Monday, April 30, 2012

Why No Justice League Movie?

Looking at the grand scheme of things, DC Comics has had just as much, if not more, success with film adaptations than Marvel Comics has, and yet beyond Batman and Superman and the atrocious Green Lantern movie, DC hasn't done much with their superhero properties on film.  With Marvel's The Avengers hitting the big screen this week, I ask the big question:  What would it take for DC to get a Justice League film made?

The Justice League has been in existence far longer than the Avengers.  The Justice League premiered in 1960, for the first time ever bringing together superheroes into one big team to fight evil once a month:  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash, and Martian Manhunter.  The success of the comic was so huge that Marvel asked Stan Lee to design a team of heroes to compete with the Justice League in monthly sales, thus began the Marvel Age with the creation of the Fantastic Four.  However, Stan "The Man" did not create the Avengers until 1963, two years after the Fantastic Four was introduced.

Fast forward to modern day, Marvel is releasing a movie based on The Avengers this Friday, and DC has no Justice League movie anywhere in sight.  At one time, DC was leading the charge, and now they have dropped the ball.  Why has Marvel been able to make The Avengers a reality?

I really feel the primary reason DC has fallen behind Marvel is because Warner Bros. (who owns DC Comics) has only in the past few years, even tried to get movies made on any hero that wasn't Batman or Superman.  If you look at the history of films based on DC Comics, save for the occasional oddball, like Steel or Catwoman, Batman and Superman have been it for DC on film.  There have been 9 Batman movies to get theatrical release, counting this Summer's The Dark Knight Rises, and there have been 7 Superman movies to get theatrical release, counting next year's The Man of Steel.  Great numbers for only two characters, and yet over the past decade, almost every major Marvel hero, from Spider-Man to Thor to Captain America, has had at least one movie grace the silver screen.  This is the main reason why The Avengers is a reality, they have made more movies off of their other big screen heroes, but there's still more to this story.

You could argue that last year's Green Lantern was DC's attempt to do what Marvel did, starting with Iron Man, and start trying to build a DC Universe onscreen that would lead to a Justice League movie, but it didn't work.  Here is why Green Lantern did not work, and it's why many Marvel characters like the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and even the Hulk, have been trapped in movie limbo.  It's because the studio churned out a mindless blockbuster with no real character behind it.  The fact of the matter is, you can say these movies are just for entertainment, and yet the superheroes movies that were overtly cartoonish without any real, humanistic character development and believable dramatic stakes, have all been panned by critics and audiences alike.

Look at what Marvel did with Iron Man.  They made a movie that, while still science fiction, was driven by a character whose motivations were spurred by real human emotional responses to these fantastical situations.  They asked the question, what if this happened in real life?  How would this character of Tony Stark respond emotionally?  By doing this, Marvel produced a movie that, while was still impossible science fiction, felt human and real.  The thing is, they didn't try to go the complete opposite of fantasy and try to find a realistic way to explain every piece of science Tony Stark used, but rather they used the character of Tony Stark and represented him as an emotional human being in implausible circumstances, and audiences believed that it was real in effect, without losing the sci-fi edge.  Green Lantern had none of this, nor did the Fantastic Four movies, and so may others, like Daredevil.  They just plodded along, trying to sell toys rather than finding the things about these characters that have made them relatable for decades of comic book readers.

Since Iron Man, Marvel has used the same model to make films based off of the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, and have succeeded.  Audiences bought it, better than they bought Green Lantern because DC did not try to find the human elements within the fantastical.  That is why the original Superman:  The Movie worked, and it's why Batman Begins and The Dark Knight worked, DC had found the human elements beneath those characters, so it's not like they can't do it, it's more of they're in a knee-jerk reaction phase in regards to Marvel.

