At any given moment in the nebulous world of big studio film production there are as many phantoms floating around as there are solid movies made. Regardless of whether these loosely connected collections of ideas, scripts, and attached names ever find a home and a green light, these potential projects permeate production offices, studio meetings, agents’ agendas as well as blogs and news sites just like this.
Of these phantoms, those that draw the most passionate feedback, whether they spark hope for the possibility of seeing a childhood memory brought to life on the big screen or threaten to rip apart the internet under the weight of fans’ collective rage, are those that are adapted from works of science fiction and fantasy. These adaptations continue to be the go to projects of many producers due to the burgeoning success of the genres in film and television (thanks to the floodgate of comic book movies and book series based TV programs released in the last ten years), the seemingly unlimited amount of source material with built in fan bases to draw upon, and of course the inherent lack of creativity and originality in studio executives.
As this is a well documented trend, one that deserves its own set of subgenres, I’d rather not dwell too heavily on what we pop culture aficionados already know like Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s Secret Service or Warner Bros.’ rumored Bleach adaptation (and the countless others) and instead shine some light in no particular order on the ten most highly anticipated and obscure adaptations still yet to be officially confirmed yet might actually happen.
1. The Umbrella Academy
I cannot recommend The Umbrella Academy enough as it is as darkly humorous as it is action packed and deeply affecting. My Chemical Romance’s lyricist and vocalist, Gerard Way, who graduated from The School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1999 and interned at Cartoon Network before assembling his now world famous rock band, is the creator and writer of the 2008 Eisner Award winning Dark Horse series, The Umbrella Academy, about the surreal adventures (like defeating a zombie operated Eiffel Tower or time traveling to ensure JFK’s assassination) of an estranged family of mysteriously super powered orphans reunited after the death of their mentor.
Last summer Deadline reported Dodgeball writer and director Rawson Thurber was hired by Universal to re-work a script by Mark Bomback. Although the third volume from Way was announced to be released in 2010 and has gone with no further announcements, it stands to reason the creative forces behind it are simply busy with other projects – Way with his band, and artist Gabriel Ba with Matt Fraction’s Casanova.
Now if only Claudio Sanchez of Coheed & Cambria can get a movie deal out of his Amory Wars comic series they could start some sort of club.
Now this one has a bit of history. Garth Ennis’ subversive landmark Vertigo comic series which followed a cursed preacher, his outlaw girlfriend, and cheeky drunk vampire partner in crime on a quest to hold God accountable for all the pain and suffering in the world was as controversial as it was profound. The 75 issue body of work wrapped up in 2000 but the film rights were originally sold in 1998 to Electric Entertainment with writer-director Rachel Talalay attached to direct a script by Ennis.
Financing has been perpetually difficult to secure due to the divisive nature of the religiously themed stories which involve intense sex scenes and graphic violence, not to mention a story arc involving a certain popular messiah embodied by a severely cognitively impaired individual. Kevin Smith’s View Askew Productions tried to pitch the project to Miramax in 2000 without success before U.K. based Storm Entertainment joined the crusade and got a green light with James Marsden cast in the title role in 2002. Eventually the project was abandoned for budgetary concerns but in 2006 HBO commissioned a pilot from writer-producer Mark Steven Johnson whom wished to make each issue an hour long episode.
By 2008 new executives at HBO dumped the series but later that year Columbia Pictures bought the rights with Sam Mendes directing. Mendes ultimately moved on to other projects and in 2009 John Cusack expressed interest in the role. Then in 2010 director Joe Carnahan and auteur Darren Aronofsky were each rumored to potentially take the helm (as was Aronofsky for the Superman reboot and the Wolverine sequel) before director D.J. Caruso tweeted in February of 2011 that he had sealed a deal to start work on the project. Though Caruso’s IMDb page includes no mention of it, his recently developed clout in Hollywood and past interest in another critically acclaimed Vertigo epic, Y: The Last Man, as well as other film makers’ consistent interest in the project is enough to make a skeptic a believer of its eventual arrival on our screens.
