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  • The orginal roadshow print of Fantasia is long lost; the best attempt to restore it not only omits an offending image of a black centaur in one segment, it also uses Corey Burton's voice to dub that of Deems Taylor because the original audio was greatly deteriorated to the point of becoming irretrievable.
  • Many, many old silent and early sound films (including those of superstars like Theda Bara and Clara Bow) are now considered lost (partially or completely), simply because -- in an era well prior to rebroadcast opportunities like TV or home video -- it didn't make financial sense for the studios to care about keeping them around. The prints that do remain are usually those that were preserved in private collections.
    • It hardly helps that nitrate-based film stock (used until 1951) is notorious for its chemical instability and flammability.
      • And that the way many of the films were copied for distribution - with an optical printer - means that each pass to create a new copy actually destroyed the original negatives somewhat. That's why a lot of the movies from this period (if they're not just impossible to find) are pretty bad copies. You could only get about a thousand copies out of one set of original negatives.
    • Some of the early Academy Award winners and nominees are missing. Including a best picture nominee (The Patriot), and a best actor winning performance (The Way of All Flesh). One of the first best picture nominees, The Racket, was also missing for years...and when it was found, it sadly turned out to be just a standard gangster film.
  • Two of Alfred Hitchcock's early films, Number 13 (1922; unfinished) and The Mountain Eagle (1926), are lost. But on the bright side, the first half of a lost 1923 Hitchcock melodrama, The White Shadow, was discovered in the New Zealand Film Archives. The second half of the film remains lost.
  • In a rarer example of a deliberately missing movie, the Disney film Song of the South is more or less impossible to see through legal channels (at least in the US; there was an official PAL VHS), as Disney fears the wrath of those who might have reasonable objections to a film full of friendly, happy sharecroppers in the Deep South during Reconstruction. These days, it's largely remembered only because it produced the song "Zip-a-dee Doo-dah."
    • By how often "Zip-a-dee Doo-dah" is used in modern Disney canon, it seems like a lot of people inside Disney want to finally just release the film and get it over with. The film is the source of the Splash Mountain ride at various Disney park, leaving many younger riders confused on what the hell the ride is based on (Plus, the Brer Rabbit part of the film is quite good).
    • Back when they actually aired Walt Disney cartoons on the Disney Channel, the Brer Rabbit segments would occasionally be aired by themselves, usually to fill time between a movie and a regular show. Thanks to some clever editing they came off as stand-alone cartoons and not parts of a larger film.
  • Yet another "lost movie": the infamous 1994 Roger Corman produced The Fantastic Four. The story began when Constantin Film optioned the rights to make a Fantastic Four feature film with a planned budget of $40 million. Unfortunately they couldn't raise the money on time and the option was about to expire so they brought Corman on board who reduced the budget to $1.5 million and made it within a one month shooting schedule which should give you a good estimate to its quality. From that point onward, accounts differ. According to Stan Lee, Constantin Film never planned to release the movie and made it only to keep the rights and basically blackmail Marvel into giving them a substantial sum in exchange for the movie never seeing the light of day (depending on the legend, Marvel either locked the movie in a vault or had Avi Arad himself burn the negatives), whereas Roger Corman claims one of the other producers managed to raise the intended money, bought the distribution rights from Corman via a clause in his contract and simply chose not to release it. 9 years later, Constantin Film produced the now well known 2005 Fantastic Four and the rest is history. These days, one of the few ways you can see the movie is via bootleg copies sold at comic book conventions.
  • The Beatles documentary Let It Be was last legally released in 1991 (laserdisc and VHS). Odds are, it will never be legally released again in its original form, and we've no idea if it'll ever be legally released again in any form. (There is dissonance between what viewers will expect to see and what Apple Corps wants to show.)
  • Jerry Lewis' The Day the Clown Cried, about a clown who insults Hitler and ends up a Pied Piper to the children of a Jewish concentration camp. People are split on if keeping it suppressed is a good thing or not. Apart from the question of good taste, the project's legal ownership is disputed.
  • Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which retells Karen's life story using Barbie dolls, was forced out of circulation by Richard Carpenter and all prints were ordered destroyed. It's readily available over the Internet, however, and a 16mm print was screened at Bard College (the alma mater of the film's director, Todd Haynes) as recently as 2011.
  • The "Gay Jesus" film HIM (actually about a man who has sexual fantasies about Jesus), is sometimes thought to be mythical. Evidence for the film's existence (in the form of contemporary newspaper and magazine clippings) has been collected to show that the film at least did exist, but if any prints have survived, their location is unknown, and they're not in public circulation.
  • The original cut of Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, as well as the hour or so raw footage that was excised for the final release, is lost forever - and we do mean forever; the excised footage was rended for the silver nitrate.
    • Also from Welles' filmography is The Chimes At Midnight (also called Falstaff), a 1965 adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry IV" plays focusing on the character of Sir John Falstaff. The film was little-seen on release, and for many years, the only way to obtain a DVD in English-language markets was to import from such countries as Spain or Brazil (the Brazilian version received a boost in popularity thanks to Roger Ebert publicising its availability in a "Great Movies" column on the film). A British DVD release finally hit retailers in late February 2011.
    • And again, Orson Welles' The Other Side Of The Wind, one of his last projects, starring John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich; supposedly "96% complete" but gathering dust in a vault for decades due to legal squabbles.
  • Four of the Charlie Chan movies from the 1930s, Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan's Chance, Charlie Chan's Greatest Case, and Charlie Chan's Courage, are lost (though Charlie Chan Carries On survives in a Spanish-language version, Eran Trece).
  • The last known copy of Tod Browning's London After Midnight was destroyed (along with hundreds of other silent films) in 1967 when the vault it was stored in caught fire.
  • The original theatrical cuts for Star Wars films A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Neither of those cuts appeared on the VHS releases or even the 2006 limited edition DVDs (which did feature versions of the original theatrical presentations, not the original cuts themselves), due to (according to George Lucas) the original negatives being deteriorated and destroyed. Part of this is supposedly due to Lucas having Old Shame over the fact that there were several elements of the films that weren't as good as he hoped (including effects and specific scenes) - he considers the altered versions his "true" vision. However, the American Film Institute and U.S. Library of Congress both purportedly hold prints of the original theatrical versions, so it's anyone's guess whether they will be released a long, long time from now.
  • Errol Flynn spent $500,000 of his own money to produce his comeback feature William Tell. Most of the money went to building an Alpine resort set, and he only had enough money left to shoot 30 minutes of film. He screened the footage at the Venice Film Festival, but bouts with dysentery and diarrhea kept him from meeting with investors for any meaningful lengths of time. Desperate, he staged a fake paralysis from a fall in his hotel room, hoping to secure a large insurance settlement. When this failed, he abandoned the project and spent the rest of his career playing drunks before dying of heart failure at the age of 50. None of the film's footage has been found, and the only evidence of the film remaining is the Alpine resort set, which is now a popular tourist attraction.
  • The original cut of the silent film Greed was 9 hours long. Most of that footage has been lost, and even TCM's 4 hour cut of it replaces a lot of the footage with still photos just to keep the story intact.
  • The original Wicker Man had something like twelve minutes of footage removed after an early screening. They've never been seen since. Christopher Lee, who considers this one of his best films, is NOT happy about this.
  • Subverted for Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis when a big chunk of footage previously thought forever lost was located in 2007 in film archives in Argentina and New Zealand. With the newly discovered footage, nearly 97% of the original 2 1/2 hour epic has been recovered.
  • This is a common occurrence in VCR-era porn (late 1970s - through early 1990s), where entire film series would simply fade away due to lack of interest and the cash-grab tendencies of many producers. Another common cause of vanishing porn titles is the discovery of an underage performer, in which case every copy of the film in question is found and destroyed or erased as child porn. Traci Lords is an infamous case of this (though several[1] bootlegs of her latter "work" are available via European copies, from countries where the A.O.C. for porn is 17 instead of 18), to the point where the only surviving early work of hers available in the United States where she wasn't Unpersoned from the work due to her age at the time is Traci, I Love You (which she made after her 18th birthday).
