Steven Spielberg’s unprecedented five-decade stint at the pinnacle of Hollywood owes as much to his versatility as it does to his cinematic talent. Since he burst onto the scene with “The Sugarland Express” in 1974, the director has proven himself capable of working in nearly every genre imaginable, often in the same year.
After helping create the modern summer blockbuster with early hits like “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Spielberg has never rested on his laurels. He spent the ’80s alternating between family hits like “ET the Extra-Terrestrial” and more dramatic tracks like “The Color Purple,” while still finding time to direct the original “Indiana Jones” trilogy.
The most legendary example of Spielberg’s omnivorous approach to filmmaking came in 1993, when he managed to release “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” in the same year. The summer dinosaur movie became a cultural phenomenon and introduced the world to the miracles that could be accomplished with CGI technology. “Schindler’s List” could not have been more different, shedding light on the horrors of the Holocaust with Spielberg’s signature cinematic perspective. That film brought Spielberg the last major cinematic achievement that had eluded him up to that point: a win for the Academy Award for Best Director.
For the next 30 years, Spielberg continued to surprise audiences with his directorial choices. He has worked on everything from war epics (“Saving Private Ryan”) to heist films (“Catch Me If You Can”) to animated blockbusters (“The Adventures of Tintin”) and musicals (“West Side Story”) . He also found time to write and direct his own biopic when he made “The Fabelmans” in 2021.
The list of movies that he Almost direct is just as eclectic. Spielberg came close to making films about many of America’s most beloved intellectual properties and historical figures that never materialized for a variety of reasons. Some of his ideas never made it to the big screen due to disputes over film rights, and at other times he gave his projects to other directors while continuing to supervise them as a producer. His impact on pop culture has been so great that reading about his unrealized projects feels like a walk through an alternative film industry that would have existed had he made a few different choices.
Read on for a list of ten movies Spielberg developed but never directed. Also check out IndieWire’s guide to Spielberg’s 25 Favorite Movies.
“Why can’t I be Audrey Hepburn?”
Spielberg directed Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn’s last film, “Always” (1989), and he considered exploring his legacy further when he bought a screenplay from an unknown young writer named Ryan Murphy . The romantic comedy called “Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn?” would follow a couple who bond over their common obsession with the late movie star. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Téa Leoni were briefly attached to star, though the project never materialized.
“This started my career” said Murphy in an interview with NPR’s On Air. “I wrote it and sold it and fell into it and haven’t stopped working since.” —MF
After exploring his lifelong fascination with aliens to massive success in “Close Encounters with the Third Kind,” Spielberg was ready for another round. Spielberg has written a treatment for ‘Night Skies’, an original sci-fi horror film loosely based on the 1955 film Hopkinsville meeting. He brought in John Sayles and Lawrence Kasdan to work on the script and started developing it conceptual art for the new breed of aliens. The film was never made, although the character design continued to influence “ET The Extra-Terrestrial”. —MF
“ET 2: Night Fears”
A sequel to ‘ET The Extra-Terrestrial’ was in the works at one point, with Spielberg even recruiting screenwriter Melissa Mathison to return to write the script. Though he explored a story about a new group of evil alien invaders, Speilberg ultimately decided he was satisfied with the first film and shelved the idea.
“Sequels can be very dangerous because they compromise your truth as an artist”, Spielberg said in an NBC article. “I think a sequel to ET would just strip the original of her virginity. People only remember the last episode, as the pilot fogs up. —MF
It seems like an AI-induced robot apocalypse would have lined up perfectly with Spielberg’s talent for showmanship, but he hasn’t been able to find a way to get one of his newest blockbuster obsessions off the ground. Spielberg was set to direct an adaptation of Daniel H. Wilson’s science fiction novel “Robopocalypse,” but script problems and high production costs ultimately stalled the project in 2013. The novel follows small snippets of human survivors and the their fight against Archos, an evil artificial intelligence program.
Spielberg’s spokesman said Marvin Levy it was “too important and the script isn’t ready, and it’s too expensive to produce. It goes back to the drawing board to see what’s possible.” —MF
Though Hollywood’s two favorite Stevens have never collaborated on a film before, Spielberg and King grew closer with “The Talisman.” Spielberg was such a fan of the book King co-wrote with Peter Straub that he bought the rights to the film before it was even released. The 944-page novel tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who travels through a parallel universe in search of a crystal that will cure his sick mother.
“I’ve owned the book since ’82 and hope to make this film in the next couple of years,” Spielberg said in an interview. “I’m just saying it’s something I’ve wanted to see in theaters for the past 35 years.” —MF
After enjoying huge success with ‘Jurassic Park’, Spielberg tried to team up again with Michael Criton for an adaptation of the tech thriller ‘Micro’. The story follows biotech students who get lost in the jungle after being reduced to an inch in size with their scientific expertise as their only defense. Although Spielberg has stepped away from “Micro”, director Joachim Ronning is expected to guide the project according to the latest update. —MF
“The Martian Chronicles”
Although Paramount has acquired the rights to “The Martian ChroniclesIn 2011, Spielberg sought to adapt the tale when Universal held the rights in the late 1990s. Although NBC made a miniseries about the story in the 1980s, no big-screen adaptation has ever materialized. A sci-fi junkie, Spielberg was heavily influenced by the late Bradbury before his 2012 passing.
“He was my muse for most of my science fiction career,” Spielberg said in an interview following Bradbury’s death. “He lives through his legion of fans. In the world of science fiction, fantasy and imagination, he is immortal. —MF
In 2002 Spielberg attempted to collaborate with Tom Cruise on a World War II film titled “Ghost soldiersabout American POWs during the Bataan death march. The movie was going to be based on the bestselling book by Hampton Sides. “Ghost Soldiers,” but was put on hiatus shortly after Cruise and Spielberg wrapped production on “Minority Report” for Twentieth Century Fox. —MF
DreamWorks has bought the rights to John Whyndam’s 1968 science fiction novel”Suffocating” in 2008, and Spielberg briefly flirted with directing the film. The book tells the story of a boy whose imaginary friend turns out to be an alien entity that has invaded his mind. With his hands full on other productions, including “Lincoln” and “The Adventures of Tintin,” Spielberg has never been able to recreate the Whyndam story. —MF
“I Was Flying with Pride: The Thomas Crapper Story”
Spielberg’s career could have taken a dramatically different turn if one of his first proposed projects had gotten off the ground. Before his fame with “Jaws,” the future director of “Schindler’s List” attempted to adapt “Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper,” Wallace Reyburn’s satirical book on the invention of the toilet. He approached screenwriters Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck before exiting the project around the same time The Sugarland Express was being filmed.
“We had the great idea to do it as ‘Young Tom Edison.’ But like “Little Big Man,” Huyck said in Joseph McBride’s Spielberg biography. “We wrote a treatment and gave it to our (mutual) agent, Guy McElwaine, who said ‘Steve, if this is the kind of movie you want to make, I don’t want to be your agent.'” —MF