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A Short History of Movies That Sat on the Shelf Forever

This weekend’s ‘The King’s Daughter’ was shot in 2014 but is only coming out now. Does that mean it’s good? Hollywood’s history with long-delayed releases suggests not

Amidst the Omicron surge, you’re probably not excited about checking out new movies at the theater. That means you’ll miss out on The King’s Daughter, which is not, in fact, another installment in the Kingsman series. No, this is a fantasy film with the following plot description: “King Louis XIV’s (Pierce Brosnan) quest for immortality leads him to capture a mermaid’s (Bingbing Fan) life force, but his immovable will is challenged when his long-hidden illegitimate daughter (Kaya Scodelario) forms a bond with the magical creature.”

Does that sound good? No, it does not, and the fact that there’s barely been any promotion for the film only strengthens that suspicion. Now, let me give you the kicker: The King’s Daughter was actually filmed way back in 2014. This thing has been in the can for eight years, which is rarely a good sign. More to the point, it’s an indication of a troubled production that’s only now finding its way to theaters in a desperate attempt to wring a little money out of undiscriminating moviegoers. 

The people behind The King’s Daughter shouldn’t feel too badly, though: These kinds of ignominious cinematic duds happen frequently enough. To show you what I mean, I’ve put together a list of some films that went at least four years between being shot and their debut. You’ll be surprised how many stars and big-name directors this has happened to. But with one exception, you should never, ever see these movies. They were hidden from audiences for a reason.

Get a Job

Year It Was Shot: 2012 

Year It Debuted: 2016

What’s the Holdup? Director Dylan Kidd crafted one of 2002’s most exciting debuts with Roger Dodger, a story of an insecure teen (a pre-Squid and the Whale Jesse Eisenberg) who seeks advice from his worldly uncle (Campbell Scott) about how to attract women. It was a caustic dark comedy and character study that promised great things for Kidd, who since then has struggled to find material nearly as compelling.

Case in point: In 2012, he was hired to shoot Get a Job, which was described as “a multi-generational comedy about four recent college graduates who discover that their lofty expectations and the realities of adulthood are two very different things.” The cast was up-and-coming — Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a pre-Succession Nicholas Braun — but then the movie just… didn’t come out.

“It’s just never, ever, ever gonna see the light of day,” Kendrick told Marc Maron, who had a cameo in the film, on his podcast in 2014. She later added, “It was two years ago, it was a very topical comedy thing. It was supposed to be we were fresh out of college. … Dylan Kidd, he’s a great director. It’s crazy how that can happen.” She hinted that the problems stemmed from “distribution companies being split out, so it’s just in limbo,” and when Get a Job finally surfaced in 2016, it was basically dumped into a few theaters, making less than $10,000 and getting horrible reviews. Kidd hasn’t made a movie since the 2017 Crackle comedy Party Boat.

Take Me Home Tonight 

Year It Was Shot: 2007

Year It Debuted: 2011

What’s the Holdup? At one point, it was going to be called Young Americans or Kids in America. But no matter the title, Take Me Home Tonight was intended to be a throwback 1980s comedy. And that meant it had to be debauched.

“Our feeling at the time was, ‘You can’t do a movie about Prohibition without alcohol, and you really can’t do a movie about partying in the 1980s, at the age these kids are, without showing cocaine use,’” star Topher Grace said in 2010, three years after the film was shot. Directed by Michael Dowse — who’d go on to make Goon, Stuber and 8-Bit ChristmasTake Me Home Tonight was a self-conscious “We’ve got to get to that crazy blowout bash!” comedy written by Jackie and Jeff Filgo, who’d worked with Grace on That ‘70s Show. Co-starring Anna Faris, Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer, the movie was meant to evoke Fast Times at Ridgemont High and all the John Hughes flicks, except it was rated R and featured way more drug use and nudity. 

The original studio, Universal, wouldn’t release it — Grace suggested that the top brass freaked out about the cocaine — but Relativity stepped in, buying Take Me Home Tonight and releasing it in 2011, when it promptly stiffed at the box office. Critics weren’t too high on it, either. “Grace and his collaborators set out to make a typical 1980s sex comedy and succeeded all too well,” Nathan Rabin wrote in The A.V. Club. “Most of the movies they’re paying homage to weren’t very good, either.”

