Superhero movies you might never see

Chris Tilly
All four of the Fantastic Four grinning.

We’re fast approaching summer season, when cinemas are usually filled with wall-to-wall superhero movies. But here’s why you might never get to watch the likes of Batgirl, Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, and Condorman.

We’re celebrating HeroFest at Dexerto this week, where we’re ranking every Marvel movie, counting down the best superhero TV shows, and analyzing every DC video game. All of which are readily available. 

But some comic book adaptations have been quietly hidden away – while others were never released in the first place – with the following three superhero movies you might never get to see.

Batgirl (2022)

Leslie Grace in her Batgirl costume.
Leslie Grace in Batgirl

Batgirl is a sorry tale of great expectations and corporate greed. There’s only been a handful of comic book movies toplined by women, meaning it’s still an event when one gets greenlit. Which was very much the case when Batgirl was announced. 

Initially a Joss Whedon project, the movie morphed into a feature for streaming service HBO Max, with Christina Hodson writing, and Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah directing. Batgirl shot in Glasgow at the tail-end of 2021, with Leslie Grace playing the title character, opposite JK Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon, Brendan Fraser’s villainous Firefly, and Michael Keaton returning as Batman.

Principal photography officially wrapped on March 31, 2022. Then WarnerMedia merged with Discovery, Inc. to form Warner Bros. Discovery, and while Batgirl was in post-production, executives decided to release the film theatrically. Before the big bombshell in August 2022 – Batgirl would be shelved.

Media reports claimed the movie “simply did not work,” and conflicted with an overarching vision for the studio. Here’s what WBD said via a statement: “The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max. Leslie Grace is an incredibly talented actor and this decision is not a reflection of her performance.”

But subsequent updates suggest Batgirl was written off for a tax break, with WB believing an accounting maneuver would better recoup their costs than the additional investment of release, or sale to another distributor. Then in January 2023, new DC Studios chief Peter Safran put the final nail in Batgirl’s coffin, stating the film was “not releasable,” and claiming the feature would have hurt both the DC brand, and all those involved. 

The Fantastic Four (1993)

The Fantastic Four were dreamed up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early 1960s, then two decades later German producer Bernd Eichinger persuaded Lee to sell him the movie rights. Despite interest from multiple studios, Eichinger couldn’t get a film off the ground, and with the option about to expire, enlisted B-movie legend Roger Corman to craft a low-budget adaptation.

The movie shot for most of January 1993, and was an origin story that then pitted the superhero team against arch-enemy Doctor Doom. Trailers ran in theaters soon after, the cast promoted the movie in interviews and at conventions, and a release date of Labor Day was announced. Which came and went. The world premiere was then pushed back to January 1994, before the film’s release was suddenly – and mysteriously – canceled.

Why The Fantastic Four was shelved remains a hotly contested topic. At the time, rumors circulated that Eichinger never intended to release the movie, but simply shot footage to retain the Fantastic Four rights. As Stan Lee himself said in 2005: “That movie was never supposed to be shown to anyone.”

Corman and Eichinger deny those allegations, with the latter stating the cancellation was because of Marvel executive Avi Arad. Hoping to get their own big-budget adaptation off the ground, Marvel was worried that a B-movie version would ruin their chances, so Arad allegedly bought the film, then buried it.

But bootlegs of Fantastic Four escaped into the wild pretty much immediately, and if you look hard enough, you can find the entire movie online. While a fun film eventually emerged from this debacle in the form of documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. Which did get released in 2015.

Condorman (1981)

This one is a bit of a cheat as Condorman hit cinemas in 1981, and is available to download or buy. But the Disney production isn’t available on Disney+, and we have a theory why.

Pre-Condorman, actor Michael Crawford was a household name in the UK thanks to hit sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. While post-Condorman, he became a global star by playing the title character in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. But in between, Crawford made a bid for movie stardom in this high-concept superhero spoof.

The film casts Crawford as comic book creator Woodrow “Woody” Wilkins, whose most famous character is the high-flying Condorman. But Woody insists on trialing the character’s gadgets in real life, so builds himself a flying suit. Through some ridiculous machinations, he ends up working for the CIA using Condorman as a codename. Which puts him on a collision course with a KGB villain called Krokov.

It’s dumb fun which I loved when I was a kid, mainly because aside from Superman, we were starved of superhero movies in the early 1980s. So I was excited to revisit Condorman as soon as I signed up for Disney+. But in spite of being a ‘Walt Disney Production,’ there was no sign of the film. The DVD was dirt cheap on Amazon, however, so I purchased a copy, and prepared for a trip down memory lane.

But midway through the movie, I saw the problem. As during a supposedly comic sequence in Monte Carlo, our hero dons brown-face to disguise himself as a sheik. Then launches into an offensive accent as the character leans into a series of racist stereotypes.

It’s unpleasant stuff that has no place in a U-rated family film. So while Condorman is out there and readily available, it’s unlikely to ever see the light of day on Disney+.

Head here for the rest of our HeroFest coverage.