The Flash may be the fastest man alive, but the Scarlet Speedster’s race to the big screen has been anything but swift. With the character's history beginning in the late 1980s, Warner Bros. has long been working towards adapting the Flash with little success. The hero’s journey to the silver screen has been constantly met with production setbacks and creative shakeups due to those two infamously vague words: creative differences.
Time and time again, various writers and directors have boarded and left Flash adaptations like a cursed game of musical chairs. The unfortunate carousel of ever-changing creative teams still continues to this day, as the DCEU-set Flash film has already cycled through five creative teams and a seemingly ever-changing release date.
While the uncertainty surrounding the adaptation's production has a lot to do with the studio’s general doubt towards their cinematic universe as a whole, it is clear that Warner Brothers cannot decide on a direction in which to take the first live-action Flash film. In an attempt to gain some more insight on the many difficulties plaguing the current attempts at a Flash movie, The Direct will be revisiting some previously canceled Flash projects, and try to figure out what in the world Warner Brothers wants for the hero of Central City.
The Flash (2006)
Pre-production: After David S. Goyer redefined the Dark Knight with his groundbreaking screenplay Batman Begins, Warner Brothers was so impressed that they gave the writer a choice between adapting Green Lantern or the Flash for the studio.
Goyer chose the Flash, and in 2004 it was announced that he would write and direct the studio's first adaptation of the iconic character. The writer expressed his interests in courting Ryan Reynolds for Wally West, the film's protagonist, and Goyer was confident he could craft a superhero film unlike anything audiences had ever seen, as Variety reported him saying:
I think the character of the Flash, who moves faster than the speed of light, opens itself up to rich cinematic and story ideas.
Story: The film starts with a young Wally West visiting his uncle Barry Allen in Central City. Barry, who has been the Flash for a few years already, is captured by criminal mastermind Victor Vesp. Vesp had manufactured a trap to steal the Flash's powers, but it backfires on the villain, causing an explosion that strikes Victor and a nearby Wally West with lightning. Barry Allen is killed in the process, exposing his secret identity.
About a decade later, Wally is a dysfunctional young adult. After another strike of lightning, he wakes up with a connection to the Speed Force. West is discovered by STAR Labs and goes through a series of tests to figure out the nature of his abilities. Barry's old friend Hunter Zolomon and Wally's aunt Iris push Wally to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, but Wally abuses his powers for fame and fortune.
Meanwhile, Vesp, who was locked up in prison and cursed with an incredibly slow metabolism, sets his sights on Wally and attempts to recreate his plans to steal the Flash's super speed. After Vesp unleashes Zoom, a mysterious evil figure with the same powers as the Flash, Wally gets accused of the destruction caused by the evil doppleganger. Wally West is forced to get his act together and step up to be the Flash in order to defend his uncle's legacy and save the world.
Creative Differences: David S. Goyer turned in a draft of his script in 2006, and by 2007 the filmmaker announced that he was officially off the project. Goyer elaborated the reasons for his departure in his personal blog, stating that in the end, the decision came down to a fundamental difference in the writer's and the studio's desired directions for the film. Goyer stated:
The God’s honest truth is that WB and myself simply couldn’t agree on what would make for a cool Flash film. I’m quite proud of the screenplay I turned in. I threw my heart into it and I genuinely think it would’ve been the basis of a ground-breaking film. But as of now, the studio is heading off in a completely different direction. I expect you’ll hear of some new developments on that front shortly.
Goyer left the project, and Warner was soon hard at work on Justice League Mortal, which was being directed by George Miller and set to begin filming in 2008. WB then hired Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy to helm a Flash spin-off of Justice League Mortal. The new Flash project would still focus on Wally West and incorporate elements of Goyer's screenplay. Writers and directors cycled through that project, and once the Justice League film fell through, the studio scrapped work on a Wally West film altogether in an attempt to focus on the better-known version of the character.
The Flash (2011)
Pre-production: The Flash picked up some more traction in 2010, when writers Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, and Marc Guggenheim were hired to pen the film's next real attempts at adapting the fastest man alive. The team was fresh off of writing 2011's Green Lantern, a film that the studio was sure would be a success at the time.
Greg Berlanti was rumored to be in talks to direct, though reports later claimed he wasn't looking to helm a big production. The script was said to be taking inspiration from the recent Geoff Johns run, as well as Mark Waid's work on the character. Co-writer Marc Guggenheim elaborated by saying:
We’ve also tried to take our inspiration from the old Silver Age Barry Allen stories and imbue it with that sense of fun and wonder while still keeping that cool, slightly darker tone.
