In 2011 The Atlantic released a thought-provoking article about how Hollywood chooses scripts. In the piece, it’s revealed that approximately 50,000 screenplays are registered with the Writers Guild of America each year and Hollywood studios release about 150 movies in those 12 months. That means that an unproduced screenplay has a 0.003-percent chance of being made in that year and it drastically decreases as more scripts flood the market on a yearly basis. Naturally, comic book movies and scripts tied to major franchises have higher odds of seeing the light of day, but it’s still eye-opening to see the margin between realized and unrealized productions.
What’s even more disheartening is to see screenplays that studios get behind yet never materialize for whatever reason. In the comic book movie genre, every screenwriter and producer could tell you a story or two about how their respective project got derailed when it was almost greenlit. Warner Bros. constantly teases us by announcing a string of DC films, only to go radio silent when fans ask for more details (where are our Nightwing and Cyborg films?). It isn’t anything unusual for the studio, though, as it has a long and storied history with DC productions that never came to fruition. Some of these films do look like dodged bullets in retrospect, but there are others that appeared genuinely interesting. Sure, there’s no guarantee that the movies would’ve been any good, but the premises alone intrigued us enough to find out more about these canceled projects.
20. JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL
In 2007, Mad Max director, George Miller, signed on the dotted line to direct Justice League: Mortal – which would’ve been the team’s debut on the big screen. The film was deep into pre-production when the Writers Guild of America’s strike hit and smashed all plans for it.
The script was done, casting for the film completed, and the actors were preparing for the roles. This version of the League would’ve seen Armie Hammer as Batman, D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, and Adam Brody as Barry Allen. The villains would’ve been Maxwell Lord (Jay Baruchel) and Talia al Ghul (Teresa Palmer). No mustaches were present in the script.
19. GREEN LANTERN 2
Before the Green Lantern‘s release in 2011, director Martin Campbell confirmed the possibility of a trilogy. Warner Bros. believed so much in the project that it commissioned Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, and Marc Guggenheim to write the sequel while the first movie was still being filmed. Sinestro’s turn in the end credits should give you a hint of where the sequel would’ve gone.
Unfortunately, the poor box-office performance and critical panning didn’t inspire the studio to push forward. In hindsight, though, maybe a sequel could’ve ironed out all the niggles and criticisms of the first film. If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again, right?
18. JOSS WHEDON’S WONDER WOMAN
In 2006 Joss Whedon was linked with a Wonder Woman film. At the time, he was in demand after having created Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a global franchise. So, it made sense for Warner Bros. to get Whedon in to pen a script for the Amazon princess.
Whedon’s take never went into production, but he did get a lot of flack for his script. Defending it, he told Variety: “I don’t know which parts people didn’t like, but I think it’s great. People say that it’s not woke enough. I think they’re not looking at the big picture.” Well, even if it was a train wreck, it would’ve been entertaining to witness it.
17. BATMAN BEYOND
Warner Bros. first announced plans for a live-action Batman Beyond film in 2000. It was set to be written by Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, with Boaz Yakin attached as a director. Judging by what we’ve learned about the prospective film, it sounded like the sci-fi Bat epic we all craved.
“It was set in Gotham future, but it didn’t quite have the fantastic, futuristic edge. It was sort of like an amalgam: There was a little bit of Dark Knight, there was a little bit of contemporary comics, and there was Terry and the suit and everything,” Dini revealed on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast.
16. THE WACHOWSKIS’ PLASTIC MAN
Before making a name for themselves with The Matrix, the Wachowskis wrote a script for the wackiest DC character around: Plastic Man. As expected, it was a bonkers idea, bursting with comedy and possibly Keanu Reeves as the lead, but one that many fans would’ve paid good money to see. Unfortunately, the script never made it past the pages it was typed on.
“It’s probably the closest script to a comedy we’ll write,” Lana told MTV‘s Josh Horowitz in 1996. “We thought it could be kind of cool. The basic idea we came up with was that he would be an environmentalist, almost like an Earth First-er type guy.”
15. TIM BURTON’S BATMAN 3
It’s common knowledge that Tim Burton bashed heads with Warner Bros. after Batman Returns. The studio thought the film was too dark and didn’t appeal to enough children. With lower box-office returns than 1989’s Batman, Warner Bros. asked Burton to step into a producer role and let Joel Schumacher take over for Batman Forever.
