5 Superhero Movies You Won't Believe Almost Got Made
It doesn't matter how much you love superhero movies, you have to admit Hollywood is getting close to running out of superheroes to adapt. That's what happens when you release five or six of them every summer. And what's even more amazing is that for every one that got made, there are countless more that died in development because they didn't meet Hollywood's high, high standards.
So it really is amazing to see how close we came to seeing ...
Tim Burton's Superman Lives
Say what you will about Tim Burton, but he did give us two solid Batman pictures that helped the character move away from the campy ghost of the Adam West show (before Joel Schumacher ruined everything again). In the 90s, Warner Bros. hoped Burton would repeat the trick with Superman, and then they hired Kevin Smith to write a screenplay for him. What could possibly go wrong?
So What Was Wrong With It?
Look at it, kids. Take it allll in. WE SAID LOOK AT IT.
Yes, that's a long-haired Nicolas Cage dressed as Superman while posing for a police mugshot, apparently. The authenticity of that picture has been disputed, but the fact remains: Nicolas Cage had, at one point, signed up to play Superman ... and he got frighteningly close to actually doing it.
There are several stages to a movie. This is the "super happy rave party costume" stage.
In truth, Cage's involvement is only the tip of a very large iceberg. As we mentioned, Kevin Smith was brought in to write the screenplay, but he had to work with the ridiculous conditions imposed by producer Jon Peters: Superman could not be seen flying, couldn't wear the classic costume (Peters insisted on a black suit) and somehow, someway, had to fight a giant spider at the end. What was the reasoning behind changing Superman's costume, you ask? Peters thought the classic blue-and-red outfit looked "too faggy."
This season, the heterosexual male is wearing tight, black leather.
There's more. Peters and Warner Bros. wanted the villain Brainiac to punch polar bears at Superman's Fortress of Solitude, presumably to work in a Coke sponsorship (apparently under the impression that Coca-Cola fucking hates those bears). Due to the success of the recent release of the original Star Wars Trilogy, Peters wanted Braniac to have a robot sidekick -- "a gay R2-D2 with attitude" -- and Lex Luthor to have a space dog, because "Chewie's cuddly, man. You could make a toy out of him, so you've got to give me a dog."
The Art Designer was appalled when Peters "would bring kids in, who would rate the drawings on the wall as if they were evaluating the toy possibilities." Director Tim Burton hired Wesley Strick to completely rewrite Smith's script, which at this point was a disfigured mess of gimmicks and toy commercials. Strick incorporated another one of Peters' suggestions: Brainiac and Lex Luthor would amalgamate into a mega-villain called "Lexiac" (which sounds like the name of a laxative).
An evil Laxative.
Warner Bros. would spend $30 million and go through several more scripts before Burton and Cage got fed up with all the stupidity and quit the project. Burton still describes Superman Lives as "one of the worst experiences in his life," while Kevin Smith made a popular comedy routine out of the whole thing.
Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One
Ten years ago, Warner Bros. approached a hot independent director to bring some dignity back into the Batman franchise with a darker, more realistic take on the character. No, not Chris Nolan.We're talking about Black Swan's Darren Aronofsky.
Teaming up with comic legend Frank Miller, Aronofsky began developing an adaptation of Miller's classic Batman: Year One comic, and even talked with that guy from American Psycho about taking on the lead role ...
Hollywood doesn't have much imagination.
So What Was Wrong With It?
There's nothing wrong with an independent director doing a Batman movie: Nolan proved that. The problem was that this wasn't so much a Batman movie as it was an insane remake of Taxi Driver (if Travis Bickle wore a cape).
In the script by Frank Miller, with input by Aronofsky, Bruce Wayne becomes a street-dwelling orphan after his parents are killed, growing up into "a borderline psychotic who begins taking violent vengeance on street thugs." Instead of using high-tech gadgets, this lower-class Batman is equipped with whatever junk he can find, since obviously he's working on a budget: a hockey mask, a cape, brass knuckles and a knife. Oh, and instead of the Batmobile? He drives a pimped out Lincoln continental.
