This weekend "The Wolverine," starring Hugh Jackman as the adamantium-clawed avenger (is he ever not playing Wolverine?), will be slashing its way onto screens nationwide. But as fans know, this wasn’t the original vision that Jackman and Fox had in mind. No, that version was to be helmed by Darren Aronofsky as his follow-up to his Oscar-winning "Black Swan," and we can only imagine what his take would’ve been on the story (based in part on the great Frank Miller/Chris Claremont run from the ’80s) that serves as the foundation for this reboot. The movie’s prolonged Japanese shoot was cited as the reason for his departure, but one also wonders if he would’ve been able to have the full creative sway he’s used to.
It was enough to get us thinking about other superhero movies that didn’t quite make it—movies that were stalled, for whatever reason, either creatively, financially, or a toxic combination of the two—on their way to the big screen. It’s easy to forget how big and cumbersome and complicated these movies are, and how many masters they have to serve, from the comic book companies to all those people who want to license the brand for board games and action figures and collectable plates. Up until very recently, too, there was a technological wall that these properties would often run up again: how exactly do we bring these characters to the big screen in a way that’s cost effective and realistic?
The following are 20 stories of heartbreak and costly mistakes, related to a myriad of comic book characters. They might not have happy endings, but their stories are still fascinating nonetheless. And who knows, maybe these will be rebooted down in one fashion or another. After all, superheroes rarely ever die.
Creative Team: Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski
What Went Wrong: Before “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer” had even hit theaters, Fox commissioned J. Michael Straczynski (“Babylon 5,” "Ninja Assassin"), a comic book veteran, to pen a spin-off film that would center on the Surfer himself. It wasn’t the first time the Surfer had been earmarked for a solo vehicle, as Constantin Films spent a large part of the ’90s trying to find a co-financier on the exploits of Galactus’ most powerful herald. Those attempts involved a series of approaches that found the Surfer befriending children and waitresses, in a series of scripts penned by a number of big names, including Andrew Kevin Walker (“Seven”). But the Straczynski draft probably came closest to seeing the light of day, with the character’s origin told at the same time as a story about his return home, and further conflict with his master, the world-gobbling Galactus (visualized in the "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" movie as a scary intergalactic cloud). The financial underperformance of ‘Rise Of The Silver Surfer’ killed plans for that project, however, robbing us of what was then to be one of the more dryly science fiction comic book stories brought to film.
Echoes And Influence: Marvel has since pledged deep space exploration with the upcoming “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” though if they had their way, they’d be doing it with the Surfer instead. Rumors circulated that Fox could be granted an extension on the rights to “Daredevil” had they let Marvel use Silver Surfer and Galactus in a future film, but if there was any truth to that, Fox would not give them up. The character remains at Fox, and there’s always the possibility Marvel might approach a solo film one day, as the character has always boasted a rich history independent of another brand’s mythos.
Batman vs. Superman
Creative Team: Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, producer and co-screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, director Wolfgang Petersen.
What Went Wrong: With Superman and Batman both on the bench during the early aughts, the Hail Mary to resurrect both franchises came in the form of this script. A dark, moody story about an already well-established Man of Steel and Caped Crusader, this actioner would have found Batman coming out of retirement to battle Superman after he was deemed responsible for the death of Batman’s fiancée. The whole thing was an elaborate ruse set up by the Joker and Lex Luthor, and the inevitable third act team-up would have found the heroes on the same side, leading into their own prospective series. The only problem being that the studio felt this was a majorly risky proposition, given that the last movie audiences had seen of these characters were in the regrettable “Superman IV: The Quest For Peace” and equally iffy “Batman & Robin.” The failure of a team-up movie, the studio argued, would potentially torpedo both franchises, and when it came down to this film versus J.J. Abrams’ proposed “Superman Flyby” script (which was envisioned as the first part of a trilogy, and yes we’re getting to it), the decision proved to be a no-brainer, leading to di Bonaventura’s very public exit from Warner Bros.
Echoes And Influence: The team-up bug bit Marvel big time in 2008, when they proposed a shared universe between “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” But none of these films had been built on the expressed idea of universes colliding until “The Avengers.” A version of this film is slated for 2015, one that likely won’t borrow plot elements from the earlier incarnation. But it’s clear that, in proposing this idea, Warner Bros. might have been a bit ahead of their time. But how closely the forthcoming film hedges to this version remains to be seen.
