Nicolas Cage’s Superman Cameo in ‘The Flash,’ Explained

nicolas-cage’s-superman-cameo-in-‘the-flash,’-explained

Major spoilers for The Flash below.

For a movie about DC’s multiverse, The Flash is pretty conservative in the number of different versions of the signature characters that it trots out—up until the climax, when Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and his alternate reality counterpart open up a window into the other dimensions and usher in a cavalcade of cameos from DC’s past. Some make sense, but one appearance may leave the average viewer confounded: a de-aged Nicolas Cage as Superman.

This is actually bound to go over in a big way with comic book fanboys and Hollywood historians. Translating Superman to the big screen is a tricky proposition—there have already been three different attempts in the past 20-odd years, with Superman Returns, Man of Steel, and the forthcoming Superman: Legacy. The failed Superman projects are numerous and notable, with prolific auteurs like JJ Abrams even failing to launch their own attempts. None of those projects, however, are as infamous as Superman Lives.

In the wake of Christopher Reeve’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace bombing in 1987, Warner Bros. wanted to reimagine the Man of Steel for a new era. After letting the character sit dormant for a few years, WB turned to Kevin Smith, hot off Clerks, in 1996 to draft a script. The story goes that WB producer Jon Peters provided Smith with some guardrails for the project: The alien AI supervillain Brainiac would be the villain, Superman would lose his powers for most of the film, and Superman would fight a massive robotic spider in the film’s third act. Smith’s treatment included Superman gaining a robotic suit to protect him from fighting Brainiac, and his preferred casting featured major names like Ben Affleck for Superman, Jack Nicholson for Lex Luthor, Jason Lee as Brainiac, and Jason Mewes as Jimmy Olsen.

WB eventually landed two big names for the project: Nic Cage would play Superman—who, despite being near the peak of his stardom at the time (this was right around his Con Air and Face/Off period), was hardly the average person’s first choice when imagining Clark Kent’s traditional, chiseled-jaw look. And Cage handpicked Tim Burton to direct after he wasn’t happy with the studio’s first choice, Renny Harlin. With Burton re-defining the superhero movie genre with Batman and Batman: Returns, it seemed like a slam dunk. Furthermore, Burton would reunite with Cristopher Walken, who was in talks to play Brainiac. Chris Rock (!) would play Jimmy Olsen. To top it all off, Sandra Bullock, Courteney Cox, and Julianne Moore were shortlisted for Lois Lane.

Superman Lives entered pre-production in the summer of 1997, with Cage going so far as to do a costume test for the armored suit. Burton brought Wesley Strick to rewrite Smith’s script, but the new draft was too expensive, so Dan Gilroy stepped in to work on another draft. (Gilroy later stated in 2014 that Lives would have focused on a Superman having a bit of a midlife crisis, unsure of his place on Earth and how he fits in as an outsider, which would work well with Burton’s oeuvre.)

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Nicolas Cage’s Superman Cameo in ‘The Flash,’ Explained

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