Cancelled DCEU Film And TV Projects

DCEU
Images via Warner Brothers

A new broom sweeps clean, and DC Studios co-chiefs James Gunn and Peter Safran have certainly cleared out a number of projects that were in development at Warner Brothers when they assumed their positions at the beginning of November 2022. Wioth their announcement of a brand new direction for the comic book-based franchise and accompanying slate of film and television projects, the pair have had to pull the plug on several other in-development projects for the old DC Extended Universe (DCEU)  that conflict with what they plan to do. With the first project of that new slate – the Gunn directed Superman starring David Corenswet – set for release one year from this weekend, let’s take a look at the projects that were axed to make way for the new iteration of a DC Comics Cinematic Universe. While perhaps not all of these projects would have made it through development and into production if there wasn’t a massive franchise-wide reboot happening, the projects that were being considered do offer  some insight into what the overall shape of the franchise could have taken going forward.

Note: This overview will only include in-development projects that existed at the time of the revelation of the new DC Studios slate. Films like Batgirl and The Wonder Twins which were shelved by incoming Warner Brothers Discovery head David Zaslav, Ava DuVernay’s New Gods or the cancellation of shows like HBO Max’s Titans and Stargirl, whose ends were reportedly already determined before Gunn and Safran were hired are not being considered here.

Black Adam 2/One Possible Henry Cavil Return

Superman Black Adam
Images via Warner Brothers

An anti-hero who sprung out of the Shazam family of comics stories, Black Adam holds powers bestowed upon him by the ancient Wizard who granted similar powers to young Billy Batson. 2022’s Black Adam film with Dwayne Johnson had been in development first at Warner Brothers subsidiary New Line Pictures and then Warner Brothers proper for over a decade. During that time the project waffled back and forth between being more of a standalone feature and a spinoff film with Black Adam first being introduced in a concurrently under development Shazam film. Ultimately, it was decided to keep the two projects separate for the most part, though Johnson retained an executive producer credit on the Shazam film that was ultimately released in 2019.

As the film went into production, Johnson swung into promotion mode, promising in appearances at the online DC Fandome event in August 2020 that “the power structure of the DC Universe is about to change.” Drawing on his past as a professional wrestler, Johnson hyped the Black Adam character, calling him one of the strongest in the DC Comics universe. By 2022, as the film was moving through post-production, Johnson started the promotional push in earnest, appearing at CinemaCon and San Diego Comic-Con to generate excitement for the film. In interviews, he would talk about the character’s anti-hero qualities and how they would eventually put Black Adam onto a collision course with the Man of Steel.

(The fact that Johnson was adamant that Black Adam would ultimately be seen fighting Superman could possibly be seen as a creative decision driven more by Johnson’s ego than by what would be considered fidelity to the source material as perhaps he viewed Superman as the higher profile character of the two. It should probably be noted that Johnson’s manager is also Henry Cavill’s manager, so there may be a financial incentive behind his desire as well.)

To cement the idea that a Black Adam – Superman conflict was inevitable, Johnson initially approached DC Films head Walter Hamada about bring current Superman actor Henry Cavill in for a mid-credits scene to tease an upcoming confrontation. Hamada nixed the idea, having his own ideas for bringing Cavill back. (See “Crisis On Infinite Earths” below.) However, Johnson went behind Hanada’s back and had a version of the scene with a stand-in for Cavill filmed. When the scene reportedly played well with a test audience, Johnson did an end-run around Hamada and approached Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group co-chairmen Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy, who approved the idea.

Unfortunately, though, none of that was to be. Black Adam grossly underperformed at the box office, only pulling in $393 million at the box office. And for a film with a budget that was estimated to be anywhere between $190 and $260 million, that was a financial disaster he couldn’t recover from even if .

Green Lantern

Green Lantern Corps
Image via DC Comics.

