Throughout the history of film and television, the concept of “development hell” has only grown. With so many companies and creatives vying to turn visions into reality, complications are bound to arise and projects that seem like a sure thing have a way of languishing. When it comes to existing source material, like comic books, the issue only multiplies. Though we’re living in a golden age of comic book movies and television, every successful project leaves behind another dozen stuck in limbo.
A few years back, we took a look at the history of a number of adaptations that date back decades, some which have still never seen the light of day. Recent years have seen an influx of new ideas and attempts to adapt characters from the page to the screen. While heaps of indie comics also fall into this category, those by DC and Marvel are of the most interest, as they’re the two most successful at getting their work adapted– though they still fall victim to this issue. From John Ridley’s mystery Marvel project to DC’s Lobo movie, many projects in development hell may someday get made; but the ones on this list are all officially dead.
Here are 16 Abandoned Comic Book Movies and TV Shows That Never Got Made.
16. Guillermo del Toro’s Incredible Hulk
For many who follow the production of superhero media, Guillermo del Toro’s proposed Hulk TV series will immediately take you back a number of years. Way back in 2010, when the MCU was still young, Marvel announced plans to develop three new TV shows on ABC. del Toro’s Hulk project was the only one that ever got confirmed, but interestingly Cloak & Dagger and The Punisher, two upcoming shows, were rumored.
Two years later, del Toro was still keen on the project, especially following the success of The Avengers. In October of 2012, it seemed like all they were waiting on was the show’s mystery writer to finish up a another project. Instead, the news went dead and del Toro moved on to other ideas. In the end, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. proved to be the only ABC show to come to life at that time.
Meanwhile, del Toro’s dreams of bringing Swamp Thing and Etrigan the Demon to the big screen evolved into the early days of Justice League Dark, now in the hands of Doug Liman. As for his desire to see a Doctor Strange movie, years of development finally brought that into the light of day as well, though without del Toro’s involvement. As for the Hulk, he’s got a big future in the MCU, but can’t even land a solo movie, let alone a TV show.
15. Darren Aronofsky’s Wolverine
It’s hard to imagine the last two Wolverine solo movies with anyone else besides James Mangold attached, but it wasn’t so long ago that auteur Darren Aronofsky was all lined up to direct the follow-up to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with Christopher McQuarrie on board to write the film.
Back in 2010, Hugh Jackman confirmed the involvement of both McQuarrie and Aronofksy, with visions of a prestige Wolverine movie dancing in fans’ heads. The project was all most comic fans could think about, until the following year brought word that Aronofsky was out due to personal reasons. Soon after, McQuarrie left as well, with Mark Bomback and Scott Frank eventually writing the script and James Mangold directing.
14. James Cameron’s Spider-Man
More than most of the projects on this list, James Cameron’s Spider-Man was almost a reality. Throughout the ‘80s, the film rights to the character bounced around, even landing with B-movie legend Roger Corman at one point. While Corman’s vision wasn’t based on any knowledge of the character, Cameron’s idea was a little closer to home.
Following a number of rewrites, the early ‘90s saw a script take shape involving Peter’s origin and battles with a reworked Electro and Sandman. Though some elements, like the villains and organic webshooters, would make it into future Spider-Man movies, some other bizarre aspects like a sex scene on the Brooklyn bridge and Kafka-esque nightmare never did.
Still, the film got to the point of having a poster and a cast, with Leonardo DiCaprio all set to star. The film would also have seen Maggie Smith (aka Minerva McGonagall) as Aunt May, R. Lee Emery (the crazy sergeant from Full Metal Jacket) as Jameson, and Alien’s Lance Henriksen as Electro. Ultimately, a whole lot of legal litigation cancelled the movie’s future, and Cameron and DiCaprio went on to do Titanic, with the Spider-Man property eventually revived a few years later by Sam Raimi.
13. Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four
The most infamous of all abandoned comic book movies, Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four made it a lot further along than his take on Spider-Man. While Cameron’s film was nearly made, Corman’s was actually cast and shot. Of course, it was never intended to be released.
In the early ‘90s, Corman began working on his Fantastic Four movie. Sadly, he was only given a measly $1.5 million with the executives never planning to release the film. The whole thing was simply a ploy by Constantin Films to maintain the rights so it wouldn’t revert back to Marvel. Everyone else involved in the project sadly never knew this, and went about making one of the earliest attempts at a Marvel movie. Fans of a certain age will even recall seeing some early marketing for the project, but that’s as far as it went. But while the movie was never officially released, it was shot and can be found online with some light searching.
12. George Miller’s Justice League Mortal
With the birth of the DCEU and the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, many fans can’t help but wonder what George Miller’s Justice League Mortal would have looked like. Ten years ago, the idea first began manifesting for Justice League Mortal, with the early rumor that Christian Bale’s new Batman would even be involved. Right from the start, however, it faced issues and Bale soon stated he wasn’t involved. Instead, Armie Hammer was brought on to play the Dark Knight, with the rest of the cast filled out. Soon enough, however, the idea fell apart and DC and Warner Bros. began moving on to make Green Lantern and Man of Steel.
