In Fall of 2002, Michael Uslan acquired the film rights to Captain Marvel and brought the project to New Line Cinema. Oscar winner William Goldman was hired to write the script. Many industry insiders who read the script, including Sandy Collora, said it was the greatest superhero script ever written. "The William Goldman script I was given for Shazam was excellent. I really felt that movie literally jumping off the pages at me. It hit all the right notes and was exceptionally well written. It had kind of a Norman Rockwell innocence to it. Very Americana. Very Spielbergian. I would have loved to have done that film as a post World War II, period piece… Late 40’s or early 50’s," said Collora in an interview to Geektyrant.
Furthermore, to Superhero Hype, Collora elaborated, "It’s pretty rare when a script captures my imagination and inspires me so much, that I have to read it twice, or even rarer still, THREE times. Shazam! by William Goldman is just such a script, but it’s something more… A lot more. Captain Marvel is one of my favorite superheroes. I’ve always been drawn to him because Billy Batson was like every fifteen-year-old boy I knew… he was like me. The only difference is Billy Batson was given the power of being the mightiest hero in the world, something every young boy hopes to be in one way or another. But, as so eloquently put in another of my favorite comic book movies; 'With great power, comes great responsibility.' After the reality of being Captain Marvel has manifested itself in his psyche, Billy is faced with a dilemma that is played out impeccably in this script. Goldman has truly captured the spirit of Billy Batson’s plight, both as Captain Marvel, and as a fifteen-year-old boy trying to figure out his place in the world. Like it’s tremendously successful predecessors Superman and Spider-Man, Goldman has stoked this script's furnace with what most comic book films lack… HEART. I FEEL this film… I SEE this film… every moment, every frame… every ounce of trepidation and frustration Billy feels, every detail of Captain Marvel’s costume, every magnificent beam of magic hour light that bathes his muscular frame with the girl in his arms as he majestically floats skyward."
However, New Line CEO Robert Shaye still saw fit to reject the script, due to the fact Black Adam was not in it (UPDATE: I have since read the Goldman script, and found it to be not up to Collora's raves).
By December 2003, the team of Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow were assigned to write the script. The draft they turned in reportedly was a parody of various superhero movies using the Shazam characters, as well as using the Billy Batson character to parody The Little Rascals, Leave It To Beaver, Home Alone, and My Bodyguard. This script was also rejected.
Some time later, Bryan Goluboff was tapped to take a turn at the script. Little is known about his draft. It may never have been competed.
In April 2006, Peter Segal was hired to direct the movie. He contacted John August to write the script. This pairing initially gave Captain Marvel fans some doubts, as Segal was known for directing Adam Sandler comedies, and Naked Gun 33 1/3, although at the time of his signing, he was developing an action-comedy remake of Get Smart. August stated he hated old stuff, referring to the Fawcett comics Captain Marvel fans hold dear. Instead he seemed intent on basing his script on current DC material, which the fans loathe. This is also in opposition to Uslan who said the film would use the Fawcett comics as source material. Worrying fans even more are the constant references to the Tom Hanks's movie Big both men made. In 2008, Warner Brothers absorbed New Line Cinema, moving the project there. It was also officially given the title Billy Batson And The Legend Of Shazam. On 5 January 2009, John August announced on his blog Warner Brothers has killed his script for various reasons, most notably it was an action-comedy, as Warners now wants all superhero movies to be like The Dark Knight (UPDATE: I have since read the August script, and found it to be less than stellar).
On 13 January 2009, Michael Uslan proclaimed through MTV the project is still alive and not to believe everything August has said. Uslan has assured fans the movie is not dead and will get made....eventually. My guess is the powers that be rejected August's script, and harboring sour grapes, he spread the word the whole project was killed. The rumors the studio wants Captain Marvel to be as dark as The Dark Knight may also be an embellishment from August.
