Another 10 Comic Book Movies That Were Almost Made
by Randy Krinsky
When last we met, I regaled you fine readers with a tale of ten almost-made comic book movies. Well, now I'm back with ten more! Consider it The Comic Book Movies That Were Almost Made Strike Back, or Episode II: Electric Boogaloo, or whatever strikes your fancy.
I had so much fun researching the last group that I couldn't help compiling another! So, why are we wasting time, let's get on with it!
For years, the Batman franchise rolled on triumphantly… before the dark times… before... Batman & Robin. Back in 1996, Warner Bros. had plans to release a fifth film, aptly titled Batman Triumphant. Believing Batman & Robin was going to be heralded as a cinematic masterpiece, a script was written by Mark Protosevich with plans in place for Joel Schumacher to return to direct. George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell were naturally going to reprise their roles. With Batman & Robin scheduled to open in 1997, Triumphant was penciled in for a 1999 release.
The film plans sounded pretty good. The Scarecrow would have been the main villain, with Jack Nicholson in a cameo as the Joker in a hallucination created by Scarecrow’s fear gas. Harley Quinn would also be featured as she wanted revenge for Joker’s death. The short list for the role of Scarecrow included Nicholas Cage, Steve Buscemi, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Goldblum. Reportedly, Schumacher’s choice for Harley Quinn was Madonna. More rumors had Martin Short appearing as the Mad Hatter and Mark Linn-Baker as Man-Bat, with possibly Alicia Silverstone reprising her role as Batgirl.
So, why was the project scrapped? Batman & Robin. That film was such an embarrassment, the whole franchise was brought back to square one with talks of a reboot. Warner Bros. decided to pursue options for a live-action “Batman Beyond” film as well as an adaptation of Frank Miller's “Batman: Year One”. Neither of those projects worked out either (more on that later). However, as we all know, we did end up getting that reboot with Christopher Nolan’s trilogy; using some elements of the dead projects purportedly used in Batman Begins. So all-in-all everything worked out for the best!
I could write this whole piece on just Batman films that were left rotting in development hell, but I am including this one because I think it would’ve been a good concept to develop.
“Batman Beyond” was a successful animated series produced by Warner Bros. The show took place in the year 2040, with Bruce Wayne, being 80 years old, retired as Batman. Teen Terry McGinnis assumes the role under the mentorship and training of the elder Wayne. Warner hoped to produce a film based off this concept and hired series co-creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnett to write a script. Boaz Yakin, of Fresh and Remember the Titans, was brought in to direct.
By July 2001, a screenplay was ready, however, no progress was made in further development; no calls for rewrites, no director feedback, no studio notes, nothing. Unfortunately, after about a month, Warner Bros. opted to move forward with development on other Batman projects instead, such as Batman: Year One, and ultimately Batman Begins. Now I’m conflicted on this as most everyone agrees that the Nolan trilogy was the best thing to happen to Batman. Therefore, if Batman Beyond was produced then Warner would’ve stopped developing that crop of projects. If that happened, Year One would’ve been scrapped and with it any hopes of bringing in Nolan in to pitch his films. So, you see my dilemma. Nevertheless, I think it still would’ve been great to see Batman Beyond come to life as a live-action feature.
Batman: Year One
As mentioned above, this is one of the many film projects that were in development at Warner Bros. when the studio was trying desperately to get a fifth Batman film on the screen. The other projects included Batman Triumphant, Batman Beyond, Batman: DarKnight, and Batman Vs. Superman (more on that one coming up).
When Joel Schumacher was brought in to helm 1995’s Batman Forever, he originally had the idea of adapting Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One.” The studio wanted a sequel, not a prequel, and vetoed the idea. Schumacher did still adapt some of the elements from the graphic novel for use in his film, notably the brief flashbacks into Batman’s past.
