The Avengers have arrived.
The long awaited big screen adaptation of the legendary Marvel Comics superhero team in is finally playing in theaters. There has never been a crossover movie quite like The Avengers; characters established in their own original movies, made with the express intention of later putting those characters together in one big movie. The hype surrounding the release of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America was not just about the opening of a big blockbuster movie in and of itself. As much as anything else, the hype was also about how each movie brought the world one set up closer to The Avengers.
It's all been done.
Or has it?
What about those crossover movies, some potential dreams comes true, some potential nightmares come true, that never quite made it into movies theaters?
In the world of Hollywood Development Hell that is the movie business, many ideas, crossover and otherwise, are talked about. Few come to fruition.
Some of those ideas can run anywhere from the bizarre to the unfeasible or, in some cases, both.
Take, for instance, these examples...
The Beatles in The Lord of the Rings as Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Speaking as a huge fan of all three of the above, I am so glad this project never came to be.
Back in the day when Beatlemania was all the rage, The Beatles original old school show biz manager, Brian Epstein, signed a three picture deal for the The Fab Four with United Artists. A Hard Day's Night and Help! were the first two films of these deals.
By 1966, things had changed a bit since those two cinematic moptop romps were filmed. The Beatles had performed their last live show. They started smoking those funny cigarettes Bob Dylan gave them. They were among the first people on the UK to drop acid. And, perhaps most significantly, the lads from Liverpool were replacing lyrics like "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" with lyrics like "No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low".
The Era of Beatlemania had officially bitten the dust.
The boys themselves, now Zuckebergesque millionaires in their mid-20's, decided that they wanted to run their career a little differently from here on in. And they had the power to do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted. As anyone who has sat through the Star Wars prequels can tell you, that kind of creative control in not necessarily a good thing.
The Beatles were now, in part, defined by their own reactions against the earlier part of their career. They no longer had any taste for the incredible amount of handling they had undergone during their Beatlemania phase, for instance. Huge stadium shows were out. Rather than making live TV appearances, they made short films of their songs (early rock videos, really) to show on the Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand. And they sure weren't into making silly off-the-wall movies designed to sell soundtrack albums. Nonetheless, there was still a small matter of the contractual obligation they had for that pesky third Beatles movie. Well, if the lads were gonna do a film, they were gonna do it their way. Their, it turns out, lead to some -shall we say?- interesting ideas.
In the mid 60's, Italian film maker Sergio Leone had just created the genre that became known as the Spaghetti Western. The genre was typified by films of his like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Yep, one of The Beatles movie ideas was that they would be the stars of a western; quite possibly a Leone-like Spaghetti Western. The movie may well have featured John, Paul, George and the aptly named Ringo sporting Clint Eastwood-like hair and beards while slinging their genre deconstructing six guns to the tune of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack perhaps peppered with a few psychedelic sounding Fab Four Country and Western songs.
The movie, oddly tittled A Talent For Loving, was actually scheduled to shoot in Spain. The reason for aborting the production was ostensibly on account of weather problems in that country. Though some might say it was the Hands of the Good Movie Gods intervening. If so, The Beatles would continue to keep those Hands pretty busy for some time to come.
The other idea the Beatles had was to do a film adaptation of JRR Tolkein's classic Fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Back in the Sixties, The Lord of the Rings was seen as more of a mind blowing trippy hippie kinda book and not as much as the celebrated epitome of all geekdom that it is today. The lads were serious enough about the idea to approach the director of the SF classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick. This made perfect sense because, aside from Kubrick being an accomplished A-list director at the time, 2001 was a movie that was very popular with the hippie crowd in 1968.
The Beatles. Tolkien. Kubrick. 1968. Did I mention the part about those funny Dylan cigarettes and being some of the first people in the UK to drop acid?
Stanley Kubrick's Lord of the Rings, Beatles-style, had already been cast too: George Harrison as Gandalf, Paul McCartney as Frodo Baggins, Ringo Starr as Sam Wisegamgee and John Lennon as Gollum.
Hey, man, don't shoot the messenger.
While a Kubrick LOTR would have been fascinating, God knows how much of Tolkien would have actually made it to the final cut. Just ask Antony Burgess, Stephen King and Vladimir Nabokov how Kubrick film adaptations worked out for them.
Not to mention that The Beatles are not actors. They would have been plugging their own personalities into pre-established Tolkien characters. So the movie would have ended up with a Maharishi-like Gandalf, a over-the-top cutesy Frodo, an angry anti-authoritarian Golum and a goofily downbeat Sam.
It's also rumoured that, after Kubrick turned the project down, British film maker John Boorman was approached. Boorman too would have been an "interesting" fit, having gone on to direct films like Deliverance, Excalibur and one of the trippiest SF exercises of all time, Zardoz.
According to Peter Jackson, it was Tolkien himself, by virtue of the fact that he was still alive at the time, who put the ultimate kibosh on the whole bizarre mash-up of a project.
