For every movie that successfully makes its way to the big screen after years and years of development, there are several that fall by the wayside or languish for long periods in the dreaded stage known as ‘development hell’. The movies that are released are also sometimes very different from the initial vision intended for them. Filmmaking is such a collaborative process between hundreds of people and ideas constantly change or develop based on the circumstances faced during production. While there was a time when it felt that were dozens upon dozens of superhero movies were in limbo (with the mass amount of comic book related movies announced, it sort of feels like this right now), we’ve seen so many of our favorite heroes and villains on the big screen in just the past 10 years.
Purely in terms of comic book movies, for example, there are a huge number of truly interesting projects that failed to make it to screens for a variety of reasons. The annals of Hollywood history are positively littered with Superman and Batman movie ideas that never quite made it, alongside proposed movies featuring other premier DC characters. The concept art included in this article shows just how intriguing these movies could have been, as well as in some cases showing just how wrong a project could have gone if the ideas had been followed through with! There are also early concept designs included here for characters and locations in movies that fans know very well, and they provide compelling insight into just how different certain elements of those films could have been.
17. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
In the year 2000, Warner Brothers was developing two separate Batman movie projects: a live-action Batman Beyond film, and an adaptation of Batman: Year One from director Darren Aronofsky, who was co-writing the script with comic writer Frank Miller. The project would have been wildly different from Miller’s comic, as well as a complete reimagining of Batman lore.
For example, Alfred would have been an African-American mechanic named Little Al and Bruce Wayne would have become homeless after losing his parents. The Batmobile also didn’t exist in the script, with Batman driving a Lincoln Continental instead. These costume designs were commissioned, which have a distinctly Mike Mignola/Gotham By Gaslight-influenced look to us.
16. K FROM SUPERMAN LIVES
The original draft of Superman Lives was written by geek icon Kevin Smith, and many of the elements of his story remained in further drafts by Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy. Smith has told hilarious tales of his experiences on the project for years, highlighting the irony that he was the one who suggested Tim Burton as director, only for Burton to immediately fire him and have his script rewritten.
One thing that Strick did change, however, was making K (a mysterious force that represented the spirit of Krypton) the thing that resurrected Superman, rather than The Eradicator, as was the case in Smith’s draft. The concept designs for K revealed an ominously insectoid and robotic creature, with metallic tentacles and a vaguely ant-like face.
15. EARLY CONCEPTS FOR THE JOKER
Heath Ledger’s monumental portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has rightfully gone down as one of the greatest performances in cinema history. His Joker was iconic, a white make-up wearing psychopath with a penchant for knives who concocted elaborate plans designed to create chaos in Gotham City.
The ‘Glasgow smile’ style scars around his mouth were extremely unsettling, and these early concepts show that they were always intended to be an element of his design. But we’d argue the Clown Prince Of Crime pictured here looks even more crazy than what we got in the film, with a distinctly Leatherface/The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired look for his skin and emotionless black eyes.
14. BANE’S ORIGINAL MASK DESIGN
While Tom Hardy’s Bane didn’t look much like the comic book incarnation at all, the look chosen for the character in The Dark Knight Rises made quite an impression nonetheless. Costume designer Lindy Hemming took inspiration from a Swedish army jacket and a frock coat from the French Revolution when designing Bane’s coat, and wanted the rest of his uniform to look like a collection of things he had cobbled together over years of travelling the world with the League Of Assassins.
His mask, which in the movie looked almost like a metal insect that had attached itself to his mouth, was originally going to cover his entire head like in the comics, with an even more insectoid design over the mouth. We’re sure Hardy appreciated that it was scaled back!
13. THE SCARECROW DESIGN
Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow, was one of the main villains in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and was played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy. He then made cameo appearances in both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises as well. Fans may therefore be surprised to find out that, only two years after Rises, the character was being re-designed by artist Ed Natividad for an appearance in the Suicide Squad movie!