Creative Team: Director Paul Greengrass, screenwriter David Hayter, production designer Dominic Watkins
What Went Wrong: A number of incredibly talented filmmakers had tried (and failed) at cracking the "Watchmen" code (among them: Darren Aronofsky, who used some strikingly "Watchmen"-y things in "The Fountain," and an ambitious version devised by original "Batman" writer Sam Hamm and mad genius Terry Gilliam). But Greengrass’ version, which would have been his follow up to his stateside smash "The Bourne Supremacy," came tantalizingly close. Instead of the version that was originally made by Zack Snyder, which retained Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons‘ comic book setting of an alternate history ’80s, Greengrass would have contemporized it to Bush-era America, focusing on a kind of junky modern day realism. (Or as much junky modern day realism you could afford a film in which one character is a 50-foot-tall blue deity.) The movie was fully cast (Paddy Considine was going to play Rorschach, Ron Perlman was going to be The Comedian, etc.) and they were a couple of weeks away from breaking ground on the Pinewood Studios set in England. There was even a teaser website up for the film that featured the comic’s iconic, blood-splattered happy face button as its logo. But alas, Brad Grey became the new chief at Paramount and was totally nonplussed by the work Greengrass was doing, despite the director making a desperate plea to Grey about how the movie could be a creative, commercial, and critical smash. Instead, the movie got kicked back to Warner Bros., whose DC Comics published the series initially. Greengrass blamed the movie’s breakdown on "shifting corporate sands," while production designer Dominic Watkins later revealed production artwork from the film, which he described as combining comic book theatrics with "documentary style" flourishes, "with a little news reporting mixed in." Ah, what could have been…
Echoes and Influence: Snyder supposedly used the Hayter script as the backbone for his version, although writer Alex Tse was brought in to retain its original comic book setting and generally make it more faithful to the beloved comic book series, which ultimately hedged too closely to the source material. As Watkins said, "I think the difference between Zack Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ and ours would’ve been night and day. He pretty much made the movie page-to-page from the graphic novel. Ours was definitely going to be based on the graphic novel and all the characters would’ve been drawn on that, but we’d have updated it somewhat."
Creative Team: Director Peyton Reed, screenwriters Doug Petrie and Mark Frost, others
What Went Wrong: By 2003, Fox was rolling in the dough from “X2: X-Men United” and were bit bad by the Marvel bug. Their eyes were on turning “Fantastic Four” into the next big franchise, but they didn’t realize that director Peyton Reed was interested in furthering the ’60s aesthetic of his previous film for the studio, “Down With Love.” His idea was to structure the film like “A Hard Day’s Night,” making Marvel’s First Family into celebrities from the first scene on, eschewing the familiar origin story. It was always going to be a big budget movie, but the period vibe was not winning any favor with the studio. All it took was for “Down With Love” to be a non-starter at the box office, and Reed and the swinging ’60s approach was scrapped.
Echoes And Influence: Fox’s two ‘Fantastic Four’ films went for a kid/family appeal, and the next one seems to be embracing an edgier sensibility, if rumors prove true. But the ’60s superheroes aesthetic was a big reason for the success of Fox’s own “X-Men: First Class,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” also had a distinct appeal from being set largely in the 1940s. Continuity likely prevents this sort of thing from happening again, unless there’s a ‘Fantastic Four’ that features time travel, which, considering the source material, is a possibility.
"Justice League Mortal
Creative Team: Writers Keiran and Michelle Mulroney, director George Miller, and stars Armie Hammer, DJ Cotrona, Adam Brody, Teresa Palmer, Hugh Keyes-Byrnes, Jay Baruchel
What Went Wrong: Warner Bros. seemed to want to move full steam ahead on a team-up film a few years back, hiring George Miller, hot off the surprise smash “Happy Feet,” to shepherd the project. The story has always been kept under wraps, but the film was reportedly so dark that Miller had an on-set psychiatrist working with the actors to better understand their characters. The studio never seemed fully comfortable with the concept, however, particularly as it featured a Batman completely separate from Christopher Nolan’s series of films. The casting skewed young, and the reactions from the Internet were not favorable, particularly considering Batman and Superman were played by grown men named Armie (then an unknown) and DJ. There was also speculation that the film would be partially or fully brought to life using the performance capture computer animation technology that Miller had found so striking on "Happy Feet." The intention was to film in Australia, but a bloated budget and the looming Writers’ Strike combined with the bad buzz forced the studio to axe the film.
Echoes and Influence: The studio seems very committed to doing a ‘Justice League‘ movie, mostly due to the fact that the Marvel universe’s team-up film, "The Avengers" is one of the highest grossing movies of all time. There are a number of hurdles, namely the introduction of several characters within the ‘Justice League’ movie (as opposed to Marvel’s approach, which was getting the characters out in front in their own stand alone movie before bringing them together), and finding the right tone after both Christopher Nolan‘s broody Batman movies and Snyder’s equally broody "Man of Steel." Still, by all accounts the studio will trot out their "Justice League" feature in 2017, after the "Batman vs. Superman" movie and a big screen version of "The Flash."
