The history of movies based on DC Comics stretches back to the days of the “Batman” and “Captain Marvel” serials in the 1940s, as well as the Adam West “Batman” movie back in 1966. In the decades since those earliest efforts, DC movies have gone everywhere from Krypton to Oa and everywhere in between. Characters stretching from Superman to the geriatric mercenaries at the heart of the two “Red” movies have starred in films that come affixed with a DC Comics logo on them. But while the library of films based on DC properties is vast, that doesn’t mean every proposed project based on these properties gets made. Almost as dense as the library of existing DC movies is the catalog of unmade films based on those same properties.
These projects range from abandoned Superman and Batman movies in the 1990s to unproduced spin-offs and sequels set in the current, ongoing DC Extended Universe. The reasons why these movies never saw the light of day vary greatly from one individual project to the next. What unites all these films, though, is the fact that they’ve gone unmade, destined to become legends that people constantly think about but can never actually see.
Ava DuVernay’s New Gods became a myth
The world of the “New Gods” is not one of the most famous domains in the DC Comics pantheon. With characters like Big Barda and Mister Miracle, it’s a land full of weirdness that would take a delicate filmmaking touch to bring to a live-action movie. Enter Ava DuVernay, who signed on in March 2018 to helm a new feature film adaptation of the property. A year later, Tom King, a veteran of writing for these characters in the comics, signed on to help pen the screenplay.
The project continued to gain momentum in the next couple of years, with DuVernay noting at the end of 2020 that the pandemic had only heightened her enthusiasm for the project. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. announced in April 2021 that the “New Gods” movie was no longer happening. No official reason was given for this cancellation, but rumors swirled that it had to do with the fact that one of the films characters, Darkseid, had just appeared in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” Whatever the reason for its demise, Ava DuVernay’s “New Gods” movie adaptation now remains an enticing hypothetical, especially since the filmmaker has since teased that characters like Granny Goodness and Highfather would have factored into the project.
Ben Affleck’s solo Batman movie didn’t take wing
Less than a year after Ben Affleck signed on to play Batman in the DC Extended Universe, news broke that the actor would also write, direct and star in a solo movie about the Caped Crusader. Those plans changed by the beginning of 2017, when it was announced that Affleck would step down as director. He later quit the project entirely, noting that his own personal struggles with alcoholism influenced his decision to walk away from helming and starring in a Batman movie.
In the years since this project fizzled out, there have been various glimpses into what could have been. Joe Manganiello, who would have played one of the film’s villains, Deathstroke, was particularly forthcoming on what the feature would have looked like, including the fact that it would have involved Batgirl. “Batgirl jumps in to try to help Bruce because Deathstroke is so fast that he can anticipate Bruce’s movements,” Manganiello said in describing a set piece from the abandoned film. “And there was this huge fight in Gotham City where Batman is like, you know, completely afraid because he realizes he’s met someone who can take him. And that leads to this big climactic battle through the streets of Gotham City at the end.”
While Affleck won’t get to headline his own solo Batman movie, fans of his version of the character will get to see him reprise the role in the upcoming movie “The Flash.”
Cyborg’s standalone movie got its plug pulled
In the deluge of announcements regarding future DC Comics movies in October 2014, one title revealed was a solo “Cyborg” movie set for theatrical release in April 2020. One of the most distant DC projects scheduled up to that point, there wasn’t much in the way of development on the “Cyborg” film directly after that. The focus remained instead on introducing Cyborg to general audiences through the “Justice League” movie, though Fisher expressed excitement over exploring the character in a standalone feature and in hiring a diverse cast and crew to work on the production. Fisher also made mention that he wanted the Phantom Limbs to serve as an adversary to Cyborg in his solo outing.
As “Justice League” came and went, there were no further developments for “Cyborg.” No writers were hired to even write a first draft for the film, let alone someone getting recruited to direct it. Fisher began to express doubts the film would happen, with specific concerns over the budgetary problems with making a movie starring a fully digital character. By early 2021, “Cyborg” was officially dead, as Ray Fisher stepped away from the superhero role amid controversy over the way he was treated during “Justice League” reshoots. Though Fisher has expressed interest in returning to the part, at the moment, it looks doubtful audiences will be seeing a solo Cyborg motion picture.
Deathstroke couldn’t hit the target
As “Justice League” began filming in 2016, Ben Affleck revealed footage of somebody in a Deathstroke costume walking around on the set. It was later revealed that Joe Manganiello would play the DC Extended Universe version of the character, who would be a prominent figure in Affleck’s solo Batman movie. It was also later revealed that “The Raid” director Gareth Evans would helm a solo movie for Deathstroke, which would be ultra-violent and explore the inner life of this mercenary.