After Iron Man hit theaters and there was the whole idea of The Avengers coming to the big screen, while it seemed like a longshot, DC tried to rush in production a Justice League movie that ultimately fell apart due to backlash from fans thanks to leaked production details that showed signs of a large flop on WB's hands.  To be honest, I am glad that failed Justice League film never went before the camera, because it would have been a train wreck from all I've heard about the script, however this explains DC's biggest problem as to why there is no Justice League movie.

Marvel has taken their time to develop The Avengers.  They have hired filmmakers with immense passions for the source material to transform these wonderful characters into cinematic icons, and they have succeeded because they did not rush any of these characters to the screen.  They took their time to find the right way to do Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, and The Avengers is simply the next logical move for them.  Why DC is struggling is because they haven't taken the time to develop their heroes.

I mean, Green Lantern was rushed through the production cycle with a cast and crew that was simply in it for a paycheck.  They didn't hire a filmmaker who was a passionate Green Lantern fan, and had a unique vision for the character, and that is why it struck out.  This is why none of the originality from the Green Lantern comic books bled over into the film adaptation, because it was being made not as a faithful adaptation, but as a popcorn movie and nothing else.  Yes, Iron Man is a popcorn movie, but the character of Tony Stark is a deep, three-dimensional character true to his comic book counterpart.  You'd be hard-pressed to find even two dimensions in Ryan Reynold's performance as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern, and it is not Reynolds' fault either, but it's a combination of poor script, poor direction, and poor miscasting.  Reynolds was never right for Hal Jordan, he'd of made a good Flash, but not a good Green Lantern, and it showed.  Of course, the other argument people have is that DC's characters just aren't relatable to modern audiences like Marvel's are, and I say that is just a load of crap.

Compare and contrast Thor and Wonder Woman, both are mythical heroes fighting against Gods and characters from mythology.  If a Thor movie can work, so could a Wonder Woman movie.  You could even compare a Thor movie to a potential Aquaman movie.  And to say in a world where audiences adore alien material like Star Wars and Transformers, you can't tell me that the tale of an intergalactic police officer, like Green Lantern, is not viable in today's market place.  He just wasn't done right.   So the argument that DC is no longer relevant, is just a bunch of ignorance, and is a misunderstanding of the DC heroes.

Currently, every superhero property other than Batman and Superman seems to be dead at WB/DC.  In a time where Marvel's second and third string heroes are starting to make their way to the screen, DC is still struggling to get their first string off of the ground.  Green Lantern writer, Greg Berlanti, was hired to try and crack the code on The Flash, but does anyone think WB is gonna continue with his script after the failure of Green Lantern?  As for Wonder Woman, a TV pilot was made for last season, word was it was atrocious, and if The Avengers is successful, we can bet WB will be kicking themselves for never allowing writer/director Joss Whedon to make his Wonder Woman movie.  However, the court is not out on the Justice League anytime in the near future.

 If next year's Superman flick, The Man of Steel, finds success with critics and the box office, then that could be the springboard for DC like Iron Man was for Marvel.  Perhaps DC should call Joss Whedon and let him do Wonder Woman, and why not actually take the time to do these heroes right rather than trying to make a movie that will sell toys.  Just saying, but there's a reason Marvel has had more success than DC, and that is why.

Regardless, Marvel beat the Justice League to the party, so rather than trying to compete with The Avengers, DC should just do their own thing.  They're gonna be called copycats of Marvel at this point, no matter what they do, so just take the time to develop each individual hero, do them right, and don't pull the plug before they go before the camera, something that WB is notorious for doing with DC Comics' based films.  Rather than pulling the plug on someone like Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams, which believe it or not they did on both counts over the past decade, let talented filmmakers play and create.  It's what they're paid to do, and if you let someone passionate like Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer, or Sam Raimi have the reins of a hero that they love, you will see the results.  Then, once this is done, DC can do a Justice League movie, but no need to rush it simply for the sake of competing with The Avengers.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Movie Review: "Bernie"

Bernie tells the unbelievable true story of an effeminate Texas mortician named Bernie Tiede, portrayed by Jack Black.  What's so brilliant about the film is that it's shot like a documentary, yet it's entirely scripted, lending the film both a realistic authenticity, but stylistic flourishes not found in typical docs.