A Thousand Words 

Year It Was Shot: 2008

Year It Debuted: 2012

What’s the Holdup? In the 1980s and 1990s, Eddie Murphy was a megastar, but despite getting an Oscar nomination for 2006’s Dreamgirls, he started slipping in the early 21st century, showing up in a bunch of duds like The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Meet Dave and Imagine That. But A Thousand Words was probably the nadir. You may never have even heard of it.

The film was a Liar Liar-like comedy in which Murphy played a smooth-talking literary agent who receives a magic, cursed Bodhi Tree: Every word he speaks, a leaf will fall from the tree. When the tree is out of leaves, he’ll die. How will this guy be able to do his job if he can’t communicate?!? (He can’t even write words!!!) 

A Thousand Words reunited Murphy with Good Burger director Brian Robbins — the two men had previously made Norbit and Meet Dave together — and was filmed in 2008. But partly because the movie was caught in a distribution no man’s land when Dreamworks and Paramount split up, the film just sat on the shelf. In the meantime, Imagine That, Shrek Forever After and Tower Heist were released — and Murphy was selected to host the 2012 Oscars. (Well, that last one didn’t happen after Murphy’s Tower Heist director, Brett Ratner, was fired from producing the show in light of homophobic comments, prompting Murphy to step down as well.) 

By the time A Thousand Words finally hit theaters, Murphy’s comeback was in tatters. The film bombed, earning a rare zero-percent fresh on RottenTomatoes. It took 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name to help restore the megastar’s old luster. 


Year It Was Shot: 2005 

Year It Debuted: 2011

What’s the Holdup? Kenneth Lonergan seemed to be on a roll. A respected playwright responsible for This Is Our Youth and The Waverly Gallery, he made his first film in 2000, You Can Count on Me, an exceptional drama that introduced moviegoers to Mark Ruffalo and earned Laura Linney a Best Actress nomination. (Lonergan received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay as well.) His next film was going to be an ambitious story of a young woman (Anna Paquin) hounded by guilt for her part in a bus accident that killed a pedestrian. Costarring Jean Reno, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Matt Damon, Ruffalo and J. Smith-Cameron, Margaret carried with it high expectations.

Shot in 2005, the film simply vanished. As you’ve seen from this list already, the reasons are usually because a studio isn’t thrilled with the final product or the distributor goes through some financial hardships. But in the case of Margaret, Lonergan struggled to come up with a cut he was happy with, leading to years of legal skirmishes between him and the studio because he refused to finish post-production. Martin Scorsese, a mentor to Lonergan, who had co-written his Gangs of New York, came on board to help him edit the film. Damon contacted the higher-ups at Fox, fighting on Lonergan’s behalf as Fox Searchlight went through a regime change. And long before #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, film critics started #TeamMargaret as a way to build awareness for a movie they loved but feared the studio would dump.

At long last, Margaret came out in the fall of 2011, gaining word-of-mouth among arthouse viewers who wanted to see this mysterious film that had generated so much attention. Margaret didn’t end up snagging any Oscar nominations, but it landed on a lot of Top 10 lists — and Fox even let Lonergan expand his 150-minute theatrical cut into a three-hour extended cut that hit Blu-Ray and, to my mind, is the better version of the film. “It all turned out for the best, I think,” Lonergan said in 2012. His next film, Manchester by the Sea, won two Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay for Lonergan.

Shortcut to Happiness 

Year It Was Shot: 2001

Year It Debuted: 2007

What’s the Holdup? Before the ongoing tragedy involving the accidental on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the film Rust, Alec Baldwin had previously been involved with another legally troubled production — although that one was nowhere near as heartbreaking. It was for a remake of The Devil and Daniel Webster set in the literary world, and it was going to be Baldwin’s directorial debut. (He would play the aspiring author who sells his soul to the devil, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt.)