"Batman: Year One"
Creative Team: Director Darren Aronofsky, star Clint Eastwood
What Went Wrong: After Joel Schumacher effectively destroyed the atmosphere-rich Bat mythos established by Tim Burton‘s two ‘Batman‘ movies, plunging the series into neon-lined camp, Warner Bros. decided that a different approach should be taken, and in 1999, called upon independent filmmaker Darren Aronofsky to craft a new vision of the caped crusader. He drew upon Frank Miller‘s influential "Batman: Year One" comic book, which told the story of Batman (and Catwoman) through the perspective of a young Commissioner Gordon. According to "Tales From Development Hell" by David Hughes, that looks at famously tortured would-be productions, Aronofsky met with the studio with a bold approach in mind. “I told them I’d cast Clint Eastwood as the Dark Knight, and shoot it in Tokyo, doubling for Gotham City,” he says, only half-joking. “That got their attention.” Aronofsky continued: "I pitched the complete opposite, which was totally bring-it-back-to-the-streets raw, trying to set it in a kind of real reality—no stages, no sets, shooting it all in inner cities across America, creating a very real feeling. My pitch was ‘Death Wish‘ or ‘The French Connection‘ meets Batman." In the script Aronofsky fashioned with Miller, young Bruce Wayne grows up as the foster child to an auto mechanic, Catwoman is a physically abused prostitute, and Commissioner Gordon fights police corruption from inside the force. It’s not exactly the stuff that sells breakfast cereal and pajamas. While acknowledging the studio’s bravery in commissioning a script (one that both he and Miller were proud of), he always sort of knew it was doomed. "I think Warners always knew it would never be something they could make. I think rightfully so, because four-year-olds buy Batman stuff, so if you release a film like that, every four year-old’s going to be screaming at their mother to take them to see it, so they really need a PG property. But there was a hope at one point that, in the same way that DC Comics puts out different types of Batman titles for different ages, there might be a way of doing [the movies] at different levels. So I was pitching to make an R-rated adult fan-based Batman—a hardcore version that we’d do for not that much money."
Echoes and Influences: The influence of the "Batman: Year One" comic book can be seen all over the movie the studio did eventually make to reboot the franchise: "Batman Begins." It might not be as explicit as Aronofsky’s approach, but it’s there—and what’s more—it echoes throughout Nolan’s entire Bat-trilogy, with characters from "Batman: Year One" popping up in "The Dark Knight Rises," the last film in the trilogy (where Catwoman was finally introduced). And "Batman: Year One" was finally adapted outright, although in a fairly crummy and cheap direct-to-video animated movie. Not exactly what Aronofsky had in mind. Hilariously, on a behind-the-scenes documentary on "The Fountain" DVD, Aronofsky adjusts a shot of Hugh Jackman, framed dramatically like a comic book panel, in a long leather cape, and exclaims, "And they said I couldn’t make Batman!"
Creative team: Director Boaz Yakin
What Went Wrong: Along the lines of what Aronofsky was saying about different Batman films existing at the same time, Warner Bros. entertained the notion of a big budget, high-tech screen adaptation of its "Batman Beyond" television series, a pseudo-sequel to its popular, beautifully stylized "Batman: The Animated Series," in which an elderly Batman trained a young protege to wear the cape and cowl. When we talked to Yakin last year for his underrated crime thriller "Safe," he told us that it was almost a non-starter from the get-go, with "Batman Beyond" intended to be his follow-up to the popular Disney football drama "Remember the Titans" (his initial idea for a follow-up was an independent feature set on the negro vaudeville circuit of the 1920s). "I pitched this idea to them and halfway through finishing the draft and turning it in I realized I didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t a world I wanted to be in. I told them that," Yakin told us. "There were definitely some people who were angry with me at the time and wanted me to stay on as director. And I said, ‘No you don’t understand, you need to do this with someone who really wants to do this.’ ” When we asked what the script was like, he shrugged and said, "futuristic cyberpunk with Batman."
Echoes and Influences: "Batman Beyond" has no chances of ever seeing the light of day, at least under the current Warner Bros. business model. If they ever do decide to have multiple Bat-projects in development, this would be ideal. But outside of comic books, where the character was recently resurrected, it’s unlikely we’re going to see anything new with the "Batman Beyond" property.