We'd rather have the Adam West version.
Remember Alfred, the butler? In this version he's an auto mechanic called Big Al who takes in a young, raging Bruce Wayne ("more of a wild animal than a boy") and raises him. When the movie starts, Big Al has passed away and Bruce is living with his son, Little Al, described as "a gigantic, early middle-aged black man." Also, Catwoman is a sassy dominatrix working in a whore house across the street from Al's garage ... but that part actually is in the comic.
Our theory is that someone saw this scene and thought: "What if the whole movie was like that?"
The Batcave, rather than being a hidden base with intricate technology lining stone walls, is an abandoned subway station. The Batcycle is a regular black motorbike. Robin is an old Jewish lady with an axe. (That last part isn't true, but only that last part.) Even the name is different: In this version he actually calls himself "The Bat-Man." That's how much Aronofsky wanted to distance himself from the comic.
"In fact, you know what, fuck it: Let's call him Hockey-Face Roger and have him lose an arm to heroin."
Aronofsky eventually moved away from the project ... because he was worried it would be too much like Rocky. That's what happens when you strip away all the unique elements in a superhero franchise, Darren -- you're eventually left with Rocky.
Green Lantern Starring Jack Black
In DC's Green Lantern comics, the Green Lantern Corps is an interplanetary police force made up from pretty much every alien species in the universe (except Ewoks, because fuck those guys). Every Green Lantern is handed a power ring that can create literally any object they can imagine, but mostly big green fists. By now, you know there's a big budget Green Lantern movie coming out in June, starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan ... but it turns out that's not the first time Warner Bros. tried to make a movie out of this comic. A few years ago, they were considering doing something slightly different with the character ...
So What Was Wrong With It?
There were two things wrong with this particular version of Green Lantern: First, it would have starred Jack Black. Second, it was the kind of movie Jack Black would star in.
This wasn't a superhero movie starring a comedy actor -- it was a gross-out comedy with a complex superhero mythology awkwardly thrown in, like Thor meets The Hangover. It was the feature film equivalent of a crazy mash-up trailer.
The script by Robert Smigel (the man behind Triumph the Insult Dog) was "influenced heavily" by Jim Carrey's The Mask, turning Green Lantern into an inept, overweight superhero who uses his power ring in comical ways (probably while showing copious amounts of butt crack). Instead of the fearless test pilot from the comic, Black would have played a furniture store employee who gets drunk and eats severed animal heads on TV. Yes, that's in the script.
In one scene, Black's character creates a green elf dressed like a housekeeper for his annoying nerd friend (David Spade?) to have sex with. Which he does. What's next, trapping criminals inside a giant condom? Oh wait, that's also in the script.
The merchandise for this film would've been problematic.
So, yeah, apparently the studio wanted the Green Lantern name only so they could shit all over it (because that worked out so well in Catwoman). That was apparently easier than simply creating a new superhero and making it as stupid as they wanted.
The extremely negative fan reaction reportedly led Warner's canceling the project. Jack Black seemed disappointed to learn that someone else would be playing Green Lantern -- though we still don't get why he doesn't just change the name of the character to "The Green Condom" or something and shoot the movie anyway.
The Wachowskis' Plastic Man
For those unfamiliar, Plastic Man is exactly what you're thinking: A guy with the powers and abilities of a rubber band. He's the original stretchy superhero, predating Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four by 20 years. Despite being a C-list character, Plastic Man was pretty close to reaching the big screen thanks to a screenplay by two renowned writers/directors that had been making the rounds in Hollywood for over a decade. With special effects and CGI technology, it's not that hard to imagine a quirky slapstick superhero comedy based on this guy:
So What Was Wrong With It?
As we said, Plastic Man could make a good comedy. The problem was that the writers/directors attached to the project were better known for doing pseudo-philosophical films filled with brooding characters and elaborate action sequences.
Although they do have a history of men flying around with capes and sunglasses. Lots of sunglasses.
Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski are reputed for writing, directing and producing action flicks like V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin and especially The Matrix. None of which are very funny. Even though it was written in the 90s, Plastic Man isn't some old script they've completely forgotten about: They were reportedly interested in shooting it as recently as 2008 -- with Keanu Reeves in the lead role.
The last Bill and Ted movie was 20 years ago. That's the last time he smiled.
The script by the Wachowskis takes a few liberties with the source material. First of all, Plastic Man's true identity isn't Patrick O'Brian, a former crook turned good -- it's Daniel O'Brien, an environmental nut who yells at litterbugs on the street. Also, instead of getting powers from the classic and unlikely barrel of toxic waste (like in the comic), DOB gains the ability to stretch when an evil industrialist uses him as an unwilling lab rat in an experiment with polymers.
Just like at the last Cracked field trip.
So what's the ultimate goal of these experiments? Apparently, the deformed industrialist wants to look handsome again. If the Wachowskis were trying to use Plastic Man as some sort of commentary on plastic surgery (in addition to all the heavy-handed environmental stuff), well, it worked about as well as you'd expect.
Not the ideal vehicle for social commentary, it turns out.
But, hey, maybe we're being too harsh on the Wachowskis. What if they've had a sense of humor all along and just haven't had a chance to show it? In an old interview about Plastic Man, they described their idea of funny:
"Larry even described a scene from the film the made the brothers laugh at the time. 'The funny scene we thought of that was kind of the start of it all was like he goes to the bathroom after he becomes Plastic Man and his urine is no longer bio-degradable so he like wants to kill himself,' he chuckled."
JJ Abrams' Superman: Flyby
Before Superman Returns, Warner Bros. was working on a very different Superman project: one that didn't dwell so much on daddy issues, Christopher Reeve references or Jesus imagery. Instead, we would have gotten an action-oriented Superman movie written by Lost's JJ Abrams, no less. Sounds like every fan's dream come true ... right?
We're not interested unless we can hardly see the Man of Steel for all the lens flares.
So What Was Wrong With It?
Abrams' script has become something of a legend on the Internet -- a blueprint for what, in some alternate universe, could have turned out to be the film that would force the governments of the world to collectively ban any additional Superman films.
Why? OK, we're just going to put this out there: Superman does Kung-Fu and Lex Luthor turns out to be an alien.
You read that right. In the script, Superman's greatest enemy gets a wholly unnecessary makeover: Lex Luthor is no longer a ruthless businessman/criminal mastermind, but rather a shady government agent obsessed with UFO activity. Why? Because Abrams loves conspiracy subplots, presumably. And, yes, Luthor actually turns out to be a Kryptonian alien himself (with superpowers and all). That's like doing a Batman movie where the Joker is re-imagined as a vicious country-folk singer.
And is Batman's second cousin, which makes it all nicely legal for the inevitable slash fiction.
Judging by the concept art, the movie would have also updated Superman himself, doing away with the classic "S" shield in his costume (only one of the most iconic logos of all time). The long sleeves and spiky hair suggest the casting call would have simply read "douchebag needed."
Also doing away with his underpants makes us feel slightly uncomfortable.
As we mentioned, Abrams' script was pretty action-heavy. That can't be bad, right? Well, that brings us to the kung-fu. The script specifically calls for Superman to engage in a "frenzied MID-AIR MARTIALS ARTS BATTLE." So wait, we have a superpowered government agent and a stylish kung fu Superman, isn't that a little like The Matrix?
"Janet, get us another Matrix Revolutions and two more mountains of cocaine."
But what if you don't give a crap about Superman -- is this a movie you could enjoy? Well, we'll never know, but we're guessing it depends on how much you liked films like these ...
... because those are the directors the studio was looking at. When Bryan Singer was hired to direct the new Superman movie, Rush Hour's Brett Ratner eventually ended up doing X-Men 3 and we all know how that worked out (it didn't).
For every superhero movie that's caught before it reaches screens, there's an X-Men 3.
Research by Cole Gamble. You can find him on Facebook, his blog or Twitter
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