4 'Superman' Movies That Never Took Flight

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by Drew Taylor
June 12, 2013 1:49 PM
8 Comments
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The Wolfgang Peterson/"Batman vs. Superman" Version
To rewind a minute, a year before Abrams was hired to do "Flyby," Warner Bros. accepted a pitch from "Seven" scribe Andrew Kevin Walker called "Batman vs. Superman," which pitted the two kingpins from the DC Comics universe against one another following the death of Bruce Wayne's wife at the hands of the Joker (on their honeymoon, no less). In the same year, Wolfgang Peterson, best known for his German submarine miniseries "Das Boot," was attached to direct. Subsequently, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who had helped shepherd "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin" to the big screen, heavily rewrote Walker's brooding draft, which seemed to make incredibly little sense in the end (somehow Lex Luthor is actually responsible for all the bad blood between Batman and Superman so they team up to bring him down). While never publicly stated, many believed Goldsman was brought in to make the movie lighter and expand the film's merchandising and toy-selling possibilities, something that has plagued the development of almost every version of "Superman" mentioned in this piece.

Josh Hartnett was again approached to play Superman, despite repeated public statements suggesting that he still wasn't interested, while in an ambitious move, Christian Bale was asked to play Batman in both "Batman vs. Superman" and Darren Aronofsky's long-gestating adaptation of "Batman: Year One" (the seeds of which would become Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins"; Johnny Depp and James Franco also flirted with the roles.) Right before filming was to begin, Warner Bros. dropped the project in favor of developing stand-alone features for their famous superheroes, which led to "Batman Begins" and (of course) "Superman Returns." At the time, it was thought that a series of individual films would eventually lead to a "Justice League" movie, similar to the approach Marvel took with their superhero franchises. After a middling attempt at a "Green Lantern" movie, that never came to pass, but obviously it is still Warner Bros. hope for one day down the road.

The George Miller/"Justice League" Version
In 2007, Warner Bros. had, in a move that seems either amazingly ambitious or incredibly impetuous, attempted to launch a "Justice League" movie, just months prior to a looming Writer's Guild strike. Armed with a script by Kieran and Michele Mulroney ("Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"), "Mad Max" director George Miller signed on to direct, and with Joel Silver set to produce, production was scheduled to get underway (on the $200 million + production) in Australia. Despite key members of the crew already being assembled (including Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop, who would be designing the costumes for the new movie), the following year the film was put on hold, due to the writer's strike and what the studio felt was a largely imperfect script. Later, the Mulroneys were once again hired to work on their script.

While the plot specifics for this "Justice League" have never been fully revealed, casting was eventually illuminated on who would play who, and D.J. Cotrona, who was seen this past spring in "G.I. Joe: Retribution," was hired to play the Man of Steel. (Additionally, Armie Hammer was Batman, Adam Brody was The Flash and Common was The Green Lantern.) Things stalled creatively (at one point, it was suggested Miller, coming off of his experience on "Happy Feet," would use motion capture technology either partially or in fully to bring the characters to life) and by 2010, according to Silver, the project was completely dead, with the Marvel model of introducing characters film-by-film once again cited.

Every Other Version
Hollywood is littered with the dead corpses of Supermen. From a proposed fifth movie starring Christopher Reeve that, according to writer Cary Bates, would "leapfrog over" the mostly horrible third and fourth movie and return the franchise to its former glory (never happened) to a proposed sequel to "Superman Returns" that would have featured a plot centered around the discovery of "New Krypton," with Braniac a proposed villain (the cultural indifference towards the movie made the studio's enthusiasm wan and Singer left for other projects). Then there was the infamous "Superman Reborn" project (mentioned above), which had Superman literally reborn and grow into adulthood during the course of the movie (good fucking lord). 