Much like Affleck’s solo Batman movie, the “Deathstroke” film never got off the ground. A year after it was first announced, Evans told the Hollywood Reporter that he hadn’t heard anything new on “Deathstroke.” Evans later divulged to Yahoo that the proposed production would have been a gritty affair and a sharp departure from traditional all-ages superhero fare. He’s not the only person once involved with “Deathstroke” to publicly reflect on what could have been. Manganiello revealed to Comicbook.com that the reason the project got cancelled was due to concerns over the story it was telling. “When the dust settled, it was not seen as a priority to make a $40 million movie about a villain origin story in which you show the backstory,” he explained. While the performer has expressed hope that a different incarnation of the project could one day emerge, a solo Deathstroke movie does not appear to be in the cards for the DCEU.
Justice League: Mortal was defeated by a writer’s strike
Back in 2007, Warner Bros. seemed certain to be making a live-action “Justice League” movie. This project, titled “Justice League: Mortal,” was set to be directed by Oscar winner George Miller and developed as an elaborate affair divorced entirely from the continuity of then-current Superman and Batman movies like “Superman Returns” and “Batman Begins.” A cast was assembled for the production that included people ranging from Adam Brody to Jay Baruchel, while Miller planned to film the project in his home country of Australia.
Then the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild of America strike happened. As the work stoppage wore on, Warner Bros. kept pushing back the start of filming until the movie was set to begin principal photography just after “The Dark Knight” was released. Once that Christopher Nolan movie hit theaters and shattered several box office records, Warner Bros. had a change of heart. Their ambitions for their comic book movies would now adhere to Nolan’s grounded vision rather than the more heightened spectacle Miller had planned for “Justice League: Mortal.” With that, this incarnation of “Justice League” was dead and it’d be another decade before a version of this project actually got released to theaters.
Joss Whedon wanted Angelina Jolie to play Wonder Woman
Back in the early 2000s, Joss Whedon was one of the hottest creative voices around thanks to his acclaimed work on TV shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly.” He was so in demand, in fact, that he signed on in 2006 to write and direct a live-action “Wonder Woman” movie. It was a big deal at the moment, a sign that Whedon was preparing to take his directorial career to the next level after his feature directorial debut, “Serenity,” and that Warner Bros. was ready to embrace one of DC’s most iconic characters.
Whedon would later note that Angelina Jolie was his dream pick for his take on Wonder Woman, though the project never got far enough to start casting. At the start of 2007, Whedon departed the project and Warner Bros. decided to go in a different direction. It would take an entire decade for the first live-action solo Wonder Woman movie to make its way to the big screen in 2017, while Whedon would get his chance to direct a movie featuring Diana of Themyscira once he took over the reshoots of “Justice League.”
Harley Quinn vs. Joker did not become a contender
In the wake of the success of “Suicide Squad,” plans began to formulate for “Harley Quinn vs. Joker” (not the official title), a movie centered on two of the film’s biggest characters. The project was entrusted to Glenn Ficarra and John Riqua, a duo who struck box office gold for Warner Bros. with their 2011 movie “Crazy Stupid Love.” Their description of the project made it sound like a much more warped than usual entry in the DCEU.
“It is great,” Ficarra said about the script in the fall of 2018. “The whole thing starts with Harley kidnapping Dr. Phil. Played by Dr. Phil hopefully. Because her and the Joker are having problems with their relationship. We had so much fun, I don’t know if we have had more fun writing a script in our career … We were doing a relationship movie but with the sensibility of a ‘Bad Santa,’ f***ed up, mentally deranged people. It was a lot of fun.” At the time, the duo expressed uncertainty over whether or not the screenplay would actually get turned into a real movie. Just months later, it was revealed that the project had been shelved. While there appear to be plans for Harley Quinn to continue to headline solo movies, a feature based around her and “Mr. J” apparently won’t be one of them.
Vincenzo Natali’s Swamp Thing got stuck in development quicksand
Horror director Vincenzo Natali broke out big-time with his 2000 horror film “Cube.” It was the kind of distinctive and chilling project that immediately gets people’s attention. It was inevitable that he’d get offers to do more high-profile work in the studio system. Eventually, one such opportunity arose in the form of a new film take on Swamp Thing. Previously brought to life in a pair of 1980s movies, Natali’s take on the material was aiming to be something quite different.
There wasn’t much in the way of major updates on Natali’s “Swamp Thing” movie after the filmmaker signed on. Radio silence on the production became especially apparent after Natali’s 2010 film “Splice” (distributed by Warner Bros.) bombed at the box office. That film’s failure could be a reason why passion cooled for Natali’s take on this DC Comics mainstay, though Natali claimed it was due to complicated rights issues related to the character. Years later, Natali would share through Twitter a quartet of pages from his screenplay for the “Swamp Thing” movie. These samples of his writing give a glimpse into the unique take Natali was planning to deliver for this protector of the swamp.