Another comic full of sex and violence looking to be adapted into film is Tim Seeley’s Image Comics series Hack/Slash which began in 2004 but didn’t graduate to a full ongoing series until 2007 and is a kind of post modern take on the slasher horror film genre. The protagonists are Cassie Hack, a character designed to be the typical female horror movie victim who has overcome her fears to take revenge on all horror villains known in this universe as “slashers”, and Vlad, a hulking brute of a man with disfigurements who has also sworn to rid the world of slashers as he was once mistook for one. As Cassie was originally conceived for the protagonist of Freddy vs. Jason, the ties between this comic and cinema have been close since its inception and remain so today.
Although the property was already adapted into a stage play in 2005 by the New Millennium Theater Company of Chicago starring Stefani Bishop, and an animated adaptation is planned to be released by HALO 8 Entertainment and directed by Matt Pizzolo, a live action feature is in the works. Originally announced in 2006 at the San Diego ComiCon to be released by Rogue Pictures, a division of Universal, in 2008 with Todd Lincoln directing and Martin Schenk writing, then reported by Variety in 2009 to be directed by Fredrik Bond and written by Stephen Susco, according to The Hollywood Reporter as of this past January, Hack/Slash is now to be helmed by Marcus Nispel for Relativity Media which acquired the now defunct Rogue Pictures.
Nispel looks to be a good fit as he has previously directed the recent remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Conan the Barbarian. Who might play the main character, Cassie, has been the center of much contention as both Megan Fox and Kat Dennings have each expressed interest in the role while series creator Seeley has vehemently recommended Allison Scagliotti through a Twitter campaign that has broke records.
Speaking of breaking records, I think Jeff Smith may have received more consecutive Harvey and Eisner awards than anyone else for his Tolkienesque graphic novel Bone. The deceivingly cartoonish black and white series is now collected in a single 1,342 page tome but originally ran from 1991 to 2004 over the course of 55 issues. The epic is an especially effective mix of slap-sticky, light-hearted comedy and genuinely dark fantasy following three cousins’ travels as fugitives from their hometown to saviors of a medieval valley and its inhabitants, including a warrior princess, from the clutches of a dark lord.
Apparently children’s network Nickelodeon attempted to acquire the film rights back in the 90s but failed when creator Smith saw how the studio intended to treat his property, casting child actors for the main characters and planning to include pop songs in the soundtrack. Then in 2008 Warner Bros. secured the rights with the intention to adapt Bone into a film series. Last summer Smith was quoted as saying the footage from Animal Logic, the animation company behind Happy Feet and Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hool, that he saw of the computer animated 3D trilogy set to begin its release in 2013 was “pretty mind-blowing.”
This past January The Hollywood Reporter announced Sean Patrick Smith (no relation) as the films’ writer and P.J. Hogan as its director. Though some may wince when looking at Sean Patrick Smith’s resume which includes family friendly dramas such as Warner’s Everwood and Summerland as well as ABC Family’s Greek and Kyle: XY, as Bone is that rare breed of story which is simultaneously captivating and engaging for both adults and children, Smith is as apt a choice as any other to write the script which is planned to be polished by writer-director Hogan. Seeing as how Jeff Smith was wise enough to stay away from Nickelodeon in the 90s makes me confident this new deal with Warners will be handled well.
5. All You Need is Kill
Another graphic novel Warner Bros. seems pretty dead set on getting out in theaters within the next year is the 2004 Japanese manga by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need is Kill, which follows a young soldier in a technologically advanced future, fighting a war he can’t escape as he is caught in a time loop where he keeps resurrecting from his seemingly inevitable death, growing as a warrior and attempting to alter his fate. Sounds like Mass Effect meets Groundhog Day. Deadline announced in April 2010 the purchase of Dante Harper’s script to be directed by Doug Liman as reported by Variety that August.
Late last year The Huffington Post and The Hollywood Reporter each reported Tom Cruise’s negotiations to star in the role Warners originally wanted Brad Pitt to fill. The movie, renamed We Mortals Are (I get the Japanese title not translating well but the new title feels even more awkward), sounds like a very cool project for Cruise to take advantage of in his comeback from being that weird dude who kidnapped Katie Holmes, ruined Oprah’s couch, and got pissed at South Park.
