Splitsider

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

The Lost Projects of John Hughes

One of the most prolific comedy filmmakers of all-time, you can’t really compare John Hughes’s dominance of big screen comedy in the 1980s to the work of anyone modern. Even Judd Apatow, who’s pumped out hit films at a consistent rate for the better part of the last decade, doesn’t work as fast as Hughes, who was cranking out two or even three popular comedies a year throughout his 80s heyday, with many of these films going on to become iconic classics.

Part of the reason John Hughes was able to rapidly pile up projects is that he was an incredibly fast writer who didn’t care much for rewriting. Some of Hughes’s most beloved films were written in just two or three days, and he was refreshingly honest about the fact. Hughes admitted to having written Sixteen Candles and Weird Science in two days each, Planes, Trains & Automobiles in three days, and Ferris Bueller in six.

Below, I’ve collected all the known information about a dozen of John Hughes’s unproduced screenplays and movie ideas. At the rate he worked, there are probably a hundred more movies he wanted to make that we don’t know about. The unproduced movies listed below span John Hughes’s two decades in the film industry, from his days with National Lampoon in the late 70s to his creative peak as King of the Teen Movie in the 80s to his transition into less ambitious family fare in the 90s. While these unproduced John Hughes movies come from various points throughout his impressive career, given how fast he worked, Hughes probably could have written all twelve of these screenplays on one rainy three-day weekend.

National Lampoon’s Jaws 3, People 0 (1979)
When it came time to start working on a third Jaws movie in the late 70s, Universal made a deal with National Lampoon publisher and producer of Animal House Matty Simmons to make a comedic version of Jaws under the Lampoon banner. Here’s what Simmons had to say about the National Lampoon’s Jaws movie when I interviewed him for Spltisider a few months back:

“I was having lunch at the Friar’s Club with David Brown, who produced Jaws, and he said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do a movie together.’ As a gag, I said to him, National Lampoon’s Jaws 3, People Nothing. He looked at me like ‘What?’ Then, [I] came up with a story I made up on the spot, and he said, ‘I love it!’ and ran to the phone and called his partner, Richard Zanuck…

So, I go back to my office… and I had to remember the story I told, you know?… When they called and told me the studio wanted to do it, I walked into the editorial office, and… two of the editors were sitting there: a guy named Tod Carroll and a guy named John Hughes. Neither of them had ever written a movie script before. I called ‘em into my office, and I said, ‘This is the story for Jaws 3, People Nothing. You guys are gonna write the screenplay.’ And they wrote it. The leading lady was Bo Derek, Richard Dreyfuss was in it, and Joe Dante, who was an unknown director at the time was gonna direct it. The studio had $2 million into pre-production, and [Universal President Ned] Tannen called me on the phone… He said, ‘I have to pull the plug.’ I was furious. I had just closed Animal House, I was the hottest producer of the year. He wouldn’t tell me why. I found out in later years that [Steven] Spielberg went to the heads of the company and said, ‘If you do this movie, I’m leaving.’ He thought it demeaned him and demeaned Jaws. And that’s how John Hughes got into the business.” – Matty Simmons, 2012.

Yes, that’s right. Steven Spielberg apparently put a stop to John Hughes’s first movie, Jaws 3, People 0, which was just one of  15 screenplays he wrote before getting his first script produced (a forgettable National Lampoon outing called Class Reunion). According to this detailed script review, Jaws 3, People 0 was super meta and followed a bunch of studio execs making a third Jaws movie. Instead, Universal went with a more traditional second Jaws sequel, a 3-D installment that proved to be a disappointment.

The History of Ohio from the Beginning of Time to the End of the Universe (early 80s)
John Hughes and fellow Lampoon writer PJ O’Rourke collaborated on this lengthily-titled film, The History of Ohio from the Beginning of Time to the End of the Universe, which was to be “a dramatic adaptation of Lampoon's Sunday Newspaper Parody, an Onion-like sendup of a small-town paper.” The studios shot down this project, as well, but John Hughes became a hot commodity in Hollywood quickly thereafter with National Lampoon’s Vacation and Mr. Mom, both of which he scripted, becoming two of the biggest box office draws of 1983 and paving the way for him to direct his own scripts for Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

Lovecats (1984)
According to Molly Ringwald, John Hughes told her that her musical tastes inspired him to work on a new script called Lovecats:

“When The Breakfast Club ended, he started writing a script called Lovecats, because I played him that song by the Cure, ‘The Lovecats.’ I was obsessed by The Cure—still am… I played this song for John, and he started writing a script, and he gave me a mix tape of what the soundtrack was gonna be. Which was pretty much Dave Brubeck, with the last song by Bob Dylan.” – Molly Ringwald, 2010.

