The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most profitable media franchises on the planet, with a series of movies that seem to print money at the box office and sell merchandise like there is no tomorrow. If you included the Spider-Man and X-Men movie franchises, then Marvel's combined worth would eclipse the likes of Disney Princess, Harry Potter, and Super Mario in terms of value.
There were a few attempts to make movies based on Marvel properties until the end of the '90s, but the first real success came in the form of X-Men in the year 2000. X-Men might look goofy now, but it was the lynchpin that proved that superheroes could make it big at the box office. The arrival of Spider-Man in 2002 would only cement Marvel's position in the industry.
The Marvel characters have been popular for a long time, which meant that a lot of different studios purchased the rights to make movies out of Marvel properties, only for these rights to expire over the time. The main issue with making movies based on Marvel comics is the number of special effects required to make them work, which was an expensive prospect in the days before CGI became widely available.
If things had turned out differently, then we may have seen the beloved Marvel movies of today in the '70s, '80s, or '90s. We are here today to see which Marvel properties almost arrived on the silver screen in the days before the Internet.
From Blade becoming T'Challa to the version of Spider-Man that was almost made by the director of Titanic, here are the 20 Iconic Marvel Movies (That Almost Happened Years Ago).
20 Black Panther Was Almost Played By Wesley Snipes In The '90s
X-Men may have brought the Marvel superheroes to the big the screen in a successful way, but Blade had been making bank at the box office since 1998. Blade wasn't the first Marvel project that Wesley Snipes was interested in, however, as he spent several years during the mid-'90s trying to get a Black Panther movie off the ground.
Wesley Snipes' vision for Black Panther was the same as what actually appeared years later, but he had trouble explaining his idea when most executives thought he was talking about the political party. Columbia Pictures eventually signed on for Black Panther and several directors and writers were on board, but the project stalled due to the realization the technology just wasn't there yet to bring Wakanda to the big screen.
19 Deadpool Almost Happened In The '90s
The appearance of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is considered to be one of the worst adaptations of a comic book character to the big screen in the history of the medium. X-Men Origins: Wolverine may have been a bad way to introduce Deadpool to the big screen, but things could have been way worse.
In the year 2000, Artisan Entertainment purchased the rights to turn fifteen Marvel properties into movies and TV shows. Deadpool was one of these properties, which meant that we would have likely seen a PG-rated Deadpool movie in the mid-'00s had the movie ever got off the ground. However, Artisan Entertainment was only involved in the production of movies based on Man-Thing and the Punisher, which meant that Deadpool was spared the fate of appearing in a movie that toned down everything about the character.
18 Ant-Man Was Almost Made By Howard Stern
You would think that an Ant-Man movie would be an exciting prospect for a movie studio, as the special effects involved with making actors seem small is relatively easy to accomplish. A few different studios tried to make an Ant-Man movie over the years, but we had to wait until 2015 until one was released.
Howard Stern revealed to Paul Rudd that he had tried to make an Ant-Man movie in the '90s, as he was a huge fan of the character. Stern was fresh off the success of Private Parts and was looking for a new movie project, which led to him meeting with people at Marvel to try and acquire the movie rights. It's possible that Stern was looking to play the title role in an Ant-Man movie.
17 Iron Man Was Almost Made By Quentin Tarantino In The '90s
Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, but there were several attempts made to create a movie based on the adventures of Tony Stark, all of which fell to the wayside. One unusual choice for the director's chair of an Iron Man movie was Quentin Tarantino, who was approached to take the helm in 1999.
The movie rights to Iron Man at that time were held by Fox, who were the ones responsible for trying to bring Tarantino on board. The reason why this version of Iron Man didn't get made was due to Fox overextending themselves with too many different expensive Marvel projects, one of which was X-Men. It's possible that if Iron Man had been a hit, then the character may have become part of the X-Men movie franchise.
16 Blade Almost Starred LL Cool J In The Early '90s
Blade felt like a separate character from the main Marvel universe for years, as vampires existed in the continuity of the comics, yet most superheroes weren't bothered about hunting them down. It wasn't until the success of the Blade movies that he became more important to the Marvel universe as a whole. Blade was released in 1998, but preliminary work began on the movie in 1992, when David Fincher was on board to direct the film, while the titular role was planned for LL Cool J.
This early incarnation of the Blade franchise was stalled by the main participants moving on to other projects, with Fincher moving on to Seven and LL Cool J concentrated on his 14 Shots to the Dome album. The Blade project would later be picked up by Wesley Snipes, who used his experience on Black Panther to ensure that the next Marvel franchise he touched would finally be produced.
15 Captain America Almost Happened In The '90s (But A Lawsuit Held It Up)
Captain America might be the easiest Marvel hero to bring to the screen, as his powers are easy to replicate and many of his stories involve fighting soldiers and spies, which doesn't require much in the way of special effects. Captain America was the first Marvel character to ever see a screen adaptation in the form of a TV serial that ran in 1944. There would later be a straight-to-video Captain America movie made in 1990.