Creative Team: Directors McG and Brett Ratner, writer J.J. Abrams, stars Anthony Hopkins and Ralph Fiennes
What Went Wrong: We’ll try to be brief, since we covered this in a massive article a short while back, but the focus will stay on the attempt to bring Superman back in the more contemporary comic book film era. Basically, Warner Bros. tried desperately to get Superman going through the nineties and early aughts, and the best bet was from a script called “Superman: Flyby.” Written by J.J. Abrams, this was to be the start of a trilogy, with the planet Krypton surviving instead of exploding, leaving Superman with a destination he must visit at the close of this film. The main villains were a group of Kryptonians (shades of “Superman II” and, more specifically, “Man Of Steel”), which led to the revelation that Lex Luthor was also from Krypton, a discovery that may have been written out of future drafts. Eventually McG was slated to direct, but when the production was moved to Australia, the director balked. Brett Ratner jumped aboard, bringing along commitments from Anthony Hopkins and Ralph Fiennes (whom the director had just worked with on costly "Silence of the Lambs" prequel "Red Dragon") to play Superman’s father Jor-El and Luthor, respectively. But the swelling budget and failure to cast a suitable Man of Steel (McG claims Henry Cavill was a target) grounded the picture for good.
Echoes And Influences: It’s easy to see a lot of ‘Flyby,’ including evil Kryptonians having massively destructive fights with Superman, in “Man Of Steel.” The less-reverent, modernist take on the character was likely ported over from this script into the current film, including the militaristic view of Krypton its technology.
"The Green Hornet"
Creative Team: Writer/Director Kevin Smith, producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein
What Went Wrong: In short: Kevin Smith got cold feet. In an interview with Vulture before the release of his underappreciated horror movie "Red State," Smith laid it out: "Back in the day—in 2003? 2004?—Harvey Weinstein said, ‘Hey, do you wanna do a comic-book movie?’ ‘Fuck yeah!’ ‘We’ve got the ‘Green Hornet.” Suddenly I got scared. ‘I can’t make a comic-book movie. I’m a huge comic-book fan. But that’s not the same as making a comic-book movie. Most of the guys that make comic-book movies go out there saying, ‘Oh, I don’t even read comics,’ like Tim Burton. When he made ‘Batman,’ he made a big point of saying, ‘I don’t read comics.’ Bryan Singer, who did the ‘X-Men‘ movie, he too said, ‘I’m not a comic-book reader.’ So it was weird giving the project to me, who has no visual style whatsoever. And I was sitting there and thinking Harvey was being very sweet and I thought, I can’t do this. I can’t make a $70 million movie. I started choking. I had six meetings with marketers and toy companies and cross-promotion before I even sat down and wrote a word of the script. I was just like, ‘You know what, man? I am so not the guy for this. I had to think about it and I just can’t do this kind of thing. It’s not in my wiring.’ At that point, I hadn’t made a movie for more than $35 million. So if I’m going to make a $70 million movie, I’d rather risk it on my ideas than somebody else’s."
But what’s interesting is if you go back and look at earlier interviews, you can tell that Smith is out of his league. We dug up an interview he did at the premiere of his buddy Ben Affleck‘s abysmal comedy "Surviving Christmas," where he talks about the script nearing 200 pages and advice from Quentin Tarantino. "I was kind of wigged about it and I spoke to Quentin about it. I went to see ‘Shaun of the Dead‘ up at Quentin’s house and I said, ‘Dude, I’m so like fucking out of my skull about the ‘Green Hornet.’ I don’t know why it’s taken me so long and I don’t know if I can do this kind of shit. I’m kind of thinking that maybe I’m not cut out for this at all,’ " Smith explained. "He was like, ‘Just think about it like you’re writing a comic book miniseries. Just pretend that DC hired you to write the ‘Green Hornet’ and you’ve got to turn in a comic book miniseries.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but it’s too long.’ He said, ‘There’s no such thing. That’s never a problem. If a script is too long, you can hack it down. The problem is when a script’s too short.’ "
Echoes and Influences: A "Green Hornet" movie was eventually made and had literally nothing to do with Smith’s massive script (the Weinsteins didn’t even make it). Instead, Seth Rogen made it an odd labor of love, both starring in and co-writing what can easily be described as one of the worst superhero movies of all time. Smith’s version, however, would eventually see the light of day thanks to a lavishly illustrated comic book series by Dynamite Comics. Quentin didn’t know how right he was!
Creative Team: Writer/Director George A. Romero
What Went Wrong: One of the more interesting comic book-related stories that happened well before this golden age of superhero movies,was "Copperhead," which was to be a big budget sci-fi vehicle written and directed by "Night of the Living Dead" auteur George A. Romero. As detailed in this report, controversial Marvel head Jim Shooter came to Romero following the success of his "Dawn of the Dead," a movie full of colorful, comic book-y flourishes. The idea was to create a cross-media character that would be introduced in both a movie and a feature film, a futuristic cyborg that predated both "The Terminator" and "RoboCop," named Copperhead for his metallic domed skull. In Romero’s typically plainspoken way, he described the character to the New York Times thusly: “The superhero character is the sheriff of Philadelphia in the not-too-distant future.” Right. Producers were lined up (keep in mind this was before Marvel was its own studio, and even further before it was owned by Disney) and production was slated to get underway. Romero just had one more commitment: "Day of the Dead," his massive follow-up to ‘Dawn’ that was supposed to show the producers what he could do with a large budget, complicated special effects, and involved storyline. The problem was that at the last minute the backers of "Day of the Dead" rejected his plan to release the film into theaters unrated, causing him to ditch that approach and come up with a much smaller scale (and ultimately, more disappointing) version of the movie, cobbling the meager budget together himself through various independent producers. When "Day of the Dead" was finally released, it underperformed both critically and commercially. The producers of "Copperhead" got cold feet. The project was dead.
