How THE FLASH Used Real Hollywood ‘What Ifs’ to Create Alternate Timelines

Spoiler Alert

The Flash made its rules of time travel easy to understand by comparing Barry Allen’s impact on the space-time continuum with Marty McFly’s. But it also utilized Back to the Future for its plot. DC’s speedster realized what a mess he’d made of the past even before he met Michael Keaton’s Batman. He knew when he learned Eric Stoltz drove Doc Brown’s Delorean to fame rather than Michael J. Fox. Of course, Stoltz wasn’t a random recasting. He really did star as Marty McFly before Fox replaced him during production. That was just one of the many ways The Flash used famous sliding doors moment in Hollywood history to reimagine its world. From Nicolas Cage’s lost Superman and two big screen Kryptonians who never met, to Kevin Bacon and a reshuffling of the 1980’s leading men, these are the real stories The Flash turned from “almosts” and “what ifs” into alternate timelines.

The Flash's ring slides open to show a red signet underneath
Warner Bros.

Why Did Nicolas Cage Appear as Superman in The Flash?

In 1996, Warner Bros. executive Jon Peters hired Clerks‘ Kevin Smith to write the script for a movie titled Superman Lives. Eventually Batman‘s Tim Burton signed on to direct. He had his famous Man of Steel ready to go, too. Thirty million dollars later and all Warner Bros. had to show for their efforts was some test footage of a long-haired Nicolas Cage in a Superman costume. Eventually the rest of us got one of the most notorious stories in Hollywood history and a documentary about the calamitous project. That is, until The Flash finally brought Cage’s Clark Kent to the big screen for some alternate timeline fun.

Screen test for Nicolas Cage as Superman, for the unmade Tim Burton Superman Lives film from the '90s.
Warner Bros.

Kevin Smith’s tale about his absurd meeting with Jon Peters is infamous with good reason. (Whether you’ve never heard it or know it by heart, it’s always worth listening to.) Among Peters’ many ridiculous comments and requests, he didn’t want Smith’s Superman to fly or wear his red and blue suit. What he did want was for Superman to fight a giant spider at the end.

Burton had Smith’s script rewritten when he joined the production. He also had Nic Cage outfitted for a suit with traditional Superman colors. But all that time, money, and talent didn’t matter. Shortly before filming began Warner Bros. pulled the plug, denying us a Man of Steel who apparently really dug The Cure.

Now The Flash has finally rectified that. It has given us Nic Cage— who named his son Kal-El—as Kal-El. His Superman exists in another dimension. He also flies. That’s not what Jon Peters wanted, but at least he got to see Cage fight a big giant spider. (Which the producer did make happen in Wild Wild West.)

But that wasn’t the only alternate (super) reality Barry Allen let us see come to life. The Flash also brought together two children of Krypton that never got to share the silver screen even though they existed at the same time.

The Flash Brings Together Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Helen Slater’s Supergirl

Helen Slater stands ready to defend a Popeye's Chicken in a shot from 1984's Supergirl.
Warner Bros.

In 1984 Helen Slater brought Supergirl to theaters. The spinoff took place in the same universe as Christopher Reeve’s Superman franchise. His Clark was originally set to appear in the movie, too. Supergirl was going to rescue him from captivity. But following the disappointment of Superman III the previous year, Reeve decided against starring in the film. Instead Supergirl‘s script explained Superman’s absence by saying he was in another galaxy on a “peace-seeking mission.”

Slater’s Supergirl did not return in 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which was Reeve’s last time playing the hero. As a result the two ’80s Kryptonians never got to appear on screen together. That didn’t happen until The Flash showed them united side-by-side in their dimension, thereby creating a cool alternate timeline.

Christopher Reeve as Kal-El in Superman: The Movie.
Warner Bros.

The Flash used another famous film franchise of the ’80s to create an alternate reality, too. It found inspiration in a time travel series that had fun changing events of that decade. Only Back to the Future did so both on screen and off.

