There has been a lot of buzz around the forthcoming The Death Of "Superman Lives"; What Happened documentary. Full disclosure; I've not seen it yet, but I've heard good things about it from people who have and I'm really looking forward to finally getting my hands on a Blu-Ray when it's released.
With it's pending release, the documentary has sparked a renewed interest in the DC movies that never were, with George Miller talking recently about his aborted Justice League: Mortal - which like Superman Lives shut down in pre-production and is soon to be the subject of a documentary itself - whilst on the Mad Max: Fury Road tour.
I talked about some of them (DC, Marvel and more) with some friends on the podcast last year (The Elseworlds episode) and it's a subject that has long since fascinated fans of comics and movies alike. Heck, people have written books and articles about the various "development hell" projects for years.
I guess the fascination comes from the mystery of it all, with the finished films existing in a place where we will never know if they were masterpieces or turkeys (a kind of nerdy Schrodinger's Cat if you will). It could also be, that with Marvel's current dominance of the comic book movie market (and the generally lukewarm reaction from DC fans to Man Of Steel), fans are curious about the DC Cinematic universe that might have been (although they never seemed to have the foresight to create a shared universe on screen).
It can probably be said with certainty that we'll never see the live action version of these films, but with Warner Bros Animation currently churning out a couple of animated DC movies a year, a close second would be to see them take a stab at an Elseworlds line of animated films that would see these abandoned projects realised as animated movies, using the original scripts, directors and cast (where possible/applicable). Obviously this piece is all just speculative pipedream stuff, but it would be cool if it did happen. So - as we're playing that game - here are our 5 picks for the animated movies we'd like to see;
Okay, so this is an obvious place to start, but with this being so much in the public conscious at the moment, it would be a great place to start.
A BRIEF HISTORY: I've long been fascinated with this movie since it was first announced way back in the 1990's. With those being the dark days before we all had the internet at the tips of our fingers, I could only follow it in tiny patches through small pieces in newspapers and magazines, so there wasn't a huge amount of information to be had. In fact, it wasn't until the first Evening With Kevin Smith DVD that I heard much about it at all beyond rumour and speculation.
WHO WAS INVOLVED: Tim Burton had signed on to direct, with Nicolas Cage cast as Superman/Clark Kent. There were rumours that Sandra Bullock or Courtney Cox was inline to play Lois Lane, with Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen, Christopher Walken as Braniac, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor (a role he would eventually play in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns) and there were even rumours that Michael Keaton would be reprising his role as Batman in a cameo in the film (there was a scene involving Batman in the Kevin Smith draft of the script). To the best of my knowledge, Cage was the only confirmed casting (which makes for an interesting movie by itself) and even got so far as trying on some suits.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Now you can argue that this film was kind of done with the animated Superman: Doomsday movie (which certainly had more in common with what they were trying to do with the film than it does with the original comic), but it wasn't the same as what Burton would have put on the screen. Now there could be some argument between Smith's script and Burton's final version as to which should be adapted, but for the purpose of what we're proposing with this article, it would have to be Burton's finished version. Even playing an animated version of the character, hearing Cage in the role would be something amazing to behold.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL
Given that (as previously mentioned) there is a documentary about the rise and fall of this unmade film in development, this may also seem like an obvious choice, but hey, lets get the obvious ones out of the way first.
A BRIEF HISTORY: Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe made every film studio in the world suddenly realise that everything needs a shared universe, Warner Bros was moving ahead with it's standalone universes for each of the DC characters (an idea that - given they own the rights to all of the major DC characters - was always incredibly bizarre). So while we had Brandon Routh as Superman in one film and Christian Bale as Batman in another series of unconnected films, Warner's decided to look into the possibility of a standalone Justice League film (with it's own cast, independent of their other DC movies).
At one point I remember reading that the story would've seen the Justice League go up against Hal Jordan's Parallax (possibly using the Final Night story as a basis - although I can no longer find any reference to this, so I may have just imagined this). From what I can gather, the film would've had Maxwell Lord as the big bad and was loosely based on JLA: Tower Of Babel and The OMAC Project. By all accounts, the film got very close to shooting before the writers strike and other factors saw the plug get pulled before production began.
