J.J. Abrams’ First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGN

This feature was originally published in September 2020.

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Warner Bros. is rebooting Superman … again. This time, Bad Robot’s J.J. Abrams will produce with Ta-Nehisi Coates scripting. But this isn’t Abrams’ first stab at trying to adapt the Man of Steel for the big screen.

Years ago, Abrams scripted Superman: Flyby, one of several attempts Warner Bros. made in the post-Christopher Reeve era to revive that DC franchise before eventually green-lighting Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns.

And while there are plenty of DC movies that have since been produced and are in the pipeline for the future, we can’t forget how often such superhero projects as Abrams’ Superman: Flyby fail to launch. A great many DC movies have been canceled over the years, while many others evolved during the course of development to the point that they barely resemble the movie that was originally announced.

Indeed, not every canceled DC movie gets the Snyder Cut treatment, so let’s explore the strange and colorful history of the DC movies that failed to launch, including J.J. Abrams’ first attempt to make a Superman movie.

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Richard Donner’s Superman II

01-Superman-II J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNLong before franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean, Mission: Impossible and The Lord of the Rings popularized the idea of filming multiple movies back-to-back, Warners hired director Richard Donner to simultaneously shoot Superman and Superman II in 1977. That’s why the first movie opens with a scene featuring the Phantom Zone criminals even though they don’t appear again until the sequel.

However, Donner feuded heavily with the film’s producers, Pierre Spengler and Alexander and Ilya Salkind, with the mounting production budget being a major point of concern. A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester was eventually brought in to mediate between Donner and the Salkinds. Ultimately, it was decided to halt production on the sequel and focus on finishing the first movie. It’s estimated Donner shot about 75% of his planned Superman II scenes by that point.

Though the first Superman was well-received, Donner showed little desire to continue working with Spengler and the Salkinds. Lester was instead hired to replace Donner. Rather than simply shoot the remaining scenes, however, Lester was tasked with reshooting significant portions of Superman II based on a revised screenplay by writers David and Leslie Newman. These new scenes altered the tone of the movie and were also aimed at eliminating Marlon Brando’s Jor-El from the plot, as Brando had recently sued the Salkinds over unpaid royalties and to stop further use of his likeness. Lester wound up being the sole credited director on the theatrical release.

Warners did eventually release an alternate version of Superman II truer to Donner’s vision. 2006’s Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut restores many of Donner’s abandoned scenes, including those featuring Brando’s Jor-El (with the approval of the late actor’s estate). This version relies on recovered footage, alternate takes, new effects shots and even an early screen test between co-stars Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in order to create a new cut as close to Donner’s original vision as possible. But with Donner never having truly completed his sequel, The Donner Cut can only approximate that version of Superman II, leaving fans to wonder what might have been. And for that matter, what version of Superman III we might have gotten had the production on the first two been less dysfunctional.

Tom Mankiewicz’s The Batman

02-Mankiewiczs-Batman J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNProducers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker purchased the film rights to Batman in 1979, sparking what would turn out to be a decade-long effort to bring the Dark Knight back to the big screen. Uslan himself wrote a screenplay titled Return of the Batman, one intended as a proof-of-concept that he would later describe as being tonally similar to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

After a slow start, the project started gaining momentum in 1983 when it found a new home at Warner Bros. and Superman writer Tom Mankiewicz was hired to write a new screenplay called The Batman. Mankiewicz’s script (which has been floating around the Internet for a number of years) is based on the graphic novel Batman: Strange Apparitions and features the origins of both Batman and Robin, along with Joker, Penguin and crime boss Rupert Thorne as villains and Silver St. Cloud as Bruce’s love interest.

A number of different directors were either officially attached to the project or considered, including Ghostbusters’ Ivan Reitman, Swamp Thing’s Wes Craven and Gremlins’ Joe Dante. Reitman even reportedly favored the unusual pairing of Bill Murray as Batman and Eddie Murphy as Robin. But despite being announced for release in 1985, The Batman never truly found traction until Warners hired Tim Burton to direct in the wake of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. At that point, Mankiewicz’s story was thrown out in favor of a brand new script written by Sam Hamm, eventually leading to the 1989 movie we know and love.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Sgt. Rock

03-Sgt-Rock J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNWhile action movie icon Arnold Schwarzenegger has yet to appear in a Marvel or DC movie, he was once attached to play DC’s WWII-era hero Sgt. Rock. A number of different scripts were written during the ’80s and ’90s, with IGN’s Jim Vejvoda getting his hands on Brian Helgeland’s June 1996 draft. Many of these scripts depict Rock as being fluent in German, a plot point aimed at both giving Rock and the members of Easy Company an advantage over their enemies and explaining why Rock himself has a heavy Austrian accent.

