A thing of cinematic myth and legend, Tim Burton’s aborted Superman Lives is infamous and one of the most enduring “What If…?” scenarios in all of cinema. Nicolas Cage was to star as Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman in a re-telling of the Death Of Superman storyline. Even a cameo from Michael Keaton’s Batman at a funeral was rumored.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a massive failure, yet after Batman and Batman Returns, Warner Bros. turned to Tim Burton to try and rescue the Man Of Steel. The whole thing started when comic book fan Kevin Smith pitched his idea to Jon Peters, the legendarily… challenging… producer as far back as 1996.
Demands were made. Polar bears guarding the Fortress Of Solitude and a non-negotiable demand for Superman to fight a giant spider were the most well-known. Screenwriters Wesley Strick (Arachnophobia) and Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) wrote and rewrote.
Meanwhile, pre-production started, despite the project being a legendary mess. Photos of Cage in the various redesigned Superman costumes have been widely shared online.
Suddenly, it all stopped. The project was canned. Many have speculated why. The intriguing story was even the subject of a documentary, The Death of Superman Lives.
Now, in an interview, Cage has put forward a relatively simple reason. There was already something of a black mark over Tim Burton with the Warner suits after issues with Batman Returns that we covered in one of our series on Hollywood History.
At the Miami Film Festival, Cage received the Variety Legend and Groundbreaker Award. While being interviewed about his career he talked about Superman Lives and Warner Bros. being spooked by another Burton movie – Mars Attacks.
“I thought Mars Attacks was just a fantastic, groundbreaking movie. He’s a groundbreaker! But they were scared at the studio because of Mars Attacks. Warner Bros. had lost a lot of money on the movie. These movies that are really weird, that challenge and break ground, they piss a lot of people off. I think they got cold feet. They’d spent a lot of money already building the sets and the costume and what have you. But you never know. I don’t mean to be cryptic Cage, but you never know!”
Mars Attacks is a cult classic now, but at the time it lost Warner Bros. a massive amount of money. They thought they had ordered the next Independence Day and instead, they got… something else.
Batman Returns had already caused issues with parents and critics over its dark, twisted content and general weird vibe. Mars Attacks gave them more of the same, so they simply weren’t going to risk relaunching Superman with the same inherent weirdness challenging audiences.
Superman would remain off the big screen for a decade until Superman Returns attempted to relaunch the character.
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