While we’re enjoying a Golden Age of superhero movies with films such as The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is an era in Hollywood history where writers, producers, and directors had no idea how to bring comic book pages to life on the big screen. Here are nine would-be comic book movies that never saw the light of day.
Batman: Year One
Although director Joel Schumacher was planning to make the third film in his Batman film series with the now-defunct Batman Triumphant (Schumacher wanted Nicolas Cage to play The Scarecrow with Harley Quinn and The Mad-Hatter as supporting villains), he also planned to bring Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One to the big screen. The film would’ve been a dark and gritty approach to Bruce Wayne’s first year as the Caped Crusader, but the box office and critical failures of Batman Robin stopped Warner Bros and DC Comics from considering Schumacher for any future Batman movie.
Fantastic Four 3
Fantastic Four 3 was in the works until Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was a box office disappointment for Twentieth Century Fox. The film’s principle cast – Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, and Julian McMahon – were locked into a three-picture deal, but the third film in the series never got any further than the discussion phase of development. Fox was reluctant to give the go-ahead for a third film, despite the addition of the Silver Surfer and Black Panther (Djimon Hounsou was in talks to play the King of Wakanda).
James Cameron’s Spider-Man
In 1991, James Cameron was slated to make a Spider-Man movie. He wrote a 47-page “scriptment” that featured the villains Electro and Sandman. Cameron envisioned a darker and sexually-charged tone for your neighborhood friendly Spider-Man. Instead of directing the superhero movie, Cameron opted to make Terminator 2: Judgment Day instead. Cameron had the film rights to Spider-Man until 1996 when Marvel filed for bankruptcy and Sony Pictures Entertainment acquired the film rights.
Superman vs. Batman
Although Zack Snyder will be releasing his vision for Superman vs. Batman with the Batman vs. Superman in 2015, Warner Bros and DC Comics developed a film featuring two of the greatest superheroes going head-to-head more than a decade ago in 2002. The proposed film would’ve featured a divorced Clark Kent teaming up with a retired Batman, after the death of his wife at the hands of The Joker. The pair would’ve been tricked into fighting each other, as they realized the real mastermind behind the plot, Lex Luthor. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) penned the film’s screenplay with Wolfgang Peterson (Air Force One) set to direct, until Warner Bros decided to separate the superheroes for their own film franchises with Batman Begins and Superman Returns in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
A Wonder Woman movie has been in development since 2001 with producer Joel Silver commissioning a screenplay from Joss Whedon and then eventually Brent Strickland and Matthew Jennison. The movie was going to be set during World War II and was described as Wonder Woman meets Raiders of the Lost Ark with Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and former-WWE wrestler Chyna in consideration to play the Amazing Amazonian. Joel Silver eventually lost the film rights in 2010, while Zack Snyder cast Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in the Man of Steel sequel and the new Justice League movie.
Before Sony hired director Marc Webb to reboot the Spider-Man film franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, Sam Raimi was developing Spider-Man 4 (or Spider-M4n) for the movie studio. Raimi would’ve continued on with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man with the addition of Electro and the Vulture as the film’s villains. The vigilante The Black Cat would’ve been Spidey’s love interest after Mary Jane dumped him. Spider-Man 4 would’ve also introduced a new character to the franchise with the Vulture’s daughter aptly named the Vulturess. The project was ultimately scrapped with Sony rebooting the film series five years after the release of Spider-Man 3 and Sam Raimi opting to direct Drag Me To Hell in 2009 instead.
Bonus: It was rumored that Spider-Man 5 would’ve featured the villain Morbius.
In 2002, as a screenwriter, J.J. Abrams took a stab at Superman with the would-be-Brett-Ratner-directed Superman: Flyby. This superhero movie was more Krypton-centric than any other version of the Superman movies before or after it. It involved a civil war between Jor-El and his brother Kata-Zor in a battle for Krypton. Kal-El is sent to Earth as a result, where he’s raised by the Kents, only to have his cousin Ty-Zor and three henchmen come to Earth to battle Kal-El. At the end of the pitched film, Superman is killed and goes to Kryptonian heaven where he meets his father. Kal-El is then resurrected, defeats his cousin, and then flies to Krypton.
Green Lantern written by Robert Smigel
At one time, comedy writer Robert Smigel was tapped to write a screenplay for the Green Lantern for Warner Bros and DC Comics. Only that the former-SNL writer took a comedic and surreal approach to the Green Lantern Corps mythology. The film would’ve starred Jack Black (yes, that Jack Black) as Jud, a slacker who accidentally becomes the next Green Lantern. The film mostly followed how a loser like Jud became the Green Lantern, but also includes Jud conjuring Superman to turn back time to prevent a huge natural disaster. After he creates a green Superman, Jud decides to keep the green Man of Steel to do all of his work for him. See? Even as the Green Lantern, Jack Black is lazy.
With Kevin Smith writing its screenplay and Tim Burton directing the film, Superman Lives! was Warner Bros and DC Comics’ attempt to re-launch Superman for a new generation. With producer Jon Peters on board (who notoriously wanted Superman to fight a giant spider in the film’s climax), Nicolas Cage was brought on to play Kal-El AKA Superman. Superman Lives! would’ve featured the villain Brainiac and would’ve been based on “The Death of Superman” storyline. The movie would’ve been released in 1998.
But in-fighting between Smith, Cage, and Burton delayed the film’s production, as Warner Bros decided to pass on the superhero project for the Will Smith-vehicle Wild Wild West in 1999. Interestingly, Jon Peters produced the western-comedy, which also featured a giant mechanical spider in the film’s climax.