Despite the fact that almost two decades separate Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns, wheels were constantly in motion to get the Man of Steel back to the big screen. Almost immediately after Superman IV crashed and burned at the box office, the Cannon Films honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus announced that Superman V was beginning production (with Captain America director Albert Pyun at the helm), and would somehow utilize the 40+ minutes of mostly awful deleted footage from Superman IV. (You can read more about Canon's antics here)
Fortunately, that never materialized and Cannon went bankrupt, which meant the rights to Superman reverted to Ilya and Alexander Salkind (the producers of the first three Superman films) who quickly commissioned a script - titled Superman: The New Movie - from television's Superboy writers Cary Bates and Mark Jones. Interestingly, this script centred on Superman's death and resurrection predates the famous comic book storyline by about two years. Christopher Reeve had even agreed to reprise the role of the Last Son of Krypton. However, Superman: The New Movie never came to fruition and Warner Bros. bought the rights back from the Salkinds in 1993.
Now, that same year, coinciding with the "Death of Superman" arc that spanned the four monthly Superman titles, Warner Bros. announced plans to revitalize the Superman film franchise. Producer Jon Peters brought screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin (TV's 21 Jump Street, Lethal Weapon 4), on board to write the film. Lemkin used the "Death of Superman" arc as a springboard for his screenplay, titled Superman Reborn, which involved Superman being killed by Doomsday and Lois Lane giving birth to an immaculately conceived son of Superman who ages rapidly to take the place of his father (!). Ultimately, the script was rejected by the studio and Lemkin was fired. Gregory Poirier (Rosewood, A Sound of Thunder) delivered a new draft in late-1995, keeping Doomsday and Superman's death, but adding Brianic as a second villain.
In 1996, director Kevin Smith - riding high on the indie success of Clerks - was invited in to do some work for Warner Bros., and he became involved with the project, now titled Superman Lives. This is where the story becomes interesting. Smith has spoken at length about the creative process involved, which is simultaneously a fascinating, hilarious, and harrowing candid look into the machinations of Hollywood. Just watch (NSFW):
The Smith screenplay, even with Peters' insistence on giant spiders, polar bears, and "gay robots," showed signs of greatness, particularly in its first act. It's lively, fun, faithful to the comics' recent history, and assumes the audience already knows a thing or two about the Man of Steel. As well, there are some terrific scenes between Superman and Lois. Based on the strength of Smith's work, Tim Burton signed on to direct and Nicolas Cage signed on to play the Superman.
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Plans for a new Superman film never really went away, though. After a brief hiatus the project was rebuilt from the ground up with several people attached to the film at different times - from director Ralph Zondag (We're Back! A Dinosaur Story) and screenwriter William Wisher (Terminator 2, Judge Dredd), to J. J. Abrams (TV's Lost, Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek), McG (Charlie's Angels, Terminator Salvation), and Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, Rush Hour). Hell, even Oliver Stone expressed interest at one point.
Superman eventually did fly back to the cinema courtesy of Bryan Singer's Superman Return in 2006, and thankfully the only thing Singer kept from all of these possible incarnations was the casting of Spacey as the Man of Steel's arch-nemesis. Though, one could argue Returns does see our hero's death and resurrection in a manner of speaking, but that's a discussion for another time...