Marvel superhero movies that never got the greenlight

From rock operas to Wes Craven to Dazzler, here's some Marvel movies that never quite made it...

Recently, we looked at the DC movies that never got the greenlight. We saw hordes of Superman movies which didn’t make it to screen, along with Batman film ideas and whole hosts of other DC heroes whose movies plummeted out of production (You can read that piece here).

On the other side of the superhero cinema fence, we have the seemingly all-encompassing, game-changing Marvel Cinematic Universe at the height of its powers, the X-Men franchise in rude health and the still-fresh memory of Spider-Man’s hasty reboot. You could be forgiven for thinking that not as many Marvel movies have struggled to get made as their DC counterparts. 

However, having delved once more into the ancient scrolls of cinema history (still better known as extensive Googling), we can confirm there’s plenty of Marvel movie ideas that were floated around, entered development but never quite made the leap into full-on production. Again, let us know in the comments if we missed any.

So, featuring Spider-Man, Wes Craven and an unlikely rock opera, here’s our Marvel low-down…

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The thwarted Spider-Man movies

Cannon Films’ Spidey

First up, let’s start with one of the lesser-known ill-fated Marvel movies – the Cannon Films misguided treatment of Spider-Man. This all-but-forgotten nearly-made-it was born to life when Marvel offered Cannon the film rights to Spidey shortly after Roger Corman passed on the idea in 1985.

Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus, who ran Cannon, completely mistook the character for more of a Wolf-Man type and brought in writer Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits TV series) to pull together a script. One can only assume the ad above was made completely seperately.

The result was a Stan Lee-infuriating script which saw Peter Parker as an ID-badge photographer who, after radioactive bombardment, became an eight-legged, hairy, suicidal Man-Spider who refused to join a gang of fellow mutants and ended up fighting them all as a result. Stan Lee stepped in an forced a rewrite with two then-relatively-unknown writers (Ted Newsom and John Brancato – the latter of which would go on to work on Terminator 3, Catwoman and Terminator Salvation) at the helm.

Slightly closer to the source material, this next version of the film nonentheless deformed Doc Ock, gave him the catchphrase ‘okey dokey’ and set him on a wild goose chase for ‘the fifth force’. Stunt man Scott Leva and an up-and-coming Tom Cruise were linked to the role, with Joseph Zito set to direct.

However, Cannon was forced to make cut-backs after the failure of Superman IV: Quest For Peace and Masters Of The Universe, slashing Spider-Man’s budget to $10m. After years of development hell during which time Zito left, scripts were re-drafted and Stan Lee said he wanted to play J. Jonah Jameson, the film was eventually dropped.

You can read our piece on the rise and fall of Cannon Films here.

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James Cameron’s Spider-Man

Soon after the above, Menahem Golan enlisted James Cameron for assistance and tried a few more times to get his original script into production, this time at Carolco Pictures. Cameron eventually offered up his own Spider-Man idea instead, and the results were the stuff of cinema legend. His 47-page ‘scriptment’, copyright dated 1991, was a dark, adult spin on the Spidey origin with swearwords, sex and more master-race mutant deformities.

This mutated race wasn’t the only idea Cameron picked up from previous script drafts either – hallucinatory nightmares, organic web-shooters, villains addicted to toxic superpowers, freak magnetic events and a criminal attack on the stock exchange all blended in to his suggested film idea (in which a reimagined Electro and Sandman were set to be the main villains).

After Golan was left out of the contracts, despite spending a huge amount of time developing the film, a legal bust-up between Golan, Cameron, Carolco, Marvel and 21st Century Fox (who had been involved at earlier stages) left all the companies facing bankruptcy in 1996.

Next, MGM (who had rights to the old Spidey scripts after a 1995 quitclaim) and Columbia (whom Marvel had tried to sell their film rights to after clawing out of bankruptcy) had a face-off in which both had some claim to James Bond movie rights as well as Spidey – after lengthy legality discussions, MGM took Bond, Columbia snapped-up Spidey, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was born.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 (and 5 and 6)

After all that inter-studio bickering and bizarre shifts from the canon of the Spider-Man comics, it seems amazing that Sam Raimi’s trilogy came out as comparatively normal as it did (even if the organic web-shooters remained). However, despite all the third film’s flaws (which have been defended before on this site, here) the series wasn’t meant to end with part three. Spider-Man 3 was a huge money-maker and as such all the old gang were working on a further sequel for a number of years (A Venom spin-off film, still allegedly in production, was first mentioned in 2007 as well).

Along with Raimi, Maguire and Dunst, Dylan Baker was set to return for the fourth film, once more portraying Doctor Curt Connors. Supposedly, the long-time supporting-cast-member was due to finally take centre stage and portray his character’s transformation into the Lizard. Additionally, John Malkovich was in line for the Vulture, Bruce Campbell was rumoured for an expanded role and Anne Hathaway was believed to be cast as Felecia Hardy – first mooted to become a new villain the Vulturess, later rumoured to actually be Black Cat after all.

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However, Sam Raimi had admitted he was ‘very dissapointed’ at how Spider-Man 3 turned out, and didn’t want to compromise again. Four drafts into a script, still ‘hating it’, and not believing he could reach a satisfactory film by the intended May 2011 release date, Raimi parted ways with Spidey. Exactly whether he walked or was pushed is still a topic for debate. What we do know is that Spider-Man 4, and its two rumoured sequels (alleged to be one big story, a la The Deathly Hallows), would never be made. The big red reboot button was pressed, and the rest is history.

Other ditched Marvel movies

Silver Surfer rock opera 

Jumping back to the 1980s here, we nearly saw a Silver Surfer film many years before Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. Concept art was made, Olivia Newton-John was believed to be in the cast and Xanadu’s Lee Kramer was on producing duties.

However, the best thing about this movie, and what makes this writer truly wish it existed, was the soundtrack/score – a rock opera by none other than Paul McCartney. “We’re going to make an epic picture on the scope of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the kind of soundtrack that that film had, only using contemporary rock and roll,” Kramer is quoted as saying. It came to light last year that Paul McCartney was the man set to make that happen. The film could have been legendary, awful or both. Probably both. It’s not clear exactly why it never happened, beyond the obvious ridiculousness.

Dazzler animated feature

Around a similar time, talks of a Dazzler movie made swift rounds through Hollywood. The most 80s cast ever assembled was being gathered for an animated feature set to possibly the weirdest and potential most wonderful superhero flick ever.

To bring Marvel’s premiere rollerdisco-friendly superhero to the screen, a voice cast apparently comprising of Cher, Donna Summer, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny and Squiggy, The Village People, KISS and the late, great Robin Williams was being brought together. For Dazzler herself, Bo Derek was the hot choice. She wanted her hubby John Derek to direct, and the powers that be disagreed, which is purportedly one of the reason the film tragically never made it to the screen.

Brigitte Nielsen as She-Hulk

Jump forward to the 1990s, and we’ve got another example of an interesting casting could-have-been in a female-centred superhero movie. Brigitte Nielsen was up for the role of She-Hulk and her alter-ego Jennifer Walters in Larry Cohen’s She-Hulk movie.

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Nielsen, who had already played comic book character Red Sonja, even posed in-character for a She-Hulk photo-shoot. Not much else is known about the production, regrettably, so we don’t know exactly what went wrong. We would still very much like to see a She-Hulk movie, though. The current run of She-Hulk comics in the states is very much worth a read, we’re told.

Wes Craven’s Doctor Strange

Ah, the 90s. The comic book movie renaissance that Bryan Singer’s X-Men kicked off could well have started much earlier. However, with Wes Craven attached to write and direct a Doctor Strange film in 1992, the superhero cinematic landscape could have ended up looking totally different. In the hands of the slasher expert, who knows what kind of Sorcerer Supreme cinema sensation we could have ended up with. However, David Goyer ended up taking over Craven’s role, after the script had hot-potatoed away from Craven and into the hands of half of Hollywood.

Even Goyer’s version, light on computer effects, could have been game-changing. He dropped out in 2002 though, with Guilermo del Toro and Neil Gaiman later touted as a potential director/writer duo. It took until about 2010 for that to fizzle out as well, before Kevin Feige took control and pulled together the totally different Doctor Strange team who are working on a film adaptation currently. We’d still like to see what Craven was initially working on, though.

Nick Fury: George Clooney

George Clooney IS Nick Fury. Or at least, and one point he nearly was. But that’s not as exciting a way to open a paragraph. Hollywood/comics legend has it that Clooney was all aboard the idea of taking on the one-eyed spy for a new movie (presumably at some point between David Hasselhoff and Samuel L Jackson).

The rumour is that someone lent Clooney a copy of Garth Ennis’ 2002 Nick Fury comic Fury, which put Clooney swiftly off the idea. This grounded, gritty Nick Fury comic is alleged to be an object of Stan Lee’s hatred too. It’s unclear whether Clooney would have lobbied for more nipples on Fury’s iconic leathers.

Sequel to The Punisher (2004)

The 2004 Punisher movie doesn’t have a great reputation. Although aggregators aren’t always the best way to measure a film’s popularity, a one and a half star average is rarely completely inaccurate. However, producer Avi Arad announced in 2006 that Lionsgate was working on a sequel anyway.

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Jigsaw was lined up as the villain, Jonathan Hensleigh was back to writer-direct and Thomas Jane was said to be returning to the starring role. Soon, Hensleigh dropped out, and John Dahl didn’t like what he saw when he stepped in to take over the production. He soon left too, citing creative differences, as did Thomas Jane (“What I won’t do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don’t believe in,” said the star. Though he did later return to the role for enjoyable fan film Dirty Laundry in 2012).

In 2007, Marvel replaced all the main players and the project became similarly-fated reboot Punisher: War Zone instead of a sequel. We still believe the universe is capable of a truly brilliant Punisher movie, and hope to be proven right at some point.

X-Men Origins: Magneto

David Goyer pops up again here, as would-be director of X-Men Origins: Magneto, the prequel that never was. It was billed by writer Sheldon Turner as ‘The Pianist meets X-Men’ and was going to take Erik Lehnsherr in a different direction to that of eventual alternative X-Men: First Class. The film was set to take place between 1939 and 1955, taking those Auschwitz scenes we have seen peppered throughout the X-Men franchise and expanding them into a whole movie.

Erik’s survival was planned to be much more difficult than the one we eventually saw. He would meet a young soldier, Charles Xavier, during the liberation of the concentration camp he was held in. Ian McKellen was initially set to reprise the role through another computer-generated facelift after the one he had in X-Men: The Last Stand, before Goyer decided that bookending proceedings with McKellen appearances would be a better idea.

Eventually, elements of the film were loosely adapted into First Class, the film which effectively saved the X-Men cinematic universe. Judging on how X-Men Origins: Wolverine worked out, we’d say this cancelled project, however intriguing, may have been a blessing in disguise.

Joe Carnahan’s Daredevil

Back in summer 2012 (though it really doesn’t seem that long ago), Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team, The Grey) was amidst a mad dash from 20th Century Fox to reboot Daredevil before the film rights reverted back to Marvel. You probably remember that they didn’t succeed in getting anything off the ground in time.

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Much like Ben Affleck’s expressed wishes around the time of the original Daredevil film coming under criticism, Carnahan’s effort was aiming to embrace the darker side of the character. His film was set to get into the gritty world of Hell’s Kitchen, in a 1970s timeframe. Let’s hope the Daredevil Netflix series in production at Marvel Studios embraces the darker side of The Man Without Fear too, because Carnahan’s sizzle reel was incredibly cool. Here it is, in case you missed it:

So, once again, while it may seem like there is a never-ending stream of superhero films in our lives, there are plenty that never make it into production. If we could hop over to a parallel universe again, we’d go to the one where we could see Paul McCartney’s Silver Surfer rock opera, Wes Craven’s Doctor Strange and Joe Carnahan’s Daredevil.

Next time, we’ll look at some of the more obscure comics and graphic novels which nearly made it to our screens.

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