The Beatles finally ended up getting their long desired hippy dippy adventure movie and got to honour their United Artists contract at the same time. The solution to both problems was the animated film, Yellow Submarine. The animated movie was appropriately psychedelic to the era. It also demanded very little of The Beatles, outside of writing some new songs and appearing in a short live action epilogue at the end of the film.
|Another crossover that never happened...|
Zeppelins, Dinosaurs, Vikings and Nazis
With a line up like that, how could you go wrong?
Well, let's start with never making it...
While none of the above elements were established movie franchises per se, they were, and still are, elements that, even by themselves in just one film, can make for awesome movies.
Hot on the heels of the success of the original 1933 King Kong, producers and directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper were approached by MGM studios to make a fantasy adventure movie so big that it would make King Kong look like a spider monkey. The movie in question was to have been titled War Eagles.
The basic elements of the movie would have gone something like this: explorers discover a lost valley. In this remote valley, descendants of Vikings lost centuries before continue to thrive. Also still existing in this valley: dinosaurs. Vikings and dinosaurs. Of course. De rigeur for any great adventure epic, really.
In addition to dinosaurs, there are also giant prehistoric eagles (the fossil records for which have yet to be discovered, I guess). Naturally, the Vikings ride these giant eagles majestically through the skies. Somewhere along the way, it being the eve of World War II and all, the Nazis attempt to invade the US of A. Their attack fleet is made up, naturally, of Zeppelins. Oh, yes, indeed, my friends, the climatic battle of War Eagles would have featured Vikings riding a top giant prehistoric eagles fighting off Nazi Zeppelins over the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
For the 1930's, War Eagles have been positively Michael Bay in its scope (though probably better directed). The movie would have been in Technicolor, the same process for making colour movies (a rarity back then) used in The Wizard of OZ and Gone With The Wind. Willis O'Brien, the effects legend behind King Kong, was set to do the visual effects. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume, who wrote many of the hit MGM Tarzan movies as well as the now classic 50's SF film, Forbidden Planet.
With a premise so rich and a team like that, it begs the question: how did this movie not get made? Well, the answer had something to do with the real life version of World War II.
Producer Cooper was also very much the adventurer. He was a flier and subsequent POW during World War I. Not unlike the Carl Denham character in King Kong, Cooper shot wildlife documentary footage in exotic locales like Africa and South America during the 20's. On the brink of the US entry into World War II, Cooper left Hollywood to join the US Air Force, despite the fact he was already old enough to have been exempt from military service. When he left, War Eagles was put on hold. It was never picked up again. At the time of Cooper's departure, the film was pretty far into production too, as this excellent book tells us.
A novel , supposedly based on the unfilmed screenplay for War Eagles, came out many years later, though, I'm told, given War Eagles' history and pedigree, it is something of a let down. IMDB lists a 2012 version of War Eagles, with a similar plot to the original, as being "in development" but it cites no stars, director, writer, producer or studio attached to it.
Hey, Peter Jackson, you showed a great amount of admiration for King Kong in your 2005 remake. Maybe you could get to War Eagles after that Hobbit thing, k?
Star Trek Meets Eddie Murphy
The best idea in blockbuster movie crossovers since Richard Pryor met Superman.
Back in the mid 80's, riding high on the phenomenal success of the first Beverly Hills Cop movie, former Saturday Night Live star Eddie Murphy was just about the biggest comic on the planet. It seems that somebody got the idea of expanding Murphy's comedic range beyond that of just the planet.
Also not doing too badly in the mid 80's was the Star Trek franchise. The feature film series based the seminal SF TV series was hot off the one two punch of the hit movies, Star Trek II and III. Leonard Nimoy, director and star of the upcoming Star Trek IV, felt that, after all the emotionally wrenching death, destruction and resurrection in II and III, it was time for the Trek franchise to lighten up a bit. After all, where was the Star Trek movies answer to the show's classic comic relief episode, The Trouble With Tribbles?
Well, the answer certainly wasn't in the idea that came next.
Apparently some of the suits at Paramount Pictures got wind of the lighter direction idea for Trek. I guess they looked at some Beverly Hills Cop box office receipts and suddenly came up with a brilliant idea. Why not put Eddie Murphy in the next Star Trek movie? Unfortunately, their question was a rhetorical one.
Nimoy played the studio's little game and considered the idea. Murphy, reportedly a huge fan, leaped at even the very idea of appearing in a Star Trek movie. The wacky alien concept was bounced around but, in the end, it was decided that Murphy would be funniest if he were allowed to stay squarely in his mid 80's urban context. Thus the idea of a time travel story line was born.
According to Nimoy's book, I Am Spock, Nimoy met with Murphy in the ascending superstar's new sparsely furnished Hollywood Hills mansion. Nimoy writes that both parties,while remaining enthusiastic, expressed reservations over such a crossover and that both were well aware of its potential for failure.