The project persisted under producer Joel Silver even after Schwarzenegger moved on, with rumors suggesting Bruce Willis would star and Guy Ritchie would direct. However, the last update on the movie came in 2009 when word broke that the setting had shifted from WWII to a futuristic war and Ritchie had been replaced by I Am Legend’s Francis Lawrence.

The Pre-Zack Snyder Watchmen

04-Watchmen J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNZack Snyder’s Watchmen movie arrived in theaters 23 years after the debut of the comic, but he was hardly the first to attempt to adapt the source material. Producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver originally developed the movie at Fox in the late ’80s, with Batman writer Sam Hamm tapped to write the screenplay after co-creator Alan Moore declined to be involved. The project migrated to Warners in 1991, at which point Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam was attached to direct. Gilliam finally left the project in 2000, famously describing a Watchmen movie to be “unfilmable.”

The project eventually found a new home at Paramount, with X2: X-Men United’s David Hayter penning a new screenplay that eliminated the Cold War-era setting in favor of a contemporary approach. Requiem for a Dream’s Darren Aronofsky signed on to direct the movie in 2004, though he then departed to focus on 2006’s The Fountain. Paramount then turned to The Bourne Supremacy’s Paul Greengrass before ultimately abandoning the adaptation. At that point the project returned to Warner Bros. and Snyder’s more comic-faithful version came into being.

The Wachowskis’ Plastic Man

05-Plastic-Man J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNGiven the massive success of 1989’s Batman, Warner Bros. was understandably eager to take advantage of other DC properties on the big screen. The studio began pursuing a Plastic Man movie of all things, with future The Matrix directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski penning a screenplay in 1995. According to Den of Geek, that screenplay bears more resemblance to Sam Raimi’s Darkman than the slapstick humor of the comics.

The project went dormant after that, but the Wachowskis reportedly showed an interest in reviving it after the release of 2008’s Speed Racer, even turning to The Matrix star Keanu Reeves to star. That never panned out, nor did an online rumor about Doctor Who’s David Tennant playing Plastic Man in 2017’s Justice League.

Finally, in 2018 The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Warners had tapped The Mayor’s Amanda Idoko to write a new Plastic Man screenplay. No director or cast have been revealed since then, and it remains to be seen if this new project will succeed where the Wachowskis’ version failed.

Tim Burton’s Batman Continues

06-Batman-Continues J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNMost Batman fans would agree 1995’s Batman Forever is a far cry from its predecessors, both tonally and in terms of quality. But had things gone according to plan, director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton would have stuck around for a third movie. Burton had actually plotted out a Batman Returns sequel titled Batman Continues. Superficially, Continues bears a resemblance to Forever, as it introduces Robin to the series and positions Two-Face and Riddler as the two main villains. However, Burton intended to cast Marlon Wayans as Robin (Wayans had already been cast in Returns but his character was later cut from the too-crowded film) and have Billy Dee Williams reprise the role of Harvey Dent.

So what went wrong? Executives at Warners were unhappy with the reception to Batman Returns. From a financial standpoint, it grossed significantly less than the first movie despite costing the studio far more. Worse, many parents were aghast at the dark tone of what was marketed as a kids movie, leading to an uproar over the McDonald’s Happy Meal toy promotion. Burton left the sequel, remaining attached only as producer, and was later followed by Keaton. Joel Schumacher was then hired to craft a more family-friendly take on the franchise. But, hey, at least the Batman Forever soundtrack turned out pretty well…

If you’re wondering how Burton’s Batman Continues might have looked, artist Joe Quinones revealed a series of concept drawings for Batman ’89, his pitch for a comic book series that would have continued the Burton-verse where Returns left off (similar to DC’s popular Batman ’66 comic). Sadly, DC didn’t approve that pitch. But at least Keaton seems interested in finally returning to the Batman role.

