Though it might sound hard to believe, given the current clamor for any and all comic book properties, there was a time when the idea of a superhero film wasn’t all that appealing to major movie studios. Superman III’s disappointing box office return had actually put quite a few studios off the idea, and it wasn’t until the arrival and subsequent success of Tim Burton’s Batman that things really began to change. Prior to that, superhero movies were still relatively unknown territory for major studios, which probably explains how Cannon Films got its hands on the rights to Spider-Man in the first place.
The legend of Cannon is well known and already the subject of the excellent documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Fronted by Israeli cousins Menaheim Golan and Yoram Globus, Cannon Films had a reputation for producing low-to-medium-budget movies that often found an audience in the fast-emerging video market. With this interesting background behind them, the pair quickly set about planning the craziest Spider-Man movie you never got to see.
Here are 18 Things You Never Knew About Cannon Film’s Failed Spider-Man Movie.
Cannon Films wound up landing the rights to Spider-Man after Roger Corman’s brief option on making the film expired. But while the deal was a little more complicated than most, it still represented something of a bargain.
Basically, Golan and Globus agreed to pay Marvel Comics $225,000 over the option’s five-year period, along with a percentage of any revenue generated by the film. There was a strict deadline in place, though – if Cannon Films failed to make their Spider-Man movie by April 1990, the rights would revert back to Marvel.
The deal was still good value; to put it in some kind of context: 20th Century Fox paid $2.6 million to get the rights to X-Men back in the 1990s, and even that was seen as something of a steal.
Cannon Films’ plans for Spider-Man were unique in that they essentially tried to run before they could walk on the project. It was a standard company practice: Cannon would come up with titles they wanted to produce, attach as many big names as possible, and sell the project to the various international territories available before starting work on the finished product.
That resulted in a pretty audacious 50-page pull-out advert that discussed the plans for Spider-Man at some length. But Cannon wasn’t simply content with talking about the movie either; a little further down the line, they went one step further and produced a brief teaser trailer featuring the web-slinger. It was vague and not particularly nice to look at, but certainly in keeping with the Cannon Films ethos, which focused on profit above pretty much everything else.
It’s often been queried as to why, precisely, Marvel ended up doing a deal with the 1980s B-movie specialists. According to Don Kopaloff, who worked as Marvel’s film agent in the 1980s, it was something of a last resort, given the lukewarm interest in the company's comic book characters.
“I would never have gone to [Cannon] as a first choice. I went to them after I couldn't get Captain America or Spider-Man sold,” Kopaloff explained in the book Stan Lee and The Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon.
While younger figures in the film industry were interested, the older, more experienced heads thought otherwise, leaving Marvel and Stan Lee with little alternative but to talk to Cannon.
Keen to get a big-name director attached to Spider-Man early on, Globus and Golan identified Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as the ideal candidate to helm their film. At the time, Hooper was busy preparing two horror projects at the time - Invaders From Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - which were being produced by Cannon.
Though it’s unclear what exactly happened next, the commercial failure of both films, coupled with the savage reviews that attacked both their tone and budgetary constraints, may have put off Hooper (or alternatively, Cannon) from doing Spider-Man. In any case, filmmaker Joseph Zito, who had impressed on a limited budget with the Chuck Norris efforts Missing In Action and Invasion USA, as well as Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter, stepped in to take his place.
Tom Cruise has been many things throughout his long and varied career; fighter pilot, secret agent, and cocktail slinging barman to name but a few. One thing he’s never been, however, is a superhero of any kind whatsoever. And yet, at the very beginning of his career, he nearly got the opportunity to do just that - and with one of biggest comic characters around, no less.
Early on in the process, Cannon Films identified Cruise as their preferred choice to play Spider-Man. The idea of the Mission Impossible actor playing Peter Parker at that point in his career is perhaps a lot more plausible than most may initially assume. Then in his twenties, Cruise was just coming off the back of successes like Risky Business and All The Right Moves. He had yet to become the entity we now know as Tom Cruise. In fact, you could even argue that he may not have gone on to enjoy the success he did had he ended up as Spidey...
The late, great Bob Hoskins was never shy about revealing his least favorite project of all the films he’s worked on.
"The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Bros. It was a f---in’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare," Hoskins revealed in an interview with The Guardian prior to his death.
