The Hit List: Unproduced Screenplays that Could Become Hit Comic Books

Tue, October 11th, 2011 at 11:58am PDT | Updated: October 11th, 2011 at 3:36pm

Comic Books
Chris Arrant, Contributing Writer

Doctor Strange is one of many unproduced screenplays that could be re-imagined as a comic book

In the dynamic world of comics, publishers look everywhere to find the next big story that'll get readers racing to comic shelves. Yesterday CBR News discussed the growing trend of unproduced screenplays being transformed into comic book hits such as Kevin Smith's "Green Hornet" series and the upcoming "Batman" project by Darren Aronofsky, but those aren't the only scripts nestled away in the recesses of Hollywood backlots. We've identified the top 22 scripts that mix brand-name characters with A-list talent or are unique, new projects by comics luminaries that could be re-imagined as potential comic sales powerhouses.

With the reach of the Internet, most of these scripts and treatments have either been released or leaked online, giving readers an eye-opening look into what could've been at the box office and what could still be if comic publishers want it bad enough. Although none of the scripts were written to fit neatly into a comic company's established continuity, these projects could be the ideal source for a standalone imprint a la DC Comics' All-Star line or Marvel's Ultimate Comics imprint.

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Untitled Batman Project by Darren Aronofsky
The History: Originally conceived as a feature film adaptation of Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One" series, the future "Black Swan" writer/director worked closely with Miller on this revamp of the Batman film franchise in 2000. Warner Bros. killed the project in favor of the "Batman vs. Superman" project, which itself was shelved when Christopher Nolan's pitch for the Batman franchise came through. Earlier this year Aronofsky revealed he was working with DC to adapt his script as a comic, similar to what he did with the DC/Vertigo graphic novel "The Fountain."

The Concept: Aronofsky said numerous times that this take rebooted both the pre-conceived film origins as well as the comic origins. In his take, the orphaned Bruce Wayne was raised by a father-son duo named Big and Little Al above a car garage. The younger Al became a mentor figure (a la Alfred), and assists the young Wayne as he becomes a street vigilante -- first with a simple scarf as a disguise, later a hockey mask and a cape. The masked Wayne leaves an impression on criminals he stops with his father's signet ring, stamping "TW" on their faces. That "TW" becomes better known as a bat-shape by the public, who in turn call this new crimefighter the Batman. Bruce Wayne adopts the public's name for him and runs into younger versions of Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle and even the Joker before they make their final, villainous turn.

"Wonder Woman" by Joss Whedon
The History: Arguably one of the most renowned canceled comic book movies in recent memory, it all started in 2005 when Warner Bros. and Joel Silver's Silver Pictures announced Joss Whedon would write and direct a feature film adaption of DC's premiere heroine. Two years later Whedon was let go from the project, explaining that the studio executives rebuffed his ideas for the film and he departed the project over lack of enthusiasm on both sides.

The Concept: A comprehensive description of Whedon's take on Wonder Woman has never been revealed publicly, but producer Joel Silver described it as an origin story where Steve Trevor crashes on the island of Themiscyra and Diana returns with him to modern civilization. In an interview with "Entertainment Weekly," Whedon said that the story wouldn't be based on any one particular "Wonder Woman" comic as after the origin "there's nothing from the comics that felt right 100 percent..."

"Roundtable" by Brian K. Vaughan
The History: Fresh off tenure writing for TV's "Lost," Brian K. Vaughan was deep into movie screenplays and sold a project called "Roundtable" to Dreamworks in 2008. Since that initial announcement not much has been said about the project; it could be dead or just in a long funding phase.

The Concept: It can be lumped into to the "action/comedy" genre, but less a cookie-cutter story and more in line with the original "Ghostbusters" film. In the script, the wizened magician Merlin is in modern times attempting to organize a new group of Knights of the Roundtable to defend England from an ancient evil. With Arthurian times long past, Merlin finds his only recruits to be bookish scientists, over-the-hill athletes and actors. The high concept sounds intriguing, and the script itself lives up to the work Vaughn has done in the past on "Y, The Last Man" and "Runaways."

"Silver Surfer" by Quentin Tarantino
The History: Not much is known about this script, but after Quentin Tarantino's initial success writing and directing "Reservoir Dogs" the future "Kill Bill" helmer submitted a "Silver Surfer" script to then-rights holder Constantin Film. The script was quickly swept under the rug by both the studio and the filmmaker, but it still remains an object of desire by script aficionados and comics fans alike.

