Why Hollywood won't give Cable his own movie

In the current cultural superhero craze, anything is possible—and potentially profitable. Established heroes have had terrible film track records (We're looking at you, Green Lantern) while relative unknowns like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have enjoyed critical and commercial success. We've watched some truly bizarre characters be brought to life, like Guardians of the Galaxy fan favorites Groot and Rocket Raccoon. It doesn't need to make sense—the only rule is that it has to be entertaining. (Call it the rule of Deadpool.) So with all that said, why hasn't Hollywood given Cable his own movie? Turns out this is one comics adaptation that's trickier than you might think.

Name recognition

Never say never, but it's hard to imagine many people going out to see a movie about the Cable guy. Outside of comics fans, few people have even heard about the character—and if they have, they probably don't know much more than his name, which isn't really much to go on. Even if you didn't know who Iron Man and the Hulk were, you could probably guess where their powers lie. Not so for Cable. Go ahead and ask the average person on the street who he is and what he can do, and see how many people come back with right answers. That lack of name recognition, while not fatal, is certainly a hurdle—and the more you read up on Cable, the more you start to wonder if he's even worth the trouble.

He's a perpetual sidekick

Whether it's Cable and Deadpool, New Mutants, or Cable and X-Force, one thing is consistent with Cable—he's no headline act. Either as a sidekick or part of an ensemble, his personality is such that he works best as a foil for other characters, be they Wolverine, Professor X, or Wade Wilson's Merc with a Mouth. While Cable has had his own series before, in the 1990s and late 2000s, it seems clear at this point that he works best in groups. A light touch is needed with Cable. A little goes a long way.

His backstory is a nightmare

Part of what makes Cable problematic as a film character is that his comics backstory is a convoluted pain in the ass. Seriously. The simplest way to put it is as follows: Cable, a.k.a. Nathan Summers, is the son of Cyclops, a.k.a. Scott Summers, and a demonic clone of Jean Grey, Madeline Pryor. As a child, he was sent alone two thousand years into the future in order to protect (and perhaps cure) him from the effects of a techno-organic virus. The virus, which was injected by bad guys, slowly infused him with liquid metal and organic steel, threatening to kill him. His only hope? A time-traveling being of pure energy named Sister Askani, who appeared to Cyclops in a vision and took young Nathan to a future ruled by the mutant Apocalypse, where he was worshiped as a savior foretold by prophecy. Okay? Eventually he got sick of that hellscape and time-traveled back to ancient Egypt to kill Apocalypse before he got too big to fail—and when that didn't work either, he bounced around time for awhile before landing in the present day, older than his parents.

And that's how it starts. Meanwhile, Peter Parker was bitten by a spider. Done.

Fashion Don't

With all that in mind, it's understandable that Cable is something of a joke in certain circles, held up as an exemplar of comic books' convoluted plots and the excesses of character design in the 1990s. Though Cable creator Rob Liefeld is a very successful artist in the industry, Cable is regarded by many as representing everything that's controversial about Liefeld's work, which is often described as excessive or anatomically absurd. Fellow artist Alex Ross, who has called Cable's design "godawful," breaks down everything that's unappealing about the character when he says he "it looked like they just threw up everything on the character—the scars, the thing going on with his eye, the arm, and what's with all the guns?"

How do you cast this guy?

There's a difference between comic book looks and film portrayals when it comes to superheroes. Just look at Wolverine, who's never appeared in his classic yellow costume across any of his myriad film appearances. But the problems with Cable's design are a little more elemental: he's a silver-haired old man who's built like an absolute tank. Now, to be fair, candidates exist for the role. But the casting pool is very shallow, and no one's going to hit the six-foot-eight, 350-pound mark necessary to make the character's physique look anywhere near accurate. And if you take the height and weight away, what are you left with to distinguish Cable from a normal dude except bulky outfits and lots of guns?

