Female superhero adaptations that nearly happened

From Wonder Woman to Red Sonja, here are the female comic book projects that we’ve missed out on…

Although Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra are movies that exist, there are times when we wish they didn’t. To be honest, the ‘perfect’ female-headlined superhero movie is still the stuff of our cinematic dreams. Saying that, TV’s Agent Carter provided us with a brilliant example of bringing a female comic book character to the small screen earlier this year, which hopefully Hollywood will learn a lot from going forward.

Of course, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel will be joining their respective cinematic universes soon, with Supergirl getting a pop at small screen success too. It looks like female comic book heroes will be getting the attention they deserve in the live action realm, finally.

This isn’t the first time the powers-that-be in Hollywood have tried to launch a slate of female superheroes, either. In fact, movie and TV history are full of instances where the likes of Wonder Woman, She-Hulk, Red Sonja and more have very nearly made it to our screens.

Here is our collection of the ill-fated female-fronted superhero films and TV programmes that almost made it…

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Dazzler movie

To kick things off in the 1980s, here’s one of the most bizarre-sounding projects you’ll find on this or any other lists. We’re talking about the ditched Dazzler film, one that we’ve mentioned in an article or two in the past. If you’re unfamiliar with Dazzler, she was originally conceived as a cross-promotional character between Marvel and Casablanca records – a pop star superhero who could make her own light show using mutant powers and regularly wore roller skates to add to the cool.

A film about a female hero – how weird could it be? Well, as it turns out, very. According to reports, a cast including Cher, Donna Summer, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny and Squiggy, The Village People, KISS, and even Robin Williams was sought for the film.

Originally pitched as a half hour animated special, Marvel decided Dazzler was a feature film instead. They even flew to Cannes Film Festival and snapped up Bo Derek for the lead role using a script treatment by Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief at the time, Jim Shooter. Reading his blog, it sounds like Bo Derek’s demands (she wanted her husband John Derek to direct the film) scared a host of potential funders away and the film tragically died a death.

You can read even more about the Dazzler pitch here, where Comics Alliance have taken the unbelievably far-out treatment to task.

She-Hulk TV show

The Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno version of the Hulk was so successful on TV that Marvel created the comic book character She-Hulk as a direct result, assuming that such an intellectual property would soon be needed for the show. In fact, rumors were so rife that Marvel was working on a female Hulk that Stan Lee and co. created and trademarked the character as a way of ‘protecting themselves,’ according to first issue penciller John Buscema.

As Comic Book Resources have chronicled, it actually took until the 1990s for the character of She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters to begin the transition back towards the small screen (an appearance in the final made-for-TV Hulk film The Death Of The Incredible Hulk never happened).

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The dual personality would again be split between two performers. Volleyball player Gabrielle Reece (left, above) would play She-Hulk, and former Baywatch actress Mitzi Kapture (right) was cast as assistant district attorney Jennifer Walters. In this version, Walters would be haunted by the death of her parents when she was young, showing the influence of Tim Burton’s Batman on proceedings.

Despite their character’s supposed death in their previous TV movie, Bixby and Ferrigno were set to return. However, they would never get the chance. The studio wasn’t happy with Kapture’s casting as Walters, and wanted a bigger name, having already tried and failed to snare Melissa Gilbert. Filming began, but was short lived when the studio lost confidence.

Also in the early 1990s, another attempt was made to bring She-Hulk to the screen. In this iteration, Brigitte Nielsen (who already had Red Sonja under her belt) was cast as both She-Hulk and Jennifer Walters, ditching the Bixby-era concept of double-casting.

Unlike the well-reported breakdown of the TV show, there isn’t as much info floating around about this one. The proof-of-concept photo shoot of Nielsen clad in green garb is the stuff of geek legend, though, and has left sections of the Marvel fan base glad that the film never happened.

The only other fact we really know is that prolific writer Larry Cohen was involved, best known for A Return To Salem’s Lot, Captivity, and Phone Booth. Who knows what this film would have been like, but hopefully we’ve not seen the last of She-Hulk’s cinematic potential.


1960s TV Wonder Woman

In 1967, Batman producer Dozier commissioned a Wonder Woman pilot script by Stan Hart and Larry Siegel. The result veered far away from the accepted Wonder Woman setup, and didn’t get very far.

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Under the title of Who’s Afraid Of Diana Prince?, a short pilot episode was as far as progress got on this one. In the proposed show, Wonder Woman alter ego Diana Prince was the main focus. She was reimagined as a young woman who lived near a US Army airbase and got berated by her mother for not having a boyfriend or eating her dinner.

In the pilot, embedded above, Diana (played by Ellie Wood Walker) is played as awkwardly comical. When her mother has stopped having a go, she changes into her Wonder Woman costume and sees her reflection as a superheroic Linda Harrison (known best as Nova from the original Planet Of The Apes. Then, Diana flies out of the window. That’s all we know, as the pilot was never picked up. It looks like we should probably be thankful for that.

1990s Wonder Woman movie

After the Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman TV movie failed to attract much of an audience in 1974, DC finally struck gold with the Lynda Carter series from 1975 to 1979. After that, though, the character was out of the live action realm for quite a time.

It took until 1996 for wheels to begin turning for a Wonder Woman cinematic outing. Ghostbusters writer Ivan Reitman was attached as a producer, and Jon Cohen (best known for co-writing Minority Report) became involved in the adaptation process. Around this stage, Sandra Bullock’s name was firmly in the hat. 

