Looking back at the world of comic book movies in the mid-2000s almost feels like a glimpse into an alternate reality. Chris Evans was best known to nerdy moviegoers as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four while Ben Affleck was perhaps best forgotten as Matt Murdock in 2003’s Daredevil. In an era before the arrival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, big, brash and mostly very bad comic book adaptations were commonplace.
Yet fans were arguably spared the biggest and brashest of them all following an online protest, the kind of which would soon become all-too-common within the world of fandom. For it was during the midpoint of that decade—a crossroads during which Christopher Nolan and Sam Raimi were still making the most popular superhero movies and Fox was “ending” the X-Men franchise with Brett Ratner—that plans were put into motion for a Green Lantern movie starring Jack Black.
On the face of it, it’s easy to see how the studio chiefs at Warner Bros. might have been sold on the idea. Black was still riding high from the success of 2003’s School of Rock and there was some track record for turning a pre-existing comic book property into a star vehicle for a larger-than-life comedic talent.
Back in the 1990s, New Line Cinema had successfully transformed the Dark Horse Comics title The Mask from a grim and super-violent riff on the classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw” into a colorful and critically acclaimed Jim Carrey classic which, crucially, had cleaned up at the box office. Warner had meanwhile been toying with the idea of recalibrating Green Lantern as a comedy since the 1980s, with Vulture previously reporting that Eddie Murphy was once in the frame to star.
The Jack Black Green Lantern Movie You’ll Never See
Roughly 20 years after Murphy’s failed attempts to launch a Green Lantern movie, Robert Smigel, a veteran Saturday Night Live writer and creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, was tasked with putting a Jack Black spin on the Green Lantern mythos. In June 2006, Smigel submitted a draft for his version of the Green Lantern that used Hal Jordan’s origin story as a jumping off point.
However, in place of an introduction showcasing the tragic death of Jordan’s father and his journey to becoming a pilot, the script instead centered on an entirely new ring-bearer named Jud Plato (Black), a slacker and the star of a Fear Factor-style reality show called “The Dare Diner.”
In the script, a dying Abin Sur would have attempted to bestow the power of the ring onto any number of worthy candidates including a legless climber and woman missionary. Unfortunately, a malfunction would instead see it go to Jud who, at that precise moment, was on television attempting to eat the carcass of a dead coyote.
A bizarre gross-out moment played for laughs, as well as social commentary on the reality TV boom of that era, Jud’s impressive gastronomic abilities would come to the fore later in the script when he is required to eat an entire snake from the tail up. But then one of the key facets of Smigel’s pitch for the film centered on Jud’s struggles to use the ring properly, resulting in any number of weird and wonderful constructs.
Smigel told Vanity Fair in 2011 that after researching the character, he honed in on “the premise that the wrong guy gets the ring and can do all kinds of goofy visual jokes—because the visuals are so potentially ridiculous.”
He explained, “What appealed to me about it on a comedic level was that, in order to be a superhero, this requires no physical skill or talent. All it requires is owning this ring. Automatically, that’s a comedic premise.”
Coming in the wake of the American Pie movies when bawdy R-rated humor was still the order of the day, as well as larger than life cartoonish buffoon characters like Ron Burgundy and Austin Powers, Smigel’s script saw Jud use his new powers to enlarge his genitals to impress a female co-worker and love interest. And arguably the unmade film’s standout scene involved Jud apprehending a gang of robbers by constructing a giant green condom with his magic ring.
Elsewhere the pop culture references fly thick and fast. During his training with the Green Lantern Corps, Jud generates several sets of Sharon Stone’s legs from Basic Instinct to fire at Kilowog. Elsewhere, a major potential cameo was set up when Jud conjured up a construct of a green-tinged Britney Spears.
The end of the film would have seen Jud quite literally borrow from Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman by creating a green version of the Man of Steel to turn back time by flying around the Earth.
Smigel told Vanity Fair that this last construct would have been perfect for what was essentially “the laziest Green Lantern in history.”
“You’ve run out of abilities, so you conjure up the best superhero that exists and let him solve the problem,” Smigel said. “Then the whole sequel could just be him sitting around watching the green Superman do everything.”
The leaked draft of Smigel’s script also had a meta element to it as well, since the movie would’ve been set in a universe where the Green Lantern comics existed alongside all the other major DC and Marvel superheroes.
That came in handy when a little exposition was required. Jud just called upon his comic book enthusiast best buddy Seth to teach him about the ring and its powers. This facet was also mined for apparent comedic value with Jud often quoting other superheroes by mistake with mottos like “With great power comes great responsibility,” and also referring to the Green Lantern as “like the eighth most popular superhero.”
One of the more interesting aspects of Smigel’s vision for the film concerned the handling of Sinestro. While Legion and the insect-like race of the planet Tchk-Tchkii still featured and posed a threat to the Green Lantern Corps’ home planet of OA, Sinestro served as the overarching villain who, it turned out, had deliberately chosen Jud to receive Abin Sur’s ring, confident he would be unsuited to the role.
As the script progresses, it becomes apparent that Sinestro has been policing the universe under the guise of the Green Lantern Corps with something of an iron fist. Smigel said this was supposed to serve as a reflection of the way then-President George W. Bush was attempting to police the world at the time.
“This was at the time of all of the controversy of the Patriot Act and the way we were responding to terrorism in the mid-zeros,” he told Vanity Fair.
