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What Could Have Been / DC Extended Universe

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Our Justice League could have looked a bit different.

There's a pretty large amount of What Could Have Been regarding Warner Bros' DC Comics-based film franchise, both due to cancelled projects before it was launched as the DC Extended Universe and the multiple cases of Troubled Productions and Executive Meddling happening in it since. Add to that the usual high-profile casting choices that ultimately went nowhere, which to be fair is commonplace in such blockbusters.

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Released Movies

    Man of Steel 

    Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 
  • Josh Brolin and Jon Hamm were offered the role of Bruce Wayne before Ben Affleck was cast.
  • Adam Driver, Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, Jean Dujardin, Bradley Cooper, and Joaquin Phoenix were considered for Lex Luthor before the casting of Jesse Eisenberg. Phoenix would eventually go on to portray Arthur Fleck in Joker.
  • Timothy Dalton was considered for the part of Alfred Pennyworth before Jeremy Irons was cast. Dalton would later go on to play Niles Caulder in Doom Patrol set within the Titansverse.
  • There were some executives at Warner Bros. who wanted the movie to be a continuation of The Dark Knight Trilogy, and discussed the idea of bringing back Christian Bale to play Batman. Snyder wanted to hire Bale to play a different DC character just to hammer home that the new movie was not connected to the earlier Christopher Nolan films.
  • A planned appearance from Jared Leto as The Joker was cut, as was a similar appearance from The Riddler. Snyder ultimately decided against it because he thought it would take too much focus away from the main characters.
  • Before settling on Superman Returns and Batman Begins, Warner Bros. considered making a Batman vs. Superman movie. A script was written by Akiva Goldsman (who also wrote I Am Legend, hence the film existing in that film's world), and Wolfgang Petersen was attached as director. They wanted Josh Hartnett for Superman and Christian Bale for Batman. Interestingly, said movie would have been significantly Darker and Edgier than the one that takes place in the DC Extended Universe. It would have started off with Bruce Wayne's fifth year of retirement following the deaths of Robin (Dick Grayson), Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner Gordon, and Clark Kent recovering from a devastating divorce with Lois Lane, reuniting with old flame Lana Lang. Bruce marries his fiance (with Clark serving as the best man), but she is mercilessly murdered by the Joker. Bruce becomes Batman once more to defeat both Joker and Superman, blaming him for his inability to save his fiance's life. It's eventually revealed, after a long battle between Batman and Superman, that Lex Luthor masterminded the entire plot. The two team up and take down Joker and Luthor.
  • The movie was originally going to be a true sequel to Man of Steel that just happened to guest-star Batman in a major role. The inclusion of Batman convinced Snyder to begin fleshing out The 'Verse a bit more by including Wonder Woman, which then led to other members of the League showing up as well. After this, it was decided that the most "logical" course of action would be to use Dawn of Justice as a lead-in for a Justice League movie.
  • Metallo was considered to be the villain, before Batman and Wonder Woman were brought in. The character of Wallace Keefe is most likely an artifact of that concept.
  • Had Zack Snyder not stepped down from the DCEU after his daughter committed suicide, it would've eventually been revealed that the dead Robin we see in the movie was Dick Grayson, not Jason Todd, in arguably the biggest diversion from the comicsnote . His plan would've had Robin stay dead until the debut of Carrie Kelly, the fourth Robin (and the first female one). Whether or not this means that Carrie Kelly would've been the only other Robin that would appear, or if the other 3 Robins (Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Damian Waynenote ) would appear but not as Robin is unknown.
  • Jesse Eisenberg was originally going to cameo as Jimmy Olsen before he was cast as Luthor.
  • The concept art for Doomsday before his final design would have looked much more closer to his comic incarnation except for the possible lack of hair.
  • The films title wasn't suppose to be a vs. title at first. Warner Bros. had registered many different, yet similar titles. In order: Man of Steel: Battle the Knight, Man of Steel: Beyond Darkness, Man of Steel: Black of Knight, Man of Steel: Darkness Falls, Man of Steel: Knight Falls, Man of Steel: Shadow of the Knight, Man of Steel: The Blackest Hour and last but not least, Man of Steel: The Darkness Within. All of them weren't liked by fans for trying to hard to be darker and edgier sounding, which probably lead to the massive title change.

