Every time you see a superhero film make it to the market, know that you saw what was practically a miracle. There are so many different things that can go wrong on the way to a film’s release that could derail it that it is impressive just to get a film released. This is especially true when it comes to the DC film universe, which has had far less rigid of a release pattern over the years than Marvel Studios. DC movies get announced and are canceled seemingly every other week.
Some of these films have producers who have been trying to get them released for over a decade. Joel Silver tried for years to get a Wonder Woman movie made; he never managed to pull it off and had to watch other producers release a blockbuster film in 2017. This list, then, will take a look at the surprising attempts at DC movies that never ended up actually getting made. From non-starting sequels to ill-advised reboots, this list has it all!
15. SUPERMAN LIVES
The story of getting Superman Lives done makes it sound like it was a Herculean endeavor and ultimately one that was just too much for anyone to pull off, even Tim Burton. Burton, of course, seemingly hasn’t met a reboot that he can’t at least get made into a film, including to his credits films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows.Say what you will, but the guy gets stuff done.
After his success with Batman, Burton was given the chance to tell the story of Superman fighting against Doomsday, dying and getting resurrected by Kryptonian artificial intelligence. Nicolas Cage, a huge comic book fan who would eventually play a superhero in two Ghost Rider movies, was going to play Superman and even tried on the costume that they were going to use for the film.
14. JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL
It is fascinating (if completely expected) to see how easily movie executives are moved off of a decision by a different movie doing well. For instance, in 2007, Warner Bros. was convinced that it made sense to beat Marvel Studios to the “superhero team film” market by releasing a Justice League film. They even had a whole cast picked out – D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as the Flash and Common as Green Lantern.
However, the 2007-08 Writers Strike delayed filming on the movie and then The Dark Knight came out and made a bajillion dollars and Warner Bros. suddenly thought that solo films were the way to go, so they squashed the plans for Justice League: Mortal, which would have been directed by George Miller.
13. GREEN LANTERN 2
Just like how the Marvel Cinematic Universe did not start with the publisher’s most famous hero, instead making Iron Man into a household name, DC was intending to do the same with Ryan Reynolds’ starring turn as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern. Angela Bassett’s Amanda Waller was set to play the same sort of role that Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury played in the Marvel movies, a character who could connect the various solo heroes together in an eventual team film.
Beyond Waller’s future involvement (which obviously did not happen), the second Green Lantern film would have been about Hal and Sinestro hunting down a serial killer, Arkillo, who Sinestro would then recruit when he goes evil and forms the Sinestro Corps to restore “order” to the galaxy.
12. BATMAN UNCHAINED/BATMAN TRIUMPHANT
While Batman and Robin ended up being a bit of a fiasco, it seemed at the time like it might be another hit for director Joel Schumacher, who had hit big in his first Batman film, Batman Forever, after taking over the reins from Tim Burton. They were so convinced that Warner Bros. made sure to lock Schumacher down for a fifth Batman film before Batman and Robin was ever completed.
The movie would have been about the Scarecrow forcing Batman to face his greatest fears and it might have seen Jack Nicholson return to the Joker role to play the Joker in the fear-based hallucinations (Harley Quinn would have been Joker’s daughter seeking revenge for her father’s death). The proposed title changed from Batman Unchained to Batman Triumphant at some point. Once Batman and Robin did not work out, the movie was canceled.
This is an interesting one because technically speaking, this project might actually eventually see the light of day. Jason Fuchs, one of the writers of the recent blockbuster, Wonder Woman, was hired in 2016 to work on a script for a Lobo movie, most likely in response to the R-rated success of Deadpool. However, Fuchs is reportedly starting all over on the project, so the previous version of the film is probably still finished.
In 2009, Guy Ritchie was going to direct a film starring Lobo where the Main Man heads to Earth in pursuit of a quartet of fugitives and Lobo ends up having to work with a teenage girl on Earth to get his bounties. They were aiming for a PG-13 rating back then. Ritchie bailed on the project to do another Sherlock Holmes film and the project slowly died without him.
10. GREEN ARROW: ESCAPE FROM SUPER MAX
Nowadays, with superhero films almost inherently working around the idea of a shared universe, it is normal to expect Spider-Man to show up in a Captain America film or the Flash to show up in a Suicide Squad film. That was not the case when David Goyer and Justin Marks pitched Green Arrow: Escape From Super Max.
The film was about Green Arrow (the movie would skip over all of the origin aspects and cut right to Green Arrow being an active hero) being framed for murder and being thrown into a special prison built to hold the world’s worst supervillains. The hero would then have to team up with some supervillains (like Lex Luthor and the Riddler) to escape. The script was supposed to be pretty cool, but obviously it didn’t go anywhere.
9. SUPERMAN: FLYBY
Years before he was the king of the blockbuster reboot (with Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), JJ Abrams was poised to reboot the Superman film franchise with the first film in what was proposed as a trilogy and would have been an absolute bonkers alteration to the Superman mythos.
In the film, Krypton doesn’t actually explode at all! Instead, Superman flees to Earth only because his uncle wants him dead because Superman is destined to be the ruler of Krypton and his uncle doesn’t want that. So a whole Kryptonian army invades Earth! Superman dies in this film, as well (he dies in a lot of the film pitches involving Superman for some reason) but comes back to life. Superman heads back to Krypton at the end of the film.