With a completely different look than Murphy’s incarnation, we can’t help but wonder who would have played the character. In the end he wasn’t included in the controversial movie which hit screens in 2016, but perhaps an appearance in the upcoming sequel isn’t out of the question?
12. JOSS WHEDON WONDER WOMAN MOVIE
Prior to August 2017, The Avengers/Firefly supremo Joss Whedon was one of the most beloved creators in the geek community. He was especially lauded for being a feminist ally, having built his career on the creation of shows centred on awesome female characters (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse). But then his ex-wife released a damning blog post saying he was a hypocrite for ‘preaching feminist ideals’ whilst cheating on her.
Following that, his 2006 script for the proposed Wonder Woman movie he was going to direct was leaked and was heavily criticized for sidelining Diana Prince in favor of boyfriend Steve Trevor. These concept designs show his version of the character might have looked very different to the more traditional Gal Gadot incarnation as well.
There are few superhero movies that have a worse reputation than 2011’s Green Lantern, which starred Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan and was directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale). Hell, Reynolds has taken countless shots at it while starring in and promoting his self-referential Deadpool films. One of the most disappointing aspects of the film was the design of Parallax, the parasitic entity that fed on fear.
The movie gave us a laughable yellow cloud with a face rather than the Lovecraftian-design pictured here in early concept art. This being, all tendrils emanating from an undefinable mass of shadow, would have been legitimately scary. Fans of Stranger Things can attest to that, as the main Upside Down monster in season two looked very much like this.
10. THE ROUSER
Warner Brothers developed a movie in the early 2000s entitled Superman: Flyby. Only a few years after the debacle that was Superman Lives, they hired JJ Abrams (then known for the TV shows’ Alias and Felicity) to write the movie. It would have seen Superman do battle with his corrupt uncle Kata-Zor and cousin Ty-Zor, who were responsible for a civil war on Krypton which left Jor-El imprisoned.
The movie was scrapped after both Brett Ratner and McG couldn’t get it off the ground, but concept art does exist that shows what it might have looked like. This image, by artist Phil Saunders, shows the Man Of Steel fighting The Rouser, an imposing mech battlesuit piloted by Kata-Zor.
9. ORIGINAL DOOMSDAY DESIGN
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is arguably the most divisive superhero movie ever made. It has a sizeable fanbase devoted to its gritty and self-serious take on the material, but it didn’t please fans who wanted something more fun from the first big screen team-up of the World’s Finest.
The movie was also critically ravaged and disappointed at the box office, forcing Warner Brothers to seriously rethink their approach to everything. One of the biggest bones of contention was in the design of Doomsday, who looked more akin to the Cave Troll in The Lord Of The Rings than his comic book counterpart. This initial concept design hews much closer to the comics, highlighting the character’s trademark jutting-out bones and imposing physicality.
8. ORIGINAL STEPPENWOLF DESIGN
If Batman V Superman was divisive, then the opinion on Justice League was at least something everyone could agree on: it was bad. The team-up of all of DC’s biggest heroes should have been a record-breaking success, but instead it found itself the lowest-grossing film in the new DC Universe of movies. Perhaps the generic CGI monstrosity named Steppenwolf was one of the reasons it didn’t connect.
Inarguably one of the worst villains in comic book movie history, the character looked like a late ’90s Playstation One cut-scene inserted into a big-budget 2017 Hollywood blockbuster. This early design shows that the character could have at least looked more menacing in the film, although the godawful CGI would still have rendered him preposterous on-screen.
7. JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK
Joseph Kahn is a Korean-American film and music video director who has helmed videos for artists such as Lady Gaga, Imagine Dragons and Katy Perry. He has also directed feature films, including 2004 action movie Torque and 2011 comedy horror Detention. In December 2017 he shared some concept design work on social media that he had commissioned for a pitch he made to Warner Brothers to get the gig directing Justice League Dark, the proposed movie team-up of DC’s premier supernatural characters.
The artwork was produced by Ironklad Studios and it made many fans upset that this version of the movie wasn’t greenlit. Eagle-eyed fans will spot actor Dan Stevens as the visual reference for John Constantine, and actress Natalie Dormer as Zatanna.
