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The Craziest Thing About Tim Burton's Canceled Superman Project

Long before Zack Snyder resurrected Superman from the ashes for Man of Steel, Tim Burton came dangerously close to bringing his own spin on Kal-El for a project known as Superman Lives. One of the many drafts for Superman Lives was written by Dan Gilroy, a talented screenwriter who’s currently making the rounds promoting his directorial debut – the spectacular Nightcrawler. But what would his Superman story have been like? He finally explains.

Dan Gilroy spoke about his draft for Superman Lives with IndieWire, and says that the major difference he would have brought to the story was "therapy." According to his take, Kal-El never tells his son, Jor-El, where he came from. So we have this man on Earth with superhuman powers (who would have been played by Nicolas Cage), but no idea where they came from. As Gilroy explains it:

His biggest fear is that he's an alien. Our Superman was in therapy at the beginning of the film. He's in a relationship with Lois Lane and he can't commit. Or he was maybe in couple's therapy. But he can't commit because he doesn't know who he is or what is going on with him. He's hoping that he has some physiological condition that gives him these powers but that he's still human. It becomes very apparent, though, early in the script, when Lex Luthor uncovers the remnants of the spacecraft, he suddenly realizes – ‘Oh my god, I'm an alien.’ It was all about the psychological trauma of it."

Superman in therapy? I’m not sure audiences are ready to see the world’s strongest superhero on a shrink’s couch. In addition to Nic Cage, Dan Gilroy says that they had Chris Rock on hand to play Jimmy Olsen. This all sounds like the makings of a broad comedy. Knowing Tim Burton, he likely would have cast Johnny Depp as Lex Luthor, and then we’d have to contend with that hammy performance. A pale-faced Lex Luthor who speaks in some funny accent? Where do I sign up…

At one point, there was test footage of the Superman suit. It looked like this:

Instead of making Superman Lives, Tim Burton moved on to future projects, and Bryan Singer took a stab at the Man of Steel for Superman Returns. When that movie failed to move the needle, Superman was shelved until Zack Snyder brought him back. As Gilroy noted in the article above, he took over Superman Lives after Kevin Smith took a stab at writing what he thought was the perfect Superman script. If you haven’t heard Smith’s version of the totally bizarre path he took to writing a Superman script – as well as the studio’s ludicrous response to his ideas – you have to click on and listen to his incredible story.

Sean O'Connell
Sean O'Connell

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.