The DC projects that ultimately fell flat

Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern
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In the wake of James Gunn and Peter Safran’s announcement on the direction of the DC Universe, we look at the projects that fell flat.

This week, James Gunn and Peter Safran finally played their hand and laid out the future of the DC Universe on the big and small screens. Since the duo took the helm of the comic label’s enormous superhero movie catalogue last year, speculation has raged about what their precise plans would be for the beleaguered and muddled franchise, which has spent the last 20 years confined to the shadows left behind by the Marvel behemoth. Presumably, those shadows are in the shape of enormous stacks of money.

Gunn and Safran have a clear idea for what they want to do with the future of the DC slate, even if it mostly seems to consist of the same three or four superheroes we’ve all seen on screens a million times before – it’s Batman, it’s Superman, it’s Wonder Woman. But DC Comics characters haven’t always benefited from such a firm and clear-headed creative hand on the tiller.

Cinema history is littered with DC-inspired projects which have fallen flat on their faces, scuppering any plans there had been for them to influence a wider world of movies and TV shows. Some were ridiculously over-ambitious, some didn’t quite stick the landing and others were just downright terrible.

Here are some of the best of the worst…

Black Adam

The most recent entry on this list, last year’s Black Adam was promoted with Dwayne Johnson’s much-memed promise that “the hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change” with the arrival of his ultra-powerful antihero. As many others have pointed out, it’s ironic that the hierarchy did immediately change – albeit not quite in the way Johnson intended.

Johnson stars in the bloated, noisy film as Teth-Adam, who was given the power of various Egyptian gods as a young boy. It concluded with a post-credits sequence in which Henry Cavill arrived as Superman, asking if he could talk to Adam. Cavill’s return as Superman for the first time since the 2017 Justice League movie was promptly announced, with the actor full of praise and excitement for his role in the DC franchise going forward.

The future was bright, until it wasn’t. Global box office for Black Adam topped out at a fairly soft $393m and, depending on which report you read, it either lost $50-100m or made a profit of around the same amount. Either way, not hierarchy-changing money. When Gunn and Safran took over shortly after the film came out, they announced a new Superman project sans-Cavill, and Black Adam's bold new world for DC was abandoned.

Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam

Green Lantern

Prior to the release of Green Lantern in 2011, Warner Bros had commissioned a script for a sequel and director Martin Campbell was talking up the prospect of a trilogy. It was reported at the time that Green Lantern's story of a test pilot joining an intergalactic police force would fire the starting pistol on a shared universe of DC movies, at a time when Marvel was building in earnest towards The Avengers.

The film was released in June 2011. By September, those glowing, green plans had been chucked in the nearest bin. The box office was poor, the reviews were vicious and leading man Ryan Reynolds has spent the rest of his career publicly taking the piss out of the movie. In fact, in the post-credits scene of Deadpool 2, the title character – played, of course, by Reynolds – travels back in time to shoot the actor in the head before he can say yes to being a part of Green Lantern. That’s a pretty unequivocally bad reputation.

There hasn’t been a Green Lantern project since and Warner Bros decided to change tack, with 2013 film Man Of Steel instead serving as the formal beginning of the DC Extended Universe.

Superman Returns

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, and it certainly proved to be a Kryptonite albatross around the neck of the franchise. Numerous attempts to revive Superman rose and fell throughout the 90s and noughties – including Kevin Smith and Tim Burton’s infamous Superman Lives – before Bryan Singer’s 2006 movie Superman Returns finally brought the ultimate boy scout back to screens.

The reviews for Superman Returns, in which Brandon Routh played the titular hero, were actually mostly strong and the box office was a pretty decent $400m worldwide. However, Warner Bros – which had already given the green light to a sequel – weren’t happy with the takings. The company’s then-president Alan F. Horn said the movie “should have had perhaps a little more action to satisfy the young male crowd” and it was later suggested the studio wasn’t happy with the “positioning” of the character.

Any hope of turning things around for a sequel was dashed over the next few years. Singer’s busy schedule delayed things, as did the 2007 and 2008 strike action by Hollywood writers, until the studio ultimately made the decision to reboot the character with Man Of Steel.

Jonah Hex

Before he became purple space-douchebag Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Josh Brolin dabbled with the superhero world in 2010’s DC adaptation Jonah Hex. Brolin plays the title character – a disfigured Confederate soldier who becomes a bounty hunter with the ability to talk to the dead.

After a very troubled shoot and some hefty reshoots, the version of Jonah Hex that made it to the big screen was utterly savaged by critics and became one of the biggest box office disasters of modern times. Any prospect of a future for the character was very quickly kiboshed.

Brolin has since said he could make a better version of the movie for $5m – and it’s tough to disagree too vehemently with that. Especially as we’re still scared about what happens when he clicks his fingers.

Josh Brolin in DC film Jonah Hex


In the wake of her appearance in Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer was signed to reprise the role of Catwoman in a spin-off movie. The project languished in development hell until Warner Bros made the decision to scrap the Batman Vs. Superman movie it had planned for 2004. Panicking about the perceived need to fill that gap with another Batman property, they reached for Catwoman.

Halle Berry, who had won an Oscar just a few years earlier, was cast in the title role and the movie… was terrible. It won four awards at the Razzies, with Berry maintaining enough of a sense of humour to accept her Worst Actress prize in person. Any prospect of more Catwoman or other Batman spin-offs came to a swift end, with Warner Bros instead hiring Christopher Nolan and moving ahead with what would become the Dark Knight Trilogy. We hear that one went quite well.

The Spirit

While the masked vigilante Spirit wasn’t originally a DC Comics creation, the newspaper comic strip character was a part of the company’s roster and crossing over with Batman by the time comic book writer Frank Miller took the helm of its 2008 movie. Character actor Gabriel Macht played the Spirit, with Samuel L. Jackson as the villain and the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes in the cast.

Miller was approached with a view to bringing some of the exciting and innovative style he had deployed – alongside Robert Rodriguez – for the adaptation of Sin City. But this film did not hit in the way that one did, making less than $40m globally. Studio Odd Lot Entertainment lost a lot of money on the movie and they were subsequently forced to deny that subsequent projects with Miller had been shelved. He hasn’t worked as solo director on a project since.

The Losers

Created for the adult-orientated Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, The Losers followed a group of black ops soldiers who are betrayed by their superior and subsequently fake their own deaths. The 2010 movie iteration starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Chris Evans and Zoe Saldana – quite the A-list mix for a film nobody remembers.

Reviews were mixed, box office was soft and the film got pretty much totally eclipsed by the movie version of The A-Team that also arrived in 2010. Director Sylvain White had spoken at the time about deliberately leaving out aspects of the two comic book volumes in order to explore them in sequels. Errmmm, do you want to tell him or shall we?

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