Aquaman With a Harpoon Hand and Mourning His Dead Son: Jeff Nichols’ Pitch to Warner Bros. ‘Wasn’t Feasible’ and Would’ve Made ‘Hundreds of Dollars’

One of the big reveals to come out of the infamous 2014 Sony email hack was that Warner Bros. had been in talks with indie director Jeff Nichols to helm its “Aquaman” movie starring Jason Momoa. Nichols was coming off acclaimed back-to-back dramas “Take Shelter” and “Mud” at the time. His involvement with “Aquaman” did not move beyond talks (Warner Bros. ultimately hired James Wan to direct the film, which released in 2018 and grossed $1.1 billion worldwide), but now Nichols is opening up a bit about what went into his failed pitch.

Speaking on the “Happy Sad Confused” podcast from the Telluride Film Festival, where his latest directorial effort, “The Bikeriders,” world premiered to rave reviews and Oscar buzz, Nichols explained why his pitch for “Aquaman” was never going to be the $1 billion movie Warner Bros. ended up getting.

“I still have scenes from [‘Aquaman’] in my head that would’ve been good,” Nichols said. “They would’ve been quite different from the film that was made. It wasn’t ever feasible…I liked the older Aquaman, like when he had a harpoon for a hand. He was a fallen king and his son had died. He was in mourning. Obviously from this brief pitch you can see it would’ve sold hundreds of dollars worth of tickets.

“That stuff is fun to noodle on, but we got a lot of those movies now,” Nichols added. “There are a lot of stories in the world. It’s ok to spend time time telling some other ones.”

When the “Aquaman” talks didn’t lead anywhere, Nichols went on to direct the Oscar-nominated drama “Loving.” But it wasn’t the last time he flirted with directing a bit of major studio IP. He spent several years after “Loving” trying to get an “Alien Nation” remake off the ground, first as a movie and then as a television series. The project also did not pan out.

“On the ‘Alien Nation’ front, that was a heartbreaker,” Nichols said. “That’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to make another film. I spent four years on that. We were at the one yard line. I had it cast and we had it ready to go, but the universe didn’t want me to make that right then. That was an original story I crafted and they wanted to put the ‘Alien Nation’ title on it. Fortunately that script without the title has gone over to Paramount. After the strike lifts, I can get back to work on it.”

“It’s kind of amazing working on something for so long,” he continued. “I built this entire alien species and all these other things, but it also takes place in Arkansas and feels like one of my films. But it might cost a lot of money. It might be the worst experience of my life, but I’d love to make that film.”

Nichols said going back to develop some kind of IP “doesn’t interest” him anymore, adding. “The only power you have as a filmmaker is your ability to sense those things and step back from it and hopefully the universe is watching out for you.”

Back in 2016, Nichols spoke to Screen Crush about his failed “Aquaman” pitch while promoting his sci-fi drama “Midnight Special.”

“The trick with ‘Midnight Special’ is even though it was made at the studio, they gave me a lot of control over the process,” he said at the time. “And I don’t just mean control over final cut, but it felt like we were making one of my movies. I had my team. I had my family there. My crew. We made the movie we all wanted to make. With the DC universe, so many parts of it had been activated and so many decisions had already been made that it felt more and more — and Warner Bros. agreed — that it was me trying to jump on a moving train. That’s not so much what I’m good at. I’m more of a ground up kinda guy.”

“The Bikeriders,” starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy, opens in theaters Dec. 1 from 20th Century Studios and Disney.

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