The Lost Roles of Ben Stiller
Lost Roles is a weekly column exploring what might have been in TV and film comedy, taking a different comedian, writer, or work each week and examining the casting possibilities and career moves that almost came to be.
The late 80’s were a stagnant era in comedy. Besides Letterman and SNL’s Hartman-Carvey resurgence, there wasn’t a whole lot happening. The Larry Sanders Show, Conan, Seinfeld, Bill Hicks, The State, Mr. Show, The Simpsons, and The Onion were right around the corner, but things were looking pretty dismal at the time. Death took John Belushi and Andy Kaufman from us, while ex-SNL’ers like Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, and Chevy Chase, who created a lot of great comedy in the 70’s and early 80’s, saw their output growing shoddy. Ben Stiller was one of the first Gen X’ers to break through, with his widely-influential but short-lived sketch show The Ben Stiller Show paving the way for a lot of great comedy that followed and giving a first job to many key players in the alt-comedy boom of the 1990’s.
Stiller achieved movie star status in 1998 with There’s Something About Mary and has been on top ever since. With a string of diverse hits that includes Meet the Parents, The Royal Tenenbaums, Tropic Thunder, and opening tomorrow, Tower Heist, as well as his own major production company, Red Hour, Stiller has established himself as one of the leading comedic voices of his generation. Along the way, Stiller has been good about helping talented newcomers into the industry, giving early jobs to a long list of comedians and writers who pretty much dominate the industry now, including Judd Apatow, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Dino Stamatopoulos, Andy Dick, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Rob Schrab, Dan Harmon, Judah Friedlander, and Danny McBride.
Let’s take a look back at the various parts Ben Stiller has been considered for, turned down, and dropped out of over the years, as well as some of the projects that have fallen apart altogether, including the Rolling Stones concert film/comedy movie hybrid he wrote with Judd Apatow, two projects from Patton Oswalt, and the movie Hollywood is afraid to make.
1. Untitled Rolling Stones Project (unproduced, in development 1994)
Wanting to appeal to Generation X, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger had an idea for a movie that would be part Rolling Stones concert film and part buddy comedy. With rock and roll comedies like Wayne’s World and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as the model, Jagger went to Lorne Michaels, who produced Wayne’s World, to advise him on selecting a director for the project. Michaels recommended Ben Stiller, who served a short stint as an SNL castmember in the late 80’s and was just coming off of the unjustly-canceled Ben Stiller Show.
Stiller and his sketch show cohort Judd Apatow began writing the movie, intending to cast Stiller and fellow up-and-comer Brad Pitt as the two Stones fans. The storyline involved two fans who follow the Rolling Stones on tour like the Grateful Dead who mistakenly think another Stones fan is planning to kill the band. The finale involved said Stones fan parachuting onstage to inform Mick Jagger that he was his illegitimate child. Brad Pitt considered the project and took a few meetings with Stiller and Apatow before turning the offer down to star in the movie Se7en. With Pitt gone, Universal Pictures lost interest in the project. This could have been a boon to the careers of Stiller, Apatow, Pitt, and the Stones, but they all ended up being fine without it. Judd Apatow recounts the development of the film in this 2005 piece for Slate, concluding that, “We realized what we had written was probably impossible to shoot. The band couldn’t get it going with anyone else and had to settle for a bizarre episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where the gang went to see the Stones.”
2. A Simple Plan (1998)
Mike Nichols was originally supposed to direct this adaptation of Scott B. Smith’s book about two brothers who find $4 million in the cockpit of a downed plane. Nichols lined up Nicolas Cage and Brad Pitt to play the two brothers, but he soon left the project and Ben Stiller, who had just directed Reality Bites, moved in. Nicolas Cage and Brad Pitt were still onboard for Stiller’s film, but Stiller ran into a budget disagreement with the production company and left the project altogether. Cage and Pitt left with Stiller. A Simple Plan was passed to director John Dahl (Rounders) then John Boorman (Deliverance) before Sam Raimi took the reigns and finally got the thing made. Despite Ben Stiller’s departure, he still had some impact on the finished product. Scott B. Smith credits Stiller with teaching him how to write a screenplay. Stiller must have done a good job with his instruction because Smith received an Oscar nomination for his script. A decade later, in 2008, Ben Stiller and Scott B. Smith collaborated again, with Stiller producing Smith’s horror film, The Ruins.
