These days you can't take a trip to the local multiplex without tripping over the latest comic book superhero adaptation. They're pretty ubiquitous in Hollywood right now. But as long as the likes of Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad keep cashing in big at the box office, they'll keep coming too.
Naysayers have been shouting from the rooftops for years that soon the bubble will burst. They say that the world will hit a saturation point. That the sheer volume of superhero movies will be too much. Whether or not you believe this to be true, however, it might surprise you to learn that over the years there have been almost as many superhero movie adaptations that failed to make it to the big screen as those that did!
Can you imagine if all the following heavy hitters had come to fruition, as well?
10. Quentin Tarantino's Luke Cage
Netflix' Luke Cage TV series debuted to rave reviews and feverish audience hype a few weeks ago. It is a big deal in the wider context of the superhero adaptation arena. It's the first Marvel Cinematic Universe project to star a black lead, and the show's characters deal very heavily in an extremely racially charged world. An important milestone in superheroes on screen, no doubt.
In the wake of his success with Reservoir Dogs in 1992 and before he made Pulp Fiction in 1994, Quentin Tarantino considered making a Luke Cage movie long before Marvel thought of their show, though! In 2012 he was quoted saying that he talked to the rights owner at the time. He even contacted Laurence Fishburne about playing the title role. Fishburne was all for the idea, and Tarantino says he would've wanted to set the film in the 1970's. Considering his love of blaxsploitation cinema, which eventually came to the fore in Jackie Brown, this isn't overly surprising from QT. What could have been!
9. Joel Schumacher's Batman Triumphant
Now, we recognize that including the name 'Joel Schumacher', in conjunction with 'Batman' and the word 'awesome', might sound insane to most fans. Yes, Schumacher is the man responsible for the cinematic trainwreck that was Batman & Robin in 1997. Yes, he put nipples on the Bat-costume. But, the original plans for a fifth Batman movie, and Schumacher's third, sound interesting enough to discuss. So we're going to.
Before Batman & Robin was released, apparently Warner Brothers were happy enough with the dailies they were seeing that they had already signed Schumacher to direct another film. George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone were all set to return, and Mark Protosevich wrote a script. It was entitled Batman Triumphant and featured The Scarecrow as the main villain, with Harley Quinn as a secondary one. Harley would've been portrayed as Joker's vengeance-driven daughter. There were even plans for a cameo from Jack Nicholson as part of a hallucination caused by Scarecrow's fear gas!
Then Batman & Robin was released. And all these plans went out the window. Oh dear.
8. Joe Carnahan's Daredevil
Before Daredevil was part of the Marvel Netflix universe with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, but after the 2003 Ben Affleck movie version, a pitch was made by director Joe Carnahan to Fox to reboot the character on-screen.
Carnahan, the director of Smokin' Aces and The Grey, was approached by Fox to see if he had any ideas for Daredevil. The timeframe on their ownership of the rights to the character was quickly elapsing. They knew they needed to get a movie into production quickly to retain these rights. Carnahan was shown a completed script. While he liked the action scenes, he felt the story didn't have any bite. He pitched a trilogy of gritty, 70's set crime movies in the vein of Frank Miller's classic comics. Daredevil '73, '79 and '85 would've used the music of the various eras as a thematic arc: classic rock, then punk, then New Wave. Sadly, though his pitch was well-received, Fox and Carnahan simply ran out of time. The rights reverted back to Marvel.
But it's okay, because the Netflix Daredevil series is awesome.
7. Wolfgang Petersen's Batman Vs Superman
There is an alternate universe out there, people, in which Zack Snyder didn't subject us all to Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. I've seen it. It is a world in which Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One) successfully made his Batman Vs Superman film in the early 2000's, from a script written by Se7en's Andrew Kevin Walker. It could've been beautiful, man...
Wishful thinking aside, this project was definitely on the table for a number of years. In the early 2000's, Warner's were developing it alongside another solo Superman movie, Superman: Flyby (written by JJ Abrams!). This script featured the two heroes going up against The Joker and Lex Luthor (naturally). Petersen was enthusiastic about exploring the clash between the dark natured Batman and more goody-goody Superman.
In the end, neither movie was made. But, interestingly, Petersen revealed that he did meet with two actors to play Superman: Josh Hartnett...and future-Batman himself Christian Bale! Weird.
6. James Cameron's Spider-Man
In the early 1990's, riding high on the massive success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron was able to do whatever he wanted in Hollywood (he still is, we suppose, but we digress). And what Cameron wanted was to do a Spider-Man movie!
He convinced Carolco, the independent studio he worked with on T2, to buy the rights to the character. He then wrote a very detailed 'scriptment', which was half-way between a treatment and a full script, with a very different version of Electro as the main villain. His proposed story was more adult than you might expect. It featured Spider-Man dropping the f-bomb, as well as Peter Parker and Mary Jane having sex atop the Brooklyn Bridge!
In the end, it turned out that the contract Carolco had drawn up was tenuous at best, with Sony owning a piece of the rights. Carolco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995 and the project was dead. James Cameron did have a lasting impact on Sam Raimi's eventual 2002 movie, however: the idea of organic web-shooters first appeared in Cameron's scriptment.