First announced in 2019 as an HBO series, Green Lantern was to have been the most expensive DC show ever made. Coming from producer Greg Berlanti – who was already responsible for the Arrowverse shows over on the CW – the show would have featured three storylines set in three different time periods. Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott would have featured in a story set in the 1930s and 40, while the modern day era would have been represented by Guy Gardner. Green Lantern Sojourner Mullein would have been the center of a future-set plotline. This ambitious plan was pruned down somewhat to featuring just Alan Scott and Guy Gardner when Seth Graham-Smith came on board as showrunner and writer of all eight episodes. With Finn Wittrock and Jeremy Irvine being cast in the leads, the production was waiting on the go ahead from the studio when COVID hit, delaying the start of filming. During the pandemic shutdown, the studio seemed to have a rethink of the project, instead wanting to focus on Green Lantern John Stewart. Graham-Smith dropped out and the project remained in limbo until Gunn and Safran’s arrival with their own ideas for a Green Lantern show, Lanterns, currently in development with show creators Chris Mundy, Damon Lindelof and Tom King and focusing on Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart

Wonder Woman 3

Wonder Woman
Image via Warner Brothers.

Director Patty Jenkins’ first Wonder Woman was one of the bigger hits to come out of the Zack Snyder-influenced era of Warner Brothers’s DC Extended Universe films. Snyder introduced the character in the form of Gal Gadot in 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice before Jenkins spun her off of to her first solo cinematic adventure in 2017. The film was a hit with both critics and moviegoers, earning $817 million at the box office. But 2020’s follow up Wonder Woman 1984 was not so fortunate. While it’s poor box office returns could be in part blamed on its release happening in the midst of the COVID pandemic and the film premiering on the HBO Max streaming service day-and-date with its theatrical bow, the truth is it was not as good as its predecessor. Still, the studio felt confident enough in the character to have Jenkins begin work on a third installment alongside Wonder Woman 1984 writer and longtime DC Comics scribe Geoff Johns.

Presumably the story would at least in part center on Asteria, the ancient Amazon warrior who first wore the winged armor we see Diana use in WW84. A mid-credits scene revealed that Asteria was not as vanished as the Amazons think but is instead living incognito among humans. Lynda Carter, who portrayed Wonder Woman in the classic 1970s TV series appeared as Asteria.

All of that came to a halt in December 2022 after Jenkins met with Gunn and Safran and it was determined that what Jenkins had planned for a sequel did not fit in with the overall new direction that they wished to move the franchise. And while there has been no announcement of the character of Wonder Woman appearing in any of the announced projects, Gunn and Safran stated that the door is certainly open for Gadot to return to the role if she wishes.

Wonder Woman Spinoff

Wonder Woman Amazons
Image via Warner Brothers

While Wonder Woman 1984 was in post production, Patty Jenkins announced that she was developing a spinoff film that would take place on Themyscira, the hidden island home of Wonder Woman and the Amazons. Although no writer was ever announced for the project, Jenkins stated that it would take place between Wonder Woman 1984 and a potential third Wonder Woman film and would have connections to both films. However, with no new reportage on the project since April 2020, the announcement of the Paradise Lost series, which was compared to Game Of Thrones, suggests that this project is indeed not moving forward.

Michael Keaton’s Batman

Michael Keaton
Image via Warner Brothers

One thing that excited fans about 2023’s Flash film – long before the issues with star Ezra Miller killed everyone’s enthusiasm for the project that is – was the return of Michael Keaton to his role as Batman after a three-decade gap. And that was supposed to be just the first of a number of appearances Keaton would make across the then-current DC Extended Universe thanks to the universe altering events of the Flash film, replacing the previously seen version of the character as played by Ben Affleck. We know that Keaton had filmed a number of scenes for the shelved Bagirl film, serving as a bit of a mentor to star Leslie Grace’s titular young hero. Keaton also reportedly shot some scenes with Jason Momoa for 2023’s Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom, with those scenes being re-filmed featuring Affleck’s Batman at a later point. Another Keaton-led Batman project was a live action adaptation of the animated series Batman Beyond with Batgirl and Flash scribe Christina Hodson on scripting duties. In addition to seeing Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, training his replacement in the Cowl Terry McGinnis, the story reportedly would have seen him reigniting his relationship with former flame/nemesis Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. There was no word if Batman Returns star Michelle Pfeiffer had been approached about reprising her role as Selina.