Unlike some of the projects on this list, this one definitely looks like it is happening with shooting booked for later this summer.
6. The Dark Tower
There is an insanely long list of movies adapted from the works of Stephen King. At the risk of including something wholly unnecessary I’ll just briefly remind everyone of IT, The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Pet Cemetery, The Mist and about a ga-zillion other movies you’ve probably seen at some point just by owning a TV, all of which were adapted from the works of King. Anyone familiar with the author should also be familiar with his Dark Tower series which King himself describes as his magnum opus as it connects the staggering litany of King’s stories and chronicles the epic quest of a gunslinger searching for a fabled tower of metaphysical proportions said to be the nexus of all universes in a desolate world of magic and six shooters. The eight volume ongoing series which began in 1982 has also spawned an online video game and a couple comic book series and is struggling to become a set of feature films and television series.
Back in September 2010 an incredibly ambitious vision was put forth by NBC Universal for a joint film and television franchise to be produced by Brian Grazer and directed by Ron Howard. Back then Universal had “a deep interest and passion for the The Dark Tower series,” and King expressed confidence that “that will translate into an intriguing series of films and TV shows that respect the origins and the characters in The Dark Tower that fans have come to love.” This project was conceived as a trilogy of films with two television series spanning the gaps between movies.
Early in 2011 Javier Bardem was offered the lead role of Roland Deschain and seemed genuinely interested. Then that summer rumors of the unprecedentedly ambitious project’s collapse were confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter due to budgetary concerns which Howard refused to give in on. As disappointing as this news was to fans, it was no surprise considering the scope of the project’s multi-media plans despite the huge names attached. However, both Howard and Grazer are apparently quite dedicated to this project as the latest news from October is that the two were able to scale down the budget by about 45 million dollars and bring The Dark Tower to HBO with Bardem still attached. Though the project seemed too big for its britches right from the start, considering King’s excellent track record in terms of widely successful source material and the producers’ dedication and tenacity in finding the right vehicle for the project, not to mention the combined power of those attached, there’s no reason not to keep hope alive for the gunslinger to be seen on HBO, especially since it is listed on the network’s schedule of premieres for 2012.
Quite similar to the legacy of films adapted from the works of Stephen King is that of Philip K. Dick. People who possess even just a passing knowledge of author Philip K. Dick’s bibliography know how rich and complex his works are, and realize his profound influence on the world of science-fiction. Those who’ve never heard the name before, first of all, crawl out from under your rock and crack open a goddamned book, and secondly, you should know that some of the most seminal sci-fi thrillers including Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, and A Scanner Darkly, among others, are all adaptations from the works of Philip K. Dick. The author has long been an exciting story teller to mine film concepts from and the latest planned to be adapted is his 1969 novel, Ubik, which from what I can tell is like many of Dick’s other works in that the protagonist is an average schlub in a world we would consider fantastical by any standard.
The story follows a psy-technician who, after a bit of explosive corporate espionage, experiences reality bending phenomena that appear to send him backward through time. An adaption was attempted in the 70s when a French film maker commissioned Dick to write a script but the project was never pursued. It wasn’t until 2006 that news of a Ubik film was heard again when A Scanner Darkly producer Tommy Pallotta expressed his interest. The film was optioned in 2008 by Celluoid Dreams and in February of last year Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind writer and director Michel Gondry was named as its director as reported by Empire and Screen Rant.
As one of the film’s producers and the author’s daughter, Isa Dick Hackett explains in a revealing interview with io9 from last summer, “I think Michel Gondry and Ubik is insane, crazy good.” Hackett is very confident in the creative forces behind this project and explains they’re making sure their script is up to snuff before finding a studio, ensuring hopefully that they get to tell their version and not that of a team of executives.
Winner of the Philip K. Dick award (as well as the Hugo and Nebula awards making the book the first sci-fi “triple-crown” winner) is Neuromancer, the 1984 debut novel from another one of science-fiction’s most seminal authors, William Gibson, who has been called the “noir prophet” of the cyberpunk genre of fiction which he is praised as being one of the major driving forces behind.
