Try to imagine a Beatles-produced Lord of the Rings starring Paul McCartney as Frodo and John Lennon as Gollum. Now ponder A Clockwork Orange with Mick Jagger as bowler-hatted psycho Alex and Keith Richards as his number-two droog, Georgie. How about Pink Floyd scoring the otherworldly soundtrack to Dune? Or Van Halen blowing up Rock-‘n’ Roll High School?
While these premises may sound like bong-scented conversation snippets among vintage rock and cult movie fans, each and every one of those film possibilities came tantalizingly close to becoming celluloid reality.
Other potentially mind-blowing unmade rock films includes concept albums by Kiss, Genesis, and Marilyn Manson that each hoped would become cinema’s next Tommy or Pink Floyd: The Wall; curious casting choices for the psychedelic savior of humanity; and a classic adult cartoon reboot the stars of which would be the biggest movie directors on earth.
Here now are the 10 greatest rock movies you’ll never see.
1. Lord of the Rings starring the Beatles, directed by Stanley Kubrick
In 1966, the Beatles acquired the film rights to The Lord of the Rings saga and were eager to star in it. Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, however, reacted to the idea as though an Orc had just head-butted him into the deepest pits of Mordor.
Coming off their initial two movie triumphs A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, the Fab Four’s cinematic instincts remained strong. The cast themselves in Rings roles that naturally their personalities. Paul McCartney would play Frodo, the heroic Hobbit. Ringo Starr would exert perfect comic beats as Sam, the slapstick Hobbit sidekick. Ever-mystical George Harrison was slated to portray wise and wondrous wizard Gandalf. John Lennon, with his trademark caustic humor, put himself of the role of slithering, ghoulish ring thief Gollum.
Topping the peak British psychedelic potential of this project, world-class filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, then just developing 2001: A Space Odyssey, said he’d love to direct the Beatles’ Rings. Kubrick got on especially well with Lennon and he labored hard to bring this Lord to life, but he ultimately concluded that late 1960s special effects would just look too ridiculous for the movie to work.
To the delight of Tolkien—and the detriment of weed dealers in the vicinity of midnight movie screenings for the next fifty years—the project got tossed into Helm’s Deep.
2. A Clockwork Orange starring the Rolling Stones, directed by Ken Russell
The mid-1960s British invasion not only overwhelmed radio and records, it launched an impressive campaign on the world’s movies screens as well.
The Beatles, of course, scored a one-two masterpiece punch with A Hard Days Night and Help!, setting off a UK band-related movie boom that included flicks with the Dave Clark Five (Having a Wild Weekend), the Spencer Davis Group (The Ghost Goes Gear), and even two productions starring Herman’s Hermits (Hold On! and Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter).
Not among the groups finding the proper film vehicle, however, was the Rolling Stones. That could not stand. Potential fortune struck when Mick Jagger picked up the film rights to the 1962 dystopian youth-gone-wild novel, A Clockwork Orange, from author Anthony Burgess for a mere $500.
Jagger was to play lead homicidal teen Alex, with the rest of the Stones donning the white long johns and black bowlers as his gang of droogs. Brilliantly mad director Ken Russell agreed to direct, but the project went the way of an old hobo getting stomped to “Singin’ in the Rain” once Warner Brothers offered to buy the rights from Jagger at an astronomical profit (Russell, meanwhile, would go on to make The Who’s Tommy movie).
By decade’s end, the Rolling Stones would find their perfect cinematic fit, albeit through tragic happenstance. The documentary Gimme Shelter, which chronicles the Stones’ horrific 1969 Altamont concert where a fan was murdered on camera, encapsulates real-life youth violence and counterculture death in a manner that is both chilling and electrifying. It makes a perfect companion film for A Clockwork Orange.
3. Who Killed Bambi? starring the Sex Pistols, written by Roger Ebert, directed by Russ Meyer
The story of Who Killed Bambi? begins with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. In 1970, 20th Century Fox hired bosom-fixated B-movie visionary Russ Meyer to create some kind of follow-up to their soapy camp hit, Valley of the Dolls. Meyer turned to his friend, Pulitzer-winning film critic Roger Ebert, to craft the screenplay, and the result was, as the ad’s put it, “the world’s first rock-and-roll-musical-horror-sex-comedy.”
