Up until the climax, when Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and his alternate reality counterpart open a window into the other dimensions and usher in a cavalcade of cameos from DC’s past, The Flash is pretty conservative in the number of different versions of the signature characters that it trots out for a movie about DC’s multiverse. Some appearances make sense, but a de-aged Nicolas Cage as Superman would confuse the ordinary viewer.
Actually, comic book enthusiasts and Hollywood historians are going to love this. It’s challenging to bring Superman to the big screen; three attempts have been made in the past 20 years with Superman Returns, Man of Steel, and the upcoming Superman: Legacy.
Numerous significant Superman projects have failed, with prolific directors like JJ Abrams even attempting to initiate their own initiatives. But none of those endeavors is as notorious as Superman Lives.
Warner Bros. intended to reinvent Superman for a modern audience following the 1987 bombing of Christopher Reeve’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. In 1996, after letting the character languish for a few years, WB hired Kevin Smith, fresh off of Clerks, to write a script.
The legend, WB producer Jon Peters gave Smith specific guidelines for the project: Superman would battle a giant robotic spider in the film’s third act, the alien AI supervillain Brainiac would be the film’s antagonist, and Superman would lose his powers for most of the picture.
Smith’s proposed solution was for Superman to get a robotic suit to shield him from Brainiac, and his desired casting included well-known actors like Ben Affleck for Superman, Jack Nicholson for Lex Luthor, Jason Lee for Brainiac, and Jason Mewes for Jimmy Olsen.
Nic Cage would play Superman, who, despite being at the height of his fame at the time (this was right around his Con Air and Face/Off period), was hardly the typical choice when imagining Clark Kent’s traditional, chiseled-jaw look.
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WB eventually secured the services of two prominent actors for the project. And after Cage wasn’t satisfied with the studio’s initial option, Renny Harlin, he chose Tim Burton to helm the film.
It appeared to be a given when Burton redefined the superhero movie genre with Batman and Batman: Returns. Moreover, Burton would work once more with Cristopher Walken, who was being considered for the role of Brainiac.
Chris Rock would portray Jimmy Olsen. The shortlist for Lois Lane included Sandra Bullock, Courteney Cox, and Julianne Moore.
In the summer of 1997, Superman Lives began pre-production. Cage even tried to test out the armored suit’s attire. Burton hired Wesley Strick to revise Smith’s script, but the cost of the new draft forced Dan Gilroy to take over and create a new one. You can see the tweet.
Nicolas Cage’s Superman costume test pic.twitter.com/t85cz82Pd3
— RTSchumacherCut (@CutSchumacher) September 30, 2021
(Gilroy later claimed in 2014 that Lives would have concentrated on a Superman going through a midlife crisis, questioning where he belongs on Earth and how he fits in as an outsider, which would work well with Burton’s body of work.)
But despite being just weeks away from the beginning, Lives’ production ended up being halted due to finance issues after a run of failures from WB.
After Cage eventually left the part, Peters persisted in pitching Lives to filmmakers like Michael Bay and Martin Campbell and stars like Will Smith, keeping the project alive into 2000. (Peters later obtained his enormous steampunk spider in the setpiece for the third act of the short film Wild Wild West.)
You might also find it interesting to check out the tweet that Flash provided, which can be found further down on this page:
Looks like Cage Superman has a cameo in Flashpoint. pic.twitter.com/ZQgOrls054
— Flash (@YellowFlashGuy) April 24, 2023
In addition, Cage reportedly recovered his beloved copy of Action Comics #1 after it had been stolen and later sold it at auction for an astounding $2.1 million. Cage called his son Kal-El after Superman’s Kryptonian birth name. In other words, he has always felt like Superman Lives was The One That Got Away.
He revealed to Rolling Stone in 2022, “That’s always been both a positive and a negative to me. It’s a positive in that it left the character, and what Tim and I might have gotten up to, in the realm of imagination — which is always more powerful than that is concrete.” In his video for Actually Me from that same year, he hinted at a more direct return to GQ, saying, “Would it matter how much time I appeared as the character? There might still be a chance.”
Today, some 30 years after the release of Superman Lives, we see Cage in The Flash fighting the spider in a Superman costume, fulfilling Peters’ wish.
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