It’s been more than a decade, but the movie based on classic ‘80s action/comedy TV show The A-Team finally looks like it’ll happen.
We’ve seemingly been through more script drafts than episodes of the original show and a wide variety of dream and (occasionally solid) casting choices have come and gone.
So with more casting rumours swirling, we thought we’d take a look back at the long, tough road through development hell these soldiers of fortune have taken so far…
1. “In 1972…”
While the actual A-Team’s story starts during the Vietnam War – where the titular group of Special Forces soldiers were framed for a robbery in Hanoi that was carried out under orders and thrown in a military slammer – the show itself launched in January 1983.
The brain-spawn of writer/producers Stephen J Cannell and Frank Lupo, the killer concept for the show was the group of former soldiers who, having escaped from a maximum-security prison, were mercenaries.
But these were no ordinary, gun-running/body guarding/deadly deed-doing mercenaries, oh, no: this lot were on the side of the good guys.
Yes, the eclectic group – leader Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (George Peppard), strong man Sergeant BA “Bad Attitude” Baracus (Mr T), smooth talking fixer Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Dirk Benedict) and pilot/crazed loon Captain HM “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock (Dwight Schultz) – travelled together in their iconic van helping people out.
The episodes usually ran to a pattern – someone would track down the team, ask for assistance (against, say a crooked landowner looking to throw them off their property) and Hannibal & co would cook up schemes to stop the baddies.
They’d inevitably get captured and were usually locked in some sort of garage or shed, where they’d construct a tank/cannons/some other sort of weapon out of spare parts.
Then, they’d burst out, shoot everything in site (but not really kill anyone) and save the day. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Admittedly, it wasn’t always quite that simple, but that’s the basic concept for the show. There were also secondary characters, such as Colonel Decker (Lance Gault), who hunted the team during the third and fourth seasons, intending to return them to jail.
Despite network concerns that it wouldn’t be popular, the show became a huge hit and lasted for five seasons between 1983 and 1987, pumping out 98 episodes along the way.
Naturally, since Hollywood loves turning recognizable old properties into movies, a film version was somehow inevitable. But it would take a while…
Initial rights holders Universal first floated the idea of an A-Team film a mere nine years after the show went off the air.
It was early days, but the studio seemed convinced it had a winner on its hands.
With original producer Cannell on hand to guide the early development, Variety reported that the studio had hired Under Siege 2 co-writer Richard Hatem to bash out the first draft of a script for what Cannell says will be “on par with any other major action release.”
But hopefully better than Under Siege 2, right?
And just who was being considered for Hannibal at the time? Only one of the biggest movie stars going – Mel Gibson.
Plus, because no genre project with a history can be announced without nods to former cast members-turned-icons, the studio later said it wanted Mr T, Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict to have cameos.
Over the years, this fan-baiting mention of cameos has never quite gone away, though it remains to be seen if any of the remaining original cast actually sign up.
But despite Universal’s enthusiasm, nothing every seemed to really come of the studio’s work on the film, and it slipped into development hell…
Until the year 2000, that is.
Into The Fox Hole
Yes, as the world breathed a sigh of relief that every computer hadn’t suddenly stopped working or decided to do a Skynet and attempt to destroy humanity with the dawn of Y2K, the A-Team film was slumbering deeply in the vaults of turnaround.
But in August of 2000, Top Cow productions (the movie arm of the comic book company) saw their chance and snagged the rights, selling them to Fox 2000. And with Charlie’s Angels hitting it big, it seems only natural that the team would be back in focus.
"The A-Team will be a live-action feature. It will be totally re-imagined, with a contemporary feel,” Top Cow’s Spike Seldin told Variety. “It will likely have substantially younger characters than its forerunner."
"It'll be a big-budget movie," he says. "A lot like what they did with Mission: Impossible and Charlie's Angels, we're going to do with this."
The Universal script drafts were jettisoned and the film (with Cannell still aboard) began a new with Kevin Brodbin (The Glimmer Man) the latest writer shoved into the pit to attempt an adaptation.
One element didn’t vanish completely, though – Gibson was still apparently the top choice for Hannibal, per an announcement in 2001.
He was joined by some new rumoured cast mates, with Brendan Fraser (above) touted as Face, Taye Diggs as BA and Owen Wilson apparently ready to sign on as Murdock.
