Every year, the Sundance Film Festival premieres a bounty of incredible nonfiction film stories. Many of them find distribution and go on to become box office hits and even Oscar nominees. Others attract Hollywood players with a different kind of exposure in mind. The goal with those stories is to acquire the rights to make a whole new narrative feature, sometimes leaving the existing documentary version by the wayside if it isn’t picked up in its own right.
This year it’s the story of the Portland Mavericks, an independent baseball team created in the early 1970s by TV actor Bing Russell and featuring movie star son Kurt Russell on the roster. The doc that tells the story is The Battered Bastards of Baseball. It currently has no deal for distribution, but a remake was announced during the fest to be produced by Justin Lin and possibly scripted and directed by Todd Field, who’d been a batboy for the Mavericks. Another Sundance doc, The Green Prince, about a Palestinian son of a Hamas leader who turns spy for Israel, is also said to be on the remake track.
I’m curious to see how quickly those dramatic retelling hit the screen, and I am also anxious to see the development of Robert Zemeckis’s just-announced 3D redo of Man on Wire starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as famed funambulist Philippe Petit. The latter project is particularly interesting because not too long ago we’d heard Zemeckis was remaking Marwencol. Maybe he’s doing both, and maybe this is the filmmaker’s new thing — or maybe neither will happen at all.
There is a huge difference in the number of announced narrative remakes of documentaries and the number of actual narrative remakes of documentaries. Those that have been made include Party Monster, Grey Gardens, American Heart (Streetwise), Lords of Dogtown (Dogtown and Z Boys), Battle of the Year (Planet B-Boy), Rescue Dawn (based on Little Dieter Needs to Fly) and RKO 281 (based on The Battle Over Citizen Kane), not to mention films at least owing to preceding docs, such as Milk (The Times of Harvey Milk), Monster (both of Nick Broomfield’s Aileen Wuornos films), Munich (One Day in September), The Last King of Scotland (General Idi Amin Dada) and Full Metal Jacket (Basic Training).
Below is a list of the much larger number of remakes that haven’t happened yet, whether they’ve been officially canceled or are simply in development hell. We will likely update this post in the future with any necessary additions or news regarding the status of any mentioned.
The Bengali Detective
Promise: One of the lesser-known titles on the list, this cute doc about Indian private eyes who enter a dance competition debuted at Sundance in 2011 and was later picked up by HBO. During the fest, Fox Searchlight picked up the remake rights seemingly to repeat the success they had with Slumdog Millionaire.
Status: Currently in the scripting stage (with Monsoon Wedding writer Sabrina Dhawan), last summer Mira Nair (also Monsoon Wedding) became attached as director.
Promise: This 2006 documentary (associate produced by The Green Prince’s director, Nadav Schirman) about the boxing rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge is reportedly being remade by BBC and producer Ed Pressman (American Psycho).
Status: As of 2012, Blue Blood producer Rafael Marmor still had the remake mentioned in his bio.
Bra Boys: Blood is Thicker Than Water
Promise: This 2007 Australian surfer gang doc was narrated by Russell Crowe, who was initially involved as a producer and star of a dramatic version, also titled Bra Boys. He is no longer attached but the film is still in the works from Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.
Status: As of August, the movie is reportedly back in the scripting stage.
Promise: Producer Scott Rudin (who made Searching for Bobby Fischer 20 years ago) and Sony Pictures optioned the remake rights to this uplifting chess team doc as it was premiering at SXSW in 2012.
Status: As of November, it is currently still in development.
The Champagne Spy
Promise: The Green Prince director Nadav Schirman was hired in 2007 to redo his own debut feature, which is also about an Israeli spy. It’s not quite a redo, though, as German production company Collina Film has actually had the rights to the book of the same name for almost 20 years.
Promise: Brett Morgen directed this partially animated doc using transcripts from the notorious Chicago 8 trial, which was to be dramatized by Steven Spielberg, from a script by Aaron Sorkin, as The Trial of the Chicago 7. Spielberg took a backseat, but the remake is still set up at his Amblin Entertainment (with Rudin as a producer here, too) and it seemed last year that things were back on track with Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) attached to direct.
Status: An early 2014 shoot was planned, but Greengrass left the project last fall. Here’s the fun part: Greengrass told The Huffington Post’s Mike Ryan that the reason was basically because Chicago 10 already told the story well enough.
A Complete History of My Sexual Failures
Promise: This documentary from Chris Waitt, which is about what its title suggests (apparently with some of it made up), wasn’t very popular when it debuted at Sundance in 2008, but the potential was eventually appealing enough to director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents). He and Fast and Furious franchise producer Neal Moritz snatched up the rights to produce a remake, potentially directed by Roach, for Universal.
Status: Titled The Complete History of My Sexual Failures, this remake is still in development as of last fall. Jay Reiss (The Oranges) is credited with the script.
Promise: In 2008, a remake of this strange love story was announced for HBO Films with the doc’s co-director Dan Klores to helm the second version. Fisher Stevens, the other co-director, was also on board to produce with Klores.
Status: In publicity bios for Klores only as recent as 2010, he was still said to be writing the film.
