- Columbia Pictures
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Ryan Coogler making “Black Panther” or Patty Jenkins making “Wonder Woman.” But there was once a time when that was a possibility, along with many other would-be superhero movies that never came to be.
James Cameron wanted to make a “Spider-Man” movie, Joss Whedon wrote an infamous “Wonder Woman” script, and “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller had assembled a cast for a “Justice League” movie a decade ago.
These and other strange superhero movies almost saw the light of day, but were eventually scrapped.
For movies like “Black Panther,” that’s a good thing. But for other movies like Miller’s “Justice League: Mortal,” it’s hard not to think about what could have been, considering last year’s Zack Snyder-directed “Justice League” movie was a major flop.
Below are 6 of the strangest cancelled superhero movies, and the ones that actually got made:
James Cameron’s “Spider-Man”
- Columbia Pictures
The scrapped movie: If James Cameron always got what he wanted, we would have gotten one of the weirdest, most unsettling superhero movies of all time – one that included Peter Parker spying on his crush as she changed, describing the mating habits of spiders to impress said crush, and waking up one morning covered in a white, sticky substance.
This was Cameron’s vision for a “Spider-Man” movie back in 1990, the same man who made “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Titanic,” and “Avatar.”
By the sounds of it, Cameron’s version of Spider-Man was a lot more mature (and creepy) than the films we’ve seen come to life. And according to the Telegraph, Leonardo DiCaprio (pre-“Titanic” Leo even!) was strongly considered for the role.
In 2014, Cameron told Collider that he wrote an extensive, 90-page treatment for the film, which Carolco Pictures bought the rights to. However, Carolco went bankrupt in 1995 and the rights were bought by Sony.
Cameron reportedly wanted Fox to try to snag the rights, but he dropped it once he realized it would result in a long, expensive bidding war. Cameron’s vision was lost … thanks goodness.
The actual movie: Sony went through with making its own “Spider-Man” movie in 2002 directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire as the hero and Kirsten Dunst as love interest Mary Jane Watson.
After a poorly received reboot in 2012 and a failed attempt to make a “Spider-Man cinematic universe,” Sony and Marvel struck a deal to include Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sony maintains creative control and distribution rights, but Marvel is basically free to use the character in any of its movies. Meanwhile, Sony is still rolling out Spider-Man related movies of its own, including a “Venom” spin-off in October starring Tom Hardy.
Tim Burton’s “Superman Lives”
- Warner Bros.
The scrapped movie: Nicolas Cage as Superman is the only thing you need to know in order to decide whether this would have been the greatest or worst superhero movie ever (it’s really all a matter of perspective).
But it almost happened in the early 1990s. Tim Burton, who had made “Batman” in 1989, would have directed the movie, called “Superman Lives,” and there were many scripts floating around to work with, including one from Kevin Smith. Tim Burton directing Nicolas Cage as Superman from a script by Kevin Smith is an actual sentence that could have become a reality.
After years of development, Warner Bros. finally canceled the movie, but a 2015 documentary called “The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?” brought the long-forgotten movie back into the spotlight.
The documentary actually makes the case that Burton’s film might not have been that bad, and reveals the suit that Nic Cage would have donned (it’s … not that bad).
Cage still stands by the project, so that must count for something. Last year, he said that if he and Burton had been able to make the movie they wanted to make, it would have been “more powerful than any of the Superman movies.”
The actual movie: And maybe he’s right. The character wouldn’t make it to the big screen again until Bryan Singer’s 2006 film “Superman Returns,” which was more of an homage to the Christopher Reeve Superman films than a reboot. And now Henry Cavill plays Superman in the DC Extended Universe, which hasn’t exactly been met with heaps of praise.
Wesley Snipes’ “Black Panther”
- Marvel Studios
The scrapped movie: We know Wesley Snipes as another Marvel character, Blade, but in the early 1990s he was circling a different Marvel property.
Earlier this year, Snipes opened up about a potential “Black Panther” movie back in 1992.
“I had a good agent at the time who was sensitive to some of the artistic concerns that I had,” Snipes said. “We thought it would be very cool and atypical for a Marvel comic-book character. Something that would be appeal to white people, black people, Asian people, and have some martial arts in it and expose the world of Africa in a way that most people were unfamiliar with and very contrary to the stereotypes that are projected about the continent.”
However, the project fell apart because Snipes said there were “no templates” for it at the time and he was too busy.
The actualmovie: Now Black Panther is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Ryan Coogler’s film is still fresh in our minds (as well as the character’s appearance in “Avengers: Infinity War”).
“Black Panther” blew away expectations at the box office, making $242 million in its opening 4-day Presidents’ Day weekend in February. It eventually made over $1 billion worldwide.
Its February success has paved the way for big movies to open earlier in the year and outside of the usual summer release calendar. Probably for the best that Snipes’ movie never got made.