What happened, then? Well, the script was passed around between half a dozen writers and the project never really got any traction. Eventually, though, producer Joel Silver turned to a geek icon to write and direct a Wonder Woman project…

Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman

Yep, Joss Whedon famously accepted the mantle of helming a Wonder Woman movie back in 2005, being told to begin work on a new script not tied to any of the previous iterations. After finishing on Serenity and doing some heavy duty Wonder Woman research, Whedon began his work.

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In November 2006, though, Mr. Whedon still wasn’t happy with the script. He explained that, “Besides [Wonder Woman’s] great origin story, there’s nothing from the comics that felt right 100 percent, no iconic canon story that must be told.”

“Who she, and what the movie, is about, thematically, has never been a problem for me. But the steps along the way, it could be so easy for them to feel wrong. I won’t settle. She wouldn’t let me settle,” he added.

It was certainly an origin story, featured love interest Steve Trevor and a visit to Man’s World, but not much is known beyond that. Morena Baccarin displayed interest in the lead role, but Priyanka Chopra (Bollywood star and former Miss World) was the hot tip.

Whedon departed the project in February 2007 and said “I never had an actress picked out, or even a consistent front-runner. I didn’t have time to waste on casting when I was so busy air balling on the script.”

“I would go back in a heartbeat if I believed that anybody believed in what I was doing. The lack of enthusiasm was overwhelming,” he added. Given the work he’s done since, and his achievements prior, that must have been a very tough creative environment and we’re glad he got out rather than turning in something he wasn’t happy with.

World War II-era Wonder Woman movie

The day before Mr Whedon’s departure from the property, Warner Bros and Silver Pictures bought a spec script from unknowns Matthew Jennison and Brent Strickland.

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Their script saw Wonder Woman in World War II, which sounds like an interesting angle. The executives weren’t keen on a period setting, and tasked the pair with penning a modern take on Paradise Island history instead. Joel Silver revealed that he’d bought the spec script to keep it off the market, and to stop the rights reverting. Their Paradise Island story, similarly, seemingly went nowhere.

In these wilderness years, everyone from Paul Feig to David S Goyer, and even Nicolas Winding Refn, expressed an interest in making a Wonder Woman movie. As you know, though, none of these projects got anywhere. Instead, it took until the cinematic universe launching Man Of Steel and the subsequent casting of Gal Godot in Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice for Wonder Woman to return to the big screen. 

Smallville, NBC Wonder Woman pilot and Amazon

Wonder Woman has been similarly troubled on TV since the end of the classic series. There have been several modern attempts to revive the Princess Of Themyscria, all of which have ended up in the same bin as that barmy five minute pilot we shared earlier on.

Twice in the 1990s, Warner Bros announced Wonder Woman TV shows then failed to get a pilot episode together. Plans to include the character in Smallville were reduced to a name-drop because of Joss Whedon’s then-still-active film plans. Finally, after David E. Kelley’s new vision was pitched to every other network going, NBC gave a new Wonder Woman show a chance to get a pilot made.

This series was pitched as “a reinvention of the iconic DC comic in which Wonder Woman – aka Diana Prince – is a vigilante crime fighter in L.A. but also a successful corporate executive and a modern woman trying to balance all elements of her extraordinary life.”

Starring Adrianne Palicki in the lead role, you can see a mash-up of clips from the unsuccessful pilot episode (lovingly edited by a fan, to the tune of the classic theme) above. When images from the pilot first surfaced, The Hollywood Reporter were among the high profile outlets to slam the show’s take on Wonder Woman’s attire (which gifted her with newfound trousers), calling it “too trashy, and too bad porn-y.” The trousers were soon written out, with a more traditional look coming in for the final act of the episode.

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The pilot has done the rounds online, but was never picked up for a full series. Adrianne Palicki is currently enjoying a second shot at super-heroics as Agents Of SHIELD’s Mockingbird.

The CW’s attempts to get their Wonder Woman show Amazon off the ground fared even worse, not even reaching the pilot stage before The Flash got fast-tracked instead. The last we heard of the show, another script had been rejected back in January 2014. The idea of Wonder Woman in the Arrow/The Flash universe is still tantalising, but seems increasingly unlikely.

And one more…

Robert Rodriquez’s Red Sonja film

Here’s one final ditched project for the ‘ah, if only!’ portion of your brain – Robert Rodriquez’s cancelled Red Sonja film. The From Dusk Till Dawn, Planet Terror, and Sin City director was all set to take a stab at the iconic sword-wielding comic book character (formerly at Marvel, now Dynamite Entertainment) back in 2008.

He had cast Rose McGowan in the title role (that’s an official image above), but the project was scrapped a year later. All the swords and sandals were put back in their boxes for a variety of reasons.

Rodriguez has cited rights and financing issues, while McGowan later revealed that ‘massive nerve damage’ suffered in her arm had ruled her out as the she-devil with a sword at some point into the production. “It would have been dope. Honestly, I would have killed it. It’s a pity,” she told Reelz.com.

In 2010, Simon West of Wild Card, The Expendables 2, the Tomb Raider movie and The Mechanic became attached as the director for a new version of Red Sonja. Megan Fox was linked with the role in 2010, as was actress/model Amber Heard. Only last month, unknown entity Christopher Cosmos signed up to help with the script, so that one isn’t dead.

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Let’s hope the currently-announced slate of female-fronted comic book adaptations has a bit more luck than this bunch. If we missed one that you know of, do let us know in the comments.