Production took place in 2001, but it quickly became apparent that there were problems. “Some of the film’s investors are being investigated for bank fraud,” Baldwin announced in 2003. “They claimed they had the money to make the movie but it turned out they didn’t, so while we were making the movie they were bouncing checks all over New York.” As a result, he claimed the film had been seized by the Feds. “The movie is never going to be released. It taught me a lesson.”

Eventually, the messy financial aspects were ironed out, and the film quietly opened in 2007, rebranded with the thoroughly generic title Shortcut to Happiness. For his part, Baldwin took his name off as director, opting for the pseudonym Harry Kirkpatrick. The film made only about $600,000 and got poisonous reviews. “We spent a lot of time and effort shooting the movie,” Jon Cornick, who produced Shortcut to Happiness with Baldwin, said in a 2003 interview. ”It’s not the movie that we intended to make.”

Accidental Love 

Year It Was Shot: 2008

Year It Debuted: 2015

What’s the Holdup? I’ve written about this movie before because I find it so fascinating: Just before director David O. Russell rehabilitated his career with a string of award-winning films, starting with 2010’s The Fighter, he made a comedy about a Midwestern waitress (Jessica Biel) who gets shot in the head with a nail gun, causing her to react outrageously. The nail still stuck in her skull, she goes to Washington to campaign for people’s need for better health care, falling in love with a congressman (Jake Gyllenhaal). It was going to be called Nailed.

But during production, which got underway in 2008, filming kept getting shut down: In fact, it happened eight times because the cast and crew kept not being paid. Then, actors quit during the middle of filming. Russell himself left the project in 2010, saying, “The multiple production delays and stoppages … have now spanned two years, and the circumstances under which the film would now be completed are much different on several fundamental levels than when we embarked several years ago. I, unfortunately, am no longer involved in the project and cannot call it ‘my’ film.” Most of the blame was put on David Bergstein, a burgeoning financier who failed to come up with the necessary money. (Bergstein, in turn, blamed the 2008 financial crisis, his chief lender and his own former attorney.) 

As a result, most observers assumed we’d never see Nailed. Then, years later — 2015, to be exact — this odd little comedy called Accidental Love arrived. Yup, it was Nailed, just under another title, and with a different director listed. Russell changed it to Stephen Greene, disavowing the project. 

“Jessica Biel was terrific in the picture, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Catherine Keener, and Tracy Morgan was hysterical in it,” Russell said in 2014. “And then, it didn’t get finished. … And I really shouldn’t talk about it much more than that, for legal reasons.” No one else wanted to talk about it, or see it: Accidental Love made $4,500 its opening weekend, never to be remembered again — except in articles like this.

The King’s Daughter 

Year It Was Shot: 2014 

Year It Debuted: 2022

What’s the Holdup? All the way back in 1999, Hollywood was interested in Vonda N. McIntyre’s award-winning sci-fi novel The Moon and the Sun: Jim Henson Pictures bought the rights, with acclaimed theater director Christopher Renshaw set to make his feature debut. Lots of books are optioned and then go nowhere, but after some fits and starts, production was announced to begin in 2014, with Soul Surfer director Sean McNamara now attached and stars like Pierce Brosnan, Fan Bingbing and Kaya Scodelario set to go.

But after Paramount announced the movie would come out in the spring of 2015, the studio pulled it from the schedule just a few weeks before release, the rumor being that the special effects needed more time. Well, apparently those effects were even more challenging than expected because the film, still titled The Moon and the Sun at that point, remained on the shelf for years. Clearly the project was in trouble when it was announced that Julie Andrews would be the film’s narrator… in 2020, six years after production had wrapped. By that stage, Paramount had walked away from the film, which had been renamed The King’s Daughter, and now a sales company, Arclight, was trying to find buyers. 

“The world needs epic adventure stories to stir our hearts and minds, so we are thrilled to handle worldwide sales on The King’s Daughter,” Gary Hamilton, the head of Arclight, said in 2020. “We have listened to our buyers and they are looking for completed quality films to fill their pipelines for when the industry is back on its feet.” In other words: Hey, do you need a movie — any movie at all — because of the pandemic? Well, here you go.

The reviews thus far haven’t been kind, which should be no surprise. As we’ve learned, if a movie stays in the can too long, it’s probably best that it just stay there forever.