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4 'Superman' Movies That Never Took Flight

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist June 12, 2013 at 1:49PM

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Batman vs. Superman
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.

George Miller
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.

This article is related to: Man Of Steel, Superman, Features, Feature, Tim Burton, Nicholas Cage, J. J. Abrams, McG, George Miller, Wolfgang Petersen, Justice League