Plays Superman in Man of Steel
He had an original copy of Action Comics #1, bought at auction for a six-figure sum. He had a son named Kal-El. He even had his own custom-made suit. But lifelong Superman fan Nicholas Cage never did get to play his hero. The actor was to be paid $20 million to star in director Tim Burton’s revisionist Superman Lives, due for release in the summer of 1999. Sets and props were built, flying tests were completed, and Cage gave interviews announcing his intention to play Superman as “a beautiful freak”. Adding to the freakery was an ever-changing script that, at different stages, featured giant spiders, polar bears guarding the Fortress of Solitude, a gay robot and a Superman who didn’t fly and didn’t wear a suit. Cage, a sticker for verisimilitude, took issue with the last two points and insisted on both flight and a costume. Except it was black, with a silver ‘S’ and no cape, leading his son to ask what had happened to the red underpants; the suit was duly changed. In 1998, with a reported $50m already spent, the film was cancelled. Four years later, Cage auctioned off his entire comic collection.
When father-son producers Alex and Ilya Salkind were casting the original Superman films, they hit a major stumbling block: every actor they asked to play the title role ran away faster than a speeding bullet. Warren Beatty took a suit home for the weekend and decided he looked ridiculous; Robert Redford told them that “nobody is going to believe me flying”; Sylvester Stallone lobbied for the part, but was deemed “too Italian”; even John Wayne’s son Patrick turned them down. The net was cast so wide that at one point singer Neil Diamond was called in for a meeting; when he left the room, according to one observer, “people were laughing like hell”. But Diamond declined too, after realising that he’d make far more money touring. In 1977, an unknown stage actor named Christopher Reeve was given the role, for which he was paid $250, 000.
Ali and Superman have history together. In 1978, when they were both at the peak of their fame, they appeared in the one-off comic curio Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, in which a weakened Man of Steel is made to box the Champ for the entertainment of an alien dictator in front of a star-studded crowd: Andy Warhol, Donny Osmond, Cher and Batman were just some of the celebrities pictured ringside. And a few years before that, Ali almost got to play Superman himself. In the early days of Superman: The Movie, Ali’s name was on a Warner Bros-approved shortlist of leading men - despite his lack of acting experience. But after Salkind begun talks with the boxer’s management, his son Ilya flagged up another problem that Alex had previously been unaware of: Ali, he pointed out, was black.
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