The runaway success of such films has paved the way for dozens of future projects, but not every filmmaker has enjoyed the same fortunes as Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon when they delved into the world of powers and spandex.
Tim Burton's Superman Lives, James Cameron's Spider-Man and George Miller's Justice League are but a few examples of comic book projects that died an early death. Wondering what might have been, Digital Spy takes a look at 10 aborted superhero movies.
Tim Burton's Superman Lives
Superman Lives is perhaps the most infamous comic book movie ever proposed. With Tim Burton at the helm, Kevin Smith on scripting duties and Nicolas Cage on board as the Man of Steel, what could possibly go wrong? The movie endured a car crash of a development cycle throughout the 1990s before Warner Bros pulled the plug in 2001.
Smith's script was loosely based on the 'Death of Superman' comic story arc and had a flightless Superman taking on Brainiac, Lex Luthor and Doomsday. Polar bears guarding the Fortress of Solitude and a climactic battle with a giant robotic spider were among the outlandish ideas this unconventional take on the Last Son of Krypton would have included.
Although no actual footage ever saw the light of day, pictures of Cage in costume are readily available online and a documentary chronicling the film's ill-fated production is in the works from Metalocalypse director Jon Schnepp is in the works.
JJ Abrams and McG's Superman: Flyby
The JJ Abrams-scripted Superman: Flyby was another botched attempt to bring DC Comics' favourite son back to the big screen, this time with a radically different origin story. Brett Ratner was attached as director for some time but was replaced by McG after encountering casting difficulties and clashing with producer Jon Peters.
Abrams's original screenplay had Superman battling a gang of Kryptonian villains on Earth, perishing in battle and visiting birth father Jor-El in the afterlife, before being resurrected and saving the day.
Josh Hartnett, Jude Law, Ashton Kutcher, David Boreanaz, Brendan Fraser and a young Henry Cavill were among the stars linked to the title role at one stage or another before Warner Bros decided to take the property in another direction, wiping the slate clean and hiring Bryan Singer to make the lukewarmly-received Superman Returns.
Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One
The Batman franchise hit rock bottom with 1997's ultra-camp Batman & Robin, so Warner Bros had the right idea when it attempted to take it in a darker direction with a cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel Batman: Year One with visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky at the helm.
The original story took place at the beginning of Bruce Wayne's vigilante career and charted the rise of James Gordon through the ranks of the Gotham City police force. Miller was hired to co-write a screenplay for the film but the end product is said to have neglected many key elements integral to the book.
Aronofsky and Miller eventually moved on to other projects but Christopher Nolan borrowed elements from Year One for the first entry in his acclaimed trilogy, Batman Begins. Christian Bale turned down the lead role in the Miller-inspired film, only to don the cowl for Nolan five years later.
Wolfgang Petersen's Batman vs Superman
Batman and Superman have clashed in comics almost as many times as they have teamed up, and seeing them go toe-to-toe on the big screen is something comics fans would relish. This almost came to fruition in 2002 when Warner appointed Wolfgang Petersen to direct Batman vs Superman.
The movie was based on a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman that saw Bruce Wayne struggling with his inner demons five years after retirement. With Alfred, Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon all dead, the eccentric billionaire moves on with his life and marries a woman by the name of Elizabeth Miller, with Clark Kent acting as his best man.
However, Bruce is forced to don the mantle of the Bat once again when the Joker murders his bride on their honeymoon. Blaming Superman for her death, the two become locked in an epic battle before realising the situation was engineered by Lex Luthor to pit them against one another, at which point they team up to take the villain down.
With Christian Bale earmarked for the role of Batman and Josh Hartnett courted for Superman, Batman vs Superman was close to becoming a reality, but the studio instead opted to commission solo projects featuring the superheroes instead.
James Cameron's Spider-Man
Comic book properties were not considered high priority in the 1980s but that didn't stop film studios fighting tooth and nail over the rights to Spider-Man. Carolco Pictures worked for some years to secure the licence in the hope of handing it to James Cameron, who had provided them with a script outlining his vision for Marvel Comics' most iconic hero.
The Terminator filmmaker envisioned a mature take on Spider-Man, delivering a profanity-filled screenplay that even depicted a sex scene between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. It was an origin story featuring alternate versions of Sandman and Electro as its villains, with a final battle that took place at the top of the World Trade Centre.