5. Guillermo Del Toro's Dark Universe
Edge Of Tomorrow director Doug Liman recently took over the reigns of the Justice League Dark project at Warner Brothers, otherwise known as Dark Universe. It looks like there is finally some forward momentum on the project, after years stuck in development hell. However, it's tempting to wonder what the movie would look like if original director Guillermo Del Toro had been able to see it through.
Del Toro is a massive fan of monsters and comic books. This much should be obvious from the man's work, including the Hellboy franchise and Blade II. He is also known for getting himself attached to multiple projects at any one time. This usually means there are a lot that either never get made or take a very long time. He was very gung-ho about Dark Universe for a few years. He spoke about how Swamp Thing and Etrigan The Demon were two of his favorite characters growing up. Other characters such as John Constantine, Deadman and Zatanna were intended to appear in the film, and the team would go up against The Floronic Man (a notable Swamp Thing villain).
Alas, his participation in the project fell through. But whenever it finally does make it to the big screen, we'd imagine there'll still be a sizeable Del Toro imprint on it due to the amount of work he did to get it off the ground.
4. Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman
Joss Whedon, geek-God and creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, directed two of the most financially successful movies ever made: Marvel's The Avengers and Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Together, they made almost $3 billion worldwide. Perhaps DC and Warner Brothers kick themselves when they think back on the time Whedon was attached to direct Wonder Woman for them and they chose to pass. That does seem like a bit of a bonehead move at this point.
Whedon worked on a script for the film for two years in the mid-2000's. He finally announced in February 2007 that he was off the project as writer and director. He said that he and the studio just didn't see eye to eye on their visions for the movie. His desire was to set the movie in the modern day with Diana Prince as a fish out of water character. The studio didn't like this take, though. This lines up with what Warners have gone on to do with the property. The movie being released next year, starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, is a World War One period piece.
Still, we can't imagine Whedon doing a bad job at writing a strong female character, considering that's been his stock-in-trade for years. Oh well.
3. George Miller's Justice League
Zack Snyder is hard at work at the moment putting his directorial stamp on the upcoming Justice League movie. But this isn't the first time that Warner Brothers has attempted to put the League on the big screen. Their previous attempt came very, very close.
In 2007, while Chris Nolan was developing The Dark Knight, WB put plans in motion for a Justice League film. Strangely, their plan was to have a different Batman in the JL film, completely separate from the Christian Bale version in Nolan's movies. The budget was set at $220 million and George Miller, of Mad Max fame, signed on to direct.
The cast was made up of hot young things, including a pre-The Social Network Armie Hammer as Batman, Adam Brody of The OC as The Flash and Australian model Megan Gale as Wonder Woman. Construction of the sets was already underway when the Writers Strike hit. WB's options on the cast members then had to be released. The Australian Film commission then denied a hefty tax rebate for filming there, and the project was scrapped altogether.
2. Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One
We could have filled this article entirely with ten Batman movies that, for various reasons, fell apart at various stages of development. In the years between Batman & Robin in 1997 and Batman Begins in 2005, there were countless iterations of Batman thrown about within Warner Brothers.
In 1999, they approached the young maverick director Darren Aronofsky. He had only one feature to his name at the time (Pi). Aronofsky said he'd made Batman: Year One, bringing the character back to his gritty, street level roots, after the high-camp of Joel Schumacher's films. He pitched Death Wish or The French Connection meets Batman. Warners commissioned a script from Aronofsky and Batman comic book legend Frank Miller, who wrote the Year One comic.
Their script took many liberties with the source material, including changing Alfred Pennyworth into an auto mechanic named Big Al who took Bruce Wayne in after his parents were killed. Aronofsky, in the end, wasn't surprised when WB said they couldn't make his R-rated, adult-oriented version of their corporate character. But certainly the idea of treating Batman in a more realistic fashion held over into Chris Nolan's fulfilled version.
1. Kevin Smith and Tim Burton's Superman Lives
This case of an unmade comic book movie is so famous that an entire documentary about it was crowd-funded and released in 2015! The Death Of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?' was directed by Jon Schnepp. It examined the failed mid-90's Superman movie that would've been directed by Tim Burton and starred Nicolas Cage!
In the end, this project got so far down the line that it was only cancelled with three weeks left until filming was due to begin. The documentary has interviews with writer Kevin Smith, whose script is freely available online, and Burton himself, who is surprisingly candid about his experience in pre-production on the film.
It all appeared to boil down to that old Hollywood chestnut, creative differences. Warner Brothers was happy with Smith's script, which included Lex Luthor, Brainiac, The Eradicator and even a cameo from Batman villain Deadshot. But when Burton came on board, he wanted to make his own version of Superman. He hired Wesley Strick to re-write Smith's script. Eventually, WB decided Strick's draft would be too expensive and so hired Dan Gilroy to do two more passes. By this point, Cage had done a costume fitting (footage of which is in the documentary) and $30 million had been spent on production design with little to show for the money. Eventually the project was scrapped and Burton left to direct Sleepy Hollow.
Can you think of any other comic book movies that might have been? Let us know below!