Some of them never will happen, and that’s for the best.
It has been almost two years since the last time I went through the slate of documentary remakes in the works, so this is long overdue. The thing is, since the last list, there haven’t been a whole lot of promises, while we have seen a few finally come to fruition, including Man on Wire (as The Walk), Freeheld (as Freeheld), Citizenfour (as Snowden), Our Brand is Crisis (as Our Brand is Crisis), and The Loving Story (as Loving). This week, however, comes news that the Oscar-shortlisted true crime feature The Witness is being redone as a narrative/dramatic feature, and so I’m now wondering how long that will take to really happen, if it happens at all.
Once again, here is a reminder of the still small crop of other films that have been made in the past based on documentaries: 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), Devil’s Knot (the Paradise Lost trilogy and West of Memphis), 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), Pawn Sacrifice (Bobby Fischer Against the World), The Program (The Armstrong Lie), and Full Metal Jacket (Basic Training).
Even with the production trend on the upswing, there 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 an updated 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.
Promise: Not officially a remake of Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-nominated doc about Amy Winehouse, an eponymous biopic is in the works from writer-director Kirsten Sheridan (August Rush). Noomi Rapace is set to star was Winehouse.
Status: Pre-production began in late 2015, but as of November its status is unknown.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Promise: There have been a few docs on the story of JT LeRoy, the alter ego of author Laura Albert portrayed in public by her sister-in-law, Savannah Kroop. The other most notable film is The Cult of JT LeRoy, but Author is the most authorized with support from Albert. It’s not technically connected to JT LeRoy, a biopic starring Kristen Stewart as Kroop and Helena Bonham Carter as Albert, but it’s likely to inform it to some degree. Based on Kroop’s memoir and life rights, the movie is being written and directed by Justin Kelly (I Am Michael) and produced by James Franco.
Status: There was a final draft of the script filed last August and a note on IMDb claiming the film was going into pre-production.
Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World
Promise: On 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: With an option renewed last September, the project is still 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, as of last September, following the previous year’s delivery of two drafts of a screenplay.
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 unknown, as of last November. The last known update came in August 2014, when it was in the scripting stage (with High Fidelity writer D.V. DeVincentis). Mira Nair (also Monsoon Wedding) is still listed 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: Unknown. Since the last update, Blue Blood producer Rafael Marmor seems to have taken the remake out of 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: In December, Imagine filed another draft of the script, which is still listed as being 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 remains unknown as of last month.
The Case Against 8
Promise: Last time, we’d merely heard rumblings of a dramatic take on this doc about the fight for marriage equality in California. In April 2016, the project was officially announced at 20th Century Fox with Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl) writing and directing. The doc’s directors, Ben Cotner and Ryan White currently are being credited for the source material, and it’s being produced by Peter Chernin (Hidden Figures).
Status: Announced, but currently unknown as of last October.
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 last week, development is listed as unknown.
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 month. 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.
Status: Unknown, as of an update last month.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Promise: This gut-wrenching 2008 doc by Kurt Kuenne 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.
The Eagle Huntress
Promise: 20th Century Fox Animation reportedly acquired remake rights last April to do an animated take on the story of a teenage Mongolian girl who breaks with tradition to become the first female to compete in a traditional falconry contest. Ice Age and Monster Trucks director Chris Wedge is producing with a script by Darren Lemke (Goosebumps).
Status: A treatment was filed in October.
Promise: Seth Gordon, who produced this documentary directed by Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel about the custody battle over a human leg, reportedly signed on to helm a remake following its Sundance debut in 2015.
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.
Status: Announced, with no update on the option listing since February 2015.
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. When I talked to Simon Chinn a few years ago, he confirmed plans for the remake. He, John Battsek and the doc’s director, Nav Schirman, were 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 reportedly directing a narrative version of part of its story, titled Project Alpha. The doc’s directors, Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom, are also on board the remake as producers.
Status: The option was renewed last October.
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.
Status: Unknown, though there has been a sequel to the doc, titled Indie Game: Life After.
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. But as of last month, the official status is unknown.
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. Steve Carell was cast as the doc’s subject, Mark Hogancamp, in April 2015.
Status: The most recent draft of the script was filed last November.
Meet the Patels
Promise: Fox Searchlight has the remake rights to this amusing personal documentary by Geeta V. Patel and Ravi V. Patel. The duo will write the screenplay.
Status: The option was last renewed in November.
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 September, 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 in the works with producers Sean Furst and Bryan Furst (The Matador), but as of last month, its exact status is unknown.
The Other F Word
Promise: Jason Segel wouldn’t return for the 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 would 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: The most recently filed draft of the script came in March 2016, but as of September the official status is unknown.
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).
Status: Unknown, as of the most recently update last November.
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 still rumored to direct, but as of last summer its official status is unknown.
Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story
Promise: Paramount and Sony teamed up for the rights to this boxing doc by Dan Klores and Ron Berger just after it debuted the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
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. Yann Demange (’71) was in talks to direct.
Status: The option was renewed last October.
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: In 2015, the project was set up as a TV series with Carr now an executive producer alongside Jason Taragan and Rachael Horovitz. There have been no updates since.
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.
Status: Andy Goddard (A Kind of Murder) signed on to direct last summer for producers Jason Felts (Movie 43), Joshua Maurer (The Hoax), David A. Stern (the Rosemary’s Baby miniseries), and Alixandre Witlin (the Rosemary’s Baby miniseries). Anew draft of the script was filed late last month.
Promise: Last September, ABC was reported to have bought a pilot for a sitcom based on this 2015 SXSW selection about a set of twins separated at birth.
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.
Status: May be the currently listed “Untitled International Animal Trafficking Project,” the status of which is unknown as of last fall.
The White Helmets
Promise: The Netflix documentary short on the brave Syrian Civil Defense, which is on the Oscar shortlist for its category, is on the docket for producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov. They’re now seeking a writer to make the attempt at turning the story into a narrative drama.
Promise: Deadline reported that The Witness director James D. Solomon will script a remake of his hit doc about the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese. David O. Russell, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, and Rachael Horovitz will produce the feature, which it’s not clear will be about the murder itself or Kitty’s brother’s recent investigation into the case.
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.
UPDATES (47 and counting)
How to Survive a Plague
Promise: National Geographic is turning the documentary (which was subsequently turned into a book) into a scripted miniseries also chronicling the history of the organization Act Up, and through it the story of HIV/AIDS in America, leading up to a victory in successful treatment. David France, who directed the doc, is an executive producer on the project alongside (once again) Scott Rudin.