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman Spinoff

07-Catwoman J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNNot only did Warners put Burton’s third Batman movie on the chopping block, the studio never made good on the promise of a Michelle Pfeiffer-driven Catwoman movie. Batman Returns set the stage for a Catwoman spinoff, and Burton himself was expected to direct despite the friction surrounding Batman Forever. However, as the ’90s wore on Burton and Pfeiffer both seemed less confident in their involvement. The project eventually morphed from spinoff to Batman-less standalone movie, with Ashley Judd and Nicole Kidman both considered to star. Finally, Halle Berry was cast in the lead role and Catwoman pounced into theaters in 2004. That film is still regarded as one of the worst superhero movies of all time.

Superman Reborn/Superman Lives

superman-lives-nic-cage J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNEven before the famous “Death of Superman” comic book crossover in 1992, the Salkinds were considering killing off Superman as a way of reviving the ailing movie franchise. Had Cannon Films not gone bankrupt, the studio may have wound up greenlighting a fifth Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve, with the hero dying and being reborn inside the Bottle City of Kandor. Unfortunately, any chance of Reeve reprising the role ended in 1995 when the actor was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident.

After Cannon’s collapse, the Salkinds sold the film rights to Warner Bros. and the studio quickly began developing a movie built around Superman’s fatal clash with Doomsday. Producer Jon Peters commissioned a script from 21 Jump Street writer Jonathan Lemkin. Dubbed Superman Reborn, Lemkin’s story bizarrely features a dying Superman transferring his life force into Lois Lane, with the resulting baby growing into a fully adult Superman clone within weeks. Rosewood’s Gregory Poirier was then hired to rewrite the script, eliminating the resurrected clone plot point and adding in villains like Brainiac, Parasite and Silver Banshee.

At this point, indie filmmaker Kevin Smith was hired to rewrite the script again with an eye toward being more faithful to the comics, with the title shifting to become Superman Lives. Smith has famously spoken at great length (including on his DVD comedy special An Evening With Kevin Smith) about the dysfunction behind the scenes and the increasingly outlandish story requests being made by Peters. Despite this, the project entered pre-production in 1997, with Tim Burton coming aboard as director and Nicolas Cage being cast as Superman. Unfortunately, Warners became increasingly concerned with the project’s ballooning budget, and Superman Lives was finally put on permanent hiatus in 1998.

The 2016 documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? offers a fascinating glimpse into this Superman movie that almost was. Batman vs. Two-Face writer Michael Jelenic has claimed the studio has considered adapting Smith’s screenplay as an animated movie, with Cage still voicing Superman. So far, that adaptation has yet to materialize.

Batman 5/Batman: Year One/Batman Beyond

09-Batman-Beyond-2 J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNFollowing the release of the critically reviled Batman & Robin in 1997, the studio spent years trying to find the right approach to re-energize the property. That included a direct sequel dubbed Batman Unchained. I Am Legend’s Mark Protosevich was tapped to write a screenplay featuring Scarecrow and Harley Quinn (re-imagined to be the daughter of Jack Nicholson’s Joker) teaming up to drive Batman insane. The movie reportedly would have featured a cameo of the late Joker in the form of a fear toxin-induced hallucination. Batman & Robin stars George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone were expected to return, while director Joel Schumacher apparently favored rapper-turned-actor Coolio (?!?) as Scarecrow.

Writers Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise pitched an alternate take on Batman 5 in 1998. Dubbed DarKnight, this sequel would also have featured Scarecrow as its main villain, though in this version Scarecrow is a doctor at Arkham Asylum who accidentally creates Man-Bat and attempts to turn Gotham against Batman. While Warners showed interest in the pitch, the studio eventually abandoned the project in 2001.

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By that point, Warners seemed more interested in rebooting the Batman franchise entirely. The studio briefly pursued a live-action Batman Beyond movie in 2000, with Paul Dini, Neal Stephenson and Boaz Yakin penning a screenplay and Yakin eyed to direct. However, attention quickly turned to an adaptation of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, with Requiem for a Dream’s Darren Aronofsky coming onboard to direct the R-rated reboot and co-write the script with Miller. Rumors have said that future Batman Christian Bale was eyed to play the Dark Knight in this version, as were future Joker Joaquin Phoenix and Freddie Prinze, Jr.