In August 2009, Variety made the announcement Billy Batson & The Legend Of Shazam is still on....Peter Segal is still directing, with him and Michael Ewing producing....and the script will be written by: Bill Birch and Geoff Johns.
Birch is a veteran TV actor who has worked on Grey's Anatomy and The Unit. As a writer, he is working on the film One Finger Salute with director Peter Segal. I wonder if Birch will write a role for himself in the movie.
Johns is a comic book writer who is well known to Captain Marvel fans. Considering Johns' love for Black Adam, expect that character to be a major force in the movie. If Dwayne Johnson is still on board to play him, the momentum could become very similar to Jim Carrey's Riddler or Johnny Depp's Captain Jack.
I am curious to know if Dr Sivana and Beautia will be in the new script, as Warner execs demanded Sivana be deleted from John August's draft for being "too similar to Lex Luthor". In my opinion, a Captain Marvel movie without Sivana (and Beautia) just would not be right.
August's draft reported to also include Freddy Freeman, Mary Bromfield (Batson), and Mr Tawny. Will they be in the new script as well? And I certainly hope Johns and Birch will include Uncle Dudley, and who better to play him than Micky Dolenz.
Bill Birch gave an interview to CineFOOLS in November 2009 and spoke about the Captain Marvel movie.
On landing the gig:
"During that time [working on "One Finger Salute"] a great collaborative relationship was born [between Peter Segal and Bill Birch]. He asked me to give him and his producing partner, Michael Ewing, a take on Captain Marvel and that eventually led to me getting Shazam. FYI, Pete's a freakin' stud too.
Pete's been involved with Shazam since 2006 so it's been a long and winding road for him. I don't know the details of how he originally got involved but I can say he's very excited with the way this new version is shaping up. And Adam Sandler as Marvel? It would definitely be a bold casting choice. Maybe Rob Schneider as Black Adam? I can see the poster now! OK, that was a bad joke. Pete's never mentioned Sandler."
On writing the script with Geoff Johns:
"Okay, first of all let me say that Geoff Johns is also a freakin' stud. He's young, smart, creative and has this crazy encyclopedic knowledge of everything DC. He's so cool I almost hate him a little bit. Thankfully I've been able to put that hate aside and I've enjoyed every minute we've spent working together while breaking the new Marvel/Shazam story. Geoff and I are in the thick of it, creating a kickass update that still honors the lore that's been created in over 50 years of Marvel storylines.
I've read some of the previous versions [of the rejected scripts] and we're starting fresh."
On being a Captain Marvel fan:
"I have four older brothers growing up and we always had comics around the house. While Superman was probably the one we read most we did having a few Shazams around. I remember being fascinated with the idea that a kid could just say "Shazam!" and become a superhero. It's the ultimate in wish fulfillment and obviously that will be a theme in the script. I was also a religious watcher of the 70's TV show. You couldn't beat Shazam! followed by Isis could you? They just don't make TV like that anymore. (Actually after watching some Shazam! clips on You Tube I'm glad they don't. It's pretty bad but as a kid I remember it being awesome.)"
On the tone of the script and casting:
"The way the story is shaking out, Geoff and I see this not as "dark" as Dark Knight but definitely as cool. It'll probably end up with a PG-13 rating.
Tonally I think it's important to successfully find the balance of comedy and danger in the story. That’s a major aspect I’m focusing on. Frankly hitting the right tone is what’s going to either get this made or keep it in development hell.
My rule of thumb is that no actor is committed to do a movie until the first day of shooting is over with. (And sometimes even then the cast can still change) I know that Pete Segal and Dwayne Johnson have a relationship that was solidified when Pete directed Get Smart. As far as him being committed? I'm sure it'll all depend on the script. That being the case I don't write with anyone in mind. If the characters are solid it will attract good talent and then there will always be a rewrite to address the talent's concerns. Usually at that point in the process is when you start writing for that specific actor. More than likely the role of Billy Batson will be an unknown, but the role of Capt Marvel? I always thought Ryan Reynolds would have been interesting but now that he’s Green Lantern that’s not an option. Honestly I don’t think too much about it since I have very little say in the casting decisions."
