The comic book movie landscape has changed considerably in a short number of years. Following a series of less-than-stellar releases in the late '90s, companies saw the value of the product when films like Blade and X-Men hit theaters and proved to be successes. It seems like now every comic book property that could be has been snapped up by a number of directors and stars, all lobbying to play their favorite superheroes. Newer fans may think this hasn’t always been the case, but they’d be wrong. Superhero movies, even in eras where they weren’t considered financially profitable, have always been in development and on the forefront of Hollywood’s mind.
There are the obvious heroes, like Batman and Superman, who almost always have a film in production, but a few of them may surprise you. Of course, there are also those projects with a surprising name attached falling apart because of creative differences or any number of concerns. Some of your favorite, most anticipated comic book movies already almost happened at least once, and you never heard of them. The story behind these failed adaptations is sometimes still shrouded in mystery, but interesting nonetheless. Here are 15 superhero movies we almost got, but never will.
15 SUPERMAN LIVES
This is perhaps the most well-documented case to be on the list, but it still bears mentioning. In the '90s, producer Jon Peters went to work on a new Superman movie to complement the growing Batman franchise. With former star Christopher Reeve no longer a fit, the idea was a soft reboot of the series.
With Tim Burton on board to direct, Superman Lives was touted as starring Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel in a story that would serve as a loose adaptation of the classic Death of Superman story. Superman would eventually transition to an odd, black suit with an S-shield which could turn into a series of knives. The film got so far as costuming, with pictures of Cage in the classic Superman costume recently resurfacing. Superman Lives eventually died a death, with the project morphing over the years until it became Man of Steel.
14 BATMAN TRIUMPHANT
Batman & Robin is regarded as what killed the franchise that started with Tim Burton’s Batman, but it's easy to forget that this wasn’t always the case. With Batman & Robin nearing release and the box office numbers looking favorable, Warner Bros. was looking to move ahead with a fifth entry, tentatively titled Batman Triumphant. Though no casting decisions were ultimately made, the film got fairly far along in creative before being canceled.
The plot was said to have featured Scarecrow as the main villain, with Harley Quinn (a role written with Madonna in mind) and Mad Hatter as Scarecrow’s sidekicks and secondary villains. Most notably, though, was talk of Jack Nicholson returning to the franchise, reprising his role as The Joker in Scarecrow-induced hallucinations. With Batman & Robin’s critical failure, though, this film failed to take off.
13 TERRY GILLIAM’S WATCHMEN
The creation of Zack Snyder's Watchmen film in 2009 was the culmination of decades of attempts. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s legendary comic book tale of aging superheroes had scripts floating around Hollywood, and the story had been declared by many to be unfilmable. Terry Gilliam was no exception but made an attempt at it in the late ‘80s.
The film only got as far as a script by Batman writer Sam Hamm, but evidently, it’s completely insane. A few years ago the ending was revealed in an interview and involved Ozymandias convincing Doctor Manhattan to go back in time and remove himself from existence, resulting in a bizarre, meta ending where the remaining heroes are displaced comic book characters living in real world New York. Gilliam eventually left the project, and Watchmen continued on in development hell for two decades.
12 THE DAZZLER
Marvel’s Dazzler is a pop culture icon now and has a long history with the company. X-Man and occasional agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Alison Blaire was originally created with something different in mind: cross media promotion. In a first of its kind idea, the plan was for Dazzler to appear in three forms of media: comic books, a music album and a feature film starring the hottest woman of the '90s, Bo Derek.
The project crashed and burned pretty fast. Derek signed on, but the script went through a number of rewrites and fell apart when Derek insisted on her husband, temperamental director John Derek, being hired to helm the film, resulting in backers pulling out. Marvel tried this stunt again in the mid-’90s with Nightcat, but both the one-shot and debut album sold so poorly that the singer portraying her was fired.
