The film industry is a fickle business. Companies are trying to make things that are in the current trend, whilst also trying to please fans and make a profit. It’s difficult to know what will work and what doesn’t, so sometimes a wild and crazy idea that would usually fail will be a billion-dollar money maker. But other times the grounded gritty take on a hero falls flat on its feet. But for the large part, comic book movies make a lot of profit, so film companies flood their slates with adaptations in an attempt to make one that takes off. Scripts will be commissioned, directors will be chosen and even a cast will be assembled, but then something will come along to derail the film and then we never hear about it again.
It’s quite fascinating to discover which films were put into development and the direction that they wanted to take some of the most well-known characters in comic book history. Add in the occasional costume test or concept art and it’s captivating. Whether it is the infamous Nicholas Cage photo, or the plans for The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, here are 15 planned superhero movies that never happened.
15 THE SINISTER SIX
Remember The Amazing Spider-Man? Sony’s attempt of making a grittier take on the webslinger didn’t quite get Peter Parker right, but the franchise was popular enough to warrant a commissioned spin-off film: The Sinister Six. The set up for the villain-centric film would come from Oscorp and the villains that were created through their nefarious schemes.
When Marc Webb spoke about the mooted film, he discussed the idea of Norman Osborn returning from the dead. “Chris Cooper was going to come back and play the Goblin. We were going to freeze his head, and then he was going to be brought back to life.” They were certainly aiming high with their plans for the franchise. We did see The Vulture’s wingsuit and Doc Ock’s tentacles during The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Ultimately The Sinister Six was cancelled once Marvel got the rights back.
14 SUPERMAN LIVES
After the success (and subsequent disappointments) of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, Warner Bros. attempted to reboot the franchise with a new take. Following his success with Batman, Tim Burton was hired for the project alongside Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. We’ve all seen those screen tests of Cage in various costumes.
There were various script iterations, but the most common element was that Brainiac was to be the villain. He would come to Earth looking for Superman, and would also unleash Doomsday on the world. In some versions, Brainiac also bonded with Lex Luthor to become Lexiac/Luthiac. There was even a version were Clark’s soul went into Lois’ body and she gave birth to a son that would become a new hero. There were some wild ideas, and it might be a good thing the film never came to fruition.
13 GREEN ARROW
Before the Emerald Archer headlined his own TV show on The CW, he had his own film in development from David S. Goyer and if we’re honest, it actually sounds pretty good. It was titled Green Arrow: Escape from Supermax. It would see Ollie arrested and thrown in prison amongst the villains he’d helped put away. In fact, he would’ve formed his own version of the Suicide Squad to help him escape and clear his name.
But the core idea of the film was to strip him of everything related to being the Green Arrow. He would’ve had the goatee shaved off, his costume and weapon of choice ripped away from him. Goyer has said in various interviews that he felt the film was ahead of its time, being character driven rather than a huge superhero blockbuster, which is what Warner Bros were after.
12 IRON FIST
Although we currently have a version of Danny Rand on Netflix amongst the rest of the Defenders, there have been plans for an Iron Fist film since back in 2001. It would have been very practical in its effects, mainly because of the person they had signed on to portray Danny. Ray Park (best known for his roles as Darth Maul and in G.I. Joe) was cast as the Immortal Iron Fist.
They even had a director working on the project, Kirk Wong. Not too much was known about the script for the film, but Ray Park had said that he’d read plenty of Iron Fist comics in preparation for the role. It sounds like they wanted to use Park’s abilities to bring a faithful version to the screen. We wonder if he would tell the audience he’s the Immortal Iron Fist every five minutes like Finn Jones’ version.
11 BATMAN BEYOND
After Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. decided that a fresh direction for the franchise could actually be quite beneficial, and decided to look into bringing Batman Beyond into live action. There was even a first draft written up between the director Boaz Yakin, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett. Dini and Burnett being the co-creators of the Batman Beyond TV show.
Whilst not much is known about the first draft, it stuck close to the premise of the show, revolving around Terry McGinnis as he works with aging Bruce Wayne to become the Batman of Neo-Gotham. It fell into development hell until the company decided to reboot with Christopher Nolan and Batman Begins. Sorry fans, Ace the Bat Hound won’t be coming to the big screen anytime soon.
10 FANTASTIC FOUR 3
The Fantastic Four movies from 2005 were quite light hearted and largely kid friendly. They were easy watching, and weren’t too complicated, so it’s understandable that Fox looked into making a third entry into the franchise. The family drama side of the team would be even more prevalent, as Jessica Alba wanted to include Franklin Richards into the story.
Ben Grimm’s relationship with Alicia would have also been explored further. But the really intriguing part is who the director said he wanted to include as part of the cast. Tim Story wanted to cast Djimon Hounsou… as Black Panther. Is that not a step towards the Illuminati with both Reed and T’Challa sharing screen time? It’s an incredible idea, it’s just a shame we’ll never see those characters in live action together. Or will we…
9 BATMAN UNCHAINED
Whilst he was filming Batman & Robin, Joel Schumacher managed to impress Warner Bros. with the footage he’d shot, and was brought on for a sequel called Batman Unchained. It would use Scarecrow as the main villain of the film, unleashing his Fear Toxin to manipulate Batman. Nicolas Cage was the one tapped for the role of Scarecrow, which would’ve been an interesting performance.
But the really interesting part is the hallucinations that the toxin would have brought on. Not only would The Joker come back, but Penguin and Catwoman too. It would’ve been great to see those versions of the villains on-screen again. But also, it would have beaten Suicide Squad to bringing Harley Quinn to the big screen, who would’ve been The Joker’s daughter instead of lover. She was even meant to be played by Courtney Love.