The Concept: This is one of the few scripts to never be leaked to the public, nor has anyone posted a review to hint at its story.

"Captain Marvel" By William Goldman
The History: William Goldman might not be a household name even if your house is full of comics, but once you see his credentials you'll understand. Goldman wrote over 30 movies, chief amongst those "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "All the President's Men," "The Princess Bride," and even did some uncredited work on "Zombieland." In 2003, New Line tasked him with writing a screenplay for DC's Captain Marvel (aka 'Shazam!') and the prolific screenwriter jumped at the task as an admitted comic book geek going as far back as 1938. The project ultimately fizzled, with numerous other screenwriters given the assignment but little progress on an actual film.

The Concept: Compared by some to the original Richard Donner "Superman The Movie," Goldman's script shows Billy Batson as a young orphan whose best friend and unrequited crush is a girl named Jenny. A field trip to a museum results in Billy acquiring the Captain Marvel abilities, and tests out his powers a la the original "Spider-Man" film. The central villain of the piece was Dr. Sivana who escapes from prison by dying and being resurrected by his two children, Beautia and Magnificus. There's a lot to like about the script (child romance, chess hustlers) but a lot of things missing (Black Adam, Tawky Tawnee) but could still be a story worthy of release as, if not as a film, a comic.

"Superman: Flyby" by J.J. Abrams
The History: Years before "Star Trek" and "Lost" made him a geek icon, writer/director J.J. Abrams was an up-and-comer in Hollywood after the success of the TV series "Felicity." In 2001 he launched the then-new series "Alias," and was also tapped to write a reboot of the "Superman" films. This was before Bryan Singer took a stab at DC's Kryptonian and Warner Bros. attached Brett Ratner to direct a movie based on Abrams' script. The film went so far as sending out offers to actors to play the lead role, with everyone from Josh Harnett to Jude Law and Ashton Kutcher in talks but ultimately turning it down. Ratner left in 2003 over these casting difficulties, with McG filling in and doing screen tests with a number of new actors including the future Superman Henry Cavill before the entire project was dumped in favor of Singer's revamp in 2006.

The Concept: Although Abrams would years later successfully reboot "Star Trek" to overwhelming praise, his 2002 concept for a new "Superman" featured some profound changes that would shock fans. Clark Kent's basic earth origin is intact, but his Kryptonian roots show his father Jor-El on one side of a civil war with a new character, a brother named Kata-Zor, on the other side. Once Kal-El becomes an adult on Earth, he reveals himself to the world as Superman which brings his distant relative, uncle Kata-Zor's Ty-Zor to earth to continue their familial struggle. Ty-Zor actually kills Superman with the help of some other Kryptonians, with the movie transitioning to Kal-El meeting his Kryptonian father Jor-El in the Kryptonian version of heaven. Long story short, he's resurrected and fights off his villainous cousin and ends the movie flying towards Krypton in a cliffhanger ending scene.

"Iron Man" by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar & David Hayter
The History: From the duo that brought you "Smallville" and the writer of the first "X-Men" film, this draft was created for director Nick Cassavetes in 2004. Despite years of revisions on the script, then-producer New Line couldn't get the film started and relinquished the rights back to Marvel in 2006.

The Concept: The story puts Marvel's Armored Avenger in a father vs. son struggle as Tony is drawn to battle his father Howard, who becomes War Machine after Tony reveals the Iron Man armor. Iron Man's chief foe the Mandarin plays a big role in the film as well, working as a rich playboy not unilike Tony, but with a secret second life as a terrorist. The screenwriters consulted with novelist Michael Crichton's researchers to ground the movie in scientific realism and enlisted the designer of "Spider-Man 2's" Doctor Octopus to design the Iron Man suit.

"Superman" by Mark Millar
The History: After a contentious departure from DC in 2001 over mishandling of "The Authority," 2008 saw Millar openly lobbying for the job of re-inventing Superman on film. Millar said he was working with an unnamed "American action director" on the film, which he planned as a trilogy with an over-arching story a la "Lord of the Rings." Ultimately no one other than Millar confirmed the viability or studio interest in his pitch, but it was enough to get fans and journalists talking for months.

