The cinematic history of DC movies goes back a long time, maybe even longer than you might think. There have been huge blockbusters and some astonishing box office bombs, but for a while there, if you wanted to see a superhero movie on screen, it was pretty much only starring a DC character. By this point, most of the main characters have now been represented on screen, and several of them have had more than one portrayal. These movies have been heavily analyzed and a few of them have shaped the superhero movie industry to what it has become today.
What is also intriguing to look at are the movies which almost went into production, but for one reason or another were abandoned. The current state of DC movies may have been radically different had even one of these movies managed to be completed. Then there are the movies which actually do exist but very few casual fans know about. In some ways, these movies also shaped the future of DC on film. Let's take a look at both sets of movies and see how well they did portray (or would have portrayed) DC characters!
* Zatanna image in feature by BossLogic.
15 ALMOST MADE: BATMAN UNCHAINED
When fans look back on Batman & Robin, they see a movie which had a devastatingly negative impact and resulted in no Batman movies being made for a while. The movie was a financial and critical disaster and it had such an effect on the mainstream perception of Batman that even the well-received (by critics and the public alike) Batman Begins was just an average performer at the box office due to the lingering aftermath of Batman & Robin. However, while Batman & Robin was being shot, Warner Bros. studio was very happy with what it saw; so much so that producers hired the director, Joel Schumacher, to come back for a fifth film.
This film was going to be an extremely ambitious one, to say the least.
All the main villains would have been in it, including returning ones such as Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and would have introduced Harley Quinn and Scarecrow. Some of the villains would have been in Batman's mind as hallucinations as the result of Scarecrow's fear toxins. It was also going to be much darker than its predecessor. The financial result of Batman & Robin put an end to these plans and it would be eight years before another Batman film would be released.
14 EXISTS: WONDER WOMAN (1974)
If you ask fans who were the first actresses to play Wonder Woman on TV and in film, most will tell you it's Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot respectively. Both of these answers are incorrect. One year prior to the debut of the Wonder Woman TV series, Warner Bros. produced a made-for-TV Wonder Woman film which was broadcast on ABC and titled Wonder Woman. The studio made the... interesting decision to make a Wonder Woman film and have the character bare absolutely no resemblance to the comic book version. She was now blonde, had no superpowers, and a completely different uniform. It's probably a good thing Twitter did not exist then.
The surprising part of all this is that the TV rating for the film was actually decent. The concept had clear potential and thankfully both Warner Bros. and ABC decided that the TV series would feature a more traditional Wonder Woman. The rest is history as the series proved to be popular and a generation of fans considered Lynda Carter to be the definitive Wonder Woman, at least until the 2017 movie was released. So, while the character has had a resurgence in popularity, let's not forget what started it all; a TV film that was only vaguely "Wonder Woman."
13 ALMOST MADE: SUPERMAN: FLYBY
No DC character has had as many movies in various development stages as Superman. After the financial and critical misfire which was Superman 4: The Quest For Peace, there were conflicting views on how exactly to bring the character back to the big screen. Adding to the dilemma of the proper way to bring Superman back was the highly successful "Death of Superman" storyline in comics, which the studio felt should be incorporated in some manner into a film due to its popularity.
After a few failed attempts, it seemed like a new Superman movie would be made from a screenplay by future Star Wars director J.J. Abrams.
The movie would have done away with some important Superman lore. Krypton would still have existed, but Superman would not have been sent to Earth because of the impending destruction of Krypton. Instead, he would be sent to protect him from enemy Kryptonians. Lex Luthor would have been a billionaire head of a corporation running for President, which as we know from real life, is totally unrealistic. Why was it never made? It was deemed too costly, as many scenes would have taken place on Krypton. In an amusing twist, the director dropped out because he did not want to shoot in Australia due to his fear of flying. That was probably as good a sign as any to abandon this project.
12 EXISTS: SWAMP THING
One of the recent news stories about DC's upcoming streaming service, DC Universe, is that a Swamp Thing series is being developed. What many people don't know is that a live action Swamp Thing has already been done all the way back in 1982! It was a cinematic release and was directed by Wes Craven, the man who started the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The movie had a decent critical response despite being somewhat campy and did well enough to green-light a sequel, the 1989 feature Return of the Swamp Thing.
The sequel did not do as well, both financially and critically and that was the end of the cinematic Swamp Thing. A TV series featuring the character did air soon after and the same suit was used in the movies. Although the movies don't have much of a legacy, it is interesting that an on-screen version of a relatively minor DC character predates many more popular ones in terms of live action. It remains to be seen how the new series will be on the streaming service, but it can be safely said that it will not be nearly as campy or goofy as the originals.
11 ALMOST MADE: CATWOMAN
The aftermath of Batman Returns had a profound effect on DC's future movies; it resulted in a new actor being cast as Batman, a new director, and a change in tone for Batman movies. It also paved the way for a solo Catwoman movie. The director at the time, Tim Burton, had no interest in returning for a third Batman movie (and actually did not have much enthusiasm for the second, unless given complete creative control). He did, however, have an interest in overseeing a Catwoman movie with Michelle Pfeiffer returning in the role. The studio was also very keen on this as Catwoman was widely seen as the best part of Batman Returns.