Neuromancer, the first of the Sprawl trilogy (all three components of which have recently been optioned for adaptations, as has two of Gibson’s other novels, Idoru and Pattern Recognition), is the gritty story of a team of underground computer hackers in a world of advanced technology including Artificial Intelligences. Neuromancer and its sequels are not the first works of Gibson’s to be optioned for film. 1998’s New Rose Hotel is based on a short story of Gibson’s as is 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic which has a strong cult following despite the author’s disappointment at the final product falling short of the tone of the source material.
In May 2007 Variety reported producer-distributor Peter Hoffman’s company Seven Arts optioned the novel with director Joseph Kahn attached. In May 2010 reports surfaced that Vincenzo Natali, director of Cube and Splice, had taken over directing duties and would rewrite the screenplay. Total Film reported Natali’s film went into pre-production last Spring, and filming is expected to begin this year with a budget of $60 million. Last November Indiewire confirmed rumors circulating that Bruce Willis was reading the script though not officially signed on. You can read an interview with Natali on his thoughts on Neuromancer and William Gibson from io9.
9. Dragonriders of Pern
Anne McCaffrey’s ongoing 22-book series which began in 1967 has been helping people believe in the awesomeness of dragons for generations. The first novel of this series, which spans over 2,000 years and chronicles a colonized planet’s people’s struggle to keep their homes safe from a deadly and destructive spore that rains down on them from a neighboring rogue planet with the aid of telepathic fire breathing dragons, Dragonflight, earned its author the prestigious honor of being the first female to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The series is unique in that it’s science-fiction wrapped in fantasy packaging. Yes there are dragons in a feudal society, but that society was born from interplanetary colonization and the dragons are genetically engineered to protect humans and fight a dangerous alien spore.
After more than four decades the material has been adapted into several different media including three graphic novels, a board game, two video games (one in 1983, the other in 2001), a series of online games, and even a couple CDs comprised of music relating to Pern and some of its more notable inhabitants. After a failed attempt to bring an adaptation of McCaffrey’s Pern to television at the Warner Bros. network by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica reboot) in 2002 (which Moore abandoned after the network returned his pilot with so many changes it barely resembled the original), the rights to the entire series were optioned by Oscar-winning production company Copperheart Entertainment in May 2006. Then in April 2011 Deadline and Collider each reported that the screenwriter of Watchmen and X2 (the good X-Men flick), David Hayter, had been tapped to adapt Dragonflight with Don Murphy executive producing and production set to begin this year.
The ongoing Icon comic series Powers by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming, which is a noir police procedural set in Chicago centered around two detectives assigned to the Powers beat which is tasked with investigating cases involving super-powered individuals, has not only been announced by FX and Sony Pictures (which optioned the series for film production a year after it debuted in 2000), but the pilot has already been shot in Chicago last summer starring Jason Patric and Lucy Punch with plans to start airing this summer if picked up. However, the series is currently in limbo as FX has yet to officially pick up the pilot written by creator Bendis, ordering rewrites and reshoots citing the difficulty of getting the comic book adaptation pitch perfect for a late night drama much in the same manner that HBO has adapted Game of Thrones. Additionally, Lucy Punch has been cast in a new Fox sitcom and it looks like she will no longer be part of the project. Hopefully this is serendipity as fan favorite Katee Sackhoff (the incredible actress which brought Starbuck to life in Ronald Moore’s Battlestar Galactica) had campaigned for the role Punch has appeared to drop and FX has passed on another potential series, Outlaw Country, which was in competition with Powers while still holding out for the Powers reshoots before making a decision. Being such a fan of crime noir and super-powered characters, I’m desperately hoping they get the reshoots up to the network’s standards so we can see this project as soon as possible. For the latest news and developments regarding this project, head to Powers TV.
As in the case with Powers, even projects given a green light and a budget that have begun shooting can die at the whim of studio or network executives so even Bone, Pern, and All You Need is Kill (We Mortals Are) may not end up seeing the light of day, but I genuinely hope all these projects do because as risky as their solid existences may be in the wrong hands, art can’t be appreciated if they remain phantoms in development hell.
And that’s it, our Top 10 adaptations we hope somehow, someway will get into production in 2012. Have you got any projects you are desperate for Hollywood to get into production this year that we haven’t discussed?