In media industry jargon, "development hell" (or "development limbo") is a period during which a film or other project is "trapped" in development. A film, video game, television program, screenplay, computer program, concept, or idea stranded in development hell takes an especially long time to start production, or never does.
The film industry buys rights to many popular novels, video games, and comics, but it may take years for such properties to be successfully brought to the cinema, and often with considerable changes to the plot, characters, and general tone.
In the case of a film or television screenplay, the screenwriter may have successfully sold a screenplay to a certain set of producers or studio executives, but then new executives assigned to the project may raise objections to all the scripts and casting decisions they oversee, mandating rewrites and recasting. As directors and actors become "attached" to the project, further rewrites and recasting may be done, to accommodate the needs of the new talents involved in the project. Should the project fail to meet their needs, they might leave the project or simply refuse to complete it, causing further rewrites and recasting. At any point, a project may be forced to begin again from scratch.
It may also be the case that the screenwriters have an issue with the final rights agreement after signing an option, but aren't happy with the full terms, and the project may go in endless circles until either the situation is resolved, or the project is abandoned.
When a film is in development but never receives the necessary production funds, another studio may do a turnaround and produce the film to make it successful. An example of this is when Columbia Pictures developed but dropped E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Universal Pictures picked up the film and made it a success. If a studio completely abandons a film project, the costs are written off as part of the studio's overhead.
Sometimes studios or producers will deliberately halt production in order to stop competition on a different project, or to ensure that people invested will be available for other projects that the studio prefers.
This process can last for months or years. More often than not, a project trapped in this state will be abandoned by all interested parties or canceled outright. As Hollywood starts ten times as many projects as are released, many scripts will end up in this state. This happens most often with projects that have multiple interpretations and affect several points of view.
During a potential writer's strike in 2001, major studios wanted to spend less time and energy bidding on longer-term developments such as film rights to books and focus more on buying projects that would immediately receive a green-light. They were more interested in developing the big budget action thrillers and high concept comedies written by established and credible writers. Studio executives put all uncertain scripts and pitches on the shelves during this time to avoid taking a chance on a long-term development and only wanted projects that were ready to go into production.
Some studios and producers still bought film rights to books but only ones that had successful sales. Examples of this are Dino De Laurentiis' $9 million acquisition of Thomas Harris' Hannibal and Miramax purchasing Mario Puzo's Omertà for $2–$3 million.
In software development, unreleased products that have been in long-term development are considered a type of vaporware. In film and television screenplay, unreleased products that have been in long-term development are considered as "vaporfilm". The anime OVA adaptation of Alien Nine has been cited by fans and critics as an example of "vaporfilm" because of its unfinished status after four episodes (extending halfway through the manga) and its hiatus since 2002.
- Alien vs. Predator: Released in 2004 after more than a decade of different scripts, changes to the cast, false starts, orphaned tie-ins, several series of video games and even promotions of the believed-to-be-coming-soon movie.
- A.I. Artificial Intelligence: Originally a joint project led by Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, it was halted with Kubrick's death and finished by Spielberg several years later.
- Akira: Warner Bros. have been developing a live-action American version of the animated film for years. As of January 6, 2012, Warner has "shut down" production for the fourth time.
- Beverly Hills Cop III: Went through multiple script revisions, including a treatment that had Axel Foley teaming up with a Scotland Yard detective to be played by Sean Connery until being finally released.
- The failure of Batman & Robin also hindered many attempts to produce a fifth Batman movie until Warner Brothers opted to reboot the franchise with far greater success.
- The Brazilian Job: A sequel to the 2003 remake of The Italian Job was in development by the summer of 2004, but has faced multiple delays. Principal photography was initially slated to begin in March 2005, with a projected release date in November or December 2005. However, the script was never finalized, and the release date was pushed back to sometime in 2006, and later summer 2007. Writer David Twohy approached Paramount Pictures with an original screenplay entitled The Wrecking Crew, and though the studio reportedly liked the idea, they thought it would work better as a sequel to The Italian Job. Gray was slated to return as director, as well as most, if not all, of the original cast. At least two drafts of the script had been written by August 2007, but the project had not been greenlit.
- The Cabin in the Woods: Filmed in 2009, the film was set for a February 2010 release date, however due to the studio filing for Chapter 11, it was delayed for release until 2012.
- Cowboy Bebop: A live-action film version of the anime, originally slated for 2011 release, but had no news since then.
- Delgo: Development began in 1999 by Marc Adler, who wanted to make a big-budget, computer-animated film independent of titans like Disney and DreamWorks Animation. Marc and his small animation studio, Fathom Studios, spent $40 million making the film, cast Burt Reynolds, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Val Kilmer, and took so long to finish it that by the time it was released, one of the actors had been dead for three years. When they couldn't get any major studio interested in the film, Fathom instead had a distributor-for-hire give the film a wide release, which it received on December 12, 2008. It is now famous for having the worst opening weekend of any wide-release film ever until The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (2012).
