The story of Green Arrow‘s journey to the big screen is an interesting one. The DC Comics superhero isn’t exactly an A-Lister like his fellow Justice Leaguers Batman and Superman, though he’s certainly a popular character with a dedicated fanbase in his own right.
Prior to the late 2000s, DC hadn’t made many attempts to get live-action films not starring their two most well-known heroes off the ground. On the handful of occasions that they did venture beyond the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel, disastrous efforts like Halle Berry’s Catwoman and Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel were the end result. Needless to say, DC and Warner Bros. weren’t looking to get too adventurous with their superhero roster at the time.
But in April of 2007, screenwriter Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, The Jungle Book) teamed up with David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy) to craft a solo film starring Oliver Queen, one that sought to defy conventional superhero movie tropes of the era with a dark, villain-centric take on the best archer in comics. The script was officially titled Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max in 2008, but despite the buzz surrounding the project, it was eventually lost for good in the deepest depths of development hell.
So where did it all go wrong? Read on to learn 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Canceled Green Arrow Movie.
15. Oliver is only Green Arrow for the first 10 minutes
This tidbit might be a frustrating one for comic book fans that like their superhero movies to actually feature superheroes, but Escape from Super Max would have been much more of an Oliver Queen movie than a Green Arrow film.
In fact, save for a flash of fully suited-up heroics in the opening 10 minutes of the film — and a few brief flashbacks sprinkled throughout — we really don’t get much superhero-ing at all in this one. If you were frustrated by the lack of Iron Man in Iron Man 3, this may not have been cracking your top 5 superhero flicks anytime soon.
Then again, the action is definitely cranked up to 11 here, so if you can get past the fact that the green duds Oliver Queen sports in the film (we’ll explain that in a bit) don’t feature a hood, this deconstructionist tale might have been right up your alley.
14. Framed for murder and sentenced to life in prison
Oliver Queen is definitely put through the ringer in his cinematic debut. In the first act of the script, he’s framed for the murder of a government official who just so happens to be heading up an organization known as Checkmate, which seeks to protect the public from metahuman threats and superheroes alike.
Green Arrow’s secret identity is revealed, and his subsequent trial becomes a complete fiasco (the public really, really likes him, because duh, he’s a superhero). Nevertheless, he’s sentenced to life in prison, and that’s where things get messy.
Because of his talents both with a bow and without, Queen is sent to a largely-metahuman prison known as Super Max (oh hey, that’s the title of the movie! Fun!). Obviously, superheroes aren’t too well liked around those parts, so Oliver has to devise a way to bust himself out before he gets eaten alive. Which is easier said than done, of course.
13. Matt Damon was rumored for the role
This one is as unconfirmed as unconfirmed gets, but according to the whispers around Hollywood at the time, Matt Damon was the top choice to take on the role of the Emerald Archer. Well-known scoop master Umberto Gonzalez stated back in 2008 that he’d “heard a rumor somewhere that Matt Damon was in negotiations to star as Ollie Queen/Green Arrow.”
Rumors are a dime a dozen in Tinseltown, of course, but interestingly, this wouldn’t be the last time the actor would be tied to the role.
From his confirmation that he would be willing to strap on a pair of tights to actually performing a line reading of the character’s dialogue in The Dark Knight Returns, Damon’s name has been popping up alongside Oliver Queen’s for years. Badass fan art like the piece by BossLogic featured above — well, that certainly hasn’t hurt.
12. Somewhere between Jason Bourne and MacGyver
Matt Damon’s influence on the project goes beyond a few internet fancasts and unsubstantiated casting rumors. If you don’t put much faith in industry insider scoops, perhaps the words of Escape from Super Max‘s screenwriter Justin Marks can sway you to the light. In an interview with MTV, Marks described how his Green Arrow would stand out from the pack:
I see him as the Jason Bourne of superheroes, a guy who exists with his own sort of set of tricks. And I think the difference between Ollie Queen and a guy like Bruce Wayne — they’re both rich. They both have their things. But Batman is about his equipment and is about his theatricality and about his detective skills. And Green Arrow is a guy who’s really just the sort of MacGyver type. In his hand, anything can be a weapon.
One of the bigger challenges of introducing Oliver Queen to average moviegoers would be the unavoidable comparisons to Bruce Wayne, so it’s good to see that Marks took that into account while writing the story. Bourne and MacGyver were certainly smart influences that could have helped with that.
