What The Film!? – The Superman Movies That Almost Were

What The Film!? is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the general fuckery Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try to pull the proverbial wool over our eyes. If you know a film with major plot holes or those that make you scratch your eyes out, tell us! Email utgjames@gmail.com with the subject “What The Film” and we’ll try to get your suggestion featured on the site.

The Superman Franchise:
The Superman Movies That Almost Were
Part 4 of 4.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

This past Friday, the first new Superman movie in seven years was released, and let me tell you, this piece certainly wasn’t written before Man of Steel came out due a deadline earlier in the week, that would be ridiculous. I totally saw it just like everyone else out there and was just as surprised/happy/shocked/pissed as you are about how good/bad/hilarious/erotic (?) it was. Yes. Definitely saw it. While it seems like a safe bet to give the Superman Franchise to Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Zach Snyder, the road to Man of Steel had its fair share of kryptonite, just like that one scene in Man of Steel where kryptonite presumably shows up. Or doesn’t. If I could describe Man of Steel in one word, it would be that I totally saw it and didn’t look up pictures on line and make assumptions of what happens in the movie based off that.

That scene where Clark Kent goes to Comic-Con to promote himself was a thing that occurred.

Superman V: The New Movie

Because Warner Bros didn’t realize that they had made some awful movies and reboots weren’t the new fad yet, they had started pre-production on Superman V. They didn’t seem to notice or care that Cannon Films, who had made Superman IV for Warner Bros, went into bankruptcy, which is absolutely a good sign that Superman is being done well and should continue in the way they’ve been failing it for twelve years.

Superman V was an attempt at making a Superman that would have more of an impact on audiences; it even contained the death and resurrection of Superman, a plot point that they had come up with years before that idea was explored in the comics. Christopher Reeve was to not only return as Superman, but as director as well. Then Superman IV turned out awful and the project was canceled.

The most alarming part about this is that they actually assumed that Superman IV would do well.

Superman Reborn

It was the success and impact of 1992’s “The Death of Superman” comic that made Warner Bros decide to have another go at a Superman adaptation, which they promptly decided to make sure was awful by giving the movie to Jon Peters to produce. Warner Bros continued to undermine its attempts at making a good Superman movie by insisting that Superman Reborn would not only be a vehicle to sell toys (like Batman Forever/Batman & Robin), but that the movie should appeal to the “MTV Generation.” There is no word if Pauly Shore was to star, but one can assume.

The script had to get approval from toy companies before moving forward, which is a great sign of a quality movie.

The plot of the movie would loosely follow “The Death of Superman,” having Superman fight and ultimately die at the hand of Doomsday. And to make sure this was even weirder for everyone, before he dies, with his last bit of strength he impregnates Lois Lane with a new sexless impregnation super power. She gives birth to a resurrected Superman who grows into adulthood almost instantly, and saves the world.

The movie was written and rewritten over and over again, having sequences added where Superman sees a psychiatrist, uses a robotic suit to fight people (to make another toy), and even a cheap knock off of Star Wars‘ the Force gets introduced in one draft. Warner Bros ultimately decided to go in a different direction because they felt the movie was too similar to Batman Forever.

Because of similarities to Batman Forever, they definitely still wanted a movie to sell toys though

Superman Lives

If there is a failed Superman movie that you’ve heard about, it’s this one. It’s probably more famous than some of the Superman movies that were actually made. In fact, I’m going to be one-hundred percent honest with you: there is absolutely no way I can talk about this movie and do a better job than Kevin Smith. If there is anything you take from this column, let it be this. You seriously need to watch this in its entirety:

Once Tim Burton signed on, he threw out almost everything Kevin Smith had done so far. UTG favorite Nicolas Cage was signed on as Superman and there were even rumors that Michael Keaton would show up as Bruce Wayne in a short cameo. Tim Burton insisted that the art design wouldn’t resemble anything from the Superman comic book and their designs were judged by children to see what would work best as a toy. Another good sign of quality.

Fun fact: Nicolas Cage actually named one of his sons Kal-El. Like, in real life.