In an interesting twist, 2015 saw the emergence of documentary project chronicling the failed film, but that too seemed to disappear as quickly as it came up. Following the success of Miller’s Fury Road, he finally opened up about the proposed film, teasing how fantastic it could have been. Of course, this year will finally give fans a big screen version of the League, complete with many established actors returning to their roles.
11. Larry Cohen’s She-Hulk
While Guillermo del Toro’s Hulk show never became a reality, the Jade Giant is no stranger to TV. Back in the ‘70s, The Incredible Hulk ran for five seasons and even landed a few TV movies. The final film, The Death of the Incredible Hulk, was all set to introduce She-Hulk and set up a TV show starring Brigitte Nielsen as Jennifer Walters. In the end, She-Hulk was cut from the movie and the TV show never manifested.
The idea resurfaced later, however, with Larry Cohen set to write and direct Nielsen in a She-Hulk movie. The project even shot promotional photos of the actor in costume, with a date in 1990 locked in for release. Sadly, it never became a reality and She-Hulk remains one of the few characters on this list who’s yet to be adapted in a live-action project.
10. The Wachowskis’ Plastic Man
The idea of the Wachowskis making a Plastic Man movie is one of the more surreal on the list, but it’s not the most unusual adaptation they’ve been attached to. While their work on The Matrix and Sense8 has given them a reputation as mind-bending auteurs, they also brought us the live-action Speed Racer. Still, that film took a dark turn and lost most of its comedic source material. Plastic Man, however, would have been a different beast.
Back in 1996, the unknown creators were all set to write a film based on DC’s most bizarre mainstream hero. As strange as he is, however, he’s one of the company’s oldest characters, dating back to before they were even called DC. In the hands of the Wachowskis, Plastic Man would have been a nutty environmentalist, akin to Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. Ultimately, the movie failed to gain traction and the Wachowskis and producer Joel Silver moved on to crafting The Matrix.
9. David S. Goyer’s Doctor Strange
Last year finally saw Doctor Strange hit theaters under the supervision of horror filmmaker Scott Derrickson, but prolific comic writer David S. Goyer almost helped usher it to theaters. Goyer has a deep comic pedigree, and is most famous for writing the story for all three of Nolan’s Batman films and writing the script for Marvel’s Blade trilogy He’s also the writer behind Batman V Superman, the Constantine TV show, and even the David Hasselhoff movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., so he’s had an interesting career.
Back in the early ‘90s, he took over script writing duties for a Doctor Strange movie that had already passed through the hands of Wes Craven and Bob Gale and had been active since the ‘80s. Goyer’s plan was to utilize as many practical effects as possible and channel some of his horror roots. A year later, however, Goyer was off the project and Columbia eventually lost the film rights to the character, enabling Marvel Studios to bring him into the MCU.
8. Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man
Edgar Wright’s take on Ant-Man is a bit of an outlier on this list, as it has the clearest path from failure to success. Still, it’s worth discussing as Wright’s vision would likely have been very different from what we saw on screen. For almost a decade, the auteur was working with Marvel to craft a version of Ant-Man for the big screen. Ultimately, however, his vision clashed with Marvel and Wright left the film. Luckily, Peyton Reed came on board, with star Paul Rudd rewriting the script alongside Adam McKay.
During a recent interview on the I Was There Too podcast, David Dastmalchian opened up about his early work on the movie under Wright. As he puts it, the original crew was six or seven members deep. Given Wright’s sensibilities and the heist style of Baby Driver, it’s not hard to see a version of Ant-Man much less concerned with spectacle and the larger MCU, and more focused on a disparate group of criminals pulling off a crazy heist with some comic book flavor thrown in. To be sure, elements of that exist in Reed’s version, but it’s easy to imagine Wright going even deeper into the idea.
7. Wolfgang Petersen and Akiva Goldsman’s Batman vs. Superman
Long before Zack Snyder pitted the two titans against one another, Wolfgang Petersen, the director of NeverEnding Story, almost made it happen. Back in the early aughts, the project passed from the screenwriter of Se7en to Akiva Goldsman with Petersen hoping on board to direct in between. As convoluted as the eventual Batman v Superman was, Petersen and Goldsman’s take would have been just as odd.
It involved everyone Bruce Wayne knew being dead, including a new girlfriend who Joker kills. Meanwhile, Clark and Lois are getting divorced when Bruce blames Superman for his woes for reasons still undisclosed. The whole thing results in the titular clash. Petersen and Goldsman have made a lot of varied projects over the years, so there’s really no telling how this one would have worked out.
Interestingly, while Jude Law and Josh Hartnett were considered for the Man of Steel, Colin Farrell was in the running along with Christian Bale. The movie even had a 2004 release date and work had begun in 2003 before it ultimately fell apart. Still, WB was keen enough on Bale to bring him back a few years later.
