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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 Triumphant"
Creative Team: director Joel Schumacher, writer Mark Protosevich, stars Jack Nicholson, Nicolas Cage

What Went Wrong: The lucrative (and ludicrous) “Batman Forever” may have been the tipping point in the Batman saga, allowing Warner Bros. to go absolutely batty about all things Batman. Without a second thought, the production team jumped right from “Batman Forever” into “Batman & Robin,” a movie that might as well have been written by toy companies. And with “Batman & Robin” eventually in production, and execs loving the process so far, they commissioned hot shit screenwriter Mark Protosevich to write the script for “Batman Triumphant.” These superhero movies like to borrow from the same playbook, even when that playbook is busted: the story for the fifth in this 'Batman' series involved utilizing a still-signed Jack Nicholson, who would return as the Joker in flashback form to haunt the hero in vivid Scarecrow-induced hallucinations, which eerily echoes of Golan and Globus hoping to repurpose cheap, deleted “Superman IV” footage for a fifth film. Scarecrow was eyed for the villain (and Schumacher apparently wanted Nicolas Cage for the role) but they also sought to bring Harley Quinn from the animated universe. All plans are nebulous for the fifth film, however, as even though “Batman & Robin” was a financial success, it was a critical and fanboy failure, with the studio deciding to give it a rest and reboot their beloved cash cow entirely.

Echoes And Influences: It’s likely the idea of Scarecrow as the villain slipped into “Batman Begins.” Aside from that, this project reeked of the worst excesses of the Schumacher period, and it’s doubtful anything this era would be preserved or visited again. With good reason.

"Daredevil"
Creative Team: Director Joe Carnahan

What Went Wrong: 2003’s “Daredevil” failed as a potential springboard to a franchise, a chance further diminished by cheaping out on “Elektra” as a forgettable quickie ninja picture. There was no rush to get started on a DD followup until Marvel’s success made “Daredevil” seem like a far more attractive property. The clock was ticking, and Fox had to start moving on a “Daredevil” reboot soon, for fear of losing the franchise to Disney. A flirtation with David Slade (“30 Days of Night”) led nowhere, and eventually director Joe Carnahan (“Narc”) was called upon to pitch his version (the studio was impressed with his recent work on the big screen "A-Team" reboot). While not much is known about Carnahan and Fox’s vision, rumors suggested they were using the “Born Again” storyline for inspiration, a dark tale that involved the exposing of Daredevil’s secret identity, destroying his personal and professional life. Carnahan claimed he was using “Serpico” as inspiration, and his Twitter hints about a “retro” approach might have been what gave Fox pause, enough to allow the rights to return back to Marvel, where all plans for a new “Daredevil” remain dormant. Carnahan at least left us with two trailers he cut to illustrate his vision to Fox execs (one that was to be a more family friendly version and another that could have easily been rated NC-17), and they are intense, immediate, and unforgettable, traits that the earlier “Daredevil” could never boast.

Echoes And Influence: It’s hard to believe Marvel isn’t interested in bringing “Daredevil” back into the cinematic fold, but then again, they have a crowded slate. With the Marvel universe becoming more science-fiction-y in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” and the A.I.-fueled “The Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron,” the time for a more ground-level hero might be a few years from now. And if that happens (or if Daredevil shows up in someone else’s movie, which is possible) then it’s doubtful that it will be the violent, R-rated incarnation Carnahan pitched to Fox.

"Green Lantern"
Creative Team: Writer Robert Smigel, actor Jack Black

What Went Wrong: The WB may have underestimated the fury of the Nerd Illuminati when they began to publicly kick around the idea for a comedic “Green Lantern” film, with a jokey Jack Black in the lead. Response was swift and instantly negative, and the idea was vaporized before it even got a chance to become a concept over at Warner Bros. They may have been acting prematurely: the script was written by legendary “Conan” writer Robert Smigel, a well-respected funnyman beyond his minor screen credits. Smigel eventually spoke about the script to Vanity Fair, revealing that while his inspiration was the classic “Emerald Dawn” story, he also took liberties with the character in making him a failed reality television star who thinks of the laziest ways to save the world. When the heat from the negative buzz began to hit the studio, they suggested keeping the script as is with minor alterations, but removing the Green Lantern name completely. Eventually interest waned and they went with the more conventional approach of developing the film.

