The Unmade Films of Darren Aronofsky

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This is a list compiling several projects that film director Darren Aronofsky worked on but couldn't do for various reasons. Note: For my previous article about Stanley Kubrick, I recently found
out he was considering adapting the novel A Perfect Spy and even discussed the possibility with the BBC, but they refused.

Anyway, enjoy.

Submitted: March 14, 2018

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Submitted: March 14, 2018



Darren Aronofsky is one of the most controversial and versatile filmmakers working today. From his low-budget beginnings with the psychological film noir Pi to his latest puzzle, mother!, Aronofsky has dabbled in works that share the common element of an ambitious character devoted to gaining a specific goal that could possibly gain them emotional or personal enlightenment at the cost of everything else, including their sanity. Being a filmmaker who places his stamp on every project he lays his hand on, Aronofsky has brushed shoulders with films that he could have directed but couldn’t crack the code, whether out of disagreement with others in charge of the project, usually the producers, or his personal dissatisfaction with it. And today, we are looking at some projects that could have been made by Aronofsky that either went on to made without his input, or still languish in Development Hell.

  1. Ronin: Aronofsky is one of those directors that doesn’t see the line between “high” and “low” art as much as he consumes all forms of media and likes to blur them together. The same man who considers Persona one of his favorite movies is also an avid comic book reader, and one can see that in his ability to adapt the story of Noah as a tent pole summer blockbuster that also questions how Noah endured doing what he had done, while also displaying angels as super powered rock monsters at the same time. Eleven days after the release of his first film Pi at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, New Line Cinema decided to pick the new kid on the block to adapt the 1983 comic book series, Ronin. Written and drawn by Frank Miller, Ronin concerns a reincarnated ronin who finds himself in a dystopian New York and is stuck in the political handicaps of the society he doesn’t know along with the release of his enemies, who are also ancient demons. A fusion of samurai, cyberpunk, and fantasy inspired by the works of Jean Giraud, Kazuo Koike, and Goseki Kojima, Ronin is a strange hybrid that influenced the likes of Gendy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack) and under the wrong hands, could be a convoluted mess that can’t decide on what it wants to be. Whether Aronofsky could have directed a film of such scale at the time, no one can tell, but he and Miller did work on a draft before, for unknown reasons, Aronofsky quit the project and went on to direct Requiem for a Dream. In 2007, Sylvian White (Stomp the Yard, The Losers) was attached to direct the project before that also dematerialized until 2014, when Syfy TV announced they are planning to adapt the comic into a miniseries. Had it been made as originally planned, one would like to imagine Ronin as what could be perceived as a blockbuster film that is also a big budget art piece, in the same lenses in which 2001: A Space Odyssey or Blade Runner are often viewed through.
  2. Sector 7: In 2000, Aronofsky was offered by Nickelodeon Movies to direct an adaptation of David Wiesner’s 1999 book, Sector 7, after they beat Pixar for the rights. A wordless picture book, the story concerns a boy who befriends a cloud and is taken to the clouds’ depot, Sector 7. His imagination creates new clouds in the form of sea creatures for the young clouds, leading to forms of experimentation among the adult clouds as they also take the shape of aquatic life forms. Development on the film was very brief, however, and Aronofsky left the project. As of this writing, it’s still stuck in development hell.
  3. Batman Year One: After the critical failure of 1997’s Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. was still eager to continue the franchise. Even before the release of the film, a fifth sequel, Batman Triumphant, was being seriously prepared, with Joel Schumacher to return to the director’s chair and with either Nicolas Cage, Jeff Goldblum, Brad Dourif, or Howard Stern as the Scarecrow, and Madonna as Harley Quinn, with even Jack Nicholson returning as a hallucination of the Joker. Although Schumacher promised to make a darker Batman after the campy tone of Batman Forever and Robin, the savage critical reaction to the latest installment dissuaded those plans. Schumacher suggested adapting Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, a dystopian comic set in an alternate universe in which an aging Bruce Wayne wages a final war on crime as Batman, but studio heads weren’t interested. He then brought up the idea of a prequel to the 1989 Tim Burton film by adapting Frank Miller’s and David Mazzuchili’s Batman: Year One, which chronicles a post-Crisis on Infinite Earth origin of Batman as he goes against the Falcone crime family, meets Catwoman for the first time, and gains a reluctant ally from the rising cop, James Gordon as the latter tries to fight the corrupt police