9 Unmade DC Superhero Movies That We Never Got To See
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With a history that stretches back to the mid-1930s and hundreds of iconic characters, it's not surprising that DC dominated comic book TV and movies for decades. From the classic Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman shows in the '50s, '60s, and '70s to game-changing films like Superman: The Movie in the and Tim Burton's Batman, DC helped define what onscreen superhero movies were.
Of course, things have changed a little over the past 20 years. The X-Men series and Sam Raimi's Spider-man finally gave Marvel fans some successful on-screen superheroes, while the vast success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe set a standard that's hard to beat. Nevertheless, DC continues to plunder its vast catalog of characters, regularly rebooting classic heroes such as Batman and Superman, and giving others such as Shazam and Harkey Quinn their first cinematic outings.
Unsurprisingly, there's also a huge number of potential DC movies that have been announced or put into development that never made it to the screen. Some of these were new spins of the company's biggest heroes, developed by big names like JJ Abrams, Joss Whedon, and Tim Burton. Others were attempts to make movies based on lesser-known figures that for various reasons never got as far as production. Some were literally a few weeks away from shooting, while others never made it past the script stage.
We've picked some of the highest-profile and most interesting examples of these. It's fascinating to think of how the course of DC's cinematic journey would've been affected had they made it to the screen--Nicolas Cage might have forever been associated with the role of Superman, while we might never have seen Christian Bale and Chris Nolan's take on Batman. So here's 9 big DC films that we'll never see.
1. Plastic Man
DC has attempted to get a Plastic Man movie off the ground numerous times over the past three decades, but so far we're yet to see the adventures of elastic hero Patrick "Eel" O'Brian on the big screen. In 1993, Steven Spielberg was reportedly set to produce a Plastic Man movie, with Brian Spicer (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie) directing from a script by Lana and Lilli Wachowski. Nothing came of this, but many years later in 2008, after the success of the Matrix, it was reported that the Wachowskis would direct their script, with Keanu Reeves in the lead role. But again, the movie never went further. More recently, it was reported that Amanda Idoko was working on a new Plastic Man script, while a female-led version is also in development.
2. Superman Lives
Having reinvented Batman for the screen, director Tim Burton and producer Jon Peters planned to do the same for the Man of Steel in the late '90s. Superman Lives was set to be the first Superman movie since 1985's woeful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and would star Superman uberfan Nicolas Cage. Several writers, including Kevin Smith, had been hired to work on the script before Burton was hired, and once he was on board, Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy became the official writers. Superman Lives was to be based loosely on The Death of Superman comic book story, with Supes killed by Brainiac, before he is resurrected to save the day once more. The movie was only a few weeks away from production in July 1998 when it was delayed, then canceled, by Warner, which was concerned about the script and budget. A decade later, test footage of Cage in costume emerged, and in 2015, the fascinating documentary The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? was released.
3. Batman: Year One
Frank Miller's Batman: Year One was published in 1987, and is considered one of the key Batman comics of the modern era. In the early 2000s, Warner hired rising director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Black Swan) to direct a movie adaptation, with Miller writing the script. But the film never happened, and the character was instead rebooted with Batman Begins in 2005. Miller later stated that his and Aronofsky's vision was simply too dark for the studio. "The executive wanted to do a Batman he could take his kids to," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "And this wasn’t that. It didn’t have the toys in it." Miller's script can now be found online, and Year One was finally adapted into an animated film in 2011.
4. Superman: Flyby
After the cancellation of Superman Lives, Warner made another attempt to get the man of Steel back on the big screen, by hiring JJ Abrams to write a new movie. Abrams' screenplay for Superman: Flyby was finished in 2002, and was a new take on the classic Superman origin story. Rush Hour director Brett Ratner was announced as director in September 2002, with production scheduled for the following year. Jude Law, Josh Harnett, Paul Walker, James Marsden, and Ashton Kutcher were all approached to playSuperman, with Matt Bomer later stating that he was cast in the role. Ratner also revealed that he wanted to cast Anthony Hopkins as Lex Luthor, Ralph Fiennes as Jor-El, and Christopher Walken as Perry White.
