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Nic Cage's Superman Deserves To Fly In An Elseworlds Spin-Off (If Tim Burton Directs)

"The Flash" — which spoiled its biggest cameo well before release — will finally allow Nicolas Cage to play Superman in the realm of live-action, and it's been a long time coming. 

In the late 1990s, Cage was scheduled to play the Man of Steel in Tim Burton's never-released "Superman Lives." The director was hot off the heels of reinvigorating "Batman" on the big screen, and Cage was arguably at his critical and commercial peak following "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Con Air." This pairing should have been a match made in heaven, but some things are just too good to be true.

"Superman Lives" was scrapped for a variety of reasons, but money was the main one. Warner Bros. went through a phase of releasing big-budget flops like "Batman & Robin" and "The Postman." Meanwhile, "Superman Lives" was hemorrhaging money from pre-production costs alone, and there appeared to be a clash of egos on the set — with one of the potential scripts being questionable at best. More on that later, though. Despite never making it to the screen, Cage and Burton's unmade "Superman" movie is a bizarre curiosity that's been the subject of documentaries ("The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?), thinkpieces, and endless chatter among superhero movie buffs. However, with Cage's character set to appear in "The Flash" and DC Studios showing openness to disconnected "Elseworlds" projects like "Joker" and "The Batman," there's never been a better time for Burton's "Superman Lives" to ... well, live again. 

Nic Cage's Superman would be weird and experimental in fascinating ways

Superman has been around since 1938. During that time, he's undergone several transformations, but he's mostly been portrayed as a dark-haired, chisel-jawed hunk who epitomizes noble, stoic values. This Superman is favored in most movie and television adaptations, but it'd be interesting to see some weirder depictions of the character on the screen, particularly since the freedom of being an Elseworlds project means Cage's Kal-El wouldn't be the "primary" Superman (a role that goes to Gunn's own "Superman: Legacy" project). 

Tim Burton's "Superman Lives" would have given us an emo version of Krypton's favorite son, played by a moody Nic Cage with long hair. Prior to Burton and Cage's involvement with the unproduced project, Kevin Smith wrote a script based on "The Death of Superman" storyline, albeit with Brainiac fighting polar bears and Supes going up against a giant spider. Granted, Smith didn't want to include these scenes at all, but he had to adhere to the requirements of a producer who didn't understand the character. That said, who doesn't want to see a movie about DC characters taking on the fiercest killers in the animal kingdom?

At the same time, a Burton-directed "Superman" movie would be inherently interesting, even without polar bears and gargantuan arachnids causing havoc. His "Batman" and "Batman Returns" flicks have stood the test of time, and the continuing appreciation for both films shows that there's a fan base for Burton's brand of gothic superhero fare. This isn't some amateur filmmaker we're talking about — he's Tim freaking Burton. Throw in the might of Nic Cage and you have a recipe for success.

Superman is more established nowadays, so there's room to experiment with the character

The 1990s was a bonkers decade for superhero movies. Every once in a while, it produced a gem like "Blade," but most were misguided attempts to cash in on popular comic book properties without understanding them. Look no further than "Spawn," "Judge Dredd," and "Batman & Robin" for prime examples of botched adaptations. Of course, there's some fun to be had with these movies, and they certainly have their fans in cult circles. Nic Cage as Superman would probably have been bizarre, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Who knows if "Superman Lives" would have been chalked up as just another nineties misfire, but Tim Burton's track record for making great superhero movies shouldn't be overlooked. These days, most importantly, comic book flicks are the most popular blockbusters on the planet, and audiences are used to seeing more hits than misses. A Cage-led "Superman" movie in the 21st century might be too weird to even comprehend, but now is actually the best time to experiment with off-the-wall ideas that tear up the rule book. Superman is an established name whose brand sells itself, and Cage will always be the internet's favorite actor. The curiosity factor would be huge for this movie.

Besides, DC Studios' Elseworlds offshoot is a potential outlet for making some strange and interesting movies that don't interfere with plans for the mainline franchise. If the Elseworlds-brand cinematic output is anything like its comic book counterparts, it will allow filmmakers to explore alternate universes that feature unique iterations of iconic characters. Plus, with James Gunn overseeing DC's upcoming film and television output, the studio has a head honcho who understands the power of weird superhero blockbusters.

Nic Cage's Superman is a James Gunn-type of movie

James Gunn and Peter Safran's vision for DC Studios' future is yet to be realized. However, the early announcements about the upcoming release slate suggest that they don't want to replicate what's been done before. For example, "The Brave and the Bold" title teases a less-grimdark "Batman" movie, and Gunn has frequently hinted at an interest in Krypto, the Super Dog. The future of DC on the screen could, theoretically, be weird, wacky, and fun.

Of course, this exciting future starts with "The Flash" — the movie that's bringing Nic Cage's Superman to DC's live-action universe. Right away, it seems that the studio is open to celebrating the more obscure corners of cinematic and comic book lore moving forward, and that won't surprise anyone who's familiar with Gunn's history. The "Guardians of the Galaxy" comics weren't exactly widely known when he brought them to the screen, after all, and the trilogy features cameos from maligned characters like Howard the Duck. Gunn also made a kaiju "Suicide Squad" movie and guided a "Peacemaker" spin-off series, both of which strike a perfect balance between oddball humor and mainstream accessibility.

As a storyteller, Gunn is drawn toward tales about outsiders and underdogs, and "Superman Lives" aligns with those sensibilities. It remains to be seen if that's still the case now that he's the co-CEO of DC Studios, but he's probably the most likely executive to greenlight a Tim Burton-directed "Superman" movie starring a long-haired Nicolas Cage.

Tim Burton has earned the right to direct Superman Lives

Tim Burton probably won't make a Marvel movie, but the director has yet to rule out helming another DC flick. Of course, he doesn't appear to be in a hurry to make any superhero blockbusters, but an Elseworlds project — with all the creative freedom that banner allows — might excite the filmmaker, as projects like "Joker" are more creator-driven and experimental. Surely, Burton could get on board with a movie that's off the beaten track?

"Superman Lives" wouldn't fit into the mainline DC cinematic universe, but it certainly has a place in the outskirts. However, it needs to have Burton directing it: otherwise, it risks becoming a spoof, as a "Superman" project starring a meme sensation is inherently silly. The director probably had a somewhat serious vision in mind when he signed up for this project in the 1990s, and his work on two excellent "Batman" movies has given him the right to realize his original ideas.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with spoofy superhero movies either, and Burton is the perfect choice to helm a wacky "Superman" movie if the idea interests him. After all, this is the director who gave us "Mars Attacks!," which delightfully pokes fun at alien invasion movies of the 1950s. So, a comedic Man of Steel movie with Nicolas Cage chewing scenery might appeal to the director, and it'd certainly resonate with fans who appreciate superhero flicks like "Deadpool." 

Either way, Burton needs to be in the driver's seat. And as long as him and Cage are down, we'd love to see it.