This article was supposed to be about Jesus Is King, Kanye West’s new album, which was hopefully going to prove that, after last year’s disappointing stopgap Ye, he was still one of our most exciting and creative artists. But the record missed its September 27 release date — just as it missed a few release dates last year. By this point, we should stop being surprised. After all, West has a habit of getting listeners’ hopes up and then crushing them — folks, I don’t think we’ll ever hear Watch the Throne 2 — although he’s far from the only artist who raises expectations for a much-anticipated work and then makes us wait… and wait… and wait for the fucking thing to come out.
That waiting can be excruciating — not to mention create a negative impression that the album or movie that’s been delayed is such a mess that no amount of fine-tuning can save it. Ultimately, all those delays don’t matter if the final product is great, but that only puts more pressure on the artist: If you make us wait too long, it only raises our unreasonable demands for how brilliant the work better turn out to be. (No pressure, George R.R. Martin.)
Since I can’t write about Jesus Is King, I decided to turn my attention to some of the most memorable “long-delayed” works of all time and judge them on one crucial metric: Were they worth the wait? Sometimes, actually, they are. Which is a good thing: Because the ones that weren’t are especially awful and embarrassing for all concerned.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
What Was the Delay? Several Stanley Kubrick movies could have been featured in this piece — his final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, holds the record for “longest constant movie shoot,” going 400 days — but this meditative sci-fi classic was the first time his delays became legendary. The movie, which tracks the history of humanity over millennia, went into production in December 1965, hoping to hit theaters the following Christmas. But 2001 wouldn’t arrive until April 1968, as Kubrick fixated on the effects and editing, displaying the perfectionism that informed the rest of his career.
“Stanley is an honest fellow and he simply admitted to me that he hadn’t anticipated the tremendous technical problems he’d have with all the fantastic special effects he wanted,” MGM president Robert H. O’Brien explained to Variety in the fall of 1966. “For $6 million, we could have had a Buck Rogers sort of thing, but for the extra million we’ve got what we originally planned. Should we have told him to stop at $6 million? Why have Buck Rogers at $6 million when you can have Kubrick at $7 million?” (It’s worth pointing out that, in 1966, the difference in a million dollars was a much bigger deal in Hollywood budgets than it is now.)
Was It Worth the Wait? Critics and audiences were sharply divided on 2001 at the time — Pauline Kael called it a “failure” and actor Rock Hudson reportedly moaned after a screening, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?” — but it’s a mindbender that has become a certified classic, probably the greatest sci-fi film, if not the greatest of all movies. More than 50 years after its release, 2001 is still widely parodied, influential and referenced. (Commercials and sitcoms never tire of using “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as a way to suggest something momentous.) So, yes, 2001 was worth the wait. If anything, it’s still ahead of its time.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
What Was the Delay? Probably cinema’s most infamous long-delayed project, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam drama was dubbed Apocalypse Never in the press because it didn’t seem like the Godfather director would ever get it finished. Shooting begin in the spring of 1976 and concluded in May of the following year, and Apocalypse Now slid from release date to release date — first Christmas 1977, then Easter 1978, then Christmas 1978 — before finally landing in theaters on August 1979. The film’s budget ballooned from $13 million to $30 million, and Coppola suffered nervous breakdowns while trying to corral the sprawling screenplay, difficult locations and ever-changing ending.
When Apocalypse Now premiered at Cannes, he summarized the tortuous experience, creating one of the great quotes about working on a difficult film: “Apocalypse Now is not about Vietnam; it is Vietnam. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle, had access to too much money, too much equipment; and little by little we went insane. After a while, I was a little frightened, because I was getting deeper in debt and no longer recognized the kind of movie I was making. The film was making itself, or the jungle was making it for me.”
Was It Worth the Wait? In a sense, Apocalypse Now has never been “finished.” This century, Coppola has released two different reedits of the film — including one that came out this summer — and the Oscar-winning movie remains one of the most acclaimed and debated Hollywood war dramas. But the truth is, the arduous process of making Apocalypse Now has burnished its legacy — it’s the quintessential troubled, sprawling masterpiece.