Why Did The Flash Choose Eric Stoltz to Play Back to the Future‘s Marty McFly?

Michael J. Fox was Robert Zemeckis’s first choice to play Marty McFly. But with Fox unavailable due to Family Ties‘ filming schedule, Zemeckis cast Eric Stoltz in the role.

However, after six weeks of filming Zemeckis realized Stoltz just wasn’t working out. While the director has always praised Stoltz’s work and commitment on the movie, the actor just wasn’t bringing the comedic element the part required. That led to Zemeckis and producers firing Stoltz and developing a production schedule that allowed Fox to film Back to the Future on nights and weekends.

Deleted scenes and images from Stoltz’s performance have made their way out into the world since his departure. And it seems like one scene with Stoltz (or at least his fist) actually made its way into the final film. Otherwise, his version of Marty is lost to time. At least it is in this timeline.

In The Flash‘s alternate timeline, Stoltz didn’t just stay in the role. His version of Back to the Future was still a monumental hit. It catapulted him to stardom. It led people to get his face tattooed on their thigh calf. Was that because the movie was just that good it would have worked with anyone? Or because Stoltz made it good? What about the timelines where Ben Stiller or Jon Cryer nailed their (very real) auditions and got the part instead?The only way we’ll ever know if is Barry Allen messes with the timeline and therefore Back to the Future again.

Obviously Marty McFly wasn’t the only famous ’80s movie the Flash changed via time travel. He caused a chain reaction of big-time recasting.

Was Michael J. Fox Almost Cast in Footloose?

Lorraine and Marty McFly

Famous casting “what ifs” are rarely as well-documented as Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future. Most auditions go nowhere. Sometimes performers discuss a potential role without ever seriously considering it. Other times they do want the part but aren’t seriously considered for it. And casting directors, producers, writers, and directors throws out big name as a possibility without ever having a chance of landing that actor. And yet, years later those people will still be mentioned as the list of people who “almost” got the role.

Still, even by those very (foot)loose standards there’s no evidence Michael J. Fox was ever up a possibility to play the part of Ren that Kevin Bacon made famous with his feet. That alternate timeline is totally unique to The Flash.

However, there is still a very fun connection between Footloose, Michael J. Fox, and The Flash. According to IMDb, Kenny Loggins wrote that Footloose‘s final scene was not filmed with his theme song playing. It was only added in post-production.

On set the actors actually danced to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” the very same song Marty McFly performed at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in Back to the Future.

Strands of spaghetti, indeed. And that’s just the beginning of The Flash‘s alternate Hollywood dominoes.

Was Kevin Bacon Almost in Top Gun?

Kevin Bacon in a t-shirt as Ren in Footloose
Paramount Pictures

While there’s no evidence Michael J. Fox was ever up for the lead role in Footloose, The Flash‘s other ’80s leading man switcheroo was a possibility. Producers did consider Kevin Bacon for the role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. A bevy of other actors either turned it down or got passed over, too. (Tom Cruise, the top choice, initially didn’t want the part.)

(In The Flash‘s timeline where Bacon is Maverick, do you think him and Cruise also swapped roles in A Few Good Men?)

The list of other potential Petes included: Matthew Modine, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Matthew Broderick, Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox, Scott Baio, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Charlie Sheen, Jim Carrey, Rob Lowe, Kevin Bacon, Robert Downey Jr., John Travolta, and Eric freaking Stoltz!

As if all of that isn’t enough, the movie originally considered having TOTO or REO Speedwagon record “Danger Zone” before turning to Footloose‘s Kenny Loggins.

And with so many real world connections in alternate version of 1980s Hollywood that The Flash gives us, at this point we have to wonder if Barry Allen really did go back in time and alter our actual timeline. Maybe he’s the reason Michael J. Fox replaced Eric Stoltz in the first place. That worked out for Back to the Future, but we can’t forgive him for Nic Cage’s lost Superman Lives. Especially now that we know he would have kicked that giant spider’s a**.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at   @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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