Liane Bonin
May 14, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

After Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago, Rocky is now facing his toughest opponent: development hell. And he’s not the only one. A host of highly anticipated films have gotten stuck in the Hollywood muck. Here’s what’s up with five movies that have been in the works for years, and why they may — or may not — be coming soon to a theater near you.

PROJECT The Simpsons movie

HISTORY After years of rumors, Fox confirmed in February that it was in the ”very early stages of developing an idea” for a big-screen Springfield. But even that vague promise seemed shaky last month when the show’s voice actors halted production of the series’ 16th season with their salary dispute.

STATUS The cast is back at work, having reached a new four-year agreement with Fox, and seven Simpsons writers have been assigned to concoct a feature-length adventure. So far, no approved script.

PROGNOSIS Don’t have a cow, but baby Maggie will be in college by the time she hits theaters. ”Mark us down for the summer of 2020, if not sooner,” says executive producer James L. Brooks. ”Considering one episode of The Simpsons takes nine months to animate,” seconds a show spokesperson, ”we can’t even fathom how long the movie is going to take.”

PROJECT A film version of A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comic novel about an obese New Orleans loser

HISTORY The 24-year push to get this off the ground at four different studios reads like one of the book’s rambling plot twists. A 1996 suit pitted director Steven Soderbergh against producer Scott Rudin for the rights, which Miramax bought from Paramount for $1.5 million in 2001. But even with heavy hitters like Soderbergh and Will Ferrell attached, the story’s so complicated to adapt that the studio dropped it like a day-old beignet in 2003.

STATUS The movie isn’t belly-up just yet. There are still battles over who owns the rights, and Soderbergh’s reps say he’s ”technically” off the project, but producer Scott Kramer hopes to revive it with the same cast.

PROGNOSIS ”There was a time when I was talking to John Belushi and Richard Pryor, and now it’s Will Ferrell and Mos Def,” says Kramer. ”So who knows where this is going?”

PROJECT Watchmen, Alan Moore’s meta-superhero epic, about a cadre of costumed, government-regulated avengers

HISTORY The Citizen Kane of the comic-book world, it’s been deemed unfilmable practically since DC Comics published it in 1986. Warner Bros. commissioned the first script in 1989, and Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys) passed on directing after producer Joel Silver balked at his $40 million budget. Then Universal secured the rights and redrafted the plot three years ago with X-Men scribe David Hayter, who hoped to make the film his directorial debut.

STATUS Hayter’s screenplay migrated to Revolution Studios, where Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) was rumored to be prepping to direct it after completing his current filmuntil the Revolution deal fell through in just the last couple weeks.

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