How Hollywood spent 40 years failing Green Lantern

Christopher Baggett
Jack Black from School of Rock, Green Lantern by Liam Sharp, and Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern.

It’s been a rough go for fans of Green Lantern, but the popular DC superhero may finally be getting the respect he deserves. 

While the character originally debuted in the Golden Age, the version most fans today recognize has its origins in the Silver Age. Green Lantern is traditionally Hal Jordan, a fearless test pilot who becomes a space cop with a power ring that can do anything he imagines. 

The comics were a huge hit, capitalizing on a culture that was hungry for sci-fi adventures. Naturally, Hollywood came calling for a Green Lantern movie, but it kept dropping the ball. 

Green Lantern may have had the worst luck of any superhero in their attempts to be adapted outside of comics. With a new Max series on the horizon, here’s a look at Hollywood’s 40 years of failed attempts to make Green Lantern the next big thing. 

Green Lantern, but with jokes

The first attempt at a live-action Green Lantern was way back in the groovy ‘70s. 1979’s The Legend of the Superheroes was a pair of hour-long specials featuring live-action DC heroes and villains, headlined by Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles as Batman and Robin.

Well, headlined may be a strong word for it. The first special, The Challenge, sees the Justice League (including Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkman, and others) trying to find a bomb planted by the Legion of Doom, while the second special is a celebrity roast hosted by Ed McMahon. Seriously

For better or worse, those comedy roots would persist in later attempts. A live-action Green Lantern film was in development in the ‘80s, with the plan being a comedy starring Eddie Murphy. While Murphy’s take never got far in development, the idea of a Green Lantern comedy persisted. 

In the early 2000s, Jack Black was tapped to star as Green Lantern. Black’s film would have reportedly focused on an original character, Jud Plato, who hosted a reality show similar to Fear Factor. Plato receives a power ring by mistake, and the bulk of the film is said to have been based around the incompetent Plato making various goofy and obscene constructs. The film became a laughing stock when it was announced, and the backlash led to its cancellation

Despite this setback, Warner Bros continued trying to make a Green Lantern project happen, which got weird over the years. Quentin Tarantino revealed he was approached once, telling MTV News in a 2009 interview, “I was offered the Green Lantern. Not since it’s been a script, but just like, ‘Hey, we own the Green Lantern.’ Would you like it?”

Considering there was no script, it’s unclear whether Tarantino’s offer was for the same project that morphed into the 2011 film or a different effort entirely.

1997's Justice League of America
1997’s Justice League of America failed to catch audiences with its focus on superheroes and dramedy.

However, while these movies failed to shoot a single frame, Green Lantern did manage to appear in a small-screen live-action project. 1997’s Justice League of America telemovie featured a JLA without Batman or Superman. Instead, it starred a B-team that included Green Lantern, The Flash, the Atom, and Fire. They worked under the leadership of Martian Manhunter (played by David Ogden Stiers in heavy make-up) from an underwater base. 

Justice League of America saw the team battling the Weather Wizard (played by the late, great Miguel Ferrer) alongside new recruit Ice. Curiously, the film approached its heroes through the lens of a slice-of-life, pseudo-reality show, complete with talking head segments. The pilot was only ever broadcast outside the US but became popular as a bootleg release at conventions. 

The troubled Green Lantern movie(s)

Not every plan was for a Green Lantern that laughs, though – attempts at a “serious” Green Lantern on the big screen date back to 2007. 

Mad Max mastermind George Miller intended to make John Stewart the Green Lantern of his tragically canceled Justice League: Mortal. The film, loosely based on the popular Tower of Babel storyline, would have seen the League form after Batman’s spy satellite, Brother Eye, began attacking heroes. 

Rapper Common was cast as Green Lantern, and the film got as far as costume testing. However, multiple delays, the denial of an Australian tax credit, and Warner Bros.’s increased interest in films like The Dark Knight led to Mortal’s cancellation. 

This, of course, brings us to 2011’s Green Lantern, which would perhaps be the most infamous of DC’s superhero outings if it were not for all the controversy surrounding Justice League and The Flash. It’s honestly wild that the film was such a controversial flop, considering not just the pedigree in front of the camera but behind it as well. 

Green Lantern is directed by Martin Campbell, who knows a thing or two about solo hero movies, being the mind that revitalized the James Bond franchise twice. Its screenplay was written by Greg Berlanti, who would eventually create The CW’s Arrowverse. 

But the film was doomed from the start. Star Ryan Reynolds and Campbell reportedly had a tense on-set relationship. The GoldenEye director was frustrated with the film’s casting, as Campbell wanted Bradley Cooper for Hal Jordan. He says WB refused and cast Reynolds behind his back. 

Green Lantern was originally meant to kickstart a new era of DC films, much like Iron Man had done for the MCU. Unfortunately, it was a box office flop, for which both Campbell and Reynolds have taken the blame in recent years. 

DC would attempt its cinematic universe the following year with Man of Steel, and Hal Jordan would be nowhere to be seen. While there were plans to add Green Lantern John Stewart, played by Wayne T. Carr, to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Snyder was ordered to remove the character from the final cut. WB had its own plans for Stewart. 