Unfortunately, Year One was abandoned when the studio shifted focus again to Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman vs. Superman. Elements of these various Batman projects would survive, however, with 2005’s Batman Begins featuring Bale in the lead role and a DarKnight-esque emphasis on Scarecrow as an Arkham employee.

J.J. Abrams’ Superman: Flyby

10-Superman-Flyby J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNAfter Superman Lives fell apart in 1998, Warners began exploring other options for rehabilitating the Man of Steel on the big screen. Much of that surrounded a J.J. Abrams-penned script called Superman: Flyby. Flyby would offer a new take on the character’s origin, with a heavy emphasis on Krypton and the rivalry between Jor-El and his evil brother Kata-Zor. Flyby would also depict Lex Luthor as a UFO-obsessed government agent and end with the surprise reveal that Krypton still exists, prompting Superman to leave in search of his homeworld and sparking a whole trilogy.

Years later, Abrams would shed light on his script and its psychological approach to Superman, telling Empire the conflict centered around Clark Kent learning to finally embrace his incredible powers and no longer hide himself from the world, as his parents had urged him to do.

“The result of that, psychologically, would be fear of oneself, self-doubt and being ashamed of what you were capable of,” Abrams said. “Extrapolating that to adulthood became a fascinating psychological profile of someone who was not pretending to be Clark Kent, but who was Clark Kent. Who had become that kind of a character who is not able or willing to accept who he was and what his destiny was.”

Both Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and McG (Terminator Salvation) were attached to direct Flyby at different points, while everyone from David Boreanaz to Matt Bomer to Ashton Kutcher was approached to star. However, the project eventually fell by the wayside in 2004 when the studio hired director Bryan Singer and the focus shifted to the Superman II follow-up Superman Returns.

Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman vs. Superman

Batman-vs-Superman J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNWith Warner Bros. struggling to figure out how to revamp both the Batman and Superman franchises in the early 2000s, it should come as little surprise the studio strongly considered rebooting both characters in one movie. The studio even went as far as to shelve Abrams’ Superman: Flyby temporarily in favor of Batman vs. Superman.

This team-up movie was first pitched by Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker under the working title “Asylum,” with A Beautiful Mind’s Akiva Goldsman then hired to rewrite the script. Goldsman’s script features a Bruce Wayne driven to return to his role as Batman after his new wife is murdered by the Joker, with Joker and Lex Luthor manipulating the Dark Knight into conflict with Superman. Troy’s Wolfgang Petersen was attached to direct, with Colin Farrell reportedly starring as Batman and Jude Law as Superman.

Unfortunately, the project never quite came together, with Goldsman later telling Collider, “It was a time where you would be able to get these sort of stories together in script form but they couldn’t quite land in the world. Somehow, the expectations of the object — whether they be audience or corporate or directorial — it wasn’t landing quite in the way I think we imagined when we put them on the page.”

Warners eventually returned to the concept with 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The only tangible remnant of Goldsman and Petersen’s Batman vs. Superman is a cameo in 2007’s I Am Legend, which features a billboard advertisement for the movie amid its post-apocalyptic version of New York City.

David Goyer’s The Flash

12-The-Flash-2 J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNEven before the release of Batman Begins, Warners was so pleased with the script they turned to co-writer David Goyer to pen a Flash movie. Goyer was announced as writer, producer and director of The Flash in December 2004, and he reportedly was eyeing Blade: Trinity star Ryan Reynolds as Barry Allen, with Wally West playing a supporting role in the movie. Goyer eventually left the project in 2007 over creative differences.

The studio continued developing a solo Flash movie after Goyer’s departure, with The Dark Knight’s Charles Roven attached as producer. But by 2009, even Roven seemed unsure of the project’s status.

Roven told IGN, “The David Goyer screenplay, that didn’t work. Goyer left the project. We then embarked with David Dobkin, trying to come up with another approach. We hadn’t even hired a writer at that point. So for us, we completely understood. I’ve been making movies with Warner Bros. for 15 years, so that was fine, but I hope one day there’s a way for me to get re-involved in the project.”

Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman

13-Wonder-Woman J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNWonder Woman finally got a movie of her own in 2017, but Warner Bros.’s efforts to bring the heroine to the big screen date back 20 years earlier. In the mid-’90s Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was attached to direct a Wonder Woman movie, with actresses like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lucy Lawless rumored to star. However, that project only really started to gain traction in 2005 when Warners announced Joss Whedon had been hired to write and direct Wonder Woman.

Speaking to ABC National Radio in 2005, Whedon described his take on Diana. “She doesn’t really understand this world, she’s very strong but she’s also very naive,” he said. “She’s not quite as little as the girls I’m used to writing, but she’s definitely one of them in the sense of she’ll undergo that kind of baptism of fire that used to be relegated to the male gender. She’ll have to come into the world and see how corrupt it is and learn to deal with it and with her own powers. She is kind of, in a way, the grandma of everything I’ve been writing my whole life, so it makes sense that we should meet.”

Unfortunately, Whedon never fully completed his script and eventually left the project in 2007. By 2008, producer Joel Silver basically confirmed the project had gone dormant. It would undergo a number of other false starts and rewrites before finally seeing the light of day as part of the DCEU. Separately, Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley filmed a pilot for a Wonder Woman TV series that failed to get greenlit.

Justice League: Mortal

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Perhaps no canceled DC movie came closer to reality than George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal. The Mad Max director came aboard in September 2007 to direct a script by Michele and Kieran Mulroney. The cast included Armie Hammer as Batman, D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman and Common as Green Lantern.

Mortal made it well into the pre-production phase, with the various actors performing costume tests and preparing for a lengthy shoot in Australia. Unfortunately, the project stalled for several months due to the 2007-08 writers strike. And though pre-production resumed in February 2008, a conflict between the studio and the Australian government over tax rebates forced production to shift to Canada. That seems to have been the final straw for Warners, as the studio abruptly shifted focus to upcoming solo superhero movies like Green Lantern and The Dark Knight Rises.

Miller told THR in 2016, “I really was attracted to it. But there was a writers strike looming. We had to cast it very quickly, which we did with Warner’s casting people. And we cast it really quickly and we mounted it very quickly. And it depended on a start date and it depended on some basic rebate legislation that had just got through a new Australian government. But it was just too big a decision for them to make in the time. And that fell through and the whole film fell through. We almost got there. And it wasn’t to be. But that happens a lot, where films line up and the stars look like they’re aligning and they didn’t.”

Over the years, various glimpses of the Justice League: Mortal costumes have hit the Internet, including a mold of Hammer’s Batman cowl and low-res images of Superman, Wonder Woman and other characters.

Green Arrow: Escape From Super Max

15-Super-Max J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNFollowing his departure from the Flash movie, David Goyer made waves in 2008 after news surfaced he and co-writer Justin Marks had penned an unusual take on a Green Arrow movie. First titled Super Max and then renamed Green Arrow: Escape From Super Max, the script was said to feature Oliver Queen framed for murder and placed inside a high-security prison full of metahuman villains. The script reportedly featured cameos from Joker, Lex Luthor and the Riddler, among others.

Sadly, the project never moved past the scripting phase, with Goyer later revealing it didn’t have the support it needed from Warners executives who weren’t interested in exploring superhero properties beyond proven commodities like Batman and Superman. In 2015, Goyer told Den of Geek that Escape From Super Max was simply too ahead of its time.

“I think if that script had come over the transom a couple of years later… It was completely ahead of its time,” he said. “You know, Marvel was considering doing the Sinister Six and at the time, God, I think this was eight or nine years ago that we wrote a couple of drafts, but it certainly was like this oddball project at Warner Bros at the time, they were like — even though the script was good — ‘Why would we make a movie about a bunch of villains? That makes no sense.’”

The silver lining is that the unproduced screenplay did partly inspire the seventh season of The CW’s Arrow, which features an imprisoned Oliver Queen as a major plot point.

