Development hell, also known as development purgatory or development limbo, is media and software industry jargon for a project, concept, or idea that remains in a stage of early development for a long time because of legal, technical, or artistic challenges.[1] A work may move between many sets of artistic leadership, crews, scripts, game engines, or studios. Many projects which end up in development hell never progress into production, and are gradually abandoned by the involved parties.

Projects in development hell generally have ambitious goals, which may or may not be underestimated in the design phase, and are delayed in an attempt to meet those goals to a high degree. Production hell or production limbo refer to when a film has entered production but remains in that state for a long time without progressing to post-production.

The term can also apply generally to any project that has languished unexpectedly in its planning or construction phases, rather than being completed in a realistic amount of time, or otherwise having diverted from its original timely expected date of completion.



Film industry companies often buy the film rights to many popular novels, video games, and comic books, but it may take years for such properties to be successfully brought to the screen, and often with considerable changes to the plot, characters and general tone. This pre-production process can last for months or years. More often than not, a project trapped in this state for a prolonged period of time will be abandoned by all interested parties or cancelled outright. As Hollywood starts ten times as many projects as are released, many scripts will end up in this limbo state.[2] Less than two percent of all books which are optioned actually make it to the big screen.[3] David Hughes, the author of a book titled Tales From Development Hell, states that once producers, directors, and actors are attached to the project, they may request script rewrites, which delays production.[4]

Development hell happens most often with projects that have multiple interpretations and reflect several points of view.[5][6] Development delays can also arise when a director and the film studio have a different vision about a film's casting, plot or budget; if a star withdraws from the project; due to the "[d]eath of a cast member or a significant member of the production team";[7] strikes by writers, crew or cast;[8] "[p]roblems with rights agreements and contract disputes";[9] or if there is turnover at the studio's executive level, and the new leaders have a different vision. Film projects can also be delayed if the film's topic becomes perceived as no longer marketable.[10]

Production hell refers to when a film has entered production but remains in that state for a long time without progressing to post-production.[11]


Television series can experience development hell between seasons, resulting in a long delay from one season to the next. Screenwriter Ken Aguado states that "development hell rarely happens in series television", because writers for a television series "typically only get a few cracks at executing a pilot, and if he or she doesn't deliver, the project will be quickly abandoned."[12]

Video games

Video game development can be stalled for years, occasionally over a decade, often due to a project being moved to different production studios, multiple iterations of the game being created and abandoned, or difficulties with the development of the game software itself, such as loss of funding, overambitious scope, and poor development time management.[13] In the computer industry, vaporware is the term for a product, typically computer hardware or software, that is announced to the general public but is late or never actually manufactured nor officially cancelled.


A number of popular audio series are dedicated to discussing the topic of unmade creative projects, including Development Hell, a Dread Central podcast which uncovers notable cancelled horror films.[14]


The concept artist and illustrator Sylvain Despretz has suggested that, "Development hell doesn't happen with no-name directors. It happens only with famous directors that a studio doesn't dare break up with. And that's how you end up for two years just, you know, polishing a turd. Until, finally, somebody walks away, at great cost."[15]

With video games, slow progress and a lack of funds may lead developers to focus their resources elsewhere. Occasionally, completed portions of a game fail to meet expectations, with developers subsequently choosing to abandon the project rather than start from scratch. The commercial failure of a released game may also result in any prospective sequels being delayed or cancelled.[16]

Turnaround deals

If a film is in development but never receives the necessary production funds, another studio may execute a turnaround deal and successfully produce the film. For example, Columbia Pictures stopped production of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Universal Pictures then picked up the film and made it a success. When a studio completely abandons a film project, the costs are written off as part of the studio's overhead, thereby reducing taxable income.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Doyle, Barbara Freedman (2012). Make Your Movie: What You Need to Know About the Business and Politics of Filmmaking. Waltham, Massachusetts: Focal Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-240-82155-9. Archived from the original on March 27, 2023. Retrieved March 14, 2023.
  2. ^ Spillman, Susan (January 16, 1991). "Cover Story: Writers Paid for Movies Never Made". USA Today. McLean, Virginia. p. D1.
  3. ^ Kean, Danuta (April 15, 2007). "No room at the Oscars: The cinemas are full of turkeys yet that brilliant novel you read three years ago has never been made into a film". The Independent on Sunday. p. 1. Available via ProQuest.
  4. ^ Hughes, David (2012). Tales From Development Hell (New Updated Edition): The Greatest Movies Never Made?. Titan Books.
  5. ^ Mitchell, Kerrie (February 2005). "Dept. of Development Hell". Premiere. Vol. 18, no. 5. New York. p. 40.
  6. ^ Warren, Patricia Nell (April 2008). "Books Into Movies: Part 2 (Best Selling Novel The Front Runner has Spent Over 25 Years in Development Hell)". Lambda Book Report. Vol. 8, no. 9. Washington. p. 9.
  7. ^ "How Long Does It Take To Make A Movie? Everything You Need To Know". National Film Institute. February 16, 2022. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  8. ^ "How Long Does It Take To Make A Movie? Everything You Need To Know". National Film Institute. February 16, 2022. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  9. ^ "How Long Does It Take To Make A Movie? Everything You Need To Know". National Film Institute. February 16, 2022. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  10. ^ Jensen, Jeff; Svetkey, Benjamin (September 24, 2001). "Hollywood reacts to the crisis". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on March 14, 2023. Retrieved March 13, 2023.
  11. ^ "'The New Mutants' Director Josh Boone Says The Film Never Had Reshoots". Atom Insider. March 9, 2020. Archived from the original on July 14, 2021. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
  12. ^ Aguado, Ken (June 21, 2021). "Principles of Hollywood Development". Pipeline Artists. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  13. ^ LeBlanc, Wesley. "Video Games Stuck In Development Hell: Part 2". Game Informer. Archived from the original on November 6, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  14. ^ Chernov, Matthew (October 26, 2021). "12 Horror Movie Podcasts to Make You Scream". Variety. Archived from the original on January 24, 2023. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  15. ^ Schnepp, Jon (director) (2015). The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? (Documentary). Event occurs at 1:27:52.
  16. ^ Johnson, Leif (May 10, 2016). "The 13 Biggest Video Games That Never Came Out". IGN. Archived from the original on April 27, 2021. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  17. ^ McDonald, Paul; Wasko, Janet (December 13, 2007). Hollywood Film Industry. Hoboken, New Jersey: Blackwell Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-4051-3388-3.