Echoes and Influences: The quasi-futuristic sci-fi tip can be felt in many major superhero movies these days, with a number of Marvel‘s upcoming "Phase 2" films centered around sci-fi-ish concepts like space exploration (and "X-Men: Days of Future Past" concerning time travel). While it seems unlikely, it would be interesting if Marvel ever dusted off the "Copperhead" script and attempted a kind of bold, multimedia fashioning of a new superhero.
Creative Team: Writer/Director Joss Whedon, producer Joel Silver
What Went Wrong: It’s not clear how the wheels came off of "Wonder Woman," a proposed big DC Comics movie to be made under the stewardship of action titan Joel Silver. But, if there’s one filmmaker who you would want to bring "Wonder Woman" to the big screen, it’s Joss Whedon. Has an extensive background in bringing larger-than-life feminist icons to the screen in ways that are both subversive and deeply entertaining (exemplified by seven seasons of his hit show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"). If there was someone who could make Wonder Woman viable for a modern audience while retaining feminist underpinnings and sidestepping the character’s somewhat problematic origins (she was created by a psychiatrist with S&M leanings, hence the lasso of truth), it’s Whedon. When information about the project started to slow down and Warner Bros. bought a competitive spec script from a pair of unknown writers (with a completely different setting, interpretation of the character), things looked doomed. Soon Whedon left the project. He later said of his interpretation, “[Wonder Woman] was a little bit like Angelina Jolie [laughs]. She sort of traveled the world. She was very powerful and very naïve about people, and the fact that she was a goddess was how I eventually found my in to her humanity and vulnerability, because she would look at us and the way we kill each other and the way we let people starve and the way the world is run and she’d just be like, ‘None of this makes sense to me. I can’t cope with it, I can’t understand, people are insane.’ And ultimately her romance with [classic Wonder Woman love interest Steve Trevor] was about him getting her to see what it’s like not to be a goddess, what it’s like when you are weak, when you do have all these forces controlling you and there’s nothing you can do about it. That was the sort of central concept of the thing. Him teaching her humanity and her saying, OK, great, but we can still do better.”
After the phenomenal, billion-dollar success of Whedon’s "The Avengers," it was speculated that Warner Bros. would at least revisit Whedon’s script, but that seems unlikely too, even if he felt validated by the performance of his Marvel movie: "Early on. It’s like grief: there’s a period of anger where you’re like ‘Hey, remember all those times when I told you it would’ve worked? THEY believed me, and it did! So now I’m going to get angry about stuff that I had pretty much dealt with.’ "
Echoes and Influences: By all accounts, Wonder Woman is very much in the mix at Warner Bros… At least as part of the "Justice League." Common thinking from both studios is that a female-led superhero movie won’t sell as many toys (early drafts of the upcoming "Thor: The Dark World" had a female protagonist, which was hastily changed by nervous Marvel execs, which at least partially explains Patty Jenkins‘ abrupt exit). It’s unclear if the future "Justice League" movie will utilize any of the work Whedon had done, but it’s doubtful.
Creative Team: Director David Dobkin, screenwriter Marc Guggenheim, screenwriter David S. Goyer
What Went Wrong: Back in 2007, it was announced that "Wedding Crashers" director David Dobkin would direct "The Flash," utilizing the Wally West version of the famous speedster. Speculation was that it would tie into the still-very-much-in-active-development "Justice League" movie, with rumors flying that it would include the death of the previous Flash, to make way for Dobkin’s Flash. Soon after it was announced that Marc Guggenheim, a screenwriter and comic book scribe who has the dubious distinction of working on the ill-fated "Green Lantern" movie, would be coming aboard the project. In 2010, he described the project in very broad strokes (apparently his draft would use the Barry Allen version of the character): “We’re being true to the whole Barry Allen science police… We’re being true to those origins and updating them for the 21st century. I feel like in many ways the movie is three movies in one. It’s part thriller, that forensic, cool, ‘Seven,’ ‘Silence of the Lambs;’ part superhero movie and part sports movie because there’s an athleticism to this character that other superheroes don’t have… And you get to see how all three of those elements inform each other and make the whole movie even better. It’s sort of like the way in ‘Green Lantern’ we took a superhero movie and combined it with a space opera, here we’re combining the superhero movie with these other two genres and it’s just a blast.” Of course, "Green Lantern" bombed, Dobkin left the project (he has been wanting to do a big tentpole for a while now, and had been attached to early versions of both "Jack the Giant Slayer" and "R.I.P.D.") and there’s been little in terms of movement (of that version at least) since.
