In media industry jargon, development hell (or more accurately 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. 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
Alien vs. Predator was first planned shortly after the 1990 release of Predator 2, to be released sometime in 1993. It was halted for more than a decade, with constant actor changes, restarts, and failed promotions of the film until it was finally released in 2004.
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 Ayn Rand's novel were in development hell for nearly 40 years before the novel was finally brought to screen in the first part of a trilogy in 2011. Part II appeared in 2012 and Part III, was released in September 2014.
A film adaptation of the novel The Incomparable Atuk. Several principals involved in the film have died during the film's development time, now over a decade.
- 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 in 1997 also hindered many attempts to produce a fifth Batman movie until Warner Brothers opted to reboot the franchise in 2005, 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
The screenplay was written in September 1992 by Craig Borten. Throughout the 1990s, he wrote 10 different scripts, hoping for it to be picked up. It was unable to secure financial backing, going through three different directors, finally being released in 2013, with Jean-Marc Vallée directing.
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. Director Lawrence Kasanoff expected it to be a commercial hit and merchandise for the movie appeared on store shelves before the film had a release date. 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 2012, to extremely negative reviews and was a financial failure.
- 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 Jetsons Live-action film
A live-action adaptation of The Jetsons was first announced in late 1984 by Paramount Pictures. The film was to be executive produced by Gary Nardino and released in 1985, but failed to do so. In the late 1980s Universal Studios purchased the film rights for The Flintstones and The Jetsons from Hanna-Barbera Productions. The result was the animated film Jetsons: The Movie, which was released in 1990. In May 2007, director Robert Rodriguez entered talks with Universal Studios and Warner Bros. to film a live action film adaptation of The Jetsons for a potential 2009 theatrical release, having at the time discussed directing a film adaptation of Land of the Lost with Universal. Rodriguez was uncertain which project he would pursue next, though the latest script draft for The Jetsons by assigned writer Adam F. Goldberg was further along in development. The film was to be released in 2012. However, in early 2012, Warner Bros. Pictures delayed indefinitely the release of the film. Also in 2012, Warner Bros. hired the screenwriting duo Van Robichaux and Evan Susser to rewrite the script. Producer Denise Di Novi said in 2011 that Rodriguez was off the project as his vision for the movie “wasn’t a mainstream studio version”. Kanye West reported via Twitter earlier this month that he was in talks to be creative director on ‘The Jetsons’.
- 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 DeNiro 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.
- Love & Mercy
Named after the 1988 song, a biopic of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson was proposed that year with William Hurt as Wilson. Discussions for a feature-length biopic continued over the decades, but production did not take off until 2011 with director Bill Pohlad and screenplay writer Oren Moverman at the helm. The film was eventually released in 2014 starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson in a dual role.
- 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. The film was a box-office bomb and was negatively reviewed.
- The Thief and the Cobbler
The Thief and the Cobbler is an animated movie originally created by Richard Williams. It was 28 years in production before the rights were sold to Warner Bros. The newly appointed director, Fred Calvert, released it as The Princess and the Cobbler adding dialog to some characters and 4 songs. In 1993, the rights were sold yet again to Miramax, which edited the movie further and renamed it Arabian Knight. When it was finally released to theaters, it was a box office bomb. The Miramax version was later released on VHS and DVD, again with poor sales.
- 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
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.
- The Smile Sessions
Archival recordings of the Beach Boys unfinished album Smile took nearly 45 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."
- Chinese Democracy
Rock band Guns N' Roses began work on this album in the early 1990s. In the time between its conception and release, nearly the entire lineup of the band had changed numerous times. It was once dubbed by The New York Times "The Most Expensive Album Never Made". Recorded in fourteen separate studios with reported production costs of $13 million, Chinese Democracy was eventually released in November 2008.
- Aliens: Colonial Marines
First announced in 2001, Aliens: Colonial Marines spent over 12 years in development hell. The original game which was announced in 2001 to be in development by Check Six Games, was cancelled and the rights for the Alien franchise were sold in 2006 to Sega. On December 15, 2006 Gearbox Studios announced they were developing Aliens Colonial Marines as a Sequel to 1986s Aliens. The game spent another 7 years in development hell before it was released in 2013. Aliens: Colonial Marines has received mostly negative reviews. Most complaints in the negative reviews of the game included bugs, bad A.I., unbalanced gameplay, and low quality graphics in the single-player game as well as a crude and poorly implemented multiplayer cooperative mode. The game currently holds a metacritic score of 45%.
- Duke Nukem Forever
The sequel to the 1996 game Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Forever, was in development hell for 14 years: from 1997 to its release date in 2011. Changes of the game engine from the Quake II engine to the Unreal engine, conflict with Take-Two, and the bankruptcy of 3D Realms game studio caused the long development of the game. In 2010 Gearbox studios acquired the rights for the development and released Duke Nukem Forever in 2011. The game was critically disappointing upon release, with most of the criticism directed towards the game's clunky controls, long loading times, offensive humor, and overall aged and dated design. It holds a metacritic score of 50%.
- Final Fantasy XV
Originally titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII, it was announced in 2006 as a spinoff of Final Fantasy XIII for PlayStation 3. Following a long period with little news on the game, it was re-announced as the next mainline installment of the series on PlayStation 4 and underwent large changes in direction such as making the game a self-contained story and replacing the main heroine. It has yet to be released more than 8 years after it was initially announced.
- Half-Life 2: Episode 3/Half-Life 3
After the release of Half-Life 2: Episode Two in 2007, concept art for the then presumed Half-Life 2: Episode 3 leaked online showing both characters and the lost Aperture Science ship Borealis. As of 2015, however, it is still unknown if a new Half-Life game is currently in development.
- The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian was announced in 2007 to be in development at Team Ico. A short trailer released in 2007 shows a young boy who befriends a giant bird/cat-like creature. Creative conflicts between the developers and the publisher Sony, cause the game to remain in development hell, particularly after project lead Fumito Ueda left Sony but remained active in the game's development. Sony assured fans that the game was still in development over the next six years, but were sparse on further details, until June 2015 when the game was formally re-introduced as a PlayStation 4 title for release in 2016.
- MOTHER 3
A sequel to the 1994 Mother 2 (released as EarthBound in 1995 in North America). The game was initially intended to be released on the Super Famicom like its predecessor, before shifting focus to the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive. 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 2000. Eventually, assets from the cancelled project were later collected and converted to a 2D format, and the project restarted development on the Game Boy Advance. Nine years after its conception, MOTHER 3 was finally released on the Game Boy Advance in 2006, but only in Japan, though it received a well-regarded and highly successful fan translation to English.
- Team Fortress 2
Was announced in 1999 and took 8 years to be released. With a complete change in gameplay and art direction, the North American release took place on 9 October 2007.
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