This article contains Marvel universe spoilers
It feels like there’s no stopping the might of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and as we look to Phase 5 (and beyond), the ever-expanding slate grows by the day. Unlike the tumultuous times over at the DC Extended Universe, it’s hard to see the MCU pulling the plug on any of its projects these days.
Still, there have been plenty of Marvel movies lost to the Quantum Realm over the years. Wall-crawling heroes, marvellous mutants, and even Olivia Newton-John have all had their movies shelved. Not everything has always fit the neat little box of the MCU, so if you’re ready for an unexpected episode of What If…?, here are 12 canceled Marvel movies you’ll never get to see.
Arguably the most famous canceled Marvel movie is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4. While Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man kickstarted our current obsession with comic book movies, 2007’s Spider-Man 3 was a major fall from grace. Even though Raimi had been tasked with a fourth movie before Spider-Man 3 hit theaters, that crumbled amidst emo Peter Parker and Topher Grace’s Venom chewing the scenery.
Spider-Man 4 got further than most of us thought, with storyboards and props showing what could’ve been. Alongside Bruce Campbell as Mysterio, John Malkovich was due to spread his wings as Vulture, and Anne Hathaway was linked to Felicia Hardy/Black Cat… or a new villain called Vultress.
Only recently, comic book writer Ken Penders showed off Malkovich’s Vulture wings on Twitter. After the success of Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man: No Way Home – and Raimi directing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – there have been calls for the OG to squeeze into his spandex one more time.
Matthew Vaughn’s First Class Sequel
It’s no secret that X-Men: The Last Stand divided fandom, so the idea of rebooting the X-Men with a new cast and ‘60s setting was a breath of fresh air for Charles Xavier’s gifted youngsters. X-Men: First Class led to its own franchise, and while there was a sequel/crossover in the form of 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, this wasn’t always the plan.
First Class director Matthew Vaughn sketched out rough plans for a trilogy that would’ve told the comic arcs of Apocalypse and then Days of Future Past. Fox did those stories in reverse order and without Vaughn at the helm. In 2019, Vaughn dropped the bombshell to ComingSoon that he wanted Tom Hardy to play a young Wolverine in his scrapped First Class sequel.
Seeing what happened with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, it’s a crying shame Vaughn didn’t stay with the series. As for Wolverine, we’re glad that Hugh Jackman is back, but his eventual MCU recast remains one of the franchise’s big questions.
The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu
Phase 4 of the MCU branched out its diversity with outings including Ms. Marvel and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but did you know the latter nearly made his live-action debut decades ago? Long before Simu Liu was kicking butt, The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu was pitched as a full-blown martial arts movie.
In 2001, Blade’s Stephen Norrington wanted to bring this “honest” movie to life instead of just shoehorning in martial arts. By 2005, Stan Lee was going to executive produce the movie for DreamWorks, the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping was now attached as director, and they were touting a PG-13 rating.
The rights lapsing back to Marvel meant The Hands of Shang-Chi never got any further, while plans to include Shang-Chi in Phase 1 were cut back to a casual reference to the Ten Rings.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Doctor Strange
Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange is an underrated addition to the MCU, but in some alternate reality, it could’ve been Guillermo del Toro that handled his introduction. The acclaimed director pitched a Doctor Strange movie in 2007, which would’ve had The Sandman’s Neil Gaiman writing.
In 2015, Gaiman tweeted that there was a lack of interest from Marvel Studios. If Guillermo del Toro can do one thing well, it’s building imaginative fantasy worlds. You only have to look at Pam’s Labyrinth or Hellboy to see what his version of the Nightmare Realm could’ve been like.
Del Toro is a name continuously thrown around among dream director choices for the MCU, and even though he’s never been formally linked to Man-Thing, Ted Sallis’ introduction in Werewolf By Night feels made for some of the director’s mythological magic.
X-Men Origins: Magneto
The less said about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better. We’re still trying to repair the damage of Ryan Reynolds’ first go at playing Deadpool, and even by kind standards, the X-Men anthology hasn’t aged that well.
Fox drew up a slate of anthology movies focusing on a different member of mutantkind. X-Men Origins: Magneto would’ve pulled focus on a younger version of Ian McKellen’s Master of Magnetism. Despite screenwriter Sheldon Turner writing a script that was supposed to be The Pianist meets X-Men, the WGA strike of 2007-2008 threw a spanner in the works.
Even with David Goyer turning in a new version by 2009, producer Lauren Schuler Donner explained (via MTV) how Origins: Magneto was “at the back of the queue.” Beats of the story played out in First Class, with a child version of Michael Fassbender’s Magneto being experimented on in Auschwitz by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Turner claimed it ripped off his story, and consequently, achieved a credit on First Class.
Quentin Tarantino’s Luke Cage
Quentin Tarantino has been particularly vocal about the MCU recently, but many moons ago, he was working on a Luke Cage movie with Laurence Fishburne as the hunk from Harlem.
Tarantino told MTV that after Reservoir Dogs, he’d mulled over a Heroes for Hire movie, but in his own words, “I ended up writing Pulp Fiction.” His comments might explain why he’s so anti-MCU, with Tarantino adding, “My feeling is if I wanted to do something like that, I’d want to create the superhero myself.”
A Luke Cage movie was later picked up by Columbia in 2003 and could’ve cast Jamie Foxx or Tyrese Gibson. Of course, we know Mike Colter played Power Man in Netflix’s criminally short Luke Cage series.
It’s wild that it took 40 years to get X-Men’s Dazzler onto the silver screen, and even then, it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Dark Phoenix. This nearly wasn’t the case, thanks to a canned ‘80s movie that was going to be part of Dazzler’s cross-media creation.
While Dazzler was originally imagined as a Grace Jones lookalike, she was quickly revamped as a homage to Bo Derek and arrived in 1980. It was no struggle to get Derek herself to sign up for the movie, but that’s where things went wrong.
Derek might’ve been the woman of the moment, but having risen to fame in films directed by her husband, her insistence to bring the notoriously temperamental John Derek on board reportedly led to investors running for the hills.
Universal’s Namor Movie
Even though Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s Namor was once going to appear in a post-credit tease for 2018’s Black Panther, Ryan Coogler decided to save him for the sequel. Namor’s long-awaited MCU debut comes after years of rights rows with Universal.
Namor: Sub-Mariner was in the works at Marvel Studios as early as 1997, before ending up as Namor under Universal in 2001. Home Alone’s Chris Columbus was once going to direct, the movie fell into a ludicrously long development hell, and as recently as 2018, MCU overlord Kevin Feige was telling IGN how Namor’s rights are “complicated.”
To this day, the rights remain difficult. Wakanda Forever Producer Nate Moore told The Wrap the MCU still can’t move forward with a Namor solo movie. Much like the convoluted web of Hulk rights, Namor could be confined to other people’s movies for now.
Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man
For as long as Ant-Man has been on the horizon of the MCU, directors have been pushing for the Scott Lang version instead of the “classic” Hank Pym. Shaun of the Dead’s Edgar Wright set the foundations for Paul Rudd’s comedic Ant-Man we now know, so what happened to his movie?
Wright had been working on Ant-Man in 2003 for Artisan Entertainment, and as things changed hands, he shot and showed a test reel for Comic-Con 2012. The problem was a pretty major creative difference where Wright wanted a standalone, and the likes of Feige wanted Ant-Man to fit the larger MCU umbrella.
In 2017, Wright told Variety about the heartbreaking decision to leave Ant-Man and explained, “I wanted to make a Marvel movie but I don’t think they really wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie.” Thankfully, Wright quickly moved on to make the acclaimed Baby Driver.
When the MCU misses, it really does. Going down in history as the worst of the worst (and making Iron Fist look like Avengers: Infinity War), ABC’s Inhumans was a dumpster fire. It was nearly completely different, with an Inhumans movie being planned to cash in on the success of Fox’s X-Men as an ensemble.
Inhumans was announced as part of the MCU’s Phase 3 slate and nabbed Vin Diesel as Black Bolt. Chloe Bennet’s Skye Johnson was revealed as an Inhuman in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2, while Feige promised Inhumans would “further refine and expand what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is all about.”
The movie was never cancelled, but as it was postponed indefinitely, ABC moved ahead with its Inhumans series without Diesel, Fiege, or much connection to the mainline MCU. Even in 2020, Diesel told ComicBook.com he was holding out hope for an Inhumans movie, but thanks to Anson Mount reprising his role as Black Bolt in Multiverse of Madness, it looks like the story ends here… for now.
Sinister Six Spin-Off
We could do a whole listicle on canned Spider-Man stories, and up there with Spider-Man 4 was Drew Goddard’s Sinister Six spin-off from Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The post-credit tease of “the Gentleman” approaching Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin neatly set up the spin-off.
Despite some debate from Goddard about his lineup, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 teased Rhino, Vulture, Doc Ock, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, and possibly Venom. The Sony hack exposed an email from Amy Pascal, where she said Tom Holland’s Spider-Man could appear in the movie. In 2018, Pascal told Vanity Fair Goddard’s script would still be used.
The status of the Sinister Six is up in the air after Spider-Man: Homecoming teased its own roster, Morbius seemed to continue that plot threat, and No Way Home made its own Sinister Five out of previous franchise baddies. The Sinister Six is well overdue its time to shine, but we’ll have to wait and see what the next Tom Holland movie holds.
Silver Surfer: The Musical
Long before Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was nixing the idea of a Silver Surfer standalone, an ‘80s rock opera starring Norrin Radd was doing the rounds. Easily the wildest entry on the list is this Silver Surfer musical that would’ve starred Grease’s Olivia Newton-John and been scored by Paul McCartney.
Xanadu Executive Producer Lee Kramer was interested in Silver Surfer: The Musical, which is how Newton-John became linked to a part as a female Silver Surfer called Ardina. Speaking to CBR, journalist James H. Burns recalled how he spoke to Kramer about the mythical musical.
Kramer wanted music on a par with 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the ambitious notion of “1,000 electric guitars” became synonymous with the whole thing. An eBay listing for a poster starring bodybuilder Frank Zane proves he would play the Silver Surfer. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby produced a graphic novel specifically for the movie, but as with most of these things, financing fell through.