Batman Producer Almost Jumpstarted the Marvel Movie Universe With Luke Cage

Batman franchise producer Michael E. Uslan once optioned the screen rights to Marvel Comics superhero Luke Cage, a never-made feature Uslan says would have been "the first real, true-blue Marvel movie." In the wake of the blockbuster success of the Tim Burton-directed Batman in 1989, Uslan and actor Robert Wuhl pitched Luke Cage to Universal-based Motown Productions. The project — about the bulletproof and super-strong Harlem hero sometimes known as Power Man — was to take place in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and would have followed the unreleased Fantastic Four (1994) and the direct-to-video Captain America (1990).

"Way back, right after our first Batman movie, I optioned the rights from Marvel to Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. This was when Marvel was mired," Uslan said during a virtual Wizard World panel with Wuhl. "All they had was Captain America, and Fantastic Four, neither of which could be released theatrically. Marvel was in a mess."

Uslan, along with Wuhl, approached Suzanne de Passe at Motown Productions, originally a production company for television specials featuring acts like Diana Ross and The Jackson 5. At Universal Pictures, Motown Productions backed such films as the Billy Dee Williams-starring The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings and Scott Joplin.

"We had a meeting with Universal, Motown, where we talked about doing this as the first real, true-blue Marvel movie," Uslan said, adding Wuhl "had some great ideas" for Luke Cage.

"We talked about ways to make it feel real and the tone of New York in the late '70s, early '80s. The whole world could have been changed," Uslan added. "But he and I were on the verge of doing it, when what do you think happened right after that meeting? Motown folded and then Universal got sold."

Marvel wouldn't get its first hit until 1998's Wesley Snipes-starring Blade, which predicated the success of the first blockbuster Marvel movie: 2000's X-Men. In 2002, Sony Pictures would release what many consider to be the start of the modern superhero movie boom with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.

By 2003, Sony's Columbia Pictures optioned the rights to Luke Cage with producer Avi Arad and Neal Moritz's Original Film, behind The Fast and the Furious franchise. In 2006, attached director John Singleton said his "dream team" for Luke Cage was star Tyrese Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious) with future Iron Man star Terence Howard as the villain.


When the character's screen rights reverted to now Disney-owned Marvel in 2013, Marvel Television and ABC Studios tapped Mike Colter to play the eponymous Cage in the since-canceled Netflix series that released in 2016.