Long before Marvel went all in on the idea of a cinematic multiverse, DC icon Superman developed a kind of multiverse out of canceled film projects. The most high-profile of these projects was Superman Lives, a film that would have been directed by Tim Burton and would have featured Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. We got a glimpse of the movie that might have been in the Speed Force scenes of The Flash, but here’s a revelation that could even surprise Barry Allen: you can see Josh Hartnett in a Superman costume test for a J.J. Abrams-written Superman reboot.
Josh Hartnett And Superman: Flyby
There is, of course, plenty of cosmic irony here: right now, James Gunn is hard at work on rebooting both Superman and the DCU, and we’re going to see the first fruits of this labor with Gunn’s Superman: Legacy film in 2025. But over two decades ago, Gunn was a Hollywood writer rather than a director, and he wrote what would have been a Man of Steel reboot film titled Superman: Flyby. Gunn wrote the screenplay in 2002, and as this costume test image shows, Josh Hartnett was a serious contender for the role of Superman. The image comes courtesy of filmmaker Ryan Unicomb’s Instagram.
An X-Men Director Was Slated To Diret Superman: Flyby
If that’s not weird enough to think about, the director of this potential Josh Hatnett-led Superman reboot was going to be Brett Ratner. We know what you’re thinking…just who the hell would let Brett Ratner direct another superhero movie? But in 2002, he was mostly known as the hotshot director of hit films like Money Talks and Rush Hour, and it wouldn’t be until 2006 that he directed X-Men: The Last Stand, a film so awful that most of its major events would be retconned by later films in the venerable mutant franchise.
Josh Hartnett Eventually Passed On The Role
Josh Hartnett was the first choice to play Superman in Ratner’s film, but it turns out that being the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way wasn’t a high priority for the young actor. He ultimately passed on the role, and it was instead offered to Matt Bomer. Honestly, we think Bomer would have been a great Superman (squint a bit and the Bomer of 2002 looks a lot like a younger, thinner Henry Cavill), and the actor later got the consolation prize of voicing the Man of Steel in the 2013 animated film Superman: Unbound.
Warner Bros. Axes Superman: Flyby
You know why we never saw Josh Hartnett as Superman, but why did we never get to see Matt Bomer suit up in red and blue on the big screen? The simple answer is that Warner Bros. ended up going in a new direction with their franchise reboot, and that’s how we got the underrated Brandon Routh in 2004’s Superman Returns. Bomer seemingly has no regrets about how this went down: a few years later, he would turn down the role of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, and that role eventually went to Christian Bale for the simple reason that Bomer didn’t want to be typecast as a superhero.