With Henry Cavill out as Superman in future DCEU movies, the question of just what Warner Bros. has planned for the Man of Steel on the big screen is on everyone’s minds. The reasons behind Cavill’s exit may have something to do with the lack of a clear vision for Superman movies at Warner Bros. After all, Cavill signed on for what he likely thought was a central role in a franchise with Man of Steel, found himself relegated to second billing in its sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and was essentially a supporting player in Justice League.
It would appear that the studio has no real plans for a solo Superman movie at the moment, and despite the occasional rumbling of a Man of Steel 2, there has never been anything concrete, and now writer or director has ever been attached. Back in 2018 Deadline wrote “that Warner Bros. has been mulling a completely different direction with its Superman canon for some time, even considering casting Michael B. Jordan in the role down the road.”
That was apparently more than just a studio executive’s idle musing. Variety now reports that Warner Bros. took a meeting with Michael B. Jordan earlier this year, where the actor pitched the studio a vision for Superman, presumably one involving him in the cape. However, Variety is quick to note that Jordan’s current schedule makes his appearance in the red cape any time soon unlikely, and with no script or director in place, the earliest we’re likely to see ANY new Superman movie is 2023 at this stage. The imminent arrival of a Superman and Lois TV show in the 2020-2021 season doesn’t bode well for the Man of Steel’s big screen prospects right now, either.
It’s no surprise that the studio doesn’t really know what to do with Superman. They haven’t for over 20 years, a fact made apparent both by their actual caped output and the fact that development hell is littered with the dessicated corpses of Superman movies that failed to get off the ground over the course of the last three decades. The thought of a traditional, solo Superman movie is something that they’ve balked at since Superman Returns underperformed and Man of Steel “only” brought in $668 million at the global box office. The one Superman story executives have any faith in, the character’s death at the hands of Doomsday, a story that could support several movies and that was the basis of no fewer than six unproduced screenplays between the mid-90s and early 2000s, was ham-handedly shoehorned into the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and is now off the table for the big screen until further notice.
On the other hand, the DCEU films aren’t likely to make a full and active reboot their core continuity any time soon. Despite the departure of Cavill and DCEU Batman Ben Affleck (who has been replaced by Robert Pattinson for Matt Reeves’ The Batman solo movie in 2021), 2019’s Shazam! existed firmly in the same world established between Man of Steel and Justice League, with its Black Adam spinoff now slotted for a 2021 release, Gal Gadot will return as Diana for Wonder Woman 1984 in 2020, Margot Robbie will continue on as Harley Quinn in 2020’s Birds of Prey and a Suicide Squad sequel in 2021, and Jason Momoa will return for Aquaman 2 in 2022. While Henry Cavill will need to be replaced at some point, it’s unlikely to be by Jordan in the DCEU proper.
But Michael B. Jordan could certainly fill the role of Superman in other projects. Warner Bros. is already experimenting with DC movies that fall outside the usual established DCEU continuity. The first of these, Joker, not only starred Joaquin Phoenix in the title role instead of the previously established DCEU Joker Jared Leto, it existed completely outside the confines of modern DCEU continuity. More importantly, it made over a billion dollars at the box office, proving to the studio that R-rated movies involving DC characters that aren’t built in shared cinematic universe continuity aren’t just viable, they’re desireable…and bankable.
While it’s certainly possible that Warner Bros. might consider a black retelling of the Superman legend (and it’s difficult to imagine a better candidate for the lead than the versatile, endlessly charismatic Jordan), there are other routes the studio could take. A personal favorite of mine is Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth 23. Ellis, created by Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke, has a story that mirrors much of the familiar Superman legend, until he becomes President of the United States, and has to balance that with his role as Earth’s greatest hero. There’s a lot of fun that could be had with Jordan as both President and Superman, and it would certainly ease any studio exec fears that the usual trappings of a Superman movie are too well worn for modern audiences.
In any case, it might not be worth reading too deeply into any of this. While Michael B. Jordan would make a fine addition to the pantheon of actors who have played Superman, I wouldn’t start fitting him for a cape just yet. But as Warner Bros. seems willing to explore the DC multiverse as much as the traditional shared cinematic universe model, you might not want to rule him out, either.