Darren Aronofsky is undoubtedly one of the most divisive filmmakers working today. While many of Aronofsky’s films have drawn critical acclaim, the extreme content he includes and his aptitude for telling dark stories about human morality have given his films a reputation for being “difficult to watch.” Aronofsky’s interest in religion and spirituality has also split his audiences down the middle; while films like The Fountain and Pi were praised for how they dealt with existential questions, both Noah and mother! drew criticism for their mishandling of Christian imagery.
Amidst a career of controversial films, Aronofsky’s latest project may have inspired his most outrageous press cycle yet. The Whale is based on a stage play by playwright Samuel D. Hunter, who adapted his own work for the film’s screenplay. The story revolves around the life of Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a 600-pound gay English professor who lives a secluded life in his apartment. While Fraser’s performance has earned him rave reviews since the film’s debut at the Venice International Film Festival, the film itself has been accused of being fatphobic and emotionally manipulative.
Aronofsky’s boldness is certainly worthy of admiration, even if his films aren’t for everyone. Throughout his career, Aronofsky has often toyed with potential projects that he ultimately didn’t end up making. His history of unrealized movies is almost as interesting as his filmography itself.
Shortly after the release of his directorial debut, Pi, Aronofsky was attached to direct an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel Ronin. Miller was attached to write the script, for what would be the first major adaptation of one of his works for the big screen. However, the production progress dragged on due to the uncertainty surrounding comic book movies at the time. While Aronofsky ultimately left the project to direct Requiem For A Dream instead, it wouldn’t be the last time that he flirted with a Miller adaptation.
Aronofsky has an inherent interest in the oblique sides of art, and many of his films may take multiple subsequent viewings to fully comprehend. This might explain why he began to show interest in adapting David Wiesner‘s wordless picture book Sector 7 for Nickelodeon Movies after wrapping Requiem For A Dream. While it certainly would have been interesting to see what (if anything) Aronofsky interpreted from Sector 7, the film sat in development hell for years as Aronofsky once again turned his eye to a comic book film.
Batman: Year One
Following the critical and financial disaster of Batman & Robin, Warner Brothers was keen on rebooting the franchise with a “dark and gritty” tone. Aronofsky seemed like a natural choice, and in 2000, he signed on to direct an adaptation of Miller’s origin story Batman: Year One; once again, Miller was attached to write the script. George Clooney’s days as Batman were over, and Aronofsky hoped to attract Joaquin Phoenix to play Bruce Wayne. However, internal disagreements between the studio, Miller, and Aronofsky over the tone of the film (which Aronofsky envisioned as being even darker than Miller’s original work) stalled the production process. Warner Brothers also envisioned a younger actor like Freddie Prinze Jr. as Batman, and future Batman Begins star Christian Bale was also approached. However, the delays ultimately inspired Warner Brothers to set aside the project and begin working on Wolfgang Peterson’s idea for Batman vs. Superman.
Theodore Roszak‘s novel Flicker has a lot in common with Aronofsky’s directorial debut; the 1991 novel follows a young film scholar Jonathan Gates who grows obsessed with the movies of the fictional B-movie director Max Castle. Gates’ obsession ultimately draws him into a shadowy web of conspiracies and paranoia. Although Aronofsky was signed on to direct an adaptation when he was at Regency Studios, he left the project when he moved to Universal.
Shannon Burke’s medical novel Black Files explores the emotionally overwhelming experience of a young ambulance tech in New York. The film was planned as a major awards contender, with Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls attached to pen the script. However, Aronofsky once again left the project, which is currently being developed by A Prayer Before Dawn director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire.
You may have never expected to hear Aronofsky’s name brought up at Comic-Con, but 2008’s San Diego celebration included an announcement from MGM that Aronofsky was hired to direct a remake of Robocop. While Aronofsky left his gig directing The Fighter to take on the new remake, the 2009 Comic Con included an announcement that he had to drop the project in order to focus on Black Swan.
Breaking the Bank
A biopic of the controversial MMA legend Lee Murray in Breaking the Bank seemed like it would be up Aronofsky’s alley, as Murray’s conflicts with the law had the potential to be a dramatic film. However, Aronofsky’s production setbacks on Noah forced XYZ to replace him with The Raid: Redemption director Gareth Evans.
Like many great filmmakers, Aronofsky began to take interest in working on an HBO project after the “prestige television” boom kicked off in the early 2010s. Shortly before leaving The Wolverine, Aronofsky signed on to direct the period thriller series Hobgoblin for HBO. Aronofsky and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon began working on a story that revolved around a group of magicians and con artists that worked to defeat the rise of Adolf Hitler during World War II. However, HBO decided to pass on the project, prompting Aronofsky to leave.
Once again, Aronofsky was brought in to direct a soft reboot of a failing superhero series based on the work of Miller. Following the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 20th Century Fox hired Aronofsky to work on a new Wolverine-centric film starring Hugh Jackman. The Wolverine became a priority for Fox, but Aronofsky felt that leaving the United States for an expensive, lengthy shoot overseas would separate him from his family for too long. His departure from the project allowed James Mangold to step in and take over The Wolverine, which led to the success of Logan.