With the worldwide theatrical release of The Flash finally here, the DC universe (or DCEU) that started with 2013’s Man of Steel is coming to an end. For the last months, Warner Bros. has made sure that all trailers and promotion for The Flash have been impossible to outrun. While the movie may seem innocuous enough, playing into the nostalgia of those who both grew up with Michael Keaton’s classic portrayal of Batman and the more recent Man of Steel (which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year), it’s kind of surreal to see The Flash in a position to actually be released. The timeline of how long DC has been trying to get this specific Flash movie made is notorious, but believe it or not, a film based on the character has been in and out of development for decades.
In the time since Ezra Miller was cast as Barry Allen along with the announcement of a solo film, three entire phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have come and gone, the rise of streaming services saw the industry fundamentally change its approach to franchise-building, and, over on the CW, The Flash television series wrapped up its nine-season run, closing out the separately-functioning DCTV universe that had started with Arrow in 2012. With Warner Bros. and a bizarre cast of celebrity endorsers, from famed actor Tom Cruise to legendary author Stephen King, making assurances that 2023’s The Flash is an all-timer in the making, let’s look back at the many Flashes that wouldn’t be and the timeline of how we exactly got to Andy Muschietti’s 2023 movie.
The Flash Movie Production Timeline
The production timeline for a Flash movie can be traced back as far as the 1980s, with Jeph Loeb, who had not yet started his soon-to-be iconic comic career, penning the screenplay. While this adaptation wouldn’t go anywhere, the script did lead to Loeb being asked to write for DC Comics. There wasn’t much movement in the production of the film, but over on the small screen, the John Wesley Shipp-starring television show – simply titled The Flash – premiered in September of 1990, running for a single season. Additionally, CBS would try to get Flash in two different series; Kenny Johnston portrayed Barry Allen in the failed Justice League of America pilot in 1997 and an unproduced TV pilot titled Unlimited Power would have seen Barry exiting suspended animation to find a superhero-less dystopia, teaming up with Green Arrow’s daughter to try to bring back the heroes.
The early 2000s saw a resurgence of the superhero genre following such hits as X-Men, Spider-Man, and Blade, and Warner Bros. wanted The Flash to join the roster. David S. Goyer’s work on Batman Begins was enough of a hit that he was brought on to write a script for the character in 2004. The film would focus on Wally West stepping up as the Flash and facing off against Zoom and The Turtle following the death of Barry Allen. Goyer wanted to focus on a story of legacy as he believed that was an angle that had previously remained unexplored in the genre’s adaptations, taking inspiration from The Flash runs by Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, and Mike Baron. Ryan Reynolds was said to be in talks to join the project as Wally West.
The same year that Goyer was brought on for the script, a Flash appeared on CW’s Superman series, Smallville, played by Kyle Gallner. This version was an adaptation of Barry’s grandson, Bart Allen, and used the codename Impulse, which Bart had used in the comics prior to becoming the Flash and has gone back to using since. He also used the civilian names of the other three Flashes as aliases. Bart made four appearances on Smallville, including a team-up episode where he was able to join the show’s version of a proto-Justice-League.
A year prior, it was reported that the WB TV network was planning a Flash pilot from Resistance director Tod Komarnicki. The series was intended to follow in Smallville’s footsteps (and would similarly feature no costumes) and would star a man living in Gotham who, following his graduation from college, discovers he has superpowers. The show would focus heavily on his ability to travel in time, and would use it to “right wrongs, save lives, and kick ass”. The series planned to feature a legacy of previous Flashes and a mentor character too. This project never saw fruition.
February 2007 saw David Goyer part ways with The Flash, stating that he and the studio couldn’t come to an agreement on the direction of the movie. Future Ryan Reynolds collaborator Shawn Levy was then brought on to direct with a lighter tone in mind. Writer Chris Brancato was set to pen the script, with elements of Goyer’s version intended to carry over. Levy would drop out in October of the same year to direct Night at the Museum 2. Additionally, that same year would see movement on the now-infamous Justice League Mortal and the casting of Adam Brody as Barry Allen in December, with Zoe Kazan and Anton Yelchin later joining the project as Iris and Wally West. Justice League Mortal was intended to launch a DC Universe and would have led to several spinoffs, though Brody’s Barry was set to die by the end of that film.
