Jackson’s Dambusters film effectively cancelled

Buried deep in the recently-published book Anything You can Imagine, Ian Nathan’s new doorstep-sized biography of Peter Jackson and his Tolkien-inspired film trilogies, are two tiny mentions of the projected remake of The Dambusters. The first remark occurs in a description of the director as a ‘military aviation buff’ who possesses a fine collection of antique aircraft and who ‘came close to remaking The Dambusters.’ A footnote explains that in 2008 the remake was to be directed by Christian Rivers from a script by Stephen Fry but that the ‘financing would eventually fall through’. The second mention is some 300 pages later, where Jackson is described as at one point starting to ‘develop a new version of  The Dambusters… but it failed to secure funding.’

And that’s it. It is now more than a decade since Jackson acquired the rights to remake Michael Anderson’s 1955 film. At first, he invested significant funds – commissioning a script from Stephen Fry, getting full size models of Lancaster aircraft built in China, and buying several possible props and other artifacts. These included the original wooden bomb sight used by Plt Off John Fort on the Dams Raid. I can now reveal that Jackson was the anonymous bidder who paid more than £40,000 for this when it was sold at auction in January 2015. A member of his staff attended the auction in person, taking instructions over the phone while the sale was going on.

At various times over the last ten years, Jackson has said that the Dambusters project was still going ahead. The last of these statements was issued as recently as the summer of 2016. However these positive thoughts contrast with what would seem to have been recognised as reality inside his camp well before this time.

Nathan’s book is based on many interviews with Jackson and his entourage, and his remarks would not have been published in this form without Jackson’s knowledge, even if not his specific authorisation. What is significant is Nathan’s use of the past tense on both occasions, and we can therefore assume that the Dambusters remake has, to all intents and purposes, now been cancelled.

So this is how it ends. The remake project, which started in 2005 with a big bang and loud fanfares when David Frost bought the film rights from the Brickhill family, ends with the whimper of a couple of sentences in a book about a fantasy film series. A sad day but, to misquote another film set in wartime: ‘we’ll always have Michael Anderson’s original film.’ Maybe that’s how it should be.

[Hat tip to commenter RdS who drew my attention to Ian Nathan’s book.]


25 thoughts on “Jackson’s Dambusters film effectively cancelled

  1. alan waites October 23, 2018 / 8:34 pm

    Sadly sad, was looking forward to the special effects required, however, at least Digger has been truly dead and buried.

  2. Mohne all the time October 23, 2018 / 8:55 pm

    Well now there’s a suprise… NOT… I had also heard that Mr Jackson did not go through will the exchanging of funds for the bomb sight and marbles after the auction. Having spoken to various people involved it seems that the marbles were infact not a genuine item owned or even used by Barnes.

  3. Patricia -Spafford Desmier October 23, 2018 / 9:01 pm

    A bit sad,but maybe all is as it should be.It would have been a great movie no doubt especialy to have been started earlier this year being the R.A.F.Centennial year.Maybe it will be remade some other time in the future by someone who loves our history,but in these changing times we must keep our hearts filled with our own memories of those turbulent times and be content with our memories for the years that we have left.Per Ardua Ad Astra.

  4. Nick Pointer October 23, 2018 / 9:09 pm

    Thank god for that.


    • Graham Taylor October 24, 2018 / 5:00 pm

      I quite agree

  5. kzvxrpl October 23, 2018 / 9:30 pm

    Remakes usually suck anyway

  6. Richard Winfield October 23, 2018 / 11:07 pm

    Did Stephen Fry complete the script ? I’m intrigued to know how he would treat the story with all the extra information available since the original script.

  7. Chris Bagley October 23, 2018 / 11:55 pm

    At least Digger will be laid to rest!

    • adrian smith February 26, 2023 / 3:52 pm

      Of course, he would have to be renamed to avoid offending the overly sensitive

  8. D.J. van Dolderen October 24, 2018 / 9:43 am

    The sacrifices of those then for our today seem less important than investing in fantasy films… If only I had the network and finances he has. We owe it to them for them to be remembered.