It sounded like a dream team. But it never quite came together.
The next few years would be relatively quiet in terms of actual news, but that didn’t stop Fox and Cannell plugging away.
The Los Angeles Underground
The mid 2000s were a quiet time for the team, as Cannell and Fox plugged away at various script drafts across the years.
Casting rumours came and went – Jim Carrey would play Murdock, Christian Bale would be Face (actually, we still wouldn’t mind him taking this on, if only so he actually smiles again in a film), Gibson locked in as Hannibal and Ving Rhames touted as the new BA.
In 2004, Cannell floated the idea again, this time with an added cameo name-drop. "Mr. T and I had lunch last week, and I'd really like to have him in the movie, although we haven't begun casting. I always think it's nice to see the stars of the old show in cameo roles in the movie. But obviously he won't be playing BA Baracus.”
And in 2006, the producer announced that the movie was going through yet another script fluctuation, with GoldenEye’s Bruce Feirstein ditched from writing duties.
"We were working on a script for a few years but I didn't like it so it's been thrown out," he said. "We've gone through a lot of scripts that we haven't been happy with for one reason or another.
“We had one script writer who had never even watched the show! The studio was adamant about employing him but he just took the title and began to write anything he wanted, completely departing from the original show. The studio didn't like it and neither did I.”
Oh, and Bosnia was now being thrown around as the likely background for the fighting team.
Everything seemed to be shifting: around this time, Bruce Willis (above) was considered a likely choice also an apparent possibility for Hannibal, and that has continued until recently.
Back In Action?
And so we come to what we’ll call the modern age of A-Team film development.
In December 2007, Fox announced that John Singleton was the man entrusted with bringing the film to the screen.
There were worries at the time that the writers/actors strike would get in the way (it did) so the original plan was for Singleton to get the movie made in time for a June 2009 opening.
Scriptwriter Jayson Rothwell (Blessed) was the latest name attached to the script, but after Singleton was officially signed, it went through yet more hands, with Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (who wrote both 3:10 To Yuma and Wanted) now taking up the challenge.
Singleton at first announced that he wanted Woody Harrelson to take on the role of Murdock. ““I don’t know who is in the cast yet,” he told Collider
“But I do know that the only person I want right now is, that I really, really want is Woody Harrelson to play Murdock – the guy who is crazy but he’s kind of real smart, a jack of all trades.”
And Singleton explained his vision for the film: “It’s not a comic movie farce like Starsky and Hutch, it’s kind of in the tradition of the '80s action pictures, the man’s movies like Die Hard, Predator, Commando, or even Lethal Weapon – more so than anything else. The action is very serious, but there is humour.”
It all seemed to be going so well. And then…
Blame it on timing. Blame it on scripts (which have been the projects’ Achilles heel from the start). Blame it on whatever you want, but in October 2008, Fox announced that John Singleton had left the project.
Despite having worked on numerous drafts with Brandt and Haas (who wrote 2Fast 2 Furious with him), Singleton just didn’t seem to ever get to a place the studio was happy with.
Development suddenly switched back to iceberg speed and Fox announced that the 2009 release date was impossible to meet.
The A-Team would now arrive in 2010. Probably.
But then a new hope arrived. Yes, another one…
In January this year, things finally did seem to be coming together – though you’ll excuse us if we don’t believe it until someone calls action and the cameras start rolling.
But Fox, desperate to patch up work on the film and meet that 2010 deadline, moved quickly to find a replacement director.
What they actually got was a whole team, comprised of unexpected players.
With Stephen Cannell clinging on for dear life as one of the producers, Ridley and Tony Scott stepped up to help out, with Scott Free productions backing the project.
"Tony and I feel that marrying this Scott Free project with Joe’s sensibility will result in a fast-paced, exciting franchise, one we hope will be around for years to come," Sir Rid told Variety.
And just who would swing the megaphone? Narc/Smokin’ Aces director Joe Carnahan.
"This was a coveted property, and reimagining a show that I remembered as a kid was tough to turn down," Carnahan told the trade mag. "Fox hired me to make it as emotional, real and accessible as possible without cheesing it up.”
According to the new director, the plan is to switch the team’s back-story to soldiers in the first Gulf War, which will allow for younger thesps and more relevance, apparently.