A possibility? Warner Bros. could dig up a much earlier "Flash" screenplay written by David S. Goyer, who has been instrumental in getting the DC Comics machine back up and running at the studio, having had a hand in all three of Nolan‘s Batman movies and "Man of Steel" (he also wrote the "Blade" movies for Marvel and worked on scripts featuring "Doctor Strange" and "Ghost Rider," plus another DC property we’ll talk about in a bit). Considering he seems to be the guiding voice of the DC cinematic universe at this point, it makes sense WB would turn to him again. After the Batman/Superman movie was announced, Goyer was asked if his "Flash" screenplay was still in play, remarking that "It’s possible," and a lot of the decisions would be based on how well "Man of Steel" continues to do.
Echoes and Influences: Plans are still very much in place for a "Flash" movie, supposedly to be released in 2016, after the "Batman vs. Superman" movie but before the "Justice League" film. Again: it’s doubtful Guggenheim’s draft will be utilized, but if the powers that be want this thing turned around quickly, and have some kind of continuous follow-through with the other movies, they might bring Goyer’s script back to life.
Creative Team: Director Sam Raimi, screenwriters David Lindsay-Abaire and Alvin Sargent, and stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, John Malkovich
What Went Wrong: Poor Sam Raimi could never get to call his shots on the ‘Spider-Man‘ films. His first desire was the shoot the third and fourth films back-to-back, with Sandman and the Vulture as the villains. It was producer Avi Arad who championed Venom, a character for which Raimi had no affection, leading to the third film being the tremendous creative disappointment it turned out to be. Nevertheless, the film still became another monster hit in the series, so Raimi figured he could get his way with part four. The Vulture would be the villain this time, much to the chagrin of Sony execs who hoped to avoid trying to make a toy out of an elderly man in a bird suit. Their demands were simple: please anyone but the Vulture, and make it in 3D. Raimi pushed back, tabling the 3D issue but going forward with a story that found John Malkovich as the feathered villain, with Anne Hathaway as his fetching daughter that would catch Spider-Man’s eye (some believed she would become a character called the Vultress, others Black Cat). Despite a phalanx of screenwriters, Raimi could not crack the story, and with a release date looming, he told execs to take his flawed script or leave it. The reveal that James Vanderbilt had been writing a “reboot” the entire time was merely an unpleasant surprise, as Raimi, Maguire and Dunst exited the franchise.
Echoes And Influences: If anything, the hiring of Marc Webb to shoot the latest films in the ‘Spider-Man’ series suggests that Sony’s in charge, and that there would be no more Vulture incidents; Webb was even caught by surprise about the announcement for a release date for “The Amazing Spider-Man 4.”
Creative Team: Director Tim Burton, screenwriter Daniel Waters
What Went Wrong: In the olden days of comic book movie spinoffs, Warner Bros. saw so much promise in 1992’s “Batman Returns” that they asked that film’s writer, Daniel Waters, to try his hand at a script for a “Catwoman” solo picture. The result was fitting from a man who had previously penned “Heathers” and was responsible for one of the most unusual, unhinged superhero films thus far (you can read the script for yourself right here). The story involved Catwoman retreating after the events of “Batman Returns” to a spa run by and for superpowered heroes and villains. It was more satire than action adventure, and while Tim Burton had kicked around the idea of directing it, he already had one door out of the foot of the franchise following the initial reactions to the violent, twisted “Batman Returns” hit the studio. Michelle Pfieffer was contractually obligated to return, but after time the WB’s interest in a “Catwoman” movie became more conventional, divorced entirely from the events of Burton’s film.
Echoes And Influence: The WB was not interested in this reinvention of the character, but scripts like this often get details plucked and picked from them farther down the road for certain franchises. Don’t be surprised if one day there’s a lighter approach to the Batman mythos, and there’s an amusing detour where Catwoman visits an ersatz spa. There eventually was a “Catwoman” movie of course, but there was absolutely no relationship to this idea, as it was an origin story with no connection to “Batman Returns” and also the most unwatchable thing you could ever endure..
