It really is a great time right now to be a comic book fan. Just a couple decades ago, superhero movies were the furthest thing from being a popular genre of film. We would pray and we would hope that our favorite characters would find their way off the page and onto the big screen, but more often than not, studios had no interest in adapting comic book characters because audiences, at the time, were not buying tickets for comic book superhero movies. In fact, there was once a time long ago when superhero movies and comic book flicks in general were looked down upon as something that only children could enjoy.
Now, things have changed drastically. These days, everybody and their mother is in love with comic book adaptations — and even comic books themselves — while clamoring to get their hands on the next superhero blockbuster any chance they can. Today, superhero comic book adaptations are more in demand with the public than they ever were before, making all the more likely that any one of your favorite comic book characters will be chosen to leap off the page and onto the big screen. This is especially true when it comes to characters who belong under the Marvel umbrella, which currently produces the most highly profitable films in the world: the MCU is currently the highest grossing movie franchise in the world. However, we could not ever possibly forgot the time when even the most popular and illustrious characters were not always guaranteed a big screen adaptation.
20. DR. STRANGE
It took over 30 years for Dr. Strange to be brought to life on the big screen, with the earliest draft of a script dating back to 1986. Alex Cox, Wes Craven, and David S. Goyer had all signed on to produce a Dr. Strange movie, but for one reason or another, it never came about.
In 2007, writer Neil Gaiman and director Guillermo del Toro both personally walked up to Marvel Studios and pitched their own version of a Dr. Strange film that they wanted to bring to life, but the studio passed on their ideas. They simply were not interested. They did regain interest with the boom of the MCU and released a Dr. Strange film in 2016.
Despite being a core member of The Avengers in the comics, fans were not expecting to see Ant-Man on the big screen. Namely because the concept of a man that has the ability to the size of an ant does not exactly scream “cinematic excitement.”
For whatever reason, Marvel Studios still saw movie potential in Ant Man and not only did we get the Hank Pym version of the character, we got the Scott Lang version starring in the film, played by Paul Rudd. Both the first film and the film’s sequel — Ant Man and The Wasp — were both critical and box office successes.
18. SILVER SURFER
The Silver Surfer always had a complicated backstory, and we weren’t sure if a single movie could contain it all. Not to mention we were not sure how his unique physical appearance could be accurately captured on-screen. CGI did not always look as impressive as it does now, and we knew that dressing a guy in a silver bodysuit would look dumb.
However, by 2005, CGI was impressive enough to give us a Silver Surfer that still looks like a solid motion capture to this day, who happened to be the highlight of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
17. NEGASONIC TEENAGE WARHEAD
Negasonic Teenage Warhead was never a very popular member of the X-Men in the comic books and never felt like a character that was begging for a live action adaptation. Heck, with a name like Negasonic Teenage Warhead, we all expected it would be at the expense of a joke if she was ever included in the X-Men movie universe.
Then, we were surprised to see Negasonic Teenage Warhead — even with her name intact — brought to Deadpool’s movie universe as a supporting X-Men member. Granted, her personality is completely different from the comics and she has Cannonball’s powers instead of her own, but it’s still more than we expected to see on the big screen.
16. THE VULTURE
A whole decade ago, we were promised that longtime Spidey villain would arrive to the big screen for the next installment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise, and played none other by John Malkovich. However, after a bevy of in-studio disagreements, Sony opted to just cancel the fourth installment and reboot the whole thing.
We never got The Vulture, but an easter egg for the character in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made us hope he would arrive in the future. That hope got dashed when the TAS franchise got cancelled as well. Thankfully, the next reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming, decided to finally bring The Vulture into the mix.
15. EGO THE LIVING PLANET
There were plenty of fans who were clamoring for a Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance from Ego the Living Planet, but eventually gave up on that dream because on paper, a talking planet with a face on it seemed too silly and absurd to pull off in live action form.
Well, Marvel Studios proved all of us wrong when they introduced Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as Peter “Star-Lord” Quill’s biological dad. Most of the time, we saw Ego in his human form, but we got quite a few shots of Kurt Russell’s face plastered onto a planet.
Venom was always a beloved anti-hero and adversary to Spider-Man in the comics but fans were skeptical as to whether or not it was possible to ever bring the slimy symbiote beast to the big screen. There was a time when Venom was originally supposed to get his own movie that was set to be produced by New Line Cinema and written by David S. Goyer.
The film would have seen Venom would have played protagonist to Carnage’s antagonist, but before production could get underway, Venom’s film rights reverted to Sony, who brought Venom into Spider-Man 3.
Spider-Man was in development hell for what seems like a ludicrous amount of time. After 25 years of being in and out of development, the Spider-Man film found a new life when it was licensed for a worldwide release by Colombia Pictures after it acquired options by MGM.
Sony hired David Koepp to write a script treatment, and several different directors — including Ang Lee, David Fincher, M. Night Shyamalan, Roland Emerich, Tony Scott, Jan de Bont, and Chris Colombus — were on and off board until Sam Raimi was hired to finally give Spider-Man the big screen treatment it so desperately deserved.
12. MILES MORALES
Since 2002, Hollywood had been fond of keeping Peter Parker as the central character of the Spider-Man movie franchise, despite the fact that there are so many other characters to have donned the red and blue Spidey mask in the comics. A favorite which fans had hoped to see receive the theatrical treatment was Miles Morales, although even the most savvy of fans of the character figured it would take a snowball’s chance in hell for that to happen.
11. HOWARD THE DUCK
Howard the Duck never really resonated with audiences as a character who needed to be adapted to the big screen. Even diehard fans of the character never expected the rude duck with a bad temper to reach the big screen.
