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Superman Franchise on Hold

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 25, 2009 at 11:20AM

Needed: A good Superman idea.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Needed: A good Superman idea.

For those of you wondering what's happening with the next iteration of Superman, which has been stalled for years now since the Bryan Singer 2006 revamp Superman Returns was deemed not entirely worthy, I have the answer.

Nothing. The project is on hold as the studio waits to emerge from legal limbo over the fate of the Superman heirs. It's about who controls what divided rights going forward and who owes what to whom when. Warners may be trying to settle with the Siegel and Shuster families, who in 2013 will retrieve the copyright of the Superman material published in Detective Comics’ Action Comics Vol. 1, in order to merge all the Superman rights.

As the studio is waiting to resolve the legal dispute, there's no movement on the project. Production execs at Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. have been culling the various pitches that have come in, and are eager to start development on a sequel. Who knew, when Brandon Routh played the Man of Steel in Superman Returns, that fans would split so divisively? The 2006 movie, which paid homage to the Richard Donner Superman movies without completely updating the franchise the way Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins, grossed $391 million worldwide off strong reviews for a genre sequel. But it cost more than $232 million. Warners felt it could have performed better with more action and a powerful villain--and no Superman kid. So Singer was taken off the franchise.

The debate continues to rage about what Warner Bros. should do with the DC Comics super-hero. Fans have been clamoring all over the web for a complete reboot. Warner Bros. execs believe that the last movie didn't break the mold and wound up in some kind of middle limbo. They want to start over from scratch. While Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar did pitch himself (to scant interest), WB in-house faves the Wachowski brothers and their protege James McTeigue were never approached. (It's hard to imagine such hard-R types taking on what one blogger described as the "Big Blue Boy Scout.")

The studio is still seeking the right direction. No writers are working on a Superman script. "We're working on a strategy for DC," says one Warners exec. "Superman is the trickiest one to figure out." In fact WB consumer products guru Diane Nelson, who liased with JK Rowling on the Harry Potter series, has been charged with putting the integrated DC/WB house in order.

Superman doesn't have to be squeaky clean. The origins of the character are darker and more complex. He can add more dimension. And in the new tech universe, just about anything is possible.

The good news: go to any fan site debating what Superman should be, and the commenters go on for miles. They still care.


This article is related to: Franchises, Genres, Studios, In Production, Superman, Sequel, Warner Bros./New Line


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.