WHO WAS INVOLVED: As previously said, George Miller was attached to direct based on a script written by Michelle and Kiernan Mulroney. The Justice League cast was Armie Hammer as Batman, DJ Cotrona as Superman, Megan Gale as WonderWoman, Adam Brody as The Flash (Barry Allen), Common as Green Lantern (John Stewart), Hugh Keays-Byrne as The Martian Manhunter and Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman. Other cast members were Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord, Zoe Kazan as Iris West, Anton Yelchin as Wally West and Teresa Palmer as Talia al Ghul.
FINAL THOUGHTS: As with Superman Lives, elements of this story (Tower Of Babel) have already been adapted into an animated DC Movie (Justice League: Doom) but that isn't what we're looking for in this article. There is a genuine desire to see what Miller and his cast would've done with the film, even in animated form. And come on, who wouldn't want to hear Immortan Joe as The Martian Manhunter?
JOSS WHEDON'S WONDER WOMAN
Of course this was going to be on the list. Any missed Joss Whedon project is already something that deserves to be seen, but his take on Wonder Woman is pretty much irresistible. Well, to everyone but the execs at Warners...
A BRIEF HISTORY: With the exception of 3 seasons of the wonderful Linda Carter series, there had been many failed attempts to get Wonder Woman to either the big screen or small. In the 1990's a film version went through many iterations that was rumoured to have had Sandra Bullock, Lucy Lawless, Beyoncé and Angelina Jolie (amongst others) attached to the title role over the course of it's development. It wasn't until Joel Silver brought Joss Wheedon on board though that the film started to gain any traction (and even then it was very little).
Unlike the previous two entries on this list, this adaptation didn't get much further than the script stage (and even then the details aren't entirely clear on how finished that script was), which is surprising given that Whedon has admitted in the past that there was a real lack of enthusiasm for the project.
WHO WAS INVOLVED: Well, as previously mentioned, Silver was producing with Whedon writing and directing. By his own admission, Whedon never had time to start thinking about his cast. He has said that Angeline Jolie was an inspiration but the project never got to the casting stage. Rumour has it that Morena Baccarin had expressed an interest in playing the lead. As Whedon announced his departure from the project he said that Cobie Smulders was his choice for the role. Although this is largely thought to have been a joke, it was a casting choice that kind of stuck (and works for me).
FINAL THOUGHTS: To be fair, there is already a decent animated Wonder Woman film from 2009, but there's always room for a Whedon version too. Given how little there is to go on with this project there isn't much to adapt, but as this whole article is based on a pie in the sky idea that will never happen, lets just bring Whedon back to finish his script and cast the damn thing. I like the idea of Smulders in the lead so we'll run with that, unless Joss Whedon wants to go another way!
TIM BURTON'S BATMAN FOREVER
Batman Returns seems to split opinion these days, with some glad of the shift in tone from Burton's gothic to Schumacher's bolder colours. Personally I love Batman Returns (it's a Christmas Eve tradition to watch it) and enjoyed Batman Forever - a film that is largely tarnished by the memory of Batman & Robin rather than it's own short comings - but a huge part of me has always wanted to know what Burton and Keaton would've done with Batman 3.
A BRIEF HISTORY: Whilst down on Burton's 1989 Batman film, there is no denying that (by then standards) Batman Returns had healthy box office takings and more than made it's money back so a third Batman film was inevitable. It was also assumed that star and director would return for a third outing to Gotham City (why break up a winning formula?) and that certainly seemed to have been the plan. And then the parental backlash started.
Realising that Burton's take on the character might not be the best approach when it comes to selling toys and Happy Meals, Warner's started to talk Burton out of wanting to direct the third film. While he stayed on board as Producer, Joel Schumacher was brought in to direct and the road to Batman & Robin was set!
WHO WAS INVOLVED: Obviously Burton as Director. Michael Keaton was attached to star and stayed with the project after Burton departed. It wasn't until late into pre-production that Keaton left the project - sighting creative differences (and a distaste for rubber nipples I assume). Keaton leaving meant that Rene Russo (who was attached to play Dr. Chase Meridian) was replaced with Nicole Kidman (the rumour was that Russo looked too old next to Val Kilmer - which knowing how Hollywood works is believable and totally ridiculous). There were strong rumours that Robin Williams was the front runner to play The Riddler, but he was never signed on to play the role (he had also previously been announced as the frontrunner to play The Joker in 1989, but that turned out he was being used in a ploy to put pressure on Jack Nicholson to sign on).
