Road to Batman V Superman: The Films That Never Were

To call Warner Brothers’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice an eagerly anticipated movie would be an understatement. It is a blockbuster that will finally see two titans of comic books attempting to beat the crap out of each other on the big screen. But it was a long and arduous journey to raise this rumble in the urban jungle, with many great filmmakers being linked to the making of Batman and Superman movies. Some sounded great, others awful and occasionally absolutely insane. So let us look at the Batman and Superman movies that could have been, as well as a couple of bonuses.

Superman V

christopher reeve as superman
Superman V was as the title suggested it would be a fifth entry into the Christopher Reeve Superman series. Originally budget studio Cannon Films planned to make the sequel before their bankruptcy and the rights reverted to Ilya and Alexander Salkind – the producers of the original three movies. Superboy TV series writers Cary Bates and Mark Jones were hired to write a screenplay which saw Superman being shrunk and trapped in the bottle city of Kandor.

Superman Reborn

death of superman
After Jon Peters, the producer of 1989’s Batman acquired the rights for Superman with Warner Brothers he discarded the work for Superman V and hired Jonathan Lemkin (Lethal Weapon 4) to write a reboot of the series based on The Death of Superman storyline. And this is the first case of a truly bat-shit insane idea because after Superman’s death Lois Lane ends up having an immaculate conception and gives birth to a reincarnated Superman who grows up to be a 21-year-old man in just three weeks.

Gregory Poirier was recruited to rewrite the screenplay, and he sensibly got rid of the virgin birth nonsense. His version saw the introduction of Parasite and Silver Banshee as villains. Warner Brothers were impressed but hired Kevin Smith to do re-writes.

Superman Lives

Superman Lives was the first truly serious attempt to reboot the Superman series and was a movie that was very nearly made. Jon Peters hired a then emerging writer/director Kevin Smith to write the screenplay, Tim Burton of Batman fame to direct, and had Nicolas Cage set to star as Kypton’s Last Son.

However Peters set some big restrictions on Smith when he wrote the screenplay – Superman had to wear an all-black costume, couldn’t fly, and he had to fight a giant robot spider. A good writer is able work with constraints, but Superman Lives would have upset fans if it were ever made because of these drastic changes. Smith recounted his experience during An Evening with Kevin Smith series which you can watch here.

The plot of Superman Lives told a story of Brainiac allying with Lex Luthor, the duo blocks out the sun and unleashes Doomsday to kill the Man of Steel. When Superman is resurrected at the Fortress of Solitude he loses powers and has to use power armor to fight.

When Burton was hired to direct he recruited Wesley Strick to rewrite the script, and Tony Gilroy was later recruited to try to reduce the budget. You can read Gilroy’s draft here. The movie was set to be filmed in Pittsburgh, but after constant delays Burton left the project to make Sleepy Hollow instead. Warner Brothers ended up spending $30 Million and had nothing to show for it.

The troubled production ended up becoming the subject of Jon Schneep’s documentary The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?

Batman Triumphant

batman trimuphant
During filming for Batman and Robin, Warner Brothers did consider making a sequel, and Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend) was hired to write the screenplay. Batman Triumphant would have had the Scarecrow as the villain and The Joker was set to appear as a hallucination. Harley Quinn was also set to appear as The Joker’s daughter who was trying to kill the Batman to avenge her father’s death.

George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, and Alicia Silverstone were set to reprieve their roles, Joel Schumacher was going to return to the director’s chair. The plan was to take Batman film series back to its darker, serious roots and Schumacher was keen to make it – partly as an apology for Batman and Robin. But because of the failure of the fourth Batman movie Warner Brothers shelved the project.

Executives at Warner Brothers did consider Protosevich’s screenplay to be excellent but have kept it in their vaults. It has never been linked like some other Batman and Superman screenplays.

Batman: DarKnight

batman begins scarecrow
Batman: DarKnight evolved from Batman Triumphant. Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise were hired to rewrite Protosevich’s screenplay, and their version saw Bruce Wayne choosing to live in isolation and Dick Grayson leaving Bruce to attend Gotham University. The Scarecrow was kept as the main villain – his alter ego is both a professor of psychology and a resident psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum and he uses his position to conduct fear experiments on the inmates. Scarecrow also accidentally creates Man-Bat, who terrorizes the citizens of Gotham, and Bruce Wayne has to come out of retirement to the save the city.

Joel Schumacher was also set to direct this version of Batman and when he left Warner Brothers considered The Fugitive and Under Siege director Andrew Davis to replace Schumacher.