The Trench slipped beneath the waves
“Aquaman” wasn’t just a hit; it was a massive success that exceeded all expectations. Of course a sequel was ordered, but the movie proved so lucrative that Warner Bros. had even grander plans to expand its universe. The studio green-lit a spin-off entitled “The Trench,” which would focus on the carnivorous characters briefly glimpsed at in the movie. This film would have a horror tone more in line with what “Aquaman” director James Wan had explored in his earlier directorial efforts like “Saw” and “Insidious.”
After that, the trail went quiet on “The Trench”, with no real updates on the production beyond a producer noting it would likely arrive before “Aquaman 2” hit theaters. Because the production had gone quiet, it wasn’t a surprise when news broke in April 2021 that “The Trench” was no longer happening. Given that all the people involved in “Aquaman” were now focus on delivering a proper “Aquaman 2,” there just wasn’t enough time to fine-tune “The Trench.” It’s also likely that producers behind both projects began to question if there was enough interest from moviegoers in seeing these creatures headline their own movie. Thus, “The Trench” sank deep into the depths of development hell.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was not a purr-fect idea
Decades after “Batman Returns” hit theaters, Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman remains one of the most iconic versions of that Batman fixture. She proved so popular that there were initially plans to spin this version of the character off into her own movie. News first broke in 1993 that Pfeiffer’s Catwoman wouldn’t be in “Batman Forever” because Warner Bros. wanted her to headline her own solo movie.
From there, different incarnations of the project emerged, including one pitch that came about as late as the end of the 1990s from John August. Unfortunately, Pfieffer never got to headline her own Catwoman movie, with Warner Bros. getting scared of making comic book movies by the end of the decade thanks to the box office failure of “Batman & Robin.” That doesn’t mean audiences never got to see a “Catwoman” movie though. A new version of this project debuted in theaters in 2004 with Halle Berry in the lead role. It was not the cat’s meow with critics.
Batman Unchained remained under lock and key
Though “Batman and Robin” was (and remains) widely derided in the comic book movie community, Warner Bros. originally had high hopes for the project. Months before “Batman and Robin” even hit theaters, the studio signed director Joel Schumacher to direct another “Batman” movie and even commissioned a script called “Batman Unchained.” “This is the most fun job in the world, you just have no idea how much fun it is doing a Batman movie,” Schumacher said about the prospect of doing more “Batman” films. “There’s no reality police, you’re just making up this comic book with villains who make it fun. But also, I asked these actors to be in these movies, and I wouldn’t just say thanks a lot, I’m moving on. That would be unethical and not attractive.”
By the end of 1997, when “Batman and Robin” was officially declared a box office disappointment, Schumacher confirmed he wanted to do one more Batman movie that would appeal to the characters diehard fan base. However, he also said that it would be a while before he got around to helming such a production. As it turns out, “Batman Unchained” was canceled and Warner Bros. eventually opted to reboot the franchise entirely. This means fans missed out on a chance to see Nicolas Cage play the Scarecrow.
Superman Lives … until he didn’t
The saga of “Superman Lives” has become as famous as any comic book storyline Superman has ever appeared in. Kevin Smith was hired to write a screenplay for a new “Superman” movie and Tim Burton signed on to direct. All hell broke loose from that point as a whole mess of executives and producers wanted their own ideas to go into the project. Despite so many creative voices in the kitchen, “Superman Lives” got far enough along in production to not only cast Nicolas Cage as Superman but to even have him do costume tests in a new version of the Superman outfit.
Despite making such strides and having so much big-name talent onboard, “Superman Lives” was shelved a reported three weeks before cameras were scheduled to roll, with Warner Bros. concerned about spending so much money on a “Superman” film. This version of the project died, though a gigantic spider that was planned to factor into the film made its way into the expensive 1999 Warner Bros. flop, “Wild Wild West.” Years later, a documentary entitled “The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?” would chronicle the bizarre journey this project took into cinematic oblivion.
Justice League 2 won’t be restored
In announcing a vast slate of DC Extended Universe movies in October 2014, it was revealed that a “Justice League” sequel would arrive in theaters in June 2019, just 19 months after the first movie. Zack Snyder was going to write and direct the project, but that was all before the chaotic production of the first “Justice League” film. Just weeks after “Justice League” premiered, word broke that there were no further plans to retain Snyder for more DCEU movies, while the “Justice League” sequel had been put on the backburner.
Despite “Justice League 2” going unmade, Snyder has been open about his plans for not just this film but a potential third “Justice League” movie. These follow-ups would have eventually involved the Knightmare domain and evil Superman teased in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” While Snyder had expansive plans for how to follow up “Justice League,” it’s clear Warner Bros. has no intention of exploring those ideas anytime soon.