In 2008, Deadpool director Tim Miller and David Fincher attempted to pitch studios a new revival of the 1981 R-rated animated anthology film Heavy Metal.
The film is an anthology of various science fiction and fantasy stories adapted from Heavy Metal magazine and original stories in the same spirit. Like the magazine, the film features a great deal of graphic violence, sexuality, and nudity.
They had the new incarnation budgeted around a modest $50 million dollars and would see multiple directors tackling different short segments with Miller’s Blur Studio handling the animation side of things.
It’s director lineup included Miller, Fincher, James Cameron , Zack Snyder, Kevin Eastman (co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Gore Verbinski (Rango, The Ring, Pirates of The Caribbean), Guillermo del Toro, Mark Osborne (The Little Prince, Kung Fu Panda), Blur director Jeff Fowler (Sonic The Hedgehog), and Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto).
While they took “a hundred meetings” that included pitches to Paramount (had picked it up only to drop it), Columbia/Sony and MGM, none the studios felt they could sell the R-rated animated anthology film to audiences. Sort of laughable after this year’s box office success stories of Deadpool and Sausage Party.
Robert Rodriguez (Alita: Battle Angel, Sin City, Desperado) eventually picked up the film rights for QuickDraw in 2011 and suggested his new version could make it onto TV via his station the El Ray Network.
Kevin Eastman sold Heavy Metal in 2014, so it’s unlikely that original deal with Rodriguez still stands.
In September 2015, Tim went on the CG Garage podcast and revealed a list of writers that were tackling the 28 stories he was developing for Heavy Metal. Along with his frustration that studios wouldn’t bite, despite all the big name directors attached to it.
“Heavy Metal is a good example, where I mean we had the rights to do it we developed 28 amazing stories. David Fincher was going to direct one, Jim Cameron was going to direct one, Zack Snyder was going to direct one, all committed and we couldn’t get a studio to take it. It just, we tried for three years. David and I, I shit you not, took a hundred meetings to try and get that movie made because I love movies and I love long-form storytelling but short stories what an amazing idea. It’s all meat no fat, just get in there and a story.”
“I thought that Blur could be this creative hub where other directors could come in, plugin for a while, tell a story and execute their vision we would have teed it up for them it would have been amazing.”
“Heavy Metal would have been the dream project for me in so many ways and when I was developing it to pitch you know we developed these 28 stories. All had their own artwork it was the happiest three months of my life because I think every day was Christmas where I’d get in artwork from all these concept artists that were helping us to flush out these stories visually it was just terrific.”
“But we just couldn’t sell it. You have great names, but it’s an R-rated animation anthology, those are three things that have never been successful by themselves much less as a group.”
“If I do say so myself we had some great stories and it wasn’t just stuff from the magazine. I went to all my favorite science fiction authors and fantasy authors and comic book authors. I mean fuck, we had Brian Bendis, Steve Niles, Neal Asher, Joe Haldeman, Lucius Shepard and Marc Laidlaw.”
“It would have been an orgasmic stylistic animation experience it really would have been, but I’ll do it someday maybe it won’t be Heavy Metal because they’ve got new owners and it’s not our thing anymore, but I still think an animated anthology would be amazing.”
Speaking on a more recent episode of the CG Garage podcast, Miller mentioned some story details about Heavy Metal.
“Some of them were three minutes Jhonen Vasquez, who created Invader Zim did a really twisted take on Let’s All Go To The Lobby where the snacks kill themselves rather than perform the song one more time.”
Jhonen Vasquez posted artwork from the segment titled The Lobby on his Tumblr page and confirms he was set to do two segments in Heavy Metal. We also found two another pieces of concept art from Vasquez’s segments via Breehn Burns, it’s unclear if these were from The Lobby or his second segment.
Tim Miller also revealed that his segment along with Fincher was being put together by British science fiction author Neal Asher.
“I was personally going to do this one where I took, I love military fiction and last stands, in particular, I’m a sucker for heroes.”
“I wanted the battle of the Zulus against the British, the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in the Isandlwana, where this incredible last stand and I gave it to this British sci-fi author named Neal Asher. I said “Neal give me that battle with orcs and elves” and he wrote this fucking amazing short story called Half Breed.”
“Fincher was going to do another Neal Asher story called Bad Travelling which was a really fucked up sci-fi thing.”
Asher’s short Bad Travelling focused on a “thanapod” killing crew members on a ship at sea set on an alien world. Neal posted official concept art for Bad Travelling on his blog along with movie artwork for the two other stories of his that were going to be turned into possible segments they included Mason’s Rats and Snow In The Desert.
The Mason’s Rats segment would be a combination of his three short stories turned into one.