8 SUPERMAN FLYBY
J.J. Abrams wrote a Superman film. Let’s take a moment to recognize how cool that sentence is. The story would have seen Krypton still existing, and Superman’s reveal to Earth would have brought several corrupt Kryptonians looking for him. It would even see his death and subsequent resurrection after the conflict. The key elements of the Superman mythos were there, they just had an individual style.
Lex Luthor was still in a villainous role, but here he was an FBI agent rather than a billionaire, but Lois was still hellbent on exposing him. Josh Hartnett and Jude Law were both approached for the role, and Anthony Hopkins was cast as Jor-El. Ralph Fiennes was even cast as Lex Luthor, which is a performance we’d be interested to see. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. went in a completely different direction and instead we got Superman Returns.
7 SPIDER-MAN 4
We all know that Spider-Man 3 wasn’t so great, it had an over saturation of villains -- and it just didn’t match up to the previous films. But Sony were committed to kicking off another trilogy of Raimi/Maguire Spider-Man movies with a fourth film. This time, The Vulture would have been introduced, and would’ve been played by John Malkovich.
But they clearly hadn’t learnt from Spider-Man 3, because Black Cat, The Lizard and Mysterio were all going to appear alongside The Vulture. Spider-Man certainly would have a lot on his plate. But ultimately, Sam Raimi had become disenchanted with the franchise after the third film and left the project. Whilst at the time it was disappointing, it led to The Amazing Spider-Man which then obviously led to Spider-Man: Homecoming. It all worked out in the end.
6 LUKE CAGE: HERO FOR HIRE
Before Luke Cage was on Netflix, and even before Columbia Pictures pursued the idea of a Power Man movie -- Quentin Tarantino wanted a shot at the project before he started Pulp Fiction. He was a huge fan of how Marvel essentially did a ‘Blaxploitation’ movie as a comic book in the '70s and wanted to bring that style to a cinematic adaptation.
He even had ideas of who to bring in as Luke Cage. “After Reservoir Dogs, I had considered doing a Luke Cage, Hero for Hire movie, I talked to [Laurence Fishburne] about being Luke Cage, and he really liked that idea.” He didn’t discuss anything of a plot he would do, but knowing Tarantino it would probably be more grounded than huge blockbusters we’re used to.
5 PLASTIC MAN
He might not be the most famous member of the Justice League, but Plastic Man very nearly got his own live action film. The script was in development hell during the ‘90s, but it was attached to some very well-known names. The Wachowski’s were looking to direct the film that would put them with Keanu Reeves in the title role.
Ultimately, the film was never made -- but the Wachowski’s had a very clear direction they wanted to take the hero. They wanted to make him an environmentalist, that would battle with his own beliefs after becoming plastic. In an interview with Josh Horowitz, they described one idea; “The funny scene we thought of that was kind of the start of it all was like he goes to the bathroom after he becomes Plastic Man and his urine is no longer biodegradable so he like wants to kill himself.”
4 THE SILVER SURFER
Norrin Radd may have appeared in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, but he was originally meant to get his own solo film. It was going to be huge galactic space opera, with a killer soundtrack scored by none other than Paul McCartney. Joe Kramer was meant to helm the project, and seemed to be incredibly passionate about the character.
The only cast-member confirmed at the time was Kramer’s girlfriend, Olivia Newton-John. But Kramer wanted The Silver Surfer to be a huge awe-inspiring film as he discussed in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. "We're going to make an epic picture on the scope of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the kind of soundtrack that that film had, only using contemporary rock and roll”. Also, check out the concept art for the film, the Surfer looks wild.
Whilst there is a Lobo film in development in the DCEU currently, there was a version planned in 2009. It was aiming for a PG-13 rating, meaning it wouldn’t have had the gritty but comedic violence that the comics are known for. But it gets interesting with the director attached to the original project, Guy Ritchie.
The British Director eventually chose to create a sequel to his Sherlock Holmes film instead of working on Lobo. But the film would’ve seen Lobo coming to Earth on a hunt for a group of fugitives. Presumably, this would’ve been on a bounty rather than a fight against evil. But when Lobo realizes he’s outmatched, he has to work with a teenage girl to stop the aliens. We’re not sure what the difficulties were that he’d face, but it’s certainly an interesting premise.
2 THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 3
If you thought that The Sinister Six film was a wild idea, wait till you hear the ideas floated around for The Amazing Spider-Man 3. It would be the jumping off point for the numerous spin-offs Sony were looking at. Eddie Brock would appear, including the symbiotes, and Cletus Kasady was also meant to cameo.
But the crazy part is where Peter was going to engineer his own blood into a formula that would help him bring back all the people who had died in his life. This would include Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy and even his parents. There was also a plan to bring in a Gwen from an alternate universe. You know the one, Spider-Gwen. We’re not saying we wouldn’t have watched it, but it sounds like Sony couldn’t decide which direction to go in whatsoever.
1 JUSTICE LEAGUE MORTAL
Perhaps one of the most well-known mooted superhero films -- Justice League would have beaten Marvel into bringing a team of heroes to the big screen. The production got as far as casting some of the roles, with Armie Hammer saying he’d screen tested in the Batman costume. Also cast were Adrien Brody as Barry Allen, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord and Common as John Stewart.
The film would see Maxwell Lord and Talia Al Ghul pick apart the league one by one in a similar style to the ‘Tower of Babel’ storyline. It would also see the OMAC’s plague the team, eventually resulting in the death of Barry Allen and the promotion of Wally West. It was going to be directed by legendary Mad Max director, George Miller. But it was shelved due to the writers’ strike.