The Last Good Year (1984)
John Hughes told Anthony Michael Hall about another of his mixtape-inspired movie ideas that never got made:

“At one point when we were doing The Breakfast Club, John had an idea for a movie called The Last Good Year. It was something that he pitched to me as something he wanted to do with me, about the last good year being 1962, before the Beatles’ invasion. Maybe it was a sarcastic title. The idea was, I think, that the cultural shift was significant to him—the crossover in time from Pat Boone America to Beatles America. He didn’t have too many of the story elements worked out, but, man, did he have a mix tape put together.” – Anthony Michael Hall, 2010.

The New Kid (1986)
Director Howard Deutch was John Hughes’s right-hand man during his 1980s creative peak. Hughes would usually make two movies a year but only had time to direct one himself, usually handing the other one off to Deutch. Movies like Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Great Outdoors were all scripts that Hughes wrote but passed off to Howard Deutch. When Deutch chose to direct Pretty in Pink, he had to decide between that script and another of Hughes’s, The New Kid, which was based on his experiences growing up and moving around a lot as a kid. While not much is known about The New Kid beyond this, here’s Hughes describing his adolescence, which gives a pretty good idea of what the movie might have been:

“I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly girls and old people. There weren't any boys my age, so I spent a lot of time by myself, imagining things. And every time we would get established somewhere, we would move. Life just started to get good in seventh grade, and then we moved to Chicago. I ended up in a really big high school, and I didn't know anybody. But then The Beatles came along (and) changed my whole life. And then Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home came out and really changed me. Thursday I was one person, and Friday I was another. My heroes were Dylan, John Lennon and Picasso, because they each moved their particular medium forward, and when they got to the point where they were comfortable, they always moved on.” – John Hughes, 1986.

Oil and Vinegar (1987)
After John Hughes’s death in 2009, details on a lost project of his surfaced in the comments section of a Vanity Fair piece about his life. Filmmaker Alan Metter, who directed Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, posted to describe a time that he passed up directing a movie written by John Hughes:

“John Hughes and I had the same agent. One day he called and sent over a script John had written and wanted me to direct (it was during the period when there were two John Hughes films being made each year, one he directed and the other he wrote and produced). It was about a guy (Mathew Broderick?) driving across the country on the way to his wedding. He picks up a girl hitchhiking (Molly Ringwald?) and they wind up in a moral dilemma, stranded in a motel room in the middle of nowhere, talking all night about every single thing that’s important to anyone coming of age. Like Breakfast Club it was a magnificent dialogue piece — a cinematic play. I turned it down because no matter who directed John’s annual ‘B’ film, it was a John Hughes film. A year earlier my movie, Back To School, had opened the same weekend as Ferris Bueller and beat it at the box office. I didn’t want to take a back seat to John Hughes now. So this great John Hughes movie never got made. And I was never offered a script this good again. I never even got to meet the man. As career moves go, this was the greatest mistake of my life. Maybe someone will dig it up and be smart enough to make one last John Hughes film.” – Filmmaker Alan Metter, 2009.

When Alan Metter turned the project down, Hughes’s usual “B” film guy, Howard Deutch was brought in, but the Matthew Broderick/Molly Ringwald movie never got off the ground.

Bartholomew vs. Neff (1991)
Curly Sue was the last movie John Hughes directed, but he originally planned on following it up with Bartholomew vs. Neff, a comedy about feuding neighbors that was to star John Candy and Sylvester Stallone, but the project ended up falling apart altogether.

Black Cat Bone: The Return of Huckleberry Finn (1991)
Black Cat Bone, a modernized retelling of Huckleberry Finn, was a Hughes project that was supposed to begin filming in 1992 but never got off the ground.

