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The Real Reason These Origin Story Movies Got Canceled

Audiences meet many classic film characters in media res, with their lives, goals, and personalities firmly established. Going this route makes the likes of Dirty Harry or Han Solo feel like people with a rich history that extends beyond the screen. The suggestion of unseen adventures informing these characters before we knew them can't help but compel the imagination. Though such personalities work so well because of their undefined points of origin, that hasn't stopped Hollywood from regularly engaging in franchise extensions in the form of origin stories. Over the years, everyone from Wolverine to "Dumb & Dumber" leads Harry and Lloyd have gotten prequels explaining so much about characters that weren't crying out for backstory.

Despite this constant fixation on these kinds of prequels, even Hollywood hasn't been able to bring every proposed origin story movie into reality. For every "Solo: A Star Wars Story," there are countless other origin story projects that just never got off the ground. These titles, some focusing on characters as iconic as John McClane and Yoda, never made it to the big screen due to a wide variety of factors ranging from shifts in movie studio management to creative disputes between behind-the-scenes figures. While the real reasons these origin story movies never got made vary greatly, they all share the quality of making you grateful such superfluous projects never got fully realized.

X-Men Origins: Magneto

Today, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is a widely-derided punchline whose largest legacy is inspiring jokes in "Deadpool" and the radically different creative direction for "The Wolverine" and "Logan." Initially, however, there were plans by 20th Century Fox to use this project as a way to kick off a whole series of "X-Men Origins" movies, each chronicling a single mutant's origin story. Wolverine was the first mutant to get a prequel adventure and there were originally plans for Magneto to also get a feature in this series. In April 2007, it was announced David S. Goyer would helm a "Magneto" movie, which was planned to build off a script penned by Sheldon Turner.

That shouldn't be a surprising pick for those familiar with the original trilogy of "X-Men" movies. Not only was Magneto a prominent part of those films, but he also had a distinctive origin story full of drama that could hold up an entire movie. The project got far enough to even inspire Ian McKellen to express interest in returning to the role in some capacity. However, increased interest in the idea of an "X-Men: First Class" movie led Fox to take many of the ideas from this "Magneto" movie and just incorporate them into that 2011 ensemble prequel film. The negative critical reception to "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" also caused Fox to second-guess the development of more installments in the "X-Men Origins" series — like the original plans for "Magneto."

Bride of Frankenstein

Universal was so convinced that its 2017 take on "The Mummy" would launch the Dark Universe franchise as a major property that the studio set into motion the second installment in this series, "Bride of Frankenstein." Set to be directed by Bill Condon, who previously helmed a movie about original "Bride of Frankenstein" filmmaker James Whale called "Gods and Monsters," this new take on the origins of that famous lady monster was rumored to star Angelina Jolie as the titular creature, with Javier Bardem officially signed on to portray Frankenstein's monster.

While the project assembled some buzzy players, this new "Bride of Frankenstein" would soon hit an insurmountable roadblock. The exceedingly disappointing box office of "The Mummy" immediately cast a dark shadow over all Dark Universe properties, including "Bride of Frankenstein." Four months after "The Mummy" debuted, the start date for "Bride of Frankenstein" was delayed and the project sent back to development hell. Two years later, Condon revealed to Collider that Universal's trepidation over the budget and scope of "Bride of Frankenstein" also caused it to get shelved. All that confidence in "The Mummy" didn't just backfire on that Tom Cruise vehicle, it also had the domino effect of preventing the "Bride of Frankenstein" from coming to life once again on the big screen.

A Prince Nuada spin-off

The internet is largely aware of the unmade "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" follow-up "Hellboy 3," a passion project for director Guillermo del Toro that never found proper financing. Less well-known is another extension of the "Hellboy" franchise that was once proposed at the start of the 2010s. Rather than pursuing "Hellboy 3," distributor Universal Pictures wanted to kick off a whole series of movies entitled "From the Files of the B.P.R.D.," the title referring to the government organization Hellboy and his supernatural chums work for.