3. Ghostbusters III (unproduced, in development late 90’s-present)
In the late 90’s, Dan Aykroyd wrote a third Ghostbusters film, called Ghostbusters: Hellbent, which would follow the Ghostbusters passing the torch to a new generation of paranormal exterminators. At the time, the three comic actors rumored to be cast as the young Ghostbusters were SNL alums Chris Farley, Chris Rock, and Ben Stiller. This incarnation of Ghostbusters III never came to fruition, but Aykroyd and the rest of his Ghostbusters cohorts (sans Bill Murray) are still trying to get a third movie made. As recently as 2005, Harold Ramis said that Ben Stiller was his top choice to play a new Ghostbuster, but, luckily for fans who want the integrity of the original film to be preserved, Bill Murray seems to be holding the third movie up. Stiller is not, at this point, involved with the latest Ghostbusters III script that Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Ivan Reitman have been pushing on Bill Murray.
4. What Makes Sammy Run (unproduced, in development late 90’s-early 00’s)
The role: Sammy Glick (also writer, producer, director)
Ben Stiller has long wanted to adapt Budd Schulberg’s classic novel, What Makes Sammy Run?, about a spineless sycophant clawing his way to the top of the movie industry. Stiller penned a script with Jerry Stahl (whom Stiller played in the movie Permanent Midnight) and was all set to direct the project and play the lead, Sammy Glick, but he was unable to secure studio backing. Stiller has called it “the hardest movie in the world to get made,” as the story has been called anti-industry and, by some, anti-Semitic. DreamWorks paid $2.6 million for the rights to What Makes Sammy Run? in 2001 for Stiller to direct and star in, but the studio’s head, Steven Spielberg, has said the story is “anti-Hollywood and should never be filmed.” To assuage the concern over the material, Stiller and Stahl toyed with moving the story to the music industry and incorporating elements of drug abuse. Although What Makes Sammy Run? would make an excellent movie, the filmmakers should stay true to the original story if they’re going to make it.
5. The Making of the President, 1789 (in development 1999)
After the overwhelming success of There’s Something About Mary, Ben Stiller began prepping to direct this comedy, which would have told a different story of George Washington’s ascendance to the presidency than we’re used to. Based on Marvin Kitman’s unauthorized biography of Washington, the movie would have starred John Cleese as America’s first commander-in-chief, portraying him as “a philandering partyer who fell into his historical role.” Steve Martin was also eyeing a supporting role. It’s hard to imagine a bad movie resulting from Cleese, Martin, and Stiller putting their heads together, especially with this intriguing and wacky premise behind it, but The Making of the President never got off the ground and everyone involved moved on.
6. Date School (in development 1999-early 00’s)
Another project Ben Stiller lined up following his Something About Mary breakthrough was I Went to Date School, a romantic comedy about an instructor at a Learning Annex dating school who falls for one of his students. The movie would have reunited Stiller with his Mary costar Cameron Diaz, who was attached to play the female lead. I Went to Date School never came together, but Stiller resurrected the movie in 2003, re-titling it Date School, for his buddy and frequent costar Owen Wilson to star in, with Cameron Diaz’s fellow Charlie’s Angel Drew Barrymore taking over her part and Jon Favreau directing. The Wilson-Barrymore-Favreau incarnation of Date School never got off the ground either, and the project seems dormant for now.
