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A Decade of Steven Spielberg Not Making Up His Mind

Weeks before Steven Spielberg releases his megabudget virtual-reality movie Ready Player One, all of Hollywood wonders just what he might do next. Could he make that that next Indiana Jones movie? Is he really going to remake West Side Story? Whatever happened to the 19th-century kidnapping drama Tony Kushner was writing? Spielberg’s one of the industry’s most prolific directors, and one of its worst at making a plan and sticking to it. In honor of his latest period of indecision, we present ten years of projects Spielberg announced, abandoned, and in a few rare cases, finally decided to shoot — all reported on breathlessly in the trade papers at the time.

May 19, 2009: Spielberg announces plans to produce a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic after securing the rights from his estate. (He holds onto the rights for years without making it.)

August 2, 2009: On second thought, Spielberg says he will direct a remake of the 1950 James Stewart movie Harvey, which everyone imagines will star Tom Hanks.

December 3, 2009: Spielberg scraps Harvey after Hanks reportedly turns it down.

May 3, 2010: Spielberg is said to consider making a George Gershwin biopic or adapting the sci-fi novel Robopocalypse before signing up to direct the WWI movie War Horse (which is actually completed and released in 2011).

October 22, 2010: Spielberg commits to directing Robopocalypse, to shoot in early 2012 for a 2013 release.

November 19, 2010: But first, he decides, he’ll make Lincoln with Daniel Day-Lewis for Oscar season 2012 (and he follows through).

January 25, 2012: Spielberg is reportedly in talks with Warner Bros. to direct Gods and Kings, a “Braveheart-ish version of the Moses story.”

July 19, 2012: Spielberg casts Chris Hemsworth as the lead in Robopocalypse, now for a 2014 release.

September 24, 2012: He casts Anne Hathaway in Robopocalypse, too. “I believe it’s quite real,” she’ll say later, “though you never want to hang your hat on anything.”

January 9, 2013: Spielberg delays Robopocalypse, which had been scheduled to shoot this spring, amid rumors that he’d tackle Gods and Kings next.

March 2013: Spielberg drops Gods and Kings. He claims Robopocalypse will still happen but tells the press he’s interested in making Stanley Kubrick’s never-completed Napoleon movie as a TV mini-series.

May 2, 2013: Spielberg announces his next movie will be American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper.

August 5, 2013: Spielberg bails from American Sniper, which is eventually directed by Clint Eastwood, and says he might produce a remake The Grapes of Wrath. (He doesn’t.)

January 2014: Spielberg reportedly signs up to direct a Montezuma movie with Javier Bardem as Hernán Cortés, based on an old script by Dalton Trumbo. (This doesn’t get far).

March 5, 2014: Fox releases the rights to remake West Side Story because Spielberg says he’s interested.

April 17, 2014: Spielberg hires Tony Kushner to write a script for The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, about the forced baptism of a young Italian Jew in the 19th century.

April 21, 2014: Spielberg approaches Tom Hanks to star in a Cold War thriller (which would eventually become 2015’s Bridge of Spies), though reports still say he’s doing Robopocalypse next.

April 25, 2014: Another change: Spielberg agrees to adapt Roald Dahl’s The BFG (and he does it; it’s released in 2016). He sets Edgardo Mortara aside.

February 20, 2015: Chris Pratt gets attached to play Indiana Jones in a reboot directed by Spielberg.

March 2, 2015: Jennifer Lawrence will reportedly star in a biopic of war photographer Lynsey Addario to be directed by Spielberg. (This doesn’t get far.)

March 25, 2015: Spielberg announces plans to adapt Ready Player One.

March 15, 2016: Spielberg announces plans for a fifth Indiana Jones with Harrison Ford himself (sorry, Chris Pratt), for 2019.

April 11, 2016: But first! Edgardo Mortara seems like it’s happening again, as Spielberg casts Mark Rylance, and later, Oscar Isaac.

June 17, 2016: Another change: Spielberg confirms Tony Kushner is working on the script for his West Side Story remake.

March 6, 2017: Unable to find the right child actor for Edgardo Mortara, Spielberg drops everything and announces he’ll make a Pentagon Papers movie (later The Post) with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep to be released before year’s end (and he does it).

January 19, 2018: Reports say Spielberg will shoot Indiana Jones 5 next, followed by West Side Story, for which he announces an open casting call.

March 7, 2018: Spielberg finally passes off Robopocalypse to Michael Bay.

March 9, 2018: Reports emerge that Spielberg held a secret table read for a Leonard Bernstein biopic, which he might direct before, or instead of, West Side Story.

*This article appears in the March 19, 2018, issue of New York Magazine.

A Decade of Steven Spielberg Not Making Up His Mind