And yet, for whatever reason, Sidney Sheinberg went up to George Lucas campaigned extremely hard for the project — although Sheinberg would later deny any and all involvement in the project and denied even so much as reading a script — and Lucas decided to bring the project to life. It would result in one of the more critically panned movies Hollywood had ever seen.
Fans always knew that such a foul mouthed walking, talking, self aware meme like Deadpool would be difficult to adapt to the big screen. Believe it or not, Marvel had plans to produce a Deadpool movie way back in the year 2000 through a partnership with Artisan Entertainment.
Ryan Reynolds started working on a Deadpool script with David S. Goyer in 2004, but due to the rights issue with 20th Century Fox, they couldn’t move forward with it. A year later, Fox expressed interest in the character, and they later allowed him to make an unfortunate cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
There was a time when it seemed like it was damn near impossible to get any member of the X-Men onto the big screen. As far back as 1989, Stan Lee and Chris Claremont had been working on getting an X-Men movie made, first with James Cameron as director for Carolco Studios.
Cameron moved on in hopes of directing a Spider-Man movie instead, while Carolco Studios went out of business. Marvel hoped to sell the rights to all the X-Men characters to Colombia Pictures, but the studio had no interest in a superhero franchise. After seeing the success of the animated series, 20th Century Fox decided to buy the film rights, and start their own franchise (and the whole superhero movie success).
Many of us were surprised to see X-23 even introduced into official Marvel canon to begin with. X-23 was originally introduced as a cloned version of Wolverine in the animated series X-Men: Evolution. While the girl created a new, intriguing dynamic for Wolverine, no one expected it to reach any further than the initial cartoon. But a year later, she made her comic book debut in NYX, officially making her canon.
Once she was canon, fans knew it would only be a matter of time before she would be brought to the big screen and that’s just what happened in 2017 when Dafne Keen played the Wolverine clone in Logan.
7. IRON MAN
Ever since 1990, an Iron Man film production had been stuck in limbo proceeding with Universal Studios acquiring the rights at the time. The film went through several different writers, directors, and actors coming and going from the production.
Believe it or not, there was one point where we came close to a production that would have saw Tom Cruise playing Tony Stark. After more than a decade of inactivity, the rights to the character of Iron Man went over to Marvel Studios in 2005. From there, they decided to kick off the MCU with Iron Man as its first film in 2008.
6. FANTASTIC FOUR
The first ever Fantastic Four movie was made in 1994, but was so horrendous that it wound up never even being released. We were lucky enough that the version wound up seeing the light of day anyway, but this Roger Corman production was such a flop, that no one expected Hollywood to try again.
Well, Hollywood decided to hit the reset button not once, but twice. First for two Fantastic Four big screen adaptations in the mid-’00s, which were both mild successes, but nothing to write home about. Then, FANT4STIC came out and… let’s just say we don’t talk about it anymore.
The Incredible Hulk had first become popular with audiences via the live action television show of the same name, which starred Bill Bixby in the ’70s and ’80s. And yet, for some reason, it had been a real challenge to try and bring the character to the big screen. The script treatment for the Hulk movie had gone through several drafts and even more writers before Ang Lee directed such a film for a 2003 release.
When that did not work out so well, that film got rebooted in 2008, but to less favorable results. We haven’t gotten another Hulk movie since, but Mark Ruffalo has played the character with flying colors in MCU projects.
4. BLACK PANTHER
As early as 1992, a Black Panther movie had been in early stages of development, particularly in the hands of Wesley Snipes, who was campaigning for decades to get the movie made, but to no avail. Then, it was announced in 2005 that Black Panther would be a character who Marvel Studios wanted to bring into their Cinematic Universe, but nothing really came from it.
Fans felt like Marvel Studios had forgot all about Black Panther and the character would never see the big screen. Early production on the character finally went underway in 2014, and the film was released in 2018 to become a surprising box office phenomenon.
Thor was another Marvel property which rotted in development hell for many years. Sam Raimi actually had plans to adapt Thor for the big screen, and planned to do so after wrapping up Darkman. However, after meeting with Stan Lee and pitching the concept to 20th Century Fox, the studio passed on it because they didn’t get it and saw little potential in superhero films.
But after X-Men proved to be a huge hit, Fox changed their minds. After the film going from filmmaker to filmmaker, and script to script, Marvel Studios gained the rights in 2006, and released Thor in 2011.
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA
A big screen adaptation of Captain America had burned in development hell for so long, that many of us doubted if such a film would ever see the light of day. It didn’t help that there were a number of failed television movies, which hurt audience interest in the character. Marvel had been trying to bring Cap to the big screen since 1997, and in 2000 came close following a partnership with Artisan Entertainment.
Unfortunately, that partnership crumbled once a lawsuit came about between Joe Simon and Marvel Entertainment over who owns the rights to the character. The lawsuit was settled in 2003, Marvel Studios acquired the rights to Cap in 2005, and The First Avenger hit theaters in 2011.
1. WISH DIDN’T GET ADAPTED: MANDARIN
There was a time when fans were dying to see the Mandarin square off against Iron Man on the big screen. Then, we got The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, and he wasn’t The Mandarin.
It turned out Ben Kingsley’s character was not the real Mandarin — although it was hinted in the Marvel One Shot, Hail to the King, that the real deal is still somewhere out there in hiding — but merely an actor named Trevor Slattery who was hired to pretend to be a threat. For casual viewers, it was a clever twist. For die hard fans of the character, they were outraged and furious.
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