The best Green Lantern was only on TV

John Stewart does make a perfect segway to discuss where you could have found the good Green Lantern properties in the ‘90s, and that was animation. 

While Green Lantern was a mainstay of the Super Friends era of cartoons, the character found a new life when he joined the beloved DC Animated Universe in the third season of Superman: The Animated Series. 

Hal’s nowhere to be seen, though. This episode featured the comics’ then-current Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, established here as a staff artist for the Daily Planet. He gets Hal Jordan’s origin, bestowed a Power Ring when Abin Sur crashes on Earth. With help from Superman and the Guardians of Oa, Kyle overcomes Sinestro to be declared Earth’s Green Lantern. 

The legacy of this Green Lantern continues in the animated Justice League series, though Kyle quietly disappears. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited instead starred John Stewart in a bid to feature a more diverse roster of heroes. 

Both Justice League cartoons are already regarded as some of the best superhero shows ever made, but they had a tremendous impact on John Stewart. He had debuted in 1971 as the second of Earth’s backup Green Lanterns (the previous backup, Guy Gardner, was laid out with injuries while trying to save a school bus) but had been relegated to supporting character status for over a decade. However, Justice League made him a massively popular character. 

Justice League sees John reimagined as a gruff former military officer but also explores his softer side in a relationship with Hawkgirl and how he balances being a League member and a Green Lantern. The changes the show made to John eventually got adapted into the comics.  

Attempts at capitalizing on Green Lantern’s popularity in animation outside of Justice League didn’t take off. 2009’s Green Lantern: First Flight was expected to be the first of many animated films, but poor DVD sales nixed that idea. 2011 saw Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which adapted many recent comic stories for this series. However, the fallout of the movie’s failure led to this show getting weak ratings and, worst of all, poor toy sales. 

The Arrowverse never saw the light

Berlanti’s work on 2011’s Green Lantern film had one positive effect: it put him on Warner Bros’ radar. Berlanti pitched Arrow, and from that grew the Arrowverse, a wildly successful venture that brought together DC’s biggest heroes, including Superman, The Flash, Batwoman, Supergirl, and Green Arrow. 

Green Lantern looks like he’s missing from that list, but they sure did try. The show dropped several hints that Arrow co-lead John Diggle was actually a stand-in for John Stewart, but it always stopped just shy of pulling the trigger. 

The Arrow series finale showed a mysterious, green glowing object landing in Diggle’s front yard. Diggle picks up and opens a box, but fans never see what the object is. 

Diggle refuses the Green Lantern ring on The Flash
The Arrowverse teased a Green Lantern for years but never pulled the trigger.

It’s heavily implied to have been a Green Lantern ring, but the mystery is never resolved. Diggle returned for The Flash Season 8, seemingly hearing voices and struggling to open the box, but when he turned back up in Season 9, he ultimately decided not to open it. 

Diggle refusing to open the box may not have been the original intended outcome, though. In an interview with The Cosmic Circus, Ramsey revealed that Diggle finding the ring was “a legit plan,” but plans changed. 

What may have changed was Berlanti’s next project, the HBO Max Green Lantern series. Announced in 2019, this would have been an anthology series telling the tales of the Green Lantern Corps throughout the galaxy. The series got far enough for several key roles to be cast but was ultimately axed in 2024. 

Will the future be bright for Green Lantern’s light? 

Despite the numerous false starts, things finally look bright.

Come whatever may, there will be a Green Lantern on the big screen again in 2025. Guy Gardner, who was originally introduced in 1968 as Hal’s first backup Green Lantern, will appear in James Gunn’s Superman project alongside a Justice League that includes Mister Terrific, Hawkgirl, and Metamorpho. 

There’s also a brand-new HBO Lanterns series replacing Berlanti’s scrapped project. Damon Lindelof of Watchmen and Lost fame will serve as showrunner. Tom King, who wrote Marvel’s Vision (which later inspired WandaVision), as well as a critically acclaimed Batman run and Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow for DC, will co-write the series with Lindelof. 

Rather than an anthology series, Lanterns will follow Hal Jordan as an established legend and his new recruit, John Stewart. The series appears to focus on the idea of Lanterns as an intergalactic police force rather than treating them as superheroes, but it’s still in the early days as of this writing. 

We’ve come a long way from the drama of 2011’s Green Lantern film, and fans of the character who have been waiting for their day in the sun may finally be getting their wish. Even Reynolds seems to have come around after a 2021 Twitter watch-along of the film (which he admitted was the first time he’d watched it), saying, “While it’s not perfect, it ain’t a tragedy.” 

James Gunn’s Superman, featuring The Rookie’s Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern Guy Gardner, is in theaters July 11, 2025. Lanterns does not yet have a release date. 

While you wait for Green Lantern’s light to shine on the big screen, read about how James Gunn’s DCU will differ from Marvel’s movies or why Homelander would win a fight against Superman. You can also check out all the best superhero movies ever made or all the superhero movies and TV shows coming out in 2024.