  9. Clive Smith October 24, 2018 / 11:25 am

    Why not sell the rights onto someone else then that will make it instead!

  10. Dom Howard October 24, 2018 / 11:41 am

    After all this time missing three big Anniversary’s it does not surprise me, I wonder what will happen to the Lancaster’s he had made!?! seems lot of money invested for what, Personally the original is the best yes many mistakes we all now know but at the time WOW! … And as for Digger!!!!! thank gawd that’s now buried

  11. Paul White October 24, 2018 / 9:06 pm

    Hi Charles

    Re the latest piece from your blog about the Dams film remake.

    Please see the attached photo from our local Bristol paper about an auction taking place this coming Saturday (27th) and it being held to raise funds for the film remake.

    It was sent to me by my son. I looked on Google and sure enough there is an auction at British Aerospace, see this link http://aerospacebristol.org/dambusters-evening/

    Does this mean the film might just go ahead?

    Best wishes
    Paul White

  12. Susan Joyce October 24, 2018 / 11:04 pm

    I honestly suspect that the timing of the 1/32 scale Lancaster from Wingnut Wings – a Peter Jackson company – is not a coincidence and that the film is very much on. That said, I hope he ditches the idea of remaking a classic but historically inaccurate film and starts from a different angle.

  13. Mohne all the time October 25, 2018 / 5:47 am

    Hi Paul White. Just to inform you that the auction in Bristol on Saturday is to fund a DVD being made by a local film maker and is only about the attack on the Sorpe Dam and nothing to do with the Dambusters remake..

  14. Stephen Roberts October 28, 2018 / 4:29 pm

    If the film is not to be made it would be nice if Mr Jackson could donate one of the full size replica aircraft to Scampton.

  15. Barry Baucent November 5, 2018 / 11:11 am

    I suspect the movie is still on Jackson’s “to do” list, but the funding remains the sticking point. He would likely be wanting US$200 million for production costs and getting support from the big US Studios is probably the problem. They may feel (possibly correctly) the box office income in the US would not be great as the story is not well know to start with. And no Brad Pitt or US Air force to showcase. It’s a “Brit story” and may not make the sort of profit they expect. Only in Britain are people fretting about the delay. But PJ is very interested in WW2 and this story, so it could be made one day. Those 10 full size replica are in storage in his studio complex in Wellington and may yet fly.

    • D.J. van Dolderen November 7, 2018 / 6:54 pm

      I like your optimism in the case and will keep the hopes up!

  16. archivesteph November 13, 2018 / 4:13 pm

    I’m pretty sure I saw Stephen Fry tweeting his photo from the film set for the new Dambusters film a few years ago – which suggests some footage is already in the can? I can’t have dreamt it..?

  17. Goat December 11, 2018 / 12:34 pm

    It was on the radio today that Jackson is making a new version because of the original’s censorship (due to the official secrets act). [EDITED IN ACCORDANCE WITH COMMENTS POLICY – see https://dambustersblog.com/about/%5D

    NB: Dam Busters is two words.

    • Goat December 11, 2018 / 12:47 pm

      …Well, the original film was called ‘The Dam Busters’ anyway (with the squadron’s nickname being The Dambusters).

      • charlesfoster December 11, 2018 / 12:56 pm

        Yes, you’re right that the original 1955 film was called The Dam Busters. However, all the indications are that if the Jackson project ever goes ahead, it will use the one word alternative. CF

      • Dan Wills December 11, 2018 / 1:01 pm

        There is still hope that it’ll happen – see my post above, from 29th November.

  18. Pertti Virtanen September 18, 2019 / 3:02 pm

    Why didn’t same crew make film of HMS Ulysses then when (1958?) I read from the Dust Jacket of ” South by Java Head”: “H.M.S is now being filmed by the makers of ” The Dam Busters”.

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