It could have been a whole lot worse for the British screen legend, though. Cannon Films was supposedly keen on the idea of having Hoskins playing Doctor Octopus, who was all set to be the film’s main villain in the first version of the script. Though Hoskins would have undoubtedly done a fine job in the role, it’s likely that the expected chaos and unpredictability of life on the set of a Cannon Films production may have ended up getting to him. Then again, it may have even resulted in Hoskins thinking twice before signing up for the Mario movie.
Cannon Films dreamed big when it came to Spider-Man. Not content with identifying Cruise and Hoskins as Spider-Man and Dr Octopus, respectively, Cannon also had a Hollywood legend in mind for the relatively small role of Aunt May.
Despite her legendary status, the idea of recruiting Bacall for the part may not have been as out-of-the-question as you may have initially thought. The 1980s were a difficult time for Bacall, who took a seven-year break from films following 1981’s poorly received horror effort The Fan.
So she would have certainly been available for the role of Aunt May, even if it might have taken a hell of a lot of persuading for her to come on board. Unfortunately, fans never got to find out either way.
Cannon Films duo Golan and Globus didn’t know a whole lot about Spider-Man when they first purchased the rights to the character. In fact, they were actually under the impression that Spider-Man operated in much the same way as a Universal monster character like Wolf Man.
The very first version of the script for the film put together by Cannon Films’ writers gave Spider-Man a completely new back story that reflected this. It focused on a mad scientist named Doctor Zork, who deliberately exposed company ID photographer Peter Parker to radiation. The result was an eight-legged Peter Park Spider-Man hybrid.
Zork was already building an army of mutant monsters in this version of the script, with the Parker/Spider-Man character rebelling against his creator. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stan Lee rejected the proposed script and numerous other versions, and eventually set about writing a more suitable treatment to be turned into a script.
Despite his constant objections to the script ideas put forward by Cannon, Stan Lee was very keen on the film getting made, and he even had someone very specific in mind for the character of J. Jonah Jameson, Peter Parker’s boss and the editor of The Daily Bugle: himself.
In truth, this shouldn't come as a massive surprise. Lee has racked up cameos in pretty much every Marvel movie to date and, given some of the rank amateurs likely being lined up for parts in the Cannon Films version, he probably saw himself as a safe pair of hands. Who better to bring the iconic character of J. Jonah Jameson to life than Stan Lee? Years later, fans would find out the answer: JK Simmons.
Writers John Brancato and Ted Newsome were enlisted to turn Lee’s treatment into a full script, with Barney Cohen later hired to re-write their effort. Golan eventually added the finishing touches himself while operating under the pseudonym, Joseph Goldman.
The result was a script that was not all that different to the screenplay that would become Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. The plot focused on Otto Octavius, a college professor who also served as Peter Parker’s mentor. The big difference to the story centered on the fact that the cyclotron accident that turned Octavius into Doctor Octopus would also turn Parker into Spider-Man. It ended in much the same way as Raimi’s second Spidey film, with Doctor Octopus attempting to recreate his anti-gravity experiment despite the fact that it threatened to engulf all of New York, killing millions.
Of course, this being Cannon Films, there were a few rather unusual additions to the Spider-Man script that were…interesting, to say the least.
For example, in this version of the story, Doctor Octopus was called Professor Octopus, and he regularly referred to his mechanical arms as waldos – something that definitely never made the cut for Raimi’s version of the tale. There was also the small matter of the rather odd sidekick Cohen wrote into the script for Doctor Octopus. His name was Wiener, and while details on what exactly the character’s role in the film were vague, one thing was established: Weiner had his own catchphrase, “Okey-dokey!"
Some other elements of the new script were slightly less surprising, though. Like the decision to have Liz Allan - Flash Thompson’s high school girlfriend in the comics - become Spider-Man’s love interest. Though she plays Mary Jane in Raimi’s movies, it could be argued that Kirsten Dunst’s version of the character contains elements of Allan. But only elements.
Zito had begun work on Spider-Man, scouting locations in Italy and England as well as working on storyboarding and some special effects plans for the new movie. More importantly, he looked to have found an affordable Spider-Man in stuntman Scott Leva. He had already been hired by the studio to appear at promotional events, and Leva later revealed to CNN in a 2002 interview that he was pretty much prepping for the role at that point.
In 1987, I was the number one slated to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the film for Cannon. I was the guy. They started using me in some cases as a model. And they did a photo cover, which I think was the only one where Peter is unmasked.