The Black Album (1994)
What Was the Delay? Very rarely, an artist will decide to pull the plug on a finished project because he’s not happy with it — which, of course, just makes audiences more curious to see it. (This is informally known as the “Day the Clown Cried principle.”) Perhaps the most memorable musical example of this was when Prince, about a week before it was scheduled to come out, announced that his follow-up to 1987’s Sign o’ the Times, The Black Album, wouldn’t be hitting stores.
Why? As Prince later explained, he feared that he had allowed his “dark side … to create something evil,” referring to the record’s funk and hip-hop textures. Instead, he chose to put out Lovesexy, a far more hopeful and pop-focused collection. But the problem with hitting the brakes on an album’s unveiling that soon to release is that promotional copies were already out, leading The Black Album to be bootlegged — although this was long before the internet or Napster, which would have spread the record far and wide.
Was It Worth the Wait? When Prince feuded with his label in the 1990s — refusing to make new music under his own name — he let The Black Album come out to satisfy his contract. But all those years of buildup inflated expectations: The record (also known as The Funk Bible) was merely a so-so Prince effort. Still, there are a few good tracks, including “Cindy C.,” about red-hot model Cindy Crawford. Currently, The Black Album isn’t available on Spotify, Tidal or iTunes. (Diehard fans scour the world to buy the few vinyl copies from the original pressing that survived.) But if you’ve never heard it, don’t feel too deprived.
What Was the Delay? In comparison to other works on this list, Titanic wasn’t too terribly delayed. Initially, the epic disaster drama was supposed to come out in the summer of 1997, but the film got pushed back to Christmastime because of writer-director James Cameron needing to finish the effects, and he said at the time, hone the film’s narrative arc without feeling rushed. (“My first goal is to create an overwhelming cathartic emotional experience for the audience,” he told The New York Times when the delay was announced that May. “It’s a true love story. It has to be about people you know and care about.”) Even so, the fact that this was a $200-million movie — the most expensive ever by that point — and that Cameron was branching out from action movies to do a period romance based on a true story made Titanic look as big a potential catastrophe as, well, the actual ocean-liner.
Was It Worth the Wait? Absolutely. Cameron’s film won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, and remains one of the world’s biggest moneymakers. (Globally, only Avengers: Endgame and Cameron’s own Avatar have brought in more dough.) It’s the reason fans are more than willing to be patient as Cameron spends years toiling away on Avatar sequels.
What Was the Delay? So, it’s the summer of 1966, and the Beach Boys are enjoying massive critical acclaim for Pet Sounds, a sonically and melodically game-changing record that will inspire the Beatles to try to top it with the following year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Meanwhile, head Beach Boy Brian Wilson is busy planning his next step, telling friends that, for his forthcoming album, “I’m writing a teenage symphony to God.” Those sessions will become the raw materials for Smile, but Wilson’s perfectionism and growing emotional issues will force the album to be shelved. (The delays and disputes that cropped up are so varied, numerous and legendary that they’ve got their own Wikipedia page devoted to them.) For decades, Smile was considered one of the great “lost records,” although some songs came out on later Beach Boys albums. But it wasn’t until the 21st century, when Wilson began playing the Smile material in concerts, that he decided to finally record the entire work as a solo album.
Was It Worth the Wait? Often, a project like Smile fails to live up to the hype. (Forty years of pent-up audience expectations can be a real burden.) But while the album isn’t nearly as exquisite as, say, Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s, what it has over those two is that, because it was recorded by Wilson as an older man, there’s a built-in poignancy in listening to this most sensitive of artists finally get somewhat close to the achievement he strained so hard to accomplish as a talented young genius. The 2004 Smile can’t match what people imagined the 1967 Smile could have been — but, weirdly, that’s what makes it so moving. It’s an album about a fading summer sung by a man in the autumn of his life.