    Suicide Squad 

    Wonder Woman 

    Justice League 

Note that at least some of these may need to be reappraised after the release of Zack Snyder's Justice League on HBO Max. For now, What Could Have Been is more like What Could Well Be.

  • Bryan Cranston was initially offered the part of Commissioner Gordon before J. K. Simmons was cast. Cranston previously voiced the character in Batman: Year One.
  • Laurence Fishburne was supposed to reprise his role as Perry White (likely for just a cameo, as he was supposed to have only one day of filming), but he couldn't fit a trip to London into his schedule to film it. He wound up jumping ship to Marvel Studios and playing Bill Foster in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
  • The film was originally going to be a Movie Multipack, with the first movie being Justice League: Part I and the 2019 sequel being Justice League: Part II. Perhaps due to the increasing backlash against Movie Multipacks, the subtitles were dropped, and Zack Snyder assured fans that both movies would be complete, standalone films that happened to feature the same characters.
  • Before Justice League became a movie as part of the DCEU, there were other attempts to bring the team to the screen:
    • There was a pitch for a Justice League movie given by George Miller. The movie, called Justice League: Mortal would not have been attached to any other continuity (though it would've featured an appearance by Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, reprising his role from the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman film series). The film would have featured Armie Hammer as Batman, D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, Adam Brody as the Flash, Anton Yelchin as Kid Flash, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, Hugh Keays-Byrne as the Martian Manhunter, Teresa Palmer as Talia al Ghul, and Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord, the movie's Big Bad. The plot would have involved Maxwell Lord trying to use his army of OMACs to conquer the world. A major writer's strike from 2007-2008 (combined with the success of The Dark Knight) killed the project, which remained dormant until the DCEU gained momentum. To show that there's no hard feelings, Miller is a producer of this movie. (Megan Gale and Hugh Keays-Byrne would later appear in Miller's film Mad Max: Fury Road as the Valkyrie and Immortan Joe.)
    • Had Superman Lives (the potential Superman movie that would have infamously featured Nicolas Cage in the title role) not been canned, it would have led to a Tim Burton-directed Justice League.
  • One wonders how the film would have turned out had Zack Snyder not left the post-production work (or had Executive Meddling not reworked the film, more exactly). Months after the movie came out, Snyder started posting behind-the-scenes photos on the social media Vero and sometimes answering questions about the originally intended version of the film. He stated he didn't see the theatrically released version and doesn't know about things like the Russian family, Barry Allen's obsession with "brunch", Lois being brought to calm Superman down after his resurrection, the 'crystal roots' summoned by the Unity and Lex Luthor's "league of our own" line. He also commented on the removal of Henry Cavill's mustache with CGI, stating "We all know that doesn't work". What's most notable is seeing how different a number of his scenes were to the intended final product, including scenes with clearly different locations than what was shown in the theatrical version, in addition to the numerous missing trailer scenes, deleted scenes and leaked VFX reels. It all went on to prove once and for all that the reshoots were extensive and did not stick to his original plans.
    • Ditto for Junkie XL, who was replaced by Danny Elfman for the soundtrack.
    • Much of the original teasing in Batman v. Superman was rendered an Aborted Arc due to the changes ultimately made to Justice League, and it's unclear how they would have played out had things gone according to plan. It is rumored that the original plan was indeed to stretch the plot out over two films (despite Word of God claims to the contrary), with Darkseid appearing as the villain of the second installment and Batman dying.
    • In an interview, Ciarán Hinds describes Steppenwolf's motivations as much more sympathetic than they ended up being in the finished product. Instead of an exile who wanted to conquer Earth so he could return home, Steppenwolf was Darkseid's slave, and he conquered other planets for Darkseid because it was the only way he could earn his own freedom.
    • On his podcast, Kevin Smith confirmed that the ending of the movie was originally supposed to feature Darkseid, who would've executed Steppenwolf for his failure. He then would've expressed a desire to go to Earth and meet "the Kryptonian," seemingly setting him up to be the villain of a hypothetical sequel. A piece of storyboard added more weight to this.
    • Cinematographer Fabian Wagner confirmed that scenes featuring Superman's black suit were filmed, but ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor.
    • According to a VFX artist who worked on the film, one of the post-credit scenes was originally going to be a tease for the Green Lantern Corps film, with Kilowog and Tomar-Re arriving on Earth and meeting Bruce Wayne.
  • Zack Snyder has said that Bruce was supposed to gift Barry with a new, more professional looking costume at the end of the film. However, the suit itself would not have been shown, as to allow the creative team of the upcoming Flash film to reveal the new costume themselves.
  • Concept arts showed that Aquaman was intended to have his iconic suit, and he ended up wearing a golden/green Atlantean battle suit in the film. The iconic suit was introduced in Aquaman instead. The reason behind this has probably something to do with the above, that is letting James Wan reveal the suit in his film.
  • A planned scene about Batman investigating a Parademon nest in which cocooned humans are turned into Parademons was vetoed by studio executives for being "too scary". This likely would have resulted in Batman pushing forward to recruit other members of the Justice League. Instead, it was replaced by the scene Joss Whedon filmed with Holt McCallany.
  • At a 2019 Q&A session, Zack Snyder revealed that his original vision was never filmed, as Chris Terrio's script was thrown out and completely rewritten from scratch after the negative reaction to Batman v Superman. The original script was significantly darker than the shooting script, and featured a dystopian future where most of Earth's heroes had been killed and Superman had turned evil after being exposed to the Anti-Life Equation. The events of the "Knightmare" sequence and Flash's cameo in BVS would've been explained, with the future Batman sending Flash back in time to warn the BVS-era Batman about Lois being the key to stopping Superman from going bad. In one of the screenplay's darkest moments, Darkseid would've murdered Lois after using a Boom Tube to enter the Batcave. The second film would have involved a time travel plot that would have Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
  • A storyboard sequence featuring the conversation between Lois and Martha showed that once Lois left the room, Martha was going to be revealed as Martian Manhunter in disguise, who would then morph into General Swanwick.