Artisan Entertainment purchased the rights to make a Captain America movie in the year 2000 (along with the rights to other properties, such as Deadpool). This project actually had a good chance of being made, but the production was held up by a lawsuit from Joe Simon (the co-creator of Captain America), who was disputing the ownership rights to the character.
14 Thor Was Almost Made By Sam Raimi In The '90s
Thor is a popular Marvel character, but he has always been low on the priority list when it comes to making movies, due to how expensive a prospect it would be to show his powers on the screen, to say nothing of trying to create Asgard.
The first person to make a serious attempt at pitching a Thor movie was Sam Raimi, who had just finished Darkman and was looking for a new project. Raimi was able to get Stan Lee on board, but they weren't able to convince the people at Fox that their idea for a Thor movie was bankable, so it never got off the ground. The success of the first X-Men movie convinced Raimi that the time was right, so he contacted Marvel once more and was able to make the first Spider-Man movie.
13 The Hulk Was Almost Made In The Late '90s (But The Budget Held It Up)
The Hulk was one of the first successful screen adaptations of a Marvel property, as The Incredible Hulk TV series was a big hit in the '70s. The Hulk's proportions may be unrealistic in the comics, but a bodybuilder like Lou Ferrigno was still up to the task of looking impressive on the screen.
Ang Lee's Hulk brought the character to the big screen in 2003, but there were solid plans to make a Hulk move in the mid-'90s. Universal Pictures had assembled a team to create a Hulk movie, with Jonathan Hensleigh on board to direct the film. The Hulk movie spent years in pre-production, with a staggering $20 million spent on computer work and prosthetics before the cameras had even started rolling. The projected budget for the Hulk movie was approaching $100 million, so Universal put the movie on hiatus for several years.
12 X-Men Was Almost Made By James Cameron In The '90s
The X-Men didn't become popular until the second generation of the team, which introduced the likes of Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Wolverine to the team. This revamp of the team and the iconic stories that followed were mostly due to the work of Chris Claremont, who wrote the "Days of Future Past" and "Dark Phoenix Saga" storylines.
Chris Claremont was tasked with writing the screenplay for an X-Men movie in 1990, which was eventually pitched to Lightstorm Entertainment and its founder, James Cameron. Cameron was totally dismissive of the idea of an X-Men movie, even though Claremont and Stan Lee were passionate about the project. Cameron had his eyes on a Spider-Man project, which he cared more about than creating an X-Men movie.
11 Doctor Strange Was Almost Made By Wes Craven In The '90s
Doctor Strange was one of the first Marvel characters to receive a screen adaptation in the form of a TV movie that was released in 1978. This Doctor Strange movie was intended to act as the pilot for a television series, but it was received poorly and the project was dropped. However, there were several attempts to make a full Doctor Strange movie over the years, with various studios acquiring the rights and letting them expire.
In 1992, Wes Craven was going to write and direct a Doctor Strange movie, with the backing of Savoy Pictures and a release window of 1995. This project never got off the ground and the rights were eventually purchased by Columbia Pictures, who would also do nothing with the Doctor Strange license.
10 Daredevil Was Almost Made By Disney & Colombia Pictures In The '90s
Daredevil is similar to Captain America in that a screen adaptation should be an easy prospect compared to most of the other Marvel heroes. Daredevil's powers are easy to reproduce and he mostly fought gangsters and martial artists, which are easy to use as villains in movies. Daredevil made a brief appearance in The Incredible Hulk TV series, but he wouldn't receive a proper screen adaptation until the Daredevil movie that was released in 2003.
Chris Columbus wanted to make a Daredevil movie in 1997, with the backing of 20th Century Fox, but negotiations were complicated by Marvel's approaching financial ruin. It was at this point that Disney tried to purchase the rights to the Daredevil license, but Regency Enterprises ended up snagging the rights.
9 Ghost Rider Was Almost Played By Johnny Depp In The Early '00s
Ghost Rider has also been a popular Marvel character, which seemingly has more to do with his design than any memorable stories he appeared in. It was Ghost Rider's design that prevented any studio from taking a movie adaptation of the character seriously, however, as you can't make a Ghost Rider movie without a flaming skeleton riding a flaming bike, and that would have been a nightmare to accomplish without CGI.
There were tentative plans for a Ghost Rider movie in the early '90s, but the project didn't get off the ground until the year 2000, when Crystal Sky Entertainment agreed to finance the movie, with Stephen Norrington directing and Johnny Depp all set to play the lead role of Johnny Blaze. The Ghost Rider project stalled for a few years and was eventually abandoned until Columbia Pictures picked up the rights to the movie.
8 Fantastic Four Was Almost Made By Chris Columbus In The '90s
The Fantastic Four was one of Marvel's earliest success stories, which led to them being turned into an animated series on several different occasions. The prospect of a live-action movie wasn't seriously considered until the '90s, due to how expensive it would be to bring the team to life on the big screen.
