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The '90s Silver Surfer Movie You Never Got To See

Before the dawn of the modern age of superhero cinema, we almost saw a Marvel icon — Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer — on the silver screen.

Storyboard artist Gabriel Hardman recently took to Twitter to post a lengthy thread of films for which he'd done storyboard work, but which were never completed. Among these was a version of a Silver Surfer solo film that was in development all the way back in 1997, years before 2000's X-Men and 2002's Spider-Man kicked off the modern superhero genre.

Hardman is a comic book artist who has done work for Marvel, DC, and Image Comics, and has storyboarded a slew of feature films — from 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery all the way up to 2020's The Call of the Wild. Along with a few panels of the storyboard work he did for the potential '90s Silver Surfer feature, he dropped a few interesting details about the production — including that Aussie filmmaker Geoffrey Wright, whose 1992 feature Romper Stomper helped introduce the world to Russell Crowe, was set to direct. Since his brush with superhero flicks, Wright has helmed only three features: 1994's Metal Skin, 2000's Cherry Falls (which was released straight to video), and the 2006 adaptation of Macbeth.

According to Hardman, Wright also knew exactly who he wanted for his film's principals: he was keen to cast Ewan McGregor, who was still a couple of years away from earning his blockbuster bonafides as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in the lead role. As Galactus, the world-devouring entity for whom the Surfer serves as a herald, Wright apparently had his sights set on Steven Berkoff, best known for portraying the villainous Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop.

What would the 1997 Silver Surfer movie have looked like?

While Hardman's tweet didn't offer many more details about the unproduced feature, it did indicate that it likely would have been a smaller-budget feature and relatively light on special effects. The Surfer, Hardman wrote, "spent most of the movie as a human," due to the fact that the visual effects required to render the hero in his more familiar, silvery form would have "been too costly then."

The storyboard panels that Hardman posted also gave an indication as to the film's villain, as they show the Surfer doing battle with an enormous, hulking figure that bears quite a bit of resemblance to the classic X-Men villain Juggernaut. The panels show the villain crashing through a brick wall, cornering our hero; as the two prepare to clash, though, the Surfer's iconic board comes flying to the rescue.

Other details we know about the planned Silver Surfer movie come from an April 1997 report published by Variety. The outlet indicated that Fox was aiming for a "summer 1998 release of Silver Surfer," to be written by Richard Jefferies and produced by Constantin Film. 

McGregor would have been a bold choice to lead the movie; at the time, he was known mostly for his roles in indie features like the 1994 thriller Shallow Grave and the 1996 drama Trainspotting, both directed by Danny Boyle. Silver Surfer wouldn't make his big screen debut until 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and then only as a supporting character. But, as it turns out, Wright wasn't the first or last filmmaker to attempt to field a solo vehicle for the Surfer in the years before that movie's release.

A lot of filmmakers tried to get a Silver Surfer movie made

In the late '80s and early '90s, the rights to the Fantastic Four and their related characters, including Silver Surfer, were held by German company Constantin Film. One young filmmaker — University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts student Erik Fleming — made it his mission to see if he could bring the hero to the screen. With the help of a computer-animation specialist buddy and a couple of staffers from Jim Henson's Creature Shop, Fleming went about the painstaking process of producing a five-minute short as a proof-of-concept to demonstrate how Silver Surfer could look in a feature film.

The short was completed in 1993, and while it did create a fair amount of buzz, Constantin Film wasn't too keen on the whole idea of a Silver Surfer movie. In fact, the company had recently turned down a promising young filmmaker coming off a hot debut feature who also wanted to bring Silver Surfer to the screen: Quentin Tarantino, who had set the indie film world ablaze with his 1992 feature Reservoir Dogs.

Ultimately, Fleming's efforts were all for naught — although, after Fox acquired the film rights to Silver Surfer in the late '90s, another attempt was made to flesh out a solo vehicle for the character. In 2000, around the time the Ben Affleck-starring Daredevil was entering production, Fox hired screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) to pen a Silver Surfer script (via Variety). This obviously never materialized, and so far, the version of Norrin Radd seen in Rise of the Silver Surfer — performed physically by Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne — is the only live-action iteration fans have gotten. Hopefully, with Marvel Studios now in control of Fox's film and television assets, that will soon change.