7. Monkeybone (2001)
The role: Stu Miley
Who got it: Brendan Fraser
Ben Stiller was originally signed on to play the live action lead in this half-animated movie about a cartoonist in a coma who becomes trapped in the world he created. Director Henry Selick claims that Stiller wanted to bring in his own writers (something that Stiller’s representatives have denied). With Brendan Fraser as its lead, Monkeybone flopped hard with critics and audiences alike. If Stiller, who draws much bigger audiences than Fraser, had taken the part and had his changes made to the script, then the final version of Monkeybone probably would have fared significantly better, something that even Henry Selick has acknowledged.
8. Zoolander (2001)
The role: Maury Ballstein
Who got it: Jerry Stiller
Originally, Ben Stiller planned on playing the agent in Zoolander, in addition to the title role. Stiller wanted to play the character as Maury Finkle, “The Do It Guy” character he created on The Ben Stiller Show and later reprised in Starsky & Hutch. The film’s budget couldn’t accommodate the visual effects that would allow Stiller to play two characters at the same time, so he rewrote the role and cast his father, Jerry Stiller. It would have been funny to see Derek Zoolander and Maury Finkle interact, but maybe it’s for the best that Stiller has rarely gone down the multiple-characters-in-one-film route a la Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and most recently, Adam Sandler.
9. Hosting Saturday Night Live (2001)
The role: Host (Oct. 6, 2001 episode)
Who got it: Seann William Scott
Ben Stiller had been booked eight months in advance to host SNL as part of the round of publicity he was doing to promote Zoolander. He dropped out of the gig following the September 11th attacks, but not because of the tragedy. SNL producer Marci Klein explains the misunderstanding that occurred:
They had moved his movie up a week because, they said, the world needed comedy. So what really happened was, Ben’s people wanted me to move Ben to the first show and reschedule Reese [Witherspoon].
Presuming that Ben Stiller was wary about doing the show so soon after the attacks, Klein disinvited him, not understanding that he just wanted to reschedule to sync his appearance up with the release of Zoolander. It took 10 years for Ben Stiller to return to host SNL, which he did just last month.
10. Go to Hell, Mike Piazza (in development 2001)
Following the previous year’s Subway Series between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees, Ben Stiller began developing Go to Hell, Mike Piazza, a script about a man who was childhood friends with Mets catcher Mike Piazza and blames the ballplayer for ruining his life. Stiller would have played the title character, a hot dog vendor who gets the chance to exact revenge on Piazza when he wins a chance to pitch to him in an All-Star game. It wasn’t clear whether Mike Piazza was willing to play himself in the film, but Universal Pictures was lining up directors for the project back in 2001, with Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure), Jay Roach (Meet the Parents), Todd Phillips (The Hangover), and Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty) all mentioned as possibilities. It’s not clear why this one fell apart, but 9/11, which occurred a few months after the project was announced, may have played a part. It just wasn’t the right time to start production on a demented comedy like this set in New York.
11. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
The role: Chuck Barris
Who got it: Sam Rockwell
Ben Stiller was in talks to replace Mike Myers as Chuck Barris, the game show host who claimed to be a CIA assassin, for director Bryan Singer in 2000. Stiller changed his mind, and Johnny Depp was brought in to take his place, before being replaced by Sam Rockwell. Confessions would have been a chance for Ben Stiller to branch out and try something a little different from his usual roles, but he was a busy enough guy at this point that missing out on one movie wasn’t a big deal.
12. Anchorman (2004)
The role: Brian Fantana
Who got it: Paul Rudd
When Will Ferrell and Adam McKay wrote Anchorman, they included a list of their casting choices for each role at the back of the screenplay. They had Ben Stiller in mind for over-sexed field reporter Brian Fantana and wanted to round out the news team with Chris Parnell and John C. Reilly as Brick Tamland and Champ Kind, respectively. By the time Anchorman went into production, Paul Rudd was cast in the role. Given how busy Ben Stiller was in 2004, with five movies in theaters (Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch, Envy, Dodgeball, Meet the Fockers), two of which he produced, and a story arc on Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s amazing he was even able to cram the cameo he did for Anchorman into his busy schedule. Stiller was an actor in high-demand in 2004 and his salary probably would have sent Anchorman over budget. Also, since Will Ferrell was still not widely-known amongst the general public (i.e. not comedy fans like us) when Anchorman went into production before Elf’s release, it would have been strange for the biggest comedic actor going (Stiller) to play a supporting role to a TV actor who trying to transition to movies (Ferrell). It’d be like Zach Galifianakis playing second fiddle to Charlie Day in a movie now.