Hands On a Hard Body
Promise: At the time of his death, Robert Altman was developing a movie inspired by this doc about a contest to win a truck as his follow-up to A Prairie Home Companion. Stephen Harrigan (Take Me Home: The John Denver Story) was writing the script with the director and Hilary Swank and Billy Bob Thornton were in talks to star.
Status: The project seems to have died along with Altman, though the doc was turned into a Broadway musical last year.
Promise: 20 years ago, while this now-classic Steve James-directed high school basketball doc was receiving Oscar buzz, Turner Broadcasting picked up the remake rights for a made for TV movie on TNT with Spike Lee producing.
Status: Fortunately, as confirmed in the recent oral history of Hoop Dreams at The Dissolve, the project died in the script stage.
Indie Game: The Movie
Promise: Rudin again, this time with HBO, acquired rights during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival to this doc about indie video game developers. Rather than a movie, however, the aim is for a half-hour series.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Promise: When New Line picked up the cult film about arcade game top-scorers in 2007, the main interest was reportedly for the remake rights, and they signed the doc’s director, Seth Gordon, to also helm the narrative version. A script was put to Michael Bacall (21 Jump Street), and they were going with a faithful adaptation. Four years later, Gordon stated in interviews that the movie would be done in a mockumentary style and writer Melissa Stack (upcoming The Other Woman) was now scripting. Reports leading up to that point also had it that the remake might actually be a sequel to the original doc.
Status: A year ago, Gordon told Collider.com that the remake plan will never die. And as of September, the official status is that it’s back in the script stage.
Promise: HBO acquire the rights to this documentary about an Irish feud dealt through knuckle boxing during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Later that year it was announced the remake would be a drama series with a pilot scripted by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and directed by Jody Hill (Eastbound and Down).
Promise: This Oscar-nominated doc about quadriplegic rugby players was co-directed by Henry Alex Rubin, who shot second-unit material for James Mangold’s Copland and Girl, Interrupted, so it sorta made sense when Mangold began development of a dramatic version of the story. He acquired life rights of star subject Mark Zupan as well as his friend Chris Igoe and coach Joe Soares. Earlier, Eminem reportedly expressed interest in playing Zupan in a movie, but that was never official casting.
Status: The last word I can find on the project is from 2007, when it was still moving forward.
No Impact Man
Promise: In 2009, ahead of its theatrical release, this doc about a Manhattan family attempting to live a year without a negative footprint on the environment, was said to be in the works as a drama for Will Smith to star in.
Status: Currently still in development, as of last summer, at Columbia Pictures. It’s not clear if Smith is still interested, but the remake will be produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch, all of Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds.
Our Brand Is Crisis
Promise: George Clooney, his producing partner Grant Heslov and Warner Bros. announced back in 2007 plans to redo this doc on the 2002 Bolivian election as a dark comedy. Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) was hired to script the movie and there’s been rumor of Sandra Bullock being eyed for a role.
Status: Following a search for a director and then a development hiatus, last month there was news that it’s back in the script stage.
Promise: Marshall Curry’s Tribeca-winning doc about young go-kart racers with NASCAR dreams was picked up for a remake in 2010 by DreamWorks and producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Ender’s Game). Curry and Dwayne Johnson, who was an executive producer of the original, were also on board in some capacity. When I talked to the filmmaker a couple years ago, he said it was still on track with a second draft of the screenplay in the works.
Status: Cinematographer Lance Acord (Lost in Translation) is rumored to direct and as of the first of this year the movie is officially still moving forward.
Promise: Rights were sacrilegiously picked up (hey, it’s my favorite doc) by director Steve Carr (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) in 2008. The idea was to adapt Ross McElwee’s classic first-person film about his love life as a “quirky comedy.”
Status: When I talked to McElwee in 2012, he mentioned that the remake was in the works and that his own next film would probably be about its development. Whether or not the remake happens, hopefully we’ll have the doc about how it did or did not get made, and that could shed light on the process behind most of the projects on this list.
Promise: When Sean “Ditty” Combs came on board as an executive producer of Undefeated, following its nomination for an Oscar (that it would eventually win), he was also attached to produce a narrative remake of the high school football doc. That remake was set up by The Weinstein Company upon its distribution deal for the film at SXSW in 2011.
Promise: Announced in 2009, a remake of this doc about a senior citizen chorus that covers modern pop songs was set up at Working Title Films with a script being penned by Will Reiser (50/50), after an early draft by Bob Nelson (Nebraska), and Steve Carell in consideration a lead role as the chorus conductor. At the time, Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) was attached to direct.
The Other F Word
Promise: Jason Segel won’t return for an SLC Punk! sequel but he does apparently want to go full punk for a redo of this doc about punk rockers who are now older, somewhat settled down and fathers. In the late 2012 announcement, the script was said to be in development from Segel, who’d star, and Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) and the movie would be executive produced by the doc’s director, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, and producer Cristan Reilly.
Status: As of late November, the remake is still in development but doesn’t seem to be much further along than it was a year earlier.
Of All the Things
Promise: This one was announced with Steve Carell attached to play singer-songwriter Dennis Lambert, the subject of the 2008 documentary, which focused on his surprise popularity in the Philippines. The project was set up at Warner Bros. with screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (both of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) on board.
Status: As of October, the remake is still in the works with producers Sean Furst and Bryan Furst (The Matador).