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.”

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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