Once upon a time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino toyed with bringing Marvel Comics superhero Luke Cage to the screen. This was admittedly early in his career—after he’d directed Reservoir Dogs to critical and commercial acclaim but before he’d even shot the ‘90s-defining Pulp Fiction—and well before our current Marvel Studios glut. Nevertheless, he still gets nostalgic about the project. For instance, while it’s been known he considered Laurence Fishburne to play the unbreakable man, he just revealed that he also thought about Wesley Snipes in the role.
This and more came up during Tarantino’s fascinating conversation on Amy Schumer’s podcast, 3 Girls, 1 Keith. Tarantino came on to discuss his career and his recent Oscar winning work, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, but the conversation eventually turned to one of the most popular genres on screen at the moment: superheroes. This occurred when co-host Keith Robinson brought up Martin Scorsese’s recent comments about Marvel Studios movies being more like theme parks than cinema.
“Generationally does anyone think he is going to be a big fan of Captain Marvel or Doctor Strange and Ant-Man vs. the Wasp?” Tarantino laughed while amusingly renaming one of Marvel’s lesser efforts. “You could’ve guessed THAT would’ve been his reaction.”
However, Tarantino then thought back to his own love for Marvel Comics growing up and how he toyed with adapting Luke Cage back in an era where future Tarantino co-star George Clooney was still building up to his Batman moment.
“There was a time before all this Marvel shit was coming out,” Tarantino said. “It was after Reservoir Dogs, it was before Pulp Fiction, and I had thought about doing Luke Cage. Growing up I was a big comic book collector, and my two favorite [comic books] were Luke Cage: Hero for Hire, later Luke Cage: Power Man, and Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. I also liked Werewolf by Night, that was a great one, and Tomb of Dracula was great, but my absolute hero was Luke Cage.”
After going on to stress that he was the only white guy he knew who collected Luke Cage comics over all other superheroes, Tarantino noted that this would not have replaced Pulp Fiction as his second film. Rather it could’ve been his third movie instead of Jackie Brown. He just couldn’t settle on casting.
“What actually dissuaded me from doing it… was my comic geek friends talked me out of it,” Tarantino explained. “Because I had an idea that Larry Fishburne would’ve been the perfect guy to play Luke Cage. And I’m talking King of New York era Larry Fishburne. ‘My name is Jimmy Jump.’ … But All my friends were like, ‘No, no, listen, it’s got to be Wesley Snipes.’ And I go, ‘Look, I like Wesley Snipes, but Larry Fishburne is practically Marlon Brando. I think Fish is the man.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, but he’d have to get in shape in a big way. Snipes is that way already!’ And I go, ‘Fuck that! That’s not that important! Fuck you, you ruined the whole damn thing!’”
That might be true, although we also wonder if the fact Pulp Fiction went on to be a cultural phenomenon, winning the Palme d’Or at its Cannes premiere and going on to earn $214 million at the box office while racking up Tarantino’s first screenplay Oscar, also had a little something to do with him stepping away from comic book movies. Then again, he did follow up Jackie Brown with an unapologetic paean to Kung Fu films, Samurai epics, and Spaghetti Westerns with the Kill Bill saga, and then pivoted to straight grindhouse exploitation via Death Proof.
It is interesting though to wonder how the superhero genre might’ve been affected if Tarantino did a Kill Bill styled epic decades before the likes of Christopher Nolan or then the Marvel assembly line defined it in the 21st century. Then again, we’re very happy to have Jackie Brown in this world, one of Tarantino’s best (and most underrated) films. Snipes, meanwhile, got to star as a Marvel Comics superhero after all when he played Blade, a character spun off from the Tomb of Dracula comics!
No matter what, it’s good to know that even in the ‘90s, comic book fan casting would still miss the mark by focusing purely on physical aesthetics instead of talent…