After Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), it became clearer than ever that Superman needed a makeover on the big screen. The phenomenal box office success of the 1989 film Batman just seemed to confirm that Warner Bros. had a chance to resurrect the Superman franchise following the horrific Superman Lives. This unrealized motion picture was set to unite director Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage, the latter set to play Kal-El/Superman.
Kevin Smith, who was previously a well-known comic book author on his podcast Fatman Beyond, was now hired by Warner Bros. to draft a script for a major reboot of an American icon in May 1996. The writers already discussed the key concepts for the new Superman movie that they hoped would be a major breakthrough.
It's a good thing Smith was the one who was charged with developing the screenplay for Superman Lives, since, as such, the general public has seen this unmade blockbusters production. These included Superman not wearing his usual superhero outfit, he couldn't fly, and Superman having to face an enormous spider in the final scenes.
Smith would eventually compose a screenplay and reveal which actors he desired to play in the film in issue #92 of Wizard: The Comics Magazine. Some actors, like Ben Affleck as Kal-El/Superman, David Hyde Pierce as The Eradicator, and Jason Mewes as Jimmy Olsen, were 100% serious.
Burton was chosen by Nicolas Cage, the film's eventual lead actor, for his performances in Con Air and for his first Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. According to his comments here, Burton was not against Warner Bros.' choice to direct the blockbuster.
As the film The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? began to develop, other key cast members began to morph into actors, although they were completely different from the ones Smith envisaged earlier in the film. Walken could've been a treat for the ages since he'd reunited with Batman's director Burton.
Smith is Out, Dan Gilroy is in
Kevin Smith's involvement in Superman Lives came to an end in 1997 when Wesley Strick was hired to direct a new script for the film. This relationship certainly helped make him appear like an ideal fit for the project, as, according to this book, the demands of Jon Peters became more and more eccentric and intense on the film's design team.
Dan Gilroy, a screenwriter, was brought in to help punch up the script as the Superman Lives effort grew more complex. This would've ensured that this Kryptonian superhero could abide by Tim Burton's standard of outsider protagonists in Burton's filmography. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. would eventually pull the plug on Superman Lives.
Warner Bros. said in April 1998 that it was concerned about the quality of the script for Superman Lives, as well as its budget, and that it might resume production by the end of this year. According to Gilroy, the recent box office problems of Warner Bros. led the studio to cancel a costly new interpretation of the Superman mythos. This was despite millions of dollars already being spent on elaborate sets.
Nicolas Cage just continued to play Superman years later in the misguided 2001 film Planet of the Apes, while also being the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Smith would later try his hand at a big-budget film, namely an unrealized version of The Green Hornet.
Superman Lives was an unfortunate sign of the characters' difficulties in launching a new film, such as an early take on Batman vs. Superman or Superman: Flyby. These same issues continued to haunt this franchise, until the 2006 film Superman Returns. One of the most iconic superheroes of all time could once again rise above the carcasses of films like Superman Lives.