Schumacher went on to make Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, and subsequently lost his passion for the character after the dismal reviews. However, he felt he owed the fans the Batman film they wanted to see. It was 1998, Schumacher decided to revisit the “Batman: Year One” adaptation. He pitched it to warner Bros. and they declined. The studio had decided to approach Darren Aronofsky, the independent filmmaker who impressed them with his work on π (pi).
Aronofsky was asked to pitch his take on the down-in-the-dumps franchise. He reportedly wanted to adapt another of Frank Miller’s works, “The Dark Knight Returns,” with the idea of casting Clint Eastwood as the elder Batman. He would use Tokyo as a double for Gotham City. The studio was intrigued, though Aronofsky later changed his mind and decided to go with the “Year One” adaptation instead (too bad, a brooding Eastwood as an aging Batman, oooh!).
Aronofsky briefly left the project to work on Requiem for a Dream, before returning in September 2000. This time he brought in Frank Miller himself to help write a script, to be inspired with a 1970s crime drama feel (think The French Connection and Death Wish). When the script was complete it was more of a loosely adapted version of the story and wasn’t well-received by the studio. A leaked version of the Frank Miller’s part of the script can be found online.
It is believed that studio execs didn’t move forward with the script because they found it to be too violent, claiming that an R-rated Batman film would alienate their core audience: children. Aronofsky offered a solution: make two separate films. He would make his and Miller’s version of Batman: Year One on a modest budget, then complete a second more family-friendly Batman film. The studio turned him down.
Next, the Wachowskis were brought in for their take on the character. At the time, they were committed to their Matrix trilogy and could only write a brief treatment. Warner Bros. took the Wachowskis pitch and asked Aronofsky if he would be willing write a script and subsequently direct a film based on that treatment. Aronofsky declined and exited the project.
By 2002, numerous pitches had been made and all declined. Joss Whedon even pitched an origin story that he claims was pretty good; however, he too was thanked and gently shown the door. Finally, in January 2003, Christopher Nolan was brought in and, as I said earlier, everything worked out for the best!
Batman vs. Superman
Okay, the last Batman-related story, I promise. So, back in the early 2000s, Warner Bros. was knee deep in superhero pitches. They were attempting to concurrently develop both Superman: Flyby and Batman: Year One. It was at this time that Writer Andrew Kevin Walker, known for Seven and doing an uncredited rewrite on the cult hit Fight Club, pitched a film called Batman vs. Superman. The studio was so intrigued that they allowed him to continue developing the project, slowing the development down on Flyby and Year One. The studio hired Akiva Goldsman to write the screenplay, with Wolfgang Peterson being brought in to direct.
The story featured a retired Bruce Wayne, his comrades all deceased. Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Clark Kent has recently been divorced from Lois Lane. Bruce gets married but his wife is killed by the Joker on his honeymoon. Bruce blames Clark for his wife’s death and the two fight. Ultimately it is discovered that Lex Luthor was behind the murder and the pair join forces to put bring Luthor to justice. Casting options included Johnny Depp, James Franco, Colin Farrell and Paul Walker, but Warner Bros. ended up casting Christian Bale as Batman and Josh Hartnett as Superman.
Production was set to begin in 2003, in hopes of making a mid-2004 release. In the end, the studio decided to shelve the project in hopes of reviving the franchises separately. Development was resumed on Superman: Flyby, and the Batman project was absorbed by the Year One/Batman Begins production.
The logo for the proposed film, which curiously looks a lot like the current Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice logo, can be seen on a billboard that appears in the Warner film, I Am Legend (2008).
Justice League: Mortal
Back in 2007, Warner Bros. announced that they were planning a live-action Justice League movie. Kieran and Michele Mulroney, the pair who later went on to write Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), were hired to pen the script. On the strength of that script, the studio signed George Miller (Mad Max films) to direct. The Writers Guild of America went on strike and the project got put on hold.
Reportedly, the studio had already made casting choices and included Adam Brody as The Flash, D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Common as Green Lantern, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Armie Hammer as Batman, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, and Hugh Keays as Martian Manhunter.