Carolco's bankruptcy in 1996 and a messy contractual dispute with Cameron at the centre saw the project fall by the wayside and the rights to Spider-Man pass to Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures, who gave the character his long-awaited cinematic debut in 2002.
Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4
Evil Dead filmmaker Sam Raimi made a trio of successful Spider-Man films for Sony with Tobey Maguire in the lead role and, despite the lukewarm critical reception of his third offering, was set to return to the series for a fourth outing.
Spider-Man 4 would have seen Maguire reprise his role as the webslinger and John Malkovich join the franchise as the villainous Vulture. Anne Hathaway was in negotiations to play Felicia Hardy, but the character was rumoured to transform into a super-powered villainess dubbed 'Vulturess' rather than the Black Cat of the comic books. In addition, Dylan Baker's Curt Connors from the previous films was expected to finally morph into his Lizard alter ego.
Spider-Man 4 suffered script problems from day one, and run-ins between Raimi and Sony over scheduling led to the director leaving the film in 2010. The venture was scrapped in favour of a hard reboot of the series, which landed two years later in the shape of The Amazing Spider-Man.
David S Goyer's X-Men Origin's Magneto
After the X-Men cinematic trilogy wrapped up in 2006, 20th Century Fox's plan was to follow it up with a series of prequels focusing on individual characters. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the first of such ventures, and Magneto was intended to be next in line.
David S Goyer was on board as director and Sir Ian McKellen in line to reprise his role as the title character at one stage. The story would have delved into the Master of Magnetism's past, with scenes featuring McKellen bookending a retrospective tale.
The movie was delayed by the Writers Guild of America strikes in 2007 and 2008 and McKellen later bowed out, believing he was too old to revisit the role (although that doesn't seem to have stopped him signing on for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past). Elements of the film were salvaged and incorporated into 2011's X-Men: First Class.
Terry Gilliam's Watchmen
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's seminal graphic novel Watchmen finally made it to the big screen in 2009 in the shape of Zack Snyder's adaptation, but this was not the first attempt to bring it to cinema. Terry Gilliam was given the considerable task of directing the project back in 1991, and the end result would likely have been quite different to what Snyder delivered.
The Gilliam version was to be based on a script by Sam Hamm that featured an alternate opening scene involving the Statue of Liberty being destroyed in a terrorist attack and an ending deemed less convoluted.
Displeased with the screenplay's deviation from the source material, Gilliam co-wrote a new draft that is said to be closer to the graphic novel in tone, but soon expressed concerns that the project was incompatible with cinema and suggested a television series may be more appropriate. With budgetary problems mounting, Gilliam soon exited the venture and it was shelved for the next decade.
Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman
Somebody at Warner Bros must be kicking themselves for allowing Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman to slip between their fingers based on how his take on the Avengers turned out. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator fought a losing battle to bring the Amazonian to Hollywood between 2006 and 2007, before moving on to other projects.
Whedon's Wonder Woman would have seen the character trekking the globe in a bid to understand humanity, and would have focused on her relationship with love interest Steve Trevor. The filmmaker compared his take on the character to Angelina Jolie, but we like to think he would have had the sense to cast somebody else in the lead role.
While some of the proposed movies in this list were canned for the right reasons, Warner really dropped the ball on this one. Had Whedon brought Wonder Woman to celluloid in 2007, it could have been him making Justice League, rather than The Avengers, four years later.
George Miller's Justice League
Warner Bros and DC Comics have had their sights on a Justice League movie adaptation since Marvel Studios announced plans to assemble the Avengers on-screen. This came close to becoming a reality in 2007 when George Miller was hired as director and a cast was put together.
DJ Cotrona was on board as Superman, Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as the Flash, rapper Common as the John Stewart incarnation of Green Lantern, and Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman.
A screenplay by Kieran and Michele Mulroney received positive feedback from the studio, but revisions deemed necessary were heavily delayed by the infamous writer's strike of that year. Miller's decision to cast relatively unknown actors in such iconic roles was also met with criticism and spiralling costs did little to convince Warner that a team-up movie was the way to go at this stage.
A fresh Justice League project is in development for a 2015 release, but if the latest status updates are to be believed, this project could yet go the same way as Miller's aborted effort.
Which cancelled superhero blockbuster do you wish you could have seen? Leave your comments in the space below!