Making movies is hard work. You gather hundreds if not thousands of people — and millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars — and just hope you can make everybody agree on which direction the film ought to go in within a reasonable amount of time. Months or years of planning, shooting, marketing and editing go by before a movie is finally ready for public consumption. But no matter how much effort all those people put in, there is no guarantee that a movie will make it to the finish line. If a similar film flops at the box office or if an executive somewhere decides they’d rather make a movie about invading space kittens, then oh well! That’s endless hours of effort and oodles of money right down the proverbial drain. Time to move on to the next, equally tenuous project.
And that’s what happened to the 20 films on this list. In some cases, we are eternally grateful for whatever forces put the kibosh on what was shaping up to be an unfaithful, awkward or just plain awful film. But just as often, the scrapped project lasted long enough to get fans’ mouths watering before it was cruelly relegated to the scrap heap. Sadly, we will never know for sure which of these films would have been gems and which would have bombed. They only exist in our imaginations, or possibly in an unreachable alternate universe. So let us now don our nostalgia goggles and take a look at these dreams — or nightmares — of what might have been.
20. SUPERMAN LIVES
We’ve all seen the pictures. Nicolas Cage, sporting a long and glorious hairdo, stands in an oddly shiny rendition of the Superman costume, looking only vaguely interested in the proceedings. Where on Krypton did these photos come from? They’re from Cage’s screen test for Superman Lives, one of the most infamous canceled comic book movies ever.
So many big names were attached to this project at one point or another: Cage, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith… all for naught. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies even referenced this doomed project by having Nicholas Cage voice their Superman. Because if there’s one thing kids love, it’s an homage to unmade superhero flicks.
19. TOM CRUISE’S IRON MAN
The 2008 film Iron Man helped launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, indeed, superhero movies as we know them today. But it took a very long time for Tony Stark to make it to the big screen. By the time it finally happened, the idea of creating an Iron Man film had been kicked around Hollywood for years.
Multiple studios were attached to the project at one time or another. So were multiple potential leading men. One of the more famous names once suggested for the role of the Armored Avenger was Tom Cruise. It’s almost a shame that never happened. We would have liked to see Cruise do his own stunts in this movie.
The Inhumans, a group of generally reclusive, superpowered humans, were not among Marvel’s most famous characters until relatively recently. The change came about in 2014, when Marvel first announced its line-up of Phase Three films. Among the upcoming projects was The Inhumans, which was slated for release in late 2018.
But then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t anymore. The Inhumans appeared to have simply vanished from Marvel’s roster. After some confusion, Marvel announced that they would give the Inhumans a TV show instead of a film. That… didn’t turn out so great. It’ll probably be a while, if ever, before the MCU looks the Inhumans’ way again.
17. HELLBOY III
Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, released in 2004 and 2008 respectively, were both well received by audiences and critics alike. So what happened to Hellboy III? Director Guillermo del Toro repeatedly expressed interest in making a third film, so where is it?
For one reason or another, the old gang never did manage to get back together to complete the trilogy. And, in a perfect demonstration of why one shouldn’t put off till tomorrow what one can do today, it is now too late. The Hellboy film franchise is now being rebooted with Dog Soldiers’ Neil Marshall at the helm. In other words, del Toro’s series is destined to forever remain a twofer.
16. HELLBOY: SILVERLANCE
A spin-off of the Hellboy film franchise used to be in the works, emphasis on “used to be.” Hellboy: Silverlance would have put the spotlight on Nuada, the elf prince who tried to destroy humankind in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Silverlance would have been a prequel, taking us on a journey through history to show why Nuada is the way he is.
Other characters from the Hellboy franchise, including Abe Sapien and even Hellboy himself, would have played prominent roles in the spin-off. But in the end, nobody appeared anywhere. This project, like Hellboy III, was derailed by the Hellboy reboot. Ah, well. That’s what fanfiction writers are for.
15. Y: THE LAST MAN
Y: The Last Man tells the story of Yorick Brown, the sole male survivor after every person and animal with a Y chromosome suddenly passes away. Yorick and Agent 355, the woman assigned to protect him, travel the world to try to clone Yorick and save humanity from extinction. The comic is 60 issues long, so as you might imagine, it encompasses a long and complicated story.
