Moviemaking is basically like throwing your hat in the air and hoping it comes back full of money. So it would take a lot for a studio to decide not to release a finished film — even terrible ones can at least make back some of their cost. But whether it’s legal issues or just plain awfulness, these movies have been shelved indefinitely, if not permanently.
Dark Blood (1993)
Teen heartthrob actor River Phoenix tragically died in 1993 at the age of 23, two weeks before filming was supposed to end on this strangely apocalyptic road picture about a man named Boy and the couple he takes hostage. Director George Sluizer took years to put the film together; he tried to get the actor’s brother Joaquin to stand in for the unfilmed scenes but was turned down. The director ended up personally narrating through the gaps in the story. In 2012, it saw the light of day in some film festivals, but the movie has never been released and the Phoenix family wants nothing to do with it.
Big Bug Man (2006)
Believe it or not, Marlon Brando’s final role has never been screened, but what a role it was: voicing a villainous matron named Mrs. Sour, he recorded all his dialogue while in full makeup and a dress, because acting? He co-stars opposite Brendan Fraser, playing the title character of a guy who gets superpowers from bug bites. It’s meant to be one of those late night Adult Swim types of animation, not for children, and yet for some reason, it’s never been released. Not even on cable, which seems like the perfect place for it.
Hippie Hippie Shake (2009)
What started out as a simple period biopic about an Australian humor magazine that was accused of immorality in the 1960s — go figure — became a mystery for the film world when its director quit during post-production. A finished version apparently exists but the studio seems to have no interest in releasing it, possibly due to the negative reactions of some of the very real and very alive persons depicted in it. Which is a shame because, well, the 1960s, right?
This is a bizarre film, not because of what’s in it, but because of how it was made. Director Roger Avary filmed it while filming another film; he shot an extra 70 hours for his feature film “The Rules Of Attraction” and made of it a whole second film. So what’s holding up release? Everything. The actors did not know they were being filmed for another movie, for which they were not contracted, and the writer of the original story, Bret Easton Ellis, hadn’t given permission for his work to be used that way. So if it’s ever shown in public, it will be attacked by a pack of lawyers and ground into the dust. Which is a shame, because from all reports it’s actually kind of watchable.
C********* Blues (1972)
This is a documentary that covers the Rolling Stones on their first U.S. tour since a PR nightmare called Altamont in 1969 (ask your grandparents). First of all, the title is unprintably obscene. Second, the title is the least shocking thing about the film, which featured hardcore drug use and lots of sex. The Stones, fearing another PR disaster, tried to have the film destroyed, but the director fought back in court. The judgment decreed that the movie could only be shown when its co-director was physically present, four times per year. It probably wouldn’t even rate a hard R rating nowadays but it still has only had one public showing, in a museum in 2012 as part of a Stones retrospective.
My Best Friend’s Birthday (1987)
It’s been said that Quentin Tarantino could film his laundry list and his fans would buy the special edition of it. So, why has his first movie, literally about a guy, his best friend, and that friend’s birthday, never seen the inside of a theater or a DVD? Because half of it was lost while the film was being processed. Undaunted, Tarantino sewed together what was left into a 35-minute short. This is another one that’s been seen in film festivals but not in wide release.
The Brave (1997)
You may not have known that Johnny Depp has dabbled in directing over the years. Although he has mostly directed short films, his feature directorial debut (which he also co-wrote) had him starring as a Native American man volunteering to be killed in a snuff film for a huge payday — in order to save his family. The film screened at Cannes in 1997 and was roundly and soundly panned, leading Depp to refuse to release the film in the U.S. You’d think Depp would have learned his lesson, but he played a Native American again in the highly-criticized “The Lone Ranger” in 2013.
Don’s Plum (2001)
Part of the “Brat Pack” of the early 2000s, Leonardo DiCaprio participated in an art film about teen boys behaving abominably. Fearful that the script, mostly improvised off the cuff, would ruin their professional lives and reputations, DiCaprio and co-star Tobey Maguire sued to have the film blocked from release in North America.
Spring Break ’83 (2010)
A throwback to such great ’80s films as “Porky’s” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” this story about high school bullies getting revenged on during a certain week in the year was finished in 2009. Why is it still unscreened? Nobody got paid — actors, crew, anybody. And there were some big name stars of yesteryear in that movie too, like Lee Majors and Morgan Fairchild (again, ask your grandparents). Nobody knows what the status of this movie is, and whether or not it ever gets out is anyone’s guess.
The Day The Clown Cried (1972)
Comedian Jerry Lewis made a film about a clown in Auschwitz who played Pied Piper to the kids on the way to the gas chamber. No, seriously. Lewis himself pulled the film from distribution and the only copy of the finished print is in the Library of Congress, where it will not be released until 2024.