Why Ben Affleck Was Nixed as Superman | Den of Geek

While that film (current cult status notwithstanding,) proved to be an unnecessarily-exorbitant $4 million-losing box office dud, industry forces had given Smith a mulligan, and wrote it up as a quirky loss leader, notably since Smith’s script for a more mature rom-com, 1997’s Chasing Amy, bore promising prospects (and for a fraction of Mallrats’ $6 million budget). That notion would prove correct, and the film became a potent platform for Affleck, who fielded the co-starring role as a comic book creator who tries to deal with his own personal limitations amidst a relationship with a sexually-fluid girlfriend (Joey Laruen Adams). That was essentially the birth of Ben Affleck the leading man, leading to a blockbuster breakthrough as the star of director Michael Bay’s 1998 asteroid-assailing cinematic spectacle, Armageddon—especially once that film went on a worldwide summer rampage that grossed $553 million. Thus, with Warner coincidentally contemplating a Superman reboot, fortune seemed to favor Affleck/Smith.

So, what could have possibly derailed this most auspicious of Superman endeavors? The quick answer, according to Smith, is famed producer Jon Peters. Having arrived in studio Warner’s gravitational pull after being tapped to write a supernatural project called The Architects of Fear, Smith obtained a copy of the reboot script, initially titled Superman Reborn, which, using his comic book savvy, he eviscerated at a meeting; an act that yielded him the dream job of a re-write opportunity. However, said opportunity came with the caveat of collaborating with Peters, an iconic-but-eccentric Hollywood figure who was recently portrayed by Bradley Cooper in director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. True to his perceived eccentricity, Peters put some odd, seemingly non-negotiable ideas on the table, notably that Superman would not fly, saying “that flying s**t looks cheap to me.” He also wanted to ditch the traditional red and blue costume, due to it looking “too pink,” and demanded a third-act battle with a giant spider.

Yet, in Peters’s defense, some of those ideas are workable, and Superman’s earliest appearances in the comics actually portrayed him as making mighty stratospheric leaps instead of flying. Thus, Smith was nevertheless prepared to work with, as he put it, the “weird parameters,” put in place by Peters. “But for me, it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to make it work,’” he says. “Because I always had the ability to walk away from it at the end of the day. … So, whatever they threw at me, I was like, ‘Great.’ As long as I could make it work in my head and heart as a comic book fan, I could kind of go with it.” Thusly, work on the script, which would be renamed Superman Lives, moved forward, manifesting as a loose adaptation of 1992’s “Death of Superman” comic book storyline.

However, the coup de grace to Smith’s Superman screenwriting tenure would occur when Peters pushed for Sean Penn—still fresh from an Oscar-nominated role as a death row inmate in 1995’s Dead Man Walking—for the title role, an idea—ultimately unrealized—that completely contradicted the work Smith had put in, having envisioned a film with recurring players Affleck as Superman opposite the enjoyably ornery Michael Rooker as Lex Luther. “[H]e wanted to reinvent it,” laments Smith. “He wanted something gritty, graphic and grownup. He essentially wanted like what Zack Snyder eventually did.” Naturally, a conflict ensued, as Peters stood steadfast for his ideas. “He goes, ‘Look in his eyes in that movie, he’s [got] haunted eyes, the eyes of a killer,’” Smith recalls. “And I was like, ‘Dude, it’s Superman. You know, that’s not how most people think of Superman.”

The lack of cohesion led to the opportunity of a lifetime abruptly ending for Affleck and Smith, not with a brash bang, but an ignominious whimper. That’s because Warner would eventually procure a legendary director—one who’d led the studio to success with the Michael Keaton-starring Batman films—in Tim Burton to tackle Superman Lives. Of course, with Burton being a unique visionary, Smith’s ideas were quickly discarded in an act that occurred with arguable disrespect by the studio, seeing as Smith wasn’t informed about his removal until well after the fact. While Burton’s Superman tenure, defined by his casting of Nicolas Cage, famously came to its own screeching halt, Smith’s stab at Superman was relegated to the heap of abandoned ideas.

“I remember I was in Connecticut, I was doing a press tour, Chasing Amy, Smith recalls. “My agent called me. … And I was like, ‘When do I have to submit another Superman draft? And he goes, ‘You’re done.’ You did your two drafts and they’re not bringing you back. Tim’s bringing on somebody else. I was like, ‘All right.’ And you know, I wasn’t sad. They spent so much money; they honestly spent between $25 million and $50 million developing a movie that never happened.”

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Why Ben Affleck Was Nixed as Superman | Den of Geek