force within Gotham City’s core. While studio heads were interested, they didn’t want Schumacher on the project, and on 2000, it was reported that Aronofsky was picked to direct the project. Talking about the project, Aronofsky decided to make some changes. Firstly, he proposed the project as a shot-on-location, low-budget, R-rated reboot instead of a prequel, and secondly, he said, “I told them I’d cast Clint Eastwood as the Dark Knight, and shoot in Tokyo, doubling for Gotham City.” They agreed. “The Batman franchise had just gone more and more back towards the TV show, so it became tongue-in-cheek, a grand, farce, camp,” said Aronofsky. “I pitched the complete opposite, which was totally bring-it-back-to-the-streets-raw, trying to set in a kind of real reality – no stages, no sets, shooting it all in inner cities across America, creating a very real feeling. My pitch was Death Wish or The French Correction meets Batman. In Year One, Gordon was kind of like Serpico and Batman was kind of like Travis Bickle.” Aronofsky brought on Miller to help write the screenplay. “Our take was to infuse the (Batman) movie franchise with a dose of reality,” said Aronofsky. “We tried to ask that eternal question: ‘What does it take for a real man to put on tights to fight crime?” The screenplay produced, which be found online, combines elements of the Batman’s modern interpretation along with a nod to his original, hardboiled 1939 roots, in which he was a direct clone of The Shadow. Stripping down the comic book aspects to the core, the script has the Batman mythology changed to have a Bruce Wayne who goes into hiding after the murder of his parents. He grows into adulthood as an assistant to a middle aged black mechanic, Big Al, the films version of Batman’s butler, Alfred. Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman, was changed to a black dominatrix, while Loeb, the original police commissioner in the comic, replaces Falcone as the head of the crime family, with the cops under his belt. James Gordon, sickened by what occurs around him, is portrayed as suicidal, with an introduction sequence in which he considers blowing his brains out. As he tries his best to clean up the streets of Gotham, Bruce dons a hockey mask to fight crime before donning a more traditional costume and spare parts from Al’s garage to become Batman. The media catches up to his action sand Gordon starts a manhunt on Batman before the two find themselves realizing that they could be partners after they bring down Loeb in a climactic showdown. Aside from the idea of a man who becomes a Bat-theme vigilante, as well as the introduction of Catwoman and a passing reference to The Joker, the film doesn’t contain much of a resemblance to the Batman comics, even turning the Batmobile into a fixed Lincoln Continental with a bus engine. This departure scared the studio execs, who refused to make at the film at that point. Knowing he can’t persuade them, Aronofsky left the project. Reflecting on the experience, he said “I think Warners always knew it would never be something they could make. I think rightfully so, because four year olds buy Batman stuff, so if you release a film like that, every four old is going to be screaming at their mother to take them to see it, so they really need a PG property. But there was hope at one point that, in the same way that DC Comics pouts out different types of Batman titles for different ages, there might be a way of doing the movies at different levels. So I was pitching to make an R-rated adult fan-based Batman – a hardcore version that we’d do for not that much money. You wouldn’t get any breaks from anyone because it’s Warner Bros and it’s Batman, but you could do it for a smart price, raw and edgy, and make it more for fans and adults. Maybe shoot it on Super-16 (mm film format) and maybe release it after you release the PG one, and say “That’s for kids, and this one’s for adults.” He has no regrets, however, and appreciates that Warner Bros. let him go with the property as far as he could. After several attempts to do a Batman Beyond and a Batman vs. Superman movie, in 2005, the franchise was rebooted as Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan, launching The Dark Knight Trilogy.
  4. Flicker: On 2003, Aronofsky expressed interested in directing Theodore Roszak’s 1991 Flicker. The novel depicts film scholar’s Johnathon Gates’ life, who discovers what could be a conspiracy concerning the legacy of B-movie director Max Castle, whose works had the uncanny ability to draw the viewer into his experience akin to a spiritual experience. Speaking about the project and what drew him to it, Aronofsky said, “I kind of like all the old Hollywood, Sunset Blvd. vibe of Flickers, and I like the idea of subliminal in movies and stuff. So it was a lot of good themes in that. But that’s not going to be the next project. We’ve developed a screenplay, and it’s not going to be my next film. It’s sitting there. We don’t know what we’ll do with it.” Unable to crack the code, Aronofsky announced in 2006 that he is moving on from the project.
