For each comic book film that's hit the cineplex over the last several years, there are a gazillion more that never managed to escape development hell.
With Alphas set to premiere on Syfy July 11 at 10/9C, we've been thinking about superheroes all week, so here's a list of some superhero movie projects we wish we'd have been able to see in theaters ... even if it was just to see if they were as unwatchable as they sound.
Written by: Robert Smigel, 2006
What it was: What if Green Lantern was an unlikable, chubby slacker?
This superhero comedy, written by TV Funhouse creator and voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Robert Smigel, was an adaptation of Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn 1 & 2, but instead of Hal Jordan, Jack Black plays reality star Jud Plato, who is chosen by Abin Sur to become the newest Green Lantern. It turns out that the lazy Jud is surprisingly unsuited for being a hero and has trouble living up the example of comic book hero ... Green Lantern.
Yep, Green Lantern is a comic book hero in this movie's universe, too. Jud meets all the Green Lanterns you'd expect (Kilowog, Salakk and Katma Tui) and ends up fighting Sinestro, as you'd expect. How does it end? With Jud using his ring to create a green Superman to turn back time just as in the '70s Superman movie, so he can fix his mistakes. Is there any wonder that Green Lantern fans weren't too happy with the idea of watching a version of Shallow Hal Jordan?
What happened to it: Warner Brothers ended up going with a more straight approach to the source material (namely one that comic fans might actually want to see) using Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern. But the new movie kept one thing from this version, as Reynold's GL is also largely unlikable until the very end of the film.
Written & Directed by: The Wachowski Brothers, 1995
What it was: Plastic Man as a former eco-terrorist played by Keanu Reeves.
For some reason, when you think about actors who'd be perfect to play Plastic Man, stone-faced Keanu Reeves probably isn't first on your list. But that's reportedly who the Wachowskis wanted for their big-budget version of Plas. This script follows ex-con Daniel O'Brien, whose love interest Susan Bright is working on a process to make organic tissue immortal through "polymerization."
When Susan's boss, the evil businessman Icarus Argon, tries to steal the process to make himself immortal (and repair his body, which is horribly scarred from years of plastic surgery), O'Brien ends up with a pliable, polymerized body and has to battle an also plastic Argon. If that wasn't enough, there's also a sub-plot where O'Brien's horrified to learn that his urine isn't biodegradable. Yep, the movie goes into detail about Plastic Man's pee, which the script describes as looking like rubber cement.
What happened to it: While the script was written way back in 1995, the Wachowskis were reported to be still interested in making at as recently as 2010. But we haven't heard anything about it lately and it seems unlikely it'll ever make its way to theaters ... especially since Keanu Reeves ain't getting any more flexible.
Written & Directed by: James Cameron, 1991
What it was: The origin of Spider-Man, but with Electro as an evil Donald Trump.
When James Cameron was signed on to write and direct a Spider-Man film, the project had already spent years in development hell and gone through dozens of drafts from different writers. Cameron's version was a pretty standard Spider-origin, but with an evil villain named Carlton Strand, a criminal businessman who has got electrical powers from being struck by lightning 10 years earlier. (He also ends up shocking his mistress into unconsciousness by having sex with her without a rubber wet suit.)
Strand tries to recruit the newly Spider-Manned Peter Parker, kidnaps Mary Jane to force him to turn to the dark side, and they end up in a big battle on top of the World Trade Center. Oh, and the Sandman's there too, as a guy named Boyd who got his sand powers from a government quantum physics experiment.
What happened to it: This film was never put into production and actually never even made it to the script stage. Shortly after Cameron delivered his treatment, Carolco Pictures went bankrupt after the box-office flops of Showgirls and Cutthroat Island. Columbia later picked up the rights to Spider-Man and put out the Sam Raimi version that became a blockbuster, but sadly lacked ladies getting defibrillated during sex ... or Spidey and Mary Jane having spider-sex on top of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Written by: William Goldman, 2003
What it was: The origin of Captain Marvel, but with underage romance ... for some reason.
