Steven Spielberg almost didn't direct Schindler's List — here's who almost did

The director soon realized the error of his ways, trading 'Cape Fear' in exchange for the 1993 historical epic.
Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese
[Image: Getty]

While it is now impossible to imagine any other director having made “Schindler’s List,” there was a long period of time when Steven Spielberg just couldn’t bring himself to oversee the film.

 

In fact, it actually took the director 10-years to finally step behind the camera and bring Thomas Keneally’s Booker Prize-winning novel to the big-screen, as he was repeatedly unsure that he was mature enough to make a film about the subject matter.

 

During this time Spielberg not only offered “Schindler’s List” to Roman Polanski and Sydney Pollack, but Martin Scorsese, too. During my recent discussion with Susan Lacy, whose HBO documentary on the filmmaker “Spielberg” airs this weekend, she recalled how Scorsese ultimately gave his old friend “Schindler’s List” back in exchange for "Cape Fear."

 

The story arose when I we were talking about those that criticize Spielberg for making “Oscar bait.” This provoked Lacy to emphatically defend the legendary director.

 

“Anybody that thinks that Steven Spielberg tried to make ‘Schindler’s List’ as Oscar bait really doesn’t understand this man. First of all he didn’t make it for 10 years. He tried to get Martin Scorsese to make that film. And Marty did a trade. He finally gave it back to Steven, and he said, ‘This isn’t my tribe, this is your tribe. You need to make this film.’ And he traded ‘Cape Fear’ for ‘Schindler’s List.’ To say he made that film for Oscar bait is really not understanding who Steven is … I think it was destiny for him to make that film.”

It was a rather sensible decision from Spielberg, as “Schindler’s List” didn’t just gross $322.2 million at the box office, but it was instantly lauded as his most mature work to date, and resulted in the filmmaker finally picking up the Best Director Academy Award for the first time in his career.

Susan Lacy's "Spielberg" airs on HBO on Saturday, October 7 at 8 p.m.