Echoes And Influences: It may have struck some fans as sacrilege, but if there are any superheroes or mythos that could withstand a comedic treatment, it’s “Green Lantern.” Warner Bros. tried it the conventional, dead-serious alpha-male way, and it lost them millions of dollars. There’s no reason they couldn’t retool this script to not only goof on the previous movie, but also provide diversity to a genre that will eventually become stale to its demographic. Unfortunately, none of the heavy hitters in this genre have embraced a comedic approach, the closest being Sam Raimi’s punchy, lightweight 'Spider-Man' films.

"Deadpool"
Creative Team: Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, director Tim Miller, star Ryan Reynolds

What Went Wrong: The idea for a “Deadpool” movie had been discussed long before the character’s appearance in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” But no one could have predicted exactly how that film would treat the character. In an early film appearance, he’s played by Ryan Reynolds, without a mask, and his quips suggest a slight resemblance to the character. But when he returns at the end, he’s not only powered by an infinite amount of special abilities he does not have in the source material, but in a betrayal of the fan favorite’s chattiness, he is rendered mute. Controlled via a 1979-era computer by General Stryker (your guess is as good as ours), he is eventually defeated in battle by beheading. Not the best place to leave a character that seems primed for his own movie. Fox hired Reese and Wernick, the duo who penned “Zombieland,” and their film seems to exist within the contemporary X-Men universe while ignoring the events of 'Wolverine.' And the script is funny, punchy, and true to the nature of the character, a miscreant who keeps breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. It doesn’t have the Dadaist brilliance of the best of “Deadpool,” but it does have the savage violence that makes the character worthwhile. Perhaps that’s the reason why it’s sat on the shelf, even as Fox hired director and director Tim Miller and batted around the title “X-Men Origins: Deadpool,” commissioning a supposedly dazzling 8-minute-long test reel as a proof of concept. Reynolds has always been giving interviews about the film, but he sounds less and less certain every day that it will happen. And why would it? Reynolds flopped with “Green Lantern” and this month's “R.I.P.D.” and no one is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a movie with him in the lead anytime soon.

Echoes And Influences: “Deadpool” is the most likely film on this list to eventually get made, but that possibility slips away each day; a developing “X-Force” film featuring the character have left Reynolds tongue-tied in interviews, as he claims to not know that mythology. Deadpool could live on, but even if he doesn't, the script circulated and won a lot of fans: it’s not long before we get a comic book film with a character that breaks the fourth wall, mocking the sillier conventions of these action spectaculars.

"Hawkman"
Creative Team: Producers Adrian Askarieh, Gregory Noveck and Will Hackner

What Went Wrong: Well, Hawkman a DC staple for reasons still unclear, is a character that has gone through countless iterations since his creation back in 1940. Almost all of the different Hawkman variants use old school weapons and a man-made set of wings. Beyond that, there are few consistencies to the character's various incarnations. For Warner Bros. to even attempt a standalone film for such a bizarre concoction is strange, especially given their inability to get the ball rolling on superhero movies that people actually know and care about. In 2011 it was announced that the studio was seeking writers, with the producers giving a logline that described the project as "part Indiana Jones/'Da Vinci Code', part 'Ghost' about the fictional superhero that appears in DC Comics." (Wait, there are real-life superheroes?) Since this initial flurry of an announcement, the word on "Hawkman" has been virtually silent. It's hard to see Warner Bros. rushing into production on a "Hawkman" movie when other, more prized properties are awaiting development. Maybe he'll be in "Justice League," though. Maybe...

Echoes and Influences: None. Although there is a character named Hawkeye in the super-successful Marvel movies. So that's something.

Of course, there are dozen more superhero what-if scenarios, from James Cameron's "scriptment" for "Spider-Man," to a sequel to "Spawn" that seems to be batted around constantly by creator Todd McFarlane (sorry, Todd, it's not happening). Also, intriguingly, was a concept for a "Green Arrow" movie called "Supermax," which saw the hero locked up in a prison full of super-villains (in 2009 Goyer said that Warner Bros. and DC were still mulling it over). While this project is probably on hold due to the continued small screen success of The CW's "Arrow," it could see the light of day, possibly utilizing the same actors from the television series. For even more tantalizing possibilities, from back in the day, read our rundown of the scenarios described in Sean Howe's brilliant "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" (out in paperback in October!) Until next time, true believers... - Drew Taylor and Gabe Toro

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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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