The story goes that someone at the studio suddenly became aware of Superman III, which featured ground-breaking comedian turned movie star Richard Pryor in a central role. The combo of the very funny Pryor and the very established franchise of Superman was, well, poorly received by critics and fans alike. Superman III did okay at the box office yet still sent the franchise into a slump. Somebody at Paramount got appropriately scared of the idea of mixing franchises and of potentially killing both Murphy's and Trek's reputation simultaneously. Keep the two apart, though, and there was almost guaranteed success for each.
That ended up being the right call. Star Trek IV went on to become one the highest grossing Star Trek movies ever. Murphy's next two movies, The Golden Child and Coming to America, are still among the star's top ten highest money makers ever.
The time travel scenario did stay in the picture, though. The part Murphy was supposed to have played in Star Trek IV eventually morphed in the role of 20th century marine biologist Dr.Gillian Taylor, Kirk's love interest.
Imagine if Murphy had stuck with the part that far ; now that woulda been a crossover.
|Which brings us to....|
Batman vs. Superman
Wolfgang Petersen's Super Perfect Das Bat Force One starring Jude Law and Colin Ferell.
Cast your mind back the time just after Joel Schmuacher and George Clooney "killed" the Batman franchise; the time when it was painfully obvious that Christopher Reeve would never play Superman again. Around that time, superhero movies were seeing something of a box office renaissance with the success of X-Men and the first Spider-Man movie. Hulk, Daredevil and Fantastic Four movies were also on the way. Not surprisingly, the idea of of reviving both the Superman and Batman franchises was very much one the minds of the people at DC Comics and Warner Studios. Reportedly, the predominant feeling was that bringing life back to Warner/DC's dormant flagship characters would best done sooner than later. Many different options on how to go about reviving Supes and Bats were explored.
What they settled on was Batman vs Superman.
Batman vs Superman...hmmm....well, the idea of getting those two guys together in a movie is a good one and one that is long overdue at that. However, the "vs" angle can be a bit problematic. Anyone who read World's Finest Comics (which regularly featured Superman-Batman team ups) when they were a kid knows that the two superheroes' alliance was generally an amiable one. Sure, in later Justice League and other comics, there was plenty of tension between The Gothamite and the Metropolitan. However, with the exception of Frank Miller's extremely gritty The Dark Knight Returns, relations between the two rarely broke down the "vs" level.
The battling superhero scenario has certainly been done in the comics. Plenty of times, in fact. It's a premise that can work, within certain limits. You can have The Thing vs The Hulk or The Hulk vs Wolverine and even the monumental Marvel-DC crossover of Superman vs Spider-Man seemed to make sense, but when comes to Superman and Batman, the whole "vs" concept just doesn't quite mesh.
|Wolfgang doin' the directan' thang|
Possible casting choices that hit the rumour mill at the time included Jude Law or Josh Hartnett as Superman and Colin Ferrell or actual eventual Batman, Christian Bale, as The Dark Knight himself. Apparently, Bale was also at one point considered for the role of Superman.
Wow. Imagine. Bale vs Bale. That, I woulda paid good money to see.
Like the Eddie Murphy meets Star Trek idea, however, Warner/DC got cold feet on the idea mixing franchises. Lighter heads prevailed. They decided that it would be better to revive each character separately. If Batman vs Superman bombed, both characters were screwed at box office. If only one or the other bombed, well, they always had Batman vs Superman in their back pocket to help boost the hypothetically less successful franchise.
In time, Warner/DC finally went with Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. For the Kryptonian's resurrection, there was Bryan Singer's ostensible follow up to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, Superman Returns. Batman Begins was a huge hit, as was its sequel, The Dark Night (and most likely that will also be the case for the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises). Superman Returns, on the other hand, did well financially but not so well with critics and fans. Whatever the case, there was never any talk of Bale's Batman duking it out with Brandon Routh's Superman.
In fact, now with The Avengers finally here, the DC superhero movie crossover project may well come full circle. Marvel Comics has just made a huge, bold and more than likely very successful move with a feature film version of their superhero team. Warner/DC have apparently been thinking about a potential movie featuring that company's biggest superhero group, The Justice League (also known for years on Saturday morning TV as the Super Friends) for some time. Now, it may well happen.
All Warner/DC needs to do now, is, after the 2013 Superman movie, Man of Steel, reboot Batman yet again (neither Nolan nor Bale are interested in seeing the Dark Knight join the league). Then they just need to tackle the small matter of making a Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman movie. And, well, popular or not, they've already established a movie Green Lantern, who could be ready to join the Justice League any time.
But, you know, after looking at the Development Hell process in detail in this post, it's possible that just about every project on this list may well come into being before we will ever see anything like a Justice League or a similarly ambitious crossover movie happen.