In 2007, following the success of Batman Begins, Warner Brothers was ready to make a Justice League film. However, it would star someone other than Christian Bale, star of Batman Begins, as Batman. And it would star someone other than Brandon Routh, star of the less successful Superman Returns, as Superman.
One thing led to another, and the project got delayed, and delayed, and delayed, and finally dropped.
At first, the director was supposed to be Jason Reitman, who had recently directed Juno. He dropped out, and was replaced by George Miller, best known for the Mad Max films. But it never happened.
The stars were supposed to be as follows: D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Armie Hammer as Batman, Meghan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Lonnie Lynn (a.k.a. the rapper Common) as the John Stewart version of Green Lantern, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as the Martian Manhunter. Aquaman was also supposed to be included, but was never cast.
(In hindsight, casting Hammer as Batman would have ended up very problematic, and not just because he did a terrible job as the Lone Ranger in Disney's 2013 film.)
As villains, Jay Baruchel would have played Maxwell Lord, on the heels of Lord being the lead villain in DC's recent Identity Crisis storyline; and Teresa Palmer would have played Tali al Ghul, daughter of Ra's al Ghul and occasional girlfriend of Batman. (As with everything else about Batman, his love-life has always been complicated.)
DC had a chance to get a "cinematic universe" going before Marvel Comics did with Iron Man in 2008. Here's how they should have done it:
* Let Batman Begins start it in 2005, as actually happened, with Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman.
* Release a Superman film in 2006, as actually happened -- but not Superman Returns. Instead, totally start over, as was done with Man of Steel in 2013. This film could have kept that title -- and only that title.
Otherwise, basically do a remake of the film that started it all, the 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeve, to which Superman Returns tried so hard to pay tribute, and succeeded in part.
At the time, Routh was 27 years old, a little too young to play a veteran superhero; and Kate Bosworth was 23, too young to play Lois Lane as we usually see her, and way too young to play a seasoned reporter with a 5-year-old child. They would have been the ideal ages to play Clark Kent and Lois as being early in their careers.
Again, in hindsight, Kevin Spacey is a problem. Compared to how hokey Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor from 1978 to 1987, Spacey did for the character what Jack Nicholson did for the Joker in 1989: He reminded us that this guy is a killer, and meant to be scary.
This problem is easy to correct: Frank Langella, who played Perry White, had previously played villains ranging from Count Dracula to Richard Nixon (and subsequently reprised his Broadway role for the film version of Frost/Nixon). He should have been Luthor.
So who plays Perry? Laurence Fishburne plays him in the real-life DCEU. Perry has always been depicted as a poor kid from Metropolis (or, sometimes, the real city of Chicago) who made good. By 2006, a black man with that background running "a great metropolitan newspaper" would no longer have seemed odd. So we move Fishburne up.
* 2007 would have brought the first Wonder Woman film. Gale would have been 32, about right to play Princess Diana of Themiscyra/Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.
Chris Pine was 27, so he would already be a good choice to play Steve Trevor. Anything to keep him from playing "Captain Jerk" in J.J. Abrams' blasphemous Star Trek films. (Gal Gadot was only 22.)
It would have been set in World War II, like her early comics and the 1st season (1976-77) of the TV show starring Lynda Carter.
Setting the 1st Gadot movie during World War I would only have worked without the WWII background of the character. And it forces the question: If WWI was serious enough for her to leave Themiscyra, why wasn't the even more serious WWII enough to bring her back?
* 2008 would have been the key year. We get the 2nd Batman film, The Dark Knight. We get a 2nd Superman film, possibly remaking Superman II with the Phantom Zone villains: "Kneel before Zod!" We get a Flash film, with Brody as Barry Allen.
And we get an Aquaman film. Alan Ritchson, who played Arthur Curry on Smallville, and now plays Hank Hall a.k.a. Hawk on Titans, could have been cast.
Certainly, he looks more like the blond character seen in the comics than does the native Hawaiian Jason Momoa. He would have been a good choice to play Katar Hol, a.k.a. Carter Hall, a.k.a. Hawkman.
* 2009 brings us the 2nd Wonder Woman film. Still set in World War II, it would set up the idea of the Justice League by introducing the superhero team of the 1940s, the Justice Society of America.
The "Golden Age" versions of the Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and the Atom (Al Pratt) could be shown, along with Dr. Fate, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hourman, Wildcat, the Sandman and Starman. Aside from John Wesley Shipp, who starred in the 1990-91 Flash TV show as Barry Allen, and now plays Garrick on the current TV version, these roles are open to speculation.
This film could show the JSA as vital in winning the war, but also show the sacrifice of Steve Trevor that leads Diana to retreat to her island -- for a while.
The year could also have given Green Arrow a film, with Justin Hartley playing him as he was doing on Smallville.
* With Green Lantern established, we get the film with Ryan Reynolds as the Hal Jordan version a year earlier, in 2010. The only thing that really bothered me about that film was the CGI'ed GL costumes. They were very distracting.
We also get a film for the Ray Palmer version of the Atom, although, with Routh occupied as Superman, he couldn't play the Atom, too.
* So here we go. July 1, 2011 -- a Friday, with the 4th on the following Monday, making for a three-and-a-half-day weekend. Justice League premieres.
Basically, it's the story we got with The Dark Knight Rises, a film that should have had people asking, "Are there no other superheroes in this world who could have helped Batman save Gotham City?"
This time, not only does Bruce realize that he has to put the Batsuit back on, but he figures out he needs help before Bane can break his back -- but that still happens before the others can properly respond to his call for aid.
So the heroes figure out where the League of Shadows' prison is, and they break him out. Whether he gets cures through Themiscyran or Atlantean medicine is negotiable.
Ultimately, Batman still beats Bane but is betrayed by Talia. However, it is Superman who gets the nuke off Earth.
But in so doing, this attracts the attention of Darkseid, setting up future movies. Bale could have continued as Batman, with a Robin. Gale could have continued as Wonder Woman, in the present day with Pine playing a grandson of Trevor (as opposed to Lyle Waggoner playing father and son on the 1970s TV show).
The Green Lantern films could have introduced the Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, etc. versions.
A Green Arrow sequel could have introduced Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary, classically GA's girlfriend and later wife, matching the comics, instead of what the TV version did, killing her off and having Oliver Queen instead marry Felicity Smoak, who in the comics was connected to the hero Firestorm.
Captain Marvel/Shazam could be introduced. And here's an idea: Since Wonder Woman is being played by Gale, Gal Gadot can play Zatanna, the Mistress of Magic.
The CW's Arrowverse could begin on time in 2012, totally separate from the DC Cinematic Universe, with Stephen Amell starring in Arrow, and play out as it actually has, leading up to a Crisis On Infinite Earths in 2019 with some of the aforementioned actors.
Where does that leave Henry Cavill? He can still play The Witcher, and maybe replace Daniel Craig as James Bond. Ben Affleck? After the 2003 film Daredevil, he should never have been allowed to play another superhero. So he's out.
There's the plan. All we need now is for the Legends of Tomorrow to take the Waverider back to 2004 and set it up.