Tim Burton's Superman Lives has become a cinematic phenomenon, even though it was never actually made. Burton's radical vision of the Superman lore had Nic Cage playing a very different Superman than fans have ever seen, but according to the actor, it was a vision that would've blown the other onscreen depictions of Superman away.
Speaking to EW the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, Cage reminisced about Superman Lives, stating that, "the movie that Tim and I would have made, in your imagination, is more powerful than any of the Superman movies."
The actor went on to point out that Superman Lives is indeed so "powerful" that it has made a cultural impact simply as a creative vision that was never actually realized:
“I didn’t even have to make the movie and we all know what that movie would have been in your imagination. That is the Superman. That is the movie. Even though you never saw it — it is the Superman.”
A lot of fans will take issue with the assertion that Superman Lives provided a depiction of "the Superman," as Burton's vision for the film was pretty wild.
If you're not familiar, Superman Lives was a project that Warner Bros. embarked on in the late '90s, when the studio first tapped producer Jon Peters and writer Jonathan Lemkin to adapt the famous '90s "Death of Superman" storyline for the screen (under the first title of "Superman Reborn"). Kevin Smith later brought in to re-write the script for the revamped "Superman Lives," and after Robert Rodriguez passed on the project (to do The Faculty), the studio went with Smith's suggestion of Tim Burton as director. Burton then brought in Wesley Strick to re-write Smith's script, adding more "Burton-isms" to it.
Smith's story followed a plot in which Brainiac sends the monster Doomsday to Earth to kill Superman, and blocks out the sun to take away Superman's powers. After falling in battle, Superman is resurrected by a Kryptonian robot called The Eradicator, who becomes a robotic suit of armor for Superman to wear until his powers are restored.
When Burton and Strick came onboard, Burton vastly transformed things, and Superman Lives then took a lot of strange narrative and aesthetic deviations from traditional Superman lore. Some of those deviations included making Suprman a somber outsider facing an existential crisis, and his resurrection coming about as a result of "The Power of K," a spiritual force form Krypton. The artwork and costumes for the film looked little to nothing like the comic book source material.
Ultimately, WB felt Burton and Strick's $190 million vision was too expensive, and after a year of pre-production, that creative team left the project, and Superman Lives then limped through development limbo (re-writes and a parade of potential directors) before going nowhere. The studio eventually moved on to Bryan Singer's Superman Returns in 2006. To this day, Kevin Smtih still campaigns to have his version of the film get made.
If you haven't seen it, be sure to check out the excellent 2015 documentary The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? to see exactly what kind of movie Nic Cage is claiming would've been the greatest Superman film ever...
Meanwhile, you can next catch Henry Cavill's Superman in Justice League this fall!