Since 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace," there have been four Spider-Mans ("Spider-Man," "Spider-Man 2," "Spider-Man 3" and "The Amazing Spider-Man") and seven Batmans ("Batman," "Batman Returns," "Batman Forever," "Batman & Robin," "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises"), but just two Superman movies: 2006's "Superman Returns" and the upcoming Superman reboot, "Man of Steel." How did one of the most iconic comic book characters of all-time fall between the cracks during the last 25 years, when movies starring the likes of Thor became global blockbusters? It all started with "Superman Lives."
"If 'Superman Lives' had come out, I think it would have been a giant hit," filmmaker Jon Schnepp told HuffPost Entertainment. "This movie would have been a departure and completely different from what we're used to from Superman and superhero lore."
"Superman Lives" was supposed to hit theaters in the summer of 1998 with Nicolas Cage playing Superman and Tim Burton in the director's chair. (Test shots from the film with Cage in his Superman costume have been widely disseminated on the internet.) Kevin Smith wrote the script -- with rewrites from Wesley Strick and then Dan Gilroy. It was all set to go into production in early 1998 after Warner Bros. had spent upward of $30 million on pre-production. Then, it didn't happen.
"They put a lot of money into 'Superman Lives,'" Burton told HuffPost in an interview published in January. "What's interesting is if we had been able to make the movie the way we wanted to back then -- it was like 'Batman' all those years ago; there was always a bit of controversy. Like, 'Oh, it's too dark.' It's like, well, now it looks like a light-hearted romp."
The plot of "Superman Lives" would have followed the "Death of Superman" storyline, where Brainiac, an alien supercomputer, is the main villain and Superman is killed and then later resurrected by the Eradicator. Actors ranging from Kevin Spacey to Tim Allen to Chris Rock Courteney Cox to Jim Carrey were approached for various roles. (Spacey eventually starred in "Superman Returns" for Bryan Singer.)
"We were trying to explore the more human side of the character and get into that whole thing," Burton explained, before admitting that there's no real rhyme or reason to why certain films fall apart. "There's all sorts of forces at work: Where the studio's at, the chemistry of the people and the producers. I think that's why it's hard to understand why certain things go down."
Schnepp, director of "Venture Bros." and "Metalocalypse," is trying to understand. He's producing documentary about "Superman Lives," one he's financing, in part, through Kickstarter. The campaign, which started on Jan. 24, has a pledge goal of $98,000. With 10 days to go, Schnepp has raised $79,895. The project is called "The Death of 'Superman Lives.'"
"I want to find out why this was stopped, because I think it was a great idea," Schnepp said.
One reason could have been the cold climate for superhero movies at the time. "Superman Lives" was set to go into production right after "Batman and Robin" was released. That Batman film, with George Clooney as the Caped Crusader, was mocked by fans and critics alike, and earned only $107 million at the domestic box office. According to Schnepp, that failure was a big reason why "Superman Lives" died.
"'Batman and Robin' f--ked sh-t up," Schnepp said, bluntly. "It kicked every comic book in the f--king balls."
After "Batman and Robin," it would be eight years before another Batman film was even released. In between, Singer's "X-Men" movie came out and helped launch the modern superhero era. As Schnepp posits, however, everything could have been different if Burton was able to make his version of Superman.
"If 'Superman' came out in 1998 when it was supposed to -- 'X-Men' didn't come out until 2000. How would that have affected 'X-Men'? How would that have affected a lot of Marvel movies? How would that have affected the further adventures of Batman? Michael Keaton was scheduled to make a reappearance as Batman in Burton's 'Superman Lives.' Who knows what that could have spawned?" Schnepp said. "I think it would have changed the landscape for superhero films quite a bit. So much so that we wouldn't have had a Christopher Nolan Batman reboot. We would have probably had some other kind of Batman reboot. It might have been a Frank Miller reboot. It might have gone the way of Darren Aronofsky's Batman." Miller and Aronofsky collaborated on a "Batman: Year One" film in 2000; like "Superman Lives," that film was never produced.
As for "Superman Lives," Schnepp told HuffPost Entertainment that he hopes to get Burton, Smith and Cage on camera to discuss the film, but hadn't confirmed anyone just yet.
"It's not negative toward Warners or Tim Burton," he said. "It's more of a larger idea: things that could have been, that didn't exist, that were almost ready to go and how I want to see that now and didn't get the chance. I want to tell the story of why this thing was created this way."
More information on "The Death of 'Superman Lives'" can be found here.