And that’s where New Line’s proposed film adaptation fell apart. The studio wanted the whole story told in a single movie. Prospective director D.J. Caruso wanted a trilogy. This disagreement caused the project to languish for years. New Line finally lost the film rights to series creators Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra.
14. WESLEY SNIPES’ BLACK PANTHER
Now that we’ve seen Chadwick Boseman in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone else playing the King of Wakanda on the big screen. It almost happened, though. In the mid-’90s, action star Wesley Snipes expressed interest in starring in a Black Panther flick.
The project went through a few drafts of a script but got no farther. One major problem: they didn’t yet have the technology to convincingly bring the futuristic Wakanda to life. Snipes would later make his mark on comic book movie history by playing another Marvel character, Blade, in three films starting in 1998.
13. EX MACHINA
Ex Machina was published by WildStorm from 2004 to 2010. It tells the story of how Mitchell Hundred, a former superhero, copes with being elected mayor of a post-9/11 New York City. New Line Cinema acquired the film rights in 2005 and… that’s it.
No directors, writers or actors were ever attached to the project, and in 2012, New Line gave up the rights. Much like the ill-fated Y: The Last Man adaptation featured elsewhere on this list, Ex Machina was co-created by Brian K. Vaughan. What is it about Vaughan’s comics that New Line can’t seem to get a handle on?
12. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT’S SANDMAN
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a bona fide classic. The saga of Dream and his fellow Endless has captivated even non-comics readers for almost 30 years. Usually, a character with that kind of cultural clout would have at least two film franchises by now.But as of now, we have yet to see even a single minute of footage.
Talk of a Sandman film began in the 1990s, but no one could come up with a script worthy of the source material. Then they did get a script, as well as a star in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but creative differences caused Gordon-Levitt to drop out. The creative wrangling continues to this day.
11. PLASTIC MAN
One of DC’s most unusual heroes, Plastic Man got his own cartoon in the ’70s but has yet to get a movie. In the mid-’90s, several studios expressed interest in producing a Plastic Man film. It would have been written by the Wachowskis and possibly starred Keanu Reeves. For better or worse, that is a movie that definitely sounds like it’s worth watching.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Plastic Man continues to entertain readers in all manner of comics and cartoons, but there don’t appear to be any more cinematic plans on the horizon. One thing we know for sure: the Wachowskis’ Plastic Man would have been really, really weird.
10. DOC SAVAGE: THE ARCH ENEMY OF EVIL
Doc Savage predates every other character on this list. Since 1933, Clark Savage, Jr. has traveled the world, using his innate genius and physical prowess to eradicate injustice wherever he finds it. In 1975, he got a big campy feature film called Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. It ended by teasing a sequel, entitled Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil.
But apparently, ’70s audiences hated fun. The film flopped, the promised sequel never saw the light of day and we haven’t had a Doc Savage movie since. Current rumor suggests a Doc Savage reboot is in the works, with Dwayne Johnson playing the title role.
9. SUPERMAN V
Superman is a classic. Superman II is lots of fun. From there, everything sort of imploded. Superman III may or may not fall into the “so bad it’s good” category, while Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was the kryptonite nail in the coffin that ended the franchise. But not everyone thought so at the time.
Ilya Salkind, who co-produced the previous four Superman films, expressed interest in moving ahead with Superman V in 1990. He acknowledged that he might have to find a new Superman, as Christopher Reeve was understandably reluctant to put on the blue tights a fifth time. Apparently, everyone else was reluctant to continue the franchise too, and no fifth film ever happened.
8. JOSS WHEDON’S WONDER WOMAN
Wonder Woman is DC’s most recognizable heroine. It is therefore surprising that it took until 2017 for her to get her own live-action movie. But the Patty Jenkins film was certainly worth the wait, especially considering what we might have gotten if earlier proposed projects had gone ahead.
In 2005, former fan favorite Joss Whedon was brought on board to direct and write a Wonder Woman movie. His would have been a puzzlingly Steve Trevor-centric film. Steve would have served as the film’s narrator, and he would have had to frequently rescue Wonder Woman — you know, the film’s hero — as she tried and failed to navigate Man’s World on her own. Thanks but no thanks.
