Nicolas Cage as Superman

Superman took a long time to make his ‘return’ after the shambolic Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. A decade before Christopher Reeve-lookalike Brandon Routh became the Man of Steel for Bryan Singer’s sentimental second coming, Superman Returns, Nicolas Cage was set to slip into the red undies – or black ones – for Tim Burton.

As soon as Warner Bros. finally took full control of the rights to Superman movies in 1993, the studio planned a grand ‘re-conceiving’, Batman-style. Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) was among a number of screenwriters hired by heavyweight producer Jon Peters to try and take Superman to never-before-seen heights (from a theatrical perspective).

Smith’s unique take, titled Superman Liveswhich featured Supes wearing a black ‘Eradicator’ suit and battling the ominous pairing of Brainiac and Doomsday – ultimately lured Tim Burton to direct and Cage to star – though Smith allegedly wanted his old mate, Ben Affleck.

Burton eventually had Wesley Strick (who penned the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake) re-write Smith’s work – much to Smith’s chargrin – with Superman now confronted by a strange Brainiac-Lex Luthor amalgamation called Lexiac; however the studio scrapped that script, and then another one by Dan Gilroy, before eventually scrapping the entire flailing project to focus on Wild, Wild West. Judging by this 2000 interview, Burton was the one left annoyed, and rightly so.

“… I think, and this is only my opinion of course, that it wasn’t filmed because it was going to be an expensive movie, and they were a little sensitive because they were getting a lot of bad press that they had screwed up the Batman franchise … If they’d just allowed us to make the film, I think that we could have done something interesting. They made a choice. They had this, Superman, and Wild, Wild West, and they opted for that and canned this one. It’s frustrating. I like to be positive, but I really feel that I wasted a year of my life. That’s a terrible feeling.”

Cage was like a bride left at the altar: all dressed up (during a costume fitting) with nowhere to fly, and forced to fulfill a goal of playing a superhero by becoming B-grade Marvel hot-head Ghost Rider in 2007. Burton, on the other hand, has steered clear of the genre he helped mold with Batman in 1989, settling on a career filming Johnny Depp in bad makeup and crazy wigs.

More Superman near-misses…

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