The R-Rated ‘Daredevil’ Movie That Never Happened
This weekend Marvel fans across the world were able to binge watch and enjoy all of Daredevil Season 2 on Netflix. It was another solid season of Marvel television, and, with the introductions of Punisher and Elektra, an impressive step forward for the show as a whole. But, it almost never happened. Back in 2012, 20th Century Fox was scrambling to get a feature film version of Daredevil into production before the rights reverted back to Marvel. Though Marvel did get the rights back, Fox almost moved forward on a film that could’ve done for The Man Without Fear what Deadpool did for The Merc With a Mouth.
Fox was up against a ticking clock. Part of their deal with Marvel — which includes the rights to Daredevil and characters in the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes — stipulates that the properties must be in some sort of active development or else they revert back to their rightsholder. In other words, Fox couldn’t horde the rights to Fantastic Four in perpetuity, they’d have to at least put forth a good faith effort to develop a film otherwise Marvel would get the characters back. Fox and Marvel don’t have the best of relationships (remember when Marvel canceled all Fantastic Four comics to spite the movie?) so the studio didn’t want to have to give Daredevil back to Marvel, though they had no idea what do with the character.
It had been almost 10 years since the Ben Affleck film and time was not kind to that version of the film. Neither were the film’s stars. Affleck told Entertainment Weekly, “Daredevil didn’t work, at all…If I wanted to go viral, I would be less polite.” The Elektra spinoff was released in 2005 (to even more derision than the Daredevil movie) and the property sat dormant at Fox for about seven years. The studio knew that Marvel was about to reclaim the character unless they moved quickly. So they moved quickly.
Director Joe Carnahan had just had a hit for Fox with his remake of the classic 80s TV series The A-Team and followed it up with the sleeper hit The Grey, starring Liam Neeson punching wolves. The studio sent Carnahan their existing script for the film, which he was not a fan of and instead pitched his own take on the material. A hard-R action film set in the 70s.
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.’
Carnahan would later say that Guardians of the Galaxy’s use of classic rock was very similar to what he wanted to do with his Daredevil movie. To help convince Fox to give him the time and money to properly develop his script, he even pulled the Deadpool-esque task of creating an NC-17 style sizzle reel that “leaked” on the web.
While a graphic proof of concept video almost single-handedly helped get Deadpool made, it couldn’t help Carnahan’s Daredevil movie. Fox attempted to negotiate with Marvel for an extension on the deadline (offering up both Galactus and Silver Surfer in exchange for more time), but Marvel wouldn’t budge and rejected the proposal. It was mid-August and Fox would have had to put the film into production by October 10 of that year. Time was just not on their side.
The rights to Daredevil ultimately reverted back to Marvel Studios, who had first right of refusal on the character. It’s interesting to note that Kevin Feige also opted to pass on making a Daredevil movie (or introducing him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), and the rights went to Marvel Television, who announced their production deal with Netflix just one year later.
When asked if he would be interested in returning to participate in the TV series, Carhanan declined saying, “I just wanna experience it. And I think that will be enough of a reward.
What’s interesting is that now, post-Deadpool, Fox would probably have no problem greenlighting an R-rated Daredevil movie with a Guardians of the Galaxy-esque soundtrack. Unfortunately, it was just the wrong project at the wrong time at the wrong place. It would’ve been interesting to see what came out of it, but without it, we’d likely have none of the Marvel shows on Netflix, including Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. And maybe it’s just better off this way.