Other versions included a proposed trilogy, devised by comic book author/perennial exaggerator Mark Millar and directed by "X-Men: First Class" filmmaker Matthew Vaughn (although those talks apparently didn't get far), that would have charted Superman's entire life cycle, from his birth on Krypton to his eventual death. In between "Superman Returns" and "Man of Steel," a whole host of pitches were entertained, mostly by comic book writers like Mark Waid (based on his own "Superman: Birthright" arc) and Grant Morrison, who possesses superhuman intelligence and whose pitch revolved around his own "All-Star Superman" arc (in which Superman is eradicated and has mere days to live; this story was eventually brought to life in the form of a half-assed, direct-to-video animated movie). It wasn't until the dream team of David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, who had been responsible for the amazing Batman trilogy, pitched their own take, that the studio finally committed to bringing back the Man of Tomorrow (today). 

There's a lot of lore out there. Will Smith was offered the role of "Superman Returns," but turned it down. "I had already done Jim West [in 'Wild Wild West'], and you can't be messing up white people's heroes in Hollywood!" he told MTV in 2008Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis and Kristen Stewart were up for Lois Lane before Amy Adams got the gig in "Man Of Steel." It is rumored that in the mid aughties, Michael Bay hosted a Superman logo on his site briefly and then took it down (no one seems to have screencaps). The list goes on and on.

So what version of Superman do you wish they had followed through with (if any)? And who can start calculating the hundreds of millions of dollars that were needlessly spent developing these projects? Sound off below, faster than a speeding bullet, if you wish.

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8 Comments

  • Kevin Rubio | June 19, 2013 2:11 AMReply

    Drew Taylor,

    I take umbrage with your characterization of "All-Star Superman" The Animated Movie as being "half-ass".

  • bapi | June 15, 2013 4:59 AMReply

    Btw Ratner wanted Matt Bomer as Superman, Ralph Fiennes as Jor-El, Christopher Walken as Perry White and Anthony Hopkins as Lex Luthor.

  • Whodatninja | June 12, 2013 11:01 PMReply

    A bunch of my posts doubled up for some reason. Weird.

  • Whodatninja | June 12, 2013 10:07 PMReply

    I would have loved to see Burton's take. No doubt it would be a cult favorite today. Anyone who's read Smith's screenplay there was far more wrong with it than Peter's input. The dialogue is annoying and often way too "cutesy". Frankly after the investment into the characters and re-establishment of the mythos in Returns I desperately wanted to see what Singer and company would have done next. It was a bit too long and could have used one more action sequence (not to mention keeping the excellent Krypton sequence) but I liked the old fashioned and respectful take on the character Superman Returns provided. It sounds like as exciting as Man of Steel is, it could use a bit of the heart and humor it's immediate predecessor had. I'll find out at tomorrow's sneak peak I guess.

  • Whodatninja | June 12, 2013 10:07 PMReply

    I would have loved to see Burton's take. No doubt it would be a cult favorite today. Anyone who's read Smith's screenplay there was far more wrong with it than Peter's input. The dialogue is annoying and often way too "cutesy". Frankly after the investment into the characters and re-establishment of the mythos in Returns I desperately wanted to see what Singer and company would have done next. It was a bit too long and could have used one more action sequence (not to mention keeping the excellent Krypton sequence) but I liked the old fashioned and respectful take on the character Superman Returns provided. It sounds like as exciting as Man of Steel is, it could use a bit of the heart and humor it's immediate predecessor had. I'll find out at tomorrow's sneak peak I guess.

  • bapi | June 12, 2013 3:59 PMReply

    I would love to see Burton's Batman!

    That McG/Abrams is basically what we have now with Man of Steel. I know McG was more interested in romance / comedy aspects and MoS is more 'serious' but visuals, some scene etc. are very, very similar.

    To be honest I like Josh Hartnett a lot and it's a pity what happened to him.

  • Theoc | June 12, 2013 2:45 PMReply

    Superman Lives, this chap had his kickstarter to fund a documentary about it's development, he also wanted to shoot pre viz for some of the action sequences.

    Can't link to it here though.

  • Damien | June 12, 2013 2:25 PMReply

    I think the Aronofsky version would have been quite intriguing and most likely a very different take on the Superman genre both in storyline and visually.

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