Supergirl

Supergirl Sasha Calle
Image via Warner Brothers

Another hero who would have spun out of The Flash onto their own adventures was Supergirl as embodied in the film by actress Sasha Calle. The project was first announced in August 2018, with 22 Jump Street screenwriter Oren Uziel handling the writing chores. By April 2021, the studio got as far as scheduling the film in a tentative spot on its 2022-2023 release calendar. However, Gunn and Safran’s reboot plan had its own ideas for the Maid of Might – specifically a feature titled Supergirl: Woman Of Tomorrow scheduled for 2025 which will star Milly Alcock – and so this iteration of Supergirl was abandoned.

Crisis On Infinite Earths

Crisis On Infinite Earths
Image via DC Comics.

Perhaps one of the most ambitious story in the DC Comics canon, Crisis On Infinite Earths tells the story of how the heroes from a number of parallel Earths, as well as from the past and the far future, all rally together to stop a multiverse devouring villain known as the Anti-Monitor. Published in 1985, it was used as a way to give the DC Comics world a hard reboot, and Warner Brothers executive Walter Hamada saw the chance to bring the story to the big screen to give the cinematic franchise a shot in the arm and as a way to bring Cavil back to the screen as Superman. The story had been previously adapted in the Arrowverse series of shows on the CW network in the winter of 2019/2020, but the scope of Crisis really demands the budget of a big screen treatment. It has been speculated that the universe altering events of the Flash film, which saw Michael Keaton replacing Ben Affleck in the Batman cowl, could possibly be the start of story threads leading to a Crisis On Infinite Earths films. A potential Man Of Steal 2 film, being developed at the time by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, might have played a part in that overarching storyline as well. Not much more is known about the project, with no word if there had been even a writer and/or a director approached to start developing it when Gunn and Safran nixed it.

Justice League Dark

Image via DC Comics

Sometimes there are threats to the DC Comics universe from supernatural entities that the regular superheroes aren’t equipped to handle, and that’s when you call in the magic-wielding heroes of Justice League Dark. Warners had been working on developing a Justice League Dark project since the beginning of 213, starting in collaboration with director Guillermo del Toro, arguably the director perhaps best suited for the material. After Del Toro moved on to other projects, Doug Liman took over in August 2016 but couldn’t get the project in front of the cameras either. In April 2020, it was revived as part of a $250 million production deal signed in 2019 between Warner Brothers and J. J. Abrams’s Bad Robot production banner. The new plan was to create a small subset of the DCEU with Bad Robot creating a couple of series for HBO Max centered on individual members of the group, see below, before bringing them together for a much larger adventure. However, despite ongoing development, Abrams’s company couldn’t progress much further in getting any of their planned projects in front of the cameras before the plans were cancelled in favor of the upcoming franchise reboot.

Zatanna

Image via DC Comics.

Setting Abrams’ Justice League Dark would have been at least one film which was to feature one of that team’s magic users, Zatanna. As a superhero, Zatanna hides in plain sight, working as a famous Las Vegas stage magician when she isn’t using real magic to protect the world from supernatural threats. In March 2021 it was reported that actress turned writer/director Emerald Fennell had been hired to write a screenplay for a Zatanna solo film. Fennell would later confirm the hiring, stating that she landed the gig before the January 2020 premier of her debut feature film Promising Young Woman blew up her career. However, on a December 2023 installment of the Happy, Sad, Confused podcast, Fennell confirmed that the project was indeed dead. She also confirmed that she had written at least one draft of the screenplay, which she described as “reasonably demented, in a good way.”