Among Beyond’s biggest boosters were the Sex Pistols. During the group’s 1977 whirlwind of destruction (self-directed and otherwise), their media provocateur manager Malcolm McLaren sought to make a proper Pistols movie. Frontman Johnny Rotten insisted Meyer was the only man for the job, asserting that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was the only movie he’d ever seen that was “true to life.”
Ebert said he knew the movie was doomed from the moment two-fisted World War II vet Meyer sat across from nose-picking guttersnipe Rotten, although rumors are that Princess Grace herself, who sat on the 20th Century Fox board, iced what would have been one of cinema’s all-time most towering clash of the bad taste titans.
4. Rock-‘n’-Roll High School with Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Devo, or Todd Rundgren
Exploitation movie kingpin Roger Corman built his empire on rapidly churned-out drive-in product that often began as just a title. Observing youth and musical trends at the end of the ’70s, Corman concocted the moniker Disco High and assigned his ace trailer editor Alan Arkush to turn it into a movie.
No fan of disco, Arkush pushed for Rock-‘n’-Roll High School instead, and teamed with his longtime collaborator, Piranha director Joe Dante (who’d later make Gremlins) to pump out a screenplay.
The duo wrote the script for one of their favorites, art-popster Todd Rundgren, never considering that he’d pass up starring in a movie. Alas, Rundgren did pass (a decision he says he laments regularly to this day).
The studio next approached Cheap Trick, hot off their Live at Budokan breakthrough, and filming was set to start just when the group’s management decided their clients were perhaps a bit too hot for B-movies at that particular moment.
Devo also came up in discussions, but the next best prospect were SoCal heavy metal upstarts Van Halen. Upon contacting VH’s label to inquire, Warner Bros. Records warned the filmmakers away, regaling them takes of the band’s maniacal penchant for mayhemic merriment, and pointing out how they could never be controlled on a movie set.
Finally, Arkush floated a longshot: the Ramones. Perhaps not shockingly, punk’s finest and funniest were ready, willing, and able for their close-ups. The result was a perfect match of talent, music, and moviemaking, with Rock-‘n’-Roll High School ruling to this day as one of cult cinema’s all-time greats.
5. Dune co-starring Mick Jagger with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd and Magma
In the past year or so, much has been made of a mid-1970s film adaptation of the epic science fiction novel Dune that would have been helmed by midnight movie mastermind Alejandro Jodorowsky—and rightly so. In fact, the saga is beautifully chronicled in the recent documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune. Do see it.
Jodorowsky, a John Lennon discovery who created the counterculture masterworks El Topo and The Holy Mountain, labored relentlessly with world-class writers and artists on bringing Dune to fruition with a cast that would have included Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger.
Equally crucial was to have been Dune’s soundtrack. Pink Floyd was on board to compose original music, as were French prog maestros Magma.
In 1984, Hollywood forced out a version of Dune directed by art film giant David Lynch. That production has its own cult, and we mean no disrespect, so we’ll just point out that in place of Pink Floyd and Magma, the soundtrack to the ’84 Dune is by Toto. Yes, that Toto.
6. Jesus Christ Superstar with John Lennon, Mick Jagger, or David Cassidy
Before Jesus Christ Superstar was a 1973 movie, it was a hit Broadway production, and, before that, it was a 1970 concept album that featured, in the title role, the divinely powerful pipes of Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan.
It makes sense, then, that the makers of the JCS movie would not only stick with a noted rock belter, but that they’d aim for the era’s biggest names. Mick Jagger was first approached, but, what with “Sympathy for the Devil” and all, the gig didn’t pan out. Producers next pitched Partridge Family heartthrob David Cassidy but, ironically, it was he who was “bigger than Jesus” circa ’73.
Perhaps that’s what then prompted a call to John Lennon. The ex-Beatle said he’d do it, but only if his wife, Yoko Ono, could play Mary Magdalene. Sadly, that deal got nixed and the world has since been forever deprived of Yoko’s potential take on the hit ballad, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
Finally, unknown Texas warbler Ted Neeley got the job, the flick was a hit, and he’s been touring in live productions of Jesus Christ Superstar. So too, on occasion, has David Cassidy.