Published first by Dark Horse and then online, Chickenhare follows the adventures of a chicken/hare hybrid and his turtle best friend, Abe. It’s far from your run-of-the-mill funny animal comic. In the first book, The House of Klaus, the protagonists are sold to a taxidermist who bears a disturbing resemblance to Santa Claus. Later, Chickenhare must rescue Abe from hell. Sounds like the perfect basis for a cartoon!
And sure enough, it almost happened. An animated film was announced in 2011. A script was written and rewritten. Five years slogged by with minimal developments. Finally, Chickenhare creator Chris Grine announced that the film was officially done.
6. JOE CARNAHAN’S DAREDEVIL
Joe Carnahan is currently writing the hit show The Blacklist. But if history had gone a little bit differently, he might now also be known as the brain behind the Daredevil movie. Well, three movies, to be exact. Carnahan proposed a trilogy set in the ’70s and ’80s. Each film would have had a distinct musical style — classic rock, punk rock and new wave — to set the mood.
But Carnahan was up against the one enemy that even the Man Without Fear cannot conquer: time. Before he could complete his pitch, the movie rights for Daredevil reverted back to Marvel, and we got the Netflix series instead of Carnahan’s musical vision.
5. BATMAN V
Like the Christopher Reeve Superman film franchise before it, the Burton/Schumacher Batman series started off strong before it crashed and burned with the fourth installment. Also like the Superman film franchise, the fourth movie almost was not the end of the story. A fifth Batman film would have featured a Joker/Scarecrow team-up, with a bonus of Harley Quinn as the Joker’s daughter.
But then Batman & Robin happened. Public reaction was so overwhelmingly negative that any future Bat-projects were deemed too risky to touch. So we’ll never know if seeing Joker as the father of a woman who is famously infatuated with him would be as awkward as it sounds.
Here’s the story as former Marvel editor Jim Shooter tells it: in 1979, Shooter wrote a synopsis for a TV special starring Dazzler, a newly created mutant who could generate blasts of light from her hands. The special would have featured everyone from the Avengers to Spider-Man to Robin Williams to Donna Summers. Sign us up!
Casablanca Record and Filmworks decided to turn this little special into a full-blown film. From there, they chucked Shooter’s treatment, tried and failed to get actress Bo Derek onboard, tried and failed to interest investors, and finally shelved the whole thing. How un-dazzling of them.
3. CHRIS COLUMBUS’ SUB-MARINER
Namor the Sub-Mariner is one of Marvel’s oldest characters and is still reasonably popular today. And yet the king of Atlantis has yet to appear in any Marvel movie, let alone star in one. That’s not from a lack of trying. Numerous directors have been attached to theoretical Sub-Mariner films at various times.
Perhaps most notably, at one point, Harry Potter director Chris Columbus was set to direct a Sub-Mariner movie with David Self writing and executive producing. That point was in 2004. Marvel now has the movie rights to Namor again, but they haven’t done anything with them yet, claiming they still had some rights issues to sort through.
2. DAVID HAYTER’S BLACK WIDOW
For years, fans have demanded a Black Widow movie, and for years, Marvel has hedged. But in 2004, Lions Gate announced that they would take on the long-awaited Black Widow film. They even brought on David Hayter, who wrote the first two X-Men films, to write it. But the film never materialized, and Marvel went back to the requisite hemming and hawing.
Since then, the Black Widow has appeared in plenty of cartoons and a healthy number of MCU films. Now she once again stands on the cusp of getting a movie, this time with Cate Shortland as director. We wish her more luck than Hayter had.
1. RAY PARK’S IRON FIST
Depending on your opinion of Netflix’s Iron Fist, you may be devastated or relieved to know that the role of Danny Rand very nearly went to someone else. In 2001, Marvel and Artisan Entertainment announced their intention to produce an Iron Fist film. It would have been directed by Kirk Wong and starred Ray Park in the title role. Park is probably best known for playing Star Wars villain Darth Maul.
Needless to say, this project never moved forward. Even after the film was scrapped, Park continued to express interest in the role. But that door has been pretty squarely shut, with Finn Jones now firmly established as Marvel’s Iron Fist.
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