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Spike Lee Movies We'll Never Get To See

Ever since "She's Gotta Have It" rocketed Spike Lee onto the radar of moviegoers everywhere in 1985, the filmmaker has kept busy delivering movies across an assortment of genres. Not every movie Lee's directed has become an all-time masterpiece, but his persistent ambition and track record of cranking out beloved movies has cemented him as a master of his craft. Even with all the praise he's received and his work ethic, though, not every project Lee has attached himself to over the years has gotten made. There are several films Lee was supposed to direct that never came to life as finished motion pictures.

Some of these were flicks that never got farther than being announced as productions Lee was working on, while others got so far along in production that Lee was crushed when he wasn't able to film them. The reasons why these projects never got made are as varied as the genres and tones Lee's explored in his released work. It's time to take a stroll down the lane of Spike Lee movies we'll never get to see and wistfully contemplate what might've been.

Selling Time

Spike Lee has worked with a lot of big-name actors, including Denzel Washington, Edward Norton, and Josh Brolin. However, there was a point in the 2000s where it looked like Lee was poised to snag his biggest-name leading man yet. In 2006, it appeared that Tom Cruise was eyeballing a thriller named "Selling Time," which would have been directed by Lee, as one of his next projects. "Selling Time" would've been a high-concept project for 20th Century Fox concerning a guy (to be played by Cruise) who attempts to alter a particularly awful day in his past by selling parts of his life. Tackling this production would have continued Cruise's recurring forays into sci-fi territories and his penchant for working with famous auteurs, as seen by his collaborations with Brian De Palma, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Stanley Kubrick.

Despite fitting snugly into Cruise's career, "Selling Time" disappeared from the news. Of the leading roles Cruise was looking at in 2006, the only one he ever starred in was "Lions for Lambs." After that, Cruise's schedule got filled up with projects like "Valkyrie" and "Knight and Day." As for Lee, he also kept busy and shifted gears from "Selling Time" to "Miracle at St. Anna." A Cruise and Lee collaboration would fit right in with the overall career trajectories of both artists, but circa 2006, it seems neither of them found the time to turn that prospect into a reality. It seemed like director D.J. Caruso was going to pick up the film in 2014 with Will Smith as the lead, but that never came to fruition, either. 

The original version of Inside Man 2

Not all of Spike Lee's movies seem likely candidates for sequels. Would anyone want to see contemplative dramas like "Da 5 Bloods" or "25th Hour" receive follow-ups? However, his 2006 crime drama "Inside Man" is more of a lighthearted genre movie exercise, making it better fodder for a sequel. Turns out, Lee agreed. Buoyed by the box office success of "Inside Man," Lee began pursuing a sequel to this Denzel Washington vehicle.

By the start of 2009, Lee expressed hope that he could reunite the entire cast and crew of the original movie to start shooting before the end of the year, while commenting that the script was a work in progress. By the summer of 2011, though, Lee confirmed that "Inside Man 2" was dead. Though he didn't divulge specifics about why the project had sputtered out, he noted that he and others involved in the original film had tried relentlessly to get it off the ground. In an ironic twist of fate, an "Inside Man" sequel did eventually materialize, just not with Lee or any of the original movie's creative team involved. Made by director M.J. Bassett, "Inside Man: Most Wanted" went straight to video in the fall of 2019.

Spike Lee's Jackie Robinson biopic

In 2013, Chadwick Boseman launched his movie career with the Jackie Robinson biopic "42." That film was helmed by Brian Helgeland (best known for "A Knight's Tale"), but, in the 1990s, an early incarnation of this feature was meant to be helmed by somebody very different: Spike Lee. In 1996, the production, which didn't have a title at the time, was announced to be aiming for a 1997 release and starring Denzel Washington as the trailblazing baseball player.

However, by 1997, news of Lee setting up shop to direct movies for Sony/Columbia Pictures also delivered the update that Lee's Jackie Robinson movie had fallen apart. The biggest issue the project faced at this point was that Washington apparently felt he was too old to play Robinson, so he dropped out of the film. This left Lee's biopic without a big-name actor. It would take more than a decade for this production to eventually morph into "42," which managed to overcome its turmoil-filled production to become a major hit. However, Lee's contributions to this feature have not been entirely lost to time. Lee delivered a gift in the spring of 2020 to those curious about what might have been by posting his screenplay for his Jackie Robinson movie onto the internet. Even if people can't watch it, at least the curious can read Lee's expansive biopic.

