The original 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. Theda Bara appeared in over two dozen films but only four have survived.
It hardly helps that nitrate-based film stock (used until 1951) is notorious for its chemical instability and flammability. Also, the film stock contained enough silver to give studios a financial incentive to send "useless" old negatives and prints for rendering.
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.
The British Film Institute has compiled a list of The 75 Most Wanted lost British films. The list includes The Mountain Eagle (1926) - the only lost feature 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 director of Parsifal personally donated his copy to the BFI, so it's no longer on the list. Additionally, it's on Netflix.
In addition to The Mountain Eagle, two early Hitchcock films, Number 13 (1922; unfinished) and An Elastic Affair (1930) - both shorts - 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.
Canzo Empyrean, a bizarre movie (apparently a GI Joe fan film) involving an AIDS sex apocalypse, has received a limited release in Africa and Russia and then disappeared. Aside from trailers and info from the film's website, no complete copy of the movie has surfaced online.
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; it was available in a few other countries on video, including south of the border and in Europe), 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 Breakaway Pop Hit "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 (which is one of the most popular rides, if the lines are anything to go by), 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.
In 1953 Disney established the Buena Vista Film Distribution Company, a division of the studio that was set up to allow them to distribute their own films and shorts independent of the other major studios. However they were still contractually obligated to release one more animated film for RKO Pictures, who up until that point had distributed all of their movies. Disney was worried about Howard Hughes' somewhat chaotic leadership of RKO, and wanted to sever their ties with the studio as soon as they could. Their solution was to quickly edit together and release a package film titled Music Land (no relation to the 1935 short of the same name), which was comprised of shorts from other package films Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948). Though the shorts were the same, the film included a new intro and ending, as well as new transitions between the shorts. This was technically enough to classify the film as a new movie entirely, and it allowed Disney to complete their contract with RKO two years before the release of their next animated film Lady and the Tramp. Music Land itself has not been released in any form since 1953, and it was removed from the Disney Animated Canon entirely in 1985.
Before Music Land, there was the Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons (1937). Released into theaters to promote Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (which was coming out later that year), the movie was another package film, but this time comprised of five Academy Award-winning Silly Symphonies shorts: Flowers And Trees, Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare, Three Orphan Kittens and The Country Cousin. Like Music Land the film had a narrator and transitions between the shorts, but unlike Music Land, Academy Award Review was popular enough to be re-released into theaters in 1966, without narration and with four additional Oscar-winning shorts: The Old Mill, Ferdinand The Bull, The Ugly Duckling and Lend a Paw. Both the 1937 and 1966 cuts of the film were released on Laserdisc in Japan in 1985, the same year that the film was cut from the canon alongside Music Land. It hasn't been released since then, so keep circulating the Laserdiscs.
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.
The film remains unfinished; post production work was never completed. It's also widely rumored the original negative (which the studio, not Lewis, kept) has been lost.
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. It's been said that Welles received a copy of the original cut, but where it is right now, if it actually happened, is anybody's guess.
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 publicizing 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.
Welles' early comedy film Too Much Johnson, made even before Citizen Kane, was never even publicly screened. Given the title, this is almost for the best. However, a print was discovered in 2013.
His daughter, Beatrice Welles, is a source of these; her father's two cuts of Othello are only the most notorious examples. A Criterion Laserdisc release of the American cut was released in 1994, but quashed just as quickly. The European cut was only released on a French-subtitled tape in 1990.
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 Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. None 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.
With the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm, some have taken up hope that the original cuts may be released. Alongside hopes of a release of The Star Wars Holiday Special.
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 Turner Classic Movies's four-hour cut of it replaces a lot of the footage with still photos just to keep the story intact.
The 9 hour version was likely meant only as a workprint. The four hour length was the "director's cut." There have been rumors throughout the decades of the four hour version (or at least a longer version) still popping up, but none of those stories can be verified.
The original Wicker Man had something like twelve minutes of footage removed after an early screening. With the possible exception of the original Media-Home Entertainment release, they've never been seen since. Christopher Lee, who considers this one of his best films, is NOT happy about this. A 2001 home video release restored some of these scenes, including the original opening scene - from a clearly inferior print, but still.
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! HIGHLY FRIGGIN' ILLEGAL IN NORTH AMERICA 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).
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.
In 2014, The Criterion Collection will release a reconstructed/restored version of the original release on DVD and Blu-Ray. 3 or 4 minutes are still missing, but it is still the closest we'll get to the original.
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.
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 finally got a release in October 2012.
The Shining had an epilogue, in which police officers tell Wendy that they have been unable to locate Jack's frozen corpse. This actually played in theaters, but was cut by Kubrick a week after the film's release. It's not been seen since.
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 Emperor's 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 realized 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.
The workprint was available on YouTube...for about a day before the uploader removed it. But that was long enough for many people to get a copy.
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.
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 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 (1931), 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.
One of El Santo's many films, Santo en El Tesoro de Drácula (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.