11. No Black Canary?!
The relationship between Black Canary and Green Arrow in the comics dates back over 40 years, and the pair have come to be known as one of the most beloved couples in comics in that time. While it may not come as a huge surprise to learn that the famed DC heroine wouldn’t have been a major presence in Oliver’s prison adventures, the fact that she never appeared in any known version of the Escape from Super Max script is definitely a surprise.
Speaking with MTV, screenwriter Justin Marks didn’t rule out the possibility that she could be worked into the story in a rewrite. “I mean, right now he’s in prison. It’s the kind of thing where I know there’s talk of working with her, and she’s obviously a huge part of Ollie’s life and now that they’re married especially,” he said. “[But] I don’t know. I don’t know how they’re kind of planning on doing it.”
Poor Black Canary just can’t seem to catch a break.
10. A ton of B and C list villains
Slapped with a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, Oliver finds himself surrounded by superpowered criminals, many of whom he helped put away himself.
Though the prison’s least popular inmate has been stripped of his trademark hood and Green Arrow costume, thanks to Super Max’s policy that all human prisoners are required to wear green jumpsuits, Ollie still retains a nod to his classic look. He’s one of the few non-superpowered inmates in Super Max, so this also helps the character stand out from the crowd quite a bit; the prison is largely populated with orange-suited metahumans and blue-clad super-geniuses.
The cast of baddies featured in the film are largely B and C list comic villains, with the likes of Merlyn, Icicle, Tattoo Man, Gemini, and Blockbuster all making appearances. As widely disliked as he is, Oliver manages to ally himself with a few of his fellow inmates (including the Flash villain Pied Piper) as he plots his escape, though few of his companions manage to make it out of this one alive.
9. Amanda Waller, The Riddler, and Lex Luthor to appear?
While the majority of the film’s slew of villains are either original creations for the screen or super deep cuts from the pages of DC Comics, a few big names join in on the fun. The most recognizable antagonist with a major role is Amanda Waller, best known to modern audiences for starring in 2016’s Suicide Squad. A ruthless, self-serving government official who’s bested the Batman himself on several occasions, this underrated DC character is reimagined as the prison warden in Super Max — to decidedly underwhelming results. The Suicide Squad film may have been a bit of a mess, but its portrayal of Amanda Waller (as played by the great Viola Davis) was far more layered than what we seemed to be in line for in Super Max.
8. The Prison itself has superpowers!
Since the vast majority of the film would have taken place in a maximum security prison, one of screenwriter Justin Marks’ top priorities was crafting a distinct penitentiary that could conceivably hold some of the world’s most dangerous metahumans. Interestingly, this was one task that was right up his ally. Here’s what he told MTV about his Super Max:
It’s a very, very awesome prison. I majored in architecture in college, and design is how I actually started in. For ‘Super Max,’ designing that prison, it had to be the kind of thing that was a character in and of itself. We’re in a world where instead of just trying to contain a guy who’s really big, you’re trying to contain a guy who can — in the case of Icicle — who can freeze things. What kind of a cell would a guy like that need in order to have his powers neutralized? So to escape from Super Max they have got to go through the most elaborate heist we’ve ever seen, involving superpowers. Because the prison itself kind of has superpowers!
7. Drawn from a classic Batman story
The Escape from Super Max script likely took inspiration from several comics, and although neither Justin Marks nor David S. Goyer (who co-wrote the screenplay and was in line to direct the project) have ever confirmed as much, it appears to draw heavily from Grant Morrison’s renowned graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
The critically acclaimed Arkham centers on Batman’s efforts to suppress a riot within Gotham’s famed psychiatric hospital, and was later used as a major inspiration for the similarly well-received video game, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The idea of putting the villains front and center isn’t one that’s exclusive to Morrison’s comic, of course, but if you’re going to put the bad guys front and center, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better source of inspiration.
6. Island Origin Flashbacks
Say it with us now: “My name is Oliver Queen. After five years in hell…” With its many variations, the opening narration of The CW’s Arrow is well-known enough at this point that even non-comic fans are more than aware that Ollie acquired his vigilante skills after being stranded on a remote island.
Despite the fact that this script would have come to life in an era where most moviegoers would have had little to no idea who Green Arrow was or where he comes from, Escape from Super Max drops us right in on the hero’s career as the Emerald Archer, forgoing the traditional origin story in the process.
