10 Delayed Movies That Were Actually Pretty Good
This week’s big new releases, ‘Jupiter Ascending’ and ‘Seventh Son,’ share something in common. Both were originally due out months ago, and delayed until this week for a variety of reasons. There is a widely-held assumption that delays can be directly correlated with quality, and that when something gets bumped off the release calendar it guarantees the movie is a dud. Now that assumption might be right this week, but films get delayed all the time for many reasons—and even if that reason is because they needs additional work, that doesn’t mean the revisions won’t be successful. While there have been plenty of delayed stinkers in Hollywood history (the ‘Red Dawn’ remake could have remained unreleased forever as far as I’m concerned), there’s also been a surprising number of movies that were held back unfairly; enough to suggest that this stereotype needs to be rethought, and to assemble the following list of good to flat-out great films that sat on a shelf:
‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ (1986)
Directed by John McNaughton
Length of Delay: 4 years
Shot in 1985 and finished (and even screened at a festival or two) in 1986, John McNaughton’s ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ didn’t come to movie theaters until 1990. Some accounts blame inexperienced producers for part of the delay, but certainly a lengthy fight with the MPAA over an R-rating for the film played a significant role as well. (‘Henry’ actually predates the NC-17 rating.) In a sense, though, the delay may have helped ‘Henry’; it certainly did nothing to discourage its budding reputation as a film too dark and disturbing for mainstream audiences. Word of mouth amongst horror aficionados soon made it a cult favorite.
‘The Lovers on the Bridge’ (1991)
Directed by Leos Carax
Length of Delay: 8 years
Leos Carax’s third film, ‘The Lovers on the Bridge,’ debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991, and played the New York Film Festival in 1992. But its stateside theatrical release didn’t come until the summer and fall of 1999, a full eight years after its French premiere. (In his review, Roger Ebert says that Carax blamed the delay on a distributor who “vindictively jacked up the film’s asking price.”) Carax had started production on the movie, about a pair of homeless people played by Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche who fall in love, all the way back in 1988 but the logistical complexities of shooting on the real Pont Neuf and budgetary issues repeatedly stalled production. Now, of course, you can watch it any time you want on Netflix.
Directed by James Cameron
Length of Delay: 6 months
When James Cameron recently announced that his first ‘Avatar’ sequel was getting pushed back from December of 2016 to 2017, it prompted the expected wave of social-media snark—but not from longtime Cameron observers, who’d seen this scenario before. In the early days of 1997, Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ was similarly troubled, and the movie was eventually pushed back from its intended summer release date to December 19, 1997. All the buzz focused on the film’s bloated budget—the highest in history at that time—and Cameron’s great folly. But the film quickly went on to shatter box-office records and win 11 Oscars. So don’t write off ‘Avatar 2’ just yet.
‘Phone Booth’ (2003)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Length of Delay: 5 months
Joel Schumacher’s claustrophobic thriller about a publicist (Colin Farrell) trapped in a public phone booth by an unseen sniper (Kiefer Sutherland) was simply a victim of unfortunate timing. Its release was initially scheduled for November 2002, just a month after the Beltway sniper attacks in the Washington D.C. area took the lives of ten people and injured several more. Faced with a movie that bore an uncomfortable similarity to a real-life tragedy, 20th Century Fox rightfully held the movie back almost half a year, and distributed the movie the following spring.
‘Romance & Cigarettes’ (2007)
Directed by John Turturro
Length of Delay: 2 years
Greenlit by United Artists in 2003, ‘Romance & Cigarettes’ only came to theaters in 2007, when its director, John Turturro, retrieved the rights to the film and boldly released his quirky modern musical himself. In the interim, Sony bought a controlling interest in UA, and put the movie on the shelf indefinitely. Turturro only got the film back after his buddy and co-star (and powerful Sony star) Adam Sandler intervened in the matter on his behalf. It’s fortunate he did; without his help, the world might never have gotten to see one of James Gandolfini’s most interesting performances as a man battling with his wife (Susan Sarandon) over his mistress (Kate Winslet), mostly through songs like Engelbert Humperdink’s “A Man Without Love.”
