The failure of Superman Lives to fly and Kevin Smith's spider story

05 April 2023
In the late 1990s, Hollywood was abuzz with rumors about a new Superman movie, which was set to be directed by Tim Burton and starred Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. 

The film, titled "Superman Lives," was one of the most highly anticipated projects in the entertainment industry at the time, but it ultimately never made it to the big screen. Despite its demise, the project remains an example of what might have been.

Burton, who had just come off the success of "Batman Returns," was a natural fit for the project. His unique visual style and ability to tell stories that balanced darkness and humor made him the perfect choice to bring Superman back to the big screen. The film was set to feature a script by Kevin Smith, who was known for his quirky, irreverent writing style. Smith's screenplay was filled with unique twists and turns, including the introduction of a villain named Brainiac, who was to be played by comedian Chris Rock.

But it was the casting of Cage as Superman that really got people talking. His film profile as a box office champion was just starting to take off after the success of The Rock and his Academy Award with for Best Actor in Leaving Las Vegas. 

Cage, a lifelong comic book fan, was eager to take on the role of the iconic superhero. He had even named his son Kal-El, which is Superman's birth name. 

Cage's casting was controversial at the time (as is always the case!), as many fans and critics were unsure if he was the right fit for the role. However, Cage was fully committed to the project, and his passion for the character was undeniable:

nicolas cage superman lives

Despite the excitement surrounding the project, "Superman Lives" ultimately hit a number of roadblocks. The budget for the film ballooned to over $100 million, which was an astronomical sum for a superhero movie at the time. There were also concerns about the script, with some executives feeling that it was too strange and unconventional. As a result, Smith was ultimately left as the writer of the film.

But perhaps the biggest blow to the project was the departure of Burton. The director left the project in 1998, citing creative differences with the studio. Without Burton's unique vision at the helm, "Superman Lives" lost much of its momentum. The project continued to languish in development hell for several years, with various directors and writers attached at different points.

Warner Bros spent $30 million on developing "Superman Lives," but in April 1998, they put the film on hold. Tim Burton, who had been set to direct the movie, left due to differences with producer Jon Peters and the studio. In September 1998, Alex Ford, an aspiring screenwriter and comic book fan, had his script for "Superman: The Man of Steel" accepted by Warner Bros. Peters was impressed with Ford's idea for a film series consisting of seven installments, but they parted ways due to creative differences.

The director's position was offered to Michael Bay, Shekhar Kapur, Martin Campbell, Brett Ratner, Simon West, and Stephen Norrington, but all turned it down. In June 1999, William Wisher Jr. was hired to write a new script, and Nicolas Cage assisted with story elements. Cage dropped out of the project in June 2000, while Wisher turned in a new script in August, which reportedly had similar elements to "The Matrix." Oliver Stone was approached to direct but declined. Will Smith was offered the role of Superman, but he turned it down due to concerns about potential industry backlash over his ethnicity.

Eventually, the studio decided not to proceed.
Despite its ultimate failure to fly, "Superman Lives" remains a fascinating piece of Hollywood history. It represents a time when superhero movies were still finding their footing, and filmmakers were willing to take risks and push boundaries. It's also a testament to the power of creative collaboration, as the project brought together some of the most talented and innovative minds in the industry. While we'll never know what "Superman Lives" could have been, its legacy lives on as a testament to the power of imagination and the potential of what might have been.

The Legacy of Jon Peters 'spider' idea

spider tank wild wild west

Kevin Smith has often spoken publicly about the development process of the film. One of the most notable aspects of Smith's accounts is his recollection of the studio's insistence on including a giant mechanical spider in the movie.

According to Smith, the spider was proposed by the film's producer, Jon Peters, who had a fascination with the arachnid. Smith recounted in interviews that Peters believed that spiders were "scary" and that they were "the deadliest killers in the animal kingdom." Peters was convinced that a giant mechanical spider would be the perfect addition to "Superman Lives" and even drew sketches of what he envisioned it would look like.

Smith, who was hesitant about the idea, eventually relented and wrote a scene in the script that featured Superman battling the spider. However, as the film continued to struggle in development, Smith eventually left the project, and the spider was never realized on the big screen as part of the Superman franchise.

Several years later, when Sonnenfeld was directing "Wild Wild West," Peters again proposed the idea of a giant mechanical spider. This time, the concept was realized, and the spider became a centerpiece of the film's climax. Peters even admitted in interviews that the idea had originated from his time working on "Superman Lives."

Smith tells the story with great humor here

The inclusion of the spider in was met with mixed reactions. Some viewers found it to be an exciting and memorable aspect of the film, while others found it to be overly ridiculous and out of place. Regardless its presence in "Wild Wild West" is often cited as an example of Hollywood excess and the dangers of studio interference.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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