That being said, his island background does have a place in the script, as Justin Marks described to MTV:
We do deal with his origin — he’s got a very interesting origin with a desert island and everything else — but we get to the core of Green Arrow not by showing where he starts but by pushing him into a key moment in his life where everything he has is lost, and he’s got to earn it all back. I think for audiences it’s going to be a great way to get to know a new character.
5. The Clown Prince of Easter Eggs
As we mentioned earlier, a number of notable DC villains make appearances in Escape from Super Max, but perhaps the biggest one of all is relegated to an Easter egg.
The Joker was never set to appear on screen, though his name is seen on a cell, implying that he’s either locked up with the rest (less likely) or that a room has simply been prepared for him (more likely), should he ever need to be held in a place with slightly tighter security than Arkham Asylum.
The Joker is probably the most popular villain in the DC Universe, so it makes sense that this film would want to incorporate him to some degree. It makes even more sense that his existence is kept ambiguous in the script, since Heath Ledger was putting his gamechanging stamp on the character in The Dark Knight around the time the screenplay was being developed.
4. Prison break and plot twists
To be honest, any attempt at actually laying out the escape plot and head-spinning nature of the subsequent narrative twists in the final act would be a disservice to the script itself, which is definitely worth a read if you can track it down. Suffice to say, most of the inmates that joined up with Green Arrow’s escape squad end up biting the big one, but Oliver Queen and a pair of baddies are able to evade capture for a spell.
Interestingly, Ollie’s last desperate attempt to clear his name seemingly fails, and he’s returned to his hellish prison. His tale isn’t over just yet, of course, because this is still a superhero movie, and the good guys don’t usually lose in these flicks.
3. The corporate goons behind it all
Outside of Amanda Waller and the various supervillains who star in Escape from Super Max, the film features a pair of corporate America big bads that are behind everything that’s happened to Oliver Queen. An original creation named Marcus Cross, an aging CEO looking to take over Queen Industries, manages to corrupt a character named Hackett, who’s described as Ollie’s childhood best friend and business associate.
Once their plot is finally laid out in full in the final act, we learn that it was actually Hackett who had pushed Oliver off their party boat all those years ago and marooned him on the island. So yeah, this guy was just a total a-hole from the jump.
Hackett was actually introduced in the comics in September of 2007 in the pages of Green Arrow: Year One with a similar backstory, though it’s unclear if DC Comics took inspiration from Justin Marks’ screenplay or if it was the other way around.
2. What killed the project
No official reasons were ever given for DC/Warner Bros’ decision to mothball (and ultimately cancel) Escape from Super Max, though the lack of a clear direction forward for the future of their superhero films certainly didn’t help.
“It just didn’t have… it was ahead of its time, to be quite frank,” co-writer/potential director David S. Goyer told Den of Geek in 2015. “The executive on it was really visionary but the higher-ups, none of whom are at Warner Bros. any more, just thought at the time, you know, we just want to make Batman and Superman movies. We don’t want to make any other characters.”
The burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was just getting off the ground in 2008, may have changed their thinking, but by the time plans for the DCEU were being put in place, Super Max had been collecting dust on the shelf for a few years.
1. Green Arrow’s future on the big screen
Unfortunately for Green Arrow fans, Oliver Queen’s cinematic future has been pretty dire in the years since the Escape from Super Max project fell apart.
Aside from fans campaigns propping up certain actors for the role, there’s been very little talk of the hero making the leap to the silver screen anytime soon. The aforementioned Matt Damon has proven to be a popular casting choice in the online community, but few stars have seen as much support as Charlie Hunnam, the star of BossLogic‘s art seen above. Like most internet fancastings, the latter’s ties to the role are based primarily on his looks (admittedly, he’s a bit of a dead ringer for the Emerald Archer), though Hunnam hasn’t shied away from responding to the idea of playing the character. After initially dismissing the idea of starring in a superhero film, the 37-year-old UK native made a playful about-face a few months later, encouraging DC to “give [him] a call!”
Meanwhile, fans that were holding out hope that Arrow star Stephen Amell would be given the chance to bring his Oliver Queen to the DCEU will likely be in for a letdown in the end. He’s confirmed that “there’s no plan to bring the Green Arrow character to the cinematic universe”, and even if there were, DC would likely go with a different actor in order to keep their TV and movie universes separate.
As far as we know, a big screen Ollie is simply not a priority at the moment.
Do you think Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max would have been a hit or a dud? Does Oliver Queen have a place in the DCEU, or should he stick to the small screen? Sound off in the comments.
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