The DCEU recently took its first stab at the multiverse with its recently released movie The Flash. Drawing upon elements from the comics storyline Flashpoint, the film has Barry Allen going back in time to save his mother from being murdered. By messing with the past, he alters the future in unexpected ways, leading to some surprises.
Spoilers ahead for DC Studios' The Flash movie.
In the movie, we see past actors from DC comic roles reappear. Some of these reappearances were expected, including Batmen played by Ben Affleck and Bruce Wayne, while others were unexpected. In a big scene where multiverses collide, we catch a glimpse of various versions of Superman, Batman, Supergirl, and The Flash that have appeared on-screen in the past. One cameo in particular stood out. Probably because the movie with this Superman was never made.
Emerging from one world was Nicolas Cage dressed as the Man of Steel, calling back to a legendary story of the superhero movie sphere. The journey of the unproduced Superman Lives is quite the tale in itself, one that was told in the 2015 documentary, The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? and that we'll unpack a bit in this article. If Cage's appearance in The Flash sparked your curiosity and you want to know more, here's some information on Superman Lives.
The Superman Lives scene in The Flash
During a sequence where we catch glimpses of many different multiverses, we zoom in on a seemingly frozen planet with a long-haired man wearing a unique Superman suit stares down a giant spider. The individual turns around to reveal himself to be, if you can look past the awkward CGI, Nicolas Cage.
A spider isn't the big threat you'd expect Superman to encounter, but if you're a fan of Kevin Smith or have heard him tell stories about the Superman movie that never was, this scene is straight out of Superman Lives. Smith has toured the United States for years sharing this personal anecdote about writing the script for the unmade Superman film. It was even recorded in An Evening with Kevin Smith, which documented several of his Q&As at college campuses in 2001 and 2002. In this story, Smith recalls a meeting he took with producer Jon Peters who shared specific conditions he wanted for Superman Lives. One was that Smith include a giant battle between Superman and a giant spider in the third act.
Who knows how much of Smith's accounts are exaggerated for entertainment and how much is close to the truth. Peters would refute some of Smith's details, but in the Death of Superman Lives documentary, he did discuss the giant spider idea, at least confirming that part of the story. Coincidentally, a few years after Smith was commissioned to write the Superman script, Peters produced the movie Wild Wild West, which did involve the use of a giant mechanical spider in a battle in the final act.
The Superman Lives origin
Even prior to Superman Lives, Warner Bros. was interested in developing a new film following the success of the comic storyline, Death of Superman. In 1995, they hired Jon Peters as a producer, who would enlist writer Jonathan Lemkin to write the script. At the time, Lemkin had predominantly worked in television on shows including Hill Street Blues, 21 Jump Street, and Beverly Hills 90210.
However, Warner Bros. did not like the script Lemkin produced titled Superman Reborn. Peters then hired writer Gregory Poirier to rewrite Superman Reborn. Warner Bros. was more receptive to the new script, but brought in Kevin Smith in for additional rewrites.
According to the book, The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made, Smith thought Poirier's script did not respect the character of Superman properly. He began work on the film now entitled Superman Lives in late 1996. Based on this script, Tim Burton, who made the Michael Keaton Batman movies, signed on to direct with Nicolas Cage signing on to star as the lead.
Superman Lives is not your daddy's Superman
Years after Superman Lives was abandoned, Smith would publicly share many of the over-the-top suggestions Peters had for the film. Suggestions that might not be considered traditional choices for a Superman story. Before being approved to write the screenplay, Peters had specific conditions, which Smith shared in An Evening with Kevin Smith. They included that Superman could not wear his blue and red costume, he could not fly, and, like the scene depicted in The Flash, Superman had to fight a giant spider in the finale.
According to the script, Superman Lives had Braniac block out the sun to hinder the Man of Steel's powers and then send Doomsday to kill him. Another inclusion Peters wanted was that Braniac would travel to the Fortress of Solitude where he would fight a polar bear. In addition, after watching the 20th anniversary re-release of Star Wars, Peters wanted a space dog type creature inspired by Chewbacca.
Smith and Peters struck up a good working relationship so the former invited the latter to the premiere of his film Chasing Amy. After watching the movie, Peters was impressed by actor Dwight Ewell, who played Hooper X. The producer then insisted that Braniac have a robot assistant that had the voice and attitude of Ewell. Again, perhaps not the traditional choice.
The Fall of Superman Lives
A combination of several factors eventually led to the demise of Superman Lives. When Tim Burton became director, he hired writer Wesley Strick, whom he worked with on Batman Returns, to make even more rewrites. Strick's script was overly ambitious with an estimated budget of $190 million. Warner Bros. brought in their own person, Dan Gilroy to make changes that were more budget conscious. Dan was able to bring down costs to $100 million but the studio still found that too high.
Superman Lives would eventually lose Burton as director, who would leave to work on Sleepy Hollow. Peters would approach the likes of Michael Bay, Shekhar Kapur, Martin Campbell, and Brett Ratner, all of whom declined the opportunity. Two years after the project was put on hold, Cage would drop out after helping on another script rewrite with William Wishter Jr., who was best known for Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
There was even a competing Superman movie from an aspiring screenwriter named Alex Ford. He pitched Superman: Man of Steel, which was accepted by Warner Bros. and Peters. In the end, Ford's film was also scrapped due to creative differences.
You might never be able to see Superman Lives on the big screen, but you do have the chance to watch it come to life in another way. Maybe due to increased interest after The Flash film, Smith is hosting an in-person reading of his 1997 script with some of his friends. The event will be held on July 29 at Smodcastle Cinemas in New Jersey.