  5. Watchmen: On 2004, as he was attempting to make The Fountain get going, Aronofsky was courted by Warner Bros. to adapt one of their languishing projects, an adaptation of the 1986 comic book story, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Set in an alternate 1980s America on the brink of Cold War, Watchmen chronicles a world in which superheroes are forced to retirement. After the murder of one superhero, a fellow colleague investigates into the murder and drags other retirees into the case as the comic turns into a meta-analysis of the superhero genre. Part film noir, part superhero story, part satire, part political thriller, part drama, and part meta-fictional, the project has gained the attention of the likes of Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and Paul Greengrass (The Bounre Ultimatum, United 93). Aronofsky was to work on a screenplay from David Hayter, which altered the story to be set in an alternate 2000s in which Dr. Manhattan, the only super powered hero in the story, prevented 9/11 from occurring and the ending was changed to have the perpetrator die as punishment for his actions. Although Aronofsky was interested, he realized that had he accepted the contract, there would have been a schedule conflict with The Fountain, ad by that point, he was one inch away from getting the approval he needed to make the film. He passed, went to do The Fountain, and Zack Snyder adapted the comic in 2009.
  6. The Fighter: On 2007, Aronofsky was attached to direct a biopic on boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, called The Fighter. With the story of an athlete who was known for his relentless pursuit in being the best he could be at his game, to the point that he managed to stay in the ring from 1985 to 2003 and earned accolades for several fights, including against Louis Vaeder, Shea Neary, Emanuel Augustus, and most notably, his “trilogy” of matches against Arturo Gatti, one can catch a vibe of the themes that Aronofsky always goes back to in his filmography. On 2008, however, Aronofsky left the project to direct the Robocop remake. The film was made instead by David O/ Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) on 2010.
  7. Robocop: Paul Verhoven’s 1987 satirical action film, about a murdered cop who is regenerated as a cyborg officer to fight crime, has long been considered to have a remake produced, especially in light of how much Detroit, the film’s setting, has deteriorated over time as the film prophesized. Leaving The Fighter to work on the film, Aronofsky said of the project, “It’s a real invention. Me and David Self are working on the screenplay. He’s a great writer and we’re trying to do something new and fresh. We’ll see what happens when the screenplay comes. I’m a big fan of the original. It still holds up as an amazing film, and I think it’s more just looking at the same type of material in the 21st century and seeing where it leads us.” However, due to schedule conflicts and creative differences, Aronofsky left the project and was replaced by Jose Padilha (Elite Squad, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within) who admitted to having suffered is own creative differences during the making of the 2010 released film.
  8. Superman: As Man of Steel was being boosted as a reboot of the Superman film series and the start of the DCEU, several directors were considered for the project, Aronofsky being among them, but he was committed to The Wolverine at the time. Reflecting on the idea of directing a superhero film, Aronofsky said, “Well I would have always hope to do something unique. That’s kind of my goal. I think with those films, you have to be very careful, because they are about communicating with as big of an audience as you possibly can. Audiences who goes to see those films expect a certain type of movie. But I guess a lot of superhero titles are done, people have them used up. So now it’s kinda characters that aren’t as interesting. But you never know. We’ll see what comes my way.”
  9. The Wolverine: On 2010, Aronofsky was briefly prepared to direct a sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and based the story on the original Wolverine miniseries, by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, in which Logan traveled to Japan and found himself facing a Yakuza crime family, as well as the Silver Samurai. During production, however, Aronofsky pulled out, claiming that he wanted to be closer to his family at the moment due to being in the process of a divorce. “I loved the script and I thought the film cmae out great,” said Aronofsky. “I just had…it was a hard time in my life.” One contribution left by him in the film is the film’s title being called The Wolverine.
  10. Hobgoblin: On 2011, Aronofsky almost got an HBO project called Hobogblin greenlit in collaboration with author Michael Chabon. The series would have concerned an espionage mission during WWII which concerned magicians and con artists utilizing their skills to defeat Adolf Hitler and his forces. Eventually, the project was dropped by HBO on 2013, and Aronofsky left.
  11. Red Sparrow: His latest unmade film, Aronofsky was in talks to direct Jason Matthew’s spy novel, Red Sparrow. Concerning a former ballerina who is forced to undergo espionage training to be a spy who seduces their targets, the director discussed the possibility of directing the project before moving on. The project was adapted on released on 2018, directed by Francis Lawrence.

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