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How Henry Cavill's Superman Announcement Fell Apart In Less Than 2 Months

Looking up at the sky, you might spot a bird or a plane, but you definitely won't find Henry Cavill playing Superman. The actor who has been the undisputed "Man of Steel" on the big screen for almost a decade has unceremoniously admitted that he's parting ways with the famed DC Comics role. The news comes as a shock for fans who have only recently had their hope renewed when Cavill returned as the Kryptonian in a post-credit cameo in Dwayne Johnson's "Black Adam." 

In a whirlwind of events that barely covered the whole third quarter of 2022, the bulked-up actor went from nearly starring in another upcoming Warner Brothers blockbuster to crushing fans' dreams of seeing him don the big red and yellow 'S' once more. Leaving heads spinning faster than a speeding bullet, the decision came down from DC's new studio chiefs, James Gunn and Peter Safran, who are busy mapping out a new dawn for the comic book company's cinematic universe.

While some fans reject the new direction, others are trying to figure out how these events played out so quickly and what went wrong. Continue reading to best understand how this wild Hollywood story regarding one of the world's most popular fictional characters went from a "Dawn of Justice" to a crisis of two cinematic universes.

Superman in cinema

To understand the significance of DC's decision to recast Superman, it is vital to understand how influential the character has been for Hollywood and the superhero genre. Originally appearing in a 1933 short story, "The Reign of the Supermen," by Jerry Siegel, the man in tights became the world's first superpowered crime fighter when Joe Shuster joined Siegel in illustrating Superman for a comic strip. Superman soon led the rise of superheroes as the top-earning genre in comic books, and before long, "The Adventures of Superman" was entertaining families over the radio.

In 1941, when Stan Lee would have still been a teenager, Superman was already hitting the big screen in a series of animated theatrical shorts released by Paramount Pictures. By 1950, a live-action Supes had flown through two movie serial collections. "Superman and the Mole Men," filmed as a pilot for the "Adventures of Superman" TV show and released in 1951, was the first full-length feature starring the big blue boy scout. But it was 1978's "Superman," starring Christopher Reeve, that changed cinema history and is credited as the first big-budget superhero movie ever released. It was followed up with three sequels and a 2006 reboot starring Brandon Routh. Without touching on the plethora of television appearances and direct-to-video animated films, Superman has undoubtedly been one of the most impactful fictional characters in film history, while paving the way for an entire genre that has come to dominate the box office.

Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel

On the heels of the 2008 box office sensation "Iron Man," Warner Bros. and DC were forced to play catch-up as the Marvel Cinematic Universe was well on its way to changing the moviegoing experience. In hopes of making a significant splash, DC leaned on old faithful Superman to pave the way for its own movie crossover collection. Equally pressing, a court ruling in favor of Supe's original creators stated that the family of Jerry Siegel would be able to sue the studio for damages and possibly reclaim the rights to the character if a new Superman movie did not go into production by 2011 (per Variety).

Henry Cavill, meanwhile, had been waiting for his chance to star into a top-grossing Hollywood feature. "The Tudors" actor had reportedly been passed up for major roles in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (per MyLondon), "Twilight," and the James Bond feature "Casino Royale." Cavill's coveted bone structure and buff physique had seen him rumored as a superhero for many years, including being one of the first choices for the 2006 "Superman Returns" feature (per MTV). Finally, after many near-misses, Cavill was announced for the leading role of Clark Kent in Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel," with the director boasting that he was "the perfect choice" for the part (per Collider).

The fall of the DC Extended Universe

Nearly 10 years old, the DC Extended Universe has been a messy adventure. With the final few films of the cinematic franchise set to trickle out in 2023, the rivalry with the MCU could be called one of the most expensive failed movie experiments of all time. With a mishmash of reboots, unclear timelines, and far too many loose ends, the DCEU will conclude with far more canceled projects than completed films. At the center of it all was a "Justice League" film that became so convoluted that it had two separate releases, completed by two different directors.

The box office disaster that is "Justice League" is a well-documented Hollywood hiccup, involving celebrated director Zack Snyder leaving the movie mid-project for personal reasons, only to find his vision of the DCEU left in shambles upon his return. A late attempt at patchworking his franchise centerpiece into existence in 2021 proved to be too little too late, as Warner Bros. searched for new directions in James Gunn's "The Suicide Squad" reboot and a "Black Adam" film that went out of its way to distance itself from the rest of the class. Two of the movies that Henry Cavill was most featured in, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Justice League," were arguably the most critically panned.