Bernie was the nicest guy on Earth, everyone loved him.  He produced the local community theater, led worship at the church, and was friend to all, including the meanest old lady in town, Marjorie, played to over-the-top perfection by Shirley MacLaine.  However, soon Bernie learned all about Marjorie and she began to wear on his nerves, and in a momentary lapse he shoots her in the back.  I should say, this film is a comedy, albeit a black comedy in the vein of the Coen Brothers' films, but a comedy all the same.  Even in the scene when Bernie shoots Marjorie, I found myself laughing out loud thanks to the performance of Jack Black and his reaction upon realizing what he's done.

As Bernie Tiede, Jack Black is very dialed down.  Sure, he has a funny effeminate accent, but when you hear the real Bernie speak in interviews from real-life, you realize how spot on Jack Black was.  The thing is, Jack Black uses all of his considerable talents in this one film.  He proves that he is a good singer, and not just adept at doing his heavy metal thing with Tenacious D.  Jack Black surprisingly sings hymns and Broadway showtunes real well, showing vocal range, but he also shows range in his acting chops.  He plays everything seriously and just lets the absurdity of the situations be what makes it all funny rather than him hamming it up.  This is a very contained performance that shows genuine maturation in Black as an actor, not as a comedian, and makes me intrigued to see what else he can do.

I just love Bernie.  It's one of the funniest movies I've seen in a long, long time.  It's politically incorrect, and that's what makes it all the funnier.  Huge kudos to director Richard Linklater for another superb experience.

I give Bernie an A+

The Most Seminal Superhero Films of All-Time

With The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises hitting theaters this Summer, I figured it'd be fun to take a look back at what I feel were the most seminal superhero films of all-time, in essence, the superhero movies that changed the game.  As a fan of comic books, a filmmaker, and a die hard film fan, there is always going to be that push from me to try and get people to take superhero films as seriously as they take an Oscar winning drama like The Artist.  Alas, most do not, but I will continue to be an advocate for superhero films, which is why I think examining the films that have made the largest strides in making superhero films not just viable entertainment, but worthwhile drama as well, is so important.  Now in my personal opinion, there have only been five superhero films that can be labeled as gamechangers of the genre and those five are...You didn't really think I was gonna give it away, did you?  First, we've gotta understand where the public opinion of superhero films not being worthy of dramatic notice, came from.

In so many ways, the comic book companies have themselves to blame.  The early superhero comics through the '40s, '50s, and '60s, were for the most part infantile in story and character, with very little drama, and were very campy.  Therefore, Hollywood reflected that in their own superhero productions.  The early Batman and Superman movie serials in the '40s were campy and targeted towards kids, they didn't feature the complicated, dramatic storylines of the normal films the studios were producing at that time.  Then, TV made it worse in the '50s and '60s, with the Saturday morning cartoons and the TV shows of these superheroes that were more making fun of these heroes than representing them as great, complex characters.  Of course, the biggest blow came in the late '60s when Batman came out, the Adam West film spawned from the TV series, and suffice to say, that put the nail in the coffin for superheroes on film till 10 years later, when the first of the five seminal superhero films hit theaters in 1978.

Superman:  The Movie is a seminal superhero film, because it was the first ever superhero film to treat the source material with the respect that it deserved, and managed to appeal not just to children, but to adults as well.  What director Richard Donner and actor Christopher Reeve did with this film, was they treated the character of Superman as an emotionally conflicted man who happened to be from outer space.  They didn't make jokes at the character's expense like Adam West did, but if they made jokes it was simply because the characters were funny (i.e. all of the great banter between Lois and Clark or the arguing between Lex and Otis).  As well, they made it dramatic.  They weren't doing little wink-winks to the camera when the nukes were launched in the climax of the film, they took it seriously.  They presented it as drama.  When Lois Lane dies at the end of the film and Superman cries over her lifeless body, that is something you would have never seen George Reeves or Adam West ever do.  With this greater attention to drama and human emotion, Superman:  The Movie is the first seminal superhero film, because it bridged the gap between kids' entertainment and adult entertainment, however it was still viewed as just that, entertainment.