13. Used Guys (unproduced, in development 2005-present)
Director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) cast two comedy heavyweights, Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey, in the lead roles of this sci-fi comedy in 2005. In Used Guys, Stiller and Carrey were to play two outdated pleasure clones in a futuristic society in which women rule the world, can reproduce without men, and sell men like used cars. The production fell apart due to the budget skyrocketing out of control, sitting at a hefty $112 million by the time 20th Century Fox pulled the plug. Stiller and Carrey are two of the highest-earning actors of all time, and when you tack on expensive futuristic sci-fi sets and effects and the salary of big-name director Jay Roach, it accounts for the inflated costs. Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey both have huge audiences. If the two were to star in a film together, it would naturally be a big hit like when Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson butted heads in Anger Management; but $112 million is a little high for a comedy budget.
Used Guys was resuscitated in 2009 with Stiller returning to the re-tooled project and Reese Witherspoon landing the beefed-up lead female role. Little Miss Sunshine directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris signed on, but since then, those two, as well as Stiller and Witherspoon, have moved on. It seems, however, that Used Guys is not dead yet. It was announced last year that Danny McBride was attached to the project in the role vacated by Jim Carrey, but no updates have been announced since then and the box office underperformance of Land of the Lost, Your Highness, and 30 Minutes or Less means that the studio might have lost enthusiasm about their Danny McBride movie. Jay Roach has called the project the “funniest best un-produced conceptual comedy out there,” but it doesn’t look like Used Guys will be coming to theaters anytime soon.
14. Civilwarland in Bad Decline (unproduced, in development circa 2005)
Based on the George Saunders short story of the same name, Civilwarland in Bad Decline was a passion project for Ben Stiller, who called it the film he most wanted to direct in 2005. The original story followed the director of a Civil War theme park who mistakenly hires a trained killer to get rid of the gangs that frequent the park. Stiller was unable to get funding for the movie, explaining, “It’s not a mainstream movie, but it’s funny and moving.”
15. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
The role: Willy Wonka
Who got it: Johnny Depp
Along with just about every other big name actor in Hollywood, Ben Stiller was considered to play Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl book. Burton predictably went with his frequent collaborator Johnny Depp, but it’s interesting to imagine what Stiller’s interpretation of the character might have been like. Ben Stiller tends to be cast as bumbling everymen (Meet the Parents, Night at the Museum) or over-the-top nimrods (Zoolander, Dodgeball), so seeing him play the neurotic, reclusive owner of a candy empire would be a little bit of a change of pace for the actor.
16. The Persuaders (unproduced, in development circa 2005)
The role: Danny Wilde
A remake of the 1970’s British show of the same name, The Persuaders would have seen Ben Stiller and Steve Coogan taking over the parts originated by Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, respectively. The original show followed Lord Brett Sinclair and Danny Wilde, two millionaire playboys — one American and one British — who solve crimes in exotic locations. Hugh Grant and George Clooney were also at one point considered to play the title characters. The project is still in the works, with Peter Howitt (Johnny English) having signed on as director last year, but Stiller and Coogan are no longer attached. Steve Coogan is one of the most talented comedic actor/writers going, and it’s a real shame that he hasn’t yet had his big break in the U.S. The Persuaders could have been the major American hit that Coogan so rightfully deserves.