An untitled LA riots movie

Spike Lee has never been one to shy away from challenging topics in his films, including in modern-day efforts like "Chi-Raq" or "Da 5 Bloods." It shouldn't be a surprise that Lee at one point was set to make a movie about the 1992 LA Riots. That real-world event would've seemed too daunting for some filmmakers, but Lee embraced it. In fact, The Los Angeles Times reported in July 2008 that Lee's LA Riots film was making enough progress at that point that it could have started filming before the end of that year.

Unfortunately, Lee wasn't able to film the production that year or any year since this film eventually fizzled out, with Lee later saying it sputtered out due to matters of dollars and cents. "We didn't get the money that we needed to make the movie I wanted to make," Lee said to MTV News. "How can you scale back the LA riots?! That's not the movie I want to make. The studio said, 'Scale it back.' What's the point?" Lee was enthusiastic about tackling daunting real-world stories, but film financiers clearly were not. Eventually, Justin Lin was hired to direct this production for Imagine Entertainment; Lin was hired partly because with him, the studio could make the film on a more reasonable budget. The movie seems to have been shelved, however, and there are otherwise few fictional productions expressly about the riots. 

Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson

In 2010, Samuel L. Jackson made headlines by revealing that Spike Lee was stewing on a new feature film project with the bold title "Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson." "He's written a movie about these folks who want to have a big concert in a Brooklyn park for Michael," Jackson explained to NBC New York. "And the new gentrified people that live in the neighborhood are worried about the kind of element that might be coming into the neighborhood." At the time, Jackson said he was planning to star in the proposed feature film while also remarking that Lee had been fixated on Jackson for a while now. Jackson also expressed hope that Julianne Moore would join the project as his character's wife. 

ShowBiz411, meanwhile, reported an inside source claiming that not only had Moore been cast in the film, but "Do the Right Thing" cast members John Turturro and Rosie Perez were also on board. Bringing so many notable actors from his past work would seem to make "Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson" an important project for Lee. However, just a year later, IndieWire reported an account from a live Q&A with Lee where the filmmaker was asked about "Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson" and said that the feature wasn't happening. Lee never divulged why this film wasn't going forward, though Samuel L.'s enthusiasm for the production makes it clear it wasn't because of a reluctant cast. 

Save Me, Joe Louis

The Guardian, reporting on news broken by The Hollywood Reporter, announced in July 2000 that Spike Lee was going to direct a movie about heavyweight boxer Joe Louis entitled "Save Me, Joe Louis." Any development on a new Lee movie is going to get attention, but this particular project was especially interesting since it came shortly after Lee was passed over as director of the Muhammed Ali biopic "Ali" in favor of Michael Mann. It was hard not to look at "Save Me, Joe Louis" as Lee's attempt to one-up "Ali."

That interesting new wrinkle to "Save Me, Joe Louis's" existence wasn't enough to help get the movie actually made, though Lee hasn't given up on the production. While Lee has let many of his unmade movies languish as just memories, in July 2021, Lee reaffirmed his commitment to getting "Save Me, Joe Louis" made on a Director's Guild of America podcast. During this conversation, he revealed that, like so many of his films, financing was the chief reason "Save Me. Joe Louis" hadn't gotten made. Lee's enthusiasm for the production hadn't dimmed. He stated that a promise he'd made to screenwriter Budd Schulberg to get "Joe Louis" off the ground was fueling his continued passion. It's been over two decades since "Save Me, Joe Louis" was announced, though, and it remains to be seen if Lee can accomplish this goal.

Porgy & Bess

One of George Gershwin's most famous operas, "Porgy & Bess," has endured as a staple of the stage. The property hasn't had an easy life when it comes to being translated into a motion picture. A 1959 feature from director Otto Preminger scored raves from critics but was lambasted by Gershwin and his estate, and writers like James Baldwin were heavily critical of the adaptation. Meanwhile, attempts to adapt it into film in the 21st century have been plagued with problems—even the one that Spike Lee was supposed to deliver.

In 2012, it was announced that Lee was interested in helming a new motion picture version of "Porgy & Bess." The prospect of Lee directing a cinematic opera is certainly an intriguing one, especially since his works so often rely exclusively on music. However, no further movements occurred for this iteration of the project. Lee's take on "Porgy & Bess" was officially considered dead at the start of 2020 when it was announced that Dee Rees was tackling a new film adaptation of the property for MGM. 

