Quentin Tarantino’s Long History With Comic Book Movies

Quentin Tarantino, the acclaimed creative behind indie megahits like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, has been on a bit of a tear lately in regards to superhero cinema. A recent interview with the Los Angeles Times saw the director call filmmakers who work with Marvel Studios “hired hands“, and claim that modern auteurs like himself “can’t wait” for comic book movies to fail. Not long after, Tarantino continued his tirade to imply companies like Marvel Studios had killed the “movie star”, effectively making characters more famous than the actors who play them.

This is, of course, not a surprising stance for the famously old-fashioned talent to take, but it is unexpectedly harsh for someone with a long history of almost working on comic-based projects. Throughout his career, Tarantino has been attached to four separate superhero adaptations and has admitted to using comic-adjacent concepts as the basis for some of his released projects. Kill Bill, one of Tarantino’s seminal works, famously includes a comic-inspired monologue, and the director is known to have rows of superhero books stored in his home. He even recently revealed that Inglorious Basterds, another fan favorite from his resume, was heavily inspired by Marvel’s Howling Commandos line from the 1940s.

For what it’s worth, Tarantino does not seem to despise the idea of adapting comics. He once said that, in his 20s, the idea of making films based on his favorite superheroes was all he wanted to do, but that he’d since “grown out” of that phase and moved on to focusing on original concepts. It would appear that his true qualms with superhero adaptations stem more from their unexpected impact on the film industry, and his perception that they’re produced at a high rate with low quality. As such, it’s intriguing to look back on the films his name was once attached to, and ponder what could have been different in a world where Tarantino was among those who had left their mark on the history of superhero cinema.

Luke Cage: Hero For Hire

Perhaps the closest Tarantino ever came to actually making a Marvel movie. The Jackie Brown filmmaker spoke with MTV in 2013 and dropped the bombshell he had once actively attempted to get a Luke Cage: Hero For Hire film off the ground. He claimed the idea for the project came very early in his career after he completed production on his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs. That puts Tarantino’s pitch somewhere around 1992, nearly a decade before BladeSpider-Man, and X-Men put comic book movies back on the map, and a lifetime before Netflix’s Luke Cage series made the character a household name. At the time, Marvel Studios had not yet been created, so Cage’s film rights were among the countless of their kind being bounced from company to company. As it turns out, however, Tarantino nailed down their then-owner, and a potential star, in a strong effort to get Hero For Hire made:

After ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ I had considered doing a ‘Luke Cage: Hero For Hire‘ movie. Ed Pressmanowned it at that time and we talked about it. And I talked with Larry Fishburne about being Luke Cage and he really liked  that idea.

Quentin Tarantino

In the same interview, Tarantino explained that Hero For Hire fell by the wayside when the idea for Pulp Fiction grabbed his attention. As time continued to slip by, Hero For Hire suffered a quiet creative death. Much later, in a 2020 podcast interview, Tarantino added that some of his geekier pals were to blame for the Luke Cage film’s demise. Apparently, they felt dramatic actor Laurence Fishburne was not suited for the title role and had pestered Tarantino about casting action star Wesley Snipes instead. Never a fan of being told what to do, the director said this back-and-forth “ruined the whole damn thing”, despite Cage being his “absolute hero” at the time. Ultimately, Tarantino said he felt like he “made the right choice” in committing to Pulp Fiction as his second feature.

Silver Surfer

Around the same time, after Reservoir Dogs and before Pulp FictionTarantino is reported to have written a full-blown script for a film based on Marvel’s cosmic mascot, the Silver Surfer. What’s more, he supposedly brought the script to German studio Constantin Film, who owned the rights at that point. In the early 90s, several creatives saw the immense potential in a Silver Surfer adaptation, but most studios – Marvel included – felt there was no money to be made in Silver Surfer on the big screen. The visual effects required to bring a movie like that to life were considered too expensive, and as a result, every attempt to develop a cohesive film was shot down. This, unfortunately, included Tarantino’s treatment, which was supposedly around 500 pages long.

Green Lantern & Iron Man

Years later, after superhero films had gained steam but prior to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s emergence, Tarantino was offered two separate major adaptations from big-name studios. Green Lantern and Iron Man, both in varying stages of development in the late 2000s, were pitched to the Django Unchained director by their respective producers as his first tentpole picture. Obviously, he passed on both. While Tarantino has never publicly commented on his opportunity to bring Iron Man to life, which came at a time before the involvement of Robert Downey Jr. or any of the factors that eventually made it a huge hit, it likely came to him in a scenario similar to what he described for Green Lantern:

I was offered the ‘Green Lantern’. Not since it’s been a script, but just like, ‘Hey we own the ‘Green Lantern.’ Would you like it?’

Quentin Tarantino

Again speaking to MTV, Tarantino conceded that, by the time Green Lantern and Iron Man arrived at his door, he had fully grown past his phase of wanting to adapt other people’s material. He elaborated, saying if he were to ever make a superhero film, it would have to be something entirely of his own design:

It wouldn’t be an existing comic book character. I’m a writer. I’d want to use my imagination and not have to fight with geeks’ memories of how this character should be and, ‘Oh, I cast an actor as opposed to a bodybuilder’ or it’s not as good as the way Neal Adams drew him.’ If I were to do something like that, I would want the fun of coming up with the superhero myself.

Quentin Tarantino

With only one film left in his 10-film career plan, Tarantino will likely never make a superhero movie. Unless, of course, he decided he wanted to contribute to the trend, and use his imagination to show the current crop of directors how he thinks it should be done.

Source(s): The Digital Fix, Screen Rant, MTV, The Hollywood Reporter, Indie Wire, Yahoo!, Comic Book Resources, The Los Angeles Times, 2 Bears, 1 Cave Podcast

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