10 Scrapped Marvel Movies That Almost Happened

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

It might not seem like it now when you look at the all-time box office records, but for decades, it was nearly impossible for Marvel to get a movie off the ground. This was a time, mainly during the 1980s and '90s, when Hollywood executives didn’t quite understand the comic book industry and even Marvel itself wasn’t in control of the movie rights to its own characters, which were spread across a number of different studios.

The result of these cannibalized movie rights was that the House of Ideas had very little say in the development of their own movies—most of which ran into so many logistical and creative road blocks that they barely got through the initial pitch stage. But a few of these films got tantalizingly close to production—and with some top-flight Hollywood talent attached, too. Here are 10 scrapped Marvel movies that almost happened.

1. JOE CARNAHAN’S DAREDEVIL

Even after Ben Affleck’s tepid 2003 Daredevil left the public consciousness, 20th Century Fox still had the license to the Man Without Fear and were set on giving the character another shot. And apparently director Joe Carnahan (The Grey)‏ was on the doorstep of helming not just one Daredevil film, but a whole trilogy as a period piece set in 1973, 1979, and 1985, respectively. The plan was to incorporate the music of the time as a thematic backbone that evolved as the series progressed through the years, focusing on a much grittier and violent New York City.

“So the first one would be Classic Rock, the second one would be Punk Rock, and the third film would be ‘New Wave,’” Carnahan said in an interview with Movie Pilot. “The problem was, the option was almost set to lapse so we made an eleventh hour bid to Marvel to retain the rights for a bit longer so I could rework the script.”

Ultimately, it was time that wound up being Carnahan's undoing. Before he could finalize the script, the studio’s option on the property expired and the rights reverted back to Marvel, which then gave the character his own Netflix series. If you want just a taste of the tone Carnahan was aiming for, the director released a “sizzle reel” of what his Daredevil period piece would have felt like:

2. NICK CASSAVETES AND TOM CRUISE'S IRON MAN

Almost all of the pieces were in place in the early 2000s to move forward with Iron Man, which was to be written by Smallville creators Al Gough and Miles Millar. Or at least they seemed to be in place. In November 2004, New Line Cinema and Marvel Studios were so certain that they had landed director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) that executives were openly talking about it in the press, with Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad proclaiming that, “Being able to work with such an acclaimed writer/director as Nick Cassavetes to bring one of our preeminent superhero franchises to the big screen is really special.”

The news hit all the big websites at the time … and then there was nothing. It turns out the celebrations were a bit premature; there was no deal in place, and by April 2005, Arad was singing a much different tune. “We want Nick to make the movie. We had him," he said during an earnings call. "He's an Iron Man aficionado. Everything was fine and then negotiations got delayed. We lost a year."

But it wasn't just a director who was tentatively in place; it was the star, too. During this time, Tom Cruise’s name became attached to the role of Tony Stark, but there was never any firm commitment on his side. 

"There have been discussions over the last several years and there are a number of factors involved," producer Kevin Feige explained of Cruise’s involvement in 2004. "All we know is that we're putting all the pieces in place and then we'll find the best Tony Stark that we can get."

When none of this got off the ground, Marvel restructured and 2008’s Iron Man would hit theaters without New Line, Cassavetes, Millar, Gough, or Cruise being involved.

3. DAVID HAYTER’S BLACK WIDOW.

How dedicated was David Hayter to making his Black Widow movie a reality for Lionsgate? He named his daughter Natasha after Natasha Romanova, the character’s real name. The script, according to Hayter, would have involved the Widow stopping some nukes that got loose, set to the backdrop of a “splintered Soviet Empire.”

The movie was in production during the mid-2000s, when Hayter was hot off writing the first two X-Men movies and the script that would eventually be turned into Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (he’s also the voice of Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid video game series, for you trivia buffs). Unfortunately, this was also a time when female-led action movies like Æon Flux were flopping at the box office, and the studio just didn’t believe there would be a market for the film.

So the film was scrapped and the character was stuck in development hell until the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought Scarlett Johansson onboard to play her, beginning in 2010’s Iron Man 2. And it’s been all but confirmed that she’ll get her own solo outing within the next few years.

4. KURT SUTTER’S PUNISHER

Sons of Anarchy fans might want to avoid reading about this one, lest your heart break in two. After Thomas Jane’s original outing as the Punisher met some decent box office returns in 2004, Lionsgate and Marvel were keen on a sequel. And who better to craft Frank Castle’s next adventure than Sons creator Kurt Sutter? It sounds like the perfect pair on paper, but it all fell apart when the company rejected Sutter's script.

