Before Chris Evans, before The First Avenger, before The Avengers, Before The Winter Soldier…there was Matt Salinger and a trouble-plagued Captain America film. Most people more familiar with the more recent incarnations of Captain America are likely unfamiliar with the 1990 film version, which is well-known in bad movie circles. Indeed, a look at the 1990 version isn’t new game in those circles, but those were done by guys. Why not let a girl give it a go?
Rather than construct a pain-staking recap of the movie (which has been done before…twice that I’ve seen), I’m going to regale you with five facts/things about the first feature film, though it should be noted that it wasn’t the first film…that honor goes to the two Captain America films from 1979 and 1980 that aired during the dreadful years of NBC. But this version was set to be the first actual feature film for the first avenger. And you’ll find out what actually happened to the film.
Yep, this. Perplexed this actually exists?
It’s ok. As I said, this isn’t exactly the version of Captain America fans of the comic/character are actually familiar with. When we think of Captain America, we think of this…
…rather than this.
But he tried…I guess?
Before you begin saying “But, Allison! There is no Captain America before Chris Evans!” Well, there actually is…and who are you? Why are you standing behind me, reading over my shoulder?!
And that’s where we begin!
1. Contrary to popