Superman and Superman II were great, but Superman III is where the decline of the franchise began. Then, Cannon Films purchased the rights of the franchise & ran out of budget while producing the fourth installment. That led to the release of an unwatchable, incomplete DC movie, which was even worse than the Josstice League. Superman IV: A Quest for Peace killed the franchise for almost two decades. But it’s not that Warner Bros. did not try to come up with a new Superman movie between Superman IV and Superman Returns. They tried hard, but just couldn’t get a film off the ground.
From 1992-1993, WB tried to revive the Man of Steel on the big screen. They hired Jonathan Lemkin to write the Superman story, but his script was just too crazy to be transitioned into a feature film. So, they brought in Gregory Poirier for rewrites, who added Braniac to the story. But that didn’t work either, and Kevin Smith was hired to rewrite that Superman script.
Now we’ve heard his legendary tales of the drama behind Superman Lives in the past. But now, he has revealed the narrative that was pitched to him by a letter that Warner Bros. wrote to him. He received this letter back in May 15, 1996. While speaking on the latest episode of his podcast, Fatman Beyond, he revealed the details he found in the letter. He said:
“I’ve been cleaning my office and I found some s–t and I just wanted to share this with you all. This is from Warner Bros. and it’s from, I don’t know if you can see the date there, the date is May 15th of 1996. What I hold in my hand is a 24-year-old Warner Bros. letter. May I read it to you? “It’s time for the rebirth of a hero. As you know, we are making a new Superman film, taking the world’s most famous superhero into the 21st century. The enclosed collection of comic books forms the basis of the take outline. We would love to discuss this with Kevin Smith at his earliest convenience.”
“This was the storyline that I was handed. Ready? “Alienated from the world he protects, convinced his relationship with Lois Lane is doomed, Superman is suddenly defeated and left for dead by the villain Brainiac, an intergalactic genius intent upon collecting the best DNA in the universe. Superman is secretly nursed back to health by his mentor Cadmus only to discover he has lost his superpowers. As Lois mourns the loss of her love and Brainiac frantically searches for Superman’s body, the Man of Steel returns, disguised, using a high-tech bodysuit to fight while he attempts to regain his superpowers. While battling Brainiac’s henchmen Parasite and Banshee, Superman rediscovers his powers and his love for Lois Lane. In a final showdown, Superman destroys Brainiac and saves the world that he has come to call home.”
Well, this certainly was something! But apparently, Smith found this pitch so bad that he rewrote his own Superman story. His story would’ve included Lex, Braniac & Doomsday. In order to bring it to life, WB hired Tim Burton to direct, who further dragged Nicolas Cage into the mix. This is how Superman Lives almost came into being.
Cage had been a part of the costume testing and everything else that goes during the pre-production stage. But, the BTS drama wasn’t over as Burton wanted to make this film his own. So, he added another writer for further rewrites. Ultimately, the budget of the film climbed up to $190 Million, and it was never made!