In an interview with Looper, Sutter explained that he tried to “motivate the absurd violence with some kind of meaning” in the Punisher’s character, while also giving him a love interest. When his original script was rejected, producers Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige had him do another go-round, which went worse than the first.

“So they tried to guide me back, and like I said, I did another pass, but poor Gale Anne Hurd—I think she's the one who sort of championed me in that process,” Sutter recalled. “And Kevin … We were sitting at a big table, and I think she started glancing over at Kevin, going [whispering under breath] ‘I don't know what happened!’”

Sutter’s script was scrapped in favor of 2009’s Punisher: War Zone, which replaced Jane with Ray Stevenson and was a failure for the studio. Now, though, the character can be seen on his own Netflix series played by Jon Bernthal.

5. JAMES CAMERON’S SPIDER-MAN.

The most well-known—and perplexing—scrapped Marvel movie remains James Cameron’s attempt at Spider-Man in the years after Terminator 2 was released. This one was pretty far along at Carolco Pictures, with Cameron writing an extensive treatment focusing on Peter Parker developing his super powers, falling in love with Mary Jane Watson, and taking on villains like Electro and Sandman.

Though those sound like the pillars for any Spidey origin story, there were plenty of off-brand moments in the film, such as its heavy profanity and the infamous sex scene between Peter and Mary Jane atop a bridge tower. This take on the Wall Crawler probably wouldn't have found its way into your Happy Meal. The whole project fell apart when Carolco went under, which gave way to Sam Raimi's mega successful 2002 Spider-Man.

6. SAM RAIMI’S SPIDER-MAN 4.

Following Spider-Man 3’s divisive 2007 release, director Sam Raimi was admittedly tired. The third installment of the series had upped the scope, the action, and the cast, but it had failed to live up to the expectations of critics and audiences. Even Raimi was openly disappointed with it, saying that he "didn’t really believe in all the characters, so that couldn’t be hidden from people who loved Spider-Man."

Still, the director was onboard for a fourth and final installment in the series, going so far as to work on a script that included John Malkovich as the villainous Vulture and Anne Hathaway playing Felicia Hardy, a.k.a. the Black Cat from the comics (though she’d be playing “The Vulturess” in this version).

With pressure mounting and deadlines looming, Raimi decided to call it quits, telling Vulture that he told Sony, “I don't want to make a movie that is less than great, so I think we shouldn't make this picture. Go ahead with your reboot, which you've been planning anyway."

The studio soon made news of Raimi’s departure public, but, in a still-strange move, they then immediately announced The Amazing Spider-Man reboot for 2012 in the same exact press release, explaining what Raimi meant when he said he knew they were planning a reboot anyway. This is a case of both sides half-heartedly planning a movie that was always doomed to failure.

7. WESLEY SNIPES’S BLACK PANTHER

The early 1990s were a wasteland for scrapped Marvel movies. There was Oliver Stone’s attempt at bringing Elektra to the screen, which was soon replaced by Natural Born Killers, and an early draft for a Luke Cage movie that was floating around. One of the most high-profile of these failed films was a Black Panther project, starring Wesley Snipes.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Snipes recalled one conversation with director John Singleton, who he was trying to convince to helm the project: "I am loosely paraphrasing our conversation. But ultimately, John wanted to take the character and put him in the civil rights movement. And I’m like, 'Dude! Where’s the toys?! They are highly technically advanced, and it will be fantastic to see Africa in this light opposed to how Africa is typically portrayed.' I wanted to see the glory and the beautiful Africa. The jewel Africa."

Finding a director wasn’t the only problem—there were script issues and the fact that in the early ‘90s, CGI technology hadn’t yet caught up with a world like Black Panther’s Wakanda.

"Ultimately, we couldn’t find the right combination of script and director and, also at the time, we were so far ahead of the game in the thinking, the technology wasn’t there to do what they had already created in the comic book," Snipes said.

Though Black Panther fizzled, Snipes kept an interest in the Marvel Universe, which eventually led to the title role in the Blade trilogy.

8. BO DEREK AS DAZZLER

X-Men mainstay Dazzler was originally conceived as a partnership with Casablanca Records for a debut in an animated film. Those plans soon fell through when Casablanca was bought out, but the treatment for the animated movie, and the rights to the character, remained with Marvel. The next idea was a no-brainer: Turn that treatment into a live-action movie.

