There’s a long history in Hollywood of shelved projects, abandoned franchise dreams, stalled careers, and entire genres that lost favor or profitability. 9 times out 10 these problems and failures are the result of a myriad of complex issues and contributing factors. Sometimes though… Sometimes you can pretty much pin everything on one film that fucked it up for everyone. Whether it’s a movie that killed a rival project, destroyed a filmmaker’s career, squashed some brilliant idea, or took the shine off of an entire genre, this CHUD List will catalog the films that were just total, unapologetic Cockblocks.

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Day 1 (Dinosaurs)
Day 2 (Halloween)

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Day 3 (Mistress of the Seas Cockblocked!)

Elisabeth Rappe (EmailTwitter)

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THE COCK: Paul Verhoeven’s Mistress of the Seas Sometime in the misty, fantasy heavy 1980s, Jon Peters optioned John Carlova’s book Mistress of the Seas. The book is out of print and lost to time, but it purported to be the biography of notorious female pirate, Anne Bonny. The one reader review I could dig up described it thus: “This book claims to be a work of non-fiction, a biography of the pirate Anne Bonny, however it reads like a rambling fanfic by someone who can’t get over how sexy (and apparently lusty! and raunchy! and naughty!) women pirates were. “

Sounds made for Hollywood! And in 1993, the master of all things full-frontal signed on to direct: Paul Verhoeven. Geena Davis became attached to the project. Harrison Ford was circling the role of her lover, Calico Jack Rackham. Michelle Pfeiffer was interested in playing Bonny’s partner-in-crime, Mary Read.

But the stars became uncomfortable with the subject matter. Pfeiffer ducked out, later citing the script’s sex and nudity as the reason. “I had two meetings with Paul Verhoeven. I met with him on two separate projects, and both conversations were about how much skin I would show.” The studio began to balk at Verhoeven’s vision, which one insider described as ” a sex film that, oh, by the way, had a couple of ships in it. If Columbia wanted to make that movie, they’d have hired Sharon Stone.”

Columbia pushed it in a more mainstream direction in order to keep its stars, and Verhoeven left in a huff. Renny Harlin (then Davis’ fiancee) began eying the director’s chair. Verhoeven agreed to Columbia’s changes (which included an expanded part for Calico Jack and a role of another male pirate in order to have a conventional love triangle ) and came back on board only to have Davis abruptly depart over “creative differences.” Rumor had it that she disliked the changes to the script (apparently she wanted the big budget sex-on-ships film?) but other insiders claimed it was because she was angry at Columbia for snubbing Harlin. Other 1990s A-List actresses began circling the role, including Jodie Foster, Michelle Pfeiffer (now satisfied she wouldn’t have to go topless?), and Laura Dern. Action heroines were supposed to be the next big thing, and there hadn’t been a pirate movie in ages. It was meant to be the movie of Christmas 1994.

THE BLOCK: Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island Mario Kassar caught wind of Columbia’s pirate movie, and thought now might be the perfect time to produce one he had lying around: Cutthroat Island. His production company, Carolco, had happily partnered with Verhoeven on Basic Instinct and Total Recall, and were set to do so again on Crusade, a big-budget medieval extravaganza starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Carolco was in serious financial trouble, and Kassar decided to cancel Crusade, and hedge his bets with Cutthroat Island. Renny Harlin quickly signed on to direct. Michael Douglas came aboard to star. Genna Davis was reportedly not a fan of the script, but wanted to work with Harlin. When Douglas signed, she did. Despite her on-record reluctance about this pirate project, it’s really hard not to read this entire thing as a “Fuck you!” to Columbia and Paul Verhoeven. Clearly, Harlin really wanted to direct a lady pirate movie. Davis obviously wanted to jolly someone’s roger.

Unfortunately for all involved, Cutthroat Island sailed straight for disaster. Script rewrites caused Douglas to jump ship. Davis wanted to follow. ” I, of course, assumed the whole project would be canceled. It was all based on Michael Douglas’s being in it. To my horror, I learned not only would they not cancel, but that I had a legal obligation to go ahead, unlike Michael. I tried desperately to get out of this movie.” Every male actor approached for the role of Shaw passed. Matthew Modine finally accepted. Production delays spiked the budget. Scenes were rewritten hours before shooting. The release date was pushed back. Once it finally hit theaters, poisonous reviews sunk it, and the film became the biggest commercial disaster in history.

Cutthroat Island not only killed Mistress of the Seas, it killed the entire pirate genre for good. Studios wouldn’t touch anything with ships and swashbucklers for decades. The concept was so poisoned that everyone was aghast when Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer announced their plans to make Pirates of the Caribbean. Had they not heeded the lesson of Cutthroat Island? Did they want to end up like Carolco, who was forced to file Chapter 9, and was never heard from again? Well, they had the last laugh, unlike everyone involved with these two films.