The Concept: Millar kept his concept close to the vest, but seeing his track record reinventing heroes on "The Ultimates" and his previous Superman work with "Superman Adventures" and "Superman: Red Son" gives you an idea of how big it could possibly be. With Millar's exclusivity with Marvel coming to a close earlier this year, now could be the time Millar mends fences with DC and uses this as a bargaining chip.

"Bruce Wayne" by Tim McCanlies
The History: Although this pitch was for a television series and not a movie, McCanlies' "Bruce Wayne" project bears mention because of how close it came to production and how it directly influenced the later release of "Smallville." In 1999, McCanlies was a hot property for his work on "The Iron Giant" and developed this young Bruce Wayne series to dig into the familiar origins of Batman, but looking into the whys and hows of it coming into being. The TV series was killed off after Aronofsky's "Batman: Year One" film seemed to be moving forward, but an episode where Wayne visited Smallville was directly spun off into what became "Smallville."

The Concept: McCanlies' idea was of a teenage Bruce Wayne being a trust-fund baby of sorts, traversing the globe and getting into trouble along the way. His childhood butler Alfred bails him out of his most recent cross with the law and brings him back to Gotham as the young Wayne is given the keys to his father's company. McCanlies' pitch was very detailed, spinning out a five year plan for the series with numerous connections to the DCU including appearances by Barbara Gordon, Wildcat and Deathstroke.

"Batman Vs. Superman" by Andrew Kevin Walker & Akiva Goldsman
The History: In the early 2000s, movie studios were wildly trying to brew up new versions of both the "Batman" and "Superman" film franchises. In 2001, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker ("Se7en") melded those concepts with an unsolicited pitch titled "Batman vs. Superman" which was warmly received and given to expert rewriter Akiva Goldsman to fine-tune. Goldsman's revised draft was a high priority before J.J. Abrams' "Superman: Flyby" stole the attention of movie producers, as well as the perceived negative of having two marquee characters in one movie when they could each support their own.

The Concept: Walker and Goldsman's script shows Bruce Wayne five years after retiring from the cowl of Batman and Superman is in a bad spot himself after a messy divorce from Lois Lane. After Wayne's new wife is murdered by a returning Joker, the Batsuit is dusted off and put into action to ferret out the murder plot which ties in Lex Luthor. Superman returns to Smallville to date his high-school sweetheart Lana Lang, but is eventually pulled into the search for Batman's murdered wife and put at odds with Gotham's crusader.

"Catwoman" by Daniel Waters
The History: After Tim Burton balked at doing a third Batman film despite contractually agreeing to one years prior, Burton successfully negotiated to trade off that last commitment to do a "Catwoman" spinoff movie with Michelle Pfeiffer. Burton enlisted his "Batman Returns" scribe Daniel Waters ("Heathers") to work up a script, but the treatment wasn't turned in until the day Joel Shumacher's "Batman Begins" hit theatres continuing what Burton had begun with the the first Batman film franchise. Waters said the timing "may not have been [his] best logistical move." The script died on delivery thanks to Shumacher's movie as well as the Waters script's own peculiarities.

The Concept: Picking up from the end of "Batman Returns," this prospective film had Selina Kyle stricken with amnesia and relocating to Oasisburg, a stand in for Las Vegas. The resort town is run by a team of superheroes, with Catwoman poking holes (and fun) at the whole set-up. Waters described the superheroes in the "Catwoman" script as "so good you hate them," leading Catwoman to be the anti-hero of the story.

"Daredevil" by Chris Columbus & Carlo Carlei
The History: Handpicked by 20th Century Fox to direct this new film series after his success on "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," in 1996 Columbus worked with relative unknown foreign writer/director Carlo Carlei to work up a fitting movie for Matt Murdock. After four years of pre-production the movie could never get on a roll and New Regency bought the rights and enlisted a new writer and director, which ultimately became Mark Steven Johnson's 2003's "Daredevil" with Ben Affleck in the lead.

The Concept: Columbus' idea for what makes a "Daredevil" film work had a solid foundation: the works of Frank Miller. But in one of the most fast-paced scripts ever, Columbus and Carlei condensed the "Man Without Fear," "Elektra Saga" and "Born Again" story-arcs into one frenetic screenplay. Matt's father Jack plays a bigger role in this script than in the 2003 film, using the rise and fall of the small-time boxer to serve as the crux for both Matt and the Kingpin's origins. Both Bullseye and Elektra also appear in the script, with the Kingpin at one point proposing to Elektra.