Madame X

Madame Xanadu DC Comics
Image via DC Comics

Another project that would ultimately lead into Justice League Dark, this proposed HBO series would center on Madame Xanadu, a seemingly immortal mystic with the ability to see the future. Her original name was Nimue Inwudu and she, along with her sisters Morgana and Vivienne, the Lady of the Lake, were descendants of the race of human magic users who inhabited Atlantis before it sunk under the ocean. Writer/director Angela Robinson –  who already had some experience with DC Comics through their film Professor Marston And The Wonder Women, a biopic about Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and his polyamorous relationship wife Elizabeth and his research assistant Olive Byrne – was brought in to develop the series in June 2021. But by September 2022, Variety would report that the project was dead at HBO, though Abrams’ Bad Robot hoped to be able to shop it around to another outlet.

John Constantine

John Constantine
Image via DC Comics

Yet another hoped for building block for Justice League Dark, this in-development HBO series would have centered on the titular magic-using anti-hero. The project was announced in February 2021 from Bad Robot with Guy Bolton working on the script for the pilot. Things looked positive for the series when it was reported in August 2022 that the show was looking at starting production in early 2023. But just a month later, Variety reported that the project was dead even though four scripts had already been written and an actor was close to being signed for the lead role. The culprit? Warner Brothers shifting their focus towards a feature film sequel to the 2005 Keanu Reeves-starring Constantine instead.

Gotham City Sirens

Gotham City Sirens DC Comics
Image via DC Comics

Suicide Squad may have been a mixed bag for reasons beyond director David Ayers’ control, but one thing that it did do right was the casting of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. The actress’s take on the character quickly became a fan favorite and the studio moved to capitalize on that by putting into development a number of potential follow-up projects for the character to in. While the winner was ultimately Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey, which Robbie was a producer on, there were two other contenders. One was Harley Quinn Vs The Joker, from Bad Santa screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, though that would be cancelled by February 2019. The other was Gotham City Sirens. Based on the comic of the same name, the film would have featured a story with Harley teaming up with fellow Batman badgirls Poison Ivy and Catwoman. Jared Leto was also set to reprise his Suicide Squad version of the Joker. Gotham City Sirens‘s development was put on hold so the studio could concentrate on the production of Birds Of Prey, and during that film’s promotional tour, Robbie expressed the desire to move forward with Gotham City Sirens. However, no further word on the project has been forthcoming and it is likely that it has been shelved.

Black Canary

Black Canary
Image via Warner Brothers.

Spinning out of 2020’s Birds Of Prey, this film was being developed for HBO Max and would feature Jurnee Smollett reprising her role of Dinah Lance/Black Canary with Lovecraft Country creator Misha Green writing and Birds Of Prey producer Sue Kroll overseeing development. And while Zaslav cancelled a number of film projects that were being developed for HBO Max – including the DC film The Wonder Twins – in May 2022, Smollett stated the following month that development on the project was continuing. However, there has been no new word on the project, so it is most  likely dead.

Hourman

Hourman DC Comics
Image via DC Comics

As part of an attempt to develop films featuring characters beyond their top tier of superheros, it was reported in March 2021 that Warner Brothers had hired writers Gavin James and Neil Widener to pen a screenplay based on Hourman. There have been three iterations of the hero – Rex Tyler, a chemist who invents a pill that gives him super strength and endurance for one hour, his son Rick who takes over the mantle and then an android from the 853rd century who was partly modeled from Rex Tyler’s DNA and who had the ability to manipulate and travel in time. Version of the first two iterations have turned up on the television series Legends Of Tomorrow and Stargirl, but it appears as if fan’s hopes to see any interpretation of the character on the big screen are dashed for now.

Avatar für Rich Drees
About Rich Drees 7218 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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