The Fantastic Four was a low-budget movie released in 1994 that was only made to hold on to the movie rights, but talks of a proper film adaptation of the Fantastic Four started a year later. In 1995, 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the Fantastic Four and brought Chris Columbus on board to write and direct the movie, but he stepped down to work on other projects. Fantastic Four went through numerous other creative teams, to the point that Fox had to extend their licensing agreement. It took Fox a decade to release a Fantastic Four movie.
7 Venom Was Almost Played By Dolph Lundgren In The '90s
It's well-known that Venom was added to Spider-Man 3 at the insistence of Avi Arad, who felt that the movie needed a more popular villain than Sandman. Arad is a huge fan of the character and was the producer of the recent Venom movie, which made a lot of money at the box office and finally proved that he was right about the popularity of Venom.
There was almost a Venom movie made in the days before Sony owned the rights to the Spider-Man cast, as David S. Goyer wrote a script in 1997 that was going to be produced by New Line Cinema and would have starred Dolph Lundgren as Eddie Brock. Goyer's Venom movie never got off the ground and Sony eventually snapped up the rights to the Spider-Man characters.
6 Captain America Was Almost Made By Cannon Films In The '80s
The notoriously terrible Captain America straight-to-video movie that was released in 1990 was a result of the rights landing in the hands of 21st Century Film Corporation, due to a long string of problems with the previous rights holder - Cannon Films. The Cannon Group purchased the movie rights for Captain America in 1984 and spent the next few years trying to get the movie off the ground, with Michael Winner on board as the director.
The people at Cannon made a genuine attempt at making a Captain America movie, but the company ended up owing $600 million in debt, which resulted in the rights to the Captain America project being moved over to 21st Century Films.
5 X-Men Was Almost Made By Orion Films In The '80s
The first time a movie based on the X-Men comics was seriously considered happened in 1983 when Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (two men who had prominent roles at both DC and Marvel, as well as screenwriting credits) were tasked with writing an X-Men movie for Orion Pictures.
Conway and Thomas managed to finish their X-Men screenplay, but the continuing financial issues at Orion caused the project to be cancelled. Orion's movies consisted of a lot of comedies and historical dramas, which meant that they weren't ready to finance a film on the scale of a superhero movie, which would have been their most expensive movie by far.
4 Spider-Man Was Almost Made By Cannon Films In The '80s
Captain America wasn't the only comic license that Cannon Films purchased in the '80s, as they also bought the rights to Spider-Man at around the same time. Cannon Films made far more of an effort to make a Spider-Man movie than they did with Captain America, which makes sense, as Spider-Man is a far more popular character.
Cannon Films spent over a million dollars on pre-production for their Spider-Man project, which resulted in several scripts and screen tests. The only reason why the movie didn't get made was due to Cannon's growing financial problems, which resulted in them losing the rights to the license in 1986, before reclaiming them in 1988. However, Cannon was still unable to produce a Spider-Man movie and the company was consumed by its debt problems.
3 Thor Was Almost Made By David S. Goyer & Sony In The '90s
Sam Raimi was unable to convince 20th Century Fox to finance a Thor movie in 1990, which resulted in the license laying dormant for several years until plans for UPN to make a Thor TV movie failed. The rights to Thor passed to Artisan Entertainment, but they were unable to find a studio interested in making the movie.
David S. Goyer showed an interest in writing and directing a Thor movie, as the rights had now passed to Sony. Goyer eventually lost interest in the project and the rights switched to Paramount, where they laid dormant until the success of Iron Man finally prompted a serious interest in producing a Thor movie as part of a larger franchise, which finally happened in 2011.
2 Iron Man Was Almost Made By Stuart Gordon In The '90s
The first company interested in making an Iron Man movie was Universal Studios, who worked with Stuart Gordon on creating the film in 1990. Stuart Gordon had a unique idea for the story of Iron Man that would have shown Tony Stark at an older age. Gordon pitched his idea to Stan Lee, which would have compared Tony Stark to Howard Hughes, in that he had become a recluse in his elderly years and would be forced out of retirement by a major incident, causing him to don the Iron Man suit once more.
Stuart Gordon eventually left the Iron Man project due to frustrations with the studio, which eventually led to Quentin Tarantino being offered the directors chair.
1 Spider-Man Was Almost Made By James Cameron
James Cameron was offered the chance to helm an X-Men movie in the early '90s, but he only had eyes for one superhero - Spider-Man. James Cameron is a huge Spider-Man fan and lobbied hard to direct a Spider-Man movie, which resulted in him winning the support of Stan Lee and receiving backing from Carolco Pictures in order to license the movie.
The treatment for James Cameron's Spider-Man was more adult than Sam Raimi's version of the film, as it included overt comparisons to Peter Parker's powers and the onset of puberty, including scenes where he uses his powers to spy on Mary Jane as she changed clothes. James Cameron's more adult take on Spider-Man never came to pass, though, as Carolco Pictures went bust and he became too busy with Titanic to pursue the movie.
Are you surprised? Are there any other Marvel movies that almost got made earlier? Let us know in the comments!