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

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 25, 2013 at 2:18PM

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.
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Wonder Woman

"Wonder Woman"
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.

The Flash Movie

"The Flash"
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.

The Amazing Spider-Man Spidey

"Spider-Man 4"
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.” 

Catwoman

"Catwoman"
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..

Magneto

"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.

This article is related to: The Wolverine, Features, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Joel Schumacher, Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Batman: Year One, Batman, Batman Begins, Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Greengrass, Fantastic Four, Justice League, The Flash


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