Big blue in limbo

The aftermath of the Frankenstein monster that was "Justice League" began a retooling of the entire DCEU. A film intended to spin off at least six movies and have a minimum of two sequels ended with just two follow-ups, 2018's "Aquaman" and "Wonder Woman 1984." Yes, "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" and "The Flash," which has been postponed numerous times for various reasons, are both set for release in 2023, but the entire franchise has been slowly falling apart almost since its inception. With multiple projects from the headlining performers of the DCEU canceled, including Ray Fisher's "Cyborg" and Ben Affleck's "Batman," Henry Cavill's future with Warner Bros. has been uncertain since his last starring role in 2017.

Conversely, Cavill has struggled to break through as a superstar in other Hollywood projects. One of the actor's most significant roles outside of the DCEU, Napoleon Solo in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," led to one of the biggest box office flops of 2015. Making matters worse, Cavill became the target of meme ridicule for his inconsistent mustache between "Mission Impossible: Fallout" and "Zack Snyder's Justice League" — although he arguably made up for it with another meme featuring the actor reloading his biceps. Still, aside from a moderately successful appearance as Sherlock Holmes in "Enola Holmes," Cavill has remained outside the bubble of A-list movie stars without his Superman role.

Cavill's Black Adam cameo

Everybody could smell what The Rock was cooking when he brought Henry Cavill back for a surprise cameo in the mid-credits scene of 2022's "Black Adam." Dwayne Johnson was ready to forge ahead with his vision for the DCEU as he championed the introduction of the entire Justice Society, along with Clark Kent's return. A significant part of the marketing for "Black Adam" involved the former WWE wrestler touting his own concept of rebuilding the cinematic franchise. As the movie reached moderate critical acclaim, Rock boastfully tweeted: "'Black Adam' will serve as our phase one of storytelling in our DC Universe. Exciting times for the brand to build up and build out."

The Rock's idea for the revamped DCEU involved one vital character, Superman. If nothing else, Johnson wanted his dark-suited anti-hero on screen with the Last Son of Krypton. "We fought for years to bring you back, they always said no," said another post from Johnson about Supe's return. "No was never an option. We can't build out our DCEU without the world's greatest superhero." Despite the source material for Rock's character traditionally being linked to the "Shazam" canon, a "Black Adam" sequel featuring the Man of Steel was insinuated by Cavill's appearance. Only now, under James Gunn and Peter Safran's brand new DC leadership, the future of "Black Adam" is currently uncertain.

The return of Superman

Following the release of "Black Adam," the news spread quickly that Henry Cavill was once again back in the blue suit and red cape. Whether the Super-cameo was a clever marketing ploy by The Rock to boost his film's box office or a legitimate return of Superman had yet to be clarified — until Henry Cavill made the announcement that Kal-El would be back. "I wanted to make it official, that I am back as Superman," said a smiling Cavill in an Instagram post. "The image in this post and what you saw in 'Black Adam' are just a very small taste of things to come."

Unbeknownst to Cavill at the time, the DCEU was headed for some significant shifts almost immediately. It came to light almost simultaneously with Cavill's announcement that James Gunn and Peter Safran were being handed the keys to the DC cinematic kingdom. With their official takeover happening on November 1 (per CNBC) and the character's future in their hands, Cavill may have been pre-emptive when saying he was "enormously joyful" about his comeback just days previous. Understanding what has come to light since regarding Cavill's dismissal, it's unclear how the cameo and supposed DCEU return were presented to the actor. The fans were also left without a clear explanation as to what the studio heads at the time intended for Superman's next flight.

Man of Steel 2

Like two alternate timelines, two parallel DC movie franchises were being built in different directions during that fateful week in late October. One was being brainstormed by James Gunn and Peter Safran as they prepared for their first days on the job. The other was the DCEU as constructed by Dwayne Johnson and his team. With "Black Adam" proving to be a last-ditch effort for Warner Bros. before going in a completely new direction, plenty of what was planned for the DCEU could well be revealed in the aftermath of its deconstruction.

Either way, there were still high expectations again for a sequel to Cavill's only solo Superman feature, "Man of Steel." Without it being officially announced, fans were led to believe that a new movie starring Cavill as the DC headliner was being developed. Even as it was reported that the former head of the DCEU, Walter Hamada, was on his way out, the Hollywood Reporter stated that "the studio's eyes are very much on Superman." But Cavill once again missed the mark in October 2022 when he stepped away from his leading role in Netflix's "The Witcher" (per CNN), presumably under the impression he would be filming a big-budget DC picture soon.

A pending cameo in The Flash

Adding to the pile of confusion regarding the definitive direction of DC Comics adaptations, there were, and are, multiple other DCEU projects in various stages of development. As it stands, titles such as "Shazam 2: Fury of the Gods" and "Blue Beetle" are still set for release on their respective premiere dates in March and August 2023, while equally likely to maintain its Christmas 2023 premiere is "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom." Conversely, a slew of other potential projects have more or less hit the wastebasket, including "Black Canary," "Booster Gold," and "Wonder Woman 3." Patty Jenkins had been working under the perception that she would be able to conclude her "Wonder Woman" trilogy, but recently revealed that her and Gal Gadot's future in the DCEU is more than unlikely.