With a new creative team set, and a completely different direction for the focus of the film, Warner Brothers was once again blazing ahead on another Flash adaptation.
Story: Barry Allen is a young CSI detective at the Central City police station. Over-eager to solve mysteries in the name of justice, a new victim who appears to have been frozen to death peaks Barry's interest. His coworkers don't believe his theories, and while Barry works to find more evidence, he's struck by lightning in a freak accident at the crime lab.
After realizing the accident granted him abnormal abilities, STAR Labs comes in to help Barry understand and control his powers. Meanwhile, a new serial killer under the nickname Cold terrorizes Central City. Barry works together with his long-time crush Iris West to find where the villain will be striking next, and the Flash (with a new suit from STAR Labs) fights against Cold to stop him from killing more people. Soon another adversary appears with the same powers as Barry: Zoom.
Zoom reveals that he killed Barry's mother and framed his father due to the pair being enemies in his home dimension. Iris and Barry discover that Zoom was actually a fellow scientist at STAR Labs, and that the particle accelerator he's been perfecting was a machine intended to steal the Flash's powers. Zoom sets off his particle accelerator, leaving Barry with the responsibility of stopping the black hole it creates, all while a huge prison breakout unleashes Cold and other criminals on the streets of Central City.
Creative Differences: Green, Guggeheim, and Berlanti's version of The Flash had the misfortune of being developed during a time of great uncertainty for Warner Brothers. Green Lantern was not the smash hit they expected it to be, and soon all efforts shifted to building a cinematic universe around Zack Snyder's upcoming Man of Steel. After the creative team turned in their draft to the studio, their direction saw no action until it was seemingly scrapped in favor of breakout writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) new story treatment.
Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim would go on to helm Arrow for the CW, and The Flash show eventually brought over many story elements from this project's script. After Lord and Miller finished their story treatment and Ezra Miller was cast as Barry Allen for Batman v. Superman, Warner Brothers were once again full steam ahead on a new Flash film, this time set within their newly developing DC Extended Universe.
The Flash (2022)
Pre-production: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly in talks to direct their treatment of the film, but they soon decided to helm the Star Wars spin-off Solo instead. In 2015, Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was hired to write and direct based off Lord and Miller's treatment. A release date was soon slated for March 2018, and Ezra Miller was set to star as Barry Allen.
Grahame-Smith departed the project in April 2016 due to creative differences, and Dope writer/director Rick Famuyiwa then joined The Flash later that year to direct. Famuyiwa had cast Dope actress Kiersey Clemons as Iris West (who would go on to debut her role in a deleted Justice League scene), but in October 2016 Famuyiwa left the project as well, mere months before filming was set to start. Creative differences were also cited.
Ezra Miller was forced to take some time away from the Flash project due to his obligations on the Fantastic Beasts sequel. Warner Brothers took the time to completely rework the direction of the film, bringing in screenwriter Joby Harold to do a page-one rewrite. In the summer of 2017, Warner Brothers took to San Diego Comic Con to announce the newly titled Flashpoint, set to release in 2020.
Spider-Man: Homecoming writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein were tapped to direct, but their time on the film's production was plagued with extensive creative disagreements between them and star Ezra Miller. The actor even wrote his own version of a Flash script alongside famed comic book writer Grant Morrison in order to convince Warner Brothers of his vision. Warner eventually sided with Miller, and Daley and Goldstein were soon off the project. The creative team shifted to IT director Andy Muschietti and Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson, with a new release date of June 2022.
Story: Not much is known about the story for the Phil Lord and Chris Miller direction of the film. When speaking to the Hippojuice podcast in 2015, writer Phil Lord had this to say about The Flash:
We’re trying to break a story. It’s interesting, because there’s a really popular TV show out there, and we’re trying to carve out space for the movie that’s apart from that. I think we’re doing alright … It’s going to be it’s own [thing, apart from the TV show] — we’re more trying to stick with the cinematic universe… it really is its own thing, and kind of a stand-alone movie. We’re just trying to think of the best story. I think you guys will like it, it’s kind of a different take on superhero stuff.
Once the film was confirmed to be adapting elements of the Flashpoint event, fans finally had some specifics to anticipate. Jeffrey Dean Morgan campaigned to return as Thomas Wayne, and fans speculated if notable DCEU actors such as Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa might make appearances in the film. However, after so much creative indecision, and the semi-demise of DC's cinematic universe, nothing about the Flash film felt certain anymore.