Moving on to 1989 and the second of the seminal superhero films, Tim Burton's Batman.  Batman was a seminal superhero film, because if Superman:  The Movie proved there were adults willing to take superheroes seriously on the big screen, then Batman reaped all of the benefits.  In so many ways, Batman was not a movie made for children, it was dark and very adult from the very first frames of the film showing prostitutes and gangsters walking the streets of Gotham.  The film was taken serious from the very beginning, a large part thanks to the appearance of critically successful actor Jack Nicholson as the Joker.  However, even though the film picked up the ball where Superman left it, Batman did not go beyond being pure entertainment, that still took many more years.

The third of the seminal superhero films would have to be 2002's Spider-Man, as directed by Sam Raimi.  Why Spider-Man and not some other superhero flick from the early 2000s?  Well, quite simply, Spider-Man led this current wave of superhero cinema that has done so well over the past decade.  Like Batman and Superman:  The Movie it was mostly seen as an entertainment, albeit a great emotion-filled thrill ride, however Spider-Man came into its own by redefining the tropes of the superhero genre.  Before Spider-Man there had always been the pre-requisite villain and love interest, which Spider-Man had, but Spider-Man redefined the genre by presenting the most in depth origin story for any superhero put to screen till that point.  Now, almost every superhero origin story follows the same plot points as Spider-Man or another seminal film that I will mention in a short little while, but Spider-Man was one of the first superhero films to really explore who the character was underneath the mask and let that shape the character kicking butt and taking names, in so doing it made the origin story more in depth.  The origin of Spider-Man focused more so on Peter Parker and the affects that these new super powers had on him and his family, rather than focusing on the science fiction aspects or on the hero himself, like Superman:  The Movie did with portraying Superman as the real character and not Clark Kent, or even Batman where Batman is a more dominating force in Michael Keaton's performance than Bruce Wayne.

The fourth most seminal superhero film would have to be another Batman flick, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, released in 2005.  In so many ways, Batman Begins is not only one of the most seminal superhero movies of all-time, it also just happens to be one of the more seminal blockbusters of the past decade as well.  What Batman Begins did was it was the first real superhero film that I can remember to ever get serious consideration from many pundits to be up for an Academy Award.  Batman Begins was a gripping drama first, and an action epic second.  In some ways, Batman Begins was one of the first superhero films to cross over from being pure entertainment to being critically successful to the point that it wound up on many critics' best films of the year lists.  That is a rare feat, that many superhero movies before had not achieved.  While some other superhero flicks, like X-2 and Spider-Man 2 were equally loved by critics and were great at the drama first, action second mantra, where Batman Begins earns a spot and not those other films, is that it also revolutionized the way so many blockbusters were made after the fact.  Batman Begins was a big budget action film that utilized a non-linear narrative, that was as focused on flashbacks as it was on the present day story.  Before Batman Begins, blockbusters had the occasional flashback, but none before it had ever really been 1/3 flashback.  The focus on disrupting the traditional flow of the three-act structure separated Batman Begins from not just any other superhero film, but it also separated it from other blockbusters, as well, making people take notice to what Christopher Nolan was doing, and now there's a glut of non-linear blockbusters every year.

