It’s hard to imagine a time where every studio going wouldn’t lap up any idea expressed by Joss Whedon. As the key creative force behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse, The Avengers, and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, he’s a hotter property than pretty much any filmmaker these days.
That wasn’t always the case, though. As you may remember, we’ve covered his years as an uncredited script doctor before, but even after he made a name for himself in Hollywood, Mr Whedon still had some ideas that studios simply wouldn’t put into production.
Two of these were superhero films. Considering that The Avengers garnered near-universal critical acclaim and a worldwide box office gross of $1.5 billion, and its sequel Age Of Ultron has already reached $1.2 billion (despite not receiving quite as many positive reviews), there must be some studio executives currently kicking themselves for doubting Whedon’s earlier visions of superhero cinema.
What were these films, then? Why did they never happen? And will they ever see the light of day? Here’s what we found out…
Cast your mind back to 2004, the month of March if you can manage it. At this point, Joss Whedon already had his work on Angel, Buffy, Atlantis, Titan A.E., Toy Story, and Firefly under his belt. That’s not to mention his uncredited contributions to Speed, Waterworld, X-Men, Twister, and The Quick And The Dead.
Although Whedon’s status as a geek icon wasn’t known as widely among Hollywood executives as it was between the geeks themselves, he certainly already had a reputation as a savvy scripter at this stage. Buffyhad also proved Whedon’s winning way with creating likeable badass female protagonists.
In what could have gone down as one of the great masterstrokes of cinema executive thinking (if events afterwards had transpired differently), then, Warner Bros and Silver Pictures announced that Joss Whedon would write and direct a new Wonder Woman movie. Purportedly, his salary was somewhere between two and three million dollars.
At the time, Whedon was yet to finish shooting Serenity(though he had probably finished at least one core character off by this point… sob), so he took his time researching Wonder Woman, and didn’t begin writing in earnest until late 2005.
Legendary action movie producer Joel Silver – Die Hard, The Matrix, V For Vendetta (to name a tiny fraction of his work) – was on board as a producer. He claimed that the story would begin with Steve Trevor crashing onto Themyscira and soon returning to Man’s World with Wonder Woman.
Rumors abounded for who Warner Bros, Whedon and Silver would cast as Princess Diana of Themyscira. These included Buffy alum Charisma Carpenter, Firefly and Serenity’s Morena Baccarin, and 2000’s Miss World Priyanka Chopra. No relation, we’re told, to Geordie footballer Michael Chopra. Whedon insisted to the press early on that he wouldn’t cast until his script was finished.
This proved to be a big stumbling block, though, as Whedon struggled to settle on a version of the script that he was happy with. In November 2006, he said:
“Besides [Wonder Woman’s] great origin story, there’s nothing from the comics that felt right 100 percent, no iconic canon story that must be told. Batman has it made — he’s got the greatest rogues gallery ever, he’s got Gotham City. The Bat writes himself. With Wonder Woman, you’re writing from whole cloth, but trying to make it feel like you didn’t. To make it feel like it’s existed for 60 years, even though you’re making it up as you go along. But who she, and what the movie, is about, thematically, has never been a problem for me. But the steps along the way, it could be so easy for them to feel wrong. I won’t settle. She wouldn’t let me settle.”
In February 2007, Whedon left the project and Warner Bros went on trying to make a Wonder Woman film with different creative talent. There’s more on the other ditched versions of Wonder Woman in this article.
But what exactly went wrong with Whedon’s version? Well, he later told the press that he had “an outline, and not in a draft, and they [studio executives] didn’t like it. So I never got to write a draft where I got to work out exactly what I wanted to do.” It sounds like we can ring the ‘creative differences’ alarm, then.
Whedon spoke in similar terms on his blog: “The worst thing that can happen in this scenario is that the studio just keeps hammering out changes and the writer falls into a horrible limbo of development. These guys had the clarity and grace to skip that part. So I’m a free man.”
“I would go back in a heartbeat if I believed that anybody believed in what I was doing. The lack of enthusiasm was overwhelming,” Whedon is also quoted as saying. Tantalisingly – for fans of Agent Maria Hill and/or Robin ‘Sparkles’ Scherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother, at least – it later became apparent that Mr Whedon had tipped Cobie Smulders for the part. Later, she would voice the character in The LEGO Movie.