Chinese Democracy (2008)
What Was the Delay? In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Guns N’ Roses was one of rock’s biggest bands, riding multiplatinum success with Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion duo. Then, front man Axl Rose started beefing with his band mates, resulting in the exit of just about everyone who was part of the core unit. Starting around 1994, Rose began work on the official studio follow-up, and the band’s management seemed confident that Chinese Democracy would arrive by 2000. That didn’t happen, and it kept not happening over subsequent years — resulting in the most expensive album ever made. It didn’t help that Rose was obsessive and a perfectionist — not to mention wildly ambitious. “What Axl wanted to do was to make the best record that had ever been made,” an anonymous source who worked on Chinese Democracy told The New York Times in 2005. “It’s an impossible task. You could go on infinitely, which is what they’ve done.” It still took three more years after that Times piece for the album to hit record stores.
Was It Worth the Wait? Chinese Democracy is… okay. It’s got some good songs, but also a lot of self-indulgent songs, and it’s a fascinating snapshot of Rose’s paranoid, self-pitying mind. He failed to make the best record ever — it’s far from being even the best GNR record — and the album’s title remains synonymous with “Long-gestating opus made by an egomaniac that will probably disappoint.” Still, Chinese Democracy helped reignite the band’s touring career. And in 2016, Rose made peace with original members Slash and Duff McKagan for a kinda-sorta reunion. Recently, Slash said that the group is working on a new album — forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.
Black Messiah (2014)
What Was the Delay? D’Angelo went five years between the release of his 1995 debut Brown Sugar and its masterful follow-up Voodoo. Instead of enjoying success after a well-received world tour, though, the singer started drinking, disillusioned by stardom and affected by the suicide of a close friend. “He started getting really involved with alcohol, which led to other things,” recording engineer Russ Elevado told Spin in 2008. “It was horrible to see him that way, but there was no talking to him. I tried, and then big stars like Eric Clapton were trying to talk to him. He was very hard to work with.”
Run-ins with the law ensued, as well as rehab stints and weight gain. His label got exasperated waiting for him to record a new album — even the musicians who worked with him wondered if anything would materialize. “To get five songs out of him, we had to throw away at least 12 that I would give my left arm for,” Roots drummer Questlove told GQ in the summer of 2014. “I don’t mind that, because I literally feel he is the last pure African-American artist left.” And then, just a few months later, D’Angelo shocked the world by surprise-releasing Black Messiah in December.
Was It Worth the Wait? Picked as the year’s best record by music critics, Black Messiah may not have been the commercial smash that Voodoo was, but it’s an equally funky, challenging, powerful work. It was great to have him back. “I want to do what Yahweh is leading me to do. Do I know fully what that is? No, I don’t,” he said the following year. “I’m trying to keep myself open, my heart open, to receive and to know what that is. But I do want to put a lot of music out there. I feel like, in a lot of respects, that I’m just getting started.” As of now, we’re still waiting.
Accidental Love (2015)
What Was the Delay? A comedy starring Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, James Marsden and Tracy Morgan that was directed and co-written by Flirting With Disaster filmmaker David O. Russell: Sounds pretty promising, right? Instead, a movie then called Nailed turned into a debacle. According to reports, the film (which was shot in 2008) shut down at least eight times because of financing issues, and costar James Caan quit supposedly after a dispute over his character’s death scene. (Amazingly, it all had to do with a debate around a cookie.) Nailed was to be an outrageous satire about a woman, played by Biel, who is radically transformed after being shot in the head by a nail gun, but nothing in the movie sounds as bizarre as what happened behind the scenes, including Russell finally walking away from the project in 2010. The movie sat in limbo for years before finally being released in 2015 under a different title, Accidental Love, and without Russell’s name.
Was It Worth the Wait? Accidental Love is the worst-case scenario of what happens when a film is delayed: People assume it must be a train wreck, and indeed this movie was. Accidental Love got awful reviews, and it barely made a ripple at the box office. Russell would just prefer not to think about the whole fiasco. In 2014, he said, “That [experience] was like, ‘How can it get much lower than getting divorced, having to put your kid in a special boarding school at a young age and being broke and not knowing how to [finance] a movie?’ Well, it can get worse.”