While it was reported that Francis Daley and Goldstein were taking a light-hearted approach to the film, star Ezra Miller was fighting a much darker tone. Once the Homecoming duo left, it seemed that darker won out, especially due to the recruitment of a notable horror filmmaker. Current director Andy Muschietti recently updated fans earlier this year about the status of the film's story, confirming that while the film was still taking inspiration from Flashpoint, it would be a "a different version of Flashpoint than you're expecting."
Creative Differences: Where to begin. When it came to director Rick Famuyiwa, the creative differences reportedly stemmed from him wanting to make a film edgier than Warner Brothers was comfortable with. Famuyiwa's comments, however, might have revealed that he was attempting to tackle the film from a different, more personal point of view. His words to The Hollywood Reporter after leaving The Flash were:
While it’s disappointing that we couldn’t come together creatively on the project, I remain grateful for the opportunity. I will continue to look for opportunities to tell stories that speak to a fresh generational, topical and multicultural point of view.
With John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the comedic duo were reportedly pushing for a much lighter tone, something that the studio supported as well. Ezra Miller was so adamant about his desires for a dark take that Warner Brothers told him to draft his version of the script in a week, and if they liked it, then they would concede. While the studio ended up throwing out the script Miller sent in, they agreed to his version of the tone. Francis Daley and Goldstein were soon out, once again due to "creative differences."
Recently, after a video of Ezra Miller supposedly attacking a fan surfaced online, former co-director John Francis Daley simply tweeted:
The tweet was possibly insinuating that the directing duo's real creative differences were due to Miller's behavior, which would explain why Miller came so close to being replaced in the titular role when his contract was set to expire.
The current pre-production with Muschietti seemed to have been going smoothly, that is until the Cornoavirus pandmic shut everything down and all work on the film was put on hold. However, with the release date still a far two years away, the Flash may have a chance to pick up where he left off.
Warner Bros.'s Vision for the Scarlet Speedster
There's a lot to unpack with the Flash's doomed race to the big screen. Firstly, it's apparent that Warner Brothers wants to do the Flash justice with their adaptation. The Flash remains the only original Justice League member to not have a live-action solo film, and 2011's Green Lantern likely (justifiably) made Warner nervous about their ability to adapt characters that weren't Batman or Superman.
David S. Goyer's script was probably too much of a departure from the norm for the studio's first Flash adaptation (Barry Allen is the more iconic Flash after all), and Berlanti, Greg, and Guggenheim's creative roles on Green Lantern could have made WB worried about repeating that film's same mistakes. WB hasn't always had the best track record with adapting DC's superheroes, and for a character as popular as the Flash, they had to be sure they were doing it right.
Warner Brothers is also aware that the Flash provides them with a unique opportunity to invest in a much lighter tone than their other superhero films. By bringing in comedic filmmakers such as Phil Lord and Christoper Miller, and later with John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the studio was definitely trying to capitalize on Barry Allen's fun, witty persona.
The creative differences seemed to always stem from directors wanting to go "dark." While both Famuyiwa and Seth Grahame-Smith reportedly attempted to be very edgy with the character, in that case "edgy" seemed like code for "multicultural perspective" (per Famuyiwa's comments), which in WB's eyes could have added a layer of deeply dramatic emotional realism and complexity that the studio was weary of for a Flash film. The 2006 and 2011 scrapped screenplays had this "dark" problem in common as well, lacking in a distinct sense of humor and instead leaning into the hero's more dramatic story elements.
Shazam! proved how much the studio wanted to test the waters with a lighter approach to superhero films, and the success of that movie most likely convinced WB that a light-hearted Flash film could succeed with the right creative team involved. This would explain the studio's strong attachment to John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, an extremely talented comedic duo responsible for the critically acclaimed comedy Game Night.
Ezra Miller's adamant pleas for a darker take on the character was probably cause for so much controversy because that would mean the studio had to drop their fifteen-year efforts on making a fun Flash film. Understandably so, it took a lot of convincing for Warner Brothers to finally give in, and the concession most likely came from WB once again becoming unsure of their direction for the film. The Flashpoint source material is a very dark story after all, and perhaps the studio realized that a fun approach wasn't best for adapting the grim tale.
By bringing in the director of 2017's IT alongside the screenwriter of recent critical success Birds of Prey, both films featuring a delightful mix of dark story elements and light-hearted characters, Warner Brothers might have finally found the perfect balance between the tone needed for Flashpoint and the characterization desired by the studio. It'll be quite some time before we find out if all the creative differences paid off, but hopefully 2022 is a destination the Flash can finally reach.