Greetings all. BAADASSSSS! here to announce the beginning of a new series of detailed articles I will be posting each week this Summer: The 10 Best Unproduced Comic Book Movie Scripts! At the end of this post is a sneak peek at what those 10 selections will be, so be sure to take a look and see if you can guess what they are.
Each summer the multiplexes are packed with the latest mega-budget action extravaganzas, enhanced by the finest visual effects and top-lined by the biggest stars in the industry. Every year you are guaranteed to locate at least two or three comic book-based spectaculars in the bunch. Last summer brought us the two most anticipated superhero movies of all time – Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, which grossed over a billion dollars worldwide in less than three months of release, and The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion of the standard-setting Batman trilogy helmed by visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan. That one also did very well financially as I am told.
Both movies – and many more like them released in the past and still yet to come – were granted exorbitant budgets and A-list casts and developed over the years with patience and care by exceptionally talented writers and directors working in tandem with teams of professional craftspeople. Their productions were overseen by studio executives who respected the filmmakers and the material they were working with and wanted nothing more than to create memorable screen entertainments that would captivate audiences the world over and be enjoyed by generations to come, not to mention make them mountains of cold, hard cash. This year alone has brought us the record-smashing successes of Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, with The Wolverine and Thor: The Dark World to follow and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy both on deck for 2014.
The times have certainly changed.
Back in the 1970s, every studio in the film industry, from the blockbuster-producing majors to the scrappy indie outlets pumping inexpensive product into the drive-ins and grindhouse cinemas of the world, regarded comic books as too juvenile and lacking in the wide-ranging appeal to be made into motion pictures. They deprived themselves of the foresight to see beyond the colorful superhero costumes and pop-art splash panel Grand Guignol fisticuffs and recognize that the great comic stories were rooted into the classical storytelling traditions of centuries past.
It wasn’t until 1978’s Superman: The Movie came along and forever altered the cinematic landscape for the costumed crime-fighters whose adventures readers young and old had thrilled to since the days prior to World War II. Eleven years later another DC Comics superhero made his big-screen debut in high style after having long been written off as a high-camp goof on television. In the summer of 1989, Tim Burton’s first Batman film defied insurmountable odds to become a surprise blockbuster and a pop culture touchstone in a crowded movie season that had the Dark Knight’s celluloid coming out party competing for the big box office dollars with Indiana Jones, Riggs and Murtaugh, and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. It also spawned Warner Bros.’ biggest franchise, a title that wouldn’t be challenged until the first Harry Potter adventure premiered in November 2001.
It was the success of the Batman series that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that comic books could be translated into big-budget theatrical thrill rides that, if done properly, would yield untold riches in box office and ancillary dollars. Suddenly every Hollywood studio was scrambling for the rights to the biggest-selling and most popular titles that had ever been stocked on the stores of comic book shops across the globe. Marvel Comics, which was actually owned by a movie studio for several years in the 1980s (more on that in a future installment), had sold off the movie rights to many of their top- and lower-tier superhero characters to companies like 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, and New Line Cinema.
While those arrangements led to the birth of such popular franchises as Spider-Man and X-Men it also resulted in stillborn adaptations of beloved favorites such as Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, and Daredevil. Until the company formed its own film division and took back control of its most integral properties, it was looking highly unlikely that many of the greatest characters in the Marvel Universe would ever see the light of a movie screen. Meanwhile, Warner Bros., which owns DC Comics, has yet to launch a successful franchise outside of the Superman and Batman series, despite having unprecedented access to the greatest line-up of iconic superheroes in the history of media.
For every one comic book that makes the miraculous transition to film, be it great or godawful, there are many others than remain unmade. Some actually manage to evolve beyond the script stage and almost make it to principal photography before having their plugs pulled. Others get stalled at the one-page treatment phase and become fodder for lousy jokes told in the executive washrooms of the most powerful studios in town with little regard for the great potential those stories contain and could be effectively extracted in the right hands. While most of these projects deservedly perished screaming in the fires of Development Hell there are some that could have made for exciting and powerful forces in the steadily-growing realm of comic book cinema.
Maybe they actually do exist, somewhere out there, perhaps in an alternate reality or realities where each choice which with we are faced splinters off into its own timeline. Not in this reality though. Here they exist only as dog-eared script drafts, premature trade paper announcements, and pieces of water-stained conceptual art buried at the bottom of countless file cabinets and storage units too numerous to catalog properly unless given the twin benefits of expendable time and a computer with a better operating system than Windows 95.
Submitted for your approval I have compiled a list of ten of these aborted projects that I believe held the greatest potential to become memorable motion picture experiences but were denied the chance in the end, and I will be unleashing one entry every week for the rest of the summer. Think of it like you’re getting an alternate universe summer movie schedule and these are my top recommendations. Each article will come complete with the fascinating back stories behind the unmade film and the circumstances that resulted in their almost total abandonment.
While you might disagree with some of my choices – oh hell, you might disagree with the whole damn list – you will probably softly weep to yourself about the ones you agree with me on.
Allow me to close this out with a week-by-week breakdown of clues as to what you can expect to see each week, and please forgive my excessive use of puns.
WEEK #1: Remember that time when the King of Zombie Movies who always told us to “Stay Scared” once said “Make Mine Marvel”? Yeah, once I didn’t either. A horror movie titan tried striking gold with Copper, but his efforts turned to lead.
WEEK #2: Two legends of comic book crime-fighting take on their toughest opponents to date – EACH OTHER! – in a battle royale that could have been one of the “world’s finest” blockbuster motion pictures.
WEEK #3: The First Man of Marvel and a fearless cinematic outlaw collaborate for a Supreme-ly magical movie project that was not to be.
WEEK #4: Before he took his career to a galaxy far, far away, a young and upcoming writer-producer whose career hasn’t existed on the Fringe of pop culture for a long time once tried his hand at bringing the greatest superhero who ever lived back to the big screen, and the fans wish his script had been Lost in the process.
WEEK #5: Once upon a time a humble, nondescript Tower Records clerk rolled a Seven and became a hot screenwriter in Hollywood. Then his career picked up the X gene.
WEEK #6: A DC Comics superhero’s silver screen debut didn’t go over as well as initially planned. As it turns out, the movie could have been so, so, so much better. You’ll see. Damn you, Warner Bros.
WEEK #7: She may have died in the comics, but that didn’t stop this sexy, sai-wielding ninja from almost making her Marvel-ous movie debut almost two decades before we got the one with Jennifer Garner in the bargain. Crap.
WEEK #8: Great Odin’s Raven! A Legend-ary scribe once tried to Cell Hollywood on an epic treatment of a Marvel Comics icon. After their ultimate reaction to his work, he needed to get hammered big time.
WEEK #9: Hollywood once tried to sew his motor mouth shut for the good of the box office, but this masked merc briefly got the chance to create some Marvel-ous mayhem in theaters with the Lords of Zombieland behind him. This one might still happen.
WEEK #10: The power of Jade Giant was never a match for the power of a studio’s green light. Before he got two solo turns at bat and then got together with a few other special individuals for a bigger adventure, he could have smashed his way onto the screen a little differently.
WEEK #11: Beyond the top ten there were many worthy competitors that failed to make the cut. I’ll throw in a final bonus entry and devote some space to a few of these great – but not great enough to crack the big list – unmade movies.
There you have it. Have fun guessing what each week’s entry will be and I’ll see you next time for the first shocking issue!