Lobo

16-Lobo J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNIn 2009 Warners announced Guy Ritchie would direct a live-action Lobo movie, with Variety breaking down the plot as follows:

“Lobo is a seven-foot tall, blue-skinned, indestructible and heavily muscled antihero who drives a pimped out motorcycle, and lands on Earth in search of four fugitives who are bent on wreaking havoc. Lobo teams with a small town teenage girl to stop the creatures.”

Ritchie later left the project to focus on 2011’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. San Andreas director Brad Peyton was then brought on to direct, and his frequent collaborator Dwayne Johnson was rumored to play Lobo. However, Johnson eventually signed on to play Black Adam instead, and Peyton told Comingsoon.net in 2015 that the Lobo movie was on the back-burner while DC prioritized its core heroes.

More recently, Wonder Woman’s Jason Fuchs signed on to write a new screenplay. In 2018 The Wrap reported that Warners had reached out to Transformers director Michael Bay, with the studio looking to Lobo as its answer to the wildly successful Deadpool movies. There’s been no news on the project since.

Syfy had been developing a live-action Lobo series as a spinoff of Krypton, but that project was shelved after Krypton was canceled in 2019.

Justice League Dark/Dark Universe

17-Justice-League-Dark J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNDC’s original Justice League Dark comic debuted in 2011, and within a year rumors surfaced that Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro was developing a live-action Justice League Dark movie. Del Toro eventually confirmed the rumors in November 2012, revealing the working title to be Dark Universe (not to be confused with Universal’s aborted monster movie-verse).

Del Toro eventually dropped out as director but remained onboard as producer. Despite this, the project seemed to gain traction in late 2015 when reports indicated a 2016 filming date and a new batch of casting rumors pointed to either Colin Farrell or Ewan McGregor as John Constantine, Monica Bellucci as Madame Xanadu and Ben Mendelsohn as villain Anton Arcane.

That pattern of false starts and long periods with no news has continued into the present. Doug Liman left Fox’s equally troubled Gambit movie in 2016 to direct Dark Universe, but Liman left Dark Universe in 2017. Later that year, Housebound’s Gerard Johnstone was brought in to do a “script polish.”

More recently, Deadline reported JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot is developing multiple TV and movie projects built around the Justice League Dark lineup. Dark Universe itself may be dead, but the characters may still get their chance in live-action.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s The Sandman

18-Sandman J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNWarner Bros. began developing an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman in the late ’90s, with The Rules of Engagement’s Roger Avary attached to direct (at least until he was fired by producer Jon Peters). The studio seemingly struggled to come up with a workable script, with Gaiman dismissing one particular draft as “quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read.” Years later at SDCC 2007, Gaiman told an audience “I’d rather see no Sandman movie made than a bad Sandman movie.”

Only in 2013 did the movie begin gathering momentum. That year we learned Joseph Gordon-Levitt had signed on to direct and star in a Sandman movie, with Gaiman and David Goyer attached and Arrival’s Eric Heisserer later hired to write a new script.

The following year, Gordon-Levitt told IGN, “I love just the basic concept of it – just the concept of personifying Dream, along with all of his brothers and sisters, the seven Endless personifying Death, personifying Destruction and Delirium and Destiny and Desire and Despair. I mean, that’s just a fascinating and, I think, a really cinematic concept.”

Unfortunately, progress continued to be slow on The Sandman, and the project eventually shifted from Warners to New Line in 2015. Gordon-Levitt then dropped out in 2016, and even Heisserer seemed eager to cut ties by the end of 2016.

“I’ve done about a year’s worth of work on that and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe it can be adapted into a film, or if it can I’m not the person to make it one,” Heisserer told IGN. “I think the best version of it is as a series, and therefore I am recommending that they fire me [laughs]. So hopefully it will find the best iteration possible.”

That seems to have been the final nail in the movie’s coffin. Luckily, The Sandman is now in development as a Netflix series instead. Netflix has so far greenlit a 10-episode first season, and Gaiman has revealed the series was very close to production before being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steven Spielberg’s Blackhawks

19-Blackhawk J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNApart from 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg has largely shied away from the comic book movie scene in the past. That may or may not change in the near future. In 2018 we learned Spielberg was reuniting with Jurassic Park writer David Koepp for a Blackhawk movie at Warner Bros. The film would focus on the titular hero, a WWII-era fighter pilot who leads the deadly Blackhawk Squadron. However, there’s been no news about the project in the two years since, leading us to assume it’s stalled in mid-air.