After the strike, Warner Bros. never quite got back on track with the film, pushing back production again and again. Finally, around August 2008, the studio announced a new plan to release solo films first the heroes before endeavoring to produce a Justice League film. In 2010, George Miller confirmed that the project was dead.
It seems their patience in not rushing into production was the right choice. Not too long after Warner Bros. backed away from production, Marvel released 2008’s Iron Man and teased an eventual team-up with the introduction of the “Avengers Initiative.” The rest is Marvel cinematic history and DC/Warner Bros. is now on track to try to equal the feat with one of their own. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out by I’m optimistic.
Tim Burton’s Catwoman
Tim Burton was successful with Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) and originally had plans for two more franchise films, one of which the studio ended up going in a more family-friendly direction (see Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever – actually don’t, forget it…), the other was a spin-off featuring Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.
Variety revealed the details in July 1993, that Daniel Waters was penning the script; with producer Denise Di Novi returning as producer (both Waters and Di Novi worked on Batman Returns). Almost two years later, Waters turned in his script on the very day Batman Forever opened in theaters. Not missing the humor in the moment, Waters remarked, “Turning it in the day Batman Forever opened may not have been my best logistical move, in that it’s the celebration of the fun-for-the-whole-family Batman. Catwoman is definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family script.”
The project remained in development for years after that, with Pfeiffer eventually dropping out and being replaced by Ashley Judd, then Halle Berry. Over the years, the story changed and in the end Selina Kyle’s character was replaced and a film was finally produced (2004’s Catwoman) that had nothing to do with Batman or the character of Catwoman; a travesty of filmmaking that is generally considered one of the worst films ever made.
This is one that the studio has got to be kicking themselves over. I believe the general consensus is that they should’ve let Tim Burton make his Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman movie all those years ago. I believe that film would’ve done justice to the character and to the fans.
X-Men Origins: Magneto
In December 2004, after the success of the first two films in the X-Men franchise, ideas for a spin-off were circulating. Writer Sheldon Turner was hired by Fox to come up with a storyline; he chose the fan-favorite Magneto as his subject.
Turner’s story was during World War II, and depicted a young Magneto trying to survive in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. During the camp’s liberation, he meets a young soldier, Charles Xavier, and the two become friends. With a desire for vengeance, he hunts down the Nazi war criminals that tormented him and ends up turning Xavier against him.
In May 2006, Sir Ian McKellen confirmed that he would be reprising the role of Magneto using the same CGI technology to de-age him that was used in X-Men The Last Stand. Producer Lauren Shuler Donner stated that McKellen was essential to the story, which would be told in flashbacks featuring younger actors in their twenties.
In April 2007, with a story in place, Fox hired David S. Goyer to direct. The production was planned to shoot in Australia aiming for a 2009 release date. However, with the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, production was pushed back. Afterwards, development continued and in June 2008, it was announced that this film would use the X-Men Origins prefix that was previously applied to the Wolverine movie. Additionally, Goyer stated that production would begin on the film if X-Men Origins: Wolverine was successful.
During the wait, the story evolved and was taken out of the World War II era and moved to a 1961 setting. Then in October 2009, McKellen announced the he would not be reprising his role as the story’s version of Magneto would be considerably younger. That same month, in and Empire interview, Donner questioned whether the film would ever be made, “the studio has a wealth of potential stories, and they have to stand back and decide which ones to make. And Magneto, I think, is at the back of the queue. Maybe it’ll get made in five years – who knows?”
Finally, in August 2010, Donner stated that the production would be rolled into the X-Men prequel, X-Men: First Class (2011), with elements of Goyer’s working script being incorporated into that project.
I liked First Class, and making it Magneto-centric as it were, was obviously the holdover from this original project. I do think, however, that a full-on Magneto film concentrating on his time with Xavier prior to founding the X-Men would have been enjoyable and there are numerous storylines that could have been developed. I think the original project would’ve been successful.
Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman
Before Gal Gadot was cast in the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a Wonder Woman project was being kicked around for years (Remember 2011’s never-aired NBC pilot starring Adrianne Palicki – I mean they filmed it and everything!). Development on a live-action feature-length film for Wonder Woman can be traced back to a 1996 project with Ivan Reitman attached as producer and possibly director. Then, in October 1999, author and screenwriter Jon Cohen was attempting to develop the character for producer Joel Silver. Warner Bros. were interested in casting Sandra Bullock in the titular role. In January 2001, Silver enlisted Todd Alcott, writer of Antz, to come up with a screenplay.
According to an article by ComicMix’s Matt Raub, numerous actresses were discussed as being considered for the character, with producer Leonard Goldberg (former ABC bigwig and president of 20th Century Fox) reiterating that Sandra Bullock was still the strongest candidate. Bullock has admitted that she was approached for the role, but other actresses expressed interest such as wrestler Chyna and Lucy Lawless. All the while, the screenplay was being revised; various drafts were written by Cohen, Alcott, Becky Johnston, Philip Levens, and ultimately, in August 2003, Laeta Kalogridis (Terminator: Genisys)
In March 2005, Warner Bros. and Silver Pictures announced that Joss Whedon would now write and direct the film. With Whedon working on Serenity at the time (a moment of silence….), and the amount of time required to properly research the character of Wonder Woman, Whedon would not begin the screenplay until later in the year. According to Joel Silver, the story would cover the classic origin of Wonder Woman, with Steve Trevor crashing on her remote island home and winning the right to return him to the world of man (and along the way, possibly fight for truth and justice). Silver had hopes of filming in Australia. Again, no casting announcement was made, but Charisma Carpenter and Morena Baccarin expressed interest in the project.
Whedon’s work on the script was not met with much enthusiasm by the studio. On the subject, Whedon once stated, “It was in an outline, and not in a draft, and they didn't like it. So I never got to write a draft where I got to work out exactly what I wanted to do." He eventually finished a screenplay and turned it in but, again, studio executives were less than eager to follow through on it.
Finally, in February 2007, Joss Whedon left the project, citing differences with the studio over the script. He remarked, “I never had an actress picked out, or even a consistent front-runner. I didn't have time to waste on casting when I was so busy air-balling on the script." He later stated, "I would go back in a heartbeat if I believed that anybody believed in what I was doing. The lack of enthusiasm was overwhelming."
Shortly before Whedon left the project, Warner Bros. and Silver Pictures bought a spec script from young writers Matthew Jennison and Brent Strickland. Their story, set during World War II, was purchased, as Silver explained, to keep it from floating around in the industry. Silver had no plans to make his film a period piece. Regardless, Silver was impressed with the pair’s work and, by April 2008, hired them to write a new script taking place in modern times that explored Wonder Woman’s home and history, rather than being a straight origin story.
Later, in “The Wall Street Journal,” Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov mentioned that a Wonder Woman film was still in “active development.” The truth of the matter was that this project was stuck in development hell!
Joss Whedon would have made a phenomenal film. It is evident that Warner Bros. really didn’t understand what they were trying to do with the DC property and let a great filmmaker slip through their fingers. As we all know, Whedon went on to work for rival Marvel and make them a cool billion dollars with The Avengers – kudos Warner Bros! Not to say that everything didn’t work out; I mean, if Whedon hadn’t been scorned by the WB, The Avengers quite possibly wouldn’t have turned out as the hot ticket it was. No, things happen for a reason and now, with plenty of development behind them, DC and Warner Bros. are once again ready to push forward with plans for Wonder Woman. With her appearance in next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, setting her up for a solo film, Wonder Woman (2017), a definite path is now in place. At least that is the plan. For all we know, Gal Gadot’s portrayal will be received horribly, the solo film will be canceled and once again we will be clamoring for Joss Whedon! He is done with his Marvel projects for the time being and has expressed interest in possibly working on a DC property…. You never know!
