Many years ago in the time known as “the late ’90s” – a dark and terrifying era where teenagers walked the streets in a daze chanting “MMMBop” and Republicans in Congress tried desperately to make the American people care only for a semen-stained blue dress – Warner Bros. green-lighted a new Superman motion picture to be directed by Tim Burton with then-recent Oscar honoree Nicolas Cage in the role of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster‘s Big Blue Boy Scout from Beyond the Stars. Tim Allen and Jim Carrey were on board to play the villains Lex Luthor and Brainiac (????), Hulk Hogan was being wooed to play Doomsday, and visions of skull-shaped spaceships and giant spiders were dancing in the coke-addled mind of past-his-prime über-producer Jon Peters.
But with the studio’s top execs still sitting on inflatable pillows after the epic reaming they received on account of Batman & Robin they feared allowing their other prized superhero movie property to become another atrocious camp spectacle and flush a reported $180 million right down the drain. The movie was cancelled and Superman Lives became another permanent denizen of Development Hell. That’s show business.
Continue reading for more and to see what Cage would have looked like as Superman.
A major bone of contention that has long surrounded the failure of Superman Lives to reach the silver screen were the great liberties. Burton and Peters were taking with the established tropes of the character’s rich 75-year history. In order to appease the same avaricious toy manufacturers whose demands for more neon-colored garbage to shill to the nation’s ignorant youth resulted in tons of unnecessary gadgets and vehicles turning the Batman franchise into the Toy Fair by way of Can’t Stop the Music, the decision was made during the pre-production phase of Superman Lives (which would be the ONLY phase of Superman Lives) that Superman would not don his traditional red-and-blue costume, nor would he even fly for most of the movie.
Fans cried foul upon hearing the news but Burton and Peters, hungry for another Batman-style blockbuster to put both their careers back on top, cared little. Even Nicolas Cage, their $20 million choice to play the Man of Steel, voiced his objections to the aesthetic changes in a character he grew up idolizing (Cage, a lifelong comic fan, once owned an original copy of Action Comics #1 from June 1938 – the first appearance of Superman – and even named his son Kal-El), but he wasn’t exactly prepared to depart the production in protest over the changes.
In April 1998 Cage went to Warner Bros. to take part in the first flying effects test of the production. He was fitted for the redesigned Superman outfit – a sculpted black rubber suit with built-in musculature, the iconic “S” shield on the chest where it belongs, and a cod piece that would make Ron Jeremy green with envy. The test footage was viewed by executives at the studio who promptly decided to pull the plug on development right then and there. Although Burton and Cage moved on to other projects they waited and hoped for years that Warners would get over its case of cold feet and allow them to make the move, but by then the damage was done. It would be eight years before Superman finally flew again on the big screen, and that is another story I have no interest in telling.
For years fans who initially were skeptical about Cage taking on the role of the most famous superhero the world has ever known (yeah you heard me – take that Bat fans) wondered how exactly the actor looked in that redesigned costumed. A few years ago a color photo purportedly showing Cage in the Superman suit leaked out but was later deemed a fake, but thanks to Jamie Williams at Think McFly Think we now have real pictures of the man who would be Ghost Rider dressed as the last son of Krypton.
I consider myself a fairly open-minded person. Maybe we all don’t realize it yet and many of us never will, but I think the day development stopped on Superman Lives was an unfortunate day. You might think me a lunatic for admitting that the idea of a Tim Burton-directed Superman movie starring Nicolas Cage, certainly a priceless pairing of filmmaker and star if there ever was one, was one that I was seriously looking forward to witnessing become a reality. What they had intended to do with the character may have sounded positively mind-boggling and detached from any sense of who Superman was and what he represented, no doubt. Burton didn’t want to make Superman a brooding psychopath stalking ex-girlfriends and spending most of his screen time looking constipated; Bryan Singer ended up doing just that. The end result could have been a complete train wreck, a smashing success, or landed in the middle as a fascinating failure. We will never know for sure.
One thing I believe we can all agree on: Superman Lives would have been a hell of a lot better than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Nuclear Man. Give me a freakin’ break.