The Frustrating Story Behind Francis Ford Coppola's 'Megalopolis'

The legendary filmmaker has been trying to bring this project to life for a very long time, but the wait could finally be over.

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Even the very best filmmakers have their Great White Buffalo movie. The dream project that never came to fruition because of the difficult, unpredictable nature of the film industry and the surrounding world. For Francis Ford Coppola, that evasive movie has been Megalopolis, a sprawling sci-fi opus set in a futuristic New York City.

After years of struggling to get the project off the ground, the director shelved it, assuming that his dream would never be realized. But now he’s ready to try again. In a conversation with Deadline, Coppola revealed that he’s dusted off his long-gestating epic and is eyeing Jude Law to star. According to the director, the project will be as ambitious as originally envisioned and unlike anything else that’s coming out of Hollywood today. Should everything go according to plan, he hopes to enter production in the coming months.

“It is unusual; it will be a production on a grand scale with a large cast. It makes use of all of my years of trying films in different styles and types culminating in what I think is my own voice and aspiration. It is not within the mainstream of what is produced now, but I am intending and wishing and in fact encouraged, to begin production this year.”

Megalopolis follows an upstart architect with dreams of turning the Big Apple into a utopia, but the Mayor has other ideas for the city. The former’s vision doesn’t correspond with the conservative ideals of the politician, who turns to dirty politics and organized crime to try and bury the progressive architect. Coppola has compared the movie to the works of Fritz Lang and Ayn Rand and revealed that he was inspired by Ancient Roman history.

The last we heard anything about the movie, it seemed dead in the water. In a past interview with Movieline (per The Playlist), Coppola had made peace with the possible reality of Megalopolis never seeing the light of day.

“Someday, I’ll read what I had on ‘Megalopolis’ and maybe I’ll think different of it, but it’s also a movie that costs a lot of money to make and there’s no patron out there. You see what the studios are making right now.”

Clearly, Coppola wasn’t content to let this one sit in a drawer collecting dust. Megalopolis is an itch that he’s been wanting to scratch for a while. And if Sex Ed classes have taught us anything, some itches never go away, no matter how much we want them to. To paraphrase Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, just when Coppola thought he was out, Megalopolis pulled him back in.

Any new movie from the director of The Godfather series and Apocalypse Now is worthy of our attention, but this one is especially interesting considering Coppola’s long-term personal attachment to the project. He’s wanted to make the movie since the early ’80s, but his propensity for helming flops back then made finding financing difficult. Attempts to make Megalopolis have been an uphill battle for Coppola ever since, mostly due to the budget it would require.

In the ’90s, Coppola became a studio director-for-hire and helmed movies like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Rainmaker. Despite enjoying some box office hits again during that period, some folks assumed that the legend was past his prime, had lost his bite, and was out of original ideas. However, Coppola was merely playing the game until an opportunity arose for him to focus on Megalopolis.

When 2001 rolled around, the director felt creatively reinvigorated and optimistic about his sci-fi epic. Big name actors like Robert De Niro, Russell Crowe, and Nicolas Cage were linked to the project. Furthermore, Coppola shot 30 minutes of test footage in a bid to drum up interest. Unfortunately, the horrific events of 9/11 caused the director to abandon the project when its chances of being made were arguably at their highest. Interest waned in the years that followed — until now.

Of course, this news isn’t a confirmation that Megalopolis will definitely happen. It’s been quite some time since Coppola was a box office draw, so funding a movie this commercially risky won’t be easy. If the underwhelming performance of Blade Runner 2049 proved anything, it’s that intelligent science fiction is a tough sell these days. Let’s not get our hopes up too much for now.

That said, maybe a streaming giant will be interested in Megalopolis as they seek more original content in order to compete? If that’s the case, they could do a lot worse than give one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers a chance to make a movie he’s been passionate about for decades. Otherwise, Megalopolis will go down in film history as one of the more fascinating missed opportunities.

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