Ironically, it may have been the financial success of Batman Forever which put the brakes on a planned Catwoman movie.
Batman Forever had a much lighter tone and was considered more family-friendly than the previous Batman movies, which gave the studio second thoughts about the financial prospects of a Catwoman movie. This one would have been a lot darker, though the grim Batman Returns did not make as much as the studio thought it would. Eventually, the project wound up culminating in the disastrous 2004 film Catwoman.
10 EXISTS: THE FLASH (1990)
The on-screen history of The Flash character has been an odd one. He has been seen several times in different TV shows and has been in three cinematic films, but has not had a solo theatrical movie. There was, however, a made-for-TV film, which aired back in 1990. This film was the setup for the TV series which would follow and was heavily marketed. Coming off the enormous success of Batman, Warner Bros. was looking to follow that momentum with another hit; as such, the film was promoted as another dark, mysterious, and exciting feature, focusing on the origin of how Barry Allen would become The Flash.
The film was well-received by fans and critics, but the series which would follow was not as well-liked and lasted only one season. There may have been too much of an influence of Batman as Central City looked and felt more like Gotham. Still, while it looks like a Flash movie may appear in the near future, in the meantime fans can go and seek out the TV film to watch the first time the Scarlet Speedster hit the screen!
9 ALMOST MADE: BATMAN: YEAR ONE
After Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. had a number of different options on how to proceed in regards to future Batman movies. One choice was obvious -- despite there being four Batman films, a true origin story of Batman had not yet been shown in a movie. As time went on, the studio decided that it was time to finally show the origins of Batman and hired director Darren Aronofsky to helm this project. Taking inspiration from Frank Miller's 1987 Batman : Year One comic book storyline, the film would have been a more grounded, less fantastical take on the Dark Knight.
Problems arose when the director wanted to take this interpretation a bit too far.
Bruce Wayne would now be poor, having lost his fortune; Alfred would be a mechanic; Batman would wear a hockey mask; and the Batmobile would just be a bit more advanced than a regular car. Unsurprisingly, the studio decided this was not exactly what it had in mind. An interesting note is that Christian Bale was considered for this film while it was being developed. The project would eventually merge into Batman Begins, which would release a few years later with the same actor in the lead role.
8 EXISTS: SUPERMAN (BOLLYWOOD)
India is an interesting foreign market. It has over a billion people and a large English-speaking population, but for some reason, it does not seem to be nearly as important as China for comic book movies. Part of the reason may be that back in 1987, a truly awful Superman movie was made there, which may have left the population scarred for life from any future superhero movies. Superman follows the traditional Superman story with a young Clark (Shekhar in this case) trying to adapt to Earth after being sent from Krypton and eventually becoming Superman.
For one, the movie rips-off several scenes from the Hollywood Superman movies; not just copying those scenes, actually TAKING them wholesale and inserting them into the movie. The famous helicopter scene, scenes from Krypton, and several others from the Hollywood versions are in this film. It is a pretty creative way to save on the special effects budget, if nothing else. The movie of course did not do well at the box office and is remembered mostly as a joke. It came out in 1987, the same year as Superman 4: The Quest For Peace, meaning it may have not even been the worst Superman movie of that year.
7 ALMOST MADE: JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL
The 2017 film Justice League became almost as known for its behind-the-scenes drama as the actual movie itself. It wasn't, however, the first try at bringing the team to the big screen, nor was it the only one which had issues during the development stage. Back in 2007, a very serious attempt was made at bringing many of DC's top characters in a film which was to be called Justice League: Mortal, and it would have pitted the league against villains Maxwell Lord and Talia al Ghul.
Actors had been cast and production was about to begin until a Hollywood Writers strike ended up delaying the project.
There was one other issue -- the film would have included Batman, which would have been odd considering the Nolan trilogy was still ongoing. To make matters more confusing, a different actor had been cast as Batman, the result of which would have been two different versions of Batman on the big screen simultaneously. Both Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale made their displeasure known, which further forced Warner Bros. to abandon the film. It would have been interesting to see how all the characters would have been handled. Of course, this was would not have been the first version of a Justice League movie!
6 EXISTS: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (1997)
In 1997, a Justice League of America TV film was made which had characters such as Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter among others. It was produced by CBS and distributed by Warner Bros. There was just one problem -- it never aired in the United States. The film was considered so poor that CBS decided to not even show it on its own channel, although it has aired in countries such as the U.K., Brazil, and Thailand. That's right, Justice League of America was not actually originally seen in America but was in other countries.
It has now become available due to the internet and comic cons, but the few who have seen it can attest that it is indeed terrible. Aside from dated special effects and somehow even worse costumes, the film also contains several scenes of the characters being interviewed "off-screen," explaining their predicament. Another Justice League film would not release until 20 years later with 2017's Justice League, which had its own share of issues. Actually, had this movie had scenes with the characters explaining what is going on behind-the-scenes, it probably would have made approximately $100 billion worldwide.
