11 Superhero Movies That Never Escaped Development Hell
With all of the great superhero movies that there have been, there’ve been quite a few stinkers as well. And then there have been some that never made it before cameras — both promising sounding scripts and some that were so very, very bad. Here are 11 superhero films that might have been.
This was a proposed sequel to the godawful Batman & Robin, with George Cooney and Chris O’Donnell returning in the lead roles. The story pitted Bats against Scarecrow and Man-Bat in what director Joel Schumacher (who directed the prior two films) wanted to be a return to the darker portrayal of the title character, rather than the goofy, technicolor kiddie flicks that the series had fallen into. But when Batman & Robin failed to perform at the box office (not to mention with critics and fans), Batman Triumphant was scrapped in favor of a series reboot — a move that gave us the triumphant Christopher Nolan films. So it sort of lived up to its name.
Batman vs. Superman
Director Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, The Perfect Storm) came very close to making this one. It introduced a retired, haunted Bruce Wayne and a divorced Clark Kent who start off as friends. There’s a wedding in the story, where Bruce ties the knot to one Elizabeth Miller, and Clark — who has rekindled his high school romance with Lana Lang — is his best man. Things go south when Elizabeth is murdered by the Joker while the happy couple are on their honeymoon, sending Bruce back into the Bat-tights. Lex Luthor is also involved in some way, perhaps in an alliance with the Joker. Presumably, as the title suggests, the two heroes would at some point in the movie come to blows against one another, though I’m sure it all turned to hugs and puppies by the end. [Image source.]
Batman: Year One
A collaboration between director Darren Aronofsky and writer Frank Miller, this was conceived as a complete reboot of the Batman film series after the disappointment that was Batman & Robin — but before Christopher Nolan was involved. Aronofsky and Miller’s script is described as a 70s period piece where they “threw out absolutely everything you know about Batman” and started over from scratch. Instead of a billionaire, Bruce Wayne is a street-dwelling orphan after his parents are killed, growing up into “a borderline psychotic who begins taking violent vengeance on street thugs.” And instead of using high-tech gadgets, this street-level Batman uses whatever junk he can get his hands on. His Batcave is an abandoned subway station, and his Batmobile is a Lincoln Continental with some added hardware. The idea of a “year one” take on Batman would carry on to the subsequent Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan, but no story elements from Aronofsky and Miller’s story would be used.
George Miller wanted to make this film, which was the start of a proposed film trilogy, with a young cast of 20-somethings in the starring roles of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and others. The script by Kieran and Michelle Mulroney has secret files belonging to Batman stolen by a supervillain team-up — files that describe the weaknesses of each member of the Justice League, in case of worst-case scenario where Bruce might be forced to take them down. OMACs and Brother Eye are involved, Barry Allen is murdered with Wally West taking up The Flash mantle, and there’s a big twist at the end revealing Darkseid as setup for a sequel. At first, the movie was going to be set in the same universe as Batman Begins and Superman Returns, but this was scrapped pretty early in favor of a separate continuity. [Image source.]
Spider-Man (James Cameron)
Cameron’s take on the web-head was similar to Sam Raimi’s first movie in broad strokes, but Cameron’s outline/script (which you can read for yourself online, or a version with storyboards here) was a darker, more nuanced origin story for Peter Parker. Peter is a repressed bully target who explodes with rage when given the opportunity, beating Flash to a bloody pulp and swinging across New York rooftops as a cathartic sort of therapy. His enemies include a new version of Sandman, who works as a sort of “mob enforcer” for Electro, a wealthy entrepreneur whose electrical powers could alter digital records, access databases, and more, and who tries to turn Peter into a fellow villain. J. Jonah Jameson owns a local TV station instead of a newspaper. Spidey’s web shooters are organic (which is where Raimi got the idea from), but manifest in a sticky wet dream one night in bed. Where Raimi’s film was candy-colored and maintained a plucky optimism, Cameron’s story is set in a world of moral greys, where doing the right thing often causes as many problems as it solves. Peter’s journey to becoming a hero is a longer one, with more mistakes along the way. He swears frequently and even has costumed sex with Mary Jane in a steamy scene atop the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s kind of hard to imagine this film in the wake of Sam Raimi’s successful trilogy, but don’t ever underestimate Cameron’s midas touch at the box office. It was an opportunity lost due to legal battles between various studios who believed they had the rights to make a Spider-Man movie. But in my opinion, despite a few odd choices, it’s ultimately a cool story, and James Cameron + Spider-Man would have made an unstoppable box office dynamic duo.