The fifth and final most seminal superhero film of all-time would have to be the big elephant in the room, The Dark Knight.  Not only is it the most financially successful superhero film of all-time, but it just so happens to be one of the most critically appreciated, so much so that when it was not nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, the following year the Academy Awards expanded the field from 5 to 10 nominees to accomodate more blockbusters that are deserving of being nominated for Best Picture.  How many times since The Dark Knight have I read or heard a director saying they wanted to make their blockbuster film, "Dark and realistic, like The Dark Knight?"  Too many to count.  The Dark Knight has had a profound impact on film, because of Christopher Nolan's unique vision as a director.  What made The Dark Knight so groundbreaking was he took everything dead seriously.  He portrayed it as if it was all happening in our real world, and that sense of realism has bled into every blockbuster since, whether I felt it was needed or not, but that's a different post for a different time.  What I do know is the effects of all five of these films are still being felt to this day, and they will continue to influence superhero films for many more years to come.

Now, you may be thinking there are an awful lot of Batman films and not many Marvel movies up here, but when Spider-Man or Iron Man have made as many films as Batman has, they can call and set up an appointment.  Of course, I personally foresee this list only getting larger as more and more talented filmmakers start to realize that superhero films can also be just really great films in general, and not just kids' movies.  This Summer may hold two new additions to this list.  If The Avengers fulfills the promise that Marvel has been dangling in front of us since the first Iron Man film of seeing the first multi-movie superhero crossover, bringing together heroes from four separate superhero films into one, then there is no way it wont make this list.  As for The Dark Knight Rises, I don't wanna jump to any conclusions, but if both of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies have already made the cut, perhaps this one will be up to snuff?  I hope all superhero films are good, but only a few have been genuinely special, so here is hoping that The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises fulfill all of their promises.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Movie Review: "Lockout"

Lockout is a perfectly harmless sci-fi actioner that features stock character stereotypes of '90s action movies, just this time set in space.  In the future, convicts are cryogenically frozen and stored in a prison orbiting the Earth, but when all of the cons wake up, while the President's daughter is on board (because the story needs a damsel), her only hope is a wrongly convicted man with a John McClane-like quip around every corner, played by Guy Pearce.  Okay, so it's not original, nor is it very deep, but I had fun watching this movie.  Guy Pearce seems to be having a blast here, doing his best Bruce Willis impression, not to mention, some of the action sequences are pretty cool, in particular a zero gravity fight between Pearce and a baddie.  If you like '90s action movies, this movie may do something for you, but don't expect the next Die Hard, because a classic it is not.  The script is cliched, filled with characters and situations you've seen a hundred times over by now, and for a movie made nowadays, the CGI has to be better than what we're presented here.

I give Lockout a D

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What if Tim Burton's "Superman Lives" had been made?

Actual Teaser Poster
What would the world be like had director Tim Burton actually gotten to direct the film Superman Lives?  Believe it or not, this was at one time a real possibility, in fact it was nearly a reality.

In the mid-90s, Warner Bros. saw the success of their Batman franchise and wanted to revive Superman for a modern audience, so they hired filmmaker Kevin Smith of Clerks fame to write the film that came to be known as Superman Lives.  The idea of the film was not very much different than what it seems that Zack Snyder is actually doing with The Man of Steel, hitting theaters in 2013.  The idea was to make a contemporary Superman, because somehow the character of Superman had lost touch with the cynical society of the 1990s, so their goal was to make an edgier, more grounded Superman tale that was loosely based on the "Death of Superman" storyline from the early '90s.   (Don't believe how close it came to reality, the poster on the upper right that was in movie theaters Summer of 1997 teasing the movie to come out the following year).

Nic Cage's costume fitting for the film
So WB, after having so much success with Burton on the first two Batman movies, they thought why not give him a crack at Superman and work that magic again on a different, albeit radically different character (can I stress that enough).  The movie went into production and nearly actually started filming, with some sets and costumes already designed and being made when Warner finally pulled the plug.  It was rumored that when WB finally pulled the plug, they had already spent close to $50 million on the film, and those skyrocketing costs are often attributed by most fans as to why the movie never got to go under the camera.  To make matters worse, Nicholas Cage had already been paid to play Clark Kent/Superman in the film and had already been fitted for the costume (as seen to the left).  Yes, you did not read that wrong.  Nicholas Cage as Superman.