"X-Men: Origins – Magneto"
Creative Team: Writer/director David S. Goyer, screenwriter Sheldon Turner, star Ian McKellan
What Went Wrong: After the abysmal third X-film “X-Men: The Last Stand,” Fox realized they had painted themselves into a corner, narratively speaking, and that getting the cast back together for a new ‘X-Men’ film would be obscenely expensive. The idea was to branch off into solo films, utilizing the stable of well-known characters such as Wolverine and Storm and allowing them their own adventures. Only “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” saw the light of day; a “Magneto” picture was being written by Oscar-winning Sheldon Turner and co-written and slated to be directed by "The Dark Knight" principle Goyer as a prequel to the films, featuring the Master of Magnetism developing his powers in the midst of the Holocaust. A framing device would have given Ian McKellan a reason to return, and reportedly he was interested. A combination of factors led to the project never coming together, including the disappointment of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and ‘Magneto’ was placed firmly in the what-if pile, though Bryan Singer would later reveal he had repurposed chunks of the proposed film into the beginning segments of “X-Men: First Class.” (Those sequences saw Magneto on the hunt for Nazi war criminals in South America and was arguably the best part of that movie.)
Echoes And Influences: As mentioned, the best bits of this story were likely repurposed for “X-Men First Class.” Though maybe one day Fox will see potential in a solo Magneto film with Michael Fassbender. Fingers crossed.
Creative Team: director Joel Schumacher, writer Mark Protosevich, stars Jack Nicholson, Nicolas Cage
What Went Wrong: The lucrative (and ludicrous) “Batman Forever” may have been the tipping point in the Batman saga, allowing Warner Bros. to go absolutely batty about all things Batman. Without a second thought, the production team jumped right from “Batman Forever” into “Batman & Robin,” a movie that might as well have been written by toy companies. And with “Batman & Robin” eventually in production, and execs loving the process so far, they commissioned hot shit screenwriter Mark Protosevich to write the script for “Batman Triumphant.” These superhero movies like to borrow from the same playbook, even when that playbook is busted: the story for the fifth in this ‘Batman’ series involved utilizing a still-signed Jack Nicholson, who would return as the Joker in flashback form to haunt the hero in vivid Scarecrow-induced hallucinations, which eerily echoes of Golan and Globus hoping to repurpose cheap, deleted “Superman IV” footage for a fifth film. Scarecrow was eyed for the villain (and Schumacher apparently wanted Nicolas Cage for the role) but they also sought to bring Harley Quinn from the animated universe. All plans are nebulous for the fifth film, however, as even though “Batman & Robin” was a financial success, it was a critical and fanboy failure, with the studio deciding to give it a rest and reboot their beloved cash cow entirely.
Echoes And Influences: It’s likely the idea of Scarecrow as the villain slipped into “Batman Begins.” Aside from that, this project reeked of the worst excesses of the Schumacher period, and it’s doubtful anything this era would be preserved or visited again. With good reason.
Creative Team: Director Joe Carnahan
What Went Wrong: 2003’s “Daredevil” failed as a potential springboard to a franchise, a chance further diminished by cheaping out on “Elektra” as a forgettable quickie ninja picture. There was no rush to get started on a DD followup until Marvel’s success made “Daredevil” seem like a far more attractive property. The clock was ticking, and Fox had to start moving on a “Daredevil” reboot soon, for fear of losing the franchise to Disney. A flirtation with David Slade (“30 Days of Night”) led nowhere, and eventually director Joe Carnahan (“Narc”) was called upon to pitch his version (the studio was impressed with his recent work on the big screen "A-Team" reboot). While not much is known about Carnahan and Fox’s vision, rumors suggested they were using the “Born Again” storyline for inspiration, a dark tale that involved the exposing of Daredevil’s secret identity, destroying his personal and professional life. Carnahan claimed he was using “Serpico” as inspiration, and his Twitter hints about a “retro” approach might have been what gave Fox pause, enough to allow the rights to return back to Marvel, where all plans for a new “Daredevil” remain dormant. Carnahan at least left us with two trailers he cut to illustrate his vision to Fox execs (one that was to be a more family friendly version and another that could have easily been rated NC-17), and they are intense, immediate, and unforgettable, traits that the earlier “Daredevil” could never boast.
Echoes And Influence: It’s hard to believe Marvel isn’t interested in bringing “Daredevil” back into the cinematic fold, but then again, they have a crowded slate. With the Marvel universe becoming more science-fiction-y in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” and the A.I.-fueled “The Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron,” the time for a more ground-level hero might be a few years from now. And if that happens (or if Daredevil shows up in someone else’s movie, which is possible) then it’s doubtful that it will be the violent, R-rated incarnation Carnahan pitched to Fox.
Creative Team: Writer Robert Smigel, actor Jack Black
What Went Wrong: The WB may have underestimated the fury of the Nerd Illuminati when they began to publicly kick around the idea for a comedic “Green Lantern” film, with a jokey Jack Black in the lead. Response was swift and instantly negative, and the idea was vaporized before it even got a chance to become a concept over at Warner Bros. They may have been acting prematurely: the script was written by legendary “Conan” writer Robert Smigel, a well-respected funnyman beyond his minor screen credits. Smigel eventually spoke about the script to Vanity Fair, revealing that while his inspiration was the classic “Emerald Dawn” story, he also took liberties with the character in making him a failed reality television star who thinks of the laziest ways to save the world. When the heat from the negative buzz began to hit the studio, they suggested keeping the script as is with minor alterations, but removing the Green Lantern name completely. Eventually interest waned and they went with the more conventional approach of developing the film.
