7 Bizarre Early Versions of Famous Characters

It's easy to assume that the whole world swooned the moment it saw Batman or James Bond appear on screen -- certain characters are just so undeniably awesome that they couldn't possibly fail. But the reality is that lots of your favorite franchises had to suffer through ill-conceived false starts before rounding into shape, at which point their creators hoped you would forget all about the early efforts.

That's why it's so strange to look back at ...

#7. Batman's (Racist) Black-and-White Films of the 1940s

Columbia Pictures

The Version You Know:

The first Batman comics came out in 1939, but it wasn't until the 1966 show with Adam West that the Dark Knight really became a cultural phenomenon. Suddenly, Batman's adventures weren't only accessible to the intellectual elite who knew how to read speech balloons.

20th Century Fox Television, Warner Bros.
Clearly it's also where Nolan got this idea from.

Then Tim Burton resurrected the franchise with the 1989 film, and it's been an unstoppable box office juggernaut ever since. Mostly.

The Original Version:

Turns out there's an older live-action version of Batman that DC Comics understandably doesn't like to talk about.

Columbia Pictures
With the black and white, there's always the uneasy feeling that those legging might not be leggings at all.

Why? For starters, in this low-budget 1943 Batman serial, the costumes were crappy, the Batmobile was a regular car, and the Batcave was ... well, a cave. An empty, bat-infested cave where Batman drops criminals to terrorize them.

Also, it's kinda racist. In this version, Batman is actually a government agent fighting against the "shifty-eyed Japs" -- that's his entire origin. No traumatic witnessing of his parents' murder as a child, just "the government asked him to put on a bat costume and punch Asians" (the CIA had to stop doing that in 1957). This Batman truly didn't give a fuck: When he wasn't letting innocent window cleaners fall to their deaths or losing his cape and mysteriously regaining it, he was stashing cigarettes in his costume:

Columbia Pictures
And not bothering to reshoot the scene after dropping them.

Twenty years later, a producer slapped together some episodes of the serial into a movie -- those sophisticated '60s audiences thought it was hilarious, so ABC turned it into a campy humor TV show.

#6. James Bond's Cheap Made-for-TV Movie


The Version You Know:

Even if you've somehow never seen a James Bond movie before, you probably still know that the first person to play everyone's favorite nymphomaniac superspy on film was Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962). The movie turned the already successful literary character into an international sex god, spawning like 80 freaking sequels.

Eon Productions
You actually have to name all of them on the British SATs.

However, the first Bond novel was actually Casino Royale, not Dr. No. Ever wonder why they didn't adapt that one first?

The Original Version:

Because they did, only as a low-budget black-and-white TV movie no one watched, way back in 1954. Before Connery or any of the others, the first onscreen James Bond was ... um, some fucking guy. Watch this clip where the villain (Peter Lorre from Casablanca) tortures Bond with a pair of pliers -- the most shocking part is that "Jimmy Bond," as he's called throughout the movie, has an American accent. Because he's a U.S. government agent.

"Budweiser. Shaken, not stirred."

The one-hour movie aired as part of CBS's Climax Mystery Theater and failed to cause thousands of women to throw themselves at the actor, so it was deemed a disappointment. Still, at one point Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, was in negotiations with CBS and NBC to expand the movie into a TV series and even wrote some scripts, but there just wasn't enough interest from the networks to make it happen, for some reason.

"Bond ... Jimmy Bond, license to kill ..."
"An audience? A franchise? My sex drive?"

Eventually someone realized that a Bond film would be way better with some hairy Scottish guy in the lead, and the rest is history.

#5. Machete's First Appearance in a Spy Kids Movie

Dimension Films

The Version You Know:

Probably the best thing to come out of Grindhouse, the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez tribute to bad movies that lived up to its premise, was a fake trailer called Machete about a badass Mexican maniac played by real-life badass Mexican maniac Danny Trejo. The trailer was so popular that it spawned an actual movie of its own, complete with all the violence and sex the original promised.

Dimension Films
And all the "disappointing Lindsay Lohan nudity" it didn't, but you're gonna have to go to Google for that.

This hard-R picture was successful enough to warrant an upcoming sequel, Machete Kills, but what many viewers don't realize is that this franchise does not mark the first time Rodriguez brought the batshit insane character of Machete Cortez to audiences.

The Original Version:

So what other ultraviolent Robert Rodriguez picture contains the first onscreen appearance of Machete? Does he make a cameo as a psychotic hit man in Sin City? Or a vampire slayer in From Dusk Till Dawn? Or maybe he's a desperado in Desperado?

Nope. He's the exasperated uncle in motherfucking Spy Kids.

Dimension Films
"Is that tomato juice on your jacket, Uncle Machete?"
"Uh ... yeah, V8."

You see, when not making the types of films that testosterone-fueled teenage boys wish their lives resembled, Rodriguez makes family-friendly movies in the Spy Kids series. Machete Cortez has appeared in all four movies as the brother of the kids' dad, Gregorio Cortez (Antonio Banderas). His part in the story involves watching after his niece and nephew, inventing wacky new gadgets for the kids to use, and, sadly, not brutally murdering anyone. Here's a clip where the little spies go through his workshop and find tiny light sabers, spy planes, and such:

Maybe it's just a name coincidence? ("Machete" is the fourth most popular baby name in Mexico, after all.) Nope: Danny Trejo already confirmed that "Machete Cortez in Machete is what Machete Cortez in Spy Kids does when he's not taking care of the kids." We're looking forward to the inevitable crossover, Machete Spies Kids.

#4. Jason Bourne's 1980s TV Movie

Warner Bros. Television

The Version You Know:

When The Bourne Identity came out in 2002, it offered a fresh new take on the by-then tired superspy genre: Fast-paced action! Conflicted personalities! Shaky cameras!

Universal Studios
Matt Damon!

Damon stars as Jason Bourne, an amnesiac badass who tries to figure out who he is while everyone else tries to kill him. Four Bourne movies have been made so far, with the latest one replacing Damon with Hawkeye from The Avengers -- they probably hope to keep making these movies with different actors until the end of time, like with the James Bond films.

The Original Version:

There's another thing Bourne stole from Bond: the part where the character also starred in an earlier TV movie no one knows about. Back in 1988, when Matt Damon was only ... 18? Seriously? How old is that dude? Anyway, back then, ABC aired a version of The Bourne Identity starring Richard Chamberlain as the title character.

Warner Bros. Television
Not Damon!

The plot is pretty much the same, but whereas the 2002 version is tightly paced and more tense than running out of toilet paper in a mall toilet, the original was criticized for being painfully slow and boring, in large part due to its outrageous three-hour length (four hours with ads). Another reason why the remake worked was the chemistry between Matt Damon and Franka Potente, but the '80s version had none of that -- compare this (flagged by YouTube) make-out session with Damon and Potente from 2002 with this awkward, almost hilariously bad bedroom scene between Chamberlain and his co-star, Jaclyn Smith.

Universal Studios, Warner Bros. Television
There are also certain ... size differences.

You can watch the original Bourne Identity here, or you can do something more productive with those three hours, like rewatching the remake one and half times.

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