Cage in Chris Reeves' costume
This was Tim Burton's choice to play the Man of Steel.  Much like the backlash he got when he cast comedic Michael Keaton as Batman, he got similar backlash and still does to this day for that casting choice.  In all honesty, there is no way of telling whether or not the casting of Cage was a bad idea, because no one actually saw his performance.  There was much trepidation before Keaton played Batman, and he wound up knocking it out of the park.  The same could have held true for Cage.

While I am not a big fan of Nicholas Cage, I have to be honest and say that in some weird sort of second Earth, I can picture Cage as Superman, and especially as Clark Kent.  The bumbling everyman he played in National Treasure very well might have been how he would have played a more dialed down and realistic Clark Kent, and who is to say that Cage couldn't have pulled off Superman.  Imagine that same role with a little more confidence and the same morals and you'd have a really nice, likable hero who isn't as goodie-good as Christopher Reeves was, but not as dark as Christian Bale's Batman, a perfect balance for a slightly less sentimental take on the character.

Cox from the '90s
Other casting for the film saw mid-90s Courtney Cox cast as Lois Lane, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.  These two bits of casting were, and still are in my opinion, perfect casting for that moment in time.  This was at the time when Friends was at its most popular, and the look that Cox had at that time, and the way she played the character of Monica on Friends as a very business-like, slightly neurotic woman, makes me really sad that I never got to see her as Lois Lane.  Similarly, while we eventually got to see Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor in Superman Returns (more on that one later) I keep on thinking about what it would be like to see L.A. Confidential aged Spacey as Luthor and once again I miss what could have been.  Even still, none of this answers the biggest question marks of the dead Superman Lives:  Tim Burton's direction and Kevin Smith's writing.

Spacey as Luthor
Tim Burton is a filmmaker known for the macabre.  His films tend to either be dark and twisted or so quirky that they're funny, neither of which screams Superman.  However, at this point in Burton's career, he seemed to be interested in making more straight forward blockbusters, with him getting to make a remake of Planet of the Apes only a few years later in 2001.  While that movie pales in comparison to the original, in the overall scheme of Burton's work as a director, it is the most normal film he's ever directed because his great eye for artistic detail and illustration, allowed him to create a living breathing future Earth ruled by apes that was believable and staggering without any of the excesses that come when he does quirky stories like Edward Scissorhands.  Imagine the design Burton could have conjured for Krypton, the home planet of Superman?  Or how he'd have designed Superman's Fortress of Solitude?  While thematically Burton has never dealt with themes that make me believe he'd be right for the job, his visual eye as a filmmaker could have at least produced a movie that was cool to look at.  Of course, what about Kevin Smith?

Concept art of Costume
Up to this point in Smith's career all he had really done was Clerks and Mallrats, both low budget Indie slacker films, a far cry from an epic superhero production like Superman.  However, Smith is a huge comic book nerd, so in all honesty, even though his style of writing is usually very raunchy, he would have made sure that the core of Superman always remained faithful to his comic book counterpart.  Since then, Smith has proven himself a capable comic book writer having written some good Daredevil, Green Hornet, and Batman stories, however his forte seems to be in darker, more mature characters and stories, so how would that translate well to Superman?  In all actuality, not that bad from the script for Superman Lives that has been floating around the internet for years.  While by no means the best examination of character, Smith obviously has a grasp on the world, more than likely from all of his years reading the comic books.  But enough about the cast and crew, the real question is what would the film more have likely been like had it been made?