The treatment was written by former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, and it was presented to none other than Bo Derek, who agreed to star in the project. Because the treatment was originally intended as an animated partnership with Casablanca, it had roles for all of the record company’s biggest names, like Cher, Rodney Dangerfield, KISS, Robin Williams, and Donna Summer (though these would have likely been all dropped for live-action).

A bidding war over the project ensued, but Shooter explained on his website that a combination of a lackluster final script—not written by anyone with a background in comics—and Derek’s insistence that her husband, John Derek, direct the movie caused the project to fall apart. Dazzler eventually became a regular in the X-Men universe during the 1980s, but the disco-loving mutant with the ability to create light shows from her hands never quite reached A-list level.

9. THE REVOLVING DOOR OF DOCTOR STRANGE

Hollywood’s interest in Doctor Strange began decades before the Sorcerer Supreme’s 2016 big screen debut. In 1978, actor Peter Hooten donned the mystical mantle of Strange for a live-action TV movie that was meant to spawn its own show. Well, that never quite materialized, and soon after, movie studios began showing an interest in bringing the character to theaters.

Two well-known names took cracks at Doctor Strange with no luck. The first was Bob Gale, one of the minds behind the Back to the Future series. He wrote a script in 1986 that eventually found its way online a few years ago. After that project failed to get off the ground, writer/director Wes Craven was attached to bring the character to life at Savoy Pictures until it went bankrupt.

After that, writers and directors like David Goyer, Guillermo del Toro, and Neil Gaiman were all linked in some way to Strange until Marvel eventually hired director Scott Derrickson to direct Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange in 2016.

10. X-MEN ORIGINS: MAGNETO

Before Magneto’s early days were recounted in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, the Master of Magnetism was going to get his own feature film in the same vein as X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The movie was to take a look at the character’s time as a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II and show how that experience shaped his views toward humanity in the decades after.

The script was written by Blade and Batman Begins writer David Goyer, who was also tapped to direct the project. This was until director Matthew Vaughn was hired to do First Class. When asked if his Magneto script was part of the inspiration for Vaughn’s take on Magneto’s origin, Goyer told Mandatory, “It was sort of that but expanded. I was a little bummed. They definitely took some elements from our script.”

15 Fascinating Facts About Schindler’s List

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List brought to the screen a story that had gone untold since the tragic events of the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member, used his pull within the party to save the lives of more than 1000 Jewish individuals by recruiting them to work in his Polish factory. Here are some facts about Spielberg’s groundbreaking film on its 25th anniversary.

1. The story was relayed to author Thomas Keneally in a Beverly Hills leather goods shop.

In October 1980, Australian novelist Thomas Keneally had stopped into a leather goods shop off of Rodeo Drive after a book tour stopover from a film festival in Sorrento, Italy, where one of his books was adapted into a movie. When the owner of the shop, Leopold Page, learned that Keneally was a writer, he began telling him “the greatest story of humanity man to man.” That story was how Page, his wife, and thousands of other Jews were saved by a Nazi factory owner named Oskar Schindler during World War II.

Page gave Keneally photocopies of documents related to Schindler, including speeches, firsthand accounts, testimonies, and the actual list of names of the people he saved. It inspired Keneally to write the book Schindler’s Ark, on which the movie is based. Page (whose real name was Poldek Pfefferberg) ended up becoming a consultant on the film.

2. Keneally wasn't the first person Leopold Page told about Oskar Schindler.

The film rights to Page’s story were actually first purchased by MGM for $50,000 in the 1960s after Page had similarly ambushed the wife of film producer Marvin Gosch at his leather shop. Mrs. Gosch told the story to her husband, who agreed to produce a film version, even going so far as hiring Casablanca co-screenwriter Howard Koch to write the script. Koch and Gosch began interviewing Schindler Jews in and around the Los Angeles area, and even Schindler himself, before the project stalled, leaving the story unknown to the public at large.

3. Schindler made more than one list.

Liam Neeson, Agnieszka Krukówna, Krzysztof Luft, Friedrich von Thun, and Marta Bizon in Schindler's List (1993)
Universal Pictures

Seven lists in all were made by Oskar Schindler and his associates during the war, while four are known to still exist. Two are at the Yad Vashem in Israel, one is at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and one privately owned list was unsuccessfully auctioned off via eBay in 2013.

The movie refers to the first two lists created in 1944, otherwise known as “The Lists of Life.” The five subsequent lists were updates to the first two versions, which included the names of more than 1000 Jews who Schindler saved by recruiting them to work in his factory.

