Over the past few weeks here at Parallel Universe, we've taken looks at the
"lost" films of two of the comics' most iconic superheroes: Batman and
Spider-Man. For each, we examined the long trail of proposed and abandoned film
projects that preceded their current incarnations on the big screen or even
briefly surfaced during breaks in the character's screen history. Now, although
his latest reboot won't hit movie screens until the summer of 2013 with "Man of Steel," we'll examine the cinematic dead
ends of the world's greatest hero: Superman.
Superman quickly made the jump from comic books (where he debuted in 1938) to
other forms of media, starting with a radio show that launched in 1940 and ran
for 11 years, plus a series of excellent animated cartoons produced by Fleischer
Studios and shown in theaters between 1941 and 1943. The caped Kryptonian's
first live-action big-screen appearance was in a 1948 serial, with Kirk Alyn the first actor to play Kal-El on the
screen. And then, of course, there was "The
Adventures of Superman" (1952-1958), the TV show that made an indelible
impact on millions of children and established George Reeves in the minds of
many as the Man of Steel.
Superman was also the star of a short-lived Broadway musical (1967's "It's a
Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman!") as well as a number of animated
series and two more major TV shows ("Lois &
Clark" and "Smallville"), but the character was again defined for a
whole new generation by Christopher Reeve's iconic performance in the
classic 1978 film "Superman." Reeve starred in three more movies --
"Superman II" (1981), "Superman III" (1983) and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987) -- with
the quality of the series dropping rapidly after the second film. It was 19
years before Big Blue showed up in movie theaters again, in 2006's "Superman
But, as with Batman and Spider-Man, alternate versions of the mythology have
been attempted along the way. What were they and what might they have looked
"Superman III": After the huge success of Reeve's first two "Superman"
movies, in which he fought Lex Luthor and Gen. Zod, it was time for a new story
and set of villains for "Superman III." Producer Ilya Salkind wrote a treatment
that featured two of Superman's best-known bad guys, Brainiac and Mr. Mxyzptlk
-- while also introducing Supergirl -- but Salkind's idea was jettisoned in
favor of a terrible script involving Richard Pryor, and we all know how
"Superman III" eventually turned out. But we would have loved to have seen
Brainiac and Mr. M. on the screen -- the Superman movies have been stingy when
it's come to our hero's comic book rogues gallery.
"Superman V": After Cannon Films produced and released the disastrous
"Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," it was assumed that the franchise was dead
and buried. But the rights reverted to Alexander and Ilya Salkind (producers of
the first three films), and Salkind penned a draft for a fifth film in which
Superman is killed, but is resurrected inside the Kryptonian city of Kandor,
which has been shrunk and placed in a bottle (presumably by Brainiac). It was
never produced, as Superman went into film limbo for a while.
"Superman Reborn": Warner Bros., which had distributed the first three
Superman films, purchased the rights in the early '90s and set out to resurrect
the franchise. The first attempt was this script, in which Superman battles
Doomsday and is fatally wounded, but not before somehow transferring his life
force to Lois Lane. She then gives birth to a child who grows in three weeks to
become a reincarnated Superman. Later drafts brought Brainiac, Parasite and
other villains into the mix, and featured Superman wearing a robotic suit until
he regained his powers.
"Superman Lives": Writer-director Kevin Smith ("Clerks") had done a draft of "Superman Reborn" and
managed to get another crack at the franchise with this proposed film, which was
scripted under bizarre conditions set by producer Jon Peters. Peters did not
want Superman to fly, wanted him in an all-black suit, and had other strange
requirements, but Smith plunged ahead anyway, writing a story in which Brainiac
creates Doomsday to kill Superman, only for the Man of Steel to be resurrected
and given back his powers by a Kryptonian robot called the Eradicator. This
project went into preproduction in 1996, with the studio hiring Tim Burton to
direct and Nicolas Cage to star as Superman for a 1998 release. But rewrites of
the screenplay, clashes between Burton and Peters, attempts by the studio to
bring the budget down and other factors eventually led the project to collapse
-- with $30 million spent and nothing to show for it.
"Batman vs. Superman": We covered this project in our earlier article on the
lost Batman films, but just to recap: It came real close to happening in 2002,
with Wolfgang Petersen ("Troy") set to direct a script that involved Bruce
Wayne and Clark Kent going at each other after Bruce blames his fiancée's death
at the hands of the Joker on Clark -- only for them to find out it's all a
master plan set in motion by Lex Luthor to turn them against each other. Warner
Bros. eventually shelved this in favor of separate films -- and that's when J.J.
Abrams entered the picture.
"Superman: Flyby": With the entire "Superman Lives" idea scrapped and "Batman
vs. Superman" shelved, J.J. Abrams, creator of "Alias,"
and later director of "Star Trek," was hired to pen an entirely new
origin story for Big Blue, with first McG ("Charlie's Angels") and then Brett Ratner ("X-Men: The Last Stand") attached to direct. Abrams
wildly reconceived the Superman mythology, with his script featuring a struggle
for power on Krypton between Superman's father, Jor-El, and his uncle, Kata-Zor;
Lex Luthor reimagined as a government agent; and both Superman and Jor-El going
to "Kryptonian heaven" at one point. Actors like Jude Law, Josh Hartnett, Ashton Kutcher, Paul Walker and Brendan Fraser were all mentioned as potential
candidates for the title role at various stages. But continuing script and
budget hassles, plus more clashes between Peters and the directors, consigned
this rather radical take on the legend to the cinematic dustbin as well,
although when the smoke cleared in 2004, Bryan Singer had been hired to direct
what was now being called "Superman Returns."
"Superman Returns sequel": Bryan Singer directed Brandon Routh as Kal-El in
2006's "Superman Returns," but the film met with mixed reactions and, while
performing decently at the box office, was not the blockbuster that the studio
had wanted. Still, work on a sequel began for a 2009 release, with Brainiac and
Bizarro rumored as the villains and Routh and other cast members set to return.
But Singer dropped out in 2007, the writers strike that year delayed further
work on the script, and Warner Bros. decided to reboot the entire franchise yet
again. Numerous writers -- many from the comics world -- pitched ideas to the
studio, but in 2010, Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight") agreed to produce "Man of
Steel," based on a script by Nolan's co-writer on the Batman films, David S.
Goyer. A long search led to Zack Snyder getting the directing job and British
actor Henry Cavill landing the role of Superman. With
the film scheduled for release in June 2013, Superman will once again be
resurrected on the screen.
Geeking Out On...J.J. Abrams Directing 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars'
J.J. Abrams' 'Star Trek Into Darkness' is set to open this week, then begins the task of directing a new 'Star Wars' film for 2015. Check out this episode where Kurt argues why he's the man for the job and how it's enough already about the lens flares. Also, a few other "double dippers" in the dueling franchises as well as a few others.