Concept art of Supes vs. Brainiac
Using all of the clues listed out above, and producer Jon Peter's obsession with wanting to market the brand of Superman as he had Batman in the '90s, it is very likely the movie would have been true to the source material with very little deviations, however it would have been a face value movie.  If you were looking for a Superman movie with great depth of character or a sophisticated story, this wouldn't be it.  While the characters would be true to the comics, the story would have just been a relentless action/adventure tale designed to sell toys to kids.  While it will have more than likely been a few shades better than Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, it would more than likely have never reached the emotional heights that Superman:  The Movie and Superman II did in the late '70s and early '80s.  Of course, how would the landscape of superhero cinema be different had the movie actually been made and released?

Concept art of Doomsday
Well, it's pretty safe to assume that the movie would have done well at the box office.  I mean, even Batman & Robin had a respectable box office haul for a critically lauded movie that was also despised by fans and audiences alike.  Superman Lives would have at the least pleased the kid demographic, and the people just wanting to see some action, therefore I think it would have probably done enough good business to warrant a sequel or two.  If the movie had in fact been successful, there perhaps would have not been such a long lull in terms of superhero movies in theaters between Batman & Robin in 1997 and X-Men in 2000, and especially such a long lull in between movies based off of DC Comics characters.

I feel the follow-up to Batman & Robin, Batman Triumphant would have more than likely been made if Superman had been successful, simply to keep up the DC brand name and to possibly pave the way for the much desired Batman/Superman crossover film that has been toyed with since the late '90s.  In fact, had Superman Lives been successful, it would have not been out of the realm of possibilities that instead of Batman Triumphant we may have just seen a straight up Batman/Superman crossover as the sequel, after all both film series were being produced by the same producer, Jon Peters.  Just seeing how well The Avengers is tracking in terms of predicted box office, the idea of a crossover, putting two mega characters into one movie is a big money kind of idea, and it would have more than likely done huge business at the box office.
Batman & Superman

The big thing is, I really think that Superman Lives would have at least made back its budget and with the Hollywood studios so sequel crazy in the late '90s a sequel would have been made just to cash in on the property.  So what about things like Smallville, Superman Returns, and The Man of Steel coming out next year?

There really isn't any indication to say that Smallville would have been affected, seeing as it was a TV show, but it's pretty obvious that Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (made in 2006, and which I am a fan of by the way) would have never been made.  Regardless of your feelings toward that movie, the fact that it was a sequel to the Christoher Reeves' movies and that it detailed a similar storyline to Superman Lives featuring the death and resurrection of Superman, that movie would have never been made.  As well, WB would have probably not been so desperate to get a Superman movie made in the 2000s, that when the first filmmaker with a huge passion for the project came in and pitched his idea, they would make it no matter how much it cost -- since Superman Lives would have probably spawned a series of films similar to the Batman series.  And as for The Man of Steel, well it may exist in some capacity, because it is safe to assume that by 2012 in the world of Superman Lives' existence, that franchise would have already imploded and WB would have been gunning for a reboot.  I think one of the biggest things that could have been affected though, is not just Superman films, but all superhero films.

Superman Returns poster
If Superman had been resurrected on the big screen in the late '90s, you could probably bet your bottom dollar that Marvel would have jumped the gun on almost all of their properties, just to keep up, so would we have the same X-men and Spider-man movies we have today?  Maybe not.  As well, what about the Batman franchise?  If my theory of them doing a Batman/Superman crossover did in fact happen, which I feel it would have if Superman Lives was a success in order to cash in on two lucrative properties, then Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight may have never been made because Warner Bros. may have not been as desperate as they were in the mid-2000s to reboot Batman if his films were still making money at the box office.

Ultimately, if Superman Lives had been made it would have caused a domino effect that would have drastically changed the cinematic landscape of the last decade and a half, no matter what films would still exist and what wouldn't, it would be different because not every film released since then would have seen the light of day.  While there is no way of knowing for sure what movies would be different or wouldn't exist, the point still remains.  Even still, the legacy that Superman Lives leaves behind is one of missed opportunities and potential success.  There will always be that lingering question of what could have been.