The Superman movies that almost happened

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 17 2013 4:00 a.m. MDT

Henry Cavill as Superman in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' action adventure "Man of Steel."

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture, Clay Enos

Ever since Richard Donner first made audiences believe a man can fly with 1978’s “Superman,” fans have been dreaming of a day when the last son of Krypton could be portrayed onscreen in all his supersonic glory.

With any luck, this weekend’s release of “The Man of Steel,” starring Henry Cavill, could fulfill that dream.

But it’s only after a series of false starts, near misses and one overly nostalgic box-office dud.

In fact, “The Man of Steel” isn’t even the first time Cavill has been cast as the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Almost a decade ago, the 30-year-old British actor was attached to star in a version of Superman that would have been directed by McG (“Terminator Salvation”) based on a script by J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel).

This pre-“Superman Returns” version of the character was far enough along that Cavill had even attended costume fittings.

Somewhat ironically, though, the entire production, titled “Superman: Flyby,” ended up getting shut down due, of all things, to the director’s fear of flying.

But “Flyby” is just one of several wildly different takes on the character that have almost come to fruition over the last 20 years.

For anyone who thinks Superman’s lack of red trunks in “Man of Steel” is an unforgivable departure from the comics, just check out what some of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood have tried to do.

Here’s a rundown of the Superman movies audiences almost got to see.

“Superman Reborn

When: 1993-95

Who: After original “Superman” producer Ilya Salkind gave up on making a fifth installment with Christopher Reeve, producer Jon Peters (1989’s “Batman”) bought up the rights, sensing huge merchandising potential. He hired TV writer Jonathan Lemkin to work on a script, which was later rewritten by Gregory Poirier.

What: Lemkin’s screenplay attempted to adapt the 1992 “Death of Superman” storyline, which saw the hero killed in battle by an alien named Doomsday (only to resurrect later on).

But Lemkin’s version made a few big changes: Just before Superman dies, his life force somehow jumps from his body into Lois Lane’s. This causes her to give birth after just a few days to a super-powered son who matures into adulthood within three weeks, becoming the new Superman and ultimately saving the world — but not before Lois is killed off.

In Poirier’s rewrite, which did away with the virgin birth, Superman’s powers are revealed to stem from a mental discipline known as “Phin-yar” — basically, a Kryptonian version of the Force. After resurrecting, he has to use a high-tech mechanical suit à la Iron Man until he’s able to relearn his abilities. Poirier also introduced the android Brainiac as the film’s arch-villain with Doomsday as one of his creations.

“Superman Lives”

When: 1996-2000

Who: With Peters still attached as producer, indie filmmaker Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) was hired to write an entirely new script. Tim Burton signed on as director with Nicolas Cage set to star. Burton also brought in Wesley Strick, one of his “Batman Returns” scribes, to do yet another major rewrite (although not the last).

What: “Superman Lives” has become legendary as one of the biggest near-train wrecks in comic movie history.

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