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Development hell is full of DC movies that never made it to the big screen, but arguably the most famous of the bunch is Tim Burton's Superman Lives. The Nicolas Cage-fronted take on the Man of Steel mythos would've been unlike anything seen in the world of Superman before or since, and it has become an object of obsession for many fans. I recently had a chance to talk about the project with Superman Lives screenwriter Dan Gilroy during the press junket for his new film Roman J. Israel, Esq., and he explained that it would've put an unprecedented focus on Kal-El's status as an outsider. The Nightcrawler director explained:
Superman Lives was one of the great disappointments of my life. Tim Burton, it was a big disappointment for all of us. It was a really unique take on the character. Superman, you talk about Roman, Superman is a guy who is utterly consumed with being different. He feels like a freak. He's in therapy. My Superman, our Superman was in therapy. Lois wanted to marry him but he couldn't commit because he like didn't know where he was. I would love for them to do that. That would be a great deconstruction. We were doing a deconstruction of Superman. Very different from anything they're doing now.
We have seen elements of that Superman story told before (particularly in Man of Steel), but Superman Lives would've really gone all in on Clark Kent's feelings of alienation -- pun very much intended. With no real knowledge of who he is or why he has these amazing abilities, Nic Cage's version of Superman would've felt like a complete outsider with little ability to connect to humans. Rather than embrace the symbolic perfection and hopefulness that characterized the Christopher Reeve years, this take would've provided a "deconstruction" to examine him as an isolated loner dealing with godlike powers.
There have been rumored attempts to revive Superman Lives over the years, as fan interest in the unfinished project has remained relatively consistent in certain corners of the DC fanbase. There were even rumors of a possible animated adaptation of the unmade movie at one point, and while Dan Gilroy hasn't heard anything about that possibility, he made sure to let me know that he's very interested in seeing something like that happen.
If you want a closer glimpse at what Nic Cage could've looked like as Superman, check out a trailer for the 2015 documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? below.
Of course, while Dan Gilroy still wants to see Superman Lives get made, not everyone feels the same way. In fact, Nicolas Cage has remained vocal about the fact that he thinks the film has developed an even more powerful legacy by NOT getting made. There's undoubtedly credence to both arguments, but Gilroy seems to believe that it's something that could (and should) still come together.
As for the current silver screen incarnation of the Man of Steel, he will return when Justice League premieres in theaters on November 17. Tickets for Justice League are now available, so make sure to get yours now! Beyond that, make sure to catch Dan Gilroy's work on Roman J. Israel, Esq. when the ethical thriller debuts this weekend on November 10.