"Doctor Strange" by Stan Lee & Alex Cox
The History: After successfully running Marvel as Editor-In-Chief for decades, Stan Lee relocated to Hollywood to become the point man for Marvel's movie ambitions. One of several things that came out of that was a unique collaboration between Lee and "Repo Man" director Alex Cox. Funded by Regency Films with a film distribution deal already worked out with Warner Bros., the project ultimately fizzled over disagreements with Marvel over ancillary merchandising deals.

The Concept: This whirlwind script sets up Stephen Strange in New York City before spiriting him off to the Dark Dimension for a showdown with Dormammu and a final battle on Easter Island of all places. Described as "fun" and "campy" by a number of sources, the script glossed over Strange's origins and instead focused on Strange and his assistants battling with Dormammu.

"Green Lantern" by Robert Smigel
The History: Before Warner Bros. went the direction they did with 2011's "Green Lantern," they had another idea -- "Green Lantern" as a comedy. In 2006 they hired writer Robert Smigel ("SNL," Triumph The Insult Comic Dog) to work it up as a starring vehicle for Jack Black. This speculative script was met with tough criticism after its existence was made public, leading the movie studio to switch gears and go a more serious route with Ryan Reynolds.

The Concept: Smigel's story put the powerful Green Lantern's ring not on Hal Jordan or any other pre-existing Lantern, but instead a new character named Jud Plato. This portly would-be hero spent his days selling furniture while coming to grips with his new role as Green Lantern on earth and with the Green Lantern Corps.

"Sgt. Rock" by John Milius
The History: Writer/director John Milius was a hot commodity after the 1980s, creating memorable dialogue for "Apocalypse Now" and directing the original "Conan the Barbarian." Although he's rarely returned to the director's chair, he's written a number of scripts including this early '90s gem. His "Conan" star was pushing hard to do a "Sgt. Rock" movie and the project would have been an ideal reunion but the movie studios failed to make it work.

The Concept: Milius' proposal put Sgt. Rock in the trenches of World War II in the Italian campaign. A long-time war buff, Milius included real-life military figures from the time as well as a multi-cultural approach to the war. Described by one reviewer as a "straight up war-is-hell" film, it shows Sgt. Rock going behind enemy lines to defeat the Germans.

"Sleepless Knights" by Grant Morrison
The History: Sold to Dreamworks more than four years ago, Morrison's "Sleepless Knights" was described by the writer as a family-friendly, coming-of-age, fantasy-adventure picture. It's one of several thrusts into Hollywood Morrison has made over the years, but it reigns above all as the one that received the most notice. Guillermo del Toro was attached at one point to direct with superstar producer Don Murphy also signing on to the project, but since 2008 not so much as a peep has been heard about the project.

The Concept: A modern day fairytale where a faulty time machine resets the entire world so every day is Halloween (no reference to the song by Ministry, I presume). Described by MTV Splash page as "kind of like 'Groundhog Day,' but for everyone," this new Hallo-world setting would see the eath filled with fictional Halloween creatures such as ghosts and ghouls until a band of people unite to fend them off, called aptly enough the Sleepless Knights.

"Fantastic Four" by Michael Chabon

The Concept: Although only a 3-page treatment, Chabon's take on Marvel's First Family came about after being solicited in the late '90s for a movie pitch from Chris Columbus' 1492 Productions who owned the film rights at the time. Columbus spent years trying to find the right approach to the film, and ultimately went in a different direction for the 2005 film.

The Story: Chabon's story skips over the FF's origin, starting with a bus full of tourists visiting the headquarters of the famous Fantastic Four. Their origin would be rushed over with a video (much like a Disney attraction), before setting in to the nuclear family aspect of Reed and Sue Richards, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. The villain of the piece would have been Dr. Doom, traveling back in time to prevent the birth of a figure destined to prevent him from conquering the world. The figure remains unknown until the end, but the FF chase after Doom once they get wind of his plot. It also includes a variation of the old plotline from the comics where Sue transforms from the Invisible Girl to the Invisible Woman, which adds a lot to the character and the team dynamics as a whole. By-and-large it's a story about Reed & Sue versus Dr. Doom, with the Thing and Human Torch playing ancillary roles and an informal laugh track.