In Mason’s Rats I, we are introduced to Mason, a rather enigmatic character who is the proprietor and sole live employee of a huge automated farm. When his farm is invaded by mutated rats possessed of high intelligence, Mason calls in the Traptech company which sells automatic devices intended to deal with infestation problems. Unfortunately, the rats on Mason’s farm are a little TOO intelligent for the successively more vicious machines provided by Traptech, and Mason must seek a rather unconventional solution to his problem … a truce with the rats, and an accommodation which allows them to live on a certain section of his farm.
In Mason’s Rats II the farm is invaded by a group of black rat’s from neighbouring Smith’s farm, and Mason must not only manage to find a way to accommodate both his existing colony of [brown] rats and the new arrivals, but also find a way of ridding himself of the pesky salesmen who just will not stop arriving at the farm to give him advice on how to ‘solve’ his little problem…
Finally, in Mason’s Rats III, Mason is faced with the problem of a government inspector who has received reports of the large rat colonies which Mason is allowing to exist on his property and who is convinced that such a thing cannot possibly be hygienic or proper. Mason’s choice is a stark one: get rid of the rats or lose his farming license.
Asher claims Tom Cruise expressed some interest in turning Snow In The Desert into its own film.
Miller confirmed this a bit with a story on CG Garage that Tom had indeed been interested in producing Heavy Metal. Cruise taking part in of one those many pitch meetings at Blur. Tom ended up sticking around Blur with Miller for six hours after the meeting totally engrossed.
It’s hard to deny a visual similarity to Cruise’s film Oblivion or even Destiny.
In the parched, arid wastes of this far-flung Polity world, Snow is being hunted. With a prize on his head and his life in danger, trust is a luxury he can’t afford. Hirald, pale and deadly in the blistering heat, is an ambiguous presence. But who is she? What does she want from him? Mankind has sought Snow’s secret for thousands of years, and blood will flow in the desert before it’s revealed.
Half-Life co-creator Marc Laidlaw revealed some concept artwork that was created for his Heavy Metal segment 400 Boys by artist Raymond Swanland on his website.
There’s an image of Slash confronting one of the 400 Boys, and then a promotional image featuring a Galrog.
Here’s a collection of the Heavy Metal concept art that we were able to find.
Details concerning other segments are mostly unknown. Yet, we clearly saw the project spark creative ideas within the people that were involved. All you have to do is look at their next films after Heavy Metal fell apart.
Zack Snyder’s segment was written by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator and former Heavy Metal Magazine owner Kevin Eastman.
You can clearly see the major Heavy Metal influence in Zack’s genre mash-up Sucker Punch. Even if the final film didn’t turn out great the art behind it felt apart of that world. This influence returned in Man of Steel during the opening sequences on Krypton. Zack owned up to it at the Fan Event, explaining his own experience with the magazine.
“I’m a huge fan of ‘Heavy Metal,'” said Snyder in response to Kevin Smith describing how the film’s opening on Krypton looks like “an ’70s album cover.” Snyder said, “By accident, my mom gave me ‘Heavy Metal’ instead of comic books when I was young and I thought it was the most awesome thing ever.”
Guillermo del Toro would move on to attempt his version of The Hobbit only to tackle Pacific Rim instead. He told Collider, Pacific Rim’s visuals were directly inspired by the pages of Heavy Metal.
“Pacific Rim, my aspiration was, the color, the saturation of color, was almost an acid-drip version of the Heavy Metal coloring that I loved when Richard Corben was working there, when [Jean-Claude] Forest was working there. Super bright, super saturated, the crazy color and aesthetic.”
James Cameron was on board for the project as producer and possible segment director. His involvement took place before Avatar’s release. The original science fiction film would go onto to become the highest grossing film of all time. Cameron would eventually go all in with his property, signing on to direct four sequels. He ended up handing over his other film project Alita: Battle Angel to former Heavy Metal rights holder Robert Rodriguez.
Jack Black was attached to reunite with Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne for a comedic segment. Black has a deep fondness for fantasy material. We’ve seen this with his video game Brütal Legend and a bulk of his music videos. We assumed his segment would have been in the fantasy realm.
In 2014, Kevin Eastman sold Heavy Metal Magazine to Jeff Krelitz and David Boxenbaum. This new ownership likely squashed whatever plans Robert Rodriguez had for the project. The new rights holders seem optimistic about creating a film franchise when they spoke with Comic Book Resources. Yet, we haven’t heard any solid news since that interview.
“When we think of “Heavy Metal” as a film franchise now, it’s something that really needs to be both challenging and mind-blowing. It needs to be a truly visceral experience. When I walked out of “The Matrix,” it was like the whole world was different.”
“Beyond that, the way we’re looking at it is building a series of seemingly independent character movies that will intersect in the first “Heavy Metal” movie.”
“An actual “Heavy Metal” movie? Not like a branded “Heavy Metal” movie? That’s going to be several years off.”
It remains to be seen if we’ll ever see another attempt at a Heavy Metal movie. But it sounds like Tim Miller might eventually create his own original animated anthology in the future.