An Enter the Dragon remake

Martial arts icon Bruce Lee holds a special place in the heart of Spike Lee. As he recounted to Kate Erbland of IndieWire in 2018, Spike watched a Bruce film in theaters (which he supposes could've been either "Enter the Dragon" or "Five Fingers of Death") and then subsequently saw kids all around his block imitating the action feats. Lee had an epiphany that "people have to tell their own stories, that's what it comes down to." Given this impactful memory, it's no surprise Lee, at one point, tried to provide his own take on Bruce Lee with a modern remake of "Enter the Dragon."

Lee's vision for "Enter the Dragon" made so little movement that the only official mention of it came when David Leitch was announced to be taking over the director's chair for the project. It then seemed to disappear altogether. Given Lee's own nostalgic memories for the works of Bruce Lee, not to mention his love for martial arts films like "Kung Fu Hustle," it's easy to see why he was attracted to the project. Even with that enthusiasm, given how massively popular "Enter the Dragon" continues to be, it would've been difficult for anyone, even a filmmaker of Spike Lee's stature, to come up with a worthy remake. With no "Enter the Dragon" remake on his docket, Spike Lee will just have to settle for his memories. 

Nagasaki Deadline

After stepping back for a year or two after 9/11 out of respect, Hollywood began producing intense thrillers that dealt with the War on Terror or explored the possibility of a terrorist attack occurring on American soil. Projects like "Green Zone" and "Body of Lies" aimed to be topical affairs that lured in moviegoers in droves; instead, the general public largely rejected them. Many issues were keeping these titles from flourishing financially, including the fact that many of them scored mixed reviews (the kiss of death for adult dramas). The events these features were chronicling were so rampantly present on cable news networks, why would people want to pay for a ticket to see more of them?

At one point, Spike Lee was aiming to inject some life into this subgenre with "Nagasaki Deadline," a thriller for Alcon Entertainment that saw an FBI agent trying to thwart a pair of domestic terrorist attacks that could be tied into important events from the past. No further updates ever emerged on "Nagasaki Deadline," and the filmmaker has never spoken on social media about what his vision could've looked like. We'll never know if a filmmaker of Lee's talents could've overcome the apathy that greeted most other relevant political thrillers from the first decade of American cinema after 9/11.

A Marion Barry biopic

Politician Marion Barry managed to accomplish quite a lot in his lifetime. His most notable achievements included serving as a beloved public servant for the District of Columbia in many capacities, including mayor. Sadly, his legacy was also tarnished by controversies that included an infamous drug scandal and his retrograde opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage. The complexity and contradictions of his life are staggering, making him the perfect subject for a biopic. 

Spike Lee, a filmmaker whose best works are known for thoughtfully nuanced characters, was an obvious choice to tackle any feature film about Barry. In 2011, it was announced that Lee would be helming a Marion Barry biopic for HBO starring Eddie Murphy as the politician. Shortly before his passing in November 2014, Barry referenced this prospective project in an interview with the Washington City Paper where he claimed Lee and Murphy were "exploiting" him. Barry's complaints ended up mattering little simply because the production never got made. There has never been an explanation for why Lee's Barry film floundered, though Murphy's scarce presence as an actor between 2012 and 2019 could be a factor.


Spike Lee's played with many familiar mainstream genes in his decades as a filmmaker of note. One area he's avoided, though, is the world of big-budget superhero movies. For a brief moment, though, it appeared he might dabble in it. In the spring of 2018, news broke that Lee was in talks to direct a movie based on the character Nightwatch for Sony Pictures. Largely seen as evocative of fellow 1990s superhero Spawn, the project had been in development since the spring of 2016. It was intended to be part of Sony's bigger plans for expanding their reach in the world of superhero media, alongside such productions as "Venom" and "Morbius."

Working with a filmmaker as iconic as Lee would have lent legitimacy to Sony's forays into superhero storytelling. However, months after the news first broke, Lee commented on the development in October 2018 to ScreenRant, simply saying "nah" when the "Nightwatch" project came up. With that single word, the prospect of the director of "Do the Right Thing" becoming a part of the superhero movie landscape evaporated. The "Nightwatch" movie has withered away, with no further developments emerging on the production and Sony moving on to adapting other Marvel characters like Kraven the Hunter.