Nothing more was heard after that, but in January 2010, it was reported Columbia/Sony has removed Sam Raimi from Spider-Man 4, and will instead reboot the series with a new cast and crew.
Personally, I think this is bad for the Spider-Man film series, but the bright spot in all of this, is Sam Raimi is free to pursue other projects. I hope one of them is the SHAZAM! movie.
Spider-Man 2, in my opinion, had the perfect balance of action-adventure, drama-pathos, fun, and humor, that would be ideal for a film of the World's Mightiest Mortal. I think Raimi would be the perfect director for a SHAZAM movie, and let's face it....current director Pete Segal is in a little over his head with this property. He's been on it for 4 years and still isn't even close to having a filmable script. And Raimi...he must be fond of the Big Red Cheese, because he put references in all three Spidey movies (Peter/Spidey yells "Shazam" in 1 and 3, and in 2, Raimi used "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" on the soundtrack, a song from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, which was written by William Goldman, who was at that time, writing the SHAZAM script). It's like Raimi was subliminally screaming "I wanna direct SHAZAM!"
Then, in August 2010, according to this LA Times article, there are discussions to cancel the long in development SHAZAM feature film, and instead do a prime time network TV series focused on Captain Marvel.
The article says it is too early to say definitely where a Shazam franchise is headed, but it does mention talk about adding an Achilles' heel to Captain Marvel: that he can only be powered up for about an hour at a time. Remember the old "Ultra-Man" TV show, how if his warning light went out, "Ultra-Man would never rise again"? Kind of like that.
I really want to see a major motion picture, filmed in IMAX of the Big Red Cheese, but I could also see the advantage of going with an episodic television series instead. The obvious advantage is the actor playing Billy Batson (as well as the other kids, like Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman) will not seem to age as fast doing a TV series, versus movies that may have gaps of a year or two between filming.
In my opinion, the best concept would be to revive the old cliffhanger serial format using the 1941 Captain Marvel serial as a blueprint. There's around 20 episodes in a TV season, so each season of the Shazam TV series would be, in effect, a 20 chapter cliffhanger serial, complete with cliffhanger endings on each episode with the next episode resolving them. Unlike the serials of the 1940's, the TV scripts would have more layers, and be more complex, and there would be much more character development. Of course, more characters from the comics would be used as well. The serial format would dictate the show be much bigger and action packed than the typical action-adventure show, and it would be open for many plot twists and swerves that more conventional shows don't have.
I'm sure a new Shazam TV series would probably be the most expensive TV series ever due to special effects, if it is done correctly, at least. And I would hope they give the show its own unique look, based upon the comics produced by Otto Binder and C.C Beck.
And in November 2010, a new video interview of executive producer Mike Uslan was posted on Newsarama, and he briefly talks about the Shazam movie, negating the earlier report that discussions had begun to do a TV series instead. He says there is "progress... progress. And we have wonderful, wonderful people working on this film, Pete Segal our director and Michael Ewing our producer, the folks at Warners, the folks at DC, everybody is just been great, and bit by bit we want to get it right and progress has been made."
Uslan added "I knew the guys behind it, I knew C.C. Beck, and communicated with him starting when I was in 7th grade, an ongoing correspondence. Otto Binder who was the main writer of Captain Marvel in the 40s kind of mentored me as a kid into the world of comic books and the comic book business...I do feel a sense of responsibility to these guys who I knew so well and were so kind to me."
Apparently unknown to Uslan, a contradicting report from IGN has been released saying "the long-gestating comic book adaptation Shazam! is said to be pretty much dead at the moment."
These guys really need to meet up and get their stories straight.
UPDATE: On December 23, 2013, Peter Segal, in an interview, implied the Shazam movie was officially a dead project.