What’s interesting to note is that many of the final elements in the film were intact when Burton was still in line to direct. However, Warner Bros. tweaked and toned it down to appease younger viewers. So much so that the franchise’s star, Michael Keaton, decided to walk, rather than become a parody of himself in this neon nightmare.
14. GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT 2
It’s amazing how 2009’s Green Lantern: First Flight understood the character better than a multi-million-dollar project. This modest animation delighted fans of Hal Jordan and did more for the franchise than any other film adaptation afterwards.
In 2011, a week before the live-action film was released, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights dropped. It wasn’t the sequel to Green Lantern: First Flight that had been rumored but an anthology type of film. Bruce Timm revealed to Think McFly Think why the sequel didn’t happen. “We had originally planned to do sequels for Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. With Green Lantern, it didn’t perform nearly as well as what they had hoped it would,” he said.
13. GREEN ARROW: ESCAPE FROM SUPER MAX
If there’s a superhero project, you can bet that David S. Goyer has written a script for it at some point. Together with Justin Marks, he penned a story for Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max, which would’ve seen Oliver Queen escaping a high-security prison. Funny enough, it’s also the inspiration for the next season of Arrow.
In an interview with MTV, Marks discussed how the prison would’ve been intricately designed to keep the worst of the worst locked away. Reportedly, Lex Luthor, Riddler, and Joker were all expected to make cameo appearances as well. Fans of Black Canary would’ve been disappointed, though, as she wasn’t set to be a part of the proceedings.
12. TIM BURTON’S CATWOMAN
Meow! Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was one of the best things about 1992’s Batman Returns. In 1993 a spinoff, starring Pfeiffer and directed by Tim Burton, was announced. However, the film lingered around in the production pipeline for far too long and Pfeiffer and Burton departed the project. Ashley Judd was reported to have been the next choice for the role of Selina Kyle.
Eventually, in 2004, a Catwoman film was released, but it starred Halle Berry and wasn’t based on Selina Kyle. To call it uninspiring would be putting it mildly. It’s often cited as not just one of the worst comic book movies of all time, but also an unforgettable mess of a film, period.
11. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
After Batman & Robin forced Dark Knight films into an existential crisis, Warner Bros. decided to go back to the drawing board and revisit the character’s dark roots. The studio decided an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One would be the best possible option. So, it hired Miller to pen the script and Darren Aronofsky to direct.
Miller stated that the project fell apart because of creative differences and Warner Bros. thinking it was too dark. “It was the first time I worked on a Batman project with somebody whose vision of Batman was darker than mine. My Batman was too nice for him. We would argue about it,” Miller told The Hollywood Reporter.
10. SUPERMAN: FLYBY
Before Superman Returns, Warner Bros. had been tinkering with the idea of a Man of Steel film for some time. Enter J. J. Abrams, who handed in the script for Superman: Flyby that featured some new Kryptonian enemies and Kal-El exposing his true identity to the world.
Brett Ratner was attached to direct, with Matt Bomer being his pick for Big Blue. However, when Ratner departed, McG came on board and shot test footage with a certain Henry Cavill. Years later, McG confirmed that Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Lex Luthor in the film. When McG left the film, Bryan Singer joined the production and Superman Returns was the project filmed instead.
9. BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t a novel idea. Ever since Frank Miller made the titans clash in The Dark Knight Returns, the studio has been licking its chops at the prospect of pitting these two icons against each other on the big screen. In the early 2000s, Andrew Kevin Walker pitched Batman vs. Superman, with Wolfgang Petersen as the director.
Interestingly enough, the film would’ve been much darker and broodier than Zack Snyder’s effort, with all of Bruce Wayne’s allies six feet under and Clark Kent being divorced from Lois Lane. In terms of castings, Christian Bale was reportedly approached by Petersen for Batman, while Josh Hartnett was mooted for Superman.
8. SUPERMAN LIVES
This is probably the most insane idea on this list. It was Kevin Smith who first suggested that Tim Burton should direct the film and the title change from Superman Reborn to Superman Lives, and Warner Bros. went and did just that. So, what was one of the first things that Burton did? He wanted Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel.