5 ALMOST MADE: BATMAN FOREVER
Yes, Batman Forever does exist, but the original plan on what the movie was going to be drastically different than what the movie eventually became. First, the actor who was supposed to be Batman was Michael Keaton, who had played the role in the two previous films. He even came on set for a costume fitting, but decided to turn down the role, thinking the lighter tone of the movie was not something he wanted to be a part of. Warner Bros. offered a whopping $15 million salary, which he rejected.
Remember, this was 1995, so that was an absolutely astronomical figure at the time.
This wasn't the only change that occurred. Initially, the idea for the movie was to have a focus on the origin of Batman. The studio, however, decided it wanted a sequel as opposed to a prequel, and one that would be extremely merchandise-friendly, considering how the darker tone of Batman Returns had negatively affected merchandise sales. It's clear that Batman Forever was drastically different than what was originally envisioned and planned, and it seemed at the time that the change in course had paid off, since the movie had the highest opening weekend box office gross in history when it released.
4 EXISTS: STAMP DAY FOR SUPERMAN
The character of Superman has been on-screen in one form or another for many decades, going all the way back to the black and white era. There were short episodes of Superman serials shown in theaters as early as the 1940s, which were very successful. Around this time, an odd Superman film was produced and shown. Stamp Day For Superman was a short film which promoted the purchase of U.S. Savings Bonds to kids across America. There were going to be no complaints about this Superman being too grim. It was not shown in theaters but in schools across the U.S. It starred George Reeves who had portrayed Superman on TV.
The plot is basically Clark Kent and Lois Lane witnessing a robbery with the robber claiming he is forced to shoplift because he never saved money, hence the not so subtle message to look into government savings bonds. Superman also pays a visit to a kids school to discuss the importance of US savings stamps and how setting aside money now can pay dividends for them in the future. The kids probably just wanted Superman to explain how he can fly. Stamp Day for Superman will definitely go down in history as one of the strangest Superman films ever.
3 ALMOST MADE: BATMAN VS SUPERMAN (2002)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice saw DC's two biggest icons fighting each other for the first time in cinema. However, had things gone a bit differently, we would have seen this showdown a lot earlier! In the early 2000s, Superman and Batman were in a precarious position in terms of film. Superman had not been seen since the disastrous Superman 4: The Quest For Peace and Batman since the equally derided Batman & Robin. Then an idea began to take shape -- bring both back in one film! In Will Smith's I Am Legend, a banner can be seen which has the Batman/Superman logo which was a nod to this film.
Everything seemed to be in place for the project to begin filming...
The basic plot was that supposedly The Joker had killed Bruce Wayne's bride to be and Superman was trying to stop Batman from killing him, so as not to become a murderer. Famous Batman supporting characters such as Alfred, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon would all be dead in this incarnation and Superman would be recently divorced from Lois Lane. Interestingly, Christian Bale was offered the role of Superman in this film. Ultimately, it was decided that Superman and Batman would get their own solo movies instead.
2 EXISTS: BATMAN DRACULA
In 1964, Batman comic book fan and movie producer/director, Andy Warhol, decided to make a Batman film. The movie would be about Batman confronting Dracula. One of the manifestations of Dracula is that of a bat so in essence the movie was going to be about Batman confronting himself in some way, which is a pretty unique concept. There was just one minor issue -- DC had not given permission to Warhol to make this film and use one of its characters in it! Maybe he had seen a vision of the future and how DC movies get interfered with by the studio and decided to make an independent movie.
Since it was not an authorized film, it was not released in theaters and Warhol could only show it at his private art galleries. Since then, some people have managed to get at least a partial view of the film and it is described as being campy and comedic. What is interesting to note is that four decades later, Warner Bros. did release an animated film involving Batman and Dracula -- the 2005 feature The Batman vs Dracula. Whether or not this was inspired from the 1964 film, it's safe to say no royalties were sent to the Warhol family.
1 ALMOST MADE: ZATANNA
The mid-2000s was an interesting time for DC movies as solo features for Batman and Superman were underway and others were being planned. One film which was actively being planned but did not get a lot of press was a movie which would feature Zatanna in the lead role. Screenwriter Hadley Davis was hired to write the movie where Zatanna would be a teenager and it would be an action/comedy mix. It was a tad strange that a relatively obscure DC character would be in active development, especially a female character.
However, some of the trends of that time made it a project worth considering.
This was during a period where the Harry Potter movie franchise was extremely popular and profitable. Zatanna was a Warner Bros. property too, so naturally having another magic-oriented character movie would have been looked at. What sidetracked this planned film was the financial under-performance of Superman Returns, as the focus once again shifted on how to move forward with that character. Zatanna meanwhile has yet to make her film debut, although rumors of a Justice League Dark movie have been ongoing for a couple of years. We'll see if the magician will finally make it to the big screen.