Bullet Dodged, or Greatness Robbed: It’s hard to say. The idea of a pirate movie starring Geena Davis and Harrison Ford (and possibly Michelle Pfeiffer) sounds kind of cool in a 1990s kind of way. But ultimately, I think it was a bullet dodged. It’s clear from the conflicting reports that Mistress of the Seas was suffering from the same script problems as Cutthroat Island. It essentially started out as a softcore porn. Once Harrison Ford was interested, it was drastically rewritten to be less about Bonny kicking ass, and more about romance. The change prompted Verhoeven to compare it to Gone with the Wind. ”It’s a nice compromise. [She is like Scarlett O’Hara] only she’s on the ocean, struggling between her love for two suitors.”

However, it was clear that Verhoeven hadn’t completely given up hope on tits and ass. He was still aiming for an R rating, and played coy about the amount of sex in the film. He told EW that he would take Mistress and its R “as far as it can [go].” In 1998, Verhoeven was still talking about Mistress of the Seas, and the disaster that was Cutthroat Island seems to have passed him by. A Dutch interview quoted on AICN suggests he was pretty bitter about its failure, and indicates he had never ever given up on his kinky pirate concept: “You could say I’m less successful, which is true. Shortly after each other two projects were cancelled. First Crusade, which was cancelled after six months of preparation, while all the costumes were already made, and then Anne Bonny, Mistress of the Sea, a film I had been working on for five months. That was pretty frustrating. I thought I had became strong enough after my success of Basic Instinct to get this film made, but it was stopped anyway. I try to calm myself by thinking it’s for the best like this. With Crusade that worked, but I’ve still got doubts with Anne Bonny. The studio didn’t dare to make a movie about a woman. Mistress of the Sea is the story of a female privateer-captain, she existed for real. She was known for horseback riding across the beach in the nude. Fuck you, I just do it.” With that attitude, how can Mistress have been anything but a winner? I mean that sarcastically.

Verdict: Bullet Dodged.

The Alternate Universe: Geena Davis, Kevin Costner, and Harrison Ford sign onto Mistress of the Seas. The film’s original $40 million budget balloons, but stays well below the $115 of Cutthroat Island. Maybe it hits, say, $90 million.

However, Verhoeven’s “Fuck you, I do it!” attitude immediately causes issues with Ford. Ford sees himself as the star of the film, which causes issues with Costner. Between these two beefcakes, Davis’ character is reduced into a pirate who throws a punch once and awhile. Scenes are rewritten before they are shot. Ford gives up halfway through and phones in his performance. Davis tries her best, but her performance is convoluted and confused because this is no longer a Mistress of the Seas, it’s a Ford pirate movie. Costner drawls and swings a sword around.

Verhoeven has the film taken away from him in post, and his much cherished “Geena Davis rides across the beach in the nude” scene is cut. The result: a movie that looks just like Cutthroat Island.

Mistress of the Seas wouldn’t have been as much of a financial disaster — it would probably recoup the $90 million on Ford’s name alone — and Columbia would have sailed through the disaster relatively unscathed, unlike the already troubled Carolco. But it would be one of the most embarrassing films to be on Ford’s resume, and possibly damage his box office cred just a little bit earlier. I threw Costner’s name in there just for laughs (I’m not clear who, if anyone, was ever a contender for the other male role) but had he been in this film, he could not have made Wyatt Earp. A disaster for a disaster, really. Davis would have gone on to The Long Kiss Goodnight and a divorce from Renny Harlin. Pirate movies remain dead until Pirates of the Caribbean. Germany wins the war — wait! That’s too far back.

Remains: Sadly, no concept art exists online for Mistress of the Seas. I know there must be something, somewhere. At least one ship had been built. The Making of Horatio Hornblower (about the ITV series) talks to the series’ shipbuilder Michael Turk, who recalls “We were actually building a 12th century merchant ship for a Schwarzenegger film that never got made. Then there was a film about Anne Bonny, the eighteenth century female pirate, but that project collapsed as well.” They built the ship anyway, and it was used for Hornblower. But that’s a sad look into the little people who get hurt by the cruel winds of change that blow through Hollywood. The only other detritus that I can find are the unsourced quotes from Michelle Pfeiffer, and articles that gleefully get into the disaster of Cutthroat Island. Once that film looms, all things Mistress disappeared. However, when you google “concept art Mistress of the Seas Paul Verhoeven” this pops up. I believe (but I could be wrong, having never actually seen it) it’s a still from Showgirls. I think if you add tricorns, you have an idea as to what Seas would have looked like.

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NSFW

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Background:

Walking the Plank When You Have No Choice

Geena Sails Away

My own copy of The Making of Horatio Hornblower which I own because of a past crush on Ioan Gruffudd.


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