Like a cheating spouse who coincidentally goes cold on a relationship, things can simply and surprisingly just come to a stop just when it looks like they’re going good. Film productions are no different. And if we could see behind the bedroom doors of the many superhero movies that were greenlit, we wouldn’t at all be surprised when some of them were diagnosed ‘done’ before the camera even rolls.
From numerous Superman movies to a Rocketeer sequel that would’ve cemented Billy Campbell’s career as a bonafide matinee idol, superhero movies are one of the leading causes of wasted contract paper today. One minute they’re on, the next minute they’re off – and many trees lives are ruined as a result. Some fanboys may claim theirs were too.
directed by Wolfgang Peterson
starring Josh Hartnett/Jude Law, Colin Farrell/Christian Bale
date of release 2004
A film uniting DC Comic heroes Batman and Superman has been on the cards since, well, Moviehole has begun. And considering I created this little time-consuming brute about fourteen years ago, that’s a film that’s definitely earned its place atop of the ever-desirable Development Hell category.
I remember the very month that Warner Bros announced they’d signed Wolfgang Peterson (“Das Boot”, “The Perfect Storm”) to helm the ambitious “World’s Finest : Batman vs. Superman”, based on a script by Andrew Kevin Walker (“Se7en”), it was August of 2001, just a few months shy of the historic 911 tragedy.
After trying, with much difficulty, to get a new ‘Batman’ project up at Warner Bros for some time – The Joel Schumacher-directed “Batman Triumphant”, featuring Jeff Goldblum as The Scarecrow, the Darren Aronofsky-led “Batman Year One”, and the Boaz Yakin-directed “Batman Beyond” – the brass had finally settled on what shape and form the film franchise would take next. It would be a two-hander.
The net was caught by surprise at the news, not just because of how exciting a potential Batman-Superman team-up was, but because of how was involved. Peterson, not known for directing these types of films, was directing, but more so Andrew Kevin Walker, known for penning very dark, sometimes disturbing movies, including “8MM” and “Se7en”, had penned the script. And by all accounts, “World’s Finest” retained the dark traits of those earlier scripts.
In short, the screenplay focused on two bottomed-out old-school superheroes who come to blows following the murder of Bruce Wayne’s wife Elizabeth and the ever-manipulative Joker.
Peterson, keen to work on dry land for a while, said at the time that he was pants-wetting keen to do the spectacular superhero blockbuster.
“[It's] never happened before,” Peterson told MTV in 2002. “You had it in some of the comic books, but never on the big screen. They’re so different. … It sets up great material for drama.”
“I cannot tell you what really gets them together. I can say that much of [the conflict] is because of the different philosophies that they represent,” the director said. “Superman represents sort of everything clear and bright and noble. He represents our hopes and ideals. Batman, on the other hand, represents the dark and obsessive and vengeful side.
“The plot is structured in a way that these two very different sides basically of the same coin have to clash at some point because they handle situations totally differently. … For a large portion of the thing they are at each other’s throats. But then, of course, because they are both crime fighters, they join forces again and fight evil.”
The filmmaker was also excited at the prospect of utilising today’s whiz bang effects to make Superman’s flying technique look, well, super. Considering this would be the first time we’d have seen Supermnan on screen since 1987′s “Superman IV : The Quest for Peace”, you can understand Peterson’s enthusiasm.
So what happened to “World’s Finest”?
Well, after about eighteen months, it just went kaput. The film collapsed after all those expensive rewrites (Warners had “Batman & Robin” scribe Akiva Goldsman come in to add some “humour” to Walker’s extremely dark screenplay – pfft!), visual brainstorming, and location scouting, but not before Peterson started to pinpoint who he wanted to be his Superman and Batman, respectively. As my fellow web colleagues, and many of our readers, will recall, that was a fun game of mix-and-match played on the web for a while there in the early noughties.
Leading with a statement that Matt Damon was the “type” of actor he’d like to see play Superman, Peterson issued his wish list of actors for both the Man of Steel and The Caped Crusader. He would mix and match many on the list numerous times and sometimes slip in some radical ideas, like John Travolta and George Clooney – who had starred in Peterson’s “The Perfect Storm” – playing Clark and Dick.
“Clooney and Peterson had worked together previously and had been looking to do something else together; this was briefly discussed but Warner Bros didn’t want Batman vs Superman linked in any way at all to the previous Batman movies – especially Batman & Robin”, a source tells me via email. “So there was no way on earth he was going to cast Clooney as Batman in the film when he had played that same role in the studio’s worst-reviewed Batman movie… ever”.
With the Clooney and Travolta idea dropped, Peterson seemed to strictly target thirty-something heartthrobs for the roles of DC’s most famous superheroes.
Jude Law and Colin Farrell were favourites to play Superman and Batman, respectively, from the very beginning. “Pearl Harbor” star Josh Hartnett was also in contention for Superman there for a while (just as he was with both McG and Brett Ratner when they were prepping early incarnations of the film that would become “Superman Returns”), and Peterson was also said to be interested in a former child star named Christian Bale for the role of the Caped Crusader, shortly before the film collapsed.
Bale, of course, would ultimately stay on Warner’s radar and land the role of Batman in “Batman Begins” several years later.
The story of how Bale came to be on Warners and Petersons radar is an interesting one, and one of which I’m personally and proudly interrelated.
In a nutshell : It’s 2000. Bale, at the time a hard-working but hardly ‘in-demand’ actor, was still using his “American Psycho” cred to score himself auditions, but it looked as if the film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel would remain his career high-point. He couldn’t for the life of him or his agent score another hit, let alone another that would… pay.
