For fans that wonder how Tim Burton’s creepy yet whimsical aesthetic would go over in a superhero movie, they need go no further than watching 1989’s Batman and its subsequent Batman Returns. But how would it look if he put his own macabre spin on another DC bigwig: Superman? We almost got a chance to see. Superman Lives was in development in the late 1990’s, with Kevin Smith’s initial script and Burton set to direct, with a very interesting choice in leading men: Nicolas Cage.
That one detail was a sign of what new, different direction Burton might have taken with the story. Kal-El has a pretty stereotypical look; the actors are usually square jawed, broad shouldered, “pretty” men. Cage, on the other hand, has never been one to fit any one mold. While he doesn’t seem the obvious choice for Superman, he does seem the obvious choice for Tim Burton’s Superman.
Unfortunately for Burton fans, his take never made it to production. A documentary has been released, however, which at least gets Burton’s vision seen. The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened? reveals the “Burton-ized” version of Superman’s iconic costume, and test footage of Cage wearing it. Cage had this to say to Yahoo! Movies about Burton’s canceled vision:
The only thing I’ll say about that — because that is such a lighting rod hot topic and if I say anything at all it just seems to snowball — but I will say that I had great belief in that movie and in what Tim Burton’s vision was going to be for that movie. I would’ve loved to have seen it, but I feel that in many ways, it was sort of a win/win because of the power of the imagination. I think people can actually see the movie in their minds now and imagine it and in many ways that might resonate more deeply than the finished project.
“Tim [Burton] is the total artist, a pure artist with a real vision, and I’ve often said that he can create worlds and that’s exactly what he does. I saw some of the tests of different characters and costumes for Krypton and they were just so surreal and so magical and beautiful. He’s definitely one of my favorite filmmakers because of his originality, because of his vision.”
Burton’s Superman Lives could have been a box office bust, or a cult classic. We’ll never really know. Luckily we have the documentary to see parts of the vision that Burton had for Superman, and fuel for our imaginations on how a 90’s superhero collaboration between Burton, Smith, and Cage would’ve turned out!