17. The TV Set (2006)
The role: Lenny
Who got it: Sigourney Weaver
Ben Stiller was director Jake Kasdan’s first choice to play a clueless executive in this underseen Judd Apatow-produced comedy about a TV writer whose creation is destroyed by meddling network brass. Stiller had to drop out of the project due to a scheduling conflict, and Kasdan replaced him with Sigourney Weaver, not even changing the character’s first name, Lenny, to a female one. Jake Kasdan called landing Weaver “a huge coup,” going on to say, “It wasn’t until … after I’d finished the script that I realized what the character should be, and that Sigourney was the right one to do it.” I’d have to agree that things worked out for the best. Sigourney Weaver ended up delivering a career-high performance here that no other actor or actress could have replicated.
18. Dallas (unproduced, in development 2007)
The role: J.R. Ewing
The nighttime soap Dallas was one of the biggest TV hits of the 1980’s, and 20th Century Fox hoped this popularity would carry over to a feature film when they began developing a big-screen version in 2006. Stars like Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Shirley MacLaine, Jennifer Lopez, Luke Wilson, and John Travolta were all attached at one time or another. After the production suffered budget problems, casting changes, and a script overhaul, John Travolta, who was cast as amoral oil magnate J.R. Ewing, was the only actor left standing. The movie was changed from a serious drama to a “‘a show-within-a-show’ comedy” that was compared to the Nicole Kidman/Will Ferrell remake of Bewitched.
It seems like following in the footsteps of the 2005 version of Bewitched is exactly what studios would want to avoid when adapting a classic TV series to a film, but that was nevertheless the plan before it fell apart completely. John Travolta was let go from the project and replaced by Ben Stiller in 2007, but that’s about as far as things got. In 2010, the TNT network began plans to remake Dallas as a dramatic TV series, which seems like a much more fitting revival of the show than ripping off Will Ferrell’s Bewitched.
19. Blades of Glory (2007)
The role: Chazz Michael Michaels
Who got it: Will Ferrell
Ben Stiller considered taking the lead role in this figure skating comedy, which he ended up producing through his company, Red Hour Productions. After deciding that the part was too similar to his previous characters, Stiller handed it over to his pal Will Ferrell and remained onboard as a producer. The result was a massive box office success that Stiller and his production company profited from greatly.
20. Deep Tiki (unproduced, in development 2008)
The role: Brian Gilcrest
Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon were set to star in Deep Tiki, which became their second film together that never got off the ground. Cameron Crowe was going to write an direct the feature. Here’s how The Playlist describes the plot:
Set in Hawaii surrounding an illegal satellite launch in the skies above the pacific island, the dramedy/rom-com centers on the Defensecon military contractor … who has to navigate and juggle the politics of the bosses, the supernatural myths of Hawaii’s spiritual leaders, the emotions for his almost-ex-wife and the tricky feelings he develops for his new difficult female military liaison.
Wow, that seems like quite a lot for one movie to cover. Deep Tiki was put on hiatus in late 2008, and everyone involved moved on.
21. Tropic Thunder (2008)
The role: Rick Peck
Who got it: Matthew McConaughey
Ben Stiller had originally wanted a real action star to play Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder, instead of himself, a comedic actor. Stiller considered Keanu Reeves for the role, planning to play Tugg Speedman’s scummy agent Rick Peck himself. Stiller nixed this idea, instead casting Tom Cruise as Rick Peck. Cruise read the script and suggested that Stiller add in a studio head character, and Stiller shifted Cruise into the newly-created part of Les Grossman. Owen Wilson picked up the Rick Peck part but had to drop out to recover from a suicide attempt and Matthew McConaughey was brought in. Casting a dramatic actor (I know it’s a stretch to call Keanu one, but he hasn’t made any comedies in a while) in the lead part might have caused Tropic Thunder to feel more grounded and added an extra dimension of reality to the story, but Keanu Reeves couldn’t have been as funny as Ben Stiller was in this part.
22. Hosting the Oscars with Robert Downey Jr. (2010)
Who got it: Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin
After their summer comedy Tropic Thunder proved popular with audiences, critics, and awards voters alike, Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. were asked by the Academy to host the 2010 Oscars together. Stiller and Downey turned down the offer, and another pair of comedy co-stars, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin stepped in, fresh off of It’s Complicated. Stiller and Downey were funny together in Tropic Thunder, but it’s strange to think of the two as a comedy team. They could have made incredible Oscar hosts, though. Even if things went poorly, Stiller and Downey would have been better received than James Franco and Anne Hathaway’s 2011 stint behind the podium.