  • Karl Urban was considered for the part of Ocean Master before Patrick Wilson was cast.
  • Peter Jackson, Jeff Nichols, and Noam Murro were approached to direct the film before James Wan was hired. Jackson turned down the offer due to his lack of interest in comic book movies.
  • James Wan revealed he initially had the choice of which film he wanted to direct between Aquaman and The Flash, but chose the former for being the "underdog".
  • At one point, the Dead King, an ancestor of Aquaman who was resurrected as an insane zombie, was to appear in the film as an antagonist, but he was removed.
  • Black Manta originally had more screen time in the movie, but the test audience and Wan felt like it was too much so his scenes were cut down. This was because they weren't sure if Aquaman would get sequel, but once they realized the movie would be a success, they made the changes to save it for the sequel.
  • Concept art depicting the Atlantean invasion of the surface world shows a sequence of Batman arriving in his jet to help defend Sydney. It's unknown if any other heroes were considered, but the uncertain future of the Justice League characters following the failure of the Justice League movie (including Ben Affleck's departure from the franchise) likely contributed to the cameos being axed.

  • John Cena met with David F. Sandberg for the role of Shazam before Zachary Levi was cast. However, Cena turned down the offer due to scheduling conflicts with Bumblebee. Cena would eventually go on to play Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad.
  • Ron Cephas Jones was initially chosen as the Wizard before the casting of Djimon Hounsou, but dropped out of the project due to scheduling commitments to This Is Us.
  • Originally, Black Adam was to debut in this film portrayed by Dwayne Johnson, but the producers decided to split the film into two origin films for both characters.
  • A Shazam movie was in development back in the early oughts, with writer John August attached. The film was shelved due to the failure of Speed Racer and the massive success of The Dark Knight, which caused WB to think that there wasn't an audience for a Lighter and Softer comic book movie.
  • The original script contained a cameo from Henry Cavill as Superman. After contract negotiations between WB and Henry Cavill's agents broke down (with Cavill's camp reportedly wanting a pay raise and increased creative control on future Superman-related projects), the plans were altered. In the finished film, Superman is simply played by a Fake Shemp (actually Ryan Handley, Zachary Levi's stunt double) whose face isn't shown.
  • The scene where Sivana reunites with his father and brother at Sivana Industries and kills them, along with innocent people, was originally going to be at a Christmas party in his mansion. The scene was shot but they decided to reshoot it at Sivana Industries.
  • There was going to be a scene early in the film between Billy and Mary when he was about to sneak out, but the scene was pulled out so they can get to Shazam's character.
  • During the fight with the Seven Deadly Sins, Mary, in her superhero form, taunts one of the Sins and punches them while she's laughing and also while she sings and dances. This scene was cut for time.

    Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) 

Upcoming Movies

    Wonder Woman 1984 

    The Suicide Squad 
  • Idris Elba was originally cast to replace Will Smith as Deadshot after Smith passed on the film, allegedly due to scheduling issues. Elba's role was eventually rewritten into a new major character, Bloodsport, so as to leave the door open in case Smith wanted to return in future installments. As such, Storm Reid's character was initially written as Zoe, Deadshot's daughter from the first movie.
  • Dave Bautista had discussions for the part of Peacemaker before the casting of John Cena. However, Bautista turned it down due to filming conflicts with Dune.
  • Michael Rosenbaum was approached for a unspecified role, but turned down the offer due to complications with his neck surgery at the time.
  • Gavin O'Connor was the first choice to direct the movie before James Gunn was hired. However, O'Connor departed the project due to various Creative Differences over the script, the film's continuous filming delays, and scheduling conflicts with Will Smith's production schedule. O’Connor’s script would've reportedly featured Supergirl, who would've been depicted as a brainwashed alien bruiser who was forced to work for the antagonists.
  • James Gunn considered adding Kite Man to the titular team. However, believing that the character had been used as a punchline in the past far too often already, he eventually decided against it and stated "I didn't think it was the freshest way to go". Gunn then also added "But who knows what the future holds", thereby teasing the possibility of a Kite Man appearance in a future sequel.

