By Josh Rottenberg
Updated October 30, 2009 at 02:00 PM EDT

In a sadly ironic twist, This is It has become the hit movie that Michael Jackson never managed to make while he was alive. Jackson’s most prominent big-screen role was as the Scarecrow in the 1978 flop The Wiz, but he continued to explore his love of movies with projects like the 14-minute “Thriller” video and Captain EO, the short science-fiction film he made with Francis Ford Coppola in the mid-1980s. In an interview for EW’s recent cover story, This Is It director Kenny Ortega revealed that Jackson continued to harbor cinematic ambitions right up to the end of his life. “He told me he wanted to create a partnership with me to do films,” Ortega says. “We were talking about doing Legs Diamond. And we were talking about doing a full-length, 3-D feature of ‘Thriller.’ ”

Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures, which is releasing This is It, says that over the years she and Jackson (who had a brief cameo in Sony’s 2002 sci-fi comedy Men in Black II) had discussed a number of film projects that never came to fruition. Perhaps the biggest was a musical fantasy film called Midknight that Jackson wanted to make with Batman production designer Anton Furst—a project that fell apart when Furst committed suicide in 1991. Says Pascal, “A million years ago, when I worked with [then-Columbia Pictures president] Dawn Steel, she and I tried to convince Michael to do a remake of The Red Shoes”—the classic 1948 British musical drama, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, about a ballet dancer whose compulsion to dance ultimately destroys any hope she once had of a normal life, leading to her tragic death. The project never happened. “Michael’s life became The Red Shoes, I’m afraid,” says Pascal.