When Stanley Martin Lieber would be asked about the many notable and influential figures with whom his long and rich life had intersected, he would always talk with admiration for their craft. "I mean, this guy made movies..." he would say of men like Federico Fellini who would come to seek his council, before demurring "I just write comic books." Chalk it up to modesty if you will, but there was always a sense that Stanely, the aspiring young novelist, never felt what became his stock-in-trade was ever truly "art" in the way of the films of Erroll Flynn swashbuckling across the screens of the Bronx cinema of his youth.
In the end, rather than tragic, that may be the most admirable element of his now celebrated legacy. That beneath the face of the grand public showman, the "King of Comic Books" Stan Lee, there was always the ambitious Stanley Lieber refusing to rest on his laurels. Some have been quick to cast off Lee as the Warhol of the comic book world, taking credit for the work of others, branding his name on whatever came along, the foreman of a factory rather than an artist in his own right. But to look back now at the passion with which Lee approached every new project, it becomes undeniable that within the comics world's greatest showman was the soul of an artist. The trail of unfinished projects left in his wake show the breadth of Stan Lee's unending ambitions.
15 THE MONSTER MAKER
Of all the appearances the "king of cameos" racked up during the years, the most unexpected for many was when Lee appeared in a short video for the Criterion Channel on Filmstruck in tribute to the director Alain Resnais. Heretofor unknown to the film-loving public, the acclaimed French New Wave auteur behind Last Year at Marienbad and Hiroshima mon amour had sought Lee's skills for a new script.
The film, entitled The Monster Maker, would tackle the horrors of pollution and satirize the film industry, like a Roger Corman film blended with Truffaut's Day For Night. In the end, Resnais' admiration for Lee was the project's undoing: when the studio asked Lee to trim some dialogue, Resnais refused on his behalf, feeling Stan's script was "perfect."
14 LEGION OF 5
Even in his later years, Lee never lost his capacity to create, and while he crafted many solo superheroes in his day, he always thrived when creating a super-team. As a lover of cinema and literature, Lee understood how much drama and tension could be mined from a group dynamic even before the villain arrived.
At 85, Lee created a new superteam called the Legion of 5, set to become a series of CGI films from Rainmaker. Though the project stalled, the website for Legion of 5 still remains, with concept art for characters like Fleetfoot, Replica and Nightfire as a testament to Lee's constant desire to create.
Not much text will be wasted here on the trials and tribulations of Lee's post-Marvel life, but suffice to say his Stan Lee Media venture bore no fruit, and even his more successful POW! Entertainment brought with it its own heartaches. But when things were good, POW! provided a creative outlet for the always ambitious Lee, and brought him into contact with industry figures with the clout (and cash) to help bring his visions to life.
One of the most publicized pairings was when Lee came together with Hollywood legend Robert Evans for a new film franchise entitled Foreverman. While POW! was mum on the substance of the project, Evans was attached to produce, with Lee cowriting the screenplay with Hellboy writer Peter Briggs.
12 THE PARIS HILTON PROJECT
It's easy to look at Lee's untitled Paris Hilton project and think "cash grab." Though details have yet to come to light, reports were made that Lee was collaborating with heiress and reason for the early 2000s term "celebutante" Paris Hilton for an MTV cartoon series wherein she played a superhero.
Perhaps you'd be right to dismiss the project, but one need only look back to the early days of the now defunct Spike TV to see that even under less-than-sophisticated circumstances, Lee knew how to have fun. A similar scenario found Stan crafting an original character for Pamela Anderson entitled Stripperella, and while the series was a flop, Lee's trademark humor shined through every episode.
11 ARCH ALIEN
Just three years shy of his passing, when 70,000 fans flocked to the LA Convention Center to see Stan "The Man" at the convention that bore his name, Lee announced plans for a new film franchise entitled ArchAlien. The story, though never fully revealed, would have revolved around "conspiracy, mysticism and alien mythology."
Lee would have co-created the action-thriller alongside some of the creative forces behind HBO's Rome and The CW's The Flash. While ArchAlien might one day come to fruition, even in its unproduced state, it's an example of Lee's lifelong fascination with mythology and the mysteries of our larger universe.
10 VIBE MAGAZINE
In the days after his passing, just a celebrated as Stan's creative output was his compassion. While those born even 20 or 30 years after him have had their bigotry excused by being "from a different time," Lee not only fought the outright evil of racism, but even bucked the trend of many "enlightened" creators of his time, never falling pray to respectability politics.
It was this refusal to condemn the ever-evolving forms of self-expression across the American cultural landscape that allowed him to creatively thrive when many of his time were complaining things weren't "how they used to be." His planned partnership to create a hip-hop superhero with VIBE Magazine, shows Lee's astounding ability to embrace and reflect the world around him.
9 HEF’S SUPERBUNNIES
Lee’s role as a comic book icon brought him into contact with many admirers, but few encounters yielded as long a friendship as the one he shared with another game-changing publisher who often fought with censors: Hugh Hefner. Only a few years younger than Lee, Hefner was a lifelong comics fan (even dabbling in drawing himself), and sought out Lee when the two were each in their creative peak in the swinging '60s.
