Features and Columns

A Brief History of That Akira Movie That Can’t Get Its Motor Running

By  · Published on June 9th, 2015


Some films feel destined to remain unmade. That would be the case with the big screen version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal manga Akira, if not for one small pickle: the film has already been made, at least as a 1998 animated version helmed by Otomo himself. But when it comes to a live-action Akira, well, that’s a post-apocalyptic drama of a very different stripe.

Warner Bros. picked up the rights to the would-be film over a decade ago, but despite a truly outlandish series of starts and stops (some of those stops quite literal), the film has yet to come to fruition. Instead, the project has juggled and jettisoned various directors, screenwriters, and stars. It has started production and then stopped (a few times). It’s a thrilling story of sibling rivalry, ruined worlds, and government control that also happens to hinge on motorcycle gangs, and it’s stalled out so often that you’d think the whole thing needed a good retooling to get going. Or, alternately, perhaps a merciful trip to the junkyard. What’s happened so far in Akira land? So much, and more to come.

July 1988 – the animated Akira hits the big screen.

April 2002The Hollywood Reporter shares that Warner Bros. has purchased the rights to the story in order to make a live-action feature film.

October 2002Variety reports that Stephen Norrington will direct the film from a script by James Robinson.

(Project languishes, etc.)

October 2007 – Bloody Disgusting announces that Ruairi Robinson will now direct the film. Eventually, Gary Whitta comes on board to write the film.

June 2009 – Ruairi Robinson’s live-action Akira film is declared dead. Few details are given as to why the project – potentially imagined as a two-parter – didn’t materialize, but it seems to be the beginning of Akira’s ongoing issues marrying size and scope with financial truths.

September 2009 – Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby come on board to pen a version of the film.

February 2010 – The Hughes Brothers, hot off The Book of Eli (well, kind of hot), are rumored to direct at least one of the Akira features, as the project appears to still be a planned two-parter.

June 2010 – Albert Hughes (who is set as the film’s only director) reveals that the film he and his brother are imagining will be rated PG-13. Hughes also mentions that he’s “not into sequels” and it is unlikely that either of the Hughes team would return for a sequel.

November 2010 – a report holds that Zac Efron has been offered a lead role in the Hughes film.

November 2010, later – a new reports shares that Morgan Freeman is also in the casting mix.

February 2011 – James Franco is rumored to have a lead role in the film.

February 2011, laterVariety reports that Steve Kloves has come on board to give the film yet another rewrite.

March 2011 – a new short list of possible stars includes names like Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy, Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake, and Joaquin Phoenix.

May 2011 – Albert Hughes leaves Akira.

July 2011 – Warner Bros. slashes the film’s budget below $100 million and snags Jaume Collet-Serra as the film’s newest ill-fated director.

October 2011 – Helena Bonham Carter and Gary Oldman are both rumored to be joining Collet-Serra’s film.

November 2011 – Kristen Stewart is rumored to join the film. Hedlund is believed to be attached to the film.

November 2011, later – Ken Watanbe is rumored to have snagged the role that Oldman passed on.

January 2012 – Warner Bros. puts production on hold in order to slash the film’s budget yet again. Hedlund remains the only official cast member, with Stewart, Watanbe, and Bonham Carter still believed to be in some stage of deal-making. You know what’s not good for deal-making? Slashed budgets.

January 2012, later – a rumor soon leaks out that Warner is balking at the project not because of budgetary concerns, but because they still do not like the script. That is…not heartening. It is believed that the studio is looking to Jonathan Nolan and/or Michael Green to give the film’s screenplay yet another draft.

September 2012 – concept art from the unmade Hughes project hits the web.

August 2013 – director Jaume Collet-Serra rejoins the seemingly perms-on-hold project with a newly cheapened budget.

June 2015The Hollywood Reporter shares that Marco J. Ramirez will now adapt the film (which somehow still doesn’t have a usable screenplay?). The film no longer has an attached director.

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