, even though it employed people who actually know how to sing. Temptation is a 2004 movie musical written by Sydney Forest and John Taylor and directed by Mark Tarlov. The film starred Adam Pascal, Alice Ripley, and Zoe Saldana. The film has not yet had a theatrical or video release.
The story tells the tale of Faust, making a deal with the devil, in a rock musical form. There is little-spoken dialogue in the film as the majority of the show is sung. The story is Annie (Zoe Saldana) works in a nightclub to support her boyfriend Billy. To settle an old debt with the nightclub owner Pablo (Michael Cerveris), Nicholi (Adam Pascal) and his personal assistant Sabrina (Alice Ripley) make a deal with Annie to make Billy a star, however Nicholi warns her if she utter “After all I’ve done for you” then Nicholi will claim a part of her soul. Annie is confident her love for Billy and agrees. However she does ultimately lose the deal and has to pay, and Nicholi takes her voice. Howie (Deven May)makes a deal with Nicholi to get back her voice, even if he has too lose his entire soul for her.The show uses characteristics of operatic recitative, as it is only being sung in Rock form, and is similar to musicals such as Rent and Bare. The vocals were recorded live on the set during filming, much like in the independent musical film Open House, rather than the lip synching process done in most movie musicals.
In 2017 producer Kerry Barden revealed the film has not yet had its release due to the fact they “felt the product was unfinished. We hope to release the film soon. Including an all-star cast of Broadway notables, as well as Zoe Saldana, the rock opera is reportedly a musical interpretation of the legend of Faust, mixed with a murder mystery and surrealistic animation. The film’s website still lingers, only hinting at the weird wonders we might one day see.
It must be frustrating to work for months in pre-production and on the set, just to have it go unrecognized due to what’s essentially a corporate lovers’ spat. But that’s the way it goes sometimes and, in this case, it sounds like a real shame. Prisoners is about an American family that moves to New Zealand to manage a prison, only to have problems arise when the daughter (played by a young Tatum O’Neal) begins a secret relationship with one of the inmates.
Beyond that, details are hard to come by. Legend has it that Tatum’s dad, actor Ryan O’Neal, bought the rights to prevent the movie’s release, but according to OV Guide, the producers later said that’s not true. It was a dispute between 20th Century Fox and the film’s financial backers.
My Best Friend’s Birthday (1987)
Quentin Tarantino is destined to be remembered and discussed for a long time to come. That makes it strange that his very first feature–the 70-minute, ultra-low-budget My Best Friend’s Birthday–has never been released, not even for cash grab purposes. Written and shot when the budding auteur was in his 20s, the movie follows a disc jockey as he twists himself into knots while trying to give his recently dumped buddy a birthday to remember.
But major portions of the film are considered lost, and barring some miraculous discovery, the complete movie simply doesn’t exist anymore. However, the surviving 40 minutes have screened at a few film festivals and surfaced online. As much as it stings to know Tarantino’s directorial debut may never be seen again, it might be for the best: his acting performance gets pretty grating. But we bet we’ll see Kill Bill Vol. 3 before we ever get a complete version of this thing.
Worst Case Scenario (2006)
From Dutch director Richard Raaphorst, this weird foreign horror is about an army of German zombies that rises from the dead to exact revenge against England over what a devastating soccer loss. Allegory? Maybe. It’s not clear how much of this movie actually exists.
The story tells of a fictional 2006 FIFA World Cup Finale between Germany and Netherlands. When the team from Germany loses, it is followed by an invasion of Nazi zombies. A small group of friends moves away from the nationwide madness, to a North Sea island where a horde of Nazi zombies wait.
Filming began in 2004, but only a little footage saw the light of day, mostly in a couple of popular trailers. The official promo was nominated for a Golden Trailer Award in 2006, and some zombie fans like the folks at Eat My Brains, dubbed it the best trailer they’d ever seen. We think that’s a stretch, but it’s likely that the trailer is all we’ll ever see of the movie. The production was canceled in 2009, while “Nazi zombies” became a bona fide hit in the 2015 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops.