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In media industry jargon, development hell (or development limbo) is a state during which a film or other project remains in development without progressing to production. 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. Projects in development hell are not officially cancelled, but work on them slows or stops.
Film industry companies often buy the film rights to many popular novels, video games, and comic books, 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 to have the film dumbed down for a mainstream audience. The original creators of the source material usually have very little to no involvement in the films creative control, creating a divide among fans. This pre-production process can last for months or years. More often than not, a project trapped in this state for a prolonged period of time will be abandoned by all interested parties or canceled outright. As Hollywood starts ten times as many projects as are those released, many scripts will end up in this limbo state. This happens most often with projects that have multiple interpretations and affect several points of view.
In the case of a film or television screenplay, the screenwriter may have successfully sold a screenplay to producers or studio executives, but then new executives assigned to the project may raise objections to prior decisions, mandating rewrites and recasting. As directors and actors join 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, resulting in 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, requiring research on the chain of title. The project may be stuck until the situation is resolved and project participants are happy with the full terms, or the project is abandoned.
When a film is in development but never receives the necessary production funds, another studio may execute a turnaround deal and produce the film to make it successful. An example of this is when Columbia Pictures developed, but then stopped production of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Universal Pictures then 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.
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. Instead they focused more on buying projects that would immediately receive a green-light such as 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 it was put on hiatus in 2002 after four episodes.
- 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 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 two years later.
Warner Bros. has 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.
- Atlas Shrugged
Film and later television adaptations of Atlas Shrugged were in development hell for nearly 40 years before the famous novel was finally brought to screen in the first part of a trilogy in 2011. Part II appeared in 2012 and Part III, is scheduled to be released in September 2014.
A film adaptation of the novel The Incomparable Atuk. Several principals involved in the film have died over the more than 10 years the film has been in development hell.
- 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.
- Dallas Buyers Club
Screenplay was written in September 1992 by Craig Borten. Throughout the 1990s, he wrote 10 different scripts for it to be picked up. It was unable to secure financial backing, going through three different directors, before Jean-Marc Vallée directed its late-2013 release.
In 2004, the CGI film Foodfight was announced. Described as "Toy Story in a supermarket", the film promised to bring together over 80 famous advertising characters with voice talent including Charlie Sheen, Hilary and Haylie Duff, Wayne Brady, and Eva Longoria. Creators expected it to be a commercial hit and merchandise for the movie appeared on store shelves before the film had a release date. Unfortunately, the film ran into many problems. After several years, a trailer was finally shown at AHM in 2011, a company bought the DVD distribution rights for the film in Europe, and a quiet video-on-demand American release came in 2013.
- The Hobbit Trilogy
The Hobbit went through development hell, before finally being greenlit. The film then suffered additional problems involving creative control and the studio's refusal to allow filming to take place in New Zealand, where the preceding film series The Lord of the Rings had been shot. This was a deal-breaker for director Guillermo del Toro, who left the project. Peter Jackson retook control of the project and split it into three films, the first of which was released in December 2012.
- Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
The film was originally announced for release in January 2010, however, the creator himself wasn't sure when, if ever, it would be released. The film 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.
- ID Forever Part I and II
The sequels to Independence Day were in development hell from 1997 until 2009, when director Roland Emmerich announced the pre-production of the films to be shot back-to-back. ID Forever Part I is scheduled for a July 1, 2016 release.
- The Keith Moon Movie
A biopic of The Who drummer Keith Moon was first floated by The Who's singer Roger Daltrey in 1994. A competing movie by Keith Moon's personal manager, Peter "Dougal" Butler, produced by Robert De Niro and written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, was cancelled in 1998 after Daltrey had Pete Townshend deny the use of music by The Who. Since then, some major names have been attached to the movie (a script by Alex Cox among many written, and a starring role for Robbie Williams or Mike Myers) but no script has yet gotten Roger Daltrey's approval. As of 2013, the movie is attached to Exclusive Media and Da Vinci Media Ventures.
- Me and My Shadow
A animated fantasy comedy film from DreamWorks Animation that would feature the studio's signature CG animation mixed with traditional hand-drawn animation. Was announced in December 2010 and slated for a release date in March 2013. It would then see two release date changes, first to November 2013 and then to March 2014. In February of 2013, it was announced that the film had gone back into development with an unknown release date.
- The Postman
Author David Brin described the ten-year effort to get his novel produced as a film. Production began in 1987, but the final film was not released until 1997. In the process, the screenplay went through so many revisions that the shooting script only loosely resembled the book, and later writers "borrowed" elements from the book to improve the film.
- Random Hearts
Based on the 1984 novel by Warren Adler, the film rights were bought soon after the novel was released but it took 15 years for the film to get made. Dustin Hoffman was originally attached to star in the film in the 1980s, but by the early 90s Kevin Costner was attached as was director James L. Brooks. Eventually, in 1999, Harrison Ford starred in the film which was directed by Sydney Pollack.
- Soul Calibur: The Movie
A film adaptation of the Soul Calibur video game series has been in development hell since its 2001 announcement.
- Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Sin City 2, which was announced for a 2008 release, did not enter production until 2012, and was released in 2014.