"Black Widow" by David Hayter
The History: After becoming a go-to guy for superhero films after the success of "X-Men" and "X-Men 2," screenwriter David Hayter was enlisted by Marvel to draft a script starring their Russian spy. His script was given high marks by the studio with Hayter being given the chance to direct the film, but after a number of female-fronted action movies such as "Aeon Flux," "BloodRayne" and "Ultraviolet" fizzled at the box office Marvel put an end to the project.

The Concept: Set in the final days of the Cold War, it's the coming-of-age story of Natasha Romanov. After her parents are killed when she was a child, Romanov is thrust into a career as a KGB super spy that turns ugly after the Soviet Union crumbles. Seen as a liability, the new government goes to kill Romanov but the vixen disappears before that order's carried out. She re-emerges years later as a independent mercenary but is drawn back to her homeland for a job involving an insane asylum and more than 400 loose nuclear weapons.

"Doctor Strange" by Bob Gale
The History: Fresh off his history-making "Back To The Future" screenplay, Bob Gale was brought inside Marvel in the mid-'80s to work up a feature film rendition of the company's master of the mystical arts. The film was actively looking for a director in 1986 but for unknown reasons ended up mothballed soon after.

The Concept: Gale's story stuck close to Dr. Strange's comic book origin, with a brief prelude showing the Ancient One as a young mage centuries earlier preventing the summoning of Dormammu with a magic artifact called the Skullkane. In the opening, Dr. Strange is a full on guy-you-want-to-hate and only through his accident and commeuppance training under the Ancient One does he become a likable protagonist.

"The Crow: 2037" by Rob Zombie
The History: Years before "House of 1000 Corpses" or his "Halloween" remake, Rob Zombie was best known as a musician that directed his own music videos. Hollywood kept its eye on him, and one of the many early projects he circled was a third "The Crow" film. Ultimately the studios passed on the project for being too different than previous installments of the franchise, and future "Crow" films went a low-budget, direct-to-video route.

The Concept: Set in the future, "The Crow: 2037" followed a young boy after he and his mother were murdered by a Satanic priest. One year later the titular Crow resurrects the boy but takes the memories of his past until twenty-seven years later where it all comes back and vengeance is sought for his and his mother's death.

"Plastic Man" by the Wachowski Brothers
The History: In 1995 Steven Speilberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. had the rights to do a Plastic Man movie and enlisted a young pair of writers named Larry and Andy Wachowski to do it. This was a year before "Bound" and three years before "The Matrix," with their only feature credit for writing the Sylvester Stallone/Antonio Banderas flick "Assassins." Back in the '90s it was considered a risky gamble due to the amount of special effects needed, and the project gathered dust until after "Speed Racer" where the brothers briefly talked about reviving it. Ultimately the duo went on to other projects, but this still floats around Hollywood (and the Internet) for anyone to read.

The Concept: The Wachowskis have described this script as "the closest script to a comedy we'll write," and sets up Patrick "Eel" O'Brian as Plastic Man, an environmentally-conscious ex-con who tries to be an honest citizen. Akin to such comedies as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "The Mask" in terms of its brand of partially animated slapstick comedy, it's oddly suited for the character as he deals with unrequited love and battling villains.

"Spider-Man 4" by Sam Raimi
The History: Fans were up in arms after it was revealed Sony kicked Sam Raimi off the planned "Spider-Man 4" film, but all was forgotten when relative dark horse candidate Marc Webb ("500 Days of Summer") was picked to reboot the relatively young franchise. The disagreements between Sony and Raimi boiled down to the director being unable to complete the film in the timeframe Sony wanted, but the uneven response to "Spider-Man 3" could have played a factor as well.

The Concept: The plot for "Spider-Man 4" (or "Spider-M4n" as some people called it) remains a mystery, but details did leak that suggested John Malkovich would play the Vulture and Anne Hathaway was set to play either Black Cat or a new female character called the Vulturess. There were also conflicting reports of Electro playing a role in the film as well.

Know of any unproduced projects we forget? Sound off on the CBR forums.

TAGS:  unproduced screenplays, batman, wonder woman, roundtable, silver surfer, captain marvel, superman, iron man, bruce wayne, batman v superman, catwoman, daredevil, doctor strange, green lantern, sgt. rock, sleepless knights, fantastic four, the crow

 
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