Directed by Mike Judge
Length of Delay: 1 year
Mike Judge had already proven himself as a successful creator of animated television series like ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ and ‘King of the Hill,’ and as the skillful director of the cult hit ‘Office Space’ by the time he convinced Fox to make ‘Idiocracy,’ his blisteringly satirical look at a dark future where mankind has gotten so stupid that they water plants with energy drinks and watch TV shows like ‘Ow, My Balls!’ (which I’m pretty sure is already in its fifth season on Spike). But for whatever reason, Fox’s enthusiasm for the project waned before its release; the studio pushed ‘Idiocracy’ back for over a year, and then limited it to just a few theaters in a couple of cities (in 2006, the New York Times speculated the company didn’t want to be associated with its harsh critique of excessive consumerism and its jabs at companies like Starbucks and Costco, and on a recent episode of WTF With Marc Maron Judge himself talked about the company pulling their support and some of his budget after a bad test screening). That Fox couldn’t see the comedy sci-fi masterpiece they had on its hands was frustrating but somewhat fitting, and suggested Judge’s vision of a dim-witted distant future was not quite as distant as it might have first appeared.
‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’ (2006)
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Length of Delay: 7 years
Right around the time ‘Idiocracy’ was getting its feeble theatrical release from Fox, a clever slasher film starring Amber Heard and Anson Mount called ‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’ was garnering some attention and good reviews at the Toronto and South by Southwest Film Festivals. The Weinstein Company acquired the film, then sold it to a company called Senator Entertainment, who went out of business before they could distribute it. Years later, the Weinsteins reacquired the film, and finally released it in October of 2013. It was Jonathan Levine’s first film when he made it, but his fourth film released; in the interim he went on to make ‘The Wackness,’ ‘50/50,’ and ‘Warm Bodies.’
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Length of Delay: 4 years
Arguably the best film on this list, and the one that was most poorly treated. Kenneth Lonergan spent years in the editing room trying to find a version of his New York drama about a teenage girl (Anna Paquin) in the aftermath of a horrific bus accident; he preferred a longer cut but Fox Searchlight demanded a 2-hour and 30-minute version. At one point, Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker were brought in to create their own cut of the film, and then lawsuits started flying on both sides. When ‘Margaret’ finally opened four years later in the fall of 2011, it was quietly dumped into just a handful of theaters in New York and Los Angeles with minimal advertising. Fortunately, critics sought it out, and began rallying social media to catch the movie before it vanished, garnering enough attention to expand ‘Margaret’’s release, and to get Lonergan the opportunity to complete an extended cut that received a DVD release in 2012.
‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012)
Directed by Drew Goddard
Length of Delay: 2 years
Talk about bad luck. ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ was first scheduled for a release in early 2010. MGM first pulled it so it could convert the film to 3D at height of the gimmick’s post-‘Avatar’ boom. But before the 3D release could even be completed, MGM was in such dire financial straits that they were forced to shelve the movie entirely. Director Drew Goddard’s brilliant horror deconstruction was only granted a reprieve after Lionsgate acquired the film and finally released it in the spring of 2012. The corporate bungling behind the scenes ultimately lent the movie’s depiction of a mismanaged company (led by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) an extra bit of bite.
‘World War Z’ (2013)
Directed by Marc Forster
Length of Delay: 6 months
Vanity Fair called it “Brad’s War.” Brad Pitt produced and starred in this big-budget adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel about a worldwide zombie plague, which was mired almost from the start with problems. Eventually Pitt, director Marc Forster, and executives at Paramount decided to spike their entire final act and hired Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard (who, after this and ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ may be the patron saint of not-terrible delayed movies) to write a completely new ending. After a six month delay for rewrites and reshoots, ‘World War Z’ opened in June of 2013 to solid box office and surprisingly good reviews; ironically, Lindelof and Goddard’s new material, a tense, small-scale battle between a couple human survivors and zombies in a World Health Organization laboratory, was some of the best in the entire picture.