The road to getting a Superman movie off the ground appears trickier than with any other movie franchise on the planet. And while Warner Bros appears to have chosen wisely by hiring Christopher Nolan to oversee the next Superman film, that doesn’t by any measure mean that the path is a great deal clearer. Just ask the following six directors if you don’t believe us…
Arguably the most infamous of the attempts to get Superman off the ground in the 1990s, Tim Burton was signed up to direct a reboot of the franchise, going under the name Superman Lives. Nicolas Cage had been cast as the Man Of Steel, and Kevin Smith had written a script for the film (the story of which has been recounted superbly on his DVD release An Evening With Kevin Smith).
It was Smith who suggested Burton for the director’s chair, but the director nonetheless brought in Wesley Strick to overhaul the screenplay. Costume fittings were arranged, a little bit of set work done, designs were drawn up, but the release date kept getting pushed back.
Eventually, Warner Bros put the picture into turnaround, given that it wasn’t flush with cash at the time and that Superman Lives wasn’t set to be a cheap movie. That’s when Burton left the project, citing it as a waste of a year of his life.
Hot off the back of the success of Charlie’s Angels, McG was the director near the top of many people’s wishlist back at the start of the decade, and so it was with Superman too. Thus, producer Jon Peters approached the director and signed him up for the fifth film.
The pair of them commissioned a script, deciding not to press ahead with one that had been written by Paul Attanasio, and that’s where JJ Abrams comes into the story. Not long after Abrams was approached to pen a new screenplay, McG left the Superman project to go and make a sequel to Charlie’s Angels instead.
He did return to Superman after Brett Ratner later dropped out, hiring Josh Schwartz (whom he would later collaborate with on Chuck) to tidy up Abrams’ script. McG then shot some test footage, but dropped out of the project again over disagreements regarding shooting locations (he has a fear of flying, and didn’t want to film in Australia, Warner Bros’ preferred location) and budget. When McG left, that’s when Warner Bros called for Bryan Singer, who left the X-Men franchise to take on The Man Of Steel instead.
It’s sad that Peterson, the director of such superb films as Das Boot and In The Line Of Fire, has not really done a movie since to match his earlier output. But he too at one point was down as a potential helmer for a new Superman film, reportedly favouring Matt Damon as the Man Of Steel.
He was set to work from a script by Andrew Kevin Walker (which was then rewritten by Akiva Goldsman), which would have pitted Batman and Superman against each other. Warner Bros greenlit the project, and it was set to start shooting in 2003, ahead of a summer 2004 release. Yet, Peterson elected to leave the project shortly after the nod was given, to go and make Troy instead.
Warner Bros then chose to abandon the Batman vs Superman project, in favour of a script from JJ Abrams.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Abrams has, since his Superman experience, proven to be one of the finest rebooters of a franchise to date with his Star Trek movie. Furthermore, he made a solid stab at his directorial debut with 2006’s Mission: Impossible III.
But back when he turned in scripts for a Superman film, he was never going to be given the director’s chair for what would have been his directorial debut. The closest one of his Superman scripts got to production was his origin story screenplay, Superman: Flyby, which became attached to Brett Ratner.
Abrams did pitch for a chance to helm the project once both Ratner and McG had vacated the director’s chair, but Warner Bros wasn’t keen.
It’s still hard to believe that this nearly happened. X-Men: The Last Stand isn’t a disastrous film, but it’s got the hallmarks of a hack director. Ratner, however, had signed up to direct Superman way back in 2002.
Josh Hartnett was offered the role, but he turned down a reported $100m three picture deal. Ratner then wanted Matt Bomer, an unknown actor best known at the time for TV show The Guiding Light (since then he’s moved on to Tru Calling and, of course, playing Bryce Larkin in Chuck). Ratner and Warner Bros couldn’t agree on casting, however, and ultimately Ratner left the project altogether. Bomer did audition for Bryan Singer when he was making Superman Returns, but the tights, of course, went to Brandon Routh instead (who now, ironically, is turning up in Chuck). Ratner, of course, picked up Singer’s third X-Men film instead.
Bryan Singer is the one person on this list, of course, who did manage to get a Superman movie moving. However, his attempts to get a follow-up into production, widely reported as going under the name Superman: The Man Of Steel, failed.
Why? It’s, in hindsight, quite simple.
Firstly, Superman Returns didn’t make as much money as hoped, although its US box office returns were around the same level as those for Warner’s Batman Begins reboot. That alone, therefore, wasn’t the killer, although the disappointing DVD revenue won’t have helped.
The bigger problem, however, was the feeling that Singer’s film wasn’t well liked, and while Christopher Nolan had enthused people about the idea of more Batman films after Batman Begins, the number of people looking forward to Superman Returns 2 out of the main fanbase was not high. Not enough action, too much talking and that little kid were, it seems enough to put people off.
When the sequel project then started to get bogged down in development hell, as Warner Bros figured out what to do with what was once its premier movie franchise, Singer’s days were ultimately numbered. It shows the level of indecision over the future of Superman, though, that as late as last year, Singer was still believed to be having a chance at a fresh Superman film. The introduction of Mr Nolan, plus Singer’s decision to move onto a Battlestar Galactica movie, has surely ended those thoughts once and for all.
AND THEN THERE WAS…
Several other directors have been offered the Superman franchise in the past, but have chosen to pass. How’s this for a list?
Ralph Zondag, Michael Bay, Shekhar Kapur, Martin Campbell (who has rebooted Bond successfully on two occasions), Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg (right back in the early 70s), Albert Pyun, Robert Rodriguez,
Furthermore, the likes of Stephen Norrington, Simon West and Matthew Vaughn have also been linked with the franchise.
Over to you, Christopher Nolan…