Powerfully problematic

Let's talk about Cable's powers. Like his mother, he's telekinetic, able to manipulate matter with his mind, and his cybernetic eye and arm give him enhanced vision and super strength. Also? He can travel through time, he's built like a redwood tree and loves gigantic Nerf-style guns. In other words, he's way too powerful, and seems like he was designed by a committee of ten-year-old boys. Which actually isn't that far from being inaccurate:

Time travel woes

Time travel is a narrative headache that tends to cause more problems than it solves, and the fact that Cable's origin is almost inescapably tied to it is problematic at best. And it's not just that he's from a few years down the road, hanging out with old versions of characters we know; he's from so far in the future that he's practically an alien. Though he was born in the regular Marvel Comics timeline known as Earth-616, he grew and developed his powers 2,000 years later in the alternate future timeline of Earth-4935, and while this is par for the course for the comics, even the spacefaring, reality-warping movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe haven't quite reached this sort of heady territory yet. And speaking of the MCU…

Who owns Cable?

Fans of superhero cinema may recall the rather odd existence of two versions of the character Quicksilver, one played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Avengers: Age of Ultron, and another played by Evan Peters in the X-Men series. How did this happen? It has everything to do with which studios hold the rights to which characters, and Cable, like Quicksilver, is on somewhat shaky ground.

Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men are all Marvel Comics creations, but due to how the movie business functions, Marvel Studios doesn't have the rights to make movies about all those characters. The Fantastic Four and the X-Men film right s all live at 20th Century Fox, and if you've ever read an X-Men comic, you know it's a team that tends to sprawl. In the comics, Quicksilver and Cable are mutants, but they don't solely appear in X-Men properties. They show up in other places, and they function on their own. Which makes things tricky from a rights perspective. In the Quicksilver example, Age of Ultron's iteration simply wasn't a mutant, and neither was the Scarlet Witch. While both characters appeared in Avengers comic books for years, their origins as mutants were erased and altered to better fit the needs of the MCU…and to avoid rights issues with the X-Men movie franchise. Meanwhile, Fox could use him as a mutant (and the implied son of Magneto) in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Cable has the same problem. While the rights to the character would seem to be with Fox based on his mutant origins, Marvel has reportedly done tentative work in getting a movie of his developed as though the rights are theirs. Partnerships between studios are not unheard of, of course—the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming is a Marvel/Sony co-production—but this rights wrinkle does add one more complication to the stack of reasons why Cable is a hard prospect for a solo feature. But perhaps there is another way.

Deadpool 2

If you stuck around for Deadpool's post-credits scene, you'll recall two things: an alley-oop of a Ferris Bueller homage, and what sounded like a promise: "in the sequel, we're gonna have Cable." Which is good! Cable and Deadpool have a rich history in comics, both as enemies and allies. Additionally, Deadpool's satirical poke-fun-at-the-genre style is a match made in heaven for Cable's convoluted backstory. Assuming all goes forward as planned, Cable will make his film debut as Deadpool's…foil, sidekick, nemesis, no one really knows yet. Deadpool actually had the same trajectory toward the big screen, appearing first, in very compromised form, in 2009's largely unloved X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While Mr. Pool eventually broke box office records of his own accord, it took seven years for his solo outing to happen after that first teaser. Depending on how Deadpool 2's version of Cable is received, we might still be waiting a long, long time before he gets the chance to headline a movie of his own.

Major risk, small reward

The bottom line: there's a lot standing in the way of a Cable movie, and the odds of him surviving the page-to-screen transition without significant changes are pretty much zero. When a character needs extensive reimagining to be viable onscreen, that's a problem. If you have any doubts about what a lose-lose scenario this is, look no further than Galactus. In the comics, he's commonly depicted as a purple-suited giant lumbering through the cosmos, eating worlds for sustenance. On the page, this flies: your imagination does the work for you. But the creators of 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, unable to imagine how this sight would play on screen (and really, can you blame them?) instead opted to portray him as a giant cloud. Viewers of the film were unimpressed, as were comics loyalists who asked why the filmmakers would bother settling for a name-only version of Galactus. (Weirdly, the Fantastic Four films persistently have the same issues with figuring out how to portray Dr. Doom.)

The current popularity of superhero movies makes it easy to assume we'll almost certainly see a live-action version of Cable at some point. But with all the baggage that he brings—not to mention how few people are really walking around begging for a movie starring the guy—it's no surprise he doesn't seem to be a top priority. For now, the big screen will probably continue to suffer from an ongoing Cable outage.