"You can make a film that reflects on the real world without losing the great sense of fun and the velocity of action in a classic summer popcorn film.”
Oh, and the script’s been through yet more changes. X-Men Origins: Wolverine contributor Skip Woods wrote a draft, but Carnahan and Smokin’ Aces actor Brian Bloom have since polished it.
And, with a director in place, the cast could once more start to assemble. Hopefully this time, the choices will stick…
We Love It When A Cast Comes Together
Carnahan may not have, at press time, selected a BA Baracus (more on the many possible BA actors in the next section), but it looks like he’s actually close to gathering a proper cast.
First up – and the subject of a web controversy when he seemed to leak his involvement, retracted it and then got confirmed – The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper.
Speaking to IESB off the cuff, Cooper put his foot in it when asked about rumours of him joining the Team pic. “That’s out already?” It was swiftly denied, but things moved even quicker in the other direction once The Hangover was a huge hit.
Mere hours after the film won the US box office on its opening weekend, The Hollywood Reporter had it that Cooper was locked in to play Templeton “Face” Peck, the smooth dealing charmer who acquires whatever the team needs – from cars to cruise ships. And he’s a hit with the ladies, too.
Plus every team needs a leader, and it looks like Carnahan has found one – Liam Neeson.
Fresh from demonstrating he can kick arse with the best of them in Taken, Neeson has been in talks to play John “Hannibal” Smith. We’re hopeful he’ll bring charm and gravitas to the part once played by George Peppard.
There’s still Murdock to track down (though Star Trek's Chris Pine told totalfilm.com during that film's junket that he'd love to take part in any of the roles), not to mention BA. And, like the rest of his colleagues, finding the right BA has proved extremely tough.
Which brings us, finally, to…
The Many Faces Of BA
BA “Bad Attitude” Baracus, of course, got his start with gold chain-adorned performer Mr T.
While T has said over the years that he’d be tempted to return to the role, most producers and directors have said that if he crops up at all, it’ll be in a cameo.
So who could play BA? We’ve already mentioned Ving Rhames (and Michael Clarke Duncan was rumoured at one point too), but several other men have thrown their hats (or should that be Mohawks?) into the ring.
First up, Ice Cube. The rapper-turned actor expressed a serious desire to snatch the role when John Singleton was attached. “Man, I am so ready to play ‘Baracus. I was a big, big Mr. T fan. I mean, c’mon, Clubber Lang (in Rocky III) was amazing. I even watched his Saturday morning show, but that was cheesy.
I was like everybody else, I watched it for about six weeks and said, ‘Man this isn’t any good.’ But the A-Team, I would love for this to happen.”
Of course, he had to wait out the various strikes. "Everything is in limbo. I really want it to happen and it’s the thing we’ve been talking about lately, the thing on the other side of the strike or no-strike.
“I think it could be great. I always look at how they did Mission: Impossible and even how they upgraded Batman from what it was not that long ago. The key is the story and the director.”
Sadly for Cube, Singleton passed and he hasn’t had much input since. But he could still be considered – hell, he even volunteered to wear a Mohawk…
Up next, Tyrese Gibson (above), who was also a Singleton alum. He looked to be a solid lock for the project (at least according to him), and told CHUD he’d been hitting the weight room to be ready. That, and learning double Dutch… There’s no word on whether he might actually make the final cut, but he’s not a bad choice given Bradley Cooper’s casting.
Hot on the heels of Terminator Salvation, Common also expressed an interest… "Yeah that would be something cool, but, I mean, let's see, I can't speak on it yet until we know what's going on but that would be an incredible character to play," he told IESB about rumours he might take the role.
He just wasn’t so sure about loading up on gold chains. "It's a new day, you just got to give it something new. The kids don't know that B.A. so you wanna bring something new to it and you want to pay respect to B.A. and the way B.A, was created too.
“I believe there is a way to find a combination, I have certain similarities to Mr. T already. We are both from Chicago, we are both rebels in our own way. I could really get that, I could really get that."
And finally, the latest contender – The Game. What is it with rappers-turned-actors vying for the part? Must be the bling…
Joe Carnahan plans to start shooting in August – let’s hope the Carnahan Curse (two films are already lodged in development hell) doesn’t strike again and we finally get this thing on screen…
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