Director David Dobkin was brought on board in October of 2007 with Craig Wright set to work on a new screenplay in November of the same year. Dobkin stated that the film would focus on Wally West and pick up from Justice League Mortal, yet later reports stated it was actually a standalone story. The film’s production was delayed due to the 2007 WGA strike. In 2009, Warner Brothers brought on Charles Roven as a producer with The Flash comic writer Geoff Johns acting as a consultant and developing a treatment of the film that would be turned into a screenplay by Dan Mazeau.
June 2010 saw Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, and Marc Guggenheim – fresh off writing the soon-to-be-panned Green Lantern film – all hired to write a new take on The Flash. This version was going to focus on Barry Allen once again and would see him face off against Captain Cold and his employer, revealed to be Zoom. The post-credits scene was said to feature Green Lantern as well, presumably intended to be Ryan Reynolds’ version. September 2013 brought the casting of Grant Gustin as the TV version of Barry Allen on CW’s second season of Arrow, his solo spinoff, again plainly titled The Flash, would premiere the following year.
Dawn of the Snyderverse
In July 2013, the first plans for the DC Universe intended to be launched by Man of Steel were reported, with The Flash tentatively set for 2016 ahead of Justice League. October of the next year saw the first official announcement of a DC Universe slate, featuring The Flash in a March 2018 spot. This was when Ezra Miller’s casting as Barry Allen was first revealed, only one day after the second episode of CW’s The Flash premiered no less. At some point, James Wan was offered a choice between directing Aquaman or The Flash, opting for the former.
By April 2015, 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller were working on a treatment for The Flash and being eyed to direct as well. They turned down the studio to instead direct Solo: A Star Wars Story, which they were infamously fired from by Lucasfilm deep into production. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter author Seth Grahame-Smith was next in talks to direct the film as his feature directorial debut and write a script based on the duo’s treatment later that year.
Though his script was retained, Grahame-Smith dropped out in April of 2016, a month after Ezra made their debut as The Flash in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, appearing both as a time-traveling Barry Allen from the future and as a cameo in security footage. In August of that same year, Ezra also cameoed as The Flash in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, stopping Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) from robbing a bank. This was the first look at Barry in the Justice League costume that he wears for most of the rest of his appearances and would be the only time that Miller’s Barry has faced off against a classic Flash rogue.
2016: Rick Famuyiwa Begins Casting
In June 2016, Rick Famuyiwa (Dope, The Mandalorian) had a vision for The Flash that was seen as both appealing to younger audiences and working well with Grahame-Smith’s script, so he was brought on as director. A month later, Kiersey Clemons was cast as Iris West and a month after that, it was reported that Ray Fisher’s Cyborg was set to appear in the film. By that September, Famuyiwa’s script had been completed, with Billy Crudup in negotiations to star as Henry Allen and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman intended to appear. However, Famuyiwa left the project a month later, with reports saying that he had wanted to go in a more mature direction and the studio had disagreed.
January 2017 saw Joby Harold, writer of that year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword join the project to rework the script. It was completed by May, at which point Matthew Vaughn and Robert Zemeckis were being eyed to possibly direct. Sam Raimi, Marc Webb, Ben Affleck, and Jordan Peele had all reportedly turned down directing offers from Warner Bros. In July, the film was retitled to Flashpoint, referencing the Geoff Johns comic that was used to reboot the DC Comics Universe in 2011.
Dan Mazeau, who had previously been attached to the project alongside Johns in 2009, was set to write the script again for this version of the movie. Though Jeffrey Dean Morgan had already portrayed Thomas Wayne in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and would later express interest in putting on the cowl, he was never formally brought onto the project, nor was Thomas Wayne’s Batman, a huge part of the Flashpoint event, ever confirmed to appear. Barry would play a pivotal part in the theatrical cut of Justice League that released in November of 2017, and would end the film in the position for a solo outing. Barry’s father appeared for a scene, marking the only time Billy Crudup would portray Henry Allen.
2018: The Revolving Door of Directors Continues
In January 2018, Game Night and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein were in talks to direct The Flash, replacing Zemeckis as the primary consideration for the position. They were announced to be attached in March, and the film was re-retitled back to The Flash in April with filming intended to start in February of the next year.
In March 2019, it was reported that, in light of their contract approaching an end, Ezra Miller would be presenting a new script for The Flash to Warner Brothers, with their contract potentially not being renewed if the studio wasn’t interested in the script. Miller developed the script with comics icon Grant Morrison, who later mentioned that they had been given two weeks to write it. Morrison’s version focused more on science-fiction but didn’t work for the studio as a more multiverse-focused approach that could feature other DC characters was preferred.