  • Stanley Kubrick's first feature, Fear and Desire, a shoestring production funded by donations from Kubrick's family and friends. Paul Mazursky, who himself went on to a successful directing career, played a leading role. Kubrick was embarrassed by it, so he bought up as many copies as he could and discouraged screenings of the movie while he was alive. It still isn't available on (legitimate) video.
  • Good luck finding a copy of Day Of The Tiger, the ultra violent early 80s kung-fu film. After the audience reaction (disgust and horror) to its limited screening, the original distributor attempted to destroy all copies of the film to appease their theaters, and it's unclear if they succeeded or not. Most of the time, you'll just find small clips mistaken for parts of "The Story of Ricky". Its sequel, at least, can be found in torrents.
  • It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was edited down from its original 3 1/2 hour length for worldwide distribution following its original release, and the cut footage was discarded and believed lost for years. Thanks to a batch of the discarded footage being found in a condemned warehouse and the efforts of Stanley Kramer, 20 minutes of footage were re-edited back into the film for the VHS release. The film's first DVD release (in a white cover and now out-of-print) has the footage on Side B. The second release (in a blue cover) does not have this footage.
  • Humor Risk (also called Humorisk), the 1921 silent film which was the Marx Brothers' real screen debut. Groucho so disliked the result of their first venture on the screen that he bought and destroyed all copies of the film and its negatives. It would take 8 years (and the invention of talkies) before the Brothers returned to the movies.
  • Not one, but two Japanese adaptations of King Kong:
    • The 1938 film King Kong Appears in Edo (featuring an unauthorized use of RKO's Kong character) appears to have been one of the first, if not the first, Japanese Kaiju films. Never shown outside of its original theatrical run in Japan, all prints of the film appear to have been lost during World War II or the postwar occupation. All that remains are movie posters (incorporating stills from the film).
    • Wasei Kingu Kongu, a silent short, is supposedly lost for similar reasons. Stills remain of this one too.
  • The deleted footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey was seen as this for several decades. Prior to the film's release, nineteen minutes of footage (including a much longer opening sequence, shots from the "Dawn of Man" scene, and several other scenes) were cut from the print at Stanley Kubrick's request. For years afterward, the prevailing notion was that the deleted footage (much like footage cut from Kubrick's other films) was destroyed - this was due to the fact that Kubrick was wildly fanatical about making sure that no one ever saw the material he didn't use for his films (as it compromised his vision), to the point that 2001s original Discovery model was destroyed after filming completed. In 2010 (the actual year, not the sequel), though, seventeen of the nineteen minutes of cut footage were discovered in a Kansas salt mine (the low temperature and humidity of salt mines make them ideal for film preservation), and will eventually be included on an upcoming Blu-Ray release.
  • The original version of the 2003 Disney documentary The Sweatbox, which is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the music for The Emperors New Groove. The process of scoring the film's soundtrack (composed by Sting) was held in a cramped sound stage that was nicknamed "The Sweatbox", but grew in nature to encompass the state of the film's troubled production. The doc (directed by Sting's wife Trudi) chronicled the change during the production from its original title Kingdom of the Sun to the final product, and the filmmakers' growing horror when they released the original version was terrible. The documentary was screened for a limited time at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2002 in order to qualify for consideration for the Academy Awards, but it has been barred from release (perhaps indefinitely) by Disney.
  • Catch My Soul, a musical version of Othello starring Richie Havens and directed by Patrick "Number Six" McGoohan was released in the early 1970s to terrible reviews (not helped by, according to legend, one of the producers "finding God" and adding fifteen minutes of religious imagery much to McGoohan's chagrin). It was retitled Santa Fe Satan before disappearing completely. The soundtrack can often be found for sale on Ebay, though.
  • Prior to Birth of a Nation, Charles Giblyn's 1913 The Battle of Gettysburg was the longest and most expensive movie about The American Civil War. Today, it appears to be a lost film.
    • Birth of a Nation itself had a sequel, The Fall of a Nation, which flopped upon release and is now considered lost.