- Superman Lives is the name given to a project begun by producer Jon Peters in 1993 as Superman Reborn. The proposed film would have followed the comic story line known as The Death of Superman. Jonathan Lemkin was hired to write the initial script, but Peters brought on a series of additional screenwriters to overhaul the script, including Gregory Poirier in 1995 and Kevin Smith in 1996. Director Tim Burton became attached to the film, with Nick Cage cast as the Man of Steel, and several more screenwriters were brought on board for several more rewrites. Burton backed out in late 1998 citing differences with producer Peters and the studios, additional writers and directors were attached to the project at various times over the next few years. Peters project went through several more permutations before evolving into Superman Returns, released in 2006, 13 years after initial development began.
A live-action adaptation of the Warcraft series was first announced in 2006. The film spent several years in development hell before the project advanced. It is scheduled for a 2016 release.
- The X-Files: I Want To Believe
The second film based upon the popular American television show The X-Files began pre-production planning in 2001 and was announced for release in 2003 to follow the show's ninth season, but languished in development until it was finally produced for its release in the summer of 2008, six years after the television show had ended.
- MOTHER 3
Main article: Development of Mother 3
A sequel to the 1996 cult classic EarthBound, this game is often considered one of the more notable examples of development hell. The game was initially intended to be released on the Super Famicom like its predecessor, before shifting focus to the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, where it was planned to be in full 3D, with real-world time and other abilities, such as drawing on the faces of characters. Following the failure of the Disk Drive, the game was shifted to the standard Nintendo 64, before the development team's inexperience with 3D-oriented video game creation and a large series of delays led to the game being quietly cancelled in 2002. Eventually, assets from the cancelled project were later collected and converted to a 2D format, and the project re-started development on the Game Boy Advance. The newly-formatted game was announced in the initial trailer for MOTHER 1+2, a Japan-only GBA multicart containing downsized ports of MOTHER and MOTHER 2. Eventually, nine years after its conception, MOTHER 3 was released on the Game Boy advance in 2006. However, the game officially remains Japan-exclusive, motivating EarthBound's "religiously dedicated" fandom to translate the game themselves and distribute ROM patches for it online.
- Duke Nukem Forever
A sequel to the mega-popular Duke Nukem 3D from 1995, the original game was announced on E3 1998 to be released in January 1999, but was pushed back to 2001. The game was re-written and redeveloped, and a teaser trailer was shown in 2007. The game was then officially announced in 2010, and released in 2011. The game had negative reviews.
- Final Fantasy XIII
Development of the thirteenth installment in the series began in 2004, and trailer was released in 2006, then development stalled. The game was released in late 2009. Reasons varied from an under-developed Crystal Tools engine to late play testing.
- Pikmin 3
Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto first hinted about the possibilities of a new Pikmin game in a July 2007 interview with IGN. A new Pikmin game was eventually confirmed at E3 2008 during Nintendo's developer roundtable, in which Miyamoto stated that his team were working on a new entry in the series. However, details concerning gameplay and development were left unmentioned. At Miyamoto's roundtable discussion at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011, Miyamoto stated that Pikmin 3 development was moved to Wii U, the Wii successor. On June 5, 2012, Pikmin 3 was shown at Nintendo's press conference at E3. It was said that it would be released around the same time as the Wii U, was then delayed to the end of the launch window (March 2013), and its release was later delayed again until mid-2013. Pikmin 3 was finally released in Japan on July 13, 2013 and met with very positive reviews.
- Sonic X-treme
The game changed platforms many times during development and was ultimately cancelled. It led to the overworking and disbandment of Sega Technical Institute. In 2006 an early test version of the game was leaked.
- South Park: The Stick of Truth
Originally announced in December 2011 and to be released by THQ in the "latter half" of 2012, the game has faced numerous delays. In March 2012, developer Obsidian Entertainment laid off 20-30 of its staff, including some of the Stick of Truth team. After the layoffs, THQ moved the projected release date to April 2013. In December of 2012, THQ filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, liquidated all of its assets (including the sale of Stick of Truth to Ubisoft) and closed its doors the following month. Upon acquiring the rights to the game, Ubisoft set a projected release date for December 2013. Ubisoft most recently moved the launch date to March 2014, citing a "major overhaul" being applied to the game. The game was officially released in March 2014
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2
The sequel of the cult-hit S.T.A.L.K.E.R was announced after the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat in 2010. However, after the announcement, the company developing the game closed down, due to a government crackdown. All negotiations with a new developer have fallen through and the game was cancelled in 2013. Former developers of GSC Game World have formed a new studio, Vostok Games, and are working on a spiritual successor called Survarium
- 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.
- The Smile Sessions
- Archival recordings of the Beach Boys unfinished album Smile took nearly forty-five years to compile for a dedicated release. Numerous complications contributed to its excessively protracted delay, including bandleader Brian Wilson's irrational fear of the album. Brother and bandmate Carl Wilson compared the album's structuring to editing a film, as compiler Alan Boyd explains, "I think he was right about that. The kind of editing that the project required seemed more like the process of putting a film together than a pop record."
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