One of the most acclaimed screenwriters of all time, William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) wrote this adaptation of the origin of boy-turned-adult-superhero Captain Marvel that begins with 11-year-old Billy Batson living in an orphanage with his 15-year-old love interest, Jenny. While on a field trip to a local museum, Billy is given the powers of the gods to turn into Captain Marvel (although he still speaks in Billy's little boy voice), and Billy has to face off against the evil scientist Dr. Sivana and his kids Beautia and Magnificus as they take over the city with a ray that erases people's minds.
What happened to it: While it was already stuck in development hell for years, the success of The Dark Knight reportedly caused Warner Brothers to ask for a gritter, darker Captain Marvel movie, and Geoff Johns was hired to write another draft in 2009. It's a shame, because if there's two words that don't describe Captain Marvel, they're gritty and dark.
Written by: J.J. Abrams, 2002
What it was: A Superman movie where Krypton never exploded.
Let's let that sink in a bit. Yep, J.J. Abrams' version of Superman, young Kal-El was sent to Earth by his still-alive father Jor-El, who's also king of Krypton. (Young Kal was prophesied to end a giant civil war that had been ravaging Krypton for 100 years.) So Kal ends up grows up on Earth to become Superman, until his cousin, Ty-Zor, finds him on Earth and tries to kill him. (Back on Krypton, Jor-El's brother Kata-Zor is trying to kick Jor-El out of power.) So, while Supes is dealing with that, he also has to deal with alien-obsessed CIA agent Lex Luthor, who, it turns out in the final twist ... is a Kryptonian too.
What happened to it: While Brett Ratner (and later McG) was hired to direct this version, Bryan Singer later signed on, and the film was rewritten completely and turned into Superman Returns. It also didn't help that Internet fanboys went crazy after details like Kryptonian Lex Luthor were leaked out onto the internet, and who can blame them?
Written & Directed by: Joss Whedon, 2009
What it was: Wonder Woman ... only with Joss Whedon's rabid fanbase.
Few details of Joss Whedon's plans for the film version of Wonder Woman ever leaked out, but Whedon's mentioned that his story featured a lot of Greek mythology and would've made the development of some of Wonder Woman's equipment (her bracelets, lasso and invisible jet) central to the plot. It also would've taken place in the present day, as opposed to Diana's original World War II origin, and would've shown her trying to fit into modern-day society. (Although it wouldn't have been as awkward as her role as CEO/crimefighter/murderer on the recently not-picked-up David E. Kelley TV pilot.)
What happened to it: Whedon walked away from the project in 2010 after two years on the project, saying that he and Warner Bros. just saw the project differently. One supposed sticking point was Joss' plans to set it in modern times, which producer Joel Silver disagreed with. But hey, getting to write and direct the Avengers is a pretty good consolation prize. (Above costume designs by costume designer Shawna Trpcic, who collaborated with Whedon on Angel, Firefly, Serenity and Dollhouse ... although Whedon never got to designing a costume.)
Written & Directed by: Kevin Smith, 2005
What it was: A young Green Hornet avenges the death of the original Green Hornet!
Smith's script followed young Britt Reid Jr., son of the original, and now retired, Green Hornet. But when the original GH is assassinated, Reid has to train with old man Kato to take over the role, aided by Kato's daughter, Mulan. Together they hunt down the man who killed the Green Hornet (and Mulan's mom), the villainous yakuza boss the Black Hornet!
What happened to it: While Kevin was signed to write and direct the film for New Line in 2004, he left the project back in 2006. Columbia Pictures ended up picking up the rights after New Line's expired and putting together Seth Rogan as star and writer and Michel Gondry to direct. Smith ended up adapting his script into an 11-issue comic book series for Dynamite Entertainment, although he's said that it's not a direct adaptation of the script, but also incorporates more elements of the original radio and TV series. Still, at least we get to see the original Green Hornet that we all know ... and kind of remember.
Batman: Year One
Written by: Darren Aronofsky & Frank Miller, 2000
What it was: Well, one thing it's not is Frank Miller's Batman: Year One.