23. Megamind (2010)
The role: Megamind
Who got it: Will Ferrell
This computer-animated comedy about a supervillain, originally titled Oobermind, was produced through Ben Stiller’s company, Red Hour, and Stiller was originally going to voice the title character. He stepped out of the lead role before production began, choosing to voice the supporting character Bernard instead. Robert Downey Jr., Stiller’s Tropic Thunder co-star, signed on to replace him but later dropped out over scheduling conflicts, handing the part over to Will Ferrell.
24. Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011)
The role: Mr. Popper
Who got it: Jim Carrey
Ben Stiller signed on to star in this adaptation of the 1938 children’s’ book, with Noah Baumbach, who last worked with Stiller on Greenberg, directing. Their version of the script was different than the finished film, and it involved Stiller’s character serving as a publicist to Peyton Manning, with Manning playing himself. Stiller and Baumbach left the project amidst creative differences in 2010, and the studio went to Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Jim Carrey next. Jim Carrey won the part, but the film performed dismally at the box office and failed to impress critics, as well. It won’t be long before Ben Stiller and Noah Baumbach collaborate again. The pair left Penguins and jumped into the comedy-drama While We’re Young, which is set to begin production soon.
25. We Bought a Zoo (2011)
The role: Benjamin Mee
Who got it: Matt Damon
Ben Stiller and Cameron Crowe had tried to work together on Deep Tiki, but when that project fell apart, Crowe moved on to We Bought a Zoo, a family comedy about a single father who buys and refurbishes a zoo with his two kids. Crowe offered the lead role to Ben Stiller and Matt Damon. Damon accepted the part, while Stiller went off to make Tower Heist.
1. Heat Vision and Jack (failed Fox pilot, 1999) – From creators Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, this absurd action/comedy is one of the most famous unsold TV pilots ever. Jack Black starred as a scientist with superpowers who rides a talking motorcycle (voiced by Owen Wilson). This was the second time that Fox did Stiller wrong (after canceling his critically-adored Ben Stiller Show several years earlier), even though he warned them not to make the same mistake twice, clutching his Stiller Show Emmy in the intro to the Heat Vision pilot. The pilot became so popular after the fact that a script to a movie version was being written in 2007 but no word on the project has come in since then.
2. Two series from Jerry Stahl (in development 1999) – Stiller was developing two TV series written by Jerry Stahl. One was a sitcom that would have taken place in a Malibu rehab clinic, while the other was based on Stahl’s novel, Perv: A Love Story.
3. A Zoolander TV series (in development 2001) – Ben Stiller was developing a TV version of Zoolander shortly after the original’s release, intending to cast a lookalike in the role of Derek Zoolander but to keep his father, Jerry Stiller, as agent Maury Ballstein. The show seemingly never made it to the pilot stage.
4. Untitled Christine Taylor Project (failed CBS pilot, 2006) – Starring Ben Stiller’s talented wife, this semi-autobiographical sitcom was to follow an actress married to a movie star. Jane Lynch, Fran Kranz, and Modi also starred.
5. The Station (failed Fox pilot, 2009) – A workplace comedy about a covert CIA office in South America. Created by Kevin Napier, with a pilot directed by the show’s producer, David Wain. Rob Huebel, Whitney Cummings, John Goodman, and Justin Bartha starred in the pilot.
6. Documental (failed HBO pilot, 2010-2011) – Created by Justin Theroux, this comedy series would have starred Theroux as a documentarian chronicling the comeback of his clueless idol (played by Steve Coogan). HBO passed on this reteaming of the Tropic Thunder gang.
Other unproduced movies:
1. Higher Education (in development 1992) – director – Ben Stiller described this script, from rookie writer Helen Childers, as a cross between a road movie and After Hours.