Ultimately, the impact of this allegedly subtle satire got lost in the shuffle of crude and, by today’s standards, offensive humor. There were also some elements that were undoubtedly geared towards Black’s sensibilities. Sensibilities that saw Jud’s Green Lantern sport a fanny pack while singing his own self-penned Green Lantern theme tune. In one vivid construct-led sequence, he would even serve as the frontman in a green-tinged version of The Beatles, replacing John Lennon.
The script also leaned into Black’s musicality with another striking sequence: Frustrated at Jud’s inability to concentrate, the Green Lantern Corps would have opted to teach him all about their role in the universe via a Muppet-inspired musical number, which Jud would have quickly taken a liking to.
Fans Rage, Green Lantern Falls
While the script went through several rewrites, Smigel said he began to suspect change was afoot when the feedback began taking the form of questions like: “What if it’s not Green Lantern? What if it’s very similar, but you change it and make it a fictional superhero so we can make that a straight comedy?”
Despite these early warning signs, Black expressed interest to move forward with the project, which seemed promising since the actor was initially not even attached to the movie. Smigel was just encouraged at the outset to “write it with Jack Black in mind.”
“I really liked the script,” Black later admitted in an interview with MTV. “”I was going to be making all kinds of stuff. I was going to be capturing bad guys with green, giant prophylactics.” Much of what drew Black to the project was the film’s decidedly comedic tone: “You don’t see a lot of the superheroes as comedies. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man—they’re all pretty straight-up.”
Ultimately, he put the failure of the film down to the fact it was simply “too weird” for a mainstream superhero movie. Smigel told Vanity Fair things got as far as a meeting between himself, Black, and a producer on the project.
“Jack gives a long list of directors that he would be happy to work with and then there’s just no traction,” he said. “It just sort of petered out and we found out that they just changed their minds and wanted to do a serious Green Lantern.”
That change of heart was at least partially motivated by the online backlash that came after an early draft of Smigel’s script was leaked online, with Green Lantern fans reacting angrily to the crude and overly comedic tone. The apparent disregard for the lore of the character coupled with the casting of Black won few favors too.
“It doesn’t make sense to make a Green Lantern movie with this kind of hero,” one angry forum post read when the rumors of Black’s involvement first began. “This does not bode well.”
Elsewhere, one fan declared: “Jack Black playing Green Lantern would be a crime against humanity,” with another writing, “Jack black as green lantern has to be the most ******ed thing ive ever heard!”
On a third forum, a similar disgruntled fan commented, “ I have to say this sounds like a terrible mistake. An interesting character and excellent concept for super powers will be presented as an obnoxious moron buoyed by crappy CGI.” Meanwhile, on another forum, a fan asked, “Why does DC like to torment its fans? Are DC fans masochists, or the DC team just stupid?”
Coming at a time when Twitter was either yet to launch or still in its infancy, those leading the online backlash may not have all been singing from the same hymn sheet, or rather forum page, but their voice was evidently heard.
“There were a lot of internet angry reactions just to the idea of Jack Black,” Smigel admitted in 2011. “ I mean, if I were a diehard Green Lantern fan, I would have waited many years watching all of these other superhero movies like Daredevil get their turn and I would be very frustrated to hear that it’s finally going to be done as a comedy. I wouldn’t just feel screwed; I would also see it as a personal affront that the superhero that I’ve been worshiping is looked at as a joke.”
Smigel stops short of saying Warner Brothers’ decision to go in a more serious direction with Ryan Reynolds had anything to do with the online backlash though. What likely played a part were still lingering memories of the disastrous release of Halle Berry’s Catwoman in 2004, which attempted to bring a little levity into the genre, coupled with the success of Christopher Nolan’s dark and serious Batman movies, particularly The Dark Knight (2008), which became the first superhero movie to gross $1 billion and win an Oscar for acting.
Fan Power Rings True
Ultimately, fans will never know what Smigel’s finished vision for the film would have been—the script went through multiple rewrites and significant changes from the one leaked online.
Den of Geek contacted Smigel for comment but heard nothing back as of press time.
Whatever the case, the vociferous online reaction to Smigel’s script sowed the seeds for much of what was to come. Over the next decade and a half, fans would begin to find a voice and platform to mount more protests against studio plans for their most beloved comic book and cinematic properties. Social media created the ultimate forum for fans to vent their frustrations and, in some cases, shape the future of what eventually arrived on the big screen for better and worse.
Green Lantern played an indirect role in another sense too, with the subsequent failure of Reynolds’ outing as Hal Jordan emboldening the actor and fanbase to push for his more faithful vision for a Deadpool movie adaptation to come to fruition. Studio bosses had previously balked at the idea of a R-rated comic book movie, but the fan campaign that grew around the leaked animated test footage of Deadpool’s opening scene ultimately paved the way for the acclaimed film franchise. Suddenly, Reynolds went to the guy who starred in the Green Lantern flop to Hollywood royalty.
Nonetheless, fan power has not been without its problems. The most obvious being the online backlash that greeted Rian Johnson’s bold Star War entry The Last Jedi, which resulted in the messy lukewarm course correction that was The Rise of Skywalker, a sequel visibly designed by Disney to placate most fan factions online, but that left the franchise in something of a cinematic limbo. Three years after that movie, Disney has still yet to release another Star Wars movie in spite of previously saying it was their intention to release another entry in that franchise every year in perpetuity.
Problems can also arise in the event of there being a lack of consensus on the final result, as perhaps best demonstrated by Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a film billed as either brilliant or disastrous depending on who you choose to listen to online—and which is only viewable online because of an indefatigable fan campaign petitioning Warner Bros. to “release the Snyder Cut.”
Whatever the case, in the words of Green Lantern himself, in brightest day, in blackest night, no mediocre comic book movie shall escape the internet’s sight.