That just leaves one movie, "The Flash," which is still on deck but was intended to have cameos from nearly every original member of the cinematic Justice League except for Momoa. Although Ben Affleck is still reportedly in the film as Batman (per the New York Post), the multiverse-jumping plot of movie has slowly lost Ray Fisher as Cyborg, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, and now Henry Cavill's Superman (via The Hollywood Reporter). Although the scenes previously filmed by Cavill were reportedly still attached to the film as of early December 2022 (per Yahoo!), the cameo will be removed.

James Gunn and Peter Safran's new DCU

Regardless of everyone else's plans for DC movies, James Gunn and Peter Safran are now indisputably in charge of the franchise going forward. Despite officially taking over on November 1, 2022, Gunn has also been preoccupied with wrapping up production on "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" for Marvel. Gunn even managed to release "The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special" amidst the chaos of the last couple of months, so it's understandable that Gunn and Safran haven't been able to solidify a plan for their newly configured DCU until just recently.

Taking on a position of such influence takes some adjustment, but as Safran and Gunn toiled away at a new outline for the DCU, the celebrated director has not been shy about teasing what was being pitched. Avoiding the layers of secrecy Marvel is notorious for, Gunn has posted images on social media of certain characters that were presumably under consideration for big-screen adaptations, including Lobo, Mister Terrific, and the aged heroes of the "Kingdom Come" story arc. Finally, on December 14, Gunn updated the status of the franchise, tweeting, "Peter [Safran] and I have a DC slate ready to go, which we couldn't be more over-the-moon about; we'll be able to share some exciting information about our first projects at the beginning of the new year."

Henry Cavill hangs up the cape

In the same thread as the Twitter post mentioned above, James Gunn dropped the bomb for one particular direction of his new DCU. Gunn revealed, "Among those on the slate is Superman. In the initial stages, our story will be focusing on an earlier part of Superman's life, so the character will not be played by Henry Cavill." The news was a shock considering the hype around "Man of Steel 2" had been progressively building to that moment. "But we just had a great meeting with Henry," continued Gunn's thread, "and we talked about a number of exciting possibilities to work together in the future."

Cavill took to the same Instagram account where he announced his return to the role less than two months prior to share the same news. "I have just had a meeting with James Gunn and Peter Safran and it's sad news, everyone," read the actor's statement. "I will, after all, not be returning as Superman." The post went on to explain Cavill's understanding and obvious disappointment but sent one final message of hope from the actor who was the Man of Steel for nearly a decade: "Superman is still around. Everything he stands for exists, and the examples he sets for us are still there! My turn to wear the cape has passed, but what Superman stands for never will."

Fans revolt on social media

If nothing else, fans who have advocated for Zack Snyder's original concept of the DCEU have been outspoken and passionate. Even as Peter Safran and James Gunn solidify their new outline for the comic book franchise, many of those fans have been as loud as ever. While not every fanatic has been completely opposed to the redirection, there has been a flurry of social media campaigns asking to "Bring back Zack Snyder" and "Restore the Snyderverse."

Meanwhile, Dwayne Johnson, who admittedly advocated for Henry Cavill to be reinstated as Superman in the first place, has been eerily quiet about the dismissal as he awaits his own news about the future of Black Adam. Some have been quick to blame the former wrestler for exploiting the return of Cavill in his attempt to take control the DCEU (per The Hollywood Reporter). Subsequently, many of Cavill's DCEU peers, like Jason Momoa and Zachary Levi, have reached out with their own messages in the comments of the former Man of Steel's Instagram announcement, while "Black Adam" producer Dany Garcia wrote: "You are and will always be our Superman."

Future Superman movies

Those not attached to Henry Cavill being their one and only Superman are looking toward the future of the Last Son of Krypton. The film that Gunn has been scripting will not retell Kal-El's origin story yet again, but will focus instead on his earlier days on Earth and his job as a reporter for the Daily Planet. Yet despite Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav's mandate to cut back on having many different versions of DC's superheroes existing at the same time (via The Wrap), there is already another Superman movie in the works, and reportedly still underway. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been scripting his own version of the Man of Steel's story since February 2021, which would introduce a Black Superman (per The Hollywood Reporter). The new film, not attached to the DCEU, has J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot company as the production entity behind it (per Deadline). While many DC projects have hit the chopping block in recent days, including "Wonder Woman 3," "Batgirl," and "Man of Steel 2," no cancellation for this project has been announced ... yet.