The Lost DCEU Movies

20-Lost-DCEU J.J. Abrams' First Superman Reboot and All the Other DC Movies That Failed to Launch | IGNAt this point we could devote an entire article to DCEU movies that have been announced but never materialized. Some of these movies may still happen, but others have been abandoned as Warners has shifted focus with its shared superhero universe over the years. Here’s a quick breakdown of the DCEU movies that have seemingly fallen by the wayside.

Joss Whedon’s Batgirl

At one point, it seemed as though Joss Whedon’s late-stage hiring on Justice League would pave the way for a larger role in the DCEU. But though Whedon was slated to write and direct a solo Batgirl movie, he dropped out in 2018 after failing to come up with a satisfying story. Bumblebee’s Christina Hodson is said to be now penning the Batgirl script but little has been revealed about the project in the past couple of years.

Geoff Johns & Ben Affleck’s The Batman

While The Batman is set for release in late 2021, it won’t be the movie first announced back at Comic-Con 2015. Originally, the movie was meant to star Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight, with Joe Manganiello’s Deathstroke as villain. Affleck was expected to both direct and co-write the film with Geoff Johns. However, Affleck opted not to direct and eventually dropped out of the project entirely. The Batman has instead been reworked to become a franchise reboot directed by War for the Planet of the Apes’ Matt Reeves and starring Twilight’s Robert Pattinson.

Cyborg

At one point it was expected that Ray Fisher would reprise his role as Cyborg for a solo movie post-Justice League. The film even had an April 2020 release date, but that date has come and gone with no new word.

Deathstroke

While Joe Manganiello won’t be reprising the Deathstroke role in The Batman, rumors suggest he’ll be getting his own solo movie at some point. However, there’s been little concrete info about that project so far.

Gotham City Sirens

Before the studio prioritized Birds of Prey, Warners was developing a team-up movie pairing Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn with fellow Gotham residents Catwoman and Poison Ivy. Tomb Raider scribe Geneva Robertson-Dworet was onboard to write the screenplay, but all signs point to Warners having shelved this particular DCEU spinoff.

Green Lantern Corps

Geoff Johns was reported to be writing a script for this Green Lantern reboot, which is said to focus on both Hal Jordan and John Stewart and feature a “Lethal Weapon in space” tone. Johns reportedly intended to turn in his draft by the end of 2019, though there’s been little word on the film recently. It’s also unclear how the movie will connect to HBO Max’s Green Lantern series, to which Johns is also attached, or if the movie has morphed into the series.

Joker & Harley Quinn

Jared Leto’s role in 2016’s Suicide Squad was intended to set the stage for multiple spinoffs, including both a solo Joker movie and one focused on Joker and Margot Robbie’s Harley. However, Warners instead pivoted to the Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie, a move that is said to have greatly upset Leto. As of 2019, it sounds as though Leto’s days as Joker are over.

Justice League 2

Zack Snyder originally had a five-movie plan for the DCEU, one that would have involved a second Justice League movie and a mystery fifth project. However, between the lukewarm reception to 2017’s Justice League and the tension behind the scenes, Warner Bros. seems to have little interest in moving forward with another Justice League movie just yet. It’s also unclear how the announcement of the long-rumored Snyder Cut of Justice League will impact the franchise moving forward.

Man of Steel 2

While we learned in May 2020 that Henry Cavill plans to suit up as Superman once more, that will reportedly involve a guest appearance in another DC movie rather than a followup to 2013’s Man of Steel. The studio may also be considering a reboot of the franchise a la The Batman, and Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan reportedly met with the studio in 2019 to pitch his idea.

Nightwing

The LEGO Batman Movie director Chris McKay was attached to direct a movie centered around Dick Grayson, but there’s been little word on the project in recent years. With The Batman rebooting the franchise, Warners may not want to muddy the waters by spotlighting Batman’s first sidekick just yet.

Supergirl

22 Jump Street’s Oren Uziel was attached to write a solo Supergirl movie, one unrelated to the ongoing series on The CW. However, the project has seemingly been put on hold, with Warners reportedly focusing on Superman himself for the time being.

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Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.
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