EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros is trying to ready its DC Comics stalwart Superman to soar again on the Big Screen, and the studio has turned to Chris Nolan to mentor development of the movie. Our insiders say that the brains behind rebooted Batman has been asked to play a “godfather” role and ensure The Man Of Steel gets off the ground after a 3 1/2-year hiatus. Nolan’s leadership of the project can set it in the right direction with the critics and the fans, not to mention at the box office. Besides, Nolan is considered something of a god at Warner Bros and has a strong relationship with the studio after the success of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Though he wasn’t obligated to do so, he gave the studio first crack at his spec script Inception, and Warner Bros was able to buy it before other studios even got a sniff. While Nolan completes that Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer for a July 16th release, he’s also hatched an idea for Warner Bros’ third Batman installment. Now his brother and frequent collaborator Jonathan “Jonah” Nolan, and David Goyer who co-wrote Batman Begins and penned the story for The Dark Knight, are off scripting it. (See ‘FlashForward’ Showrunner Exits For Features).
Legendary Pictures will partner with Warner Bros on the next installment of Superman. Legendary also co-produced/co-financed Superman Returns in 2006. Legendary was partnered with Warner Bros as a co-producer/co-financier on the recent Batman films including Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and will be involved in Nolan’s 3rd Batman film.
Let us emphasize that Superman 3.0 is in the early stages of development. And we doubt Nolan would direct. This wouldn’t be a sequel to Superman Returns but a completely fresh franchise. As one of our insiders reassures: “It would definitely not be a followup to Superman Returns.” Nolan coming on board follows a hiatus period for Superman after that 2006 reboot as the studio tried to figure out whether or not to make a sequel to that version starring Brandon Routh directed by Bryan Singer. As recently as this summer, Warner Bros was still contemplating how to proceed. That’s when we were told that “Bryan or Brandon are not completely out of it yet. But Warner Bros doesn’t have a handle yet on it, either. [Producer] Jon Peters is trying to make something happen since he stands to benefit financially. But they [the studio] need to hear a great story that makes sense.” Another insider explained to us, “We know what we don’t want to do. But we don’t know what we want to do. We learned a lot from the last movie, and we want to get it right this time.”
Fans have long been yearning for Superman to finally get the big screen Nolan-ized treatment this classic superhero deserves.Warner Bros clearly has learned from all five Superman movies. Superman: The Movie and Superman II starring Christopher Reeve and produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, were critical, fan, and financial successes. Their 1983 Superman III was mediocre. Then came a real dud in 1987, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace which continued wth Reeves but unfortunately was made by Golan-Globus’s Cannon Films in association with Warner Bros. The inbetween period between that pic and 2006’s Superman Returns was plagued by long delays and budget troubles and script misses. In 1997, original Batman director Tim Burton tried to make a Superman movie starring Nicolas Cage. Around 2004, J.J. Abrams wrote a film that was the first leg of a trilogy. Abrams wanted to direct, but had only directed episodes of his TV series (and wouldn’t make his feature directing debut until 2006’s Mission:Impossible III. McG and Brett Ratner separately were attached to that film. Ratner got closest, but Warner Bros was wary of a budget that swelled to $250 million, and which seemed risky after established star Josh Hartnett turned down the 3-picture deal that could have brought him $100 million in salary. After that, Warner Bros bosses didn’t embrace Ratner’s s choice of soap opera actor Matt Bomer to star.
Other prominent filmmakers were reportedly in the loop, but Warner Bros never pulled the trigger on the picture until Bryan Singer’s involvement. Singer’s Superman Returns was respectably reviewed for the genre. But it turned in only $52 million opening weekend, and $391 million worldwide gross. Problem was it cost too much (the budget was reportedly $270 million), and the promotion was lousy (Joel Silver was brought in at the last minute to inject macho into the marketing campaign). Worse, it left diehard fans only “meh” about a sequel starring Routh. Singer fared better, but it seems doubtful he’ll be asked for an encore now. After all, Singer is now developing the spinoff X-Men: First Class for 20th Century Fox whose bosses were furious when he took on The Man Of Steel reboot instead of helming X-Men 3. But Singer and the studio subsequently made peace and he’s back in the Fox fold and on board.
The restructuring of Warner Bros’ business with DC Comics became Warner Bros Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov’s first priority since having his contract reupped by Time Warner last summer. Problems have plagued the DC Comics-Warner Bros relationship for more than a decade. But the biggest failure has been to leave the most valuable DC Comics characters in movie development limbo by chaotically starting and stopping development on the high profile live action pics. Most recently, Warner Bros and DC Comics are finally getting their act together as evidenced by the progress on Green Lantern.
Superman 3.0 would test Warner Bros veteran executive Diane Nelson, the head of DC Entertainment Inc, that new company founded to fully realize and integrate the power and value of the DC Comics brand and characters across all media and platforms into Warner Bros Entertainment’s content and distribution businesses. Nelson especially was charged with suping up Superman again because it’s way too valuable to leave dormant like this. Besides, the clock is ticking.
Attorney Marc Toberoff, who keeps suing Warner Bros on behalf of creative rightsholders, warns that, in 2013, the Jerome Siegel heirs along with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster will own the entire original copyright to Superman — “and neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros will be able to exploit any new Superman works without a license from the Siegels and Shusters”. He’s also pointed out that, if Warner Bros does not start production on a new Superman sequel or reboot by 2011, the Siegels could sue to recover their damages on the grounds that the deal should have contained a clause in which the rights returned to the owners after a given time if no film was in development. The heirs of Siegel have already been awarded half the copyright for Superman. And in 2013 the heirs of co-creator Joe Shuster get the remaining half. After that, neither DC Comics nor Warner Bros will be able to use Superman without a financial agreement with the heirs. There are also stipulations on what parts of the origins story can be used in future Superman movies and which require re-negotiations with the creators’ heirs or estates.
At first, Warner Bros felt no pressure to rush out another Superman pic. As Warner Bros chairman Alan Horn told a court hearing about rights to Superman, he hoped to make another Superman movie but no film was in development, no script had been written, and the earliest he foresaw another Superman film released would be 2012. He told the judge: “We had hopes to keep the character alive and to once again reinvent Superman. Our hope is to develop a Superman property and to try again. What hurt us is that the reviews and so on for the Superman movie did not get the kind of critical acclaim that Batman got, and we have other issues with Superman that concern us.”
So Warner Bros is now bringing in Batman’s saviour. What Nolan would do with the Superman character and story is intriguing to say the least. And he has the experience necessary of prepping and pepping a played-out franchise. The 2005 Batman Begins grossed $373 million worldwide on a reported $150 million budget. And of course 2008’s The Dark Knight crossed the $1 billion worldwide gross mark on a reported $185 million budget (and Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).
Batman was rebooted according to Frank Miller’s film noirish take on Batman. But there’s a big difference between Superman’s cinematic incarnations and comic book version. Warner Brothers and DC Comics for a long time weren’t sure which version they liked better. The cinematic version has been squeaky clean, occasionally campy, and has more-or-less unlimited power except when confronted with Kryptonite. The comic book version has some limits on his powers, can be darker, and fights aliens a lot more. Shortly after Dark Knight hit it big, fans assumed that Superman would be taken to the “dark” side as well. That’s because Warner Bros mogul Jeff Robinov stressed post-Dark Knight that “we have to look at how to make these movies edgier”. One of our insiders interpreted this to say: “He meant more sophisticated.”
A more comic-accurate Superman seems like the way to go. No need to worry: Chris Nolan knows what he’s doing.