Paul Verhoeven Sunk A Film That Could Have Changed Arnold Schwarzenegger's Career

It would've been massive. It would've been bloody. It could've been glorious. Instead, it remains unproduced.

Paul Verhoeven's "Crusade" is one of the most tantalizingly unmade films of the 1990s. If everything had gone according to plan, the $100 million-budgeted epic would've been the filmmaker's follow-up to "Basic Instinct." Written by Walon Green ("The Wild Bunch"), the film was to star Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hagen, a medieval serf who, condemned to die for an act of thievery, contrives a miracle that earns him the favor of Pope Urban II (played by Charlton Heston). Hagen is promptly hurtled into the holy war, where he is captured by Muslim soldiers. After spending time in Jerusalem, Hagen, finding the Muslims to be moderate and reasonable, throws in with his captors and goes to war against the Christians.

Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger were at the height of their industry power at this point. They were dealing with Carolco Pictures, for whom Verhoeven had made the hugely successful "Total Recall" and "Basic Instinct." The light was green. And then, in an instant, it all fell apart.

Verhoeven goes bananas

At least, this is how Schwarzenegger remembers it. In an interview with Empire, Schwarzenegger recalled his "Total Recall" director torpedoing the production during a meeting that should've been a formality. "It was all written and ready to go but then Paul started going crazy," he said. "We had the final meeting with the studio and we were all sitting at this boardroom table." The executives asked Verhoeven to guarantee that he wouldn't exceed the $100 million budget. This might sound like a reasonable request, but, for Verhoeven, it was an insult. According to Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven went ballistic:

"'There's no such thing as guarantees! Guarantees don't happen and if anyone promises you guarantees, they're lying! We don't even know that if you walk out of the building here you won't get hit by a truck. There's no guarantee that we're going to make it 'til tomorrow! I cannot have control over God — I don't even believe in God, why am I talking about God? But someone, nature, could just rain for three months and then what do we do? How can I give you a guarantee? This is ludicrous!'"

Schwarzenegger kicked Verhoeven under the table, hoping to shut him up, but the Dutch master wouldn't relent. "Crusades" died that day.

Carolco cries uncle

Carolco had been spending like a drunken sailor throughout the late '80s and early '90s, so Verhoeven's outburst wasn't entirely hubristic. They'd shelled out eight-figure paydays to Schwarzenegger on "Total Recall" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (then the most expensive film ever made). Why should Verhoeven be the one to tighten his purse strings? Especially since this was the kind of meaty, awards-courting material that might earn Schwarzenegger legitimate Oscar buzz?

Verhoeven ultimately got the last laugh when Carolco opted to make Renny Harlin's pirate adventure, "Cutthroat Island," instead of "Crusade." "They chose the pirate movie," said Verhoeven, "Which was in retrospect a terrible choice because 'Cutthroat Island' tanked completely and led to the bankruptcy of Carolco." 

If you were going to go down swinging as a studio, why wouldn't you throw every last cent at Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger? Green's script — which is not hard to find online — had the makings of a classic. It'll probably never get made today after Ridley Scott's crusade epic, "Kingdom of Heaven," tanked. If it does, it'll likely be an inert, CG-laden anti-spectacle. Carolco picked the wrong time to not be Carolco.