The movie world landscape is littered with the corpses of thousands of failed projects, and the comic book movie world is no different. For every comic book movie we get, there are dozens we'll never get to see. Here are five of my favorite abandoned comic book movies, all of which entered some stage of production and at least one of which got really close to actually happening.
The Wachowski's Plastic Man
Say whatever you like about their abilities as writers, but there's no denying that the Wachowskis are among the greatest visual storytellers around. In the summer of 2008, following the box office disappointment of their underrated Speed Racer, the filmmakers went on the record with MTV's Josh Horowitz to say that they were working on a Plastic Man movie which they hinted at during another interview with Horowitz some 12 years prior. The biggest news to develop in that decade-plus, however, was that the film was going to star their Matrix leading man Keanu Reeves as Eel O'Brian.
“It’s probably the closest script to a comedy we’ll write,” Larry (ed. now Lana) said. “We thought it could be kind of cool. The basic idea we came up with was that he would be an environmentalist, almost like an Earth First-er type guy.”
Larry even described a scene from the film the made the brothers laugh at the time. “The funny scene we thought of that was kind of the start of it all was like he goes to the bathroom after he becomes Plastic Man and his urine is no longer bio-degradable so he like wants to kill himself,” he chuckled.
Sure, it would've been weird, but isn't that what you want from this property? Honestly, I'd still be down for this film if they decided to revive it today.
Darren Aronofsky's Batman
I've covered this one before, so I won't rehash a lot of that same stuff, but we know that the Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan director worked for over a year with Frank Miller to bring the author's Year One storyline to life, so there's lots of info out there about this one. After directing Pi in 1998, Aronofsky pitched a take on Batman to Warner Brothers—still reeling from the disappointing Batman and Robin a year earlier—that was described as "Death Wish meets The French Connection in Gotham City." As Birth.Movies.Death's Devin Faraci once put it, "If you think that Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman is ‘realistic,’ Darren Aronofsky’s probably would have made you shit your pants.”
Like Nolan, however, Aronofsky was insistent on grounding everything in reality, which made Frank Miller both elated and apprehensive...
It was the first time I worked on a Batman project with somebody whose vision of Batman was darker than mine. My Batman was too nice for him. We would argue about it, and I'd say, "Batman wouldn't do that, he wouldn't torture anybody," and so on. We hashed out a screenplay, and we were wonderfully compensated, but then Warner Bros. read it and said, "We don't want to make this movie." The executive wanted to do a Batman he could take his kids to. And this wasn't that. It didn't have the toys in it. The Batmobile was just a tricked-out car. And Batman turned his back on his fortune to live a street life so he could know what people were going through. He built his own Batcave in an abandoned part of the subway. And he created Batman out of whole cloth to fight crime and a corrupt police force.
So yeah, this movie never would've happened, but if it had, it probably would've been amazing.
Jack Black as Green Lantern
This is likely to be the most controversial one on here as this project is derided as something of a joke. I will happily point anyone concerned with protecting Green Lantern's on-screen reputation to 2011's atrocious film bearing his name, and hope that people will know that this would've been a one-off film with no tangible connection to any existing film or film universe. Way back in 2006—while Warner Brothers was dealing with their first failed attempt to relaunch Superman—the idea of Jack Black playing Kyle Rayner was floated as being rife with comedic potential. Robert Smigel, aka Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, was hired to write the script which likely would've alienated most of the character's fan base, so I get why this never happened.
Black himself was still pissed about it, as he revealed in this interview with MTV's Josh Horowitz, going so far as to almost shut down entirely rather than talk about it. I'm willing to bet it wouldn't have been half as terrible as that Ryan Reynolds stinker.
Joe Carnahan's Daredevil
Back in 2012, The A-Team and The Grey director Joe Carnahan was ready to take the man without fear in a seriously dark direction on screen. Just before Fox let the rights to the character lapse, Carnahan created this sizzle reel to show off what his film would've been like. Now granted, we've gotten a great, dark take on the character from Marvel and Netflix, but in a time when most people's exposure to the character was via the terrible 2003 film, this could have brought in a ton of new fans.
Tim Burton's Superman Lives starring Nicolas Cage
Of these five films, this is the one that came the closest to actually happening. There's an entire documentary about this film's failure to launch, and it's a fascinating watch. Superman Lives was going to be directed by Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage was going to play the title character in a film that more or less followed the aftermath of Superman's death in the comics and his rebirth. Cage has said a lot of crazy things about what his take on the character was going to be, and I hate that we'll never get to see it. Just seeing him in the Superman suit with that mullet is pretty awesome though. This movie would most likely have been terrible, but so were most superhero movies during that time period. Wouldn't it be fun to have the option to throw this on and show your kids how terrible superhero movies were when you were younger?