Screenwriter Peter Briggs explained on Facebook (via Flickering Myth) that this series would have kicked off with a prequel film chronicling the earlier exploits of "The Golden Army" villain Prince Nuada. This project would have followed Nuada long before he fought Hellboy, as he navigated various major real-world conflicts, grappled with being expelled from his father's kingdom, and first met his henchman, Mr. Wink. Connections to the two "Hellboy" movies would have included Doug Jones returning as Abe Sapien in a framing device as well as the presence of a gauntlet from Rasputin from the first "Hellboy." This movie was actually in active development on two separate occasions, with Universal showing great interest in the project both times. However, it was pronounced dead by Briggs once the 2019 "Hellboy" movie with David Harbour was announced, leaving Prince Nuada's prequel as another example of how "The Golden Army" struggled to produce any follow-ups.

Yoda: A Star Wars Story

The initial plans for "Star Wars" movies when Disney first bought the property was to deliver more than just a new trilogy of blockbuster films. Disney planned to expand the franchise into a series of spin-off movies entitled "Star Wars Stories." The first of these, "Rogue One," dropped in 2016 and was a roaring success; but the anthology movie approach to "Star Wars" got paused when the second installment, "Solo," underwhelmed financially. At one point, though, this plan was set to include a solo movie for none other than Jedi Master Yoda.

In August 2017, The Hollywood Reporter revealed — in a report on a planned Obi-Wan Kenobi solo outing — that a movie based on Yoda was being contemplated by Lucasfilm brass. No further details ever emerged on this proposed Yoda movie, including a potential creative team or what the story could have been. Given that Yoda has lived for hundreds of years in the "Star Wars" universe, there are untold amounts of stories that this potential feature could have covered. However, the ensuing decision to table future anthology films and "The Mandalorian" opting to place so much focus on the character Grogu also made the prospect of a Yoda origin film potentially redundant. "Always in motion is the future," Yoda once said, and the demise of his feature film signifies how Disney's plans for "Star Wars" movies are similarly fluid.

Silver Surfer

2007's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" debuted the first-ever big-screen version of the Marvel Comics fixture Silver Surfer. Portrayed by Doug Jones physically and Laurence Fishburne through voiceover, his appearance in this "Fantastic Four" sequel was just the beginning of the planned cinematic career of Norrin Radd: 20th Century Fox initially sought to spin this incarnation of the character off into his own solo movie.

The studio had long been interested in launching "Silver Surfer" as a solo franchise, with Andrew Kevin Walker working on a screenplay as far back as July 2000. However, it took "Rise of the Silver Surfer" to get the gears moving. In February 2008, less than a year after that film's release, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski revealed at a WonderCon panel (according to First Showing) that a new "Silver Surfer" film would explore the character's origins and feature the debut of a comics-accurate version of Galactus. Over Thanksgiving 2009, Straczynski reached out to IGN personally to reveal that his version of the "Silver Surfer" feature rooted in the second "Fantastic Four" movie was on pause thanks to the latter film's disappointing box office. But he also noted that a new take on Norrin Radd's story was in development. This incarnation of the production also never went forward, thanks partially to Fox shifting its focus to a full-on reboot of "Fantastic Four."

McClane

After "A Good Day to Die Hard" took the "Die Hard" movies to a new low in critical reception, it seemed like it was time to drastically shake up this franchise. Such a bold move emerged through a project entitled "McClane," which was meant to explore John McClane's life as a cop in the 1970s. The idea was to introduce a younger version of McClane, though the film wouldn't entirely eschew the modern world. "The idea that [Bruce Willis] is not very significant in this movie is not accurate at all," producer Lorenzo di Vonaventura said to Empire (via The Wrap) about the concept of "McClane" not featuring Willis. "We are gonna explore John McClane in his twenties. But just as prominent is the 60-year-old version."

With this story structure firmly established, updates on the screenplay for "McClane" emerged as late as January 2019. But the Disney/Fox merger saw the fate of all titles at the 20th Century Fox studio, including "McClane," get thrown into chaos. By July 2021, the news came down that this particular continuation of the "Die Hard" franchise was no more. Bonaventura explicitly blamed the Disney/Fox deal for the production's demise, leaving this origin story of John McClane as something that will forever exist only in the imaginations of "Die Hard" fans.

Rambo: The Prequel

The "Rambo" movies just can't seem to fade away. Thanks to 2008's "Rambo" and 2019's "Rambo: Last Blood," one of Sylvester Stallone's most famous characters keeps sticking around in the 21st century movie landscape. Hot on the heels of the debut of "Last Blood," Stallone revealed that he'd figured out a way to keep the character going for just a little while longer: a prequel was in development chronicling the early years of a young John Rambo.

