Hollywood loves to remake documentaries because “directors of docs are allowing so much drama to be put into their stories that you experience them like a narrative.” That’s a ridiculously redundant reasoning from Focus Features acquisitions president Lia Buman in a new Hollywood Reporter article on the subject. It got me thinking that this old list is due for an update and reposting. There are actually a few such projects coming out this year, more than usual, and that could be good for some of the other long-promised (or threatened) titles highlighted down below.
One that has actually now happened is Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, which is sort of a redo of Oscar winner Man on Wire. That comes out October 2nd. Another is Oliver Stone’s Snowden, which is enough of a remake of Citizenfour that it has someone (Melissa Leo) portraying filmmaker Laura Poitras. Look for that at Christmas. Also expected to release this year is the dramatic extension of the Oscar-winning short Freeheld, which will star Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as women fighting for the right to same-sex partner benefits. It’s possible we’ll also see David Gordon Green’s version of Our Brand Is Crisis, which I’d listed last year as still looking for a director. Now it’s in post-production.
They join a small circle of films that have already been made, including 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), plus 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).
There still remains a huge difference in the number of announced narrative remakes of docs and the number of actual narrative remakes of docs. The following is 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 again in the future with any necessary additions or news regarding the status of any mentioned.
20 Feet From Stardom
Promise: Multiple parties have been making claims on remaking elements of this story of backup singers. The doc’s distributor, Radius-TWC, reportedly has been clashing with Mick Jagger over the rights, the latter planning a TV series version, while Oprah Winfrey is somewhat relatedly producing a TV movie for her OWN network based on the life of subject Darlene Love.
Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World
Promise: The weekend of this doc’s premiere at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival, the remake rights were optioned by Submarine (through its new remake brand Sub/Version) for a movie that Julia Roberts will produce and star in. She’s likely to play the regional executive director of the Make a Wish Foundation who orchestrated a major event (turned phenomenon) for a kid with leukemia who wanted to be Batman for a day.
Status: Just recently optioned, the project is currently just called Batkid and will also be produced by Lisa Roberts Gillan and Marisa Yeres, both of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. The doc’s director, Dana Nachman will get an executive producer credit. New Line Cinema will distribute.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Promise: 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 was announced for a remake during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Initial details were that it would be produced by Justin Lin and possibly scripted and directed by Todd Field, who’d been a batboy for the Mavericks. The younger Russell was expected to be involved in some capacity, too.
Status: Unknown, but a draft was apparently delivered last summer.
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 High Fidelity writer D.V. DeVincentis). Mira Nair (also Monsoon Wedding) is attached as director.
Promise: This 2006 documentary (associate produced by 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 last November, the movie has a script by Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise; I, Frankenstein).
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: Currently credited to the 50/50 team of writer Will Reiser, director Jonathan Levine and star Seth Rogen, who is producing with partner Evan Goldberg and Rudin, the exact step in the development is unknown.
The Case Against 8
Promise: Sources say there’s a dramatic take on this doc about the fight for marriage equality in California, but it has not been officially announced yet.
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. As of December, however, the project is still listed and in the script phase.
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. Exact status is currently unknown.
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.
Crime After Crime
Promise: During the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Chris Columbus set up the remake of this tearjerking story of a woman in prison for alleged involvement in her abusive husband’s murder at his production company, 1492 Pictures, partnered with Annie Roney and Sue Turley of Ro*co Films (Born Into Brothels). This was to be the start of many doc remakes between the collaboration.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Promise: This gut-wrenching 2008 doc by Kurt Kuenne recently sold the rights for a dramatic miniseries version with Sean Perrone, Aaron Kaplan and Josh Braun serving as executive producers.
Status: I’ve heard rumor that this project is already dead, but officially it’s simply announced.
Gloria: In Her Own Words
Promise: While not an official remake, there is a miniseries set up at HBO, which also produced the doc. Titled Ms., the project will star Marisa Tomei as Gloria Steinem and Kathy Najimy as Congresswoman Bella Abzug, and both actresses are producing alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov.
The Green Prince
Promise: A remake of this doc about a Palestinian son of a Hamas leader who turns spy for Israel, was talked about during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival when the doc premiered.
Status: When I talked to Simon Chinn last year, he confirmed plans for the remake. He, John Battsek and the doc’s director, Nav Schirman, are all on board as producers.
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 recently turned into a Broadway musical.
An Honest Liar
Promise: Barry Sonnenfeld, who served as an executive producer of this doc after seeing it at Telluride, is now directing a narrative version of part of its story. The doc’s directors, Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom, are also on board the remake as producers.
Status: Just announced
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 oral history of Hoop Dreams at The Dissolve, the project died in the script stage.
Indie Game: The Movie
Promise: Scott 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: Gordon told Collider.com that the remake plan will never die. And as of November, 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: In October 2013, Robert Zemeckis optioned the remake rights to this story of an artist who lost his memory following an attack and now therapeutically recreates WWII scenes with action figures. The dramatic version was set up at Universal with Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) writing the screenplay.
Status: Steve Carell was cast as the doc’s subject, Mark Hogancamp, in April 2015, at which time Thompson’s script was also finished.
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 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. As of last summer, the exact status was listed as unknown.
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: The remake is still in the works with producers Sean Furst and Bryan Furst (The Matador), but its exact status is currently unknown.
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 this month, there is a script.
Promise: Disney bought the rights for Ben Stiller to produce a comedic remake of this Rick Greenwald doc about the Caltech basketball team as they hope to break their 21-year losing streak. A script was delivered in 2011 by Stan Chervin (Moneyball).
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, but as of December it’s official status is unknown.
Searching For Sugar Man
Promise: Sony is interested in redoing their own Oscar-winning doc, but subject Rodriguez won’t sell his life rights.
Status: Still on the table if Rodriguez ever decides to say yes.
The Seven Five
Promise: Sony won a heated bidding war for the remake rights to this doc about corruption in the NYPD in the 1980s following its 2014 DOC NYC debut. Megan Ellison is reportedly going to produce, with the original’s Eli Holzman, and contribute financing.
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.” 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.
Status: Now set up as a TV series for AMC, a treatment was delivered last month. Carr is now an executive producer alongside Jason Taragan and Rachael Horovitz.
Stones in Exile
Promise: Not technically nor officially a straight remake of this documentary, Virgin’s film division is producing a feature on the same period in the career of The Rolling Stones. Adapted from Robert Greenfield’s book Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with The Rolling Stones, a screenplay exists from Brandon Murphy and Phil Murphy and pre-production was happening last year.
Status: Presently, as of last month, the official status is unknown.
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: Leonardo DiCaprio, who served as an executive producer of this Oscar nominee about multiple issues involving the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is now reportedly developing a dramatic version.
The Wolf Pack
Promise: Submarine also added this hit of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to its new Sub/Version label for a remake option.
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.
This year’s posting of this list was originally published on February 26, 2015.