Hollywood’s efforts to adapt various anime series as movies seem to be cursed with those released meeting either a negative or mixed reception. Even those that do come out are in the minority with a majority of live-action adaptions either entering development hell or having their production canceled. The reason for this curse is likely a result of both the problems in trying to adapt a serialized medium to one less so and the differences between Japanese and American storytelling.
This article will examine 10 live-action anime adaptations that never could pass the pre-production phase. All of these films have had their scripts and concepts completed for them, but never actually began filming.
10 Space Adventure Cobra
The most obscure anime to have a live-action adaptation in the works would-be Space Adventure Cobra. While the series might be obscure to most American anime fans, it has a huge influence on many anime series and video games that have come afterward. The series, like most 70s and 80s sci-fi anime, also has a huge fanbase in France.
A live-action adaption of Space Adventure Cobra was the passion project for French director Alexandre Aja. In 2011, he and the French production companies Onyx and Project 37 announced that production had begun on an adaption of the series. By 2015, the film even had a script and producer. The project, however, died by 2018 due to budgeting issues and concern over the market being saturated with space adventure movies.
9 Star Blazers
A Hollywood adaption of the Americanized version of the classic sci-fi anime series Space Battleship Yamato has been long in development hell. The most completed version would be a version produced by Disney in the 1990s. Based on leak scripts, this version would have not been well-received as it bore little resemblance to the original series beyond the basic framework of the plot.
More recently in 2011, Skydance Productions had announced interest in doing a Star Blazer adaption. However, production stalled according to an interview with Christopher McQuarrie in 2012 due to both a clear lack of direction and that there was already a Japanese live-action adaption of Space Battleship Yamato.
8 Lupin The Third
Not much is known about Lupin the Third‘s live-action adaption. What was known about the movie was that the rights were purchased by Hollywood producer Gerald R. Molen in 2003. The initial announcement also mentioned that the franchise’s five main recurring characters were going to be in the movie. Beyond that announcement and some copies of the US release of the original manga making mention of it being a soon to be a major motion picture, not much has come out about it.
This film was canceled due to a live-action Lupin the Third being later made in Japan in 2014. The movie’s cancellation is also a given since Gerald R. Molen is now semi-retired from producing.
The live-action version of Hellsing is unique on the list in that there is footage of it. Admittedly the footage was a concept trailer trying to sell the concept to interested parties. The concept trailer was later removed from the production company’s YouTube channel suggesting that the production fell through.
Beyond this initial attempt, there was a rumor of another attempt at a Hellsing movie with some major Hollywood talent. This attempt was going to be directed by David S. Goyer, co-writer of Batman Begins, and star Asim Ahmad as Alucard. There have been no updates since 2013, so it likely was canceled at some point.
6 Tiger And Bunny
Of the various anime series that had attempted to turn a live-action film, Tiger And Bunny might have been a huge success. Not only is the series about western-style superheroes, the current cultural zeitgeist, but it takes place in a very American based setting.
In 2015, All Nippon Entertainment Works and Bandai Namco Pictures announced they were entering into a venture with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment to produce a live-action adaption of Tiger and Bunny. There was an announcement of a 2019 release date and a screenwriter. However, production was halted when one of its backers went bankrupt in 2018.
5 Bubblegum Crisis
Probably the biggest production on this list to fail at trying to finish pre-production would be the international effort to make an adaption of the Bubblegum Crisis. The adaption of the classic 1980s OVA series was announced at the 2008 Cannes for a 2012 released date.
Shortly after its announcement the right for the film was bought the Singapore production company Cubix International. It was later announced that the film would be a co-production with companies around the world and be shot in Sydney, Australia. The film was, however, canceled at some point after 2009 for unknown reasons.
4 Mobile Suit Gundam
While Legendary Picture had announced that they are intending to produce a live adaption film for the Gundam franchise, this effort was not the first attempt to make a movie based on the franchise. The first attempt to make a live-action Gundam movie was attempted back in 1983.
The 1983 attempt was the result of Bandai’s attempt to spread the Gunpla craze across the pacific. The company heads decided the best way to do this was to make a film based on the franchise for an American audience. The film was rather ambitious with all the Mobile Suits supposed to render in CGI by the effects studio that would later be made famous for their work on The Last Starfighter. The movie would also feature design work by noted Science Fiction artist Syd Mead. The project fell apart as Bandai was unable to secure the permission of all of the franchise’s right holders.
3 Neon Genesis Evangelion
In 2003, ADV Films announced that they were working with Gainax and WETA workshop to create a live-action adaption of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Pre-production for the movie got far enough to have some completed pieces of concept art and a draft of the script. It even snagged noted director John Woo as a producer for the movie.
Production fell apart in 2008 for two main reasons. One was that ADV Films went bankrupt as a result of the anime bubble bursting in 2008. The other reason was that Gainax refused to hand over the rights so that production could begin properly. leading to ADV films to sue Gainax in 2011. This lawsuit and Studio Khara gaining the rights for Evangelion from Gainax lead to the film’s cancellation.
2 Sailor Moon
Thanks to both the mid-1990s superhero movie boom and them being the owner of DIC Entertainment, Disney was in pre-production, during the late 1990s, for a live-action film based on Sailor Moon. Production got far enough that Geena Davis was in talks to be Queen Beryl and, depending on the source, either Alicia Silverstone or Kristan Dunst was in talks to play Sailor Moon.
The movie fell apart for many reasons. One was that the publisher of the Sailor Moon manga, Kodansha, refused to sell Disney the rights. The other reason was that Disney lost interest thanks to several superhero movies bombing in 1997 and the Sailor Moon anime not setting the world on fire during its first run at syndication.
The live-action adaption of Akira has a long and troubled history of being in pre-production, yet it might be the only adaption on this list that has a chance of getting past the drawing boards. Pre-production on a live-action Akira film began in 2002 when its film rights were acquired by Warner Bros. with Leonardo DiCaprio producing. The movie then went through a bunch of different iterations as the film shifted directors and producers. The most fleshed-out version was director Jaume Collett-Serra’s version that took radical steps in re-imagining the source material earning the disapproval of fans of the original film and manga.
The most recent attempt has Taika Waititi in negotiation to direct it. This effort, however, fell apart for the moment due to a disagreement between Waititi and Warner Bros. over some casting decisions. While the film is currently dead, Waititi has said in interviews that Warner Bros. might try to restart production with him after Thor: Love And Thunder has finished production.
This article will examine 10 live-action anime adaptations that never could pass the pre-production phase. Maybe one day they will be adapted.