    Black Adam 

    The Flash 


    Other Assorted Trivia 
  • The 2011 Green Lantern film was going to be the beginning of the 'verse, but its poor reception and box office flop caused the company to start over again with Man of Steel. Ryan Reynolds will not reprise the role given that he now has his hands full with Deadpool, and the promise of a Green Lantern reboot further limits his chances of returning.
  • Metallo was going to be the villain if a standalone Man of Steel sequel had been made instead of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
  • James Gunn was offered a directing job on one of the films (without specifying which film it was), but turned it down after being thoroughly unimpressed with the script. He was later offered to direct a new Superman movie (though, according to Gunn, it was not specifically Man of Steel 2) or a Suicide Squad sequel. Gunn chose the latter.
    • Joss Whedon was supposed to write and direct a Batgirl movie, but he left the project in the aftermath of the release of his version of Justice League, citing the fact that he was unable to come up with a satisfactory story.
  • In 2018, Henry Cavill confirmed the long-standing fan speculation that if the Man of Steel sequel had been made, it would have focused strongly on Clark's guilt at killing Zod, and him vowing that it would never happen again as he would always strive to find a way to stop his enemies without killing them, no matter how impossible it seemed. Cavill says that the film would have likely featured a more optimistic tone, with Superman's characterization closer to the one most people associate with the character. Furthermore, Christopher McQuarrie confirmed that he and Cavill had pitched a Man of Steel sequel, as well as a connected Green Lantern movie, but that WB had passed on both proposals.
  • Jason Momoa revealed that he auditioned for Batman of all people.
  • Zack Snyder's vision for the DCEU was largely different than what we have gotten so far - his story would've had a 5-movie arc (said arc would've consisted of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League and it's sequel, and an unnamed 5th movie, possibly a third Justice League movie). However, due to him leaving Warner Bros, it's likely that said arc will become an Aborted Arc. Among other plans he had for the DCEU:
    • The dead Robin would've been revealed to be Dick Grayson, not Jason Todd (as most fans would've expected, given that Todd is the Robin whose death is the most well-known), and Robin would've stayed dead until Carrie Kelly (the third Robin in the The Dark Knight Returns, where this Batman takes his influence from) was introduced. Whether or not the Nightwing movie would've still been made is unknown, nor is there any sign if any of the other 4 Robins (Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, or Damian Wayne) would've appeared, or if it would've skipped straight to Carrie Kellynote . With his departure, however, it's been firmly established by Warner Bros that Jason Todd is the dead Robin.
    • The "Knightmare" sequence in Batman v Superman would've been used to springboard into a partial adaptation of Injustice: Gods Among Us. The film seems to imply that Batman has some degree of responsibility for Lois's death (as opposed to what actually happened in the game, where the Joker caused Superman to kill Lois), and also it's hinted that Darkseid and the Anti-Life equation would've been involved, indicating that it would've been a Pragmatic Adaptation (since Injustice is largely Earth-based).
    • Batman was planned to die at one point. In fact, as evident by the 3 crosses present during Superman's death scene in Batman v Superman, there were 3 major deaths planned out, with the crosses actually acting as a sign of foreshadowing, with the second cross likely foreshadowing Batman's death, but no word has been released on whose death the third cross would've foreshadowednote . It's unlikely that either death would've happened in Justice League, given that he hasn't said anything about killing off a member of the league in that movie, and assuming that the third death would've been Luthor, Luthor was absent for nearly the entirety of the movie.
    • His vision for a Justice League 2 would've featured Darkseid, who would've been teased at in the first Justice League movie, and as a whole, would've likely taken inspiration from Final Crisis, since the history lesson scene in Justice League is hinted to contain the Anti-Life Equation. Although Darkseid is confirmed to exist due to Steppenwolf, one of his underlings, mentioning him, he ended up scrapped from the film.
    • In general, his 5-film plan seems to have been a 5-part arc for Superman. However, due to Executive Meddling, as well as the negative reactions to Batman v. Superman in particular, only 2 1/2 of said films (the "half" being what was kept from his shootings in Justice League) were made.
  • Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and Justice League were affected by Executive Meddling, with each film addressing a criticism that plagued the last one note . It's easy to imagine that if Warner Bros hadn't taken this path, we would've gotten very different movies.
  • While Joker was made and explicitly confirmed to be an Alternate Continuity from the DCEU, Warner Bros had big plans for Leto's Joker - aside from Affleck's plans for his Batman film, there was a solo Jared Leto Joker movie in the works, as well as a movie focusing on the Joker's relationship with Harley Quinnnote . However, said plans were later scrapped, possibly due to the... divisive, shall we say, reception of his take on the character. While Margot Robbie's Quinn appears in Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad, the fate of Leto's take on the Joker is currently up in the air, due to Warner Bros seemingly being reluctant to continue with him in the role..
  • The ultimate "What Could Have Been", previously mentioned above, has got to be George Miller's Justice League: Mortal. This idea would've launched the DCEU long before either Man of Steel or Green Lantern, for that matter, being planned shortly after Superman Returns. It would've had a line-up closer to the original one in the comics (Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern are present instead of Cyborg), would've been set in a universe separate from both Returns and the Nolan Batman movies, and would've featured Talia Al Ghul (predating her appearance in The Dark Knight Rises) and Maxwell Lord as the main villains, and ended with the true formation of the team in the present day. The plot is very different from the DCEU we got, although it does have one common element with Batman v Superman - a member of the League dies in the movie in a Heroic Sacrifice - however, in Mortal, it would've been Barry Allen, who sacrificed himself to defeat Maxwell Lord, and he would've been replaced by Wally West, who would've been established in this movie. What ultimately derailed the movie was the 2007-2008 Writer's Guild Strike, which had the film put on indefinite hiatus (since Warner Bros wanted to perfect the script, which was impossible during said strike), and by the time production on Green Lantern had begun, it's clear that they had abandoned the idea. The 2008-2009 Stock Market Crash also caused funds for the movie to dry up, leaving its production on standstill. According to Armie Hammer (who would've portrayed Bruce Wayne/Batman in that film), the film would've been rather dark, having a Batman closer to the Christian Bale one than the George Clooney, Val Kilmer, or Michael Keaton ones, and would've had a high body count. The script was leaked online, although it's been summarized here.
  • Originally, Gotham City Sirens was intended to be the first of the Harley Quinn-centered spinoffs instead of Birds of Prey, but BOP eventually took priority, putting Gotham City Sirens on hold. Margot Robbie explained that this was because of her wanting to introduce the Birds of Prey to a new audience upon discovering them while playing Harley Quinn.
  • The Batman was originally intended to be a part of the DCEU and feature Ben Affleck reprising his role, as well as directing the film and co-writing with Geoff Johns. This version of the film would have seen Jeremy Irons return as Alfred and Joe Manganiello return as Deathstroke. Affleck later stepped down from directing duties, at which point Matt Reeves joined the project, but was still believed to be starring in the film; however, Affleck stated he and Johns had not completed a script (The final script is credited to Reeves and Peter Craig). Ultimately, a combination of factors, including his disillusionment of the role, an unpleasant divorce, the chaotic retooling of Justice League and Warner Bros.' shifting approach to superhero films, led Affleck to step away from the franchise, at least temporarily. Robert Pattinson was then cast and the film's connections to the DCEU were severed.


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