While it does have the same basic story as Miller's original graphic novel, Aronofsky's script diverged in some pretty huge ways. For example, an orphaned Bruce Wayne is raised in the worst part of Gotham by father-and-son mechanics "Big Al and Little Al." And while the novel kept the traditional story of Batman choosing his bat-theme from a bat flying through the window, the script goes in a different tradition.
There, when Bruce reaches his 20s, he starts out as a vigilante by punching out various pimps and muggers Phantom-style, leaving a big TW on their skin from his father's ring ... which people think look like a bat. He eventually goes with it and starts wearing a bat costume. He also turns a Lincoln Continental into the Batmobile. But we also get a bunch of stuff from the original Miller story, like prostitute Selina Kyle's getting out of that life and starting the move to a profitable career in catburglary.
Will we ever see it? Probably not as a movie, but Aranofsky has said that he'd like to adapt it into a graphic novel, like he did with his movie The Fountain. We bet it'll do just as well as that one.
Written by: Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio
What it was: A very faithful adaptation of the first two Sandman story arcs.
Adapting the 75 issues of Neil Gaiman's groundbreaking comic series The Sandman into a movie would clearly be impossible. That's why Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, the writers behind Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek and National Treasure, wrote the script to just feature two of the series' storylines: Preludes & Nocturnes (which showed how Morpheus the Dream Lord was imprisoned for 72 years and eventually regained his powers) and The Doll's House (which featured teen Rose Walker rescuing her brother from a serial killer convention). It was smart and faithful to the book and would've been an amazing introduction to what could've been a truly breathtaking fantasy film franchise.
What happened to it: According to Elliot and Rossio, after they turned in their script, they were told it was unfilmable, which they blamed partially on not accepting producer Jon Peter's suggestion that a bunch of kids at a slumber party should be the ones to capture and imprison Morpheus. Then, after Roger Avary became attached to direct, Warners suddenly loved the script and had them rewrite it to Avary's notes, but eventually Avary was fired by Peters. Peters brought in more writers for different drafts, but it doesn't look like we'll be seeing any Sandman movie (or TV series) anytime soon.
Written by: Tom Mankiewicz
What it was: Back in the early '80s, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (who co-wrote the script for the 1979 Superman movie), wrote several drafts of a Batman film with a very different feeling for the character than ended up in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman.
The film begins with the Waynes being shot by Joe Chill, who it turns out was working for the Joker. (And by the end of this movie, the Joker must have been pretty darn old.) After that, we see much of Bruce's training (including race-car driving with Mario Andretti), and we get classic '70s love interest Silver St. Cloud, who works for main bad guy Rupert Thorne, here a Gotham councilman who was running against Thomas Wayne and had him assassinated to win the election.
We also get the Penguin (with jet-packed goons), the creation of Robin after his parents are killed at the circus by the Joker and the death of Silver St. Cloud after she takes a bullet for Bruce. In the end, Robin and Batman face off against Thorne on a giant working typewriter, and Batman ends up killing him by knocking him into a giant, working pencil sharpener by hitting him with a giant thumbtack.
What happened to it: Well, once Tim Burton was signed on to direct, he dropped Mankiewicz's script in favor of a 30-page treatment he co-wrote with his girlfriend at the time, screenwriter Julie Hickson, best known for writing Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco. Who's to say which would've been better?
Written by: John Milius, 1993
What it was: A classic WWII action film, with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
If you're looking to write a war film, it's hard to go wrong with screenwriter John Milius, who wrote (or co-wrote) such films as Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now. He also co-wrote the original Conan the Barbarian, which would explain why he was hired to write Sgt. Rock as a Schwarzenegger vehicle. (In the script, Rock's real name isn't Frank Rock, but rather "Karl Rocklen." He speaks with a German accent and uses it to infiltrate the enemy lines.)
Milius wrote a big, sprawling action war epic, with Rock leading Easy Company into the battle of Monte Cassino. It features a lot of killing, cigars and far more F-words than you might expect from a comic movie, even if it is based on a war comic.
What happened to it: It's suspected the big budget it would've taken to film it kept it from being made. While a Sgt. Rock film is supposedly back in production, we're betting it won't have either Schwarzenegger or Milius' original script, especially since producer Joel Silver has announced that the film will no longer be set in World War II.