"I always thought of Rambo when he was 16 or 17 — I hope they can do the prequel — he was the best person you could find," Stallone told ScreenRant. "He was the captain of the team; he was the most popular kid in school; super athlete. He was like Jim Thorpe, and the war is what changed him. If you saw him before, he was like the perfect guy." Despite Stallone's enthusiasm for this project, there have been no further updates on a "Rambo" prequel since then. Part of that is likely due to the global box office performance of "Rambo: Last Blood," which came in below the worldwide gross of its predecessor, "Rambo." With the lack of momentum on this prequel, Rambo's enduring big screen presence may have finally come to an end.

Superman: Flyby

In that long period between "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" and "Superman Returns," Warner Bros. went through countless concepts for what a new "Superman" film could look like. One of those proposed projects was "Superman: Flyby," which would have once again tackled the famous origin story of the Kryptonian superhero. The production started under the stewardship of Brett Ratner before transitioning over to McG, with both filmmakers sharing a goal of relaunching this character for a new era of superhero movies. For a moment, this cursed production seemed to be moving along, until Variety reported that it was suddenly wasn't.

That major disruption came when McG stepped down from the project. Empire reported creative disputes between McG and Warner Bros. were to blame for this development, with these issues culminating in a disagreement over where to film this new blockbuster. McG would later clarify that it was specifically his fear of flying, which clashed with Warner Bros.'s desire to film in Australia, that led to him losing out on such a high-profile directorial gig. Eventually, Bryan Singer would step in to direct "Superman Returns," which went in a radically different direction by not only skipping a retelling of Superman's origins but also creating a spiritual sequel to Richard Donner's 1970s take on the character.

Batman: Year One

In the wake of "Batman and Robin" failing with both critics and audiences, Warner Bros. decided to take this film series in a brand new direction. Specifically, the studio was interested in a gritty new origin story, with Darren Aronofsky getting hired in 2000 to direct a film adaptation of the Frank Miller comic "Batman: Year One." Aiming for an R-rating and developing its own storyline rather than slavishly devoting itself to the comic, "Batman: Year One" was shaping up to be a unique chronicling of Batman's first few months as a crimefighter.

Unfortunately, by 2002, Aronofsky's take on "Batman: Year One" was passed over by Warner Bros. brass in favor of a proposed "Batman and Superman" movie. Another element that led to the demise of "Year One" was disputes over casting. Aronofsky wanted Joaquin Phoenix to inhabit the lead role of Bruce Wayne/Batman while Warner Bros. were seeking out Freddie Prinze Jr. for the part. Failing to see eye-to-eye on the casting was a key ingredient in making Aronofsky realize this origin story was not going to work out. Ironically, while "Batman: Year One" fizzled out, the idea of a gritty take on Batman's inaugural days as a superhero would eventually get made in 2005 by Christopher Nolan as "Batman Begins." Aronofsky, meanwhile, largely avoided the superhero genre after failing to get "Year One" off the ground, save for briefly flirting with the idea of helming "The Wolverine."

Gambit

Captain Ahab had Moby Dick. Long John Silver had Captain Flint's treasure. And Channing Tatum, for many years, had a solo movie based on the "X-Men" character Gambit as a prize he pursued relentlessly. Tatum's name had been thrown around for this role since the days of "X-Men: The Last Stand," but in the 2010s, he got serious about developing a Gambit movie he could headline, one that would dive into the backstory of this mutant. In 2015, Tatum told Empire (via ComicBook.com) that the first draft of the screenplay had been completed and that it carried a subversive approach to the superhero origin story.

Though things sounded promising, "Gambit" took a discouraging detour when director Rupert Wyatt departed the project shortly before filming was set to begin. From there, "Gambit" was plagued by multiple release date delays and saw both Doug Liman and Gore Verbinski stepping into the director's chair only to later leave. By January 2019, Tatum's commitment to the project was taken to a new level when Deadline reported that the actor was interested in directing the troubled production himself. Unfortunately, Tatum would never get the chance to even lobby to helm Gambit's origin story. Disney closed its purchase of the film's distributor, 20th Century Fox, in March 2019, which led an overhaul in the studio's film slate and the character of Gambit coming back under the Marvel Studios umbrella. Two months after this event, "Gambit" was officially dead, bringing Tatum's pursuit of a movie about the Ragin' Cajun to a morose conclusion.