8 Marvel Movies That Never Left the Drawing Board

Scott Leva
Scott Leva / Scott Leva

Friday’s release of Ant-Man is expected to be another success story for Marvel Studios, which broke ground with 2008’s Iron Man and subsequently released 10 hits in a row. Flush with confidence, they’ve been able to introduce Norse gods, talking raccoons, and a diminutive Paul Rudd fighting a microscopic war on crime.

But Marvel didn’t always get their way. Take a look at eight projects that never managed to come to fruition.

1. Quentin Tarantino’s Luke Cage

Despite being a longtime comic book fan, Quentin Tarantino rarely tackles graphic novel adaptations; the closest he has come to the superhero world is directing a segment of Sin City in 2005. But right after 1992’s Reservoir Dogs put him on the map, he was offered a chance to direct a film based on Luke Cage, a crime fighter with impervious skin created in response to the “blaxploitation” films of the 1970s. “After Reservoir Dogs, I had considered doing a Luke Cage, Hero for Hire movie,” he told MTV back in 2012. “I talked to [Laurence Fishburne] about being Luke Cage, and he really liked that idea.” Tarantino ended up making Pulp Fiction instead; Luke Cage is set to appear in his own Netflix series in 2016.  

2. Silver Surfer (With a Score by Paul McCartney)

Sean Howe

Of the thousands of Marvel characters that could have been selected for cinematic adoption in the 1980s, the Silver Surfer was one of the least likely candidates. Chrome-skinned, he spends his days flying through galaxies and encountering alien races. Despite the promise of overtaxing a special effects crew and budget, producer Lee Kramer tried his best to get a movie going in 1980. He envisioned a sprawling space epic on par with 2001, set to a rock soundtrack. Kramer even sent Silver Surfer comics to Paul McCartney, whose manager replied that the singer was interested in providing some of the music. Unable to find backers for his $25 million pipe dream, Kramer never got beyond the concept art (above) stage. The character didn’t appear in live action until the 2007 Fantastic Four sequel, where he was voiced by Laurence Fishburne.    

3. X-Men Origins: Magneto

After three successful X-Men movies, Fox wanted to pursue some solo ventures. X-Men Origins: Wolverine made it to screens in 2009, but a similar project featuring adversary Magneto didn’t follow as planned. Intended to explore the villain’s formative years in World War II and his hunt for a Nazi physician, some of the plot points ended up being used in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. That became a bone of contention for Magneto screenwriter Sheldon Turner: According to The Hollywood Reporter, he turned to the Writers Guild of America in order to receive a story credit for the material.

4. Namor, the Sub-Mariner

One of the medium’s oldest heroes—he first appeared in the October 1939 issue of Marvel Comics #1—Namor was another character crippled by the overactive imaginations of his creators. Ruling the seas requires extensive shooting on or near water, which almost always proves to be disastrous for filmmakers. Still, Philip Kaufman wanted to give it a shot. The director behind The Right Stuff and Quills told Entertainment Weekly in 2000 that Namor was on his to-do list. “I like the idea of the ‘vengeance of the deep,'” he said, “how we [mistreat] the ocean and treat everything so badly and that down there is some little guy with wings on his feet who’s gonna come up and stomp some [butt].” As of 2014, legal complications with the character and his film rights have prevented Marvel from inserting him into their current releases.  

5. She-Hulk


Bruce Banner’s cousin never made an appearance on Bill Bixby’s live-action series, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t being courted. In the early 1990s, Marvel made an aggressive attempt to find funding for a She-Hulk film starring 6’1” Brigitte Nielsen, best known at the time as Ivan Drago’s wife in 1984’s Rocky IV. Larry Cohen, who directed the killer-baby horror film It’s Alive, was approached to write it. The company arranged for a promotional photo shoot, but it wasn’t enough to garner interest.

6. Dazzler

A disco-loving mutant who can convert music into colorful (or dangerous) prisms of light, Dazzler made her first comics appearance in 1979; Marvel hoped they might be able to work with a record company to produce tie-in music. That didn’t pan out, but in the course of trying to negotiate a deal, editor-in-chief Jim Shooter ended up writing a feature film treatment. Bo Derek expressed interest in the role, at which point the premise morphed into the character having the Wonder Woman-esque power of forcing people to tell the truth. Daryl Hannah later agreed to star in the film, but Dazzler’s expiration date was too closely tied to disco’s. (Her salvation may come in the form of 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, which takes place in the 1980s.)   

7. Morbius, the Living Vampire

Marvel characters tend to follow a formula: flawed human becomes powerful, juggles exterior threats with relatable interior problems. Little of that was on display in Marvel’s horror comics of the 1970s, which included a character called Morbius, a physician who contracted vampirism via a laboratory accident involving bats and electroshock therapy. (If you can relate, please write us.) When Marvel signed a deal with Artisan Entertainment in 2000, Morbius was expected to be one of the projects. But both the company and contracted screenwriter, Michael France, passed him up in favor of pursuing what would become 2004’s The Punisher.     

8. Tobe Hooper’s Spider-Man

Midnight Madness

While James Cameron is the name frequently associated with attempts to make a Spider-Man feature prior to Sam Raimi’s 2002 film, he wasn’t the only one: Tobe Hooper, who directed 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was once set to take on a modestly-budgeted adaptation for Cannon Films. According to Joseph Zito, who was working with Cannon at the time, executives wanted to approach the comic as a kind of monster movie, with an eight-limbed Peter Parker struggling with his monstrous transformation. After subsequent drafts displayed a better understanding of the character, Cannon hoped to enlist Tom Cruise for the lead. Unfortunately, the company was experiencing financial problems. They sold Spider-Man’s film rights in a fire sale in 1990.