Echoes And Influences: It may have struck some fans as sacrilege, but if there are any superheroes or mythos that could withstand a comedic treatment, it’s “Green Lantern.” Warner Bros. tried it the conventional, dead-serious alpha-male way, and it lost them millions of dollars. There’s no reason they couldn’t retool this script to not only goof on the previous movie, but also provide diversity to a genre that will eventually become stale to its demographic. Unfortunately, none of the heavy hitters in this genre have embraced a comedic approach, the closest being Sam Raimi’s punchy, lightweight ‘Spider-Man‘ films.
Creative Team: Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, director Tim Miller, star Ryan Reynolds
What Went Wrong: The idea for a “Deadpool” movie had been discussed long before the character’s appearance in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” But no one could have predicted exactly how that film would treat the character. In an early film appearance, he’s played by Ryan Reynolds, without a mask, and his quips suggest a slight resemblance to the character. But when he returns at the end, he’s not only powered by an infinite amount of special abilities he does not have in the source material, but in a betrayal of the fan favorite’s chattiness, he is rendered mute. Controlled via a 1979-era computer by General Stryker (your guess is as good as ours), he is eventually defeated in battle by beheading. Not the best place to leave a character that seems primed for his own movie. Fox hired Reese and Wernick, the duo who penned “Zombieland,” and their film seems to exist within the contemporary X-Men universe while ignoring the events of ‘Wolverine.’ And the script is funny, punchy, and true to the nature of the character, a miscreant who keeps breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. It doesn’t have the Dadaist brilliance of the best of “Deadpool,” but it does have the savage violence that makes the character worthwhile. Perhaps that’s the reason why it’s sat on the shelf, even as Fox hired director and director Tim Miller and batted around the title “X-Men Origins: Deadpool,” commissioning a supposedly dazzling 8-minute-long test reel as a proof of concept. Reynolds has always been giving interviews about the film, but he sounds less and less certain every day that it will happen. And why would it? Reynolds flopped with “Green Lantern” and this month’s “R.I.P.D.” and no one is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a movie with him in the lead anytime soon.
Echoes And Influences: “Deadpool” is the most likely film on this list to eventually get made, but that possibility slips away each day; a developing “X-Force” film featuring the character have left Reynolds tongue-tied in interviews, as he claims to not know that mythology. Deadpool could live on, but even if he doesn’t, the script circulated and won a lot of fans: it’s not long before we get a comic book film with a character that breaks the fourth wall, mocking the sillier conventions of these action spectaculars.
Creative Team: Producers Adrian Askarieh, Gregory Noveck and Will Hackner
What Went Wrong: Well, Hawkman a DC staple for reasons still unclear, is a character that has gone through countless iterations since his creation back in 1940. Almost all of the different Hawkman variants use old school weapons and a man-made set of wings. Beyond that, there are few consistencies to the character’s various incarnations. For Warner Bros. to even attempt a standalone film for such a bizarre concoction is strange, especially given their inability to get the ball rolling on superhero movies that people actually know and care about. In 2011 it was announced that the studio was seeking writers, with the producers giving a logline that described the project as "part Indiana Jones/’Da Vinci Code‘, part ‘Ghost’ about the fictional superhero that appears in DC Comics." (Wait, there are real-life superheroes?) Since this initial flurry of an announcement, the word on "Hawkman" has been virtually silent. It’s hard to see Warner Bros. rushing into production on a "Hawkman" movie when other, more prized properties are awaiting development. Maybe he’ll be in "Justice League," though. Maybe…
Echoes and Influences: None. Although there is a character named Hawkeye in the super-successful Marvel movies. So that’s something.
Of course, there are dozen more superhero what-if scenarios, from James Cameron‘s "scriptment" for "Spider-Man," to a sequel to "Spawn" that seems to be batted around constantly by creator Todd McFarlane (sorry, Todd, it’s not happening). Also, intriguingly, was a concept for a "Green Arrow" movie called "Supermax," which saw the hero locked up in a prison full of super-villains (in 2009 Goyer said that Warner Bros. and DC were still mulling it over). While this project is probably on hold due to the continued small screen success of The CW‘s "Arrow," it could see the light of day, possibly utilizing the same actors from the television series. For even more tantalizing possibilities, from back in the day, read our rundown of the scenarios described in Sean Howe‘s brilliant "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" (out in paperback in October!) Until next time, true believers… – Drew Taylor and Gabe Toro