But in 2003, Ratner quit the project, citing production delays. He was replaced by McG (Charlie's Angels), who in turn was replaced by X-Men director Bryan Singer. Singer, however, had different ideas for the next Superman movie, and the Abrams script was abandoned in place of what was released in 2006 as Superman Returns.
5. Batman Beyond
The animated series Batman Beyond premiered in 1999 and was a cyberpunk-influenced show that focused on an elderly Bruce Wayne in a futuristic Gotham City, training a younger Batman. A live-action movie version was put into development in the early 2000s, with Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) attached to direct and Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, who created the animated show, hired to write the screenplay with Yakin. But DC was also developing Batman: Year One around the same time, and Yakin quit the project after turning in the script, later stating, "I very quickly got the feeling that I would be in the zone, the madness, and I didn't really have the heart for it at the time." The movie went no further, and Warner instead hired Christoper Nolan to make Batman Begins.
6. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman
Several years before he directed the two hugely successful Avengers movies for Marvel, in 2006 Joss Whedon was hired by DC to develop a potential Wonder Woman movie. The film, which was set to be an origin story, never got past the script stage, with Whedon exiting the project due to creative differences. A decade later, Whedon's script did emerge online and was met with considerable criticism over the way it shifted much of the focus onto Steve Trevor, and over the way Diana is objectified throughout. Whedon himself defended the script, explaining stating, "I was in there swinging and the movie has integrity” Thankfully, by that point, we had Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot to reinvent this iconic character.
7. Justice League: Mortal
With Christopher Nolan's Batman movie proving to be hugely successful in the mid-to-late 2000s, Warner planned to launch another big DC movie. Justice League: Mortal was to be the first big-screen outing for the legendary superhero team, with Mad Max director George Miller hired to direct. The project got very close to happening--a script was written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), and production was scheduled to start in Australia in February 2008. We even know a few of the names that had been cast, including Armie Hammer as Batman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Common as Green Lantern, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, and D.J. Cotrona as Superman.
The studio initially postponed production when the 2008 writers strike stopped further work on the script, but despite hopes that the movie would still shoot ahead of a 2009 release, it never reached the shooting stage. Soon after, Miller left the project to go make the long-in-development Mad Max: Fury Road. In 2013, the script for the abandoned Justice League movie emerged online, as well as the costume test image you can see above.
There have been several attempts to make a movie focused on the fan-favorite alien bounty hunter. In 2009, it was announced that Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Aladdin) had signed on to a make a Lobo movie, with The Hollywood Reporter teasing the movie's plot: "Lobo is an indestructible, blue-skinned, 7-foot-tall and heavily muscled antihero who drives a pimped-out motorcycle and lands on Earth in search of four fugitives bent on wreaking havoc." But a year later, producer Joel Silver stated that Ritchie had decided to make the Sherlock Holmes sequel instead, and the Lobo movie stalled.
Since then, directors Brad Peyton (Rampage) and Michael Bay (Transformers), and writer Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman) have been amongst the names attached to the project, with Dwayne Johnson stating that he was interested briefly in the title role. But so far, Lobo seems stuck in limbo.
9. Justice League Dark
In terms of DC movies that seem like a perfect match of subject and director, it's hard to think of a better one than Gullermo Del Toro's Justice League Dark. The Pacific Rim and Shape of Water director was attached to a movie version of the supernatural superhero team for several years and recently confirmed that he wrote a full screenplay for the potential movie. But he left the project in 2015, and although Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow) was also briefly attached, it remains unmade.
However, while a full Justice League Dark movie doesn't seem likely any time soon, that doesn't mean we won't see some of the characters. Last year it was reported that JJ Abrams is developing several Justice League Dark projects, with a John Constantine series and Zatanna movie both in the works.