Marlon Wayans was signed on to play Robin (he was actually signed on to play the part in Batman Returns before the Robin plot was dropped), but was replaced by Chris O'Donnell when Schumacher came on board (apparently Wayans had a Pay Or Play deal so was paid for the role even though he didn't play him). And then there's Billy Dee Williams, who having played Harvey Dent in Batman, was set to make the transformation to Two-Face for this film. According to Robert Wuhl on the Special Edition DVD/Blu-Ray of Batman Forever, the only reason Billy Dee signed up to play the part in Batman was so that he could one day play Two-Face. Unfortunately for Williams, when Schumacher came on board they went with Tommy Lee Jones instead.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This one is a trickier prospect because Burton's version never made it to the script stage so this would be more of a case of Burton developing what he would've done, which with 20 years of hindsight on what has come since, will never be a pure version (but then you could argue that with all these films listed here). That said though, one more Burton/Keaton outing with the Bat - even as a cartoon (or Burton-esque stop motion film) - is a tantalising prospect...
GREEN ARROW: SUPER MAX
Okay, there isn't much info on this one, so it will be brief.
A BRIEF HISTORY: David S. Goyer (he who was partially responsible for Man Of Steel - but we'll ignore that for this) pitched Warner Bros an idea for a unique superhero movie entitled Super Max. The idea of the film was that Oliver Queen would be imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit in a Super Max prison filled with a gallery of DC villains (many of whom he was responsible for putting there). The characters would've all gone by their human names and there wouldn't be any costumes in sight. The film would centre of Oliver's fight for survival as he tries to escape so that he can clear his name.
WHO WAS INVOLVED: Beyond Goyer coming up with the story and doing drafts of the script, nobody else was ever attached to the project.
FINAL THOUGHTS: While there is very little else to go on here, there are at least script drafts to work with. Admittedly you could probably just watch Fortress or the prison bit in Face/Off and just imagine Christopher Lambert or Nic Cage is Oliver Queen and you'd have a similar idea of what the film would have been (only better one hopes in the case of Fortress), but it's an interesting idea that does deserve the animated movie treatment. With no cast attached, they would be free to get whoever they want to play Oliver Queen, but if they wanted our pick, we'd go with Thomas Jane in the role.
And just for fun, here are three wildcards - unmade films that sound so out-there they deserve to at least be a footnote here.
SUPERMAN: FLYBY - Another attempt to make a Superman film by people who don't seem to understand what makes Superman so special. Based on a script by JJ Abrams it would've been directed by McG and then Brett Ratner. It pretty much threw out the Superman comics instead going for a Superman by way of The X-Files. Maybe. I'm not totally sure what it was supposed to be to be honest, but the information that did come out would make you think Man Of Steel was a faithful adaptation of the character. It would be kind of interesting to see it as an animated movie though as it sounds like it could've made an interesting animated Elseworlds one shot.
JACK BLACK'S GREEN LANTERN - Again, this sounded bloody awful when it was rumoured. The idea was to take Green Lantern, turn him into a comedy adventure vehicle that would've seen Jack Black producing Looney Tunes type projections from his power ring. Basically it would seem it was a Green Lantern version of The Mask. Like Superman: Flyby, it could make an interesting one shot animated movie (you could especially play up the Looney Tunes style of animation or even tie it into Duck Dodgers at a push). To be fair, it couldn't be much worse than the Martin Campell version...
JAMES CAMERON'S AQUAMAN - Alright, so this film actually only exists in the world of Entourage, but we've taken it this far so why the heck not! In the world of Entourage Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) would've played Aquaman with Mandy Moore as Aquagirl and James Woods as the villain with James Cameron directing. It's such a wonderfully bonkers idea why wouldn't you want to see it? If that doesn't tempt you, in the world of Entourage the film grossed $116,844,144 in it's opening weekend (good luck James Wan) so it must've had something going for it.