It’s not uncommon for movies to be slightly delayed, or off schedule. Making movies is a massive undertaking with many parties involved and possibilities for things going wrong. Studios could collapse, rights could go into limbo, and world circumstances could necessitate the delayed release of a project.
Most delays only last a few months, maybe even just a few weeks but there are some movies that get delayed beyond just a false start. Some end up sitting on the shelf for years, seemingly destined to collect dust and never see the light of the screen. These films were shelved before finally being released years later and why they ended up collecting dust in the first place.
The 2020 science fiction horror film Underwater stars Kristen Stewart as mechanical engineer Nora Price aboard the Kepler 822. The ocean floor research and drilling facility is struck by an earthquake leaving many stranded and injured unable to contact the surface. As the crew tries to escape and make their way top side, the ocean spews forth some monstrous secrets and the resulting climax is Lovecraftian in its reveal.
The film was originally completed in 2017 but ended up being shelved until January 2020. The film was produced by 20th Century Fox originally who decided to shelve the project after it was completed. Once Disney bought the studio they decided to actually capitalize on the star power of Kristen Stewart and release the film. Ultimately, the film received mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office but has found a cult following.
Blue Sky follows the tumultuous relationship between Carly (Jessica Lange) and Hank (Tommy Lee Jones) in the 1960s. Hank is pro underground nuclear testing, an initiative code-named Blue Sky, and a Major in the military while Carly is a free-spirited soul dealing with mental health issues and the feeling of being trapped. A move from Hawaii to an isolated Alabama base becomes a catalyst for a series of events that will change their relationship and the course of the Blue Sky initiative.
Completed in 1990, the film was shelved due to Orion Pictures filing for bankruptcy. The picture finally saw release in 1994, which was unfortunately 3 years after director Tony Richardson sadly passed away. Another silver lining of the film finally being released is that Jessica Lange won an Oscar for her performance as well as a Golden Globe and Los Angeles Film Critics Association award.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Completed in 1985, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer stars Michael Rooker as Henry, a psychopathic serial killer who drifts across the country killing people indiscriminately. Tom Towles also stars as a friend of Henry’s from prison called Otis. The characters are based on real-life murderers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole. The film is a bleak and grisly study of psychopathy and murder that courted extreme controversy upon its festival debut.
The film despite getting equal parts praise and repulsion upon its early screenings, Henry had tremendous trouble finding a distributor and sat on the shelf for 5 years after being given an X rating by the MPAA. It was finally released in 1990 as an unrated limited release. The controversy didn’t stop there when the original poster was withdrawn for being too extreme and replaced with a new version.
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane
The slasher film All The Boys Love Mandy Lane was completed in 2006 and stars Amber Heard as the titular Mandy Lane, who after a summer of puberty, sees her return to school as a young woman, and finds herself the subject of the desire of many of the school’s male population. After an accidental death at a party and Mandy’s continued popularity growth, Mandy and her new friends head to a remote ranch to party for the weekend. Of course, the bodies soon start piling up as a killer starts taking out the teenagers one by one.
While the film had some success on the festival circuit it entered a rights-based hell as the film shuffled between distributors for almost 7 years while occasionally screening at festivals in the interim. The film finally saw full release in 2013 where it received divisive reviews, with some saying it was a fresh take on the slasher genre and others dubbing it a played-out trope fest.
The New Mutants
One of the most famous and unexpected examples of a film being shelved in recent times is the story of The New Mutants. Pitched as a darker X-Men adjacent story featuring all-new mutants and an impressive cast, fans were over the moon to have a new and different X-Men universe film to dive into. The all-star cast features Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga as a group of teenage mutants in a hospital facility learning to control their abilities.
Originally the film was scheduled for release in 2018 after principal filming was completed in the Fall of 2017. The production studio 20th Century Fox was acquired by Disney in the Winter of 2017, and Disney decided that The New Mutants needed new scenes. The release was delayed while reshoots were planned but ultimately due to the studio shuffling the reshoots never actually happened. Eventually, director Josh Boone returned to complete work on the film, and it was released in 2020. Unfortunately, it was a box office bomb with mixed to negative reviews and a box office taking of $49 million compared to its budget of around $80 million.