Superhero movies are more popular now than they have ever been. In this current climate, there are at least six or seven released a year just based on Marvel and DC properties alone, not to mention all of the indie titles that are getting in on the action as well. But the history of these movies dates back almost to the earliest origins of the comics themselves. Batman and Superman serials populated movie theaters as far back as the 1940s.
That origin provides a long history of comic book projects both beloved and almost entirely forgotten. Of course, in Hollywood, there are always more unmade projects than the ones that actually saw themselves through to completion.
Many, many movies based on superheroes have never wound up seeing the light of day, and even some of the ones that have were turned into something very different from what they were originally intended to be.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a change in director, sometimes it’s more complicated than that. Superhero movies can be canceled for any number of reasons and some of them are surprisingly shocking.
Here are the 15 Superhero Movies Canceled For Mind-Blowing Reasons.
15. Tim Burton’s Batman 3
In many respects, Tim Burton’s Batman still feels like the most hyped, energetic opening of a comic book movie ever. People went nuts for it, they proved they were ready for a change from the ‘60s television show to something much darker and in line with the comics of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
A sequel was obvious, but while some consider Batman Returns the better movie between the two, there’s no question that it was at least a much darker film than the first.
That proved to be a problem when it came to how the franchise would continue. McDonald’s was very upset that the movie was too dark to sell happy meals– most of the merchandising proved to be a train wreck.
When Burton took the meeting for the third entry, he realized that the studio didn’t want to move forward and wanted to take the series in a much brighter, more commercial direction—which is exactly what it did.
14. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4
While Spider-Man 3 is still the most financially successful entry, it is widely considered to be a disappointment. But given the money it made, Sam Raimi still agrees to return for a sequel.
The plot is a more traditional Spider-Man story like the first two, more in line with Raimi’s comfort zone of the earlier comics. John Malkovich is courted for the role of the Vulture while Anne Hathaway joins as a new character, the Vulturess.
It becomes clear that Raimi and the studio heads are not seeing eye-to-eye and Raimi decides to walk away from the project rather than allowing the situation to turn into another Spider-Man 3, only to learn that the studio was uncertain of the project’s success in the first place and commissioned the script for a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, behind his back.
13. Green Arrow: Escape from Supermax
Blade and Dark Knight trilogy scribe David S. Goyer has written and been attached to many comic book projects, but maybe none are more exciting or ambitious than the premise for Green Arrow: Escape from Supermax.
While a Green Arrow movie seems random, especially before the TV series, the concept of a superhero getting locked inside a prison with all his villains is simply too good to be true.
That’s exactly what it was. Warner Bros. was unsure of the concept. They didn’t think that a movie that focuses so much on the villains will work and ultimately pass on it.
12. X-Men Origins: Magneto
After the X-Men trilogy concludes, Marvel and Fox aren’t quite sure how to continue the franchise and decide on a series of origin movies starting with Wolverine.
The second is meant to star Magneto, with the intention of bringing back Ian McKellan and de-aging him for a story about his younger days tracking down the Nazis responsible for the murder of his parents in the concentration camps.
The prospect of digitally de-aging McKellan for the duration of an entire feature proves to be an extremely costly one, leading them uncertain of what to do with their lead actor.
Questions are raised about the tone and the rating and the movie ultimately falls victim to the 2008 writer’s strike. The concept, however, is kept and largely incorporated into the 2011 film X-Men: First Class, which has gone on to be considered one of if not the very best X-Men movies to date.
11. The Sinister Six
In 2014, Sony has complete faith in its Amazing Spider-Man franchise and is making big plans. Amazing Spider-Man 2 will not only be followed by another sequel, but also by a Venom movie and a feature centering on the Sinister Six.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 spends a great deal of energy setting up the super villain team. While working on Daredevil for Netflix, Drew Goddard is hired to write and direct the feature. He ultimately leaves that series as show runner to focus on directing the film.
After choosing to focus on Sinister Six, the movie is almost immediately canceled due to the Sony/Marvel Studios deal over Spider-Man. The character is now a part of the MCU and makes an impressive debut in Captain America: Civil War.
10. Wes Craven’s Doctor Strange
In the early ‘90s, Marvel’s success on screen is far from certain. After a slew of TV movies in the ‘70s, they’ve released only Howard the Duck and straight-to-video adaptations of Captain America and The Punisher, all of which were poorly received.
They license out the Doctor Strange character to straight-to-video empire Full Moon Entertainment, who lose the license while working on the feature, leaving it to be rebranded as Doctor Mordrid.
When the rights revert to Marvel, Wes Craven begins approaching the project as director. It is held up by the Doctor Mordrid debacle for a brief period, and after that it becomes a simple matter of cracking the script.
When the project fails to materialize Craven simply moves onto other projects, returning to the Elm Street franchise with New Nightmare, which itself paves the way for the success of Scream, thus revitalizing his career.
In the late ‘80s, B-Movie King Larry Cohen begins work on a She-Hulk movie and potential TV series that will loosely connect to the successful Incredible Hulk show.
There is an attempt to bring in She-Hulk for one of the later crossover films, but Death of the Incredible Hulk proves to be the appropriate end for that long-running franchise. She-Hulk is seen as a way to allow it to continue while also injecting the concept with fresh blood.
However, at this point there’s simply less interest in a superhero project. The execs are beginning to think that the age of superheroes might be over and that it might be time to exploit other ideas and properties. They’re not convinced a female superhero will bring in the appropriate demographic, so the project is canned.
8. Stuart Gordon’s Iron Man
Another project from the early ‘90s, Iron Man would have been a unique take on one of Marvel’s less recognized characters—at least at that time.
Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon is approached to offer a unique take on the concept: Tony Stark is a reclusive billionaire and retired superhero, living like Howard Hughes until a threat emerges that is so great it forces him to don the armor once more. Gordon has a solid vision for the movie, which is meant to be Marvel’s first big theatrical success, but there’s no money.
While Marvel is a powerhouse that feels almost like it owns the world today, it was nearly bankrupt at the time and could not afford to create a film anywhere approaching the scope that they wanted.
Unable to realistically put the project together, it was shelved until the mid-2000s, when Kevin Feige and Jon Favreau made the decision to turn Iron Man into the figurehead of their upcoming slate of Marvel movies.
7. The Silver Surfer
After the lukewarm success of Fantastic Four, Marvel sets its sights on a sequel. Rise of the Silver Surfer would not only reunite the team, it would introduce one of Marvel’s most beloved characters: the titular Silver Surfer.
The intention is to introduce the hero in order to set him up for his own movie, but with the interpretation of Galactus as an ominous space cloud, significant damage to the Surfer’s origin is done.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer kills all chances of a third entry in the series, but also hinders any chance of the Silver Surfer movie getting off the ground.
It is not a hit and takes significant critical backlash. A script for the movie is written by comic scribe J. Michael Straczynski, but the studio has moved on from the idea and focuses on rebooting Fantastic Four altogether instead.
6. James Cameron’s Spider-Man
James Cameron’s take on Spider-Man is a thing of legend, by this point. The director initially met on the X-Men movie, but his eyes lit up at the prospect of tackling the wall-crawler instead.
He wrote a screenplay that centered on a teenage Peter Parker with a few concepts, like organic webbing, that made it into the eventual film. However, there were other, more surprising concepts in his script too.
For example, his Spider-Man would swear a whole lot more than people were used to, and plenty of adult humor would be in store. The script was overall edgier, darker, and neither Marvel nor Carolco Pictures were exactly sure what to do with it.
With the possibility of Edward Furlong or Leonardo DiCaprio as the edgy web-slinger of the ‘90s and brand-new villains taking inspiration from Electro and Sandman, the prospect of Cameron’s Spider-Man is as baffling as it is intriguing. The studio thought it was a bridge too far and Cameron eventually left.
5. Tim Burton’s Catwoman
While Tim Burton is politely asked to step away from the Batman franchise after Batman Returns, there is still potential for him to direct a feature about that movie’s standout character, Catwoman.
Returns scribe Daniel Waters writes a script that sees Catwoman dealing with amnesia after the events of the movie, finding herself at a Vegas-esque superhero retreat where the heroes are picture-perfect but hiding dark intentions, forcing her to take up the Catwoman persona once more.
Warner Bros. is once again worried about tone, but Burton remains attached to the project for a few years, as does Michelle Pfeiffer.
However, both are huge industry draws of the decade and can’t wait around forever. They move on to other projects and the film ultimately completely retools itself from top to bottom, abandoning the Batman continuity for 2004’s Catwoman starring Halle Berry.
One of the most bizarre comic book movie tales, Dazzler was created with the intention of getting her own movie.
Co-created by Chris Claremont, Dazzler was also creatively designed by Casablanca Records as a potential movie vehicle for model and actress Bo Derek in the late ‘70s. Introduced as a heroine completely of her era, “Disco Dazzler” is a musician by day and a kick-butt crime fighter by night.
The movie completely fails to materialize, but the pitch by Jim Shooter was insane, featuring repurposed Volkswagens as chariots driven by unicorns and Rodney Dangerfield in four separate roles. Amazingly, there is a Dazzler: The Movie comic adaptation despite the fact that the film never got off the ground.
3. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman
It was somehow both a surprise and completely sensible decision when Joss Whedon was given first crack at DC’s Wonder Woman movie. He had gained a strong audience for his work on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, but had only directed one movie at the time— Serenity— and it had not been a huge success.
One of the most intriguing unmade comic movies of its day, Wonder Woman’s biggest problem turned out to be its script. This was a bit of a shock, considering that Whedon was widely beloved for his writing style above all else, especially at the time.
After his ex-wife explained Whedon’s history of affairs and described him as a fake feminist last year, the script leaked online and was widely panned. However, even at the time, Whedon fully admitted that the reason he was no longer attached to the movie was because Warner Bros was simply never happy with the script that he had written, nor his overall take on the story.
2. Superman Lives
This has come to be the most infamous unmade comic book movie of all time, thanks largely to the fantastic documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, Nicolas Cage— these are not names that anyone would ever expect to be attached to the same film, let alone to a Superman movie, yet they were.
In some ways, Superman Lives is just the epitome of the Hollywood studio model. Weird ideas from executives, stars brought on board because they’re popular at the time— not that Cage isn’t the biggest Superman fan in the world, because he actually is— and a budget ballooning over $30 million before the project even enters production.
There are so many bizarre elements at play in Superman Lives that so many of them could have led to its downfall, but it also could have been one of the most unique and intriguing superhero movies ever because of that.
1. Justice League: Mortal
With the huge success of Mad Max: Fury Road and the lukewarm reception of Justice League, people can’t stop thinking of what George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal might have been like had it actually been made.
It came closer than anything else on this list. Pre-production had begun, costumes and sets were being built, so much design work had already been done and the whole thing had already been cast and then it was simply gone.
A number of problems plagued the production: the costume designer died, the writer’s strike hit and the project was held up so long that the actors’ options lapsed. While the story was said to be incredibly faithful to DC Comics lore, by the time it was even possible to pick back up, Warner Bros. made the decision to focus on individual solo movies for their heroes instead.
That is ultimately ironic, considering the current need for interconnected universes and connections between movies.
Do you wish any of these movies had been made? Can you think of any other superhero movies that were canceled? Sound off in the comments!
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