In the modern age of comic book movies, it seems like every character is getting a high-profile feature film or TV show. Even the likes of Ghost Rider has gotten two separate motion pictures, while obscure entities like the Eternals have anchored big-screen outings. Given this ubiquity plus the fact that 1990s comics mainstays like Deadpool and Venom have become box office behemoths, one would imagine that a new motion picture based on Spawn, that Image Comics superhero, would be on the way or even already arrived. But a new take on the character, who first got a live-action movie back in 1997, has constantly struggled to exist and doesn’t seem to be poised to get off the ground anytime soon.
A Spawn reboot hasn’t been made for lack of trying on the part of his creator, Todd McFarlane, though. Back in 2005, McFarlane divulged to IGN his plans to get a Spawn reboot going, one that would follow a gritter, more realistic path than the previous cinematic take on the character. Fascinatingly, McFarlane expressed ambitions for the reboot in this 2005 interview that has stayed pretty much consistent over the following two decades. Specifically, he wanted a Spawn reboot to not necessarily be all about Spawn all the time. He wanted it to be about human beings, with Spawn only being a sporadic presence in the feature, akin to how the shark in Jaws isn’t in every sequence of the masterpiece.
He also wanted an R-rating to make it different than traditional superhero movies while also depicting Spawn more like a movie monster who can kill anyone rather than a normal superhero. At the time, McFarlane was knee-deep in writing this project, but believed it wouldn’t be an expensive endeavor and hoped that, because of its small-scale and restrained budget, it could be out in theaters by the following Halloween. That never happened. That’s not exactly shocking since Hollywood was not enamored with R-rated superheroes at this moment while 1990s comics mainstays like Spawn were not the comic book characters headlining the biggest titles at your local movie theater.
The state of the superhero movie landscape at this moment made it no surprise that it would be years before any further updates would emerge on the Spawn reboot. In 2013, though, McFarlane once again announced that the project was his main priority. While noting that his variety of commitments kept him from focusing on the movie all day every day, he noted that he was gearing up to direct his screenplay for Spawn. He also reaffirmed how his vision for a Spawn reboot would be drastically smaller and more low-key than typical superhero films while hoping that it could start shooting in 2014. Interestingly, this same year, Jamie Foxx revealed in an interview that one character he was dying to play in a movie was none other than Spawn.
It would take three years before another sizable update on this production. This update came just a few days before Deadpool premiered in February 2016 and changed the modern perception of how financially viable R-rated superhero movies could be. Todd McFarlane’s newest comments once again reiterated that his Spawn reboot would not be a normal superhero or action film. Because the feature was aiming to have a cop as its protagonist, McFarlane instead said it would feel more akin to a mash-up of The Departed and Paranormal Activity. He also revealed that part of the appeal of doing a Spawn movie at such a low budget was that it increased the odds of him getting to direct it.
The following year, Spawn got a sizeable update that went beyond just McFarlane talking about the project in the press. Blumhouse Productions signed on to help get the production made. This news came just as Blumhouse was hot off early 2017 hits like Split and Get Out, making their participation in Spawn extra intriguing and potentially promising. McFarlane’s constant insistence that Spawn be made at an intimate scale without much in the way of big special effects also made it a perfect fit for the budget-conscious executives at Blumhouse. At this moment, it looked like Spawn might finally be getting off the ground.
A year later, Foxx got to realize those dreams he’d talked about back in 2013 by getting cast as the titular character of Spawn. On paper, it’s a no-brainer idea to cast an Oscar-winning and beloved actor like Foxx in the role of a superhero, even one with more brutal tendencies than, say, Spider-Man. But it is strange to consider Foxx inhabiting the role considering how McFarlane had described the presence of Spawn in this movie in interviews. Spawn being a monster that would only be seen sporadically by moviegoers did make it an odd choice to hire an actor in the role that people would understandably want to see a lot. Puzzling dissonance aside, Foxx’s casting seemed to be another promising step forward for Spawn.
A few months later, another exciting development occurred when Jeremy Renner was cast as Spawn’s lead character, police officer Twitch Williams. If Spawn was being envisioned as this film’s equivalent to the shark in Jaws, then Williams was to be its answer for Sheriff Brody, a normal person who gets caught up in a larger-than-life and terrifying situation. McFarlane told Deadline, while announcing the casting, that he saw Renner as the perfect choice to embody an everyday human who could stand as a stark contrast to the supernatural horrors of Spawn. With Foxx and Renner officially cast, not to mention Blumhouse being a producer, Spawn was on a roll. After over a decade of gestating, maybe the world was about to finally meet a new big-screen version of this Image Comics mainstay.
But the good times couldn’t last forever. Months of radio silence on Spawn followed the news of Renner getting cast, with struggles to get more financing being the apparent culprit behind the project going dark. McFarlane would once again emphasize Spawn’s adult aspirations in an early 2019 interview, though this time he doubled down on how there would be no comedy or spurts of joy in this reboot. A few months later, McFarlane said that Spawn was in a holding pattern. He noted that there were various financiers interested in the movie, but that they all had different quibbles or ambitions for the project. Weighing the pros and cons of which distributor the movie lands at was also keeping Spawn on the sidelines, though McFarlane stressed that Spawn was not dead yet