14 Movies that were stuck in development hell, from The Irishman to Chicken Run 2

14 Movies that were stuck in development hell, from The Irishman to Chicken Run 2

The Woman in the Window arrived on Netflix in 2021, and it was a book adaptation a long time coming – the Amy Adams-led thriller has been in the making for nearly half a decade, stuck in what is known as "development hell." 

A movie (or a TV show or video game) that's stuck in development hell is one that's been trapped in development for an especially long time, often moving between different crews, scripts, or studios before it progresses to production – if it ever does. This kind of scenario is particularly common when movie studios buy the rights to books, video games, or comics. It's not a situation that's unique to The Woman in the Window, by any means.

Here are some recent releases that have spent years – and sometimes decades –lingering in development hell before they reached our screens.

By Emily Garbutt

(20th Century Fox/Netflix/20th Century Fox)
The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window started its journey to the big screen when the rights to the novel were acquired in 2016. Director Joe Wright was hired in 2018, as well as cast members Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, and Wyatt Russell, and filming took place soon thereafter. 

Originally intended for release in 2019, The Woman in the Window tested poorly with audiences, and the producers brought Tony Gilroy on board to oversee reshoots, pushing the movie back to March 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to further delays, and a change of studio – 20th Century sold the rights distribution rights to Netflix in August 2020, and, nine months later, it finally arrived on our screens. Fun fact: the movie was the last to be produced under the Fox 2000 Pictures banner, the prestige studio – best known for Life of Pi and The Devil Wears Prada – that has now been shuttered by Disney following its acquisition of Fox.

Chaos Walking

The rights to the Chaos Walking books were first purchased back in 2011. Charlie Kaufman (yes, really) was hired to write a first draft of the script the following year, but the screenplay was reworked a total of six times by different people after that. Doug Liman was announced as director in 2016, and, two months later, Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland were announced as the movie's leads. 

Reshoots were called after lukewarm test screenings in 2018, but Ridley and Holland were busy with their respective Star Wars and Spider-Man commitments, which resulted in further delays. Chaos Walking – which was originally envisioned as a trilogy, but the ending was reworked to add some conclusion – eventually came out in 2021 to negative reviews.

Chicken Run 2

There's been a Chicken Run sequel on the cards since the original movie was released in 2000, but it's taken a long time to come to fruition. Things were delayed after studio Aardman Animation's partnership with DreamWorks ended in 2006, but a sequel to the hit stop-motion movie was confirmed in 2018 after years of lying dormant when Aardman teamed up with StudioCanal and Pathe. 

Netflix acquired the rights in 2020, and production is set to start in 2021 – but minus original voice cast members Mel Gibson and Julia Sawalha. The original movie's writers are returning, though, and the sequel will be helmed by Flushed Away director Sam Fell. It will follow the offspring of Rocky (Gibson) and Ginger (Sawalha), the two main characters in the original movie.

Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel was released in 2019, but it had been in development since the early '00s. First announced in 2003 with James Cameron attached to direct – and filming due to start in 2005 – production was repeatedly delayed due to Cameron's work on Avatar (and, later, its many sequels). 

Robert Rodriguez finally took over as director in 2016 after being hired to condense Cameron's screenplay and notes, with Cameron still on board as producer. It received mixed reviews but made over $400 million worldwide, making it Rodriguez's highest grossing movie ever. Alita: Battle Angel has since won over a loyal fanbase who has used social media to lobby for a sequel.

(20th Century Fox)

First announced in 2000, with Ryan Reynolds attached to the project since 2004, Deadpool didn't hit the big screen until 2016. 20th Century Fox expressed interest in making the movie in 2005, but nothing came to fruition. A Deadpool spin-off was next considered after X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released in 2009, but the producers wanted to reboot the character, so the idea was ultimately scrapped. 

Screenwriters for the movie were hired in 2010, with director Tim Miller coming on board in 2011. However, following Reynolds' disastrous Green Lantern movie that came out later that year, plus reservations about Deadpool's R-Rating, the studio got cold feet and canceled the project. Miller was, though, given enough money to produce some test footage, which Fox was not impressed by – that is, until that footage leaked to the public in 2014. The response was huge, and Deadpool was given a 2016 release date, with filming finally taking place in 2015.

(20th Century Fox)
The Irishman

Despite being in development since 2007, The Irishman wasn't released on Netflix until 2019. Based on I Heard You Paint Houses, a nonfiction book by Charles Brandt about the alleged mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, Brandt consulted with director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian on the script, which led to rewrites and do-overs. These caused delays to production, which resulted in the movie losing its place on the release calendar. 

In fact, Scorsese went on to direct three more films – 2011's Hugo, 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, and 2016's Silence – before The Irishman eventually started production. It wasn't until 2017 that Al Pacino and Joe Pesci officially joined the cast (with Pesci coming out of retirement), and filming started later that year. The movie received positive reviews and 10 nominations at that year's Oscars. 