A live-action Peanuts movie (1992)
The 1990s saw John Hughes move on from his beloved teen-centric fare to focus on a series of family movies that were mostly uninspired remakes and sequels starring kids (the Home Alone series, Dennis the Menace), dogs (the Beethoven series, 101 Dalmatians), babies (Baby’s Day Out), and Robin Williams (Flubber). All of these movies were a far cry from classics like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, and Sixteen Candles, which were all original stories and not remakes. One of the properties that Hughes sought to adapt into a live-action film was the comic strip Peanuts. Yes, that’s right, Warner Brothers bought the rights to Peanuts for Hughes to make a movie with human versions of Charlie Brown and the gang. Thankfully, this didn’t happen, probably thanks to Hughes’s other comic strip-to-movie adaptation, Dennis the Menace, failing to become the next Home Alone.

The Bee (1994)
The Bee was a Disney movie Hughes was going to write and direct that followed the story of “a man and his daylong battle with a bee.” It was the last known directing project John Hughes signed on for as he mainly worked as a writer under the pseudonym Edmond Dantès for the tail end of his career after leaving Hollywood for Ohio in 1994.

Tickets (1996)
Probably the closest attempt by late period John Hughes to return to his Breakfast Club roots, Tickets was a script that followed a group of teenage strangers camped out all night in zero degree weather for tickets to their favorite band’s farewell show. Tickets wasn’t made because a similar film, Detroit Rock City, beat it into production, but that might be a good thing if this negative review of John Hughes’s Tickets script is any indication of how the movie would have turned out.

Grisbys Go Broke (2002)
John Hughes sold a script, Grisbys Go Broke, a comedy about a wealthy family who lose all their money and are forced to spend Christmas in poverty, in 2002 as a writing/producing project. By the time of his death in 2009, the movie still hadn’t been made, but Paramount was rumored to be interested in it during the wave of nostalgia and sadness caused by Hughes’s untimely passing. Paramount opted not to purchase the movie, and it’s kind of shocking that, given how many unproduced scripts Hughes left behind, Hollywood has yet to try to film one following his death.

Sequels to The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Sixteen Candles
Easily John Hughes’s three most popular movies, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, and Sixteen Candles, all luckily never had sequels (unless you count that Ferris Bueller Super Bowl commercial or the quickly-canceled TV series based on the movie). While it seems like these classics are safe from big-screen bastardization for now, the recent rash of 80s nostalgia that brought us Transformers and G.I. Joe movies, the return of Indiana Jones, The A-Team, and Hawaii Five-O, and endless Ghostbusters III scares almost caused John Hughes to revisit his best movies.

Matthew Broderick recalled Bueller sequel plans after Hughes’s death, saying “We thought about a sequel to Ferris Bueller, where he’d be in college or at his first job, and the same kinds of things would happen again. But neither of us found a very exciting hook to that. The movie is about a singular time in your life.” Molly Ringwald says she’s repeatedly turned down offers for a Sixteen Candles sequel before announcing in 2005 that she was interested. Emilio Estevez was reported to have signed onto a Breakfast Club sequel also in 2005, with John Hughes being involved as a writer, but nothing ever materialized.

It’s for the best that John Hughes (or anyone else for that matter) never made sequels to these movies. It’s mildly amusing in a two-minute car commercial, but that’s about it, and sequels to iconic films like Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller could tarnish the reputation of the beloved original films.

For further reading on John Hughes, check out David Kamp’s excellent Vanity Fair piece released after Hughes’s passing and Richard Lallch’s unflattering Spy magazine piece about Hughes during his early 90s doldrums.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kk.akuoku KK Akuoku

    'The Last Good Year' is probably the best idea of the lot.

  • KitKat

    Stephen R. Johnson, the director of the 1st season of Pee Wee's Playhouse, and the genius behind Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" videos was also at one time attached to direct "Oil and Vinegar."  As one of his buddies, I remember it well…

  • Patrick Read Johnson

    John actually began pre-production on "The Bee", while we were in pre-production, together, on "Baby's Day Out".  At that point, Steve Martin was to star as an architect who buys a foreclosed farm, and in the process of developing the house as his residence, wipes out all but ONE of the bees in the farm's hive.  The bee, of course, is not pleased, and you can imagine what happens next…  I remember seeing some amazing test-footage of the bee's flying P.O.V. that John and some of the Baby's Day Out camera crew went out and shot on weekends.  When Steve Martin eventually dropped out of the project, Jackie Chan was rumored to be attached.  I would love to have seen what John and Jackie Chan might have done together.