Adaptations of comic book properties are legion, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to count the number of times certain characters have been optioned and re-optioned by studios. Ben Affleck’s forthcoming take on Batman is a reminder of this, because he’s one of many actors to wear the cowl. On the other hand, Daredevil — the masked vigilante persona of blind defense attorney Matt Murdock — is only on his second take (third if you count an appearance in an ’80s Incredible Hulk TV movie). Affleck played the character in a heavily panned 2003 film, but with the upcoming second season of the acclaimed Netflix series, Daredevil fans would be forgiven if they were unable to imagine anyone but Charlie Cox in the role.
But there will always be a great “What if?” when it comes to the character thanks to the complicated back-and-forth with the character’s licensing rights and a version of the “Man Without Fear” dreamed up by an inventive director. It came close to happening until Fox ran out of time and lost the rights to the character in 2012, after failing to begin filming on a new Daredevil film by October 10 of that year.
Before that happened, setting the stage for the gritty Marvel/Netflix TV universe, the studio tried to reboot the Daredevil character with Joe Carnahan, the director behind films like Stretch, The Grey, The A-Team, and Smokin’ Aces. Carnahan’s film wouldn’t have been anything like the 2003 film or the eventual Netflix series, however. He created a pitch for a “Frank Miller-esque, hardcore ’70s thriller,” but talks with Marvel — including an attempt to buy more time by relinquishing the rights to Galactus and The Silver Surfer — tanked. With them went Carnahan’s plans for a reboot. While the trades and fan gossip sites were still catching up with the matter in real-time, the filmmaker took to Twitter to express his disappointment in thinly-veiled terms.
As news of the dead deal became official, Carnahan and Skip Chaisson, a fellow producer and film editor, released two versions of the sizzle reel they’d put together for Fox executives. Both were a minute and a half in length, and both featured footage and audio from the 2003 movie, clips from Scorsese films and other ’70s classics, and frames from Frank Miller’s classic run on the title. Even The Warriors‘ famous “Can you dig it?” speech made an appearance. Carnahan and Chaisson’s two edits — one for general audiences, and the other labeled with an “NC-17” rating — attempted to convey the darker tone the of the proposed reboot.
After Marvel reacquired the rights to the Daredevil comic and its affiliated storylines and characters, Carnahan moved on. Then, a year before Daredevil‘s 2015 network premiere, Carnahan opened up about his vision for Daredevil while doing press for Stretch and other projects. Not only would his movie have embraced the ’70s noir aesthetic it’d been rumored to adopt, but he would have stretched it across an entire trilogy and emphasized the music of the period years before Guardians of the Galaxy, as he told Movie Pilot:
“What people don’t realize about the DD project is that the producers of the film, got to me very late. They had a script that I read and I thought that while the action was wonderful, the story didn’t really have any additional bite. There was nothing I suggested a trilogy as follows. Daredevil ’73, Daredevil ’79 and Daredevil ’85 where I was going to do a kind of ‘cultural libretto’ and make the music of those eras a kind of thematic arc. So the first one would be Classic Rock, the second one would be Punk Rock and the third film would be New Wave. The problem was, the option was almost set to lapse so we made an eleventh-hour bid to Marvel to retain the rights for a bit longer so I could rework the script. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen. Marvel wanted the rights back. I don’t blame them.”
In another interview with /Film, Carnahan repeated his idea for a Daredevil trilogy conceptualized and filmed as a series of period pieces:
“That was the way I was gonna do those films. And I had come up with what I thought was a really cool Kingpin. And with Daredevil I think, I don’t know if they’re gonna stay in that style, but I thought Daredevil 1973 was incredibly cool. That’s where that sizzle reel came from.”
Carnahan never elaborated on the nature of his “really cool Kingpin” in these interviews, and nothing else has been said about the defunct trilogy on record, but the sizzle reel does pair De Niro’s performance as Al Capone in The Untouchables with the notorious Daredevil villain. Would that have outshined Vincent D’Onofrio’s version in season one of Daredevil? We’ll never know, but at least we have the Netflix series as a consolation prize, making the memory of Carnahan’s almost-movie less painful.