Decades later, Le approached Hefner with the pitch for an MTV animated show entitled Hef's Superbunnies, seemingly a blend of Charlie's Angels and The X-Men. Conceived when both Spider-Man 2 and The Girls Next Door reawakened both mens' brands in the public consciousness, it's perplexing the project never came to fruition.
8 YIN AND YANG: BATTLE OF TAO
Lee kept plenty busy across the years conceiving new superheroes and developing stories for sci-fi franchises. But the boy who wanted to be a respectable artist never faded from his heart, and Lee always jumped at the chance to try something new.
Over the years in the last decade of his career, while pushing whatever new book or series Lee had helped create, he would always refer back to Yin and Yang: Battle of Tao, a rock opera intended to debut in Macau, China. To combine his passion for traditional mythology with a love of music he was never fully able to integrate into his comics, Lee seemed eager to experiment in the medium of the stage musical.
7 RINGO STARR- SUPERHERO
At 78 years old, and having been a vital influence on the evolution of an entire medium more than half a century ago, there's few influential figures in Hollywood who don't view Ringo Starr as an elder statesman of entertainment. For Stan "The Man" Lee, though, he saw in Starr a young whippersnapper with a future in crime-fighting.
In 2005, Lee was set to create a direct-to-DVD cartoon featuring Starr as a superhero with notably excellent rhythm. Though the project never came to fruition, we can't pretend it's not a fun "What if?" After all, who needs a Batcave when your secret hideout can be an Octopus' Garden?
6 PANDAS VS ALIENS
One of the most recent entries on this list, Pandas vs. Aliens may yet see the light of day, though clearly not in time for its intended release date. Pandas vs. Aliens licensed characters from Stan Lee's POW! Entertainment known as The Unknowns for an animated Chinese/Canadian co-production.
The film, originally set to be released in 2018, supposedly involved "aliens landing on an animal planet and seeking the power of a panda that they’ve seen through satellite broadcasts of a TV show." While Arcana Studios could still put out the project, in an effort to honor one of Stan's final endeavors, the influence of the man himself will surely be missing.
5 UNNAMED LATINX SUPERHERO
The importance of representation cannot be understated, especially in those formative works of fiction from our childhood days. And from the throngs of fans who lined up annually to tell Lee which of his characters changed their lives, to the booming box office of Black Panther attracting audiences who might have never touched a comic book, it's clear Stan Lee understood that better than most.
In his later years Lee also recognized that, barring some somewhat notable characters like America Chavez or indie books like La Borinquenia, the Latinx community is under-served in the superhero market. One of Stan's final projects was a cryptic announcement in 2017 of a Latinx superhero while appearing at La Conque in Queretaro, Mexico.
Though the career of Michelle Rodriguez arguably didn't fully take off until 2009, with back-to-back hits Fast & Furious and Avatar bringing her to global attention, Hollywood knew they had something special on their hands back during 2000 and her debut, Girlfight. Studios were eager to find projects to "launch" her, like BloodRayne and The Breed, but a planned Lee collaboration never came to light.
Stan was set to adapt Tigress, also known as Zephra, a character from the Conan the Barbarian mythos. Rodriguez would have played the title role, a warrior woman with the ability to transform into a tiger.
3 JAY J ARMES BIOPIC
Imagine this: A young boy loses his hands in a tragic dynamite accident, but doesn't let his prosthetic hooks hold him back, becoming a slick private eye, solving mysteries and even rescuing the stolen child of a famous movie star. The man with the hooks for hands name? Jay J Armes.
Sounds like the typical Stan Lee character, and indeed it was a story Stan wanted to tell. But this was no fantasy hero. Lee had actually hoped to tell the real life story of Jay Armes, whose adventures had fascinated the iconic comic book writer. Unfortunately, though Lee had ambitions to bring Armes' story to comic shops and movie screens, Armes was under contract with Warner Bros. and the plans fell through.
2 STAN LEE’S ANNIHILATOR
Stan Lee's Annihilator might be one of the most promising projects left unfinished on his docket. Drawing from the iconic stories of Lee's past, Annihilator would have followed Ming, a Chinese expatriate who undergoes an experimental super-soldier procedure which gives him an incredible array of animal-based abilities.
The project was set to hit screens with a script from Bourne Legacy screenwriter Dan Gilroy and produced by Barry Josephson, who made the equally absurd premise of Disney's Enchanted into a mega-hit. The film promised to bring Lee's flair and panache to the bone-cracking gritty world of the low-budget martial arts movie, and it's a shame that, with the recent success of films like The Raid and Night Comes For Us, Stan never got the chance to play in that sandbox.
1 THE DISNEY PROJECTS
Just as we're now pouring over the unfinished works of Stan Lee and wondering what might have been, so too did devotees once wonder what might have been when the legendary Walt Disney left behind fragments of fantasies with his untimely passing in 1966. His company carried on, of course, seeking out other creative visionaries to fill the gap, striking deals with folks like George Lucas, Jim Henson, and even Stan Lee.
Outside of Disney acquiring the entire catalogue of Stan's earliest and most iconic creations, they also signed Stan to a development deal for three projects. The first two, Blaze and Tigress (different from the Michelle Rodriguez project) were kept heavily under wraps, but the third, Nick Ratchet, promised a zany Jeckyll & Hyde story of a meek police officer becoming a tough cyber-cop.