Josh Hartnett’s costume test for J.J Abrams and Brett Ratner’s cancelled "Superman: Flyby"

A 20-year old relic from the Superman film history has been unearthed

2 mins read

A photo of Josh Harnett wearing a test costume for his role as Superman in the J.J. Abrams and Bret Ratner 2004 film “Superman: Flyby” has gone viral.

The suit seen in the photo  is reminiscent of the iconic Max Fleischer Cartoons and Kingdom Come suits worn by the Man of Steel. However, the suit also has the House of El symbol, or “S,” as seen in “Superman Returns,” which “Flyby” was a precursor to. 

In a 2020 interview with the UK Newspaper Metro, Harnett noted that would turn down the role of the Man of Steel despite many of the “powers that be” wanting him to don the cape and tights. 

“At the time it didn’t seem like the sort of decision I would be talking about 15 years later. There were a lot of powers that be that wanted me to pursue those films, but I have always been interested in stories about people and I didn’t want to be boxed into that superhero type.”

According to an article from Screentrant, the “Superman: Fly by”  script penned by Abrams in 2002 was considered a failure due to its unique iteration. In “Flyby,” Superman’s origin story would be that the Man of Steel was descended from Kryptonian loyalty rather than from scientists and philosophers. In addition, Lex Luthor would also have a different origin. The villain and nemesis to Superman would be a CIA agent rather than a corrupt and greedy industrialist.

In addition, an article on the Superman Homepage mentions that the the movie was on a budget “exceeding $200 million” and that the origin story of the film featured a civil war on Superman’s home planet of Krypton. Superman’s biological father Jor-El would be at war against his brother Kara-Zor. Kal-El would have been sent to Earth after Jor-El is imprisoned by his brother. 

Ultimately, the film would not see light of day and the 2006 film  “Superman Returns”would mark Superman’s return to the big screen with Brandon Routh donning the iconic red cape. However, the film would not be a critical success like the Richard Donner films that starred Christopher Reeve as the iconic hero. 

Zack Snyder’s 2013 film “Man of Steel” would be the more successful Superman reboot with Henry Cavill starring as Superman and would span several films including “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the “Justice League.” Additional films that spun off from Zack Synder’s films would be two “Suicide Squad” movies,  “Aquaman,” and the upcoming “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” 

While JJ Abrams version of the Superman story may have not made it to the silver screen, many can argue that some of it lives on through other Superman media. For instance, the concept of a Kryptonian civil war was explored in the second season of the SyFy television show “Krypton,” which centers around Superman’s grandfather Seg-El (portrayed by Cameron Cuffe). And in the story of Superman being a part of Kryptonian loyalty was told in the comic “Dark Knights of Steel,” which takes place in an alternate DC Universe where a medieval version of Superman and other superheroes and villains reside

One would have to wonder how many viewers, whether there are Superman fans or casual viewers, would react if a Superman film like “Flyby” were to be shown in theaters.

Brian Adigwu

Brian of Earth-16 is a podcaster for the Geek Talk with Brian of Earth-16 and a contributing writer/journalist for the Daily Planet. You can also hear Brian on the DC Comics Geeks Nation podcast. When not writing, Brian enjoys going to the world of comic books, TV shows, video games, and pro-wrestling. He also loves listening to other podcasts and having a philosophical conversation.

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