Hollywood is littered with films stuck in development hell that, for the most part, will never see the light of day. Some of these films have been set up with directors, stars, and locations but for one reason or another, they never make it in front of the cameras. One such film was set to roll in the early ‘90s that had one of the biggest directors in Paul Verhoeven and undoubtedly the biggest action movie star of the time (perhaps all-time) in Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a medieval epic that was going to bring together what Verhoeven did best – action movie mayhem – and what Arnold did even better – deliver that action movie mayhem.
The film was to be called Crusade and it was set, as the title suggests, during the Middle Ages. The script, which can actually be read here if one is curious, was written by Walon Green. The name may not be familiar to some, but one of his movies should be. Green is the author of The Wild Bunch, a gritty, violent 1969 Sam Peckinpah film showcasing the talents of screen legends William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, and Robert Ryan. The film received an R-rating (virtually unheard of in 1969) for its level of graphic (for its time) violence.
What Green delivers in his 134-page missive is classic Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger wheelhouse. You may recall, the pair worked together previously in 1990 in Verhoeven’s sci-fi hit, Total Recall, so them coming together for some violent Middle Ages action was not a surprise. The surprise, actually, was the simple fact that the film never got made.
Buoyed by the violent script and Arnold Schwarzenegger signing on the dotted line, Verhoeven went about filling in a good portion of his main cast. They would include Jennifer Connelly as the alluring princess, and Gary Sinise, who was on board as the evil Count Emmich. It was even said that screen legend, Charlton Heston, as the just-as-evil Pope Urban II. Heston, perhaps best known as Moses in The Ten Commandments, was no stranger to playing the evil religious bloke as he took on the role of Cardinal Richelieu in both 1973s The Three Musketeers and its 1974 follow-up, The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge.
The story of Crusade follows Hagen (Schwarzenegger), a thief who has been sentenced to death for the raiding of a corrupt clergyman’s goods. Hagen is jailed just as the Pope arrives looking for support for a Crusade to the Holy Land.
Hagen is able to escape the noose by staging an apparent miracle, something the Pope witnesses and wishes to use to his advantage. He then enlists Hagen to help him with Middle East domination.
Sinise’s Emmich just so happens to be Hagen’s half-brother and has no desire to see his brother succeed much less continue breathing. When they first meet in the Middle East, it doesn’t end well for Hagen, who is taken into slavery (shades of Gladiator?).
It is here that Hagen meets the lovely princess (Connelly) and instead of trying to dominate the Middle East, Hagen finds himself defending it.
So, where exactly did things go wrong for Verhoeven, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Crusade? Well, first and foremost was the budget. Verhoeven was asking Carolco, the studio in charge, for $100 million to bring his violent Crusade to the big screen. But Verhoeven would not guarantee that his film would stick to said budget.
Carolco began to get nervous. It was said that when Verhoeven was asked to guarantee his budget wouldn’t get out of control, the Danish director was said to respond with “guarantees don’t happen and if anyone promises you guarantees, they’re lying!”
His response even threw Arnold Schwarzenegger for a loop, who was said to have admitted, “you can be a little bit selective about when to be honest.”
Without any assurance from Verhoeven, Carolco’s nervousness prompted the company to back away from the film. In what would become the death blow to the studio, instead of handing $100 million (or potentially more) to Verhoeven’s Crusade, they greenlit what they thought would be a less expensive film – Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island.
For those not in the know, Cutthroat Island (which starred Harlin’s then-wife Geena Davis) was the pirate epic that eventually cost Carolco $115 million to make. It was also the pirate epic that went on to recoup a mere $10 million at the box office, causing Carolco to go bankrupt and out of business six weeks before the film was even released. It is routinely considered, along with Heaven’s Gate, as the biggest financial flop in Hollywood history. Ouch.
Crusade was dead. Or was it? There were rumors that towards the end of the ‘90s that Arnold Schwarzenegger was still trying to get the film rolling. Try as he may, it never went any further. When Verhoeven was asked about the film recently, he noted that he’d not change a thing with the script and in today’s landscape, he’d need a cool $200 million to film Crusade.
Who knows, maybe someone like Dwayne Johnson will see the script and find interest. The Rock could get the film made, even with a $200 million price tag.