7. A Star Is Born With Elvis Presley and Barbara Streisand
One of Elvis Presley’s great career regrets was allowing the movie star talent he displayed in the 1950s classics Love Me Tender, King Creole, and Jailhouse Rock to putrefy in a succession of increasingly silly motion picture musicals throughout the ’60s.
The stinkbomb likes of Clambake and It Happened at the World’s Fair actually prevented the King from touring the world he’d already conquered with song, all at the behest of his dictatorial manager, Colonel Tom Parker (it was a consequence of Parker’s illegal immigrant status, which he’d kept secret).
Come the mid-’70s, Elvis sought to reclaim his cinematic crown, and he enthusiastically accepted an offer from Barbara Streisand to co-star with her in a 1976 rock-world update of the classic Judy Garland showbiz drama, A Star Is Born.
Alas, Parker iced the prospect by demanding Elvis receive a $1 million salary, $100,000 in expenses, and, most insanely, a full 50-percent of the movie’s profits. The studio walked away, Colonel Parker’s outlaw secret remained safe, and Kris Kristofferson became a superstar in the role.
A year later, Elvis was dead.
8. Holy Wood with Marilyn Manson, directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
When it comes to unmade cinematic rock-and-roll mind-benders, Alejandro Jodorowsky is batting two-for-two. First, there’s his earlier discussed adaptation of Dune. Then, in 2000, the Chilean concocter of El Topo and The Holy Mountain announced he would create a big-screen version of Holy Wood, a concept album by Marilyn Manson based on the shock rocker’s unpublished novel of the same name.
Jodorowsky and Manson proved to be fast friends, with the director even officiating the Antichrist Superstar’s 2005 wedding to burlesque icon Dita Von Teese in a Gothic Irish castle. Unfortunately, much like the Manson-Von Teese union, Holy Wood met an unholy demise, as did a future possible collaboration between Manson and Jodorowsky, a $20 million psychedelic western titled King Snot.
9. The Elder by Kiss, starring Chris Makepeace of Meatballs
The one genuine WTF curiosity in the Kiss album catalogue, Music from “The Elder,” was the band’s attempt to launch a multimedia rock show and big-screen movie by way of a concept album, much as Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber had done with Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.
The Elder’s plot centers on The Boy, a young adventurer who gets taken in by the mysterious Order of the Rose, whereupon he gets trained to fight for justice in, as the one semi-familiar song from the record puts it, “a world without heroes.”
The whole endeavor is charmingly ludicrous, and Kiss themselves routinely joke about Music From “The Elder” on stage and during interviews, frequently lumping it in with their hilariously awful 1978 TV movie, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.
Paul Stanley has, in fact, said that a movie version of The Elder that would have starred Meatballs’ Chris Makepeace as The Boy was in preproduction when the album tanked. That’s where the film stayed—for a long time.
Among the weird facts attached to Music from “The Elder” is that it’s the one Kiss project that finally prompted Ace Frehley to wipe off his Spaceman face-paint, and that Lou Reed (!) co-wrote the lyrics on a couple of its tunes.
Odder still, however, is that in 2014, a fan-made, unsanctioned film of The Elder was made and a crowd-funding site is up to help it get properly released. In the past, Kiss has reached out to support fan projects, such as the unauthorized Revolutionary Comics in the ’90s. So far they’re mum on this Elder, and we can only wonder how Chris Makepeace is going to react.
10. Heavy Metal: The Reboot
In 2008, director David Fincher announced a high-tech 3D update of the 1981 animated cult classic Heavy Metal will and all-star roster of filmmakers on board to create individual segments. Among those eagerly involved: James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo Del Toro, and Zack Snyder.
After multiple stalls, Heavy Metal’s rights lapsed in 2011 and they got snatched up by Robert Rodriguez, who announced he’d take the concept to TV. Alas, as with Rodriguez’s much ballyhooed Rose McGowan revamp of Red Sonja, fans of tawdry pulp sci-fi cartoon were left empty (and single) handed as the series died quietly.
More recently, Rodriguez has been trumpeting a live-action remake of the animated 1983 Ralph Bakshi-Frank Frazetta sword-and-sorcery epic, Fire And Ice. Frankly, Sin City 3 seems more likely.
Mike McPadden is the author of ’Heavy Metal Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Eye- and Ear-Ripping Big Screen Films Ever’ (Bazillion Points).
[Photo: Getty Images]