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Megalopolis: The Greatest Film Never Made…Until Now

Photo Credit: Francis Ford Coppola

What if I told you that the director of some of the most acclaimed films of all time, such as Apocalypse Now and The Godfather*, had spent the last 45 years dreaming up and working on a project that was once described as “so big and complicated that it seemed impossible”.  So impossible, that for 4 decades it really did seem impossible, constantly starting production before being cancelled time and time again. But now, in 2024, Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus, Megalopolis, is finally being realised.


Coppola first began conceptualising Megalopolis all the way back in 1979. He’d cited his inspiration for its conceptual inception from H.G Wells’ Things to Come and Von Harbou’s Metropolis. Envisioned as a science fiction drama epic with Roman Empire influence, it was initially set to follow a young architect who plans to rebuild New York as a grand utopia after a large disaster. For 40 years, that’s all just about anyone knew about the project. In that time, Coppola began compiling inspirations, newspaper clippings, political and philosophical readings and other assorted notes to prepare to work on the project. By 1989, he had over 400 pages worth of notes and a script in progress. Still, he didn’t know how to go about executing the project due to its scale. Thus, he continued to wait, feeling he required both practice and worldly technological advancement to create the project.


In the 1990s, Coppola’s credibility as a director had taken a harsh hit. His The Godfather: Part III had disappointed, and he began accepting director roles for mediocre film scripts to secure funding for Megalopolis, fearing no studio would want to back such a monumental project. In 2001, he’d finally finished a script and began holding table reads with actors. He would finance the project himself, gaining money from his previous film works as well as his profitable wine empire (y’know, as you do). Just as he was gearing to begin the 80-million production, disaster struck. The infamous September 11th attacks of that year were devastating to millions, including Coppola and his work. After attempts to rewrite the film, he simply couldn’t see how he could make the film he wanted without dealing with the implications of the real-world event complimenting his adjacent fictitious work. Thus, he indefinitely scrapped the project.


Coppola was quiet about Megalopolis between 2009 and 2019, with the fact he hadn’t directed a film since 2011 and that he was pushing 80 suggesting it was completely dead in the water. In that time, it garnered a reputation and was discussed in the same conversation as Jodorowsky’s Dune as one of the greatest films never made. So, imagine the surprise when in 2019 Coppola announced he’d actually spent the last 12 years rewriting it “300 times, hoping each rewrite would improve it, if only a half percent better” and was, once again in production.

And, once again I ask, remember COVID?


Sike, Coppola wasn’t having any of COVID’s inconvenience, He used that time to reach out to actors & actresses to assemble a truly sensational cast with Adam Driver, Giancarlo Esposito, Nathalie Emmanuel, Shia LeBeouf and Aubrey Plaza just to name a few. Production began in 2022 with a 120-million-dollar budget, completely self-funded as he sold off his wine empire (again, as one does). In March 2023, Coppola announced production had wrapped.


The film still lacked one key component: A distributor. A company that would market and release the film worldwide. A March screening of the film to distributors had left them feeling it was “unflinching in how crazy it is”, “confounding” and “uncommercial”. That’s right, the film was simply built too different for the distributors. Who wants to take a risk on a movie that an audience might not be able to wrap their head around? This reaction is unfortunate for the business side of Megalopolis, which is still yet to find a distributor as of writing. However, I’d argue Coppola couldn’t care less. It’s clear that his goal was to create something bold, experimental and completely original. By the sounds of it, he’s done exactly that; potentially almost too well for the film’s own good.


We got our first look at Megalopolis on May 4th, the date of Elanor Coppola’s, Francis Ford’s wife, birthday. Elanor Coppola died on April 17th of this year, having been married to Coppola for 61 years and quite literally been at his side throughout his entire career. She went with him to the depths of the Filipino jungles during a civil war to document the production of Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola stated in an Instagram caption alongside the clip that the film had always been dedicated to her as he was making it over the decades (it’s worth noting that it’s highly likely she did get to see the film before her death).


So, what does this clip tell us about this highly anticipated project? Honestly, it just leaves us with more questions. The setting is no longer New York and is now a fictitious American city named ‘New Rome’, and the protagonist, Caesar (looks like “Roman Empire influence” was putting it a bit lightly) can stop time at will. This insight into the story, combined with the display of masterful sound design and grand visuals, makes me believe we’re in for something completely unique. I honestly cannot tell you whether I think this will be a great film or not. But I can tell you it’s certainly going to be an extraordinarily ambitious one that’s worth watching in theatres.


Megalopolis is making its debut at Cannes Film Festival on the 17th of May 2024, where it is likely to be picked up for worldwide distribution and eventual release. I’m not sure if I’ll be around to write a review on it, so I’ll part with this: The very notion of this film’s existence is an immense triumph. Coppola has put quite literally everything he has into this movie (120 million dollars and 45 years of his life) and has created something not out of an expectation for a box office return, but for his ultimate creative and artistic expression. To potentially round off his career with something so large yet unapologetically original and personal and for those who have seen it to already acknowledge its sheer ambition and confound is what arguably all artists want. They want to be able to put their all into something that is unflinchingly themselves in its exploration of the world and ourselves, without any consideration of its commercial appeal.


Do what you love, don’t worry about anything else” –Francis Ford Coppola in April 2024 on advice he’d give to his younger self.



*I haven’t seen The Godfather. I don’t really plan to anytime soon.

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