6. SWAMP THING
Kahn also included designs for Boston Brand, aka Deadman, and Jason Blood, aka Etrigan (whose visual reference was a pre-Doctor Strange Chiwetel Ejiofor), in his pitch, alongside a truly awesome design for Swamp Thing and an eight-second animation test that gave an idea of how his shambling swamp monster would have moved in the film.
One of the most popular cult characters in DC canon, Swamp Thing has had defining comic book runs written by the likes of Len Wein, Alan Moore and Scott Snyder and drawn by legends like Bernie Wrightson. He has also appeared on the silver screen before, in two low-budget movies in the ’80s, as well as in three seasons of his own TV show from 1990-93.
5. SANDMAN MOVIE PITCH
One of the most feverishly beloved series’ in comic book history, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman has been in some sort of development as a film or television show for decades at this point. The beautifully literate series has also been thought to be almost unfilmable by many observers, though that hasn’t stopped plenty of people from trying!
In fact, in the early ’90s Gaiman himself was tasked with pitching the concept to Warner Brothers as a trilogy of films, and he enlisted his Black Orchid collaborator Jill Thompson to work up some stunning concept art. Clearly the Warner Brothers’ suits weren’t convinced, as the movie never happened, but in 2012 the pitch art was put up for auction on an original comic book art website.
4. OWL SHIP DESIGN
In 2004, director Paul Greengrass was fresh off his hugely successful and critically acclaimed Jason Bourne sequel The Bourne Supremacy. He was hired by Paramount Pictures to direct an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal Watchmen series and got further in the process than the likes of Darren Aronofsky and Terry Gilliam had done in previous attempts to develop the film.
His production designer Dominic Watkins had put together a book of concept art for their version of the film, which would have updated the Cold War-era story to the present day and been filmed in a realistic, almost documentary-like style. It would’ve been a far cry from Zack Snyder’s slavishly faithful page-to-screen translation from 2009, that’s for sure!
3. GOTHAM CITY DESIGNS
The differences in style between Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Batman films are glaringly obvious for all to see. Burton’s aesthetic is all Gothic excess, with Gotham City moving from a grimy, crime ridden city with menacing art deco touches in Batman to a full-on wintry Gothic wonderland in Batman Returns.
By contrast, Schumacher’s Gotham was a neon hellscape in Batman Forever, with a much more vivid color palette. By the time Batman & Robin came around, there wasn’t even a hint of Gotham’s usual foreboding atmosphere, which is why these initial concept designs by Mary Locatell (who worked as a visual effects artist on both Schumacher films) are so interesting. They look much more akin to Burton’s style choices than Schumacher’s.
2. ROBIN CONCEPT DESIGN
As hard as it is to believe now, Tim Burton actually flirted with the idea of putting Robin in one of his Batman films. In the original conception of Batman Returns, Bruce Wayne would have met a garage mechanic who wore a familiar ‘R’ logo on his overalls, and he would’ve become the Dark Knight’s sidekick.
Actor Marlon Wayans (Requiem For A Dream) was even cast in the role and attended a costume fitting. Burton scrapped the character as he was worried the movie already had too many characters in it, but Wayans was then lined up to be in Burton’s third Batman movie… before he was ousted in favour of Joel Schumacher and Chris O’Donnell was cast.
1. NICOLAS CAGE AS SUPERMAN
In May 2015 a crowdfunded documentary debuted entitled The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?. Directed by the late Jon Schnepp, the documentary detailed the production history of Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, a project that came very close to fruition in the mid-’90s.
The project has gone down in geek history as one of the great ‘what if’ movies, as it would have featured three notable villains (Lex Luthor, Brainiac and Doomsday) and the script was said to have been pretty out there — it certainly wouldn’t have been anything akin to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Proof of this is that premier Hollywood eccentric leading man Nicolas Cage was signed to play Superman, and even did costume fittings.
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