Despite the movie never being made some elements did make it into Batman Begins.

Batman Beyond

Batman Beyond
There was a futuristic sci-fi take of the Batman mythos in Bruce Timm’s animated series Batman Beyond – a show that lasted for three seasons. This version sees Terry McGinnis, a 17-year-old taking on the Batman mantle in the year 2039. The series was a cult hit.

Warner Brothers did consider making a live-action movie adaptation and hired Paul Dini, Neal Stephenson and Boaz Yakin (Safe) to write the film with Yakin set to direct. But after one draft, Warner Brothers moved to adapting Batman: Year One.

Batman: Year One

batman year one concept art
An adaption of Frank Miller’s excellent Batman: Year One was also considered by Warner Brothers and they did hire two big filmmakers to take on the project – The Wachowskis and Darren Aronofsky. The Wachowskis were first and they wrote a treatment for the movie – their version stayed faithfully to the graphic novel, only had a few changes like making Selina Kyle an animal rights activist instead of a prostitute. However The Wachowskis’ decided to make The Matrix sequels instead.

The Darren Aronofsky version of Batman: Year One had Frank Miller writing the screenplay, but he made several changes from the graphic novel. Aronofsky is quoted saying: “it’s somewhat based on the comic book. Toss out everything you can imagine about Batman! Everything! We’re starting completely anew.” In the screenplay Gotham is a crime ridden hellhole, plagued with drugs, prostitution, and racketeering – the police commissioner Gillian Loeb was in charge of a huge criminal enterprise. Bruce Wayne is the psychologically damaged lost heir of the Wayne fortune, and he lives in the troubled East End of the city becoming the Bat-Man to give his fight some purpose – finally getting a good night’s sleep after beating criminals. Alfred was reinterpreted to be an African-American garage owner who took Bruce in when he was a homeless child. James Gordon was an honest cop pushed to the brink of suicide but after becoming a hero cop sets out to bring down the corrupt forces of the city. The screenplay was more focused on Gordon’s mission than Batman’s.

The Aronofsky Batman: Year One was intended to be a hard-R movie, it was going to be very violent, having plenty of swearing and embraced the very adult subject matter of drugs and prostitution – including having a 13-year-old prostitute, Holly, just like in the graphic novel. Basically the screenplay was what you get if you cross Batman with Taxi Driver. Warner Brothers balked at the idea and despite Aronofsky offering to make a more family friendly version of Batman as well the R-rated version Warner Brothers cancelled the project.

Batman: Year One was set to be a very grounded and realistic take on Batman. The Batmobile was a modified Lincoln Continental, Bruce brought sporting gear for his Batsuit, and the story was equally focused on Gordon’s investigations.

Christian Bale was cast to play Bruce Wayne, and his casting, and the origins story did survive for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

Batman vs. Superman

batman vs superman comic art
The upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the not the first attempt at making a crossover between the two big boys of DC, there was also a serious attempt back in the early noughties. Andrew Kevin Walker, the writer of Se7en wrote the screenplay with Akira Goldsman doing rewrites, and Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, Air Force One) was set to direct.

The aim of Batman vs. Superman was to unite both the Tim Burton Batman movies and Christopher Reeve Superman flicks. Both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are at a low ebb, Clark is separated from Lois Lane and returns to Smallville. Bruce suffers from deaths of Alfred, Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon and he has retired as Batman for five years. It gets worst for Bruce after his new wife, Elizabeth, is murdered by a resurrected Joker and forces him to don the cowl for a mission of vengeance and Superman has to fight The Dark Knight to stop him breaking his vow against killing, an imprisoned Lex Luthor plays the two heroes opposing against each other.

Christian Bale was again linked to play Batman and Josh Hartnett was offered the Superman role, but in the end Warner Brothers decided to pursue separate Superman and Batman movies. Goldsman turned his experience of working on Batman vs. Superman into an Easter Egg when he produced I Am Legend.

Superman: Flyby

superman flyby concept art
Superman: Flyby is one of the most famous Superman projects that was never made, although there was an attempt to reboot the series by retelling the origins story and start a new trilogy. J.J. Abrams wrote the screenplay and even lobbied to direct, but was turned down because he was only known for his work on Felicity and Alias. Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and McG (Terminator Salvation) were both attached to direct and a range of stars were linked to the movie – Josh Hartnett, Jude Law, Paul Walker, Brendan Fraser, Ashton Kutcher and Matt Bomer. Actresses like Mischa Barton, Keira Knightley, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Beyoncé Knowles, Keri Russell and Scarlett Johansson were considered to play Lois Lane with Robert Downey Jr., Ralph Fiennes, Johnny Depp and Billy Zane being in the running to play Lex Luthor. Ratner was interested in casting Anthony Hopkins as Jor-El and Joel Edgerton was interested in playing the movie’s villain.

It would have been very interesting to see the fan reaction to Superman: Flyby – because the Abrams script took a lot of liberties from the source material. The basics of the Superman origins are there, Jor-El and Lara send their infant son to Earth to save him from their turbulent planet: the boy has a wholesome childhood in rural Kansas, becomes a journalist in the big city and later takes on the title of Superman. That’s where the similarities end because in the Superman: Flyby Krypton is never destroyed just engulfed in a civil war which leads to Jor-El’s evil brother taking over the planet. Kal-El is sent to Earth as a part of a prophecy to save his home world and, on Earth, as Clark Kent he becomes a meek young man reluctant to use his powers.

The main villain of Superman: Flyby was Superman’s cousin sent to stop him and Lex Luthor in this movie would have been a CIA agent assigned to investigate alien activity. The script ends with a twist that Luthor was really a Kryptonian before Superman flies off to his homeworld to help liberate it.

When Bryan Singer signed on to direct Superman Returns he discarded the Abrams script, but kept the plane crash sequence (in Superman: Flyby Superman saves Air Force One). Scenes of Superman trying to learn use to his powers as a child were used in Man of Steel.

Joss Whedon’s Batman

joss whedon still
Before Joss Whedon ended up becoming an important part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe he was linked to writing two superhero movies for Warner Brothers – one of them being an adaptation of Batman. His vision for Batman was Bruce Wayne becoming a death obsessed kid after the death of his parents and finds his purpose by turning to crime fighting. Whedon created an original villain for his Batman screenplay, a Hannibal Lector like serial killer who is held at Arkham Assault and Bruce studies with him.

Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman

wonder woman comic art
The other Joss Whedon DC movie that was never made is the more famous one, Wonder Woman. After filming Serenity, Whedon was hired to write a Wonder Woman screenplay with an eye on directing. A sensible choice considering his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and his vision was an origins story where Wonder Woman and her love interest Steve Trevor travel the world as he teaches her about humanity.

Whedon left Wonder Woman in 2007 after struggling to come up with a story and a thematic through-line for the character. Whedon’s screenplay has never been leaked, but John Campea from Collider Movie Talk has read it, and he is less than complimentary about it.

Man of Steel

superman returns
Before Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was made, the title was intended to be used as a title for a Superman Returns sequel. Director Bryan Singer was interested in directing and both he and his writer Michael Dougherty intended to make a more action-orientated sequel to address criticisms that Superman Returns lacked action. In an interview with Empire magazine Singer stated he was interested in using Darkseid as the sequel’s villain, while Dougherty was interested in Brainiac and Bizarro and using the land mass Superman lifted into space in Superman Returns as a plot point for the intended follow-up. However Warner Brothers were not interested in a sequel because of Superman Returns‘ lackluster box office and the studio chose to go down the reboot route.

Justice League: Mortal

justice league comic art
Justice League: Mortal is one of the most famous unproduced DC movies – an attempt at a film series that ran parallel with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight series but with a different cast. George Miller of Mad Max fame was going to direct and co-wrote a screenplay with Kieran and Michele Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and it was fast tracked due to the 2007/2008 Writer’s Strike. It was budgeted with $220 million, and Weta Workshop were going to do the special effects. The cast was set to have Armie Hammer as Batman, D.J. Cortona as Superman, model Megan Gale was going to be Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as The Flash and Hugh Keays-Byrne was rumored to play Martian Manhunter.

Despite being fast-tracked Justice League: Mortal kept suffering delays and after the success of The Dark Knight Warner Brothers turned their attention to making solo superhero movies and cancelled the Justice League project.

There is no leaked script online, and there is little details on what the plot of Justice League: Mortal would have been, but fans would have loved to have seen a George Miller superhero movie. But remember George Miller was making movies like Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet during his period, not Mad Max: Fury Road.

A documentary about the movie’s production is currently in the works.

Kieran Freemantle
Kieran Freemantle
I am a film critic/writer based in the UK, writing for Entertainment Fuse, Rock n Reel Reviews, UK Film Review and Meniscus Sunrise. I have worked on film shoots. I support West Ham and Bath Rugby. Follow me on Twitter @FreemantleUK.