  • The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a horror movie that had an incredibly limited run in theaters, and the director refuses to release it in public in any way (it doesn't help that the studio that financed it is only just recovering from its recent bankruptcy). The only way to find it these days is through pirated copies online.
  • The 3D versions of Top Banana and Southwest Passage, as well as the uncut version of the former.
  • The 1937 adaptation of Lost Horizon had a running time of 132 minutes in its first release. When restored in 1973, only 125 minutes of film could be found, but they did have the entire soundtrack. The restored version shows publicity photos and stills in place of the missing film elements.
  • Dracula, in its original release, had an epilogue in which Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing) addressed the audience. The epilogue starts out sounding like a reassuring This Is a Work of Fiction message, until at the last moment he subverts it with "There really are such things as vampires!" The epilogue was cut from the 1936 re-release due to fears of offending religious groups by endorsing the supernatural, and is now lost.
  • The full cut of The Breakfast Club is over 2 1/2 hours long and includes scenes such as Carl predicting where the five kids will be in 30 years (Bender will have killed himself, Claire will have had "2 boob jobs and a face lift," Brian will have become very successful but die of a heart attack due to the stress of the high paying job. Allison will be a great poet but no one will care, and Andrew will marry a gorgeous airline stewardess who will become fat after having kids), Brian stopping Bender after Bender's demonstration of "Life at Big Bri's house" and correcting him with a much more pessimistic version of the skit, and Allison writing with her toes, as claimed in the "talents" discussion. The negatives were destroyed years ago, but John Hughes still had the only existing complete cut on a VHS tape at his house, which he would occasionally screen. Its whereabouts following his death are unknown.
  • One of El Santo's many films, Santo En El Tesoro De Dracula (Santo in Dracula's Treasure) (1968), had an alternate version entitled El Vampiro y el Sexo ("The Vampire and the Sex"). Additional scenes featured nude or topless vampire seductresses (fortunately or unfortunately, the heroic luchador himself did not engage in any sexual activity.) This version of the film, intended for more liberal audiences outside Mexico, apparently had a limited release (newspaper ads exist for showings in New York-area Spanish language theaters), then disappeared, but stills of nude vampire ladies from the "sexy" version provided evidence of its existence. It was finally discovered by the producer's grand-niece and publicly screened in Guadalajara in July 2011.
  • Black the Ripper, a 1975 Blaxploitation horror movie from the writer of Blackenstein, was announced in Variety and had a reported cast. It's unclear whether the movie was ever, in fact, made... but if it was, it's lost now.
  • Apocalypse Now had a 289-minute bootleg workprint that was leaked sometime in the early 80's on a set of six Betamax tapes. The print, which had almost every scrap of footage that had been shot for the film up to that point (including alternate scenes and a ten-minute opening sequence, among many other extended sequences) was duplicated endlessly over the years, and now exists only as nth-generation copies (copied from DVD, which was in turn copied from VHS and from the original Betamax). It's telling that even the "Complete Dossier" DVD and Blu-Ray sets have a set of workprint clips sourced from the same grainy, muddled, washed-out pirated copies - proof that the original workprint is lost permanently.
  • The British Film Institute has compiled a list of The 75 Most Wanted lost British films. The list includes The Mountain Eagle - the only lost film of Alfred Hitchcock. Also included in the list are the films that served as the screen debuts for legendary actors John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, Errol Flynn and Patricia Kirkwood and an early film role of Ian McKellan. The list also stretches well into the late-20th century and the most recent film on the list is the 1983 farce Where Is Parsifal? starring Peter Lawford (in his final film role), Orson Welles and Tony Curtis.
  • The rumored three-hour long version of The Last House on Dead End Street.
  • Subverted with a rumoured 210-minute version of the infamous 1979 Caligula by Tinto Brass. For years it was reported that an extended version had been showed at a private screening in Cannes in 1980, which ran nearly an hour longer than the uncut version of the film, and that this print had remained unreleased to the public. It was sought after for years without success, only for it to be recently revealed that it had never existed at all: the private screening had actually consisted of the 156 minute feature film plus an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary, which was misreported as being one single film.

Notes

  1. HIGHLY FRIGGIN' ILLEGAL IN NORTH AMERICA
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