Superhero movies have been dominating the box office for decades now, and between the MCU, the DCEU, and the X-Men universe, sometimes it can feel like there’s a new superhero flick every week. But for every film to actually hit theaters, there are a dozen more in the graveyard of failed Hollywood projects… even with some very big heroes and very famous names attached.
Here, we round up just a few of the many superhero sequels and reboots that never see the light of day.
Once upon a time, all the way back in the distant 1990s, there was a Superman movie in the works. Nicolas Cage was on board to play the titular hero. Tim Burton would direct. And the script was written by Kevin Smith.
Tragically, Superman Lives never came to be, but the what-ifs have haunted superhero fans ever since. The project’s birth and ultimate cancellation was chronicled in the 2015 documentary The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?, featuring interviews with Burton and Smith, as well as test footage of Cage in costume.
Before he was busy rebooting Star Trek and Star Wars, J.J. Abrams wrote a script for Warner Bros. in the early 2000s. The project? A Superman reboot called Superman: Flyby. The script was apparently a hit, but the project went through years of false starts and misfires, and McG and Brett Ratner were each hired to direct before dropping out. Over the years, seemingly every actor in Hollywood was considered to play the hero, and confirmed names include Josh Hartnett, Jude Law, Ashton Kutcher, Paul Walker, Ashton Kutcher, Brendan Fraser, Matthew Bomer, Jared Padalecki, and — get this — future Man of Steel star Henry Cavill. Eventually, the project evolved into 2006’s Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh and directed by Bryan Singer, as Abrams’ script was abandoned.
Spider-Man 3 may have been met with mixed reviews when it was released in 2007, but that didn’t stop Sony and director Sam Raimi from starting work on the planned Spider-Man 4. It even had a release date set for May 2011, with Tobey Maguire apparently on board to return. John Malkovich even signed on to play the Vulture (a role Michael Keaton would eventually take up in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Anne Hathaway was supposed to play Felicia Hardy. But the film never started shooting.
“It really was the most amicable and undramatic of breakups: It was simply that we had a deadline and I couldn’t get the story to work on a level that I wanted it to work,” Raimi told Vulture in 2013. “I was very unhappy with Spider-Man 3, and I wanted to make Spider-Man 4 to end on a very high note, the best Spider-Man of them all. But I couldn’t get the script together in time, due to my own failings, and I said to Sony, ‘I don’t want to make a movie that is less than great, so I think we shouldn’t make this picture. Go ahead with your reboot, which you’ve been planning anyway.'”
The Amazing Spider-Man 3
Tobey Maguire wasn’t the only actor to have his Spidey tenure cut shot. Andrew Garfield played the webslinger in both The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, and for a while, Sony was hard at work on both a Sinister Six spinoff and The Amazing Spider-Man 3. But after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was met with middling enthusiasm, Sony scrapped its plans and brought Peter Parker back into the Marvel fold.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Sandman
One of comics’ most fascinating and beloved heroes has yet to make it to the big screen. An adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman has been in and out of development hell since the early 1990s, and back in 2013, Joseph Gordon-Levitt announced that he had signed on to produce (and possibly star in) a film version. That project stalled, however, and in 2016, Gordon-Levitt departed the film, citing creative differences with New Line. Since then, the project has essentially fizzled and died.
X-Men Origins: Magneto
Long before X-Men: First Class, there were plans for an X-Men prequel centering on a younger version of Ian McKellen’s Magneto. David Goyer even wrote a script, reportedly pitching it as “The Pianist meets X-Men,” but that project was eventually superseded by X-Men: First Class, which introduced Michael Fassbender as the young, magnet-manipulating mutant.
Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One
Christopher Nolan may have gone gritty with his Dark Knight trilogy, but we almost got a dark, R-rated Batman even earlier. After Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. hired a young Darren Aronofsky to develop a Batman origin story, and he teamed up with comics legend Frank Miller to create a big-screen story loosely based on Miller’s Batman: Year One.
According to Miller, it was that darkness that led to the film getting scrapped. “It was the first time I worked on a Batman project with somebody whose vision of Batman was darker than mine,” Miller told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. “My Batman was too nice for him. We would argue about it, and I’d say, ‘Batman wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t torture anybody,’ and so on. We hashed out a screenplay, and we were wonderfully compensated, but then Warner Bros. read it and said, ‘We don’t want to make this movie.’ The executive wanted to do a Batman he could take his kids to. And this wasn’t that.”
Kathryn Bigelow's X-Men
Bryan Singer was the first to bring the X-Men to the big screen in 2000, but at one point, Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron were in talks to tackle Marvel’s mutants, too. X-Men comics writer Chris Claremont has said that in the early ’90s, the original plan was for Cameron to produce and Bigelow to direct an X-Men movie — with Bob Hoskins playing Wolverine and Angela Bassett as Storm.
James Cameron's Spider-Man
X-Men wasn’t the only Marvel-based superhero movie James Cameron tried to get off the ground. One of the most notorious never-made superhero flicks is Cameron’s take on Spider-Man, which he tried to launch in the early 1990s. He convinced Carolco Pictures — the company that made Terminator 2: Judgment Day — to buy the rights to Spider-Man, and he soon penned a script treatment… which apparently included lots of profanity and a sex scene between Peter and Mary Jane on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. The project disintegrated when Carolco went bankrupt, and the rights eventually wound up with Sony, which took Spidey in its own direction.
George Miller's Justice League Mortal
About a decade ago, Warner Bros. first tried its hand at a Justice League movie, hiring George Miller to run things. He assembled a cast — which included Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, and Common as Green Lantern — but as the budget ballooned, eventually, the project was abandoned.
Still, Miller gave us Mad Max: Fury Road instead, so maybe it was all for the best.
Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman
More than 75 years after Wonder Woman made her debut in comics, she finally got her own film in the form of Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film. But Diana almost made her way to the big screen a decade earlier, when Joss Whedon penned his own take on the princess of Themyscira. The project never got off the ground, but with the release of Wonder Woman, Whedon’s original script began making the rounds online. The response was… Well, let’s just say fans were glad they waited for Jenkins’ take, instead.
Guillermo del Toro's Doctor Strange
Director Guillermo del Toro and writer Neil Gaiman are longtime friends, but apparently, they also almost collaborated on a movie about Marvel’s sorcerer supreme. In 2015, Gaiman tweeted that he and del Toro had once considered teaming up on a movie about Doctor Strange — but apparently, Marvel wasn’t “interested.”