In a world where a Comic-Book-based-Super-Hero-franchises are guaranteed blockbusters, with films like “The Dark Knight”, or “The Avengers” raking in over a billion effin’ dollars in real-life (non-Monopoly) money, it’s a little disconcerting that Superman (the original super hero – circa 1938) only recently got a decent film (with the exception of the 1978 classic) – with last year’s “Man of Steel” – a total reboot (starring Henry Cavill) from the dude who brought us that CGI-fest loosely based on the Battle of Thermopylae (Zack Snyder).
Suffice it to say Superman movies until know have gotten a bad rep. With the exception of most of the animated movies, Superman movies have had a tendency to suck like a Hoover vacuum cleaner in a black hole. And why is that you ask? Well, although it is challenging to do a Superman movie justice (pun-intended), the reason they keep failing has nothing to do with the character (s) / story / mythology seeing as so many other super-powered champions have followed in his boot-prints since over the last 75 years of comic history, and most of them have ripped off of Superman in one or several ways with unique twists (i.e. Batman, Spider-man, Iron Man, etc).
Some say it’s a curse, others say it’s his cheesy old-fashioned sense of morality, while angry Internet trolls pollute message boards arguing about his trademark red super-speedos, but I say it’s the result of lazy writing, greedy producers who don’t understand the character, and directors who are unwilling to delve into the actual source material. The result: 30 + years of Gene Hackman’s “Lex Luthor” as an evil real estate agent.
Out of all the terrible Superman movies we’ve had to endure over the last couple decades, here are 5 that we should be thankful never made it to the silver screen, because they somehow managed to be even worse than what actually did make it to a theater near you. It’s unbelievable how bad these scripts were and unfathomable that they made it so far into production…
(Barf bags at the ready?)
- “Superman III” (the ORIGINAL draft) -1983
“Superman III” isn’t just a bad Superman movie, it’s such a bad excuse for a motion picture that it makes me want to punch a parakeet (and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” isn’t a whole lot better). HOWEVER, this movie could’ve been so bad it would’ve made ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ look like an Oscar-worthy master-piece.
Seriously, this script is atrocious. It involves Brainiac, Supergirl, and Mr. Mxyzptlk, which on the surface is fine, I guess, but the problem is in how these characters are so poorly presented and used in which this screenplay fails on so many levels.
After escaping Krypton’s destruction, Supergirl crash lands on Brainiac’s home world. Brainiac becomes a father-figure of sorts to her, which becomes super-creepy when he suddenly develops romantic feelings for her, which doesn’t make a whole lotta sense seeing as Brainiac is actually a green-skinned android completely devoid of emotion. In the comics Brainiac is an alien AI specifically programmed to conquer the universe one world at a time. Whatever, I’ll roll with it. So Supergirl escapes to Earth where she falls madly in love with Superman…
Wait, WHAT?! It is becoming very apparent that the screenwriter (and by extension Kal-El) must not realize that in the comics Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl is in fact: his cousin.
This is even worse than changing Batgirl to Alfred’s niece, and presenting Bane as a mentally challenged cactus.
Anywho, “Brainiac” unleashes Mr. Mxyzptlk (an Imp from the 5th Dimension btw) on Metropolis. Superman defeats said magical midget by tricking him into saying his name backwards. “Brainiac” then gets all pissed, captures Superman in his castle (?), and takes “Supergirl” with him back in time to the medieval age. The final battle literally consists of Superman and “Brainiac” (both powerless thanks to Mxyptlk), fighting in a duel to the death, over “Supergirl”, decked out as a White and Black knight.
Needless to say this is one super-special script at the back of the short bus, but at least we wouldn’t have had a Superman movie where Richard Pryor gets more screen time then Clark Kent himself. (Man, it really is truly unfortunate that that movie did in fact come to fruition back in 1983.)
- “Superman: Reborn” (via Lois… don’t ask, please.) – 1990?
It all started shortly after the total failure of “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (a movie in which Superman single-handedly disarms every nuclear weapon on the planet), Christopher Reeve was set to reprise his role once again in what had been proposed as “Superman V: The New Movie!” in which Superman would die, and be resurrected. Believe it or not, this is prior to “The Death of Superman” comic in which, well you know.
This movie would’ve also involved Brainiac, but this time a little bit more accurate to the comics, even including the whole shrinking city in a bottle thing. However, the whole concept was scrapped when Christopher Reeve had his unfortunate wheel-chair-inducing-accident thing.
Then Superman was beat to death by a jagged rock monster called Doomsday.
So, in response, WB purchased the rights back from the Salkinds (those bastards responsible for all the previous shitty movies), handed the reins to Jon Peters, and decided to adapt the ‘Death and Life’ storyline that sold out in comic shops across the nation. Jonathon Lemkin whipped up a new script: “Superman: Reborn” which would essentially involve Doomsday murdering the Last Son of Krypton, with his fists. Then, as Superman dies he professes his love to Lois Lane, and as he dies in her arms, he somehow impregnates her… with himself?! WTF?! Seriously? Yep, Superman is resurrected via Lois’s vagina by means of virgin birth.