Unfortunately, by now, Cannon Films was beginning to suffer major financial losses, and they were forced to slash the budget for the film from $15-$20 million to less than $10 million. Zito left the project as a result, and Cannon was back to square one.
If you require further indication of just how disorganized and chaotic life at Cannon Films once was, it surely comes with the revelation that the company briefly lost the rights to Spider-Man - after forgetting to make a payment to Marvel as part of their deal.
The reason? They were too busy making the dreadful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and the slightly more enjoyable He-Man movie, Masters of the Universe.
They eventually did regain the rights in 1988 and started up production again, this time turning to Albert Pyun, another low-budget filmmaker with a great track record for Cannon, to direct. Interestingly, while Pyun’s vision for Spider-Man would never make it to the big screen, he did end up directing the truly terrible 1990 version of Captain America a few years later.
Keen to reduce costs as much as possible, the decision was made to re-write the script with hopes of getting the film made and released by Christmas of 1989. Don Michael Paul and Ethan Wiley, the latter of whom also wrote the '80s horror hit House, were brought on board, and things suddenly got a little bit spooky for Spider-Man.
Rather than take on Doctor Octopus, this new version of the script saw Spidey go up against a mad scientist who found himself turned into a vampire. Though suitably vague, details suggest the character may have been modeled after Morbius, the living vampire from the comics. Dr. Michael Morbius goes through a similar transition in the comics, and with two new horror-minded writers on board, he would have seemed like a good fit. Unfortunately, there is little definitive proof that the character was based on Morbius.
Not that director Pyun particularly cared. The newly-installed Spider-Man director was desperate for the film to feature an altogether different villain: The Lizard. Whether this would have resulted in more changes to the script is unclear, but Pyun was already exploring the idea and would no doubt have ditched the Morbius plotline if he had been able to. Unfortunately, in testing out the potential for using the character, Pyun discovered a variety of costume and logistical issues which, on a low budget, simply could not be effectively remedied.
"The villain I chose was The Lizard but he had his own challenges with the tail and ability to jump around,"Pyun later reflected. "We were experimenting with centrifuges and wire work but it was daunting on a low budget."
Pyun, who already had a reputation for directing movies on extremely limited budgets, came up with a genius idea during pre-production on Spider-Man – or at least, that was how he probably viewed it.
Keen to maximize his time and the limited funds left at Cannon Films, he struck upon the idea of directing Spider-Man and Masters of the Universe 2 - the sequel to the He-Man movie - at the same time. How would he pull off this seemingly impossible feat? By sharing the same sets for both films.
In the end, however, budgetary constraints and a firm "no" from Cannon put an end to this frankly ridiculous plan – though there was a happy ending of sorts of Pyun. With many of the sets for Spider-Man/Masters of the Universe 2 already constructed, Pyun was able to use them for his next project: Cyborg, which featured a breakthrough performance from Jean-Claude Van Damme. So, in a strange way, we may not have gotten JCVD without the failure of this version of Spider-Man. Or something like that, anyway.
Cannon was eventually forced to pull the plug on Spidey despite Pyun’s low budget (he still required around $5 million for special effects alone). Much of this had to do with the failure of Superman IV and several other, bigger-budget projects that seemed to go against the production company’s previous method of success – low cost films that generated medium to big returns.
On the brink of complete financial collapse, Cannon was eventually taken over by Pathe Communications, who began restructuring Cannon’s $250 million debt.
There would be one final Spider-Man twist, though. While Globus opted to remain with Pathe, Golan negotiated a severance deal that gave him the rights to both Spider-Man and Captain America, the latter of which he was eventually able to produce and release directly to video in 1990, where it was universally panned. But the story got stranger.
There would be one final Cannon-related twist though, when Golan negotiated a new deal to have Spider-Man made - with James Cameron as writer and director.
Cameron’s plans for Spider-Man are the stuff of legend. He’s credited with coming up with idea of the character’s webbing being an organic part of his body, while his part-script, part-treatment presented an edgy take on the character that was full of sex and swearing. Unfortunately, none of it ever saw the light of day, thanks in part to Golan.
Having agreed to sell the property on the proviso that he be named a producer on the finished film, Golan soon clashed with Cameron, who refused to agree to the credit. That resulted in a flurry of lawsuits that ultimately prevented the film from making it to the big screen. It would take years for the mess to be cleared up, by which time Sam Raimi was on the scene…
Did we miss anything out about Cannon's crazy Spider-Man plans? Leave your thoughts in the comments!