Chances are you heard of Supermax at some point, perhaps even under the title Green Arrow: Escape From Supermax. The proposed film had a script by Batman Begins scribe David S. Goyer and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li writer Justin Marks, and has a hell of a strong premise. Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, is incarcerated after being framed for the assassination of a government official.
The film would have stripped Oliver of his identity and tools, and become a superhero prison escape film as Ollie attempted to clear his name. The project floated around for years and was continually rumored to start production, but never came to fruition. As this was right in the thick of the boom of superhero movies, Green Arrow was beaten by himself. The release of Arrow on the CW and the pending DCEU film slate made Supermax all but impossible to get approved.
10 JOE CARNAHAN’S DAREDEVIL
Joe Carnahan made his name in the late ‘00s. Directorial efforts on Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team showcased his ability to produce genre films that were high-octane action with just the right amount of comedy. Carnahan also wanted to take a shot at superhero films, and he set his eyes on Marvel’s own Man Without Fear, Daredevil.
Daredevil was an odd film property, having fallen from grace after the 2003 Ben Affleck version of the character was poorly received. Carnahan had the idea to make a violent, gritty action piece and intentionally shooting for an R rating. Carnahan’s pitch earned a lot of buzz, as did a sizzle reel he uploaded to YouTube, but rights holder 20th Century Fox failed to approve the pitch in time. With the rights reverting back to Marvel, Carnahan’s pitch was never approved and Daredevil remained in limbo until his 2015 return on Netflix.
9 GEORGE MILLER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL
In 2009, with The Dark Knight proving exactly how much money DC was leaving on the table, plans were made for a Justice League film. Fans were somewhat surprised, though, with the film’s pre-production. The story appeared to cheat its way into the Nolanverse with Talia al Ghul serving as a villain and the cast were relatively young or unknown such as Common and Armie Hammer. But fans truly balked at the director.
Having spent the past several years directing films like Happy Feet and Babe, George Miller was regarded by most fans as a kid’s filmmaker at the time. Justice League: Mortal eventually stalled out as the DCEU came to life. In 2015, with Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max: Fury Road, fans were reminded of the breadth of Miller’s career and now wonder just what Justice League: Mortal might have been.
8 DARREN ARONOFSKY’S BATMAN
Not every unmade superhero movie was a good idea, and this one is perhaps the most well-known. Darren Aronofsky has almost certainly made a film you love; after all, he’s an incredible filmmaker. With Pi and Requiem for a Dream under his belt, he was one of the names tapped for the Batman reboot planned in the early-’00s, but his idea never found any ground.
Aronofsky’s Batman pitch was virtually unrecognizable. He was an orphan; no parents being killed, no inherent wealth and no Wayne Manor. Instead, he lived in a junkyard with his foster parent, Big Al, who guided him in building the Batsuit and fighting in Gotham. The pitch was thrown out in favor of what would eventually become Batman Begins and Aronofsky did the criminally underrated The Fountain instead, so we all came out better in the end.
7 X-MEN ORIGINS: MAGNETO
X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn’t supposed to be a stand-alone entry. The plan was for a series of spin-offs detailing the lives of the popular X-Men characters before their appearances in the movie, and the immediate plan was for a follow-up about series villain Magneto. The plan was for appearances by McKellan as the elder Lehnsherr, bookending a story about himself at a younger age.
The Longest Yard writer Sheldon Turner was tapped to write the script, and David S. Goyer was hired on to direct. However, the failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine caused a lack of faith in the project, as it began to falter. Ultimately the project was abandoned, with the story elements later being adapted into the younger Magneto’s story for X-Men: First Class, which served as a reboot of sorts for the ailing X-Men franchise.
6 A GREEN LANTERN COMEDY
What do Jack Black and Eddie Murphy have in common? Well, quite a bit honestly, given that both of them have had careers as actors, comedians and musicians. For the purposes of this list, however, we’ll point out that both were at one point the frontrunner for a comedy based on DC Comics’ Green Lantern.