So I guess “Reborn” wasn’t metaphorical in this sense? If that’s not cringe-worthy enough Warner Brothers wanted more props and more villains added to sell toys, and demanded it be more mainstream and hip, like MTV… after a couple of rewrites they hired another guy to rewrite this train-wreck…
I can only imagine a kid walking out of that theater (horrified trauma on face).
Now I have to go scrub my brain.
- “Superman Lives” – starring: Nicholas Cage, directed by: Tim Burton, written by: Kevin Smith. – 1998
Anyone who has seen “An Evening with Kevin Smith” knows at least a little bit about the cluster fuck that was nearly marketed as “Superman Lives” in the mid 90’s. I shit you not, if this movie had in fact been completed it would’ve prematurely killed the Superhero genre before it even had a chance to stretch its legs much less defy gravity. Suffice it to say, this smelly pile of garbage was wretched.
It’s not entirely Kevin Smith’s fault either, Jon Peters, the producer, kept hounding him to add really bizarre elements that didn’t exactly fit. For instance, Superman wasn’t allowed to fly, he needed to wear a black suit, and he also allegedly had to fight a giant mechanical spider at some point in the film (which was later used in Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West”). In addition, Peters and WB wanted Brainiac to fight polar bears, and Lex Luthor had to have a cute dog, because polls showed that people like vicious polar bears and fuzzy dogs? That in mind, Kevin Smith to his credit did the best he could with those weird ass stipulations.
The plot of “Superman Lives” involved Brainiac (again) and Lex Luthor (once again, except as far as I’m concerned we have yet to have the real Lex Luthor make an appearance in any of the movies) teaming up and using some kinda tech to block out the sun (Simpson’s style), rendering Superman powerless. Then, after Doomsday beats our hero to death (happy meal toys anyone?), some kinda <insert plot device> brings this Kryptonian savior back to life, and for some random reason he has to wear this black mechanical suit which lights up with rainbow sparkles. The movie basically culminates in Brainiac and Lex fusing together and becoming… wait for it… ‘Lexiac’.
Throughout the nine circles of development hell, this script went through several drafts, each making for a more convoluted mess then before. If that’s not nearly bad enough, Tim Burton signed on to direct. And if all that’s just not bad enough, Nicholas Cage was actually chosen to play the Man of Steel himself.
Everything about this absurdity indicates that no one involved actually understood who Superman was. The thought of Tim Burton’s distinct style anywhere near Superman makes me cringe, but the potential casting rumors for this aborted monstrosity make me shudder: Jim Carey and Tim Allen were both in talks to play Brainiac. Courtney Cox would have been Lois Lane. Jason Mewes and Chris Rock were both in consideration for the role of Jimmy Olsen.
If that’s not evidence enough, here’s some highlights from one of the many scripts: Superman uses his heat-vision to warm a homeless lady’s garbage dinner, Superman is described as “a hip-hop Phantom of The Opera”?, Lex is described as “the boomer love child of Robert Vesco and Leona Helmsley,” there’s an amusement park called Luthor-World, a monster referred to as the “Plutonian Gnaw Beast”, in one scene Clark explains to Lois that she can’t have his baby because it would punch its way out of her, and above all there are so many bad one-liners via Brainiac that it makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze look like Othello.
Believe it or not, this infamous hollywood turd that could is the subject of Jon Schnepp’s soon to be documentary: “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’!”
Unlike the other proposed films on this list, this one was in full-fledged pre-production for a summer 1998 release before it was luckily canned.
- “BvS: Batman vs Superman” – 2000
This was WB’s initial response to the notorious “Batman and Robin” debacle. Akiva Goldsman was hired to write the script, and Wolfgang Peterson was slated to direct this seemingly epic crossover. If nothing else, this would’ve been the first super-hero cross-over film. Part of the problem right off the bat (pun-intended) was that they decided to get on the whole Alien vs Predator bandwagon, so instead of a team-up movie, it would’ve been marketed as BvS: Superman versus Batman.
Basic premise: cool.
Actual detailed plot synopsis: more dreadfully horrifying than finding your mom in bed with both Christopher Walken AND John Leguizamo (in creepy clown make-up for good measure).
The story goes – Batman hangs up the cape and cowl and goes into retirement from fighting crime after Alfred, Dick, and Gordon are all horrifically murdered.
Meanwhile Clark divorces Lois…
Then Clark Kent randomly becomes Bruce Wayne’s bestman at his wedding, where The Joker decides to show up and fuck shit up. (Already lost me, but the Joker brings promise.) This inevitably leads to a confrontation between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel involving some evil plot orchestrated by none other than Lex Luthor, obviously.