- Dragon's Lair: According to Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, there would have been a movie adaption of the 1983 video game. Bluth and Goldman are looking for funding to put filming for this movie in production. As of 2013, the status of the film is unknown.
- Driver: In 2002, it was announced that a film adaption of the hit video game series Driver would be created. In 2007 the project was sold to another studio, and Roger Avary was reported to have written the script, which was later leaked online. However, the film has not been made yet.
- The Exorcist The Beginning: In an example of development hell continuing into post-production, the film Exorcist The Beginning had completed filming and was having some final SFX work done when the studio fired director Paul Schrader and replaced him with Renny Harlin, who recast almost all of the supporting characters, changed the context of the scenes he didn't have reshot, and completely rewrote the film's climax. After Harlin's film failed, Schrader was allowed to finish his version with a very limited special effects budget, and it received a theatrical release under the title Dominion: A Prequel To The Exorcist, and did a little better critically.
- Freddy vs. Jason: Like AVP, Freddy vs. Jason was also famously mired in development hell for years; originally, the studios who owned the two franchises involved with the titular crossover had wanted to make it for years, but could not agree on how to make it. When New Line Cinema bought the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise, the film stayed in development hell as New Line went through numerous screenwriters and even more script ideas...until the two men who ended up writing the script for the film threw out every other script that came before them and set a list of rules to follow that respected both parent franchises involved as they wrote their script. The film was finally released in 2003, and ended up making more money than any other film in either of the parent franchises. The story of the film's stay in development hell and the numerous script ideas that came before the final script is a bonus feature on the film's DVD.
- Gangs of New York: Martin Scorsese first started trying to get Gangs of New York made in 1978. He finally did it in 2002, and a good deal of his DVD commentary on the film is devoted to explaining the arduous process.
- Foodfight: In 2004, the CGI film Foodfight was announced. Best described as "Toy Story in a supermarket", the film promised to bring together over 80 famous beloved advertising characters with voice talent including Charlie Sheen, Hilary and Haylie Duff, Wayne Brady, and Eva Longoria. The creators expected it to be a real commercial hit, merchandise for the movie started appearing on store shelves before the film even had a release date. Unfortunately, the film ran into countless problems as detailed here. After many years, a trailer was finally shown at AHM in 2011, and a company has the bought the DVD rights for this film in Europe, and a quiet American release though Video-On-Demand came in 2013.
- Ghostbusters III: Has been in development hell since 1989.
- One of the earliest examples of this was Howard Hughes's Hell's Angels, which, due to Hughes's perfectionism and insistence on the latest film technology, took three years and a budget of $38 million to create, something unheard of at the time. Two decades later, Hughes would take seven years to complete a similar film, Jet Pilot.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: was announced in 1982, but filming did not begin until 2003, two years after series creator Douglas Adams died. Adams said of his experience trying to get the film made, "Getting a movie made in Hollywood is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it." For several years, the About the Author blurb in Adams books included the line "A major motion picture is currently in development hell and should be coming out any decade now." This no doubt helped popularize the term.
- The Hobbit trilogy: The Hobbit went though quite a development hell as well before finally being green-lit. The film then suffered additional problems involving creative control and the studio's refusal to allow filming to take place in New Zealand like The Lord of the Rings, which caused then-director Guillermo del Toro to leave the project. Fortunately, Peter Jackson managed to retake control of the project, which was split into three films, the first of which released in December 2012.
- Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil: Was supposed to be released in January 2010. The creator himself wasn't sure when it was going to be released, if ever. It finally came out in April 2011. This meant Hayden Panettiere had two movies saved from development hell in 2011, as Fireflies In The Garden had a long wait before US release due to mixed reactions in Europe and distributor difficulties; it was eventually released in October of that year.
- Hulk: Development began in the 1990s, but was not released until 2003.
- Independence Day 2, also known as ID4-2, has been in development hell since 1997.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Remained in development hell since 1989 and was released in 2008.
- Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino announced his plans to shoot a World War II movie titled Inglourious Basterds shortly after the 1997 release of Jackie Brown. As of 2007, he was still working on the script, but in late 2008 it began shooting and was released in August 2009.
- John Carter, a 2012 adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, began initial development in 1931. Rights passed through multiple studios with interest being expressed within Disney in the 1950s. Disney acquired the rights in the 1980s, but these later reverted back to the Burroughs estate, and were competitively re-bid by Paramount and Columbia. Paramount began production in the early 2000s, but stalled and eventually the rights were repurchased by Disney leading to the final released film.