4. Steven Spielberg first learned of Schindler in the early 1980s.

Former MCA/Universal president Sid Sheinberg, a father figure to Spielberg, gave the director Keneally’s book when it was first published in 1982, to which Spielberg allegedly replied, “It’ll make a helluva story. Is it true?”

Eventually the studio bought the rights to the book, and when Page met with Spielberg to discuss the story, the director promised the Holocaust survivor that he would make the film adaptation within 10 years. The project languished for over a decade because Spielberg was reluctant to take on such serious subject matter. Spielberg’s hesitation actually stopped Hollywood veteran Billy Wilder from making Schindler’s List his final film. Wilder tried to buy the rights to Keneally’s book, but Spielberg and MCA/Universal scooped them up before he could.

5. Spielberg refused to accept a salary for making the movie.

Though Spielberg is already an extremely wealthy man as a result of the many big-budget movies that have made him one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, he decided that a story as important as Schindler’s List shouldn’t be made with an eye toward financial reward. The director relinquished his salary for the movie and any proceeds he would stand to make in perpetuity, calling any such personal gains “blood money.” Instead, Spielberg used the film’s profits to found the USC Shoah Foundation, which was established in 1994 to honor and remember the survivors of the Holocaust by collecting personal recollections and audio visual interviews.

6. Before Spielberg agreed to make the movie, he tried to get other directors to make it.

Part of Spielberg’s reluctance to make Schindler's List was that he didn’t feel that he was prepared or mature enough to tackle a film about the Holocaust. So he tried to recruit other directors to make the film. He first approached director Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor whose own mother was killed in Auschwitz. Polanski declined, but would go on to make his own film about the Holocaust, The Pianist, which earned him a Best Director Oscar in 2003. Spielberg then offered the movie to director Sydney Pollack, who also passed.

The job was then offered to legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who accepted. Scorsese was set to put the film into production when Spielberg had an epiphany on the set of the revisionist Peter Pan story Hook and realized that he was finally prepared to make Schindler’s List. To make up for the change of heart, Spielberg traded Scorsese the rights to a movie he’d been developing that Scorsese would make into his next film: the remake of Cape Fear.

7. The movie was a gamble for Universal, so they made Spielberg a dino-sized deal.

When Spielberg finally decided to make Schindler’s List, it had taken him so long that Sheinberg and Universal balked. The relatively low-budget $23 million three-hour black-and-white Holocaust movie was too much of a risk, so they asked Spielberg to make another project that had been brewing at the studio: Jurassic Park. Make the lucrative summer movie first, they said, and then he could go and make his passion project. Spielberg agreed, and both movies were released in 1993; Jurassic Park in June and Schindler’s List in December.

8. Spielberg didn't want a movie star with Hollywood clout to portray Schindler.

Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson auditioned for the role of Oskar Schindler, and actor Warren Beatty was far enough along in the process that he even made it as far as a script reading. But according to Spielberg, Beatty was dropped because, “Warren would have played it like Oskar Schindler through Warren Beatty.”

For the role, Spielberg cast then relatively unknown Irish actor Liam Neeson, whom the director had seen in a Broadway play called Anna Christie. “Liam was the closest in my experience of what Schindler was like,” Spielberg told The New York Times. “His charm, the way women love him, his strength. He actually looks a little bit like Schindler, the same height, although Schindler was a rotund man,” he said. “If I had made the movie in 1964, I would have cast Gert Frobe, the late German actor. That’s what he looked like.”

Besides having Neeson listen to recordings of Schindler, the director also told him to study the gestures of former Time Warner chairman Steven J. Ross, another of Spielberg’s mentors, and the man to whom he dedicated the film.

9. Spielberg did his own research.

In order to gain a more personal perspective on the film, Spielberg traveled to Poland before principal photography began to interview Holocaust survivors and visit the real-life locations that he planned to portray in the movie. While there, he visited the former Gestapo headquarters on Pomorska Street, Schindler’s actual apartment, and Amon Goeth’s villa.

Eventually the film shot on location for 92 days in Poland by recreating the Płaszów camp in a nearby abandoned rock quarry. The production was also allowed to shoot scenes outside the gates of Auschwitz.