I liked Bale. He was one of Moviehole’s earliest supporters. Say what you will, but I only knew him as the sensitive, down-to-earth and very determined young actor I envision he still is. We had met through the actor’s representative and publicist sometime in the late 90s to help with a push n’ pull on some of his ‘little’ projects. He was also good friends with fellow Aussie, Toni Collette.
Anyway, for a few years there, I scrubbed Christian’s back and he scrubbed mine. When one of his features needed a push, be it “Velvet Goldmine” or his small turn in the Nic Cage movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, I would help out. And Christian would, in return, help us with contacts and or interesting interviewees. And, of course, we’d always get first dibs on an interview if he had something to promote. There was a nice trail of email exchanges between us over the course of say, four or five years.
A few comic book fans had begun suggesting that Christian, most famous then for his role as the pre-teen hero in Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” (1987), might make a good Batman. This got back to myself, and ultimately Bale, and off we went on trying to champion Bale as the next Batman – for whatever project that might be. He laughed it off, believing he would never have a chance in hell (especially considering most of his movies flopped at the box office), but the prop up increased by the day.
A few delicately placed mentions of how interested Bale was in playing the part (we did the same thing with James Bond, which he also was keen to take a stab at and still might), accompanied with the oodles of support he’d started to receive in the comic book movie forums in regards to playing Batman, and Christian would score himself a screen test. And, it goes without saying, he impressed so much he got the job.
But I mention this because Bale’s first ‘try out’ for Batman was with Peterson’s “Batman vs. Superman”.
Had “World’s Finest” had taken off, Bale’s first foray as Batman might have been outside of the Nolanverse. Heck, there might never have been a Nolan-led “Batman”, if Peterson’s team up movie had come to fruition. Might we still one day see Bale’s Batman mix it up with someone’s Superman? Dunno. He doesn’t sound too keen these days, not with his resurgence popularity over the past decade. And I can understand that, he’s ready to try new things now.
Paul Walker, you’ll recall, also had a discussion with Warner’s about doing the Superman suit at one stage. The “Fast and the Furious” star tells me that it was an exciting offer but he just couldn’t do it, playing such a legendary role was too daunting a task. Still, he kept landing on WBs radar whenever a new “Superman” project came up.
“I’d die Superman”, Walker laughs, saying a fear of being typecast is what scared him off. “I’d be eighty years old and no longer be able to get a hard on, and the headline would read “Man of Steel is Impotent””.
Johnny Depp, no doubt a suggestion of both WB boy (and “Batman” director) Tim Burton and the films screenwriter Walker, who penned “Sleepy Hollow” for Burton and the actor, would also meet with the studio to discuss playing Metropolis’s Man of Steel. It never eventuated beyond a “hmmm..”. (Depp would soon score himself another franchise anyway, with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series).
The film welcomed some cool casting opportunities, even outside of the main duo.
Other characters in the picture included Lois Lane, The Joker, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang and Elizabeth Wayne, Bruce’s recently murdered wife. Imagine the possibilities.
Though nobody was officially signed, Peterson had settled on a Superman just before the pin was pulled on his project. Jude Law. “It was his”, the filmmaker said, confirming his Superman would’ve been a Brit-born boy.
But Law had started to get cold feet, namely because he didn’t want to sign up for a multi-picture deal, so Josh Hartnett was on stand-by.
Don’t believe they ever truly settled on a Batman, but Colin Farrell’s name never went away. And Bale, as I said, was always in with a shot too.
Though the plan was to release “Batman vs. Superman” well before the studio got going on new solo film projects for the respective superheroes, the WB – namely Alan Horn – ultimately had a change of heart. Rather than have a movie about two superheroes fighting, Horn wanted a superhero movie that would inspire and make people feel good.
And though it would be a while before Christopher Nolan would enter discussions with the studio to do a solo ‘Batman’ movie, by 2002 Warners were interested again (they’d flirted with it previously) in a Superman solo script (by JJ Abrams) called “Flyby” and its subsistence convinced the studio to create new solo adventures for Superman and Batman first, before teaming them on the big screen in a “World’s Finest”-like movie.
Wolfgang Peterson went on to make another film for Warners, historical-adventure epic “Troy” with Brad Pitt and (one-time Lois Lane contender) Rose Byrne.
But there was more than merit driving the company decision, in addition to the intelligent idea aforesaid was an underlying belief that kids wouldn’t take as much to “Batman vs. Superman”, being that it was a very “adult” take on the characters, as they would the JJ Abrams’ written “Superman” and as a consequence, the former would struggle to sell as many toys and other merchandise.
What ended up happening, at the end of the day, was Bryan Singer would make a light and inspiring ‘Superman’ movie called “Superman Returns” (2006), which wasn’t at all based on Abrams’ script, and Christopher Nolan would make a dark, complex psychological character-study titled “Batman Begins” (2005), for the other guy in tights. Best of both worlds, if you will – one dark, one light; two separate movies.
Some would no doubt still like to see “World’s Finest”, or at least a variation of it, come to fruition. And in 2011, it was rumoured that Warner Bros were seriously considering looking at it again.
Several years after it all fell apart, Petersen told SuperHeroHype, “I still think the Superman/Batman clash, putting them together in one film, would be absolutely fantastic. I hope it will still happen because they are so different as we know. The dark Batman and the sort of goody goody Superman. It’s so nice to play with both and see how the dynamic between the two, also including fighting between the two, how that would work.”
In a nice in-joke, “World’s Finest” [re] writer Avika Goldsman inserted a faux billboard for the canned film in another of his scripting efforts, “I am Legend”.
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