Everything We Know About Scorsese’s Unmade Sinatra Biopic


Frank Sinatra could have gotten his own biopic directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, but the project never got off the ground.

Martin Scorsese has made a ton of biopics over the course of his storied filmmaking career. He’s arguably just as closely tied to the biopic genre as he is to gangster movies. He’s used the art of cinema to tell the life stories of boxer Jake LaMotta, mob informant Henry Hill, financial criminal Jordan Belfort, inventor Howard Hughes, and even his lord and savior Jesus Christ.

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But there’s one individual’s life story that Scorsese has always wanted to tell on the big screen that he never got the chance to: Frank Sinatra. Inspired by the fact that the iconic crooner singlehandedly changed the public image of Italian-Americans, Scorsese wanted to tell Sinatra’s story, but eventually scrapped the project in 2017 after years of development. Here’s what we know about the unproduced project.

9 There Had Been A Ton Of Previous Attempts At Sinatra Biopics

None but the Brave - Frank Sinatra


Long before Martin Scorsese decided to try to mount a Frank Sinatra biopic, there were a bunch of previous attempts to bring the singer’s life to the screen.

However, Scorsese’s attempt was going to be the first “official” Sinatra biopic, as he was the only filmmaker who wanted to portray the star’s life who actually involved the Sinatra estate in the development of the project – which, ironically, ended up becoming its downfall.

8 The Title Was Simply Sinatra

Throughout the eight-year development of Scorsese’s cinematic chronicle of Frank Sinatra’s life, the project went under the title Sinatra, which aptly describes what it is.

Scorsese doesn’t usually name his biopics after their subjects, tending to instead go for their nicknames like Raging Bull and The Wolf of Wall Street.

7 Al Pacino And Robert De Niro Were Rumored To Play Frank Sinatra And Dean Martin

When Sinatra was in active development, it was rumored that Scorsese was eyeing Al Pacino for the title role and Robert De Niro for the supporting role of Dean Martin. He would eventually pair up the actors for The Irishman on Netflix. The director also reportedly considered John Travolta for Sinatra and Tom Hanks for Martin, while later rumors suggested Chris Pine for Sinatra and Michael Bublé for Martin.

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Pacino’s performance as union boss Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman ended up being the first time that he and Scorsese worked together, although they’d been looking for the right project to do together for years.

6 Scripts Were Written By Billy Ray And Phil Alden Robinson

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Separate scripts for Scorsese’s Sinatra biopic, neither of which were approved by the Sinatra estate, were written by Billy Ray and Phil Alden Robinson. Ray is the acclaimed screenwriter behind The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips, and Richard Jewell.

Robinson, on the other hand, is most renowned for writing and directing Field of Dreams. He also did uncredited work on Fletch and wrote Ghost Dad under the pseudonym “Chris Reese.”

5 The Movie Would’ve Explored Sinatra’s Involvement With The Mob

Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm

Frank Sinatra was reportedly infuriated by Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, because he felt that the character of Johnny Fontane, a singer linked to the mafia, was based on him. He confronted Puzo in Chasen’s and yelled at him and threatened physical violence.

Scorsese’s movie about Sinatra would’ve explored his involvement with the mob – as well as his involvement in politics and the civil rights movement – which may have been one of the things the Sinatra estate was testy about.

4 Michael Ballhaus Was Going To Shoot The Movie

Goodfellas Copacabana scene

Scorsese tapped his go-to cinematographer Michael Ballhaus to shoot Sinatra when he first decided he was going to helm the project. Ballhaus is responsible for a bunch of Scorsese’s most iconic shots, primarily the Copacabana tracking shot from Goodfellas.

RELATED: How Mean Streets Established Scorsese’s Style

However, after the movie had been in development for eight years, Ballhaus passed away in 2017, which ended up being the year that Scorsese scrapped the project.

3 Scorsese Came Up With An Experimental Approach For The Film

Martin Scorsese at an awards show

Before the de-aging effects that made The Irishman possible were invented, Scorsese came up with an experimental approach to cover huge portions of Sinatra’s life in his biopic.

He was going to cast different actors to play Sinatra at different stages of his life and then jump all over the timeline to cover as much ground as possible.

2 The Story Would’ve Been Told Through Sinatra’s Music

When Scorsese began developing the Sinatra movie, he wanted a screenwriter to cook up a script that would “go through the greatest hits of Sinatra’s life.” However, as he got midway through pre-production with this structure, he realized it didn’t work.

That’s when he came up with the idea to take Sinatra’s life one step at a time with different actors playing him at different ages. Telling the story this way, Scorsese decided to use Sinatra’s music to carry the story.

1 The Project Was Called Off Because The Sinatra Estate Wouldn’t Sign Off

Scorsese wanted to give audiences a warts-and-all portrait of Frank Sinatra that would look at the negative aspects of his life as well as the positives – as is the M.O. of Scorsese’s raw, honest style of filmmaking – but the Sinatra estate refused to sign off on it.

The director spent eight years developing the Sinatra project before officially scrapping it in 2017 when it became apparent that there was no middle ground he’d find between his vision and the estate’s vision that everyone would be happy with.

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Updated: November 17, 2020 — 11:00 pm

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