Joel and Ethan Coen are considered two of the most uniquely talented filmmakers in cinematic history. The extremely talented Minnesota-born siblings continue to play in their “corner of the sandbox” by delivering highly diverse and wildly original movies that run the gamut from violent neo-noirs to romantic comedies and vengeful westerns to period gangster films.
For the first time in their careers, Joel and Ethan have parted ways for the upcoming film The Tragedy of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington. Joel will direct from his own screenplay, while Joel will focus on upcoming theater projects. While Macbeth awaits an official 2021 release date, here’s a look back at some of the promising movies the Coens nearly made at one time or another.
In a 1998 interview with a Venice Magazine article entitled “Brothers Keepers,” Joel Coen expressed his and Ethan’s desire to make a cinematic omnibus tentative titled Contemplations.
The anthology film would have been comprised of a series of vignettes loosely tied together in an old, dusty leather-bound volume. A similar narrative structure was employed in the Coen brothers’ most recent film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a six-part western that begins with an old literary book of tales.
9 62 Skidoo
In an IGN interview conducted on Halloween 2001, Joel Coen divulged a few fascinating tidbits. In addition to revealing his favorite film as The Guns of Navarone and his favorite book as Dr. Seuss’ The Pale Green Pants, he admitted to a cold-war spy comedy he and his brother planned to make.
62 Skidoo is the title Coen gave for his cold-war comedy, with the numerical title likely referring to the year 1962. The screenplay is already complete and Joel says he still hopes to make the film someday. As do we.
8 To The White Sea
One project that Joel and Ethan Coen got seriously involved with was the adaptation of James Dickey’s 1993 novel To The White Sea. The film was slated to be produced in 2002 with Brad Pitt in the lead role. However, the project fell apart when the brothers deemed the budget insufficient for such a sweeping story. While Pitt worked with the Coens on Burn After Reading in 2008, we still hope To The White Sea gets made at some point.
The novel follows Muldrow, an American gunner in WWII who parachutes into enemy territory in Japan when his plane goes down. As he makes an epic sojourn for survival, Muldrow confronts his own heart of darkness.
7 The Yiddish Policeman’s Union
Upon their four-time Oscar-winning success in No Country for Old Men in 2007, the Coens reunited with super-producer Scott Rudin for a potential follow-up film at Columbia Pictures.
According to The Guardian, Rudin optioned the rights for Michael Chabon’s 2007 novel The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The detective story takes place in an alternate present-day reality in Sitka, Alaska where a refugee camp for persecuted Jewish people live and speak Yiddish as the primary language. The Coens have only adapted three novels to date, but if there was ever a fourth, fans hope it’s this one.
6 Old Fink
One Coen brothers project that has the most potential to still get made is Old Fink, a decades-long sequel to their 1991 Palme d’Or-winning film Barton Fink. According to MTV, the brothers are apparently waiting for star John Turturro to age enough for the role.
Barton Fink follows the titular playwright struggling to sell his soul as a serious artist in order to make a fortune writing witless Hollywood wrestling movies in 1941. The idea for the sequel is to set the film in the 1960s around the time period of A Serious Man, the Coen’s most autobiographical film to date.
5 Harvey Karbo
In 2011, THR reported that Joel and Ethan were poised to dip their toe in television with a single camera, hour-long dramatic series entitled Harvey Karbo. The premise of the show would have followed an irascible private eye in Los Angeles and his ne’er-do-well pals in the beach-town of El Segundo.
The project ultimately fell apart ahead of the brothers’ 2013 film Inside Llewlyn Davis. Given the similarities to The Big Lewbowski, Harvey Karbo is a project we’d love to see revived on the big screen.
4 Untitled Musical Comedy
According to Slash Film (via The Playlist), The Coen brothers were penning a comedic script centered on an opera singer in 2013. The film wasn’t necessarily designed as a musical in the traditional sense but would incorporate musical elements into the comedic story.
When pressed for details, the Coens remained tight-lipped, claiming it’s always hard to speak on a project while still unfinished. However, the did say “we are writing something right now where the main character is an opera singer.”
3 Untitled Sword & Sandal Drama
According to an AP interview conducted in 2013, Joel and Ethan also expressed their involvement in a sprawling sword-and-sandal epic set in ancient Rome.
While remaining coy about the details, Joel quipped “it’s big. We’re interested in the big questions. And we don’t (expletive) mess around with subtext. This one especially.” Although Joel and Ethan put Roman sandals on George Clooney in Hail, Caesar! in 2016, there were no big questions asked or answered in that movie.
2 Black Money
In the summer of 2015, Deadline Hollywood reported that Warner Bros. had optioned the screen rights for Ross McDonald’s 1966 novel Black Money. Joel and Ethan Coen were attached to direct the big-screen adaptation.
Black Money follows Lew Archer, a detective hired by a man to look into the life of Francis Martel, a mysteriously wealthy socialite with gambling debts and potential ties to a murder-suicide. Super producer Joel Silver was set to spearhead the project, which we still hope to see in the future.
1 Dark Web
The most recent Coen Brothers project to be set on the back burner is Dark Web, a movie about the illegal black market Silk Road that the Coens were scripting for Fox in 2016. The story is based on a two-part article published by Wired in 2013. Chernin Entertainment was set to produce.
Dark Web began in 2013 when acclaimed novelist Dennis Lehane was hired to adapt the article as a screenplay. The true story concerns Ross William Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts, pictured), a 29-year-old founder of the black market website. If ever there was an unmade Coen brothers film we still hope to see in the future, Dark Web ranks at the top.
NEXT: 10 Unmade Horror Movies We Would Have Loved To See
10 90s Movies That Should Get Their Own Netflix Series