Mad Max: Fury Road

Director George Miller had the idea for Fury Road back in 1999, and the movie was set to shoot in 2001, but production was delayed after 9/11. Two years later, Miller was given the green light to film in Australia in 2003, but one of the planned locations was ruined by rainfall, which meant – you guessed it – more delays. The movie then went on hiatus while Miller worked on 2006's Happy Feet (talk about a change of pace).

Tom Hardy was eventually cast as Max in 2010. Filming began in 2012, and Mad Max: Fury Road was finally released in 2015. It made a box office loss of between $20 and $40 million, but it was critically acclaimed and was the highest-scoring movie of the year on Rotten Tomatoes. 

(Warner Bros.)
Mortal Kombat

A third Mortal Kombat movie was scheduled to follow the second movie in the series, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, which was released in 1997. However, when production was finally due to start in 2005, Hurricane Katrina damaged one of the planned filming locations. Fast forward to 2010 and another pitch for a new Mortal Kombat was made. Filming for that project was due to start in 2012, but fell through due to budget constraints.

A whole decade after the first planned shoot, the movie in its current form began to take shape in 2015 when James Wan signed on as a producer. Director Simon McQuoid came on board in 2016, and the movie finally hit our screens this year, to mixed reviews.

(Warner Bros.)
Sonic the Hedgehog

A movie about Sonic the Hedgehog was in development from the early '90s, but nothing really happened until Sony acquired the rights in 2013 and a production team was hired. The rights were then picked up by Paramount in 2017 after Sony dropped the project and filming took place in 2018. 

The movie was meant to be released in 2019, but this was delayed to 2020 after negative responses to the first trailer resulted in a last-minute redesign of the titular hedgehog's appearance. The movie did well at the box office, and a sequel (imaginatively named Sonic the Hedgehog 2) is scheduled for release in spring 2022.

Space Jam: A New Legacy

After the original Space Jam movie came out in 1996, a sequel was in the works all the way back in 1997. Production was planned to start in 2003 after the release of Looney Tunes: Back in Action, but the Space Jam follow-up was canceled after Back in Action's poor box office performance. 

In 2014, Warner Bros. officially announced the development of a sequel starring LeBron James, and F9 director Justin Lin was brought on board in 2016. However, Lin then left the project in 2018. Filming for Space Jam: A New Legacy finally began in 2019 with Malcolm D. Lee directing.

(Warner Bros.)

A movie based on the Uncharted video game first went into development in 2008, but the title has had a rocky road to release. The project has been through a total of seven directors, with everyone from David O. Russell to Shawn Levy at the helm at some point. 

In fact, the project has been in the works for so long that Mark Wahlberg, who's been on board, since 2010, now plays mentor character Sully rather than mentee Nathan Drake – that role now belongs to Tom Holland, who was cast in 2017. Filming finally began in 2020 and the Uncharted movie is due to hit the big screen in 2022.

Avatar sequels

After Avatar was released in 2009, two follow-up movies were first announced in 2010 with the first sequel planned to release in 2014. Avatar 2's release has now been through eight delays, with the current release date scheduled for December 16, 2022. 

A major cause of these setbacks was the need to develop new technology in order to film performance capture scenes underwater – something that has never been done before. Filming for Avatar 2 and 3 finally began in 2017, and the last three sequels are now due to premiere in 2024, 2026, and 2028 (fingers crossed). 

(20th Century Fox)
Bill & Ted Face the Music

After Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey came out in 1991, it wasn't until 2010 that star Alex Winter first mentioned that a third Bill & Ted movie was in the works. Apparently, a threequel wasn't immediately considered, and progress was slow as investors were reluctant to get involved. 

However, after the success of 2014's John Wick, featuring Winter's co-star Keanu Reeves in the lead role, things started to move forward with greater urgency. In 2016, Winter revealed that the movie had a script and a director, and filming took place in 2019, with Bill & Ted Face the Music releasing in 2020 to positive reviews.

(United Artists Releasing)
Dallas Buyers Club

The screenplay for Dallas Buyers Club was first written all the way back in 1992 –screenwriter Craig Borten visited the real-life Ron Woodroof a month before he died to interview him. Borten wrote 10 different scripts throughout the '90s and the script went through several different directors, including Dennis Hopper and Craig Gillepsie, unable to secure financial backing. 

Matthew McConaughey was cast in the lead role in 2009, and filming finally began in 2012 with Jean-Marc Vallée directing. Released in 2013, the movie won three Oscars, including Best Actor for McConaughey and Best Supporting Actor for his co-star Jared Leto.

(Focus Features)

These movies were years in the making