The Thief and the Cobbler is a rather interesting example here. Richard Williams spent decades trying to make this an animated classic, yet it was screwed up by the many executives that held on to the film. The original cut was left in the shelf for decades due to Williams having to deal with other works being made. Eventually, he managed to get further work done and tried to license the film to Warner Bros. for release, but Williams couldn't finish it in time, and Disney had its ownA Thousand and One Nights story in development. As a result, WB terminated the deal and the executives forced Williams out of the project. Soon afterwards, the project suffered heavy editing and outsourcing in order for the film to be completed faster, and was released to heavy panning by animation lovers and critics across the board. This made Williams extremely devastated, leaving his career in ruins. The original, unfinished left unseen for decades until it was finally shown, half remastered, as the "Recobbled Cut", retaining most of the elements of the original print and some scenes that were never even finished.
The rumored three-hour long version of The Last House on Dead End Street.
"Underlying literary properties" (legalese for the play/book/other copyrighted material on which the movie is based) is an annoyingly common reason for films to be unavailable. If the moviemakers didn't properly secure the rights, the rights generally revert to the original "property's" author, and if the author or his or her estate doesn't want to cooperate, they can mandate that the film's distribution be limited, or completely forbidden:
The 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess is probably the most prominent title in this state of limbo.
Sometimes estates can be persuaded to cooperate. In recent years, TCM lawyers have persuaded the literary executors of Margaret Kennedy to allow general release of 1943's The Constant Nymph, and the estate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to allow release of 1933's Night Flight.
This is the real reason that The Day the Clown Cried (mentioned above) was never released. By the time filming was completed, the rights had expired. They ended up reverting to the screenwriters, who were so horrified and embarrassed by the result that they have refused to make any sort of deal that would allow the film to be released.
Cleopatra, a 1917 film, is thought of to be one of the most elaborate and expensive films ever created. Only 20 seconds of the film has been found, as it was censored by Moral Guardians and the last remaining copies were destroyed in a fire.
The 1930 Fred Astaire/Irving Berlin film Puttin' On The Ritz. Very few parts of the film remain, unfortunately, and not even in its original colour.
The first film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera was made in 1916, starring the Swedish actor Nils Olaf Chrisander and the Norwegian actress Aud Egede-Nissen. There is no evidence of the film's existence save references in other media.
The 1930 film The Cat Creeps was an adaptation of The Cat and the Canary, and the first Universal Horror movie to be filmed with sound. As with Dracula (1931), a Spanish-language version of the movie (La Voluntad del muerto) was filmed simultaneously. Both versions are lost, though snippets of The Cat Creeps appear in the 1932 Universal comedy short Boo!.
All prints of the first werewolf movie, 1913's The Werewolf, are believed to have been destroyed in a 1924 fire. The movie featured a Navajo female werewolf.
Life Without Soul (1915) is the second film adaptation of Frankenstein, and a lost film.
Nintendo did this intentionally. They bought the rights of two porn parodies of Mario, Super Hornio Brothers, Super Hornio Brothers 2, so they would never, EVER see the light of day.
There are many Superman examples going as far back as 1941 when Republic Pictures planned to make a Superman serial, to which National Periodicals (now DC Comics) refused to grant the rights. Instead, they licensed him to Paramount who worked with Max Fleischer to create the classic cartoons, while the dummy they were going to use was instead used for The Adventures Of Captain Marvel. Oh, and the screenplay? Apparently it was rewritten into a serial titled "The Mysterious Doctor Satan," featuring an original protagonist by the name of Copperhead.
But wait, there's more: in 1959, a Superman movie featuring the cast of The Adventures of Superman was in production, though that presumably ended with the death of George Reeves.
Two oft-bootlegged Superman pilots were produced in the early-sixties. One of them was known as The Adventures of Super-Pup which was an incredibly ill-concieved funny-animal version of the character, but instead of animation, they used little people in fiberglass costumes. A better idea came in the form of The Adventures of Superboy which followed our hero's days in Smallville. The timeline is a bit questionable, as shots from the origin episode of TAOS appear in the opening sequence, but the show appears to take place in 1961 or so. While not as dreadful as Super Pup, it was a little dull and wasn't picked up. Superboy would have to wait almost twenty years.
After Superman IV: The Quest for Peace came and went, Canon films reportedly hired Albert Pyun to direct a fifth Superman film with Christopher Reeve. This never materialized, and the rights reverted back to Superman I-III producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who envisioned a Superman film pitting him against Brainiac and staring either Reeve or Superboy star Gerard Christopher. Comic book writer Cary Bates wrote a screenplay, but that's as far as they got before Warner Bros got the rights back.
Speaking of Gerard Christopher, Superboy was supposed to end with the episode "The Death of Superman" ending in a cliffhanger, which would be resolved in a series of made-for-TV movies. Instead, Warner Bros put a lein on them and it was over for Superboy, while Warners proceeded with Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman.
Then came the infamous Superman Lives which went through several incarnations before making way to a reboot...
...written by J.J. Abrams and tentatively to be directed by MCG of Charlie's Angels fame. This, in turn never materialized, but Superman Returns went into production in late 2004, arriving in theaters in the summer of 2006.
The strange Jon Voight film The Legend of Simon Conjurer seems to be heading this way. It was supposedly released to a limited number of theaters in 2006 and apparently has yet to recive any release on DVD, Blu-ray, or even Netflix with a large portion of the internet population trying to find it. Considering the only footage available is a trailer, it is speculated that the whole thing was a weird hoax.