Another iconic DC Comics character here, and one that Whedon is loud in his love for. Naturally, then, the prolific Mr Whedon has had a crack at getting a Batman film onto the big screen.
Joss Whedon was one of many filmmakers (we have details on a few more here) who pitched Batman ideas to Warner Bros in the cinematic interim years for the Caped Crusader between the brightly colored pun-fest of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin and the dark realism that eventually came with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Here’s what Whedon said about his pitch much later on, in 2012:
“My heart was on the table, I was so into it. And I could tell the executive I was talking to was just completely thinking about their schedule and their window and it was like I was talking to a wall. It was a different language. And I drove away from the meeting and I actually said to myself, like, how much more indication do I need that the machine doesn’t care?”
“I got back to work and they cancelled Firefly. And I was like ‘it was rhetorical! I wasn’t asking for more!’” he tragically added. This one was a short-lived dream, then, not one that Whedon spent years on like Wonder Woman. But what did Whedon have in mind for a Batman movie? Thankfully – for the writing of this article at least – a few morsels of information have trickled onto the internet in the years since Whedon’s aforementioned terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
In 2012, GQ published an in-depth interview with Whedon that – amongst other things – detailed what Whedon’s Batman movie would have been like. The journalist who wrote the article, Alex Pappademas, wrote: “There was a lot more in Whedon’s take, about the orphaned Bruce Wayne as a morbid, death-obsessed kid. There was a scene – Whedon used to well up, just thinking about it – where young Bruce tries to protect this girl from being bullied in an alley, an alley like the one his parents were murdered in.” Offering more insight into his botched Batman film, Whedon himself is quoted in that interview as saying:
“[Bruce is] like this tiny 12-year old who’s about to get the s[hit] kicked out him. And then it cuts to Wayne Manor, and Alfred is running like something terrible has happened, and he finds Bruce, and he’s back from the fight, and he’s completely fine. And Bruce is like, “I stopped them. I can stop them.’ That was the moment for me. When he goes ‘Oh, wait a minute; I can actually do something about this.’ The moment he gets that purpose, instead of just sort of being overwhelmed by the grief of his parents’ death.”
Before this, in 2008, Whedon told MTV that “in my version, there was actually a new [villain], it wasn’t one of the classics – which is probably why they didn’t use it. It was more of a ‘Hannibal Lecter’ type – he was somebody already in Arkham Asylum that Bruce went and sort of studied with. It was a whole thing – I get very emotional about it, I still love the story. Maybe I’ll get to do it as a comic one day.”
With all that considered, you can get a decent idea of what Whedon’s Batman would have looked like. It had more young Bruce material, seemingly lots of emotionality, and a new Hannibal Lecter-esque villain who Batman knew already. It certainly sounds like an interesting blend of Bat-mythos elements old and new, and we wonder whether that aforementioned uninterested executive ever got a rap on the knuckles when Whedon broke the big-time with The Avengers.
Could they ever happen?
And to wrap things up, how about some blind speculation? Could, theoretically, either of these films ever see the light of day? Could Joss Whedon get a second chance with his Wonder Woman and/or Batman ideas?
In all honesty, it seems hugely unlikely. Since Man Of Steel, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros have taken a huge leap forward, with Ben Affleck’s rebooted Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman both set to appear in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice in March 2016.
Following that, Wonder Woman has a solo film confirmed for 2017 with Patty Jenkins now at the helm following Michelle MacLaren’s departure. With everyone’s assumption being that Gal Gadot will play Wonder Woman for years to come, it seems unlikely that Whedon will ever get a shot with his vision of the character’s origin. Judging by his quotes on the matter, he probably wouldn’t want to either.
Perhaps there’s a tiny chance that he could get another shot at Batman, though. Following Dawn Of Justice, we will probably see Batman in 2016’s Suicide Squadmovie from David Ayer. Beyond that, though, we’ve been told to expect another standalone Batman film at some point in the future. Interestingly, though, we don’t know who will write or direct that movie, or when it will be out.
If Whedon keeps mentioning that he “desperately wanted to do a Batman film” in interviews, then, maybe Warner Bros will eventually give him a call. File that one as far down as possible in your “unlikely folder, though. After Avengers: Age of Ultron, he may not be in much of a hurry to do another superhero movie anyway.