This draft of the script was rejected in May, though Ezra Miller was still kept on the project. Daley and Goldstein left in July, with Birds of Prey writer Christina Dodson, coming off critical acclaim for her screenwriting work, then brought on to write a screenplay. Mama and It director Andy Muschetti now entered negotiations to direct The Flash, with producing partner and sister Barbara Muschietti joining the project as well. Pre-production was set to begin in January 2020. Muschietti was announced in September and the film had an intended release for July 2022.
2020: Andy Muschietti Begins to Explore the Multiverse
In January 2020, Ezra’s Flash appeared on a crossover episode of CW’s Arrow for its Crisis on Infinite Earths event, meeting Grant Gustin’s Flash in the Multiverse. During this meeting, Grant’s Barry references being the Flash, which Ezra’s version seems to not have heard of. This implies that the Barry seen in the films got his superhero name from the CW version. Ezra’s Barry also comments on Grant’s costume during the scene, stating that it looks “comfy and smooth,” meaning that it may be the reason why Muschietti’s The Flash sees Barry out of his armor and into a more classic superhero suit.
Michael Keaton entered negotiations to return as Bruce Wayne after nearly three decades in June 2020. This was confirmed in August of that year, and September would see DC launch their first FanDome event, where The Flash was stated to be restarting DC’s film continuity, with Michael Keaton intended to replace Ben Affleck as the core universe’s Batman. He was meant to appear in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and Batgirl, however, his scene in the former has since been cut and the latter has been scrapped entirely as one of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s efforts to get tax write-offs. On top of this, there was reportedly a Batman Beyond film that would have starred Keaton and been written by Christina Dodson, though that has apparently been canceled.
Ezra Miller shot an additional few minutes of footage as The Flash in 2020 for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, though they were filming Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore at the time and traveling was restricted due to the pandemic. Because of this, Snyder sent over drawings as instructions and the crew of Fantastic Beasts shot the scenes with Snyder assisting over video chat. Kiersey Clemons, who had shot scenes for the theatrical cut of Justice League but ultimately been cut out, had her footage restored for the new cut that was soon released on HBO Max.
2021: Filming Begins
In October 2020, Billy Crudup entered negotiations to return to the project and the release date was pushed back to November 2022. In January 2021, Ray Fisher stated that he was only being offered payment as a cameo appearance as Cyborg despite being set to have a larger role, confirming that the studio had removed him from the cast, allegedly because he had spoken out against former DC Films president Walter Hamada.
A month later, pre-production began, Billy Crudup was officially cast, and Sasha Calle was announced to have been chosen as Supergirl out of over 400 actresses that had auditioned over Zoom. In March, Kiersey Clemons signed a deal to return as Iris West, Maribel Verdu was cast as Nora Allen, and Crudup was forced to drop out due to scheduling issues, eventually being replaced by Ron Livingston. In December of that year, Michael Shannon was announced to be returning as General Zod.
2022: Controversies & James Gunn Cleans Up House
Ezra appeared as the Flash for a cameo during the finale of Peacemaker in a scene that had been filmed on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Following impacts by the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of very publicly-covered allegations against and crimes committed by Ezra Miller, Warner Bros. was said to be considering how to proceed in August of 2022. Despite that, Henry Cavill returned as Superman to film a cameo for the film in September. James Gunn and Peter Safran were announced to be overseeing the newly rebranded DC Studios, with a brand new direction for the universe.
It was publicly reported that Cavill and Jason Momoa would be in The Flash in December, yet the studio was still unsure of their future in the roles. It was later announced that both the Henry Cavill Superman and Gal Gadot Wonder Woman appearances had been cut out of the film in light of their upcoming solo films being canceled. It was also revealed that Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Marlon Brando’s Jor-El, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, Cesar Romero’s Joker, and Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen had been other cameos that had been considered but didn’t make the final cut.
After a long and ironically slow road, The Flash movie production timeline is just about to arrive at the finish line. With the film intended to act as a fresh reboot for the DC universe, it’s not clear when or if a sequel will hit theaters, despite a script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick already having been written. It’s more than likely that the film will close the book on the DCEU and its incarnation of the characters (besides Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, who still has an upcoming sequel). However, as has been the case with the Flash on film since the 80s, we’re just going to have to wait and see.