That would've been nuts.
It’s no secret that as far as live-action adaptations are concerned, it took Marvel’s The Punisher a long time to hit its stride. First there was 1989’s The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren whose similarities to the source material stop with the name, and the most recent film was 2008’s Punisher: War Zone with Ray Stevenson in the lead role. In between was 2004’s The Punisher with Thomas Jane as Marvel’s most famous killer vigilante. While Jane’s adaptation didn’t exactly break box office records, the actor recently revealed that not only was there almost a sequel, but The Punisher 2 was almost directed by Rob Zombie.
As reported by Comic Book, Thomas Jane recently talked about the abandoned sequel at Fanboy Expo Knoxville. Jane told fans, “there were a couple of iterations of Punisher 2. One of them was with Rob Zombie directing, which I thought would have been interesting. But that was one iteration.” The Expanse star doesn’t go into detail about how Zombie’s version differed from others, but considering what we’ve seen of the former White Zombie frontman’s horror fare, it wouldn’t have suffered a small body count.
Along with sparing details about Zombie’s iteration, Thomas Jane doesn’t reveal why Punisher 2 didn’t wind up tapping Rob Zombie to direct, but a hint at a reason could possibly be found later. When talking about why he eventually pulled out of the sequel himself, Thomas Jane said the studio, “floated another director who hadn’t really done anything in that ballpark, and so that’s when I had to pull out.” We don’t know exactly where in the timeline Zombie was considered and then for whatever reason didn’t land the job, but we know that Jane told Ain’t It Cool News in May 2007 that he was leaving the project. At that point Zombie only had two features under his belt — House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects — neither of which were action films. In other words, perhaps it was felt Zombie, like the nameless director who made Jane walk, didn’t have enough credits to impress the studio.
Of course, The Punisher 2‘s production considered more than Rob Zombie. Jane said John Dahl — who has recently directed episodes of hit series like Evil and Yellowstone — was briefly attached to the sequel but dropped out of negotiations. From the way he talks about him, it seems like rather than Zombie or Dahl, Jane’s choice was Walter Hill. Jane called Hill “a no-nonsense, great action [director], but economical, sparse dialogue, he had a great sense of humor but he was really good with action. He’s a man’s man director, right?” Some of Hill’s more well known films include the 1979 cult classic The Warriors, Eddie Murphy’s 1982 team-up with Nick Nolte 48 Hrs., Bruce Willis’s 1996 shoot-out flick Last Man Standing, and the premiere episode of HBO’s Deadwood.
Whether it was more the fault of the still young Marvel Studios or Lions Gate isn’t clear, but whichever it was, Jane said they didn’t like Walter Hill for The Punisher 2 any more than they liked Rob Zombie. “They ended up saying no to Walter Hill for reasons that are beyond my ability to comprehend,” Jane told fans. This was apparently the second-to-last straw for Thomas Jane. While he doesn’t reveal the name of the director the studio hoped to replace Hill with, that was what made him set aside the white skull logo for good.