Rumors of this project had been swirling around since at least 1999, when Universal Pictures acquired the rights to the Marvel character. In 2004, David Self (Thirteen Days, Road to Perdition) was hired by the studio to write a screenplay, possibly with Chris Columbus attached to direct. The film was rumored to be pushing for a 2007 release. However, Columbus quit the project in 2005, and development was delayed. In 2006, Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) was then hired to direct, however, the film labored through development and eventually the project was scrapped.
Rumors floated that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Daniel Dae Kim, as well as David Boreanaz were all interested in portraying Namor, the Sub-Mariner.
Finally, in 2013, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that Universal still owned the rights to the property. Later, he clarified that even though Universal held the rights, that studio would be unable to move forward with any film plans on their own. So, basically any Sub-Mariner film would be a Marvel Studio’s production? On the topic, Feige had this to say:
Yes, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. Let’s put it this way – there are entanglements that make it less easy. There are older contracts that still involve other parties that mean we need to work things out before we move forward on it. As opposed to an Iron Man or any of the Avengers or any of the other Marvel characters where we could just put them in.
What this might boil down to is that if Marvel makes this film, Universal will probably still retain distribution rights, not Disney. This would most likely negate any possibility that Disney would allow this film project to go forward, not after paying many millions get distribution rights back from Paramount for Iron Man 3 and The Avengers when they acquired Marvel Entertainment.
Now, as of May 2014, it appears that the film rights have reverted back to Marvel Studios. So, does that mean we will now see a Sub-Mariner film? Maybe. We do know that Feige and Marvel have unreleased plans on paper for film projects well into the next decade, so we just might.
The Hands of Shang-Chi
Back in 2001, special effects wiz and Blade director Stephen Norrington announced that he was going to direct an adaptation of Marvel’s Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. For the uninitiated, Shang-Chi was created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin in 1972 when Marvel acquired the comic rights to Sax Rohmer’s pulp novel villain, Fu Manchu. They also had the comic rights to the television series, “Kung Fu.” Instead of making an adaptation of either property, the combined the two and developed The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu.
The successful comic series began by introducing Shang-Chi as a man raised by his father Fu Manchu to be eternally at the side of the would-be world conqueror. In his first mission, Shang-Chi kills one of his father's old enemies, Dr. Petrie, and learns of Fu Manchu's true, evil nature. Disheartened, Shang-Chi swears unending opposition to his father's ambitions and joins the British Intelligence Service as an agent, under the direction of Sir Denis Nayland Smith.
Although he has no superhuman powers, Shang-Chi, in the comics, has demonstrated the ability to defeat numerous superhuman opponents. He is one of the best non-superhuman athletes in Marvel Comics and referred to by many as the best unarmed fighter and martial artist in the world. About the film adaptation, Norrington styled it as “a real honest-to-goodness martial arts film, rather than a film that simply has martial arts in it.”
Then, in 2004, it was announced that Ang Lee was going to produce. Later, in 2005, Marvel legend Stan Lee agreed to executive produce the film for DreamWorks; Yuen Woo-ping would then direct. A screenplay was written by Bruce McKenna but the project has been stuck in development hell ever since.
Will we ever get this movie? I think so. Officially, I believe the film project is still “in development,” but this could happen. Shang-chi had a pretty successful run in the comics and, thanks to fans of martial art films, this could really be successful. Not to mention that Marvel Comics has recently begun positioning the character for a new audience. Back in 2011, in the Marvel NOW! relaunch, the character of Shang-Chi was recruited by Steve Rogers and Iron Man to join the “Secret Avengers.” Seeing as how the “Secret Avengers” also has among its ranks, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson, Bobbi Morse, and Iron Patriot, this could be the makings of a cinematic team-up in later years; only time will tell.
Well there you have it true-believers! That was fun! At least for me. I hope you enjoyed it as well and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the might-have-beens. If you know of any others, please let me know. If I can locate any credible nuggets of information on more, I might come up with The Return of the Comic Book Movies That Were Almost Made! We'll see! As always, thanks for reading!