- Jurassic Park IV: Was first expected to be released in 2005, four years after the third film. Finally entered production in 2013, for a 2014 release but later stalled for numerous reasons.
- The French animated film The King and the Mockingbird: Started production in 1948, and wasn't finished until 1980.
- Les Misérables: A film adaptation of the stage musical began in 1985. After the musical's 25th anniversary concert in 2010, producer Cameron Mackintosh announced that the film had resumed development, and was released Christmas 2012.
- The rights to a live action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings were sold to United Artists shortly before JRR Tolkien's death in 1973; it wasn't until 1994 that Peter Jackson was given approval to begin shooting and the first film was not released until 2001.
- Mad Max: Fury Road: Originally meant to follow 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, began filming in 2012.
- Men in Black 3: Remained in development hell since 2002 and was released in 2012.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: A live action adaptation of the anime series has been in development hell since it was first announced in 2003.
- On the Road: A film adaptation to Jack Kerouac's novel began in 1957 after Kerouac wrote a letter to Marlon Brando wanting him to play Dean Moriarty. Over the decades, several major studios and directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, wanted to buy the rights to make the film. The film was made and released in 2012 which was produced Coppola.
- The Postman: Author David Brin described the ten-year effort to get his novel produced as a film. In the process, the screenplay went through so much revision as to barely resemble the book, even leading writers to "borrow" from the book they were supposed to be creating as a film.
- Soul Calibur: The Movie: a film adaptation of the Soul Calibur video game series.
- Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: Sin City 2, which was supposed to be released in 2008 is finally in production, slated for a 2013 release.
- Speed Racer: The Speed Racer live action film was first announced in 1992. Four directors later and through many casting, studio, and writer changes, the film was released in May 2008 and is considered one of the biggest box office bombs in history.
- Star Wars Episode VII: Planned since 1975, it remained in development hell beginning in 1983. After later being abandoned and denied for years, the project was brought back in 2012 after Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm for a 2015 release.
- Superman Lives: A scrapped reboot of the Superman film series, very loosely based on the comic book storyline "The Death of Superman".
- Superman Returns: Stuck in pre-production for nearly two decades. The first part of this was mostly the producers wanting to distance themselves from the failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, while the later half was due to Executive Meddling driving director after director after director away from the project. Its proposed sequel similarly became mired in development hell, after Superman Returns' lackluster performance at the box office caused a sequel to be put on the back burner, and Bryan Singer abandoned the project to direct Valkyrie instead. When a Superman film finally came back into production, it was as a Continuity Reboot, Man of Steel, with a new cast and director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan, and writer David Goyer. The latter two were responsible for the successful reboot of the Batman franchise.
- Supernova: The 2000 film Supernova was in development for 12 years and cost an estimated 60 million dollars. Although the theatrical version runs only 87 minutes, reportedly several hours of completed footage exists, much of it self-contradictory due to changes made to the script during the filming stage. Both Francis Ford Coppola and H R Giger were involved at one point.
- The Thief and the Cobbler: Probably one of the worst cases of this. Beginning production in 1964, the film didn't see the light of day until 1993, Vincent Price recorded his lines 20 years before it was released, and died before seeing the finished film. this was due to the constant flux of funding, production kept stopping and starting, kept gaining and losing financiers and ran over budget multiple times.
- Watchmen: Film rights to the 1986–1987 comic book series were first acquired in 1986; numerous versions were attempted, with a film adaptation finally released in 2009.
- A sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
- World of Warcraft: The Movie.
- Aliens: Colonial Marines: Was in development by Sega and Gearbox Software since 2008, and released in 2013 to a negative reception.
- Duke Nukem Forever: A video game which was originally announced in 1997, though had many development issues leading to over a decade's delay before its final release in 2011. An incomplete list of things that happened during DNF's development.
- Doom 4: It was announced right after the release of Doom 3 and has been in development ever since then after the release of RAGE. Id had announced a trailer to the game, but was not revealed in 2011 or 2012 after the broken promised by developer team.
- Final Fantasy XIII: Got into development hell right after its initial trailer, reasons varied from an under-developed Crystal Tools engine to late play testing.
- Half-Life 2: Episode 3: Valve Software announced a release of around December 2008. In 2012, Valve stated that Half-Life 2: Episode 3 will be released but did not provide a release date.
- Sadness (video game): One of the earliest titles for the Wii, cancelled 2010.
- Star Wars: Battlefront III: Had been in development by LucasArts and Free Radical Design between 2006-2008, before being put on hold following Free Radical's shutdown. The game was officially announced at Electronic Arts' E3 2013 press conference as "Star Wars: Battlefront", now appearing to be a reboot of the franchise rather than a sequel. It will be developed by DICE Los Angeles and run on the Frostbite 3 engine.
