From Hell: Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Crusade


[This week we’ll be looking at a few movies mentioned in Tales from Development Hell by David Hughes (Titan Books). The recently released book chronicles the arduous and at times absurd development process that films go through, often leading to that unfortunate limbo known as “development hell.” Look for our spotlight on Tales from Development Hell this Friday.]

In addition to movies that never were, Tales from Development Hell looks at movies still in limbo. One is the historical epic Crusade, which would have reteamed Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film is described as “part Spartacus, part Conan the Barbarian.”

The project began during Total Recall. The director and star discussed a screenplay about the Crusades that Schwarzenegger had read. Verhoeven approached Walon Green (co-writer of The Wild Bunch) to write a film set in that time. In it, Arnold played a rogue named Hagen who winds up in the thick of battle in the Holy Land. Total Recall co-writer Gary Goldman helped rework the material. An AICN script review proclaimed it “the greatest unproduced script of the decade [90s]” and “Verhoeven’s answer to Alexander Nevsky [and] Lawrence of Arabia.”

Crusade takes a critical view of the period, particularly of Christian opportunists and Pope Urban II. Early on in the screenplay, Hagen burns a crucifix into his back to fake divine piety and escape a hanging; and the story doesn’t shy away from the anti-Arab sentiments or anti-Semitism of the crusading armies. Goldman says in the book, “It was an anti-war statement, basically saying that the Christians had no business going there.”

The film was in pre-production in 1993. Sets were partially built in Spain and the cast would have included Robert Duvall, Jennifer Connelly, John Turturro, and Christopher McDonald. The plug was pulled due to the projected $100 million budget, and eventually Carolco (the production company) went bankrupt following the release of Cutthroat Island. Verhoeven estimates a $200 million budget if he were to do it today, and probably without Arnold. David Hughes shares some thoughts after the cut.

The story of the Crusades is the murderous attack of the Christians on the Arabs and the Jews. Do you think that’s a politically interesting situation?

— Paul Verhoeven (quoted in Tales from Development Hell)

Do you think a movie like Crusade could ever be made given the budget and the current global political climate?

David Hughes: Absolutely. I was just saying in an interview [last week] that if Dwayne Johnson decided he wanted to make Crusade, he could probably get it made pretty much as written. Then as soon as I got off the phone there was a press story about Johnson making a Hercules film and I thought, “Wow, that could so easily have been an announcement about Crusade.” The budget is fixable, and if you shoot it in North Africa rather than the Middle East, I think you could circumvent a lot of the political issues — which have the convenience of being historical and therefore at a certain distance (cf. Kingdom of Heaven).

In your chapter on Isobar [a project in limbo described as “Alien on a train”] it’s mentioned that characters and thematic concerns change with the times. If Crusade were to be taken up again, how do you think the characters and story would change?

I could tell you, but as a working screenwriter you’d have to pay me for my “take”. (But see above!)

Somewhat related to the last question, is this something that you think Arnold would be interested in as part of his film comeback or is this project something for a younger actor?

Well, when Paul Verhoeven told me that Arnie was too old to play Hagen, a little piece of me died. But he was right — it needs a younger man, in his thirties ideally (even The Rock is a bit too long in the tooth fairy — I mean tooth). Chris Hemsworth could do it, but I think I would rather concentrate on finding a way to visit the parallel universe where Verhoeven and Arnie actually made it in the ’90s.


Previous tales from Hell:

Lord of the Rings starring The Beatles

Darren Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One

more tales from Hell to come…

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David Hughes is the author of Tales from Development Hell, The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made, The Complete Kubrick, and The Complete Lynch. He is also co-author of Farscape: The Illustrated Companion with Paul Simpson, and has written about film for The Guardian, Empire, GQ, and numerous publications.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.