Watch: A Brief History of J.J. Abrams' Abandoned 'Superman: Flyby'
Plenty of people are familiar with the failed Superman Lives project that director Tim Burton tried to put together with a script from Kevin Smith and wacky actor Nicolas Cage in the lead role. We've featured a couple trailers for a Kickstarter documentary showcasing the making of the movie that never was, but there's another attempt to make a Superman movie that fewer people might know about. Before Bryan Singer would direct Superman Returns, Warner Bros. tried their hand at a film called Superman: Flyby, with a script from J.J. Abrams and questionable director Brett Ratner behind the camera. Watch now!
It's not hard to find the script online if you really want to read what could have been, but here's what Wikipedia has written on the project that fell apart in 2003:
Turning in his script in July 2002, J. J. Abrams’ 'Superman: Flyby' was an origin story that included Krypton besieged by a civil war between Jor-El and his corrupt brother, Kata-Zor. Before Kata-Zor sentences Jor-El to prison, Kal-El is launched to Earth to fulfill a prophecy. Adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he forms a romance with Lois Lane in the Daily Planet.
However, Lois is more concerned with exposing Lex Luthor, written as a government agent obsessed with UFO phenomena. Clark reveals himself to the world as Superman, bringing Kata-Zor’s son, Ty-Zor, and three other Kryptonians to Earth. Superman is defeated and killed, and visits Jor-El (who committed suicide on Krypton while in prison) in Kryptonian heaven. Resurrected, he returns to Earth and defeats the four Kryptonians, while the script ends with Superman off to Krypton, leaving a cliffhanger for a sequel.
In retrospect, this film sounds like it would have been a disaster. We all know Ratner isn't the most gifted director, and potential casting had pegged the likes of Brendan Fraser, Josh Hartnett, Paul Walker, James Marsden and more as the Man of Steel. The only good contribution Ratner seemed to have in mind was Anthony Hopkins as Jor-El and Ralph Fiennes as Lex Luthor (both fresh from working with the director on Red Dragon). Meanwile, Christopher Walken was slated to play The Daily Planet editor Perry White, which sounds both intriguing and hilarious.
Fortunately, Ratner dropped out of the project after he disagreed with producer Jon Peters, a relic of older Hollywood from the 70s and 80s, and though Abrams tried to get Warner Bros. to hire him to direct (this would have been his feature film debut), they got Charlie's Angels helmer McG on board (which somehow sounds worse) with a rewritten script from Josh Schwartz ("Chuck"). That film actually would have seen Robert Downey Jr. as Lex Luthor, which sounds intriguing, but then we may never have gotten him as Iron Man in the Marvel cinematic universe. Thankfully, that version fell apart too.
The rest is history when it comes to Superman as X-Men director went on to direct Superman Returns, which was too much of an homage and remake to the original Superman: The Movie, and didn't stand on its own very well (effectively wasting Kevin Spacey, who would have made a great Lex Luthor with a better script). And now Warner Bros. has revived Supes again with Man of Steel, and a forthcoming DC Comics cinematic universe where The Big Blue Boy Scout will meet The Dark Knight on the big screen for the first time in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you want to know more about Superman: Flyby, Abrams talks about the project over at Empire in a little more details.