After thirty million dollars (twice the budget of Superman IV) were pumped into Superman Lives, Warner Bros cut the cord on it. Even though Krypton sets were already built, multiple Superman suits were already made, and Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage’s salaries of five million and twenty million (respectively), it was easier for Warner Bros to decide to put the movie on hiatus. Each re-write and new version of the script was either too expensive or not good enough before Superman Lives was ultimately killed in 2001.

Superman: Flyby

After briefly considering a Superman Vs Batman movie, J. J. Abrams (who at the time was known for the TV shows Felicity and Alias and not for being the guy behind Star Wars, Star Trek, Lost) submitted his own Superman story titled Superman: Flyby. It was to open with a civil war on Krypton, where Jor-El sends Kal-El to Earth to fulfill an ancient Kryptonian prophecy. After being raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent, Clark becomes involved with Lois Lane before making Superman a more public figure.

It’s because of Superman’s publicity that draws the Kryptonians that waged war on Krypton to Earth, waging war on Superman, who is killed. In the afterlife, Superman meets with his father, where we learn he had killed himself after being imprisoned on Krypton. Superman becomes resurrected and defeats the Kryptonians who drove his father to suicide.

This version, while a good read (UTG’s Jacob sent me a PDF of the script a while back), it has some definite issues. I really don’t mind that Lex Luthor isn’t a crazy billionaire and is instead a government agent specializing in UFOs and aliens, because that does give him a connection with Superman and puts a more sane motivation into their rivalry. The biggest issue is that Krypton still stands. Krypton’s destruction makes Superman (almost) one-of-a-kind. He’s an orphan on Earth because he has no home to go back to and makes due here. Having a Krypton that still exists is like having Bruce Wayne’s parents or Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben survive; you’re removing a major part of the character’s motivation and what shapes him.

The movie ends with Superman flying to Krypton, so there is a possibility that these themes could be explored in a potential sequel, but it still feels off.

I’m the very first person to ever write about J. J. Abrams to not make a lens flare joke and… damn it, that counts as one.

Brett Ratner was hired to direct before being replaced by McG, Christopher Walken was to play Perry White, Anthony Hopkins as Jor-El, Ralph Fiennes and Johnny Depp were both being considered for Lex Luthor, Selma Blair and Scarlett Johansson were both potentials for Lois Lane, Shia LaBeouf was to play Jimmy Olsen, and a plethora of actors including (but not limited to) Ashton Kutcher, Brendan Fraser, James Marsden, Paul Walker, Jude Law, and Josh Hartnett were all considered for Superman.

McG was let go after wanting to shoot the movie in Canada instead of Australia, due to his fear of flying, and was replaced by Bryan Singer, who reworked the movie into his love letter to Richard Donner’s Superman with Superman Returns.

Ashton Kutcher shot the role down due to his commitment to That 70’s Show.

Superman Returns Sequel

Warner Bros was fully planning on continuing the Superman franchise they started in 1978 with a sequel to Superman Returns, effectively being Superman VI. Every cast member of Superman Returns was to return, as was director Bryan Singer, who actually dropped out of two different major projects to work on the sequel.

Brainiac and Bizarro were planned for the antagonists and the island that Superman threw into space would continue to grow into a rogue planet, nicknamed “New Krypton.”

Because the sales of Superman Returns didn’t meet Warner Bros’ expectations, they decided to cut the budget of the sequel by thirty million, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem when you see that Skyfall cost fifty million less than its predecessor, Quantum of Solace, but then again, James Bond isn’t a flying alien who can shoot lazers out of his eyes.

The sequel was delayed when Bryan Singer decided to direct Valkyrie before starting another Superman, wanting something smaller and more personal to recharge his batteries, a need a big budget war movie with Tom Cruise apparently filled. After being refreshed from his first non-superhero movie in ten years, he was ready to return to Superman, but the 2007/2008 WGA strike delayed the movie yet again. Singer ultimately left the project to do Jack the Giant Slayer, leaving an open director’s seat that would be unfilled for several years, before Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Zach Snyder stepped in to create this past Friday’s Man of Steel, which as we all know did very well/poorly/okay/feculant (?) this weekend because it was such a great/awful/okay movie. Yep, this was totally written after Man of Steel came out. Definitely.

My favorite part was where he went back in time like in the rejected Superman III script. Actually, shit, this is from Tudors, isn’t it?

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