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20 Superhero Movies That Couldn't Fly All The Way To The Big Screen

Features
by The Playlist Staff
July 25, 2013 2:18 PM
12 Comments
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Batman Year One

"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!"

Batman Beyond

"Batman Beyond"
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. 

Man of Steel

"Superman Flyby"
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.

Green Hornet Seth Rogen Jay Chou

"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!


Copperhead

"Copperhead"
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. 

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12 Comments

  • Bill Graham | July 30, 2013 8:02 PMReply

    Yowza! What's with the animosity towards the animated BATMAN: Year One flick? This was definitely a winning flick and a solid adaptation of that material. Additionally, it was far from "crummy" or "cheap". These are pretty intense and well-funded animated films with effort put behind them by the creatives in charge. They may not take a LONG time to make, nor are they large-budget affairs, but they often have more passion and lineage than any of the big-budget flicks. It's no Mask of the Phantasm, but an entertaining read even for fans of the comic book arc.

  • Bill Graham | July 30, 2013 6:47 PMReply

    It's a shame this was written by "the staff" (as most of these are), without bylines for each entry, because I can't pinpoint who to praise, but goodness this is remarkably well done and I'm only on the first page. My only complaint is that I wish more of this stuff was link-sourced so I could easily go further down the rabbit hole of what could have been.

  • Rolando | July 29, 2013 9:50 AMReply

    I have the idea that Hollywood intentionally does not want to make good movies.
    I am sure that with the story of 'Born Again' will make it a blockbuster, a movie that everybody has to see, simply because it is the greatest superhero story ever told....

  • Andrew | July 26, 2013 5:08 PMReply

    The Green Hornet is one of the worst superhero movies ever? Hell, I think it's underrated and a lot of fun.

  • TheoC | July 26, 2013 7:40 AMReply

    Great feature, I've always loved the idea fo Supermax. I have the script somewhere too. Also General Stryker typing decapitate into his weapon X computer is a brilliantly funny move.

  • Mike Truck | July 25, 2013 9:09 PMReply

    Man, is there anything more revolting than a studio executive? I felt sick reading most of these stories.

  • loudrockmusic | July 25, 2013 5:24 PMReply

    That 'Supermax' movie would be awesome.

  • Hmmmm | July 25, 2013 4:19 PMReply

    I know it was probably never close to have ever happened but David Fincher's "Death of Gwen Stacy" Spider-Man would have been amazing (pun not intended) to watch. Or at least better than what we have right now

  • shark | July 25, 2013 4:17 PMReply

    ugh, the Peyton Reed Fantastic Four sounds like it would have been terrific. I am continually surprised every time I recall that Down with Love bombed, because it's a terrific movie.
    Also, I've decided I'm boycotting superhero movies that are not fun. Superheroes are an inherently stupid, silly concept, and grimdark broody superheroes make for tedious viewing. God, I hope Guardians of the Galaxy is good and successful, and is as absurd and fun as it appears to be. Also I hope Ant Man happens.

  • TheoC | July 26, 2013 7:42 AM

    I tend to agree, I like Down with Love but it's let down by the script. I think had he shot the script for intolerable cruelty with his Down with Love cast and aesthetic it would be a bonafide classic.

    Anything would be better than those awful Fantastic Four movies. Worst Thing Ever.

  • Rob | July 25, 2013 3:51 PMReply

    Correction: Spawn's creator is Todd McFarlane. Seth McFarlane created Family Guy.

  • thislalife | July 25, 2013 2:41 PMReply

    I remember hearing about Batman Triumphant back in the day and it sounded wild. Apparently Scarecrow was going to be much more physically intimidating, so much to the point where he killed Robin with his scythe in an epic battle.

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