Why Tim Burton's 'Emo Superman' Project Wasn't Made, According To Nicolas Cage

Out of all the legendary unmade movies across film history, few have surpassed the famed status of Tim Burton's fabled "Superman Lives," which was supposed to star Nicolas Cage. The behind-the-scenes stories about the project's failed development have taken on a mythical quality of their own as one of the strangest "What if?" scenarios in Hollywood. These tales may have stirred up a chaotic idea of what pre-production was like, but Cage himself proposed a relatively simple reason as to why "Superman Lives" never saw the light of day. It may have been simply that Warner Bros. didn't want to take another chance with Burton.

"Superman Lives" was supposed to be a new start for the Man of Steel after the colossal failure of "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." The project started with indie filmmaker and mega comic book fan Kevin Smith, who pitched his idea to infamous producer Jon Peters in 1996. The screenplay quickly became muddled with Peters' own demands before screenwriters Wesley Strick ("Arachnophobia") and Dan Gilroy ("Nightcrawler") added major revisions. Photos of Cage in a newly designed Superman costume have gained notoriety, as has Peters' obsession with Superman fighting a giant spider. Legends of the sheer mess of it all only grew during the Internet age, leading to a documentary entitled "The Death of 'Superman Lives:' What Happened?," released in 2015 and directed by the late Jon Schnepp.

A bust for Burton

Cage recently spoke about superhero movies, including "Superman Lives," at the Miami Film Festival upon receiving the Variety Legend and Groundbreaker Award. The actor confessed his love for Burton's ode to '50s alien invasion B-movies "Mars Attacks," a box office bomb that became a cult classic, and theorized that Warner Bros. didn't feel like taking another risk with Burton:

"I thought 'Mars Attacks' was just a fantastic, groundbreaking movie. He's [Burton] a groundbreaker! But they were scared at the studio because of 'Mars Attacks.' Warner Bros. had lost a lot of money on the movie. These movies that are really weird, that challenge and break ground, they piss a lot of people off. I think they got cold feet. They'd spent a lot of money already building the sets and the costume and what have you. But you never know. I don't mean to be cryptic Cage, but you never know!"

According to all the information about "Superman Lives" and Cage himself, the film was indeed going to be quite weird. Cage described the hero as having "samurai black long hair" and labeled the character as an "emo Superman," referring to the planned idea about a psychologically isolated Superman who wrestles with his alien identity. That characterization admittedly fits neatly into Burton's signature style, although the studio probably thought the lonely goth route probably works better for Batman than the shining beacon of hope that's supposed to be Superman. Cage's reminiscing is one more chapter in this legendary yarn, proving that the legacy of "Superman Lives" will never die.