How Hollywood Spent 40 Years Failing Green Lantern

Despite a difficult journey for Green Lantern fans, it seems that the beloved DC superhero may finally be receiving the recognition he deserves.

Despite originally appearing in the Golden Age, the version of the character that is most widely recognized by fans today originates from the Silver Age. Green Lantern is typically portrayed as Hal Jordan, a bold test pilot who transforms into a space officer equipped with a power ring capable of manifesting anything he can envision.

Despite their initial success, the comics were unable to secure a film adaptation that would satisfy the public’s appetite for science fiction adventures. Despite multiple attempts by Hollywood, the Green Lantern movie continually failed to meet expectations.

Despite numerous attempts, Green Lantern has had the unfortunate fate of being one of the most difficult superheroes to successfully adapt into mediums beyond comics. As a new Max series is set to be released, let’s take a look back at the past 40 years of Hollywood’s unsuccessful endeavors to turn Green Lantern into a major hit.

Green Lantern, but with jokes

In the 1970s, the first live-action portrayal of Green Lantern was made. The Legend of the Superheroes, released in 1979, consisted of two hour-long specials showcasing various DC heroes and villains. The main stars were Adam West and Burt Ward, who returned to play their iconic characters Batman and Robin.

To say it was headlined might be a bit of an exaggeration. The initial special, The Challenge, follows the Justice League (featuring Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkman, and other members) as they attempt to locate a bomb that was planted by the Legion of Doom. The second special, on the other hand, is a star-studded roast hosted by none other than Ed McMahon. Believe it or not.

Despite any potential consequences, the influence of comedy would continue to manifest in future endeavors. During the ‘80s, a live-action film adaptation of Green Lantern was being developed, with the intention of casting Eddie Murphy in a comedic role. Although Murphy’s vision did not make it past the development stage, the concept of a comedic Green Lantern remained present.

In the early 2000s, there were plans for Jack Black to star as Green Lantern. The proposed film would have revolved around a new character, Jud Plato, who was the host of a reality show similar to Fear Factor. Plato accidentally receives a power ring and the majority of the movie would have focused on his bumbling attempts to use it, creating comical and crude constructs. However, the project was met with ridicule and backlash, ultimately resulting in its cancellation due to fan revolt.

Despite facing this obstacle, Warner Bros remained persistent in their efforts to bring a Green Lantern project to fruition, resulting in some unusual developments over the years. In a 2009 interview with MTV News, Quentin Tarantino disclosed that he had been approached with an offer to take on the project, stating, “I was offered the Green Lantern. This was before it was even a script, but they just had the rights and asked if I was interested.”

Without a script, it remains unclear if Tarantino’s offer was for the project that eventually became the 2011 film or if it was for a completely different endeavor.

1997's Justice League of America

1997’s Justice League of America failed to catch audiences with its focus on superheroes and dramedy.

Despite the failure of these movies to even begin production, Green Lantern was able to make an appearance in a live-action project for television. The 1997 telemovie, Justice League of America, showcased a JLA team without its usual heavy hitters, Batman and Superman. It instead featured a secondary team consisting of Green Lantern, The Flash, the Atom, and Fire. Under the guidance of Martian Manhunter (portrayed by David Ogden Stiers in extensive makeup), they operated from a base located underwater.

The Justice League of America faced off against the Weather Wizard (portrayed by the late, talented Miguel Ferrer) with the help of their newest member, Ice. Interestingly, the movie took a unique approach by showcasing the heroes in a slice-of-life, pseudo-reality show format, including interviews with the characters. Although the pilot was only aired internationally, it gained a following through bootleg releases at conventions.

The troubled Green Lantern movie(s)

Despite many attempts, not all plans for a Green Lantern that laughs were successful – there have been efforts to bring a “serious”Green Lantern to the big screen since 2007.

George Miller, the mastermind behind Mad Max, had plans to feature John Stewart as the Green Lantern in his ultimately canceled film Justice League: Mortal. The movie, which took inspiration from the well-known Tower of Babel plot, would have depicted the formation of the League as a result of Batman’s spy satellite, Brother Eye, turning against superheroes.

Despite being cast as Green Lantern and having costume testing done, rapper Common’s role in the film Mortal was ultimately cancelled due to a series of setbacks. These included multiple delays, the denial of an Australian tax credit, and Warner Bros.’s shift towards focusing on films like The Dark Knight instead.

This leads us to 2011’s Green Lantern, which would arguably be the most notorious of DC’s superhero movies if it weren’t for the controversies surrounding Justice League and The Flash. It’s quite surprising that the film was a notorious failure, considering the talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Martin Campbell, the director of Green Lantern, is no stranger to solo hero movies. He is credited with reviving the James Bond franchise not once, but twice.

Despite its potential, the film was bound for failure. According to reports, lead actor Ryan Reynolds and director Martin Campbell had a strained relationship on set. Campbell’s frustration with the casting process was evident, as he had his heart set on Bradley Cooper for the role of Hal Jordan. However, his choice was ultimately overruled by WB, who went behind his back and cast Reynolds instead.

The initial intention for Green Lantern was to launch a fresh era of DC movies, similar to how Iron Man jumpstarted the MCU. However, it ultimately failed at the box office, leading both Campbell and Reynolds to shoulder the responsibility in recent times.

DC’s cinematic universe was set to begin the following year with Man of Steel, but there was no sign of Hal Jordan. Despite initial plans to include Green Lantern John Stewart, portrayed by Wayne T. Carr, in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Snyder was ultimately instructed to remove the character from the final version. It seemed that WB had alternative plans for Stewart.

