What is Superman Lives? Nicolas Cage’s Man of Steel movie explained

Chris Tilly
Nicolas Cage in a test shot for Superman Lives.

Nicolas Cage nearly played the Man of Steel in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives. Here’s how the project very nearly came together 25 years ago, and why it fell apart.

In the late 1990s, a superhero movie was being developed that would have united the likes of Nicolas Cage, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, and Jon Peters.

The film – then titled Superman Lives – spent years in development, with scripts written, actors cast, locations scouted, sets built, and costumes tests taking place to make a Man of Steel movie unlike any previously seen.

Then it self-destructed, thanks to spiralling costs, and creatives who just couldn’t get along. This is the story of Superman Lives…

What is Superman Lives

Superman Lives is an unmade comic book movie that would’ve seen the Man of Steel facing off with Lex Luthor, Braniac, Doomsday, and at one point, a giant spider.

The project was originally called Superman Reborn, and started out as a loose adaptation of the comic storyline ‘The Death of Superman Lives.’ Doomsday was villain in the first iteration of the script, while in the second, Brainiac became the baddie.

Then producer Jon Peters brought screenwriter Kevin Smith onto the project, who suggested changing the name to Superman Lives. Though Peters has some suggestions of his own…

A giant spider enters the story

Kevin Smith has long told entertaining tales about his experience on the movie, while he also tells multiple anecdotes during documentary The Death of Superman Lives (see trailer below).

Essentially, Jon Peters set him a bunch of rules, from insisting that Superman wear a black suit, to stating he mustn’t fly. Peters wanted the Man of Steel to fight a polar bear, suggested adding a space-dog to the screenplay, and really, really wanted Superman to do battle with a giant spider. Similar to the giant spider he later insisted on featuring in Wild Wild West.

Smith did as he was told, pulling togethe villains from previous scripts so Supes does battle with Braniac and Doomsday and Lex Luthor.

Peters then brought his Batman collaborator Tim Burton onboard to direct the movie. Burton didn’t like Smith’s script. And Smith was essentially out.

Wesley Strick, who did uncredited work on Batman Returns – then had a crack at the screenplay. Before Dan Gilroy did a rewrite. At which point it looked like the movie was ready to go.

Nicolas Cage is Superman

Perhaps the most famous fact about Superman Lives is that Nicolas Cage was going to play the Man of Steel. A long-time comic-book fan – who would appear in multiple superhero movies throughout the 2000s – Cage’s casting was big news at the time, and still seems inspired.

As Tim Burton puts it in the book Burton on Burton, “What was presented to me was Nic Cage and doing our own version of Superman, and I thought ‘well that sounds great because I love Nic Cage.’ I met with him and we thought of the idea of focussing more on the fact that he’s an alien and maybe for the first time what it’s like to be Superman.”

Nic Cage doing a costume test for Superman Lives.
Nic Cage doing a costume test for Superman Lives.

There are pre-production photos of Cage in various Superman costumes online. While The Death of Superman Lives features Burton shooting tests of Cage dressed as the Man of Steel, while the pair discuss the character.

“It was more of a 1980s Superman with like, the samurai black long hair,” Cage recently told Variety. “I thought it was gonna be a really different, sort of emo Superman, but we never got there.”

As Burton puts it later in the book: “I was excited about working with Nic because the way we were thinking about it, it would have been the first time you would believe nobody could recognise Clark Kent as Superman – that he could physically change his persona, so it wouldn’t be as simplistic as taking off a pair of glasses. Without doing make-up or anything. Nic is the kind of actor who can pull something like that off.”

The death of Superman Lives

This iteration of Superman Lives fell apart due to the budget running out of control, reaching a whopping $190 million at one point. As well as Tim Burton and Jon Peters not getting along.

“My original fear came true,” Burton explains in Burton on Burton. “I had thought, ‘OK, Jon Peters is the producer. I’ve dealt with Jon before on Batman, and it was a nightmare, but I did it, so therefore I can probably deal with it again.’ But that wasn’t the case.”

Tim Burton therefore parted ways with the project. Multiple directors were then offered the gig, including Michael Bay, Martin Campbell, Brett Ratner, and even Oliver Stone. But they all turned it down, and when Cage departed in 2000, Superman Lives was effectively dead.

SPOILER ALERT: We’re about to quote The Flash director Andy Muschietti, so if you want to avoid spoilers for the forthcoming superhero movie, click away now.

Is Nicolas Cage’s Superman in The Flash?

Yes, Nicolas Cage’s Superman is in The Flash. His participation in the new DCEU movie was being kept tightly under wraps, but then director Andy Muschietti went on the record to spill the beans.

“Nic was absolutely wonderful,” Muschietti told Esquire Middle East of Cage’s involvement. “Although the role was a cameo, he dove into it… I dreamt all my life to work with him. I hope I can work with him again soon.”

For more on the The Flash, check out the below articles:

The Flash review | | Best Easter Eggs | Where’s Wonder Woman? | Everything we know about The Flash 2 | Who is General Zod? | Full Cast: Characters and Actors | Is Nic Cage in The Flash? | Flashpoint explained | Who are Albert Desmond and Patty Spivot? | Barry Allen x 2 | How many Batmans are in The Flash? | Speed Force guide | Who is Dark Flash? | Story of Superman Lives Secret villain revealed? | Supergirl explained | Who does in The Flash? | Ending explained | Is Aquaman in The Flash? | The Flash budget | Soundtrack and songs | Is Superman in The Flash? | Post-credits scene explained |

About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: chris.tilly@dexerto.com.