Words by Jarred Braxton
We live in an age where advances in cinematic technology make it possible for the superhero genre to be as successful as it is now. Comic book franchises like Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the X-Men franchise, Marvel’s Avengers Initiative, the Sam Raimi/Marc Webb Spider-Man sagas, and Zack Snyder’s growing, ambitious DC Cinematic Universe probably couldn’t be possible or successful had they occurred 20 years ago. Sure, the ‘90s was a different era than today, and though comic-book films such as Batman Forever enjoyed moderate success in terms of revenue and/or acclaim, there were a lot of potential superhero flicks that made their way onto the cutting room floor. Maybe you’ve heard of these cinematic urban legends, If not, then we invite you to scroll down and get a glimpse of the 10 Aborted Comic Book Movies From the ’90s.
This is a project that had to die before it started, mainly because it looked like a recipe for disaster. Tim Burton closed the chapter on his interpretation of Batman and decided that maybe taking a crack at the Superman franchise would be a great idea. He found the comic storyline The Death of Superman appealing, where the Man of Steel dies at the hands of Doomsday, but decided that he would cast aside the Christopher Reeves saga none other than Nicholas Cage as Superman instead. There was a script ready to go, but unfortunately the film was scrapped from its 1998 release due to budget cuts and extensive creative differences.
James Cameron’s Spider-Man
Cameron had just come off riding the success of Terminator 2 and was originally in line to bring New York City’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler to life way before Sam Raimi did. After signing a hefty contract, he proceeded to write a treatment for the story of Peter Parker’s origins, as well as his battles against a radically different Electro and Sandman, which would have been different than what comic book fans were used to seeing. Cameron’s version of Spidey was nothing like what we’ve seen from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, as his version swore like a sailor, pummeled bad guys to a bloody pulp, and get this, webs Mary Jane to the side of the Brooklyn Bridge to have sex with her out in the open. The reason it never came to fruition was because Arnold Schwarzenegger brought True Lies to Cameron’s attention and opted to make that instead.
The Silver Surfer
In 1991, this was a project and a character that really had Hollywood’s attention. And it started with a five-minute film created by a former USC film student. Erik Fleming and one of his housemates were fans of the sentinel of the spaceways and had a concept of how to bring the Surfer to the big screen, but unfortunately Marvel, ILM and Constantin Film Produktion all shared the same message: “you’re wasting your time.” In fact, Quentin Tarantino, prior to Pulp Fiction, couldn’t get a Silver Surfer movie of his own off the ground and was met with the same response. Once Fleming and his housemate made an apparently groundbreaking short on the character, everyone wanted in and begged Marvel to get the ball rolling. However, in due time the industry aimed to rip the project out of Fleming’s hand and years later, its remained in limbo with scripts already written and names such as Oliver Stone and Chris Columbus attached to direct. The closest the Silver Surfer has come to receive his own big screen adaptation was in the Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. What a shame.
Brace yourselves for this one: this was supposed to be a sequel to Batman and Robin! At the time, Warner Bros. was pleased with the finished product of the horrendous sequel and started making preparations for a follow-up, which included bringing back the cast of Joel Schumacher’s final Batman excursion, bat-nipples and all–with the additions of Nicholas Cage as Scarecrow and Madonna as Harley Quinn, who would be introduced as the Joker’s daughter out for revenge for the death of her dad. There was even speculation that Jack Nicholson would have reprised his role as the Clown Prince of Crime via hallucinatory sequences. The studio was excited about the venture until Batman & Robin’s suffered tremendous backlash, quickly washing their hands with the project never speaking of it again.
Comic book fans have been waiting for this one for a long time. Black Panther is one of the earliest black superheroes to grace the pantheon of comic mythology. The concept of a prominent and powerful character such as T’Challa and his significance of his domain, the fictional African nation of Wakanda, seems like an ideal comic-film slam dunk. Unfortunately, Black Panther has been waiting in the shadows for the last 15 years. In fact, Wesley Snipes led the charge to begin production on a movie prior to Marvel entering a period of financial hell in the late ‘90s. Perhaps now that Marvel is in a period of financial prosperity due to the excessive success they have, Black Panther may not have to wait much longer.
Terry Gilliam’s Watchmen
Watchmen is considered one of the greatest graphic novels of all time and a few years ago, Zack Snyder brought the story off the pages and onto the big-screen. Did you know this was a project that was originally slated for release nearly two decades back? The project carried the Life of Pi label at the time of its production when Terry Gilliam was tapped to direct. According to him, “it was a movie considered to be unfilmable.” He was working with a script courtesy of Sam Hamm, who kept the story close to the source material with a few altered details, but the length of the script was practically unreasonable and Gilliam had trouble finding the essence of the story. In the end, it was doomed by budget concerns as well as Gilliam’s inability to get to the core of the story.
Bruce Banner’s cousin could have broken ground and represented the ladies of the comic universe back in the ‘90s. In fact, she could have had her own television show if the stars properly aligned. Larry Cohen was signed on to be the writer and director and Brigitte Nielsen was tapped for the role of Jen Walters/She-Hulk and the production got as far as posing for photos as the gamma-irradiated heroine, but sadly the film failed to generate any type of traction and was ultimately scrapped.
Christopher Columbus’ Fantastic Four
In 1994, Columbus was in line to bring the Fantastic Four to the big-screen with a script courtesy of Michael France, which promised to be faithful to Jack Kirby’s vision. The production faced early omens that would lead to its inevitable demise, including the financially expensive lengths the film had to go to bring Sue, Reed, Johnny, and Ben’s powers to life. At the time the studio was eyeing big names such as Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan for major roles. In the end, the film was too expensive to make, so it was abandoned.
Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to adapt the story of The Death of Superman in 1993 and handed the production to Jon Peters, who hired Jonathan Lemkin to write the script. Lemkin’s story involved Clark and Lois having a rocky relationship, Superman’s battle with Doomsday, and an unexpected love child between Superman and Lois who becomes the resurrected Superman and winds up saving the world. Lemkin’s script didn’t jive well with Warner Bros., hiring Gregory Poirier to rewrite it and inserting new elements into the story including the involvement of Brainiac, Clark Kent going to therapy to remedy his relationship, and Cadmus resurrecting Superman to help defeat Brainiac. Ultimately Kevin Smith, who thought the story was too campy and didn’t honor the Superman mythology, rewrote that story.
James Cameron’s X-Men
Give Bryan Singer some credit for making superhero movies cool again after the massive failure of Batman & Robin and bringing Marvel Studios out of the cold with principle X-Men film. Though series scriber Chris Claremont reflected on what would have been if James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow got their hands on the project. Cameron would have produced with Bigelow directing a film starring Bob Hoskins as Wolverine and Angela Bassett as Storm. It had promise until talks broke down and Bigelow’s treatment was digested and regurgitated. Not to mention the rights for the film were sold time after time again to different studios. This was a project that died before it was even born.