10. The little girl in the red coat was real.

Promotional image for 25th anniversary rerelease of Schindler's List.
Universal Pictures

A symbol of innocence in the movie, the little girl in the red coat who appears during the liquidation of the ghetto in the movie was based on a real person. In the film, the little girl is played by actress Oliwia Dabrowska, who—at the age of three—promised Spielberg that she would not watch the film until she was 18 years old. She allegedly watched the movie when she was 11, breaking her promise, and spent years rejecting the experience. Later, she told the Daily Mail, “I realized I had been part of something I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch the film.”

The actual girl in the red coat was named Roma Ligocka; a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, she was known amongst the Jews living there by her red winter coat. Ligocka, now a painter who lives in Germany, later wrote a biography about surviving the Holocaust called The Girl in the Red Coat.

11. The movie wasn't supposed to be in English.

For a better sense of reality, Spielberg originally wanted to shoot the movie completely in Polish and German using subtitles, but he eventually decided against it because he felt that it would take away from the urgency and importance of the images onscreen. According to Spielberg, “I wanted people to watch the images, not read the subtitles. There’s too much safety in reading. It would have been an excuse to take their eyes off the screen and watch something else.”

12. The studio didn't want the movie to be in black and white.

The only person at MCA/Universal who agreed with Spielberg and director of cinematography Janusz Kaminski’s decision to shoot the movie in black and white was Sheinberg. Everyone else lobbied against the idea, saying that it would stylize the Holocaust. Spielberg and Kaminski chose to shoot the film in a grimy, unstylish fashion and format inspired by German Expressionist and Italian Neorealist films. Also, according to Spielberg, “It’s entirely appropriate because I’ve only experienced the Holocaust through other people’s testimonies and through archival footage which is, of course, all in black and white.”

13. Spielberg's passion project paid off in Oscars.

Schindler’s List was the big winner at the 66th Academy Awards. The film won a total of seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director awards for Spielberg. Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were both nominated for their performances, and the film also received nods for Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound.

14. Schindler's List is technically a student film.

Steven Spielberg gives a speech
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images

Thirty-three years after dropping out of college, Spielberg finally received a BA in Film and Video Production from his newly minted alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, in 2002. The director re-enrolled in secret, and gained his remaining credits by writing essays and submitting projects under a pseudonym. In order to pass a film course, he submitted Schindler’s List as his student project. Spielberg describes the time gap between leaving school and earning his degree as his “longest post-production schedule.”

15. Spielberg thinks the film may be even more important to watch today.

In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, it's currently back in theaters. But Spielberg believes that the film may be even more important for today's audiences to see. "I think this is maybe the most important time to re-release this film," the director said in a recent interview with Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News. Citing the spike in hate crimes targeting religious minorities since
2016, he said, "Hate's less parenthetical today, it's more a headline."

Additional Sources:
The Making of Schindler’s List: Behind the Scenes of an Epic Film, by Franciszek Palowski

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

The Most-Searched Holiday Movie in Every State, Mapped

iStock.com/chrispecoraro
iStock.com/chrispecoraro

Do you live in a Gremlins state or a Home Alone state? StreamingObserver is here to tell you. The streaming-industry site recently used Rotten Tomatoes and other public data sources to figure out the most popular Christmas movies in each state. Spoiler: It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t quite the Christmas classic you thought it was.

The list takes some liberties with what might be considered a “Christmas” movie. Die Hard (a favorite in Missouri and Wisconsin) made the list, as did Batman Returns (California’s most-searched movie) and Edward Scissorhands (popular in Nevada and Arizona). They aren’t quite the traditional Hallmark holiday fare, but they each include at least some nod to the Christmas season.

Then there’s the more standard Yuletide entertainment, like A Christmas Carol (Tennessee’s favorite) and Frosty the Snowman (South Dakota's pick). Christmas in Connecticut, oddly enough, is Montana’s favorite (unclear whether that’s the 1945 film or the 1992 TV movie), while Connecticut’s favorite is the 1983 Eddie Murphy film Trading Places. The Apartment, The Snowman, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Best Man Holiday also make an appearance. Seven states list Gremlins as their favorite, while six chose Home Alone and three chose Scrooged.

The data is based on Google searches, rather than surveys, so it's possible that the movie at the top of each state's list isn't so much beloved as it is curiosity-inspiring. It's possible that all these people are Googling Gremlins, then deciding not to watch it. But we feel fairly confident saying a lot of people will be watching Die Hard this Christmas season. (Tip: You can't stream it on Netflix right now, but you can rent it on Amazon.)

The 2018 results are fairly different from StreamingObserver's 2016 data, which you can compare here. Do you agree with your state's preferences?

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