Pulling the Plug: 5 Canceled Superhero Movies

What Could’ve Been

Terry Mallory:You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am.

On The Waterfront

We’re living in a golden era of superhero movies. Dozens have been released in the past decade with more coming every year. We’ve gone from constant repetitions of Batman and Superman stories to movies starring Shazam, Miles Morales, and The Guardians of the Galaxy. But not every movie makes it to the silver screen.

Some superhero movies fizzle out before they are ever made. Others get shelved partway through production. The particularly unlucky get a pilot episode or demo that doesn’t seal the deal or for a hundred other reasons that have nothing to do with the movie itself. This is often a good thing, since the ones that don’t make it tend to suck. These are the top 5 canceled superhero movies.

#5 Canceled Superhero Movie: Wonder Woman (2011)

Starring Adrianne Palicki, Elizabeth Hurley, Pedro Pascal

Newscaster:Look closely, we’ve highlighted it, there’s the famous Lasso of Truth shooting out as she Abu Ghraib’s her quarry.

Wonder Woman (2011) “Pilot”

Plot Synopsis: This television show was to follow Wonder Woman as she fights a drug cartel and runs a Kardashian-like media empire actually based on her own adventures as Wonder Woman. A corrupt senator decries her brutal vigilante justice and a CEO with ties to the cartel oppose her.

Why It Was Unreleased: This version of Wonder Woman is a monster. Within the first few minutes of the pilot, she nearly decapitates a crook with her lasso, stabs him with a syringe to get a blood sample, and refuses to turn him over to a cop to prevent the crook from lawyering up. Think Jack Bauer with superpowers and none of the standards.

The violence grows worse over the episode until Wonder Woman starts torturing crooks with a police commissioner’s blessing. She is surrounded by hero worship despite her cruelty. This is exacerbated by Wonder Woman, usually a paragon of compassion and kindness, being portrayed as an arrogant, self-pitying dumpster fire of a person.

#4: Spider-Man 4

Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway

Sam Raimi:I think about it all the time… It’s hard not to, because each summer another Spider-Man film comes out! So when you have an unborn one, you can’t help but think what might have been. But I try to focus on what will be, and not look into the past.

“I Think About it All The Time” – Sam Raimi on Scrapped Spider-Man 4

Plot Synopsis: Spider-Man breaks up with Mary Jane to pursue bad girl Felicia Hardy (Hathaway). Unbeknownst to him, Felicia is actually a supervillain working for her father, The Vulture. The film would have ended with Peter Parker quitting as Spider-Man after ruining his relationship with Mary Jane.

Why It Was Unreleased: Spider-Man 4 was an unmitigated disaster behind the scenes. Higher ups constantly interfered, no one could settle on a script, and Raimi was stifled at every turn. While Hathaway was locked in as Felicia Hardy, no one could agree if she should use the comic identity Black Cat or be changed into The Vultress.

Things got worse when a May 2011 release date was announced and that Spider-Man 4 and 5 would be filmed back-to-back. Raimi finally said “screw it” and left the project, which was transformed into the reboot The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield.

#3 Canceled Superhero Movie: The Sandman

Neil Gaiman:  “I’d rather see no Sandman movie made than a bad Sandman movie. But I feel like the time for a Sandman movie is coming soon. We need someone who has the same obsession with the source material as Peter Jackson had with Lord of the Rings or Sam Raimi had with Spider-Man.

2011 Comic-Con as reported by CBR

Plot Synopsis: Morpheus, the anthropomorphic personification of dreams, is captured by a warlock. After escaping, he finds that his realm, The Dreaming, has been ransacked. He must regain his three symbols of office, a ruby, a helmet, and a pouch of sand, to regain control of it.

At the same time, Morpheus must also track down several escapees from The Dreaming, who are led by a living nightmare called The Corinthian. Further complicating matters, these disparate parts soon center on a young woman named Rose Walker who has a strange connection to The Dreaming.

Why It Was Unreleased: Pulp Fiction’s Roger Avary thought the best way to make a Sandman movie was to combine the first two volumes, Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House. The synopsis here proves that it was too complicated for a two hour movie. 

Warner Brothers agreed and fired Avery, replacing him with Jon Peters. That was a mistake. 

Peters decided that Morpheus should wear superhero tights, fistfight a giant mechanical spider, and turned the Corinthian into Morpheus’ brother who was working for the devil. Neil Gaiman declared Peters’ script the absolute worst film script he had ever read. The Sandman was thus sentenced to Development Hell. Here’s hoping Netflix does the story justice.

#2 Watchmen (1989)

Starring Robin Williams, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gary Busey, Charles Dance

Civilian:Christ Almighty, it’s the Goddamned Watchmen!

Watchmen (1989)

Plot Synopsis: In an alternate 1985, a team of superheroes called the Watchmen disbanded after failing to stop a terrorist attack. Years later, a hero called The Comedian (Busey) is found dead. Murderous vigilante Rorschach (Williams) investigates, finding evidence of a conspiracy to kill the Watchmen.

Why it Never Released: The comic Watchmen is a gritty deconstruction of superhero comics set against a background of looming nuclear war. This version would have been an action adventure dripping with neon colored camp. And all this is ignoring the mindscrew of an ending that would have featured the hero Ozymandias traveling back in time to kill the only superhuman, Doctor Manhattan. This causes a paradox that, for some ineffable reason, tosses the Watchmen into the real world. It makes no sense whatsoever.

A bit of trivia: This script for Watchmen is one of the only adaptations of his work that writer Alan Moore claims to like. Jury’s still out if he’s trolling people by saying that.

#1 Canceled Superhero Movie: Superman Lives

Starring Nicholas Cage, Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Christopher Walken

Kevin Smith:…And I say ‘You want me to write a scene where Brainiac is wrasslin’ Polar Bears?’ and [Jon Peters] goes ‘Yeah, you know anything about Polar Bears?’ I say no I don’t and he says ‘Polar Bears are the fiercest killers in the animal kingdom.

An Evening With Kevin Smith

The greatest canceled superhero movie is Superman Lives.

Plot Synopsis: An alien android called Brainiac (Walken) appears and plans to conquer Earth. He sends the monster Doomsday to soften the planet up. Superman (Cage) sacrifices his life to kill Doomsday, but is resurrected by bullshit ex machina.

While Superman recovers, Brainiac recruits Lex Luthor (Spacey) to help conquer the planet. Superman discovers an armored warsuit called The Eradicator in the Fortress of Solitude and launches an assault on Brainiac’s ship.

Why It Was Never Released: Superman Lives is truly a story of the war between superfan Kevin Smith and our ol’ Sandman-ruining pal Jon Peters. 

Peters had no idea how Superman worked and knew nothing of the setting. He demanded that Superman never fly, tried to turn his costume into a superpowered alien a la Venom, and demanded a big fight every ten minutes. Oh, and the movie needed to include his giant mechanical spider.

Peters also had a bug up his rear about Superman’s sexuality. He would refer to Superman’s costume as “too faggy”, had Brainiac speak with a lisp, and insisted on Brainiac having a sidekick described as “a gay R2-D2 with attitude.”

The production of Superman Lives was a complete fustercluck and it was soon abandoned to focus on Superman Returns. Peters became infamous for almost ruining the character, and Christopher Nolan preemptively banned him from the set of Man of Steel. In a clever bit of casting, Nicolas Cage finally got to play Superman in 2018’s Teen Titans Go!: To The Movies.

What is your favorite canceled superhero movie? Would you have given any of these a chance? Let us know in a comment.

"Kevin Smith"by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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