6. Jeffrey Bell and Paul Zbyszewski’s Most Wanted
One of the more recent failed superhero projects would have involved some already established characters. A few years back, talk began that Agents of SHIELD writers and producers Jeffrey Bell and Paul Zbyszewski would tell the origin story of Mockingbird as a biologist turned spy and detail her early relationship with Lance Hunter. After a while, the higher-ups at ABC decided to keep the two characters on SHIELD and passed on the project.
It popped up again a year later, however, with the show now revolving around the duo’s continued adventures. The new take on the show was given a pilot order and awkwardly named Marvel’s Most Wanted, with the characters even written out of SHIELD last season.
Sadly, a change-up in management at ABC led to the project getting the axe and Bobbi and Hunter being left in limbo. Since then, neither character has returned to the show and fan’s hopes of Mockingbird getting a bigger role in the MCU seem to have been dashed.
5. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman has had a tough time making it to the big screen given her popularity, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Back in 2007, Joss Whedon was all set to make a movie about Princess Diana, but it ultimately fell apart. He opened up about the project in both 2011 and earlier this year, with the script even making its way online recently. All told, it didn’t look like the strongest interpretation of the character, making her too reliant on Steve Trevor. Of course, Whedon isn’t the only one who’s failed to adapt the character.
Several movies and TV shows have failed to manifest over the years, with the popular ‘70s series marking the last successful attempt. For a brief period, the CW had plans to make a Smallville-style series called Amazon, and it’s not hard to forget the show we almost got on NBC starring Adrianne Palicki before she became Mockingbird. Luckily for Wonder Woman fans, next month will finally provide her first solo movie, with more likely to follow.
4. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s Aquaman
While Amazon never made it very far, another Smallville-inspired show nearly landed on TV. Back in 2005, a version of Aquaman was first introduced to Smallville. The execs at WB must have liked the reception enough that they decided to have Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar craft a pilot for a series starring the aquatic hero. Rather than use Alan Ritchson, however, and keep things connected to Smallville, Justin Hartley was cast as A.C.; a surfer dude from the Florida Keys who soon learns he’s an Atlantean prince.
The production went far enough that a pilot was shot but the series was ultimately passed on when WB became the CW. Hartley, meanwhile, went on to play Green Arrow on Smallville, but he couldn’t make the jump to Arrow. While fans may be bummed the Aquaman show was never made, the pilot wasn’t very good and it’s easy to see why it wasn’t picked up. Thankfully, DCEU’s Aquaman, starring Jason Mamoa is on its way.
3. Evan Katz and Manny Coto’s Hellfire
Possibly the most recent show on this list to get the axe, there was a time when The Gifted wasn’t on the horizon and FOX were instead all set to air Hellfire by Evan Katz and Manny Coto. When it was announced that FOX and Marvel had made a deal to bring two X-Men shows to TV, one was Legion, which debuted to huge acclaim on FX this year.
Before The Gifted manifested as a take on the “mutants on the run” scenario, FOX was keen on a series that focused on the infamous Hellfire Club. A secret society of elite mutants, the Hellfire Club has long played into the comics and various animated X-Men projects. It even popped up in X-Men: First Class, teasing the swank and swagger, and bringing with it core members Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw.
2. Tim Burton’s Superman Lives and Kevin Smith’s Superman: Flyby
For years, a film titled Superman V: Reborn floated around in development hell before Tim Burton was eventually attached. Following his success with Batman and Batman Returns, Burton’s vision helped to shape the film that was based on the Death of Superman story from the comics. The title was changed to Superman Lives, with Nicolas Cage in the lead role and Brainiac, Doomsday, and Lex Luthor all involved as villains. Superman’s costume even got a futuristic update, with all sorts of lights and chrome added to it. In the end, Burton exited the project and it fell apart.
A short time later, Kevin Smith took a crack at the film which morphed into Superman: Flyby. It had an even shorter lifespan, and the whole project continued shifting and changing over the years until Superman Returns emerged. Unlike the Justice League Mortal documentary, a movie titled The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? was released in 2015, chronicling the whole affair.
1. David S. Goyer’s Green Arrow: Escape from Supermax
A decade ago, in the early days of modern entertainment writing when superhero movies and shows began to proliferate, another exciting David S. Goyer project began to emerge. Titled Escape from Supermax, the film was designed as a non-traditional take on Green Arrow. Meant to buck the concept of superheroes and costumes, the movie would involve Oliver Queen wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to a supermax prison full of villains. From there, he’d spend the majority of the movie fighting off his foes and trying to escape. The movie had fans both eager and trepidatious, but Goyer’s pedigree seemed promising. In the end, however, the project fell apart.
A few years ago, Goyer finally opened up about it the project and how it was too ahead of its time. Given both Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad, it’s easy to agree that Supermax just wasn’t ready to emerge yet. Of course, the project was soon followed by another non-traditional take on Green Arrow, inspired in part by Goyer’s work on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Fans also worried how it would turn out, but in time it grew to be one of TV’s best superhero shows.
Which films and TV shows on the list do you wish had been made? Which other abandoned superhero projects do you want to see revived? Let us know in the comments.
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