Before there was The Snyder Cut, there was perhaps no more infamous scrapped comic book project than Superman Lives. Tim Burton signed on to direct from a script originally written by comic superfan Kevin Smith, with another big comic fan, Nicolas Cage, playing the Man of Steel. Lots of time and money was put into the pre-production of the film, which was ultimately canceled by Warner Bros. in 1998. The film now exists only as superhero lore—and has haunted Burton ever since.
“No, I don’t have regrets,” Burton says about Superman Lives in a new BFI interview. “I will say this: when you work that long on a project and it doesn’t happen, it affects you for the rest of your life. Because you get passionate about things, and each thing is an unknown journey, and it wasn’t there yet. But it’s one of those experiences that never leaves you, a little bit.”
Superman Lives had a (very brief) moment in the sun earlier this year when Cage had a cameo in the controversial Flash film. Finally getting to do his version gave Cage “the feeling of being actualized,” the actor previously shared. “Even that look for that particular character, finally seeing it on screen, was satisfying. But as I said, it’s quick.”
It doesn’t sound like Burton (who thinks he was booted off the Batman films because he “upset McDonald’s or something”) found the sequence quite as validating. “But also it goes into another AI thing, and this is why I think I’m over it with the studio,” he tells BFI. “They can take what you did, Batman or whatever, and culturally misappropriate it, or whatever you want to call it. Even though you’re a slave of Disney or Warner Brothers, they can do whatever they want. So in my latter years of life, I’m in quiet revolt against all this.”