A little while ago we took a look at three of the greatest superhero films which, sadly, never made their way to the silver screen. Yet, it isn’t only superhero films which have felt the keen sting of being stuck in years of development hell, only to be cancelled before they had a chance to start filming.
Another genre of Hollywood blockbuster well-known for its stumbles, both before and after filming, is the notoriously difficult conundrum of live-action anime adaptations. Even last year’s Alita: Battle Angel, which is considered by many to be the finest live-action anime adaptation to date, struggled to make its way to the big screen, taking producer James Cameron a total of 16 years, and handing it off to another director in the form of Robert Rodriguez, to finally get the finished product together after his original 2003 acquisition of the adaptation rights.
Even a production delay of that magnitude is good news when compared to some of the stories surrounding the other live-action anime adaptions that have been in the pipeline over the years. Let’s take a look at three such films that never came to be.
A seminal anime classic, a live-action adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 Akira (based on his original manga) has been on Hollywood’s to-do list since 2002 when Warner Bros. first purchased the rights to adapt it in a massive seven-figure deal with manga publisher Kodansha. A slew of directors and at least ten different screenwriters have been attached to the project in various manifestations ever since.
It did get very close in 2012 under the direction of Albert Hughes (The Book of Eli), and actors Kristen Stewart, Ken Watanabe and Helena Bonham Carter were all signed on to appear; however, when concerns over the project’s budget began to arise, the production was shut down.
Not one to let their original investment go unused, Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi was announced as the latest director to take on the project. Production was intended to begin back in July last year, but Waititi was set to return to the helm of Thor: Love and Thunder. Since then, Waititi’s schedule has also been taken up by Lucasfilm’s announcement that he would be directing his own Star Wars film, pushing his possible return to Akira back even further. At this stage, Waititi is still officially attached to the project, but presently there’s no word on when work will actually be able to begin.
Plans for a live-action Voltron movie have been kicking around Hollywood since 2005, when film producer Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan) announced a partnership with film producer and musician Pharrell Williams, who was also slated to provide the film’s score. This original production was planned to coincide with work on the first live-action Transformers film, which was being helmed by director Michael Bay at the time.
Eventually, director Max Makowski was announced and everything seemed ready to get underway, until a bidding war around the film rights began and saw ownership of the project change through a number of hands. Most recently, the rights now sit with Universal Pictures, who in 2016 tasked screenwriter and Supanova alumnus David Hayter (Watchmen, X-Men) with coming up with a new script for the project. Little else has been heard since then.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
We just adore Hideaki Anno’s groundbreaking anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion (could you tell?), and back in 2003, it looked as though we were set to get a live-action adaptation, courtesy of Gainax, ADV Films and Weta Workshop (who were fresh off the enormous success of The Lord of the Rings). Clearly, a passion project of Weta’s CEO Richard Taylor, he was most vocal about his plans for the film during its early stages.
Reports are that the filmmakers were intending to divert somewhat from the source material, in providing the lead characters with Westernised names and had even discussed the possibility of casting Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe in the role that would be the analogue for Shinji Ikari.
Unfortunately, progress on the film began to stall, and eventually legal battles ensued over the licensing rights for the use of the property. To this day, there has still been no official resolution as to who now actually owns the rights for a live-action adaptation.