Rules Don’t Apply (2016)
What Was the Delay? Warren Beatty is a man who famously takes his time between projects. (Since 1987’s Ishtar, he’s been in a grand total of six films.) But one project he had been interested in for decades was a biopic on Howard Hughes. In fact, he’d been considered telling the life story of the reclusive entrepreneur since the 1970s, finally moving forward on the project in 2011. (By that point, another film about Hughes, Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, had already come out and won several Oscars.) Beatty didn’t shoot his film, which starred him as an aging Hughes and up-and-comer Alden Ehrenreich as his driver, until a few years later. And then? Nothing: This mysterious untitled Beatty project seemed to disappear into the ether, with no word about when it would be released. (When I interviewed Ehrenreich in early 2016 for Hail, Ceasar!, I asked him if he knew what was going on. “He’s editing it,” he told me, shrugging. “And that’s pretty much all I know.”) Then, in April of 2016, it was announced that the movie, now called Rules Don’t Apply, would hit theaters that November, becoming the first Beatty-directed film since 1998’s Bulworth.
Was It Worth the Wait? I’d argue that few people were actually waiting for this movie. Rules Don’t Apply was a commercial disaster, and the film felt like a wan, unfocused afterthought after The Aviator. After so many years of wanting to do a Howard Hughes picture, this is what Beatty came up with. Its failure was more sad than anything else.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
What Was the Delay? Well, among other things, the man who made the movie died. In the early 1970s, Orson Welles spent several years off and on filming the story of a graying director (played by John Huston) trying to make his comeback. The Other Side of the Wind was an ambitious undertaking, cutting between scenes of the director hosting a lavish party and scenes of his magnum opus, which would be shot in a self-consciously arty, European style.
Both rigorously autobiographical and a takedown of a changing Hollywood that no longer seemed interested in maverick voices, The Other Side of the Wind was, like several later Welles projects, hampered by insufficient funds and a distracted auteur: When Welles died in 1985, the unfinished work was caught up in legal entanglements, seemingly never to be seen by audiences. But in the mid-2010s, Netflix took on the project, ensuring that, decades after it was shot, The Other Side of the Wind would make its way to cinephiles. The final cut was overseen by Welles associates who assembled his footage, and as they put it, “attempt[ed] to honor and complete his vision.”
Was It Worth the Wait? As exciting as the prospect was for a “new” Welles movie 33 years after his passing, The Other Side of the Wind is more a fascinating historical curiosity than a fully realized artistic statement. As when a deceased author’s estate tries to “finish” one of his manuscripts by making educated guesses about his intentions or hiring another writer, the film feels like an honorable stab at what its creator was after. Ultimately, The Other Side of the Wind doesn’t feel entirely different from other portraits of aging artists trying to make sense of their work and their life. It’s a rewarding effort — just don’t expect Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Magnificent Ambersons, F for Fake or any of the other consensus classics crafted by this Hollywood iconoclast.
Fear Inoculum (2019)
What Was the Delay? Over the course of four albums over 13 years, Tool built a reputation for being a thinking man’s prog-metal band, churning out dark, anguished riffs with alt-rock hooks and wailed vocals. (They also produced a series of innovative music videos for hits like “Sober.”) But after 2006’s 10,000 Days, the group, led by singer Maynard James Keenan, seemed intent to wait that many days to put out their follow-up. Instead, the group toured a bunch and did side projects — which included Keenan focusing on his other bands, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. (He’s also gotten big into wine.) All the while, the band members would occasionally drop hints that they were gonna get back into the studio soon-ish. (And then there were the times when their fans got fooled by the Tool guys joking around about an imminent release.)
The waiting ended in August when Tool unveiled Fear Inoculum. So what did take so long? About a month ago, Keenan admitted, “I think a lot of it is just that age where you want it to be right and we’ve had some success in the past and the fear of this thing coming out and not being accepted — the fear that it’s not as good as it can be — that can be detrimentally crippling.”
Was It Worth the Wait? Critics gushed and fans rejoiced, sending Fear Inoculum to the top of the Billboard chart. By the way, AllMusic’s Neil Z. Yeung did the math: The album came out 4,868 days after 10,000 Days.