Of course Batman and Superman stop punching each other for a second to realize that they’ve been set up, and so team up like the Super Friends they are and kick Luthor’s ass.
Not necessarily the worst concept, except for a few key details, until you consider that it would’ve continued where the previous films from both franchises had left off. The long list of actors in the running (for either leading role) included: Josh Hartnett, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, James Franco, Jude Law, Paul Walker, and even Will Smith. Ironically Ben Affleck was also considered for both roles. (would’ve been interesting to have both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon together again, but not sure either one would be a good choice for Supes, although the jury is still out on Bat-fleck in 2016’s “Man of Steel” sequel…)
Thankfully this terrible idea was scrapped in favor of a total reboot for the Batman series thanks to Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” starring Christian Bale. WB went back to the drawing boards, once again, and the rest is history.
As it turns out, they were simply ahead of their time, the upcoming sequel to “Man of Steel” happens to essentially be a Superman / Batman film (with Wonder Woman thrown in for good measure), however I get the feeling they’re actually onto something this time. We can only hope they don’t try to throw a Justice League ensemble together to try and compete with Marvel without thinking it through.
- “Superman Flyby”?! (J.J. Abrams + McG / Brett Ratner) – 2002
This one essentially ignores every incarnation of Superman, including but not limited to the source material. Might not have been terrible, if it wasn’t pitched as a Superman movie. Guess we’ll never know…
In 2002 WB started to consider a full-on reboot of the Superman mythos. One step in the right direction. Brett Ratner (the guy who ruined X-Men 3) and McG (of Charlie’s Angels fame) were both in consideration to direct at one point, which would’ve been two steps backwards. J.J. Abrams slapped a script together entitled: “Superman Flyby”. Other than the fact that it might be the absolute worst title ever, the screenplay wasn’t necessarily a terrible story, but it was such a departure that it might not have been a very good ‘Superman’ story.
Some of the odd changes include: Krypton not being destroyed?, Lex Luthor as a UFO-obsessed-CIA agent?, Superman’s super-suit forming itself onto him like Venom-esque symbiote!?, and Jor-El committing suicide?! Also Clark saves Martha (his adopted mom) from being raped, he uses his x-ray vision on Lana’s mom, and meets Lois at a frat party…
There were a lot of really sweet action scenes with multiple Kryptonian baddies, but oddly enough it wasn’t “Zod” and his cronies, rather some wannabee-Zod schmuck referred to as ‘Ty-Zor’?
What’s worse is these super-powered criminals are nullified by a massive plot hole the size of the Grand Canyon: how does Supes beat them? Kryptonite. Apparently there’s a lot of Kryptonite scattered around the planet. But wait, what is Kryptonite again? Oh yeah, Meteor fragments from the remnants of the obliterated planet Krypton… except in this version, Krypton never exploded.
My brain hurts…
Also, the final twist at the end of the movie: ‘Lex Luthor’ reveals himself to also be a Kryptonian and the final battle above Metropolis, a zero-gravity kung-fu fight scene that closely resembles a cross between ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and ‘The Matrix’, with lens flares galore.
Now, I love me some J.J. Abrams, I really do. He went on to completely retool “Star Trek” (2009) and made it awesome again, not to mention Fringe, Lost, and whatnot. However, I’m just not convinced this script would’ve worked beyond anything but an Elseworlds tale graphic novel, because very little about this movie resembled Superman.
This time around Clark Kent / Kal-El was rumored to be Tom Welling (of Smallville fame), Paul Walker, Ashton Kutcher, Matthew Bomer, Jerry O’ Connell, and Brendan Fraser. Other casting rumors included: Selma Blair or Scarlett Johansson (Lois Lane), Shia LaBeouf (Jimmy Olsen), Johnny Depp (Lex), Christopher Walken (Perry White) and Anthony Hopkins (Jor-El).
As fate would have it, Abrams was destined to reboot two other major sci-fi franchises instead.
- The ‘Superman Returns’ sequel… – 2008
In 2006 Bryan Singer actually managed to direct and released his art house emo-Superman film “Superman Returns” starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey, which was a two hour love letter to the Donner Superman films and left audiences snoring. Certain elements of the film were spectacular, while as a whole it fell flat. It was initially intended to be the first part of a trilogy. The proposed sequel probably would’ve been better, especially with the rumored inclusion of Metallo and Brainiac, but we’d still have a movie-verse where “Lex” is nothing more than a ponzy-schemer on acid and Superman knocked up Lois before ditching the planet.
The good news is that the ‘Returns’ sequel never got made, so rather than another film dealing with a lonely Superman paying child support and lifting heavy objects over his head in slow motion, we instead got one of the best super hero movies ever made.
Finally we believed in a man who could punch someone through several buildings, whilst flying!
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