The Best Green Lantern Was Only on TV

John Stewart is indeed a fitting topic to broach when considering the whereabouts of the successful Green Lantern properties in the ’90s, which were mainly found in animation.

Despite being a staple in the Super Friends era of cartoons, Green Lantern experienced a resurgence when he became a part of the popular DC Animated Universe in the third season of Superman: The Animated Series.

Although Hal is nowhere to be seen, this episode introduces the current Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, who is a staff artist for the Daily Planet. He receives Hal Jordan’s origin story, as he is given a Power Ring when Abin Sur crashes on Earth. With assistance from Superman and the Guardians of Oa, Kyle defeats Sinestro and is declared as Earth’s new Green Lantern.

The animated Justice League series, which features a more diverse roster of heroes, continued the legacy of the Green Lantern while Kyle quietly faded into the background. John Stewart took over as the main character in both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Despite already being recognized as some of the greatest superhero shows ever created, both Justice League cartoons had a profound effect on John Stewart. He first appeared in 1971 as the second choice for Earth’s backup Green Lantern (after the previous backup, Guy Gardner, was injured while rescuing a school bus), but for more than ten years, he was only seen as a minor character. Fortunately, Justice League elevated him to a beloved and widely celebrated figure.

The Justice League portrays John as a tough ex-military member, but delves into his more sensitive side through his romantic involvement with Hawkgirl. The show also delves into his struggle of juggling his duties as a League member and a Green Lantern. These adaptations of John’s character ultimately made their way into the comics.

Despite efforts to capitalize on Green Lantern’s success in animation beyond Justice League, these attempts were not successful. The release of Green Lantern: First Flight in 2009 was supposed to be the start of a series of animated films, but due to low DVD sales, this plan was abandoned. In 2011, Green Lantern: The Animated Series was launched, featuring adaptations of popular comic storylines. However, due to the negative impact of the movie’s failure, the show received low ratings and suffered from poor sales of related merchandise.

The Arrowverse: A Missed Opportunity

Despite the negative reception of Berlanti’s work on the 2011 Green Lantern film, it did have one positive outcome: it caught the attention of Warner Bros. As a result, Berlanti was able to pitch the idea for Arrow, which eventually led to the creation of the Arrowverse. This highly successful project brought together some of DC’s most iconic heroes, such as Superman, The Flash, Batwoman, Supergirl, and Green Arrow.

Despite Green Lantern’s absence from the list, the show made several attempts to include him. Throughout the series, there were subtle suggestions that John Diggle, one of the co-leads on Arrow, may have been filling in for John Stewart. However, the show never fully committed to this idea.

The conclusion of the Arrow series featured a peculiar object emitting a green glow that landed in Diggle’s front yard. Despite picking up and opening the box, fans were left in the dark as to the contents of the mysterious item.

Diggle refuses the Green Lantern ring on The Flash
The CW

The Arrowverse teased a Green Lantern for years but never pulled the trigger.

Although it was strongly suggested that the ring belonged to a Green Lantern, the enigma was never solved. Diggle made a comeback in Season 8 of The Flash, appearing to hear voices and facing difficulty in unlocking the box. However, when he reappeared in Season 9, he ultimately chose not to open it.

Despite Diggle’s decision not to open the box, it may not have been the initial intended outcome. In an interview with The Cosmic Circus, Ramsey disclosed that the plan for Diggle to find the ring was “legitimate,”but it was altered.

What may have been cancelled was Berlanti’s upcoming project, the HBO Max Green Lantern series. Initially revealed in 2019, the show was set to be an anthology, showcasing the various stories of the Green Lantern Corps across the universe. Despite casting for important roles, the series was ultimately cancelled in 2024.

The Future of Green Lantern’s Light

Despite facing numerous setbacks, things are finally looking optimistic.

Regardless of any obstacles, a Green Lantern will make a return to the silver screen in 2025. James Gunn’s upcoming Superman project will feature Guy Gardner, who was initially introduced in 1968 as the initial substitute for Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. He will join a Justice League team consisting of Mister Terrific, Hawkgirl, and Metamorpho.

In addition, a fresh HBO Lanterns series will be taking the place of Berlanti’s cancelled project. Damon Lindelof, known for his work on Watchmen and Lost, will act as showrunner. Joining him in writing the series will be Tom King, acclaimed for his work on Marvel’s Vision (which later inspired WandaVision), as well as his critically acclaimed runs on Batman and Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow for DC.

Instead of being an anthology series, Lanterns will center on the adventures of established legend Hal Jordan and his new recruit, John Stewart. While the series seems to highlight the concept of Lanterns as a galactic law enforcement agency rather than traditional superheroes, it is still in its early stages as of this writing.

Despite the disappointment surrounding the 2011 Green Lantern film, it seems that fans of the character may finally be getting the recognition they have been waiting for. Actor Ryan Reynolds, who previously had negative feelings towards the film, even participated in a 2021 Twitter watch-along and admitted it was his first time watching it. In a tweet, he acknowledged that although the film has its flaws, it is not a complete disaster.

The upcoming film, “James Gunn’s Superman,”will star Nathan Fillion from “The Rookie”as Green Lantern Guy Gardner and is set to hit theaters on July 11, 2025. Unfortunately, “Lanterns”does not currently have a release date.

As you anticipate the release of Green Lantern on the big screen, discover more about James Gunn’s DCU and how it sets itself apart from Marvel’s films. You can also learn why Homelander would emerge victorious in a battle against Superman, and explore a list of the greatest superhero movies ever made. Additionally, stay updated on all the upcoming superhero movies and TV shows scheduled for release in 2024.

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