8. JOSS WHEDON WONDER WOMAN
Joel Silver had been working on a Wonder Woman film since the early 21st century, with some rather out-there ideas, including having Donna Troy become Wonder Woman. In 2005, Silver hired Joss Whedon to write the script with perhaps the option of directing the movie, as well. Whedon’s version of Wonder Woman would fight against corporate greed (later reviews of his first draft would knock how Steve Trevor seemed to be the POV character for the film and not Wonder Woman herself).
Silver later recalled, “They don’t always happen the way you want them to. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’re happy with the result, sometimes you’re not, and sometimes you can’t even get it together. That’s just the process of movie-making. You’ve gotta just roll with it and accept what happens, hope you can get it made and hope that people will go see it.”
7. BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN
The whole “should we do solo films or joint films?” dilemma was at the heart of the debate over whether or not to produce a Batman V. Superman film in the early 2000s. Based on a pitch by Andrew Kevin Walker (and later revised by former Batman Forever and Batman and Robin screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman), the film would have seen Batman and Superman, both newly single after long relationships, manipulated by Lex Luthor into fighting each other.
Wolfgang Peterson was going to direct it and things looked promising, but Warner Bros. kept dragging its feet. There was even an in-joke in the film I Am Legend about how long it would take for the film to come out (it didn’t come out until the Apocalypse). Ultimately, Warner Bros. decided to go with solo films for the time being.
6. SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL
Similar to the situation that Schumacher was in before Batman and Robin actually came out, before Superman Returns came out and disappointed at the box office (while still making a ton of money), things looked good enough for the franchise that Bryan Singer was already making plans for a sequel to the film.
The movie, which hilariously enough would have been called Man of Steel, was going to deal more with Superman’s son that was introduced in the previous film. The bad guy in the movie would have been Darkseid, so it was going to have a much bigger scope than Superman Returns, which got knocked a bit for how down-to-Earth the action was for a blockbuster film. When Superman Returns didn’t do as well as expected, Warner Bros. decided to reboot the property again, with Zack Snyder’s own Man of Steel.
5. BATMAN BEYOND
When Batman Beyond debuted in 1999, bringing the Batman mythos into the future with a new, younger Batman (working alongside with an older Bruce Wayne), Warner Bros. loved the concept so much that producers planned on translating the animated TV series into a live action film. They hired a director (Boaz Yakin) and they had the show’s co-creator, Paul Dini, write the film.
However, at the same time, Warner Bros. was developing a reboot of the regular Batman film franchise. The studio kept telling Dini that it did not matter, that they could do both films at the same time, that the concepts were so different that a Batman Beyond film would not detract from a Batman: Year One style film. That’s ultimately the reasoning they gave when they canceled the Batman Beyond project. Adding injury to insult, the Batman Beyond TV series was then canceled soon after.
4. JACK BLACK GREEN LANTERN
One of the things that companies with valuable intellectual properties do is see which stars are available and try to figure out a way to manage to fit their IP around that star’s talents. The most famous (infamous?) example of this was Richard Pryor being worked into Superman III.
That was the idea behind Warner asking legendary comedy writer Robert Smigel to write a Green Lantern film for Jack Black to star in. The idea was that Black would play an Earthling who was accidentally chosen for the ring. As Smigel noted, “What appealed to me about it on a comedic level was that, in order to be a superhero, this requires no physical skill or talent. All it requires is owning this ring. Automatically, that’s a comedic premise.” When fans reacted poorly to the news, it inspired Warner to make a serious Green Lantern film, instead.
3. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
In the early 2000s, Warner Bros. was very much interested in the idea of using a classic Batman story, “Year One,” to work as a reboot of the film franchise. The studio even went so far as to have Frank Miller, the original writer of the “Year One:” comic book story, write a script for the movie. Darren Aronofsky would have been the director of the movie.
The film drastically revamps Batman’s origins (he was now a cab driver before he became Batman!), and the revamp was so drastic that Warner Bros. tried to get other revamps of the film’s story, but ultimately producers just dropped it all and went with Christopher Nolan’s riff on Batman: Year One, which became Batman Begins, the start of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
2. PLASTIC MAN
Ever since it acquired the rights to the character, it seems like DC has viewed Plastic Man more as a piece of intellectual property than as a comic book character. This is not to say that the publisher has not done some notable comic book works with Plastic Man (Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man series in the mid-2000s was a delight), but all of his comic book coverage pales to just the short-lived Plastic Man cartoon series of the late 1970s/early 1980s.
Before they were entrenched in more dramatic fare, Lilly and Lana Wachowski took a crack at a Plastic Man script in 1995, where the joke would be that he was an environmentalist who was now dealing with the fact that his entire body (even his urine!) was now non-biodegradable!
One of the more stabilizing additions to the Batman films of the 1990s was when Chris O’Donnell joined as Robin in Batman Forever. Since the Batman of that film, Val Kilmer, did not return for the next film in the series, it was up to O’Donnell to give the films some sense of continuity.
Before Batman and Robin finished, while O’Donnell was going to return for the next Batman movie, they were also setting the stage for him to get his own spinoff. Things weren’t clear whether it would be as Robin or as Nightwing, but it seems like Nightwing was the more likely scenario. O’Donnell himself explained why it didn’t happen a few year back, “They were going to do [a Robin movie] back in the day. Then [Batman & Robin] was such a bomb, they were like, ‘Scrap that!’ That was the end of that.”
Which of these movies would you have enjoyed seeing the most? Let us know in the comments section!
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