There were numerous versions of the script floating around, with one even being written by Smith himself. At one stage there was an idea that Superman shouldn’t fly in the film. Then there was another that he should battle giant spiders in the third act. Whichever way, this would’ve been a buck-wild movie.
7. BEN AFFLECK’S THE BATMAN
While we still don’t know if Ben Affleck will indeed continue to be the Caped Crusader or even star in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, one thing is certain: We’ll never see his version of The Batman. Reportedly, Affleck and Geoff Johns penned a script that drew heavy influence from the Batman: Arkham video games and would’ve seen the Dark Knight busting skulls in the asylum.
While it’s premature to say it would’ve been the best Dark Knight film ever made, Affleck’s filmmaking credentials speak for themselves. Additionally, Jay Oliva, who worked as a storyboard artist for the DCEU, said that it was the best Batman script he’s ever read. Oh, what could’ve been…
6. JOEL SCHUMACHER’S BATMAN 5
If you’ve ever wondered why you should wait until a film is out to make a decision about it, take heed from Warner Bros. While Batman & Robin was filming, the studio was so impressed by the early buzz that it decided to hire Joel Schumacher for a third rodeo.
Projected for a 1999 release, Batman Unchained (as it was known then) would’ve featured the Scarecrow and Harley Quinn (she would’ve been portrayed as the Joker’s daughter in this interpretation), with Nicolas Cage eyed by Schumacher for the Scarecrow gig. When Batman & Robin bombed, the studio wasn’t so sure anymore and pulled the plug on this movie.
5. GUY RITCHIE’S LOBO
For years now, there have been rumors about a Lobo movie. In 2009 Warner Bros. announced that Guy Ritchie would be directing a live-action film about the Main Man. Naturally, fans got excited, because a Ritchie-stylized Lobo film would be a dream.
Unfortunately, the gods of Czarnia said ixnay and Ritchie departed the project. Brad Peyton was the next to sign up, with plans for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to be Lobo; however, that didn’t pan out either. Now there’s a report that Michael Bay might be circling the film, so there’s that. Well, at least we’ll get to see the Main Man in the second season of Krypton.
Making a Hawkman film might seem like a bit of a strange thing to do. Let’s face it: Carter Hall is always better when he’s surrounded by the rest of his Justice League colleagues, or even Hawkgirl. Do we really need a solo movie all about him?
Well, it nearly happened. In 2011 Warner Bros. eyed writers to pen a script for a potential Hawkman film. As we know, the Thanagarians weren’t mentioned in a comic book prequel to Man of Steel, confirming the race’s existence in the DC Extended Universe. Can you imagine a Hawkman film in the same style as Man of Steel? Okay, we’re convinced now.
Considering the success of Harry Potter, it’s surprising that Warner Bros. hasn’t fast-tracked a Zatanna movie. In 2005 screenwriter Hadley Davis revealed she’d written an action-comedy about a teenage Zatanna. It sounded like an intriguing premise, but we never heard anything more about it.
If you read the recent comic book series Mystik U, you’d get an idea of how Davis’ script could’ve panned out. It was a combination of Twilight and Harry Potter that no one realized they needed in their lives. Right now, it looks like any plans for a Zatanna film have been shelved in favor of a live-action Justice League Dark.
2. BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM 2
What happens when you combine the excellence of DC animation with a story set in the world of the Batman: Arkham video game series? Batman: Assault on Arkham. In fact, this should’ve been the film that David Ayer used for the live-action Suicide Squad movie.
The animated film delighted everyone and received rave reviews. As a result, co-director Jay Oliva revealed there were plans for a direct sequel in the near future. Unfortunately, he left for greener pastures, thus lowering the chances of a follow-up. Look, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay was released this year, but it certainly doesn’t feel like anything that Oliva would’ve done.
Say what you will about Joel Schumacher’s Batman films, but Chris O’Donnell was an inspired casting as Dick Grayson/Robin. Fans loved his interpretation of the Boy Wonder and Warner Bros. took notice of the goodwill. The studio considered a Robin spin-off, which maybe might’ve led to him becoming Nightwing and branching out on his own. Sadly, the film never saw the light of day.
During an interview with Access Hollywood Live, O’Donnell revealed more about the failed project. “They were going to do one back in the day. And then [Batman & Robin] was such a bomb, they were like, ‘Scrap that!’ That was the end of that,” he said.
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