Jack Black’s “Green Lantern”
- Warner Bros.
The scrapped movie: “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog” creator Robert Smigel was hired by Warner Bros. in 2004 to write a “Green Lantern” comedy script with Jack Black in the title role.
Yes, you read that correctly. If it sounds too absurd to be true, you’re not alone: fans had a meltdown when news broke that this was in the works, and Warner Bros. quickly flushed it.
The movie would have been about a Green Lantern power ring malfunctioning and choosing a reality TV star to be Earth’s Green Lantern.
Vanity Fair interviewed Smigel in 2011 when the actual “Green Lantern” movie starring Ryan Reynolds was released, and he understood the backlash: “I’m a huge Peanuts fan, so if I heard they were doing a new Peanuts with Jack Black as Charlie Brown, I’d be mad, too. And I’d be twice as mad if I heard I was writing it.”
In Smigel’s defense, there have been many Green Lanterns in the comic books, and some have been more ridiculous than others. Guy Gardner, for instance, is a wise-cracking, hot-headed loser, which is a point Smigel makes in his interview with Vanity Fair.
Smigel said that Warner Bros. execs suddenly changed their minds and just “wanted to do a serious Green Lantern.”
The actual movie: Their version of “serious” must have meant funny guy and future “Deadpool” actor Ryan Reynolds, who they probably felt could crack a joke like Jack Black but pull off the superhero charm to match.
The results weren’t great. “Green Lantern” made just $220 million worldwide and was met with poor reviews (it has a rotten 26% on Rotten Tomatoes). The movie made it hard for future “Green Lantern” movies to succeed, and Warner Bros. didn’t even bother including the character in its “Justice League” movie.
The studio has a “Green Lantern Corps” movie planned for its DC Extended Universe written by David S. Goyer, but no substantial details have been revealed.
Joss Whedon’s “Wonder Woman”
- Warner Bros. Pictures
The scrapped movie: There’s no denying Joss Whedon’s impact on pop culture. His hit show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had wrapped up in 2003, and he followed that up in 2004 with a critically acclaimed run on the comic book “Astonishing X-Men” for Marvel. Things were looking great for the writer/director.
So in 2006, it was a no-brainer for Warner Bros. to want Whedon to write a “Wonder Woman” movie. He had already dipped his hand in both creating a strong female character for television, and the superhero genre for Marvel Comics. What could have gone wrong?
Well, a lot of things apparently, because the movie never happened. Whedon once said that the film was about Steve Trevor “getting her to see what it’s like not to be a goddess, what it’s like when you are weak, when you do have all these forces controlling you and there’s nothing you can do about it. That was the sort of central concept of the thing.”
It sounds like Whedon’s script was told more from Trevor’s perspective than Wonder Woman’s, which might have been problematic. Last year, a version of the script was leaked online, and drew criticism for what many perceived as a sexist representation of the character.
The actual movie: “Wonder Woman” was released last year to positive reviews and commercial success. It’s the best reviewed movie in the DCEU with 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Gal Gadot starred as the title character and Chris Pine took on the role of Trevor. Patty Jenkins directed the film, which was praised for its depiction of a strong female superhero in a genre with very few of them – a stark contrast to how Whedon’s script was received.
George Miller’s “Justice League: Mortal”
- Warner Bros.
The scrapped movie: Before Warner Bros. and DC tried their own attempt at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller was extremely close to bringing his own vision of DC’s super-team to life.
The movie was called “Justice League: Mortal” and would have starred “Call Me by Your Name” actor Armie Hammer as Batman, D.J. Catrona as Superman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, “The O.C.” star Adam Brody as The Flash, rapper Common as Green Lantern, Hugh Keays-Bryne as Martian Manhunter, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, and Jay Baruchel as the villain Maxwell Lord.
The movie was scheduled to begin filming in 2008 for a summer 2009 release. There was a script, there was a cast, and there was a director. But Warner Bros. finally cancelled the movie after some major development issues – including the 2007 writers strike – and the rest is history.
The story would have centered on a “really intense” Batman with “major trust issues,” according to Hammer, whose secret files exposing the League members’ weaknesses fall into the wrong hands. It was very similar to a 2000 comic book storyline by writer Mark Waid called “Tower of Babel.”
The actual movie: “Justice League,” part of the DC Extended Universe and directed by Zack Snyder, was released last year to disappointing results. It has a 40% Rotten Tomatoes score and made only $657 million worldwide and $229 million domestically (by comparison, “Avengers: Infinity War” beat that in its opening weekend).
The DCEU’s version of Batman was first introduced in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as paranoid and intense, similar to how Hammer described his Batman would be. But the DCEU, including “Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” has been poorly received. It begs the question of whether Miller’s vision would have been any better.
The movie ran into production issues. Snyder stepped away from the movie after the death of his daughter, and “Avengers” director Joss Whedon stepped in for extensive reshoots.