- The Last Guardian- A PlayStation 3 exclusive game to be developed by Team Ico (developers of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus), which was originally announced at E3 2009, but has been stuck in development hell since then. It was recently revealed by Sony's Jack Trenton that The Last Guardian was put "on hiatus".
- Brothers in Arms 4 - Considering to be the fourth and final installment of the game ending the story from the 101st Airborne that participated war in Europe. It was announced after Borderlands' release in 2009, The new franchise that Gearbox have developed, published by 2K Games. In 2012, they have announced the new franchise of the Brothers in Arms featuring with friction of the classes base on the demolition squad named Filthy Thirteen. However, It was very negative after the public have received at the same time, The sequel of Borderlands, Borderlands 2 and was once again mentioned about the game. But was never admitted that the game have developing. Until now, that the title of the game have developing is currently unknown.
- The Beatles on iTunes. It was supposed to happen at the end of 2008, but it just fell through. Trying to compensate the fact that Apple Corps. can't make a deal with Apple, Inc., the former made a limited release of the entire discography on MP3. It finally happened in November 2010, a year after a deal had supposedly finally been made.
- Lifestyles of the Rich and Flavor: Flavor Flav's solo album, "Lifestyles of the Rich And Flavor", had been touted since the mid-90s. It finally saw release as "Flavor Flav" in 2006.
- Paul Pena recorded his second album New Train in 1973, but it got caught in a tug-of-war between his management and his label and never got released. Oddly enough, Pena still made a fair amount of money from the project when Steve Miller had a huge hit covering one of the album's songs, "Jet Airliner". After 27 years a deal was finally worked out and New Train was released in 2000.
- An unnamed sequel to Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show has had multiple false starts. Planned to be a stage play like its predecessor, with the possibility of becoming a film if the play had become a financial hit.
- Chinese Democracy: Released  in 2008 after 14 years in development, prompting the long-standing joke that China itself would become democratic before Chinese Democracy was released. Perhaps inevitably, a song from Chinese Democracy was released in 2008 on Rock Band 2, about two months before the album itself was released.
- Detox: The long delayed third studio album by rapper Dr. Dre that has been in development since 2001.
- Marx, Andy (February 28, 1994). "Interactive development: The new hell". Variety (New York) 354 (4): 1.
- Adler, Warren (October 3, 1999). "How My Novel Was Almost 'Developed' Into Oblivion". New York Times. p. AR11.
- McDonald, Paul & Wasko, Janet (2008) Hollywood Film Industry. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. p. 54
- "Cover Story: Writers Paid for Movies Never Made," Spillman, Susan. USA Today. McLean, Va.: January 16, 1991. pg. D1
- "Dept. of development hell," Kerrie Mitchell. Premiere. (American edition). New York: February 2005.Vol.18, Iss. 5; pg. 40
- "Books Into Movies: Part 2," Warren, Patricia Nell. Lambda Book Report. Washington: April 2000.Vol.8, Iss. 9; pg. 9. (Best selling novel The Front Runner has spent over 25 years in development hell)
- Lyons, Charles (2001) Development Hell freezing over? Variety 382(1). 1-71
- Kit, Borys (2012-01-05). "'Akira' Production Offices Shut Down As Warner Bros. Scrutinizes Budget (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Davidson, Paul (2003-07-23). "Sequel to The Italian Job Proposed". IGN. Retrieved 2008-10-08. Fleming, Michael and McNary, Dave (2004-07-19). "New man for the 'Job'". Variety (Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2008-09-17. McNary, Dave (2004-09-26). "Par reunites 'Job' crew". Variety (Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2008-09-17. Keck, William (2004-09-23). "'Huckabees' stars are all 'Heart'". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-10-10. See also: Davidson, Paul (2004-09-27). "New Italian Job Looks Likely". IGN. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
- McNary, Dave (2004-11-07). "Par: Déjà vu all over again". Variety (Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2008-10-05. See also: Tecson, Brandee (2005-12-27). "Mark Wahlberg Hits The Gridiron For Role In True–Life Tale 'Invincible'". MTV. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
- Davidson, Paul (2005-12-16). "'The Brazilian Job' Targets Summer 2007". IGN. Retrieved 2008-06-17. Davidson, Paul (2007-05-02). "Brazilian Job Still On". IGN. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- Fleming, Michael (2005-05-31). "Par puts vet on the 'Job'". Variety (Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2008-09-11.
- Goldman, Eric (2007-08-17). "Exclusive Interview: Seth Green". IGN. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- Brin, David (1998), The Postman: An Impression by the Author of the Original Novel, retrieved January 15, 2012