If you’re a fan of true crime, then the name H.H. Holmes is probably very familiar to you. Believed to be one of the most prolific murders in the history of the United States, Holmes went on a killing spree between 1891 and 1894 that left several innocent girls dead. This vicious killer was a smooth talker capable of bending people to his will using his wit and charm. But, underneath, he was a despicable monster who killed for both financial gain as well as simple enjoyment. Plus, Holmes had the advantage of living during the turn of the 1800s in Chicago, which just so happened to coincide with the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
The commotion of the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) allowed Holmes to operate without detection and even erect a horrifying hotel complete with soundproof murder rooms, furnaces for incinerating bodies, and several torture chambers. Sound like something out of a horror movie? Well, it’s all 100% true. Yet there is astoundingly little media out there that centers on H.H. Holmes and his murder castle. And all of the currently available movies and TV shows about H.H. Holmes are rather low-budget and outside of the mainstream.
However, in 2010, it seemed as if that was about to change when Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights to The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, arguably the most famous book about Holmes ever written. For true crime fans, this announcement was massively exciting. It seemed as if mainstream Hollywood would finally cover the unthinkable story of H.H. Holmes. And yet here we are in 2023, and no such film or series has been made, which begs the question: Will a series based on The Devil in the White City ever be released?
Leonardo Purchases the Rights to The Devil in the White City
In 2010, it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio had purchased the rights to Erik Larson’s non-fiction book The Devil in the White City. The book details the crimes of H.H. Holmes as well as the events that led up to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The Devil in the White City sold over 2 million copies, spent three years on The New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into 17 languages.
The book’s film rights were first owned by Paramount, who signed Tom Cruise onto the project to play H.H. Holmes. Personally, I think that Cruise would’ve played an excellent Holmes as he’s proven that he can masterfully portray an evil mastermind (as we saw in films like Interview with the Vampire). Producer Paula Wagner (known for her work on the Mission Impossible, Death Race, and Jack Reacher series of films) was also attached to the project. Unfortunately, the option lapsed in 2004.
Paramount reacquired the rights in 2007 and signed Double Feature Films (consisting of Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher) to produce the movie. Unfortunately, this project never came to fruition either.
But, in 2010, The Devil in the White City reemerged in the press when its rights were purchased by Appian Way Productions, a film and television production company founded by Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2010. DiCaprio himself was set to star as H.H. Holmes and, in 2015, in an extremely exciting development, Martin Scorcese signed onto the project. Scorcese and DiCaprio have worked together before on several projects, including The Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Shutter Island, all of which were fantastic films.
So, naturally, when the announcement was made that the duo of Scorcese and DiCaprio were going to make an adaption of The Devil in the White City, excitement ran high. Renowned scriptwriter Billy Ray was then signed onto the project and Stacey Sher, Sam Shaw, and Mark Lafferty were all attached as producers.
Keanu Reeves Joins the Project
As if Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese weren’t enough to get audiences excited, Keanu Reeves joined the project before it began production in 2019. It was decided that The Devil in the White City would be a limited series released on Hulu with a release date in August 2022. Reeves was slated to play Daniel H. Burnham, one of the lead architects in charge of readying the city of Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition (and one of the main figures from Larson’s The Devil in the White City). This would have marked Keanu Reeves’s first major television role.
Around the same time that Keanu Reeves signed onto the project, Todd Field (writer, director, and producer of the 2022 film Tár, starring Cate Blanchett) also joined the team. At this point, the excitement around the series was at an all-time high. And personally, I can tell you that I was counting down the days until this series hit Hulu.
However, when August 2022 came around, no such series was released on Hulu. All we got were headlines claiming that the series’s release date had been pushed back. Certain sources claimed that 2024 was a tentative release date.
But, before 2024 ever got the chance to come around, Todd Field exited the project in 2022. Not long after that, Keanu Reeves also said sayonara to The Devil in the White City. According to Reeves’s representation, the actor’s departure from the show was directly related to the fact that Todd Fields would no longer be working on the series.
Will There Ever Be a The Devil in the White City Series?
Only months after Keanu Reeves and Todd Fields left the project, it was announced that Hulu would be axing the series. So, as of right now, there are no plans to go forward with a TV production of The Devil in the White City. Reportedly, though, other distributors are shopping over the show even though Reeves and Fields have departed.
So, long story short, as of right now, The Devil in the White City is dead. However, there’s still a chance that another distributor could resurrect this project. And hopefully, if that happens, Leonardo DiCaprio will still be willing to jump in the leading role as H.H. Holmes.
But, sadly, I don’t feel very hopeful that The Devil in the White City will ever be a big-budget TV show. It’s looking more and more like this is one of those cursed Hollywood projects that’ll never see the light of day (such as John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces).
What’s Next for Leonardo DiCaprio?
While it’s thoroughly disappointing that there are no imminent plans for the release of a series based on The Devil in the White City, there is some very amazing news related to Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese. In October 2023, the duo will be releasing the film Killers of the Flower Moon, which is based on another non-fiction book by David Grann called Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and The Birth of the FBI. This book (as well as the film) tells the story of the murders of at least 20 members of the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma in the 1920s.
The film is a Western crime drama directed by Martin Scorcese and featuring prominent actors such as DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons, John Lithgow, and Brendan Fraser. The film also stars several indigenous actors, including Yancey Red Corn, Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Meyers, Talee Redcorn, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion, and others.