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The Five Best Films Joe Cornish Never Made

In our new series, we look back at some of the blockbuster films Joe Cornish almost directed after his breakout hit ‘Attack the Block.’
Star Trek Beyond Cast
Paramount Pictures
By  · Published on January 25th, 2019

In this industry, nothing pays the bills quite like a good rumor. Consider the way information trickles out: The Hollywood Reporter announces that a big name has been attached to a project, or a site like Heroic Hollywood claims that a big-budget adaptation of the latest novel is imminent, and every movie publication up and down the food chain hurries to produce their own take. Then the director backs out, or the rumor never comes to fruition, and the internet is left littered with the SEO-friendly graves of unrealized projects.

Given that most studios are wooing multiple talent for multiple projects at any given time, it’s easy to piece together a list of interesting projects for every filmmaker working today. Joe Cornish may have been absent from the director’s chair since his feature debut, 2011’s Attack the Block, but that doesn’t make this weekend’s The Kid Who Would Be King his first project of note since that first movie came out. Dig into Cornish’s non-filmography and there’s a wealth of hypotheticals and almost-rans.

Here’s my list of the five most interesting Joe Cornish films that never came to be.

Rust (2012)

Back in 2012, Cornish seemed on the verge of a lucrative career as a Hollywood director. He had just written and directed the aforementioned Attack the Block and had been featured as a co-writer with Edgar Wright on The Adventures of Tintin. With one well-received passion project and one high-profile Christmas release, Cornish now had the kind of experience studios desire when adapting new science fiction properties. It was no surprise, then, that 20th Century Fox snapped the filmmaker up to tackle Rust, a steampunk adventure film based on the graphic novel of the same name. In July 2012, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Cornish would direct the film with Aline Brosh McKenna — now of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fame — writing the screenplay.

On paper, Rust seemed like a strong match for a director with Cornish’s creativity. When the first novel came out, Publishers Weekly praised creator Royden Lepp’s visual style, noting that “whole pages of moment-by-moment breakdowns make the action easy to follow, and the beautiful sepia-toned art gives a strong sense of both windswept wheat fields and clanking robot battle.” So it was a surprise to everyone when The Wrap revealed in 2013 that Cornish had left the project with no comment from either director or studio as to the cause of the separation. Unfortunately, Rust remains in production, but some intriguing test footage did find its way online in 2017.

Star Trek Beyond (2013)

With J.J. Abrams famously ditching Star Trek for a chance to direct the first of the Star Wars sequels, Paramount Pictures suddenly found itself in need of someone to help the series bounce back from the disappointing reception of Star Trek Into Darkness. In November of 2013, Deadline reported that Paramount was ‘sweet’ on Cornish to direct the third installment of their franchise. Once again, the timing was favorable; Cornish had just finished writing another blockbuster Hollywood script with Wright, this time bringing the character of Ant-Man to life in the second phase of Marvel movies.

Cornish even had long-standing ties to Paramount thanks to his work on the Snow Crash adaptation (keep that title in mind). As if that weren’t enough, the director picked up a big vote of confidence from Abrams himself, who told MTV News that he was rooting for Cornish to land the Star Trek gig. “I adore him and love him and can’t wait to see what he does next,” Abrams said in the interview. “Hopefully it will be Star Trek.” Once again, however, Cornish would quietly be removed from the conversation with no indication of bad blood, and the next Star Trek movie — now titled Star Trek Beyond — would move forward with noted Fast & Furious director Justin Lin at the helm.

Kong: Skull Island (2014)

For the past decade, it seems like every director of note has been rumored to participate in one cinematic universe or another, and Cornish was certainly no exception. As part of its 2014 Comic-Con celebration, Legendary Pictures surprised attendees with the announcement of Kong: Skull Island and even managed to wrangle up some teaser footage for the Hall H attendees. The only problem? Now they had to turn a press release into a finished film. Shortly after the announcement was made, Deadline reported that Legendary had already offered the project to Cornish, making this his second potential franchise film in as many years.

Of course, now that Cornish had a track record of turning down projects, insiders were more comfortable expressing skepticism that the filmmaker would accept Legendary’s offer. The aforementioned Deadline piece cited an unproduced MI6 movie as another project Cornish might choose over the King Kong adaptation, while /Film owner Peter Sciretta expressed his own doubts based on his own rumor mill. By September it was official: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, not Cornish, would serve as the director for Kong: Skull Island, and Cornish’s unique status as the man everyone in Hollywood wanted but nobody could land would continue.

Gambit (2015)

If you’re a director with any real semblance of talent, it’s a right of passage to be connected to Simon Kinberg’s long-suffering Gambit adaptation. Despite Channing Tatum’s unwavering devotion to the project, Gambit has burned through a laundry list of directors that includes Doug Liman, Gore Verbinski, and even action movie icon Shane Black. So who better to direct Gambit — or at least be rumored to direct it — than Cornish, a director who rarely makes the leap from rumor mill to production? Heroic Hollywood reported (with Collider sharing the since-deleted story) in late 2015 that 20th Century Fox was interested in reuniting with Cornish on the long-gestating X-Men property, adding him to a shortlist that included the aforementioned Liman and Black.

Unsurprisingly, not only did Gambit not break with tradition and land Cornish as director, 20th Century Fox has proven unable to push the movie into production with anyone at its helm. Liman and Verbinski came closest, but both directors would ultimately part ways with the production after multiple rewrites and delays. To this date, Gambit remains the one superhero property that Hollywood is incapable of pushing across the finish line. Who knows? If The Kid Who Would Be King puts Cornish back on some studio shortlists, there’s a decent chance we’ll be fielding more Gambit rumors in the near future.

Snow Crash (2012-?)

If there’s one constant in the Joe Cornish rumor mill, it’s Snow Crash, the long-rumored adaptation of Neal Stephenson’s beloved novel about a futuristic Los Angeles. As noted by Deadline, Cornish originally signed on to direct the film in 2012 and even completed a draft of the screenplay. The following year, Stephenson told the BBC that he thought Cornish’s script was “amazing” despite the challenge it presented as a big-budget adaptation. Even as Cornish’s involvement in other projects fell by the wayside, his connection to Snow Crash continued, with Amazon announcing a television series in 2017 that would include Cornish in a key creative role. One way or the other, Snow Crash seemed destined to find its way to the screen.

And yet, despite the consistent advocacy of Cornish as director-turned-screenwriter-turned-executive-producer, Snow Crash remains one of those few franchises Hollywood cannot bring itself to green light. Earlier this week, Cornish told SyFy that the project was “just too huge and ambitious and complicated and sophisticated for a modern studio,” noting that he would rather not do the project at all than risk producing a “dumbed down version.” Even now, though, Cornish refuses to call it quits, referencing other movies caught in production hell for decades before finding their way to the screen. Or, as he told SyFy: “Nothing is ever dead.” Start the clock for 2027?

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)