Even though most fans were disappointed with Spider-Man 3, it was an enormous box office success, and Sony greenlit Spider-Man 4 not long after 3‘s release. Raimi wanted the villain this time out to be the Lizard, while the studio wanted John Malkovich as Vulture. Tobey Maguire and Kirstin Dunst were set to reprise their roles as well, and development was in full swing when Raimi backed out, citing creative differences with the studio. Marc Webb was brought in to restart the franchise anew, and he chose Andrew Garfield as his Spider-Man. We’ll see what they come up with next Summer.
A hot script by David Goyer & Justin Marks was the talk of Hollywood a few years ago. In it, Green Arrow has been incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, in an extremely elaborate, high-tech prison made to de-power superpowered criminals and hold them indefinitely. It was described as a big, complex heist film with lots of supervillains from DC Comics — and a superhero or two as well (in addition to Green Arrow). No Black Canary, but roles were confirmed for Riddler, Joker, and Lex Luthor. There’s no reason this one might not one day see the light of day, but nobody’s in any hurry.
J.J. Abrams’ wildly bold reimagining of the Superman story is — not unlike Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel — a total reboot that leaves behind all past continuity and takes some major steps away from the comic book mythology. This script suffered from a now legendary leak to Aint It Cool News, where Abrams’ reinvention of the mythos was dragged through the mud and generated an enormous negative reaction from readers. Abrams’ screenplay is an origin story with the usual familiar elements. It’s the differences that rankled fans’ sensibilities, such as Lex Luthor being a government agent obsessed with UFOs who’s later revealed to be a Kryptonian himself, and a lot of “kung fu” style mid-air fights between Supes and a quartet of criminal Kryptonians. The story’s epic battle scenes had these super-beings throwing each other into buildings and creating maximum destruction through Metropolis. It was an undeniably geeky script, filled with loads of eye candy, and despite those early knee-jerk reactions from fans worried about an “unknown” (which Abrams was at the time) retooling their beloved mythology, had Abrams’ script been used, and he been allowed to direct it himself… Frankly, that’s something I’d like to see. Abrams is a fantastic storyteller and always has his finger on the pulse of what makes for awesomely cool storytelling. This was was intended as Part One of a new trilogy of films, but it was thrown out when Bryan Singer came onboard to direct.
This one went through such a sordid series of drafts and directors, it’s hard to say how it may have turned out. The consensus seems to be that Tim Burton’s new take on the mythos (starring, of all people, Nicolas Cage) was largely based on a written-by-committee script that passed through the hands of Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, The Glass House), Dan Gilroy (The Fall, Real Steel), William Wisher Jr., and more. The story evolved through all these iterations but the common elements seemed to be Superman’s fight against Doomsday from the comic books’ “Death of Superman” storyline, which would be followed by Superman’s resurrection in a de-powered form. He would be fitted with ridiculous Kryptonian armor that could mimic his usual powers, until those powers eventually came back on their own. The movie spent a lot of pre-production money on ultimately nothing, and left several Hollywood careers in its wake, but we’re all better off with it never having gone before cameras. Crisis averted.
Joss Whedon, at one time seen as the perfect choice for building a female superhero (because he’d already done it several times) was going to make this movie, but Warner Bros. had no idea what angle they wanted to take with the character. Whedon tried more than one approach, script-wise, but they refused to approve anything he came up with despite providing him with zero direction. It ultimately fell apart, costing Whedon a two-year “waste of time.”
X-Men Origins: Magneto
A Sheldon Turner script was planned for David Goyer to direct. The script was set from 1939 to 1955, and it follows Erik Lehnsherr trying to survive in Auschwitz where he meets young Charles Xavier, an American soldier who helps liberate the camp. While Xavier tries to befriend him, Erik has vengeance in his heart for the Nazis who tortured him, a difference in worldview which ultimately comes between the two young men. The film was delayed by the Writers Guild strike, and eventually replaced with X-Men: First Class, which retained some elements of the Xavier/Magneto friendship-cum-rivalry story.