Home > Comedy, Comics, Movies, Storytelling, Weekend Feature, Weird and Interesting > How producer Jon Peters and a giant spider nearly ruined Superman

How producer Jon Peters and a giant spider nearly ruined Superman

You may notice the name Jon Peters under the Executive Producer heading in this summer’s Man of Steel Superman movie.

Be glad you don’t see it anywhere else in those credits, because the man has a history of being one of the craziest comic book movie producers of all-time.

Jon Peters started his Hollywood career as Barbra Streisand’s hairstylist. He co-produced her movie A Star is Born, and since then he’s had a hand in all kinds of films, from Caddyshack and The Color Purple to Batman and Rain Man. He’s been producer or executive producer for 47 films to date, but it’s the film he didn’t produce that’s the most frightening to consider.

Executive Producer Jon Peters Hollywood star

“Success is 99% about the hair!”

Jon Peters was calling the shots for some key movies at Warner Bros. in the 1990s. He was riding the success of Batman and its sequels, and that gave him a lot of power over the future of other popular Warner Bros. comic book properties.

Those properties included Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and the rights to reboot Superman.

This was before the modern era of superheroes, a few years after Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies had already run their course and just as the Batman films were descending into an era of camp and Chris O’Donnell.

Comic book movies were still considered a dodgy box office gamble and, for former hair stylist Jon Peters, superheroes were just too geeky and weird to deserve straight-up film adaptations. Peters felt they needed to be spiced up to succeed.

So Peters tried to bring the spice.

Nicolas Cage for Tim Burton's Superman Lives movie adaptation

Behold, Nick Cage Superman!

Take a minute to let your eyes recover.

That’s a test image from Superman Lives, the Jon Peters-guided, Tim Burton-directed reboot that never happened. Nicolas Cage was expected to be the black-maned Superman, and if the sight of him in that wig hurts you, take a gander at one of the Superman costumes they mocked up.

Tim Burton's Superman Lives movie adaptation black costume for Jon Peters

This chestpiece made from 100% recycled materials.

Jon Peters didn’t care about the Superman mythos. He cared about what he thought was cool. He had no interest in comics and he felt he needed to make a ton of changes to the material to make it successful.

Peters’s first shot at Superman came when Warner Bros. handed him the film rights to the recently published, extremely popular Death of Superman storyline. Peters wanted the movie to be hip and cool, so he tapped 21 Jump Street scribe Peter Lemkin to write a script.

Lemkin’s story was a disaster. True to his source material, Doomsday kills Superman.

Then it gets weird, because Superman is reborn shortly after as Lois Lane’s immaculately conceived son.

Lemkin was canned after turning in that terrible script and Gregory Poirier was tasked with the rewrite. If Poirier’s name doesn’t ring a bell, he went on to pen such immortal classics as Lion King II: Simba’s Pride and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

National Treasaure Book of Secrets Nicolas Cage

You thought we were done with Nicolas Cage, didn’t you?

Poirier turned in a jumbled, confusing script with more pop culture elments than a Robot Chicken episode. It had aliens, bodysnatching, robot doubles, Jedi mind powers, a black Superman suit and an expanded cast of villains that included Brainiac, Parasite and Silver Banshee.

It was a mess. The film, at that point titled Superman Reborn, was stillborn.

A few years later, Warner Bros. showed Clerks writer/director Kevin Smith their Superman script. Smith, a massive comic book fan, was horrified.

The story is really worth hearing for yourself.

Silent Bob read the script and told Warner Bros. exactly how terrible it was. The Warner Bros. suits challenged him to do better, so Smith pitched a new story and got the green light to write it – so long as he met three conditions from Jon Peters:

Condition 1: “I don’t want to see him in that suit. It’s too faggy.”

Condition 2: “No flying.”

Condition 3: “He has to fight a giant spider in the third act.”

Kevin Smith from Clerks as Silent Bob in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back


Peters said the spider had to be included because it was “the fiercest creature in the insect kingdom.” He also thought Sean Penn would be perfect to play Superman because he had the eyes of “a caged animal, a fucking killer!”

Smith agreed to the terms and came up with a way to work in an alien spider.

But Peters soon began piling on the demands. Peters wanted Lex Luthor to have a cuddly space dog like Chewbacca, and he needed Brainiac to have a robot sidekick which he described as a “gay R2-D2 with attitude.” He wanted Brainiac to fight polar bears in the Arctic, and he really, really didn’t want to see Superman in the blue and red suit. It had to be black.

When Tim Burton signed on to direct, Burton scrapped Kevin Smith’s script (which you can now read here) and had his own guy do a rewrite. Peters continued to hamper the process, and after many more rewrites, the project died.

At the same time, Neil Gaiman was in the process of getting his Vertigo series Sandman adapted for the screen, and Peters again tried to cram a giant spider into the story. He fired the first screenwriter on the project for not inserting the spider – among other changes – and had a new script written that was more to his taste.

When Gaiman read the script, he said it was “not only the worst Sandman script I’ve ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read.”

Sandman never made it to the big screen.

No big loss for Peters, though. In 1999, his creative vision was at last realized in the Will Smith star vehicle Wild Wild West.

Wild Wild West Jon Peters giant mechanical spider

Easily the fiercest robot in the insect kingdom.

With his giant spider finally a part of cinema history, Peters started losing the Hollywood battles that really mattered. X-Men director Bryan Singer managed to gain creative control over Superman, and in 2006, he made Superman Returns. Peters remained producer on the film, though his influence was neutered.

Superman Returns was poorly received, but no giant spiders were harmed during its filming.

Since then, Jon Peters has continued to follow Superman like a bad rash.

Man of Steel is securely in the hands of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, but you can bet your cape Jon Peters was there at the creative meetings, pounding his fist for a tarantula royal rumble.

Giant spider in the corner with babies and web

That actually does look like a match for Superman.

  1. January 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I now have a mental image of Superman, in his apartment, cringing as he tries to get rid of a spider in the shower. It is an image that will make me smile for a long time.

    So thank you for this post.

  2. June 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Reblogged this on The Pop Cultist and commented:

    Reposted in preparation for Friday’s release of Man of Steel.

  3. JJJTheJth
    June 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    That final image.
    Thanks. Now I’ll never be able to sleep again.
    You bastards.

  1. March 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm

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