Long before the 2011 Ryan Reynolds film, Eddie Murphy was the frontrunner for the film as far back as the 1980s. The proposed script threw out most of the elements of the comic, instead opting for a comedy film. The script remained popular for several years, long enough to morph into a Jack Black vehicle at the height of his early-’00s popularity, but never got past pre-production. Black has stated in recent years he still believes in the script, but it doesn’t look like this one’s ever getting made.
5 LUKE CAGE
Luke Cage is doing well right now, but considering how much of a niche character he was for years, it might surprise you that we almost got Luke Cage films twice, by two incredibly respected directors. Quentin Tarantino revealed he was looking to do a Luke Cage film before Pulp Fiction put him on the map, but fell apart over casting (Tarantino wanted an actor with chops and eyed Laurence Fishburne, while the studio wanted the more muscular, box office draw of Wesley Snipes).
A decade later, Boyz N The Hood director John Singleton was confirmed to direct a Luke Cage film. A script was in the process of being written, and Singleton had his eyes on model turned actor Tyrese Gibson for the title role with Terrence Howard as Cage’s rival Diamondback. The film fell apart early on, though a script was completed by writer Ben Ramsay.
4 SPAWN 2
When Spawn released in 1997, it was a big deal for a little bit. With its incredible visual effects (for the time) and surprisingly strong casting, the film was a breath of fresh air after fans had endured Batman & Robin earlier that year. Plans were underway for a sequel, quickly hyped by both character creator Todd McFarlane and star Michael Jai White.
According to McFarlane, the sequel would have focused entirely on beleaguered detectives Sam & Twitch, who had cameoed in the film’s finale. The detective’s focus would move Spawn to a secondary character, to the point that the character had no lines in the script. Michael Jai White would continue to discuss his involvement until 2001, but this version of the character would eventually fall to the wayside in favor of an upcoming reboot.
3 GUY RITCHIE’S LOBO
In 2009, directors were snapping up properties left and right in the hopes of cashing in on comic book movies. With Marvel’s shared universe still in its infancy, the focus wasn’t on creating sprawling worlds but instead on focused successful franchises. Popular British director Guy Ritchie stepped in at the time and picked up DC’s Main Man himself, Lobo.
It’s hard to argue Ritchie was a bad choice, given his successful crime dramas and action films. Not much was known about the project when Ritchie left it, as he opted instead to continue his successful Sherlock Holmes franchise with MCU alum Robert Downey Jr. Lobo eventually morphed to feature San Andreas director Brad Peyton and Dwayne Johnson, ultimately falling apart when Johnson left the project to instead play Black Adam. Lobo remains in development hell.
2 THE PUNISHER 2
The 2004 iteration of The Punisher is a fairly divisive Marvel film, with a mix of strong performances by star Thomas Jane and over the top camp by villain John Travolta. The film lit up the box office briefly and even featured a successful video game tie-in. All signs pointed to sequel, something that would have made it stand out from its fellow comic book movies of the time.
Both Jane and writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh pushed for The Punisher 2 for years, with a script that relocated the character to New York and featured the villain Jigsaw. However, budget cuts and script issues led both to leave the project over quality concerns. Jane continued to lobby to return to the role for some time, even appearing in the short film Dirty Laundry, but Marvel opted instead for the Lexi Alexander-directed Punisher: War Zone, which didn’t meet expectations.
1 TOM CRUISE’S IRON MAN
An Iron Man film was in development longer than most people realized, and in the mid-’90s came very close to getting made. Most surprising, however, was who was set to star: film juggernaut Tom Cruise. As far back as 1998, a script was in the works, with Tom Cruise so eager to play Tony Stark that he was signed on not only to star but to co-produce the film as well.
This version of the character was in the works for several years but ultimately concerns over the strength of the script led to Cruise leaving the project. Though never confirmed, Cruise is said to have still been a top choice for the character when Marvel Studios started the project, but ultimately they chose to go with Robert Downey Jr., and the rest is movie history.
Do you know any other morsels of superhero movie history? Let us know your inside scoop in the comments!