Sam Raimi’s Unmade Comic Book Movies (& Why They Didn’t Happen)

Sam Raimi is one of Hollywood’s most well-known genre directors, having created landmark films spanning from the dark world of horror to the bright vistas of superhero action flicks. The director has a highly extensive list of unrealized projects, too, a chunk of which were comic book adaptations that would have been fascinating choices for the filmmaker’s lovingly geek-studded vision.

Although Raimi is widely known for directing the original Spider-Man trilogy and helping to launch the superhero craze of the aughts to bigger and bolder heights, Raimi had been attempting to sign on to comic book projects before then. Frustrated by his lack of success, he utilized his intensely ambitious DIY attitude to create his own superhero in the form of the noirish Darkman, which was released in 1990 and proved that the filmmaker could capture the feel of a graphic story while also maintaining his own unique spin on the aesthetic.

Today, Hollywood has finally recognized Raimi’s talent at bringing comic book panels to the big screen, and he is slotted to direct Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, an exciting opportunity to combine his passion for superheroes and horror in a major blockbuster installment. For years, though, the director has built a list of projects that were either passed on to other folks or were unfortunately either thrown in the garbage or, worse, doomed to development hell. Here are all the films based on comic books that Sam Raimi was, at one point, potentially supposed to helm.

Although Sam Raimi would not direct Spider-Man and reap the fruits of his labor for nearly a decade after releasing Darkman, his unorthodox take on the comic book superhero genre caught the attention of the biggest legend of the comic book superhero world. According to Raimi, Marvel’s own Stan Lee complimented the film and took the burgeoning filmmaker out to lunch to discuss the possibility of working on a movie together. Raimi expressed his desire to bring the God of Thunder to the big screen and the two got to writing treatments together, but 20th Century Fox emphatically declined the pitch, stating that “comic books don’t make good movies.” Raimi has publically described the process of explaining the concept of a Thor movie to studio executives as “thrilling” and “hysterical.”

Sam Raimi had once tried and failed to secure the rights to a Batman movie, so he jumped at the opportunity to take Tim Burton’s spot for the original franchise’s third installment. However, the “cult” director wasn’t considered the right fit for the direction of the series since he was still relatively unknown in the mainstream. The director’s body of work was made up of dark, violent films that may have spooked Warner Bros. executives at a time when the studio was trying to move away from the controversial themes of Batman Returns to more kid-friendly imagery. Joel Schumacher got the job instead.

The Shadow, a mysterious detective hero that became an influential symbol of 1930s American pulp fiction and bears striking similarities to Raimi’s own Darkman, was another property that the filmmaker tried to get his hands on in his early career. After the massive success of Spider-Man in 2004, Raimi tried once again to adapt the character in film form with his producer partner Joshua Denen and Batman franchise producer Michael E. Uslan. Screenwriter Siavash Farahani reportedly was working on a script, but the first sign of trouble arrived when Sony let the rights to the character lapse in 2010. At one point, it was even rumored that Quentin Tarantino would direct the film instead, although Tarantino denied these talks. Finally, Raimi announced in 2012 that he was having trouble developing a proper script and decided to put a stop to the project. The film would have been the second adaptation after the 1994 film The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin in the titular role.

The troubled development history of Spider-Man 4 is perhaps the most well-known of Sam Raimi’s unrealized projects. Geek outlets at the time reported on all the juicy details for the movie that was never produced, like John Malkovich being cast in the villainous role as the Vulture and Anne Hathaway playing Spider-Man’s dangerous love interest Felicia Hardy, a.k.a. Black Cat. It was also heavily rumored that Bruce Campbell was going to play Mysterio, although storyboard artist Jeffrey Henderson has stated and revealed through his drawings that the villain would have been a minor role in a beginning joke montage showing all the villains Spidey had apprehended. According to Raimi himself, he left under “the most amicable and undramatic” of circumstances, claiming that he just couldn’t promise Sony a well-made film under the deadline. The film’s planned writer, James Vanderbilt, even went on to help write The Amazing Spider-Man reboot movies.

Not all of the comic book adaptation projects Sam Raimi worked on were necessarily superhero films. At one point, the director was attached to Monster Zoo, a graphic novel about an animal-loving boy and his friends who team up to stop an ancient evil from mutating the exhibits at the local zoo. The story was written and illustrated by Doug TenPal, who is most known for creating the surreal video game hero Earthworm Jim. Raimi acquired the film rights before the book was even published on shelves, but for unspecified reasons, the project never moved forward.

Sam Raimi almost teamed up with Tom Cruise to direct an adaptation of Sleeper, written by Ed Brubaker (who also wrote The Winter Soldier storyline in the Captain America comic series) and illustrated by Sean Phillips. The comic centers on an undercover agent sent to infiltrate a supervillainous organization, and heavily involves characters and events based in the Wildstorm universe, a superhero imprint under DC. Cruise and Raimi were attached in some unspecified way to the film plans in 2008, and The Way Back screenwriter Brad Inglesby was apparently supposed to pen. However, Brubaker announced the following year that the producers were no longer using Inglesby’s script (possibly because it involved a plot point about a black hole at the same time that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie incorporated a similar idea). As Raimi and Cruise moved on to other projects, it was reported that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were becoming producers instead, but nothing yet has ever been released.

Dreamworks had acquired the rights in 2010 to Radical Studios’ Earp: Saints for Sinners, an illustrated and fictional account of mythical American lawman Wyatt Earp set in an economically ravaged Las Vegas where criminals have gone back to the days of the Wild West. Raimi was supposedly set to be the director with Matt Cirulnick, who also co-wrote the comic series with M. Zachary Sherman, adapting his own work into screenplay form. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Magic will provide an opportunity for Sam Raimi to incorporate his trademark horror style into a superhero film, but Earp would have seen him bring his less-known Western influences found in The Quick and the Dead. Mysteriously, nothing has surfaced since the news was first released in 2010.

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