What Could Have Been, Part 2: Superman 5
06.30.10 by Ryan
"What Could Have been", Part One, explored what might have happened if Bryan Singer had stayed on to direct X-Men: The Last Stand instead of leaving for Superman Returns. Singer's Superman was supposed to bring the beloved franchise back to the former glory it had achieved with Richard Donner's Superman and Superman II (the "Director's Cut," of course). Superman 5 is the subject of Part Two of "What Could Have Been," an unproduced sequel that would have brought Christopher Reeve back for one last turn as the Man of Steel.
Comic book writer Cary Bates told Newsarama that he conceived of a fifth Superman movie back when he worked as a writer on the Superboy TV show that ran in syndication from 1988 to 1992.
It was during my tenure on that series that I showed [producer] Ilya [Salkind] a treatment I had written on spec the previous year for a Superman movie. The premise involved a new take on the whole Brainiac-Alexander Salkind had already been considering returning to Superman since the one-picture option they had given the Cannon group [which resulted in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace] had expired. Using my treatment as a starting point, they commissioned me and Mark Jones [the other story-editor on the Superboy series] to write a full script.
The intent was to leapfrog over Superman III and especially IV, and return the series to the high mark achieved in 1 and 2. [It was] our desire to do a fully developed, balls-out science fiction story pitting Superman and Brainiac against each other mano a mano.
The details of the plot called for Superman to fight longtime villain Brainiac, which would have easily eclipsed the supercomputer of III and Nuclear Man of IV.
[Brainiac] comes to Earth for the first time and shrinks Metropolis, adding it to his interplanetary collection of miniaturized cities, but because he becomes aware of the unique super-powered being in his latest acquisition, Brainiac miniaturizes himself and ventures into the bottled Metropolis in person. This leads to a knock-down drag-out battle that ends in what appears to be Superman’s death. A split-second before his atoms would’ve been permanently disintegrated, they are sucked into a bottle-city a few rows over... Kandor. There he is "reborn" as a mortal man, where he gets to reconnect with his Kryptonian roots as he begins the arduous process of rehabilitating himself and eventually escaping from Kandor to resume his battle with Brainiac.
So what went wrong?
After the first draft was completed, the film was put on hold because the Salkinds were about to go into production on their other project Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, on which I was hired for the final production draft. The whole time I was on location in Europe with Columbus, I was also writing the second draft of the Superman script, which by now had been re-titled Superman Reborn.
However, by the time production on Columbus wrapped in the spring of 1992, Warners had just announced they were about to go into production with the Lois and Clark TV series. This was the first of several business-related events that led to a complex re-negotiation between the studio and the Salkinds, culminating with Warners re-acquiring all rights to Superman. Unfortunately, as almost always happens when a project changes hands or studios, all previous drafts go out the window and they start from scratch. This was certainly the case with Superman... which was stuck for 12 years in development hell, spawning half a dozen scripts and almost as many writer-director teams before Warners finally produced Superman Returns in 2006.
And so Superman 5 was not to be. Considering how awful the last two sequels are, this may have been for the best, but it will be hard for Superman fans to forget that Reeve had one last chance to find redemption for the character he will be most remembered for. Hopefully, the upcoming Christopher Nolan-produced, David S. Goyer-written reboot will erase the memories of past mistakes.