2. Smooth Daddy (in development 1992) – director – a movie about a child celebrity
3. The Kill Martin Club (in development 1998) – producer – a black comedy from novelist John Scott Shepherd about a group of employees who fantasize about murdering their boss, only to find that he has been murdered using one of their scenarios
4. To Err is Human (in development 1999) – director – a remake of a German rom-com about a man’s search for the real father of his children
5. Karaoke Knight (in development 1999) – star – Tom Shadyac bought this property, about a karaoke enthusiast who can’t sing but has plenty of charisma, intending to cast Stiller. The film would follow the wannabe karaoke man being taken under the wing of “a would-be crooner stunted by a peculiar disability.”
6. Top Banana (in development 2001) – producer – Written by Brian Posehn and Patton Oswalt, centering on a trio of struggling stand-ups who enter a comedy competition in one last attempt at becoming famous
7. Bullrider (in development 2001) – star – Stiller would have played a cowboy in this drama set in the Texas rodeo world
8. Puberty (in development 2001) – producer – Also written by Patton Oswalt, the story of a man in his 30’s who never went through puberty, who is suddenly hit with his body’s transition to adulthood in the midst of a major business deal
9. The Hot Rock (in development 2001) – producer – A remake of the 70’s diamond heist film from writer Henry Griffin
10. Breakups are Their Business (in development 2002) – producer – Based on a Time Magazine article about a Japanese company that helps its clients handle their break-ups. Seth MacFarlane protégé Ricky Blitt was hired to write the script, which was been one of three projects on this same topic in development at the time
11. The Mirror (in development 2005) – producer and star – From Ben Stiller’s friend and occasional collaborator Scott B. Smith, The Mirror would have starred Stiller as a fictional version of himself who finds that his family and friends prefer his mirror image to himself. Stiller’s buddy Owen Wilson and wife Christine Taylor were reportedly onboard to play themselves, with Angelina Jolie playing a fictional character
12. Joysticks (in development 2005) – producer – George Saunders, who adapted his short story “Civilwarland in Bad Decline” to screenplay form for Stiller (see above), also wrote this adaptation of his short story “Sea Oak” for Red Hour
13. Wake Up, Sir! (in development 2005-06) – producer – Red Hour bought the rights to Jonathan Aames’s novel of the same name
14. Big Wave (in development 2006) – producer/story – Based on an idea by Ben Stiller, a comedy about a surfer who was forced to retire by a surfing injury but returns to the sport to save a retirement home for surfers. Prolific comedy writer Brent Forrester, who wrote on The Ben Stiller Show amongst many other amazing series, was brought in to write the script for Brendan and Emma Malloy to direct.
15. Project A (in development 2008) – producer – From writer Etan Coen, this comedy would have been Rob Corddry’s first starring role, allowing him to play “a man who is trained by the government to be the world’s biggest jerk.”
16. The Return of King Doug (in development 2008) – producer and star – Based on the graphic novel by Greg Erb and Jason Oremland about a man who has to return to the fantasy world he created as a kid 30 years later.
17. Oscar Levant biopic (in development 2008) – producer – A film telling the story of the life of neurotic composer Oscar Levant
18. Raindrops All Around Me (in development 2008) – producer – follows “a socially inept high school teacher who learns to ‘dumb it down’ in order to fit in with the people around him”
19. Starsky & Hutch 2 (in development) – star and producer – News stories about a Starsky & Hutch sequel began appearing in 2004, with word coming in that Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson wanted cameos from Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu, the stars of another remake of a 70’s show, Charlie’s Angels. Only Diaz was available at the time, but the project never came together anyways.
20. Dodgeball 2 (in development) – star and producer – Movie websites began reporting that a sequel to Ben Stiller’s 2004 comedy Dodgeball was in the works a few years ago, and Ben Stiller allegedly approached Lance Armstrong, who cameo-ed in the original, about reprising his performance in the second film. Justin Long confirmed that everyone would be back for the sequel, but Dodgeball 2 hasn’t moved forward since then.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.