While movie theaters are littered with superhero movies these days, from iconic brands like Batman and Superman to cult characters like Deadpool, for every comic that makes it to the big screen, there are dozens that have failed. DC Comics was an early pioneer of translating their properties to movies, from 1978’s Superman to the franchise revitalizing Batman Begins, but they’ve certainly struggled along the way. Here are a few DC Comics-based projects that fell apart before they ever got going, leaving us wondering “what if?”
10. Tim Burton’s Catwoman
After a standout performance in Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was eyed for her own spinoff. Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters was hired to write the script, which would focus on Catwoman rehabbing from her wounds in Oasisburg, a Las Vegas-type city filled with do-gooder superheroes that she would have free reign to mock. The satirical concept, ahead of its time, was to use Catwoman as a device to poke fun at the masculine tropes of superhero movies. Unfortunately, Waters turned the script in the day Batman Forever opened, and Burton moved on to other projects. The screenplay would eventually morph, after numerous rewrites, into the Halle Berry-starring box office dud.
Back in 2011, Warner Brothers started sniffing around the winged hero Hawkman to see if he had any feature legs. While writers were brought in, no one was ever hired to adapt the character, leaving a logline as the only evidence of the project. The film would have been “part Indiana Jones/Da Vinci Code, part Ghost” and delve into the eternal romance between Hawkman and Hawkgirl. With the current Justice League line-up intact and the Hawks currently on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll see the high-flying duo on the big screen.
8. Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman Vs. Superman
While moviegoers were subjected to Zack Snyder’s bleak, dystopian Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier this year, if Wolfgang Petersen, the director of such hits as The Perfect Storm and Troy, had gotten the gig, we would’ve seen the two icons face off over a decade ago. With a script cowritten by Seven scribe Andrew Kevin Walker, Petersen’s Batman Vs Superman would’ve found The Dark Knight mourning the death of Robin, and Superman moping after divorcing Lois Lane. The two heroes duke it out when Batman blames Superman for the death of his fiancee, but they soon come together to defeat Lex Luthor. Prior to being cast in Batman Begins, Christian Bale was considered to play Batman in this film that may have been darker than the recent big screen clash.
7. The Wachowskis’ Plastic Man
Back in 1995, the Wachowskis, still newbies to the Hollywood game, were hired to write a take on Plastic Man. Trading in the character’s con man roots for a new career as an eco-terrorist, the filmmakers described the script as the closest they would ever come to writing a comedy. (There was supposedly a gag involving Plastic Man’s urine not being biodegradable that is probably best left to the imagination.) The project ended up going nowhere, but there were rumors that the duo tried to revive it after The Matrix hit with Keanu Reeves in the lead role. Sadly, those rumors appear to be a bit of a stretch.
Garth Ennis made a big push to get his violently satirical Preacher comic made as a feature film in the late ’90s. Rachel Talalay, best known at the time for directing cult hits like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Tank Girl, was brought on board as a director, but the studio got cold feet, due to the religiously provocative subject matter. Preacher fan Kevin Smith was brought in to help shepherd the project to the big screen with James Marsden cast as possessed small town preacher Jesse Custer, but the film lost its financing and languished in development. HBO tried to set it up as a television series with Daredevil director Mark Steven Johnson, but that too fell through, until Seth Rogen took it upon himself to bring Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy to the small screen. (The AMC series will premiere May 22nd.)
5. Tim Burton’s Superman Lives starring Nic Cage
The story of Tim Burton’s failed effort to bring Superman back to the big screen is so bizarre and legendary, there’s even a documentary about it. Loosely based on the “Death of Superman” comic arc, Superman Lives would have seen peak ’90s Nic Cage as the most intense Man of Steel to ever reach the big screen. While there were numerous versions of the script (some drafts by Kevin Smith) and titles that ranged from Superman Reborn to Superman Lives, Tim Burton pushed the idea of villains Braniac and Lex Luthor merging into a new villain, named “Luthiac.” Jon Peters, the former hairdresser turned legendary movie producer, was also heavily involved in the development of the script, insisting on bizarre details like giant robot spiders and a scene where Superman would’ve fought some polar bears. The project eventually fell apart under the weight of its many bad ideas.
4. George Miller’s Justice League
Before Mad Max: Fury Road, director George Miller spent years trying to get his version of the Justice League made. Using his trademark operatic style, Miller viewed the DC comics all-stars as our modern day Greek Gods, and planned to create a movie with the scope to show it. Actor D.J. Cotrona, who was due to play Superman, has said Miller “was doing things with the Superman character and Batman character, and all the iconic favorites, that’s never been done before. Watch Fury Road and you can only imagine what he would do with those iconic characters.” With The Lone Ranger himself Armie Hammer lined up to play Batman, Adam Brody as The Flash, and Common as the John Stewart version of Green Lantern, Justice League: Mortal remains one of the great “what ifs” in movie history. Unfortunately, the 2007 Writer’s Strike gave antsy studio execs an excuse to pull the plug.
3. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman
Back in the early 2000s, the superhero movie landscape was drastically different. Warner Brothers was still licking its wounds from the disaster that was Batman & Robin, and Joss Whedon was still a cult TV writer years away from bringing The Avengers to the big screen. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that shepherding a Wonder Woman film into fruition was far from an easy task. Whedon told Maxim magazine that, “I wrote a script. I rewrote the story. And by the time I’d written the second script, they asked me…not to. They didn’t tell me to leave, but they showed me the door and how pretty it was.” (Whedon wanted future Marvel movie star Cobie Smulders, then a relatively unknown TV actress, to play the title role. Stew on that, fanboys.) While the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer bringing the most iconic female superhero to the big screen sounds like a match made in heaven, reviews of the script have been mixed, and Whedon may have been better off moving on to Marvel.
2. Green Lantern starring Jack Black
Yep, Jack Black came close to playing the green gladiator back in 2011, before ultimately losing the part to Ryan Reynolds. Black told Yahoo that Robert Smigel, the man behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, had written “a really funny script, an awesome script,” but the studio got cold feet, and wanted to go a more traditional route. Smigel has since described his take, saying “what appealed to me about it on a comedic level was that, in order to be a superhero, this requires no physical skill or talent. All it requires is owning this ring. Automatically, that’s a comedic premise.” When asked if he’d be up for playing the part in the upcoming Justice League movie, Jack joked, “Yeah, they’re not going to call me.”
1. The Sandman
Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus is about the complicated life of Dream, one of the seven Endless gods who shape our reality. Covering multiple time periods and literary genres, it’s not a simple comic to adapt, which might explain the decades of attempts that have ended up going nowhere. The first try was all the way back in the mid-’90s, when writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, then best known for their work on the Disney hit Aladdin, were hired to take a pass. Jon Peters (yes, him again) was a producer on the project, and failed to understand their draft. He wanted more sexy teenagers, and for Dream to wear tights and punch bad guys. This, unsurprisingly, led to the project falling apart, even after director Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction) tried to intervene, and explain how good the script was. The project has received interest over the years, most recently from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who tried and failed to get it up and running, before hitting the dreaded “creative differences” with New Line Cinema, who now own the rights. As for Gaiman, he’s been through all this before and summed it up perfectly in a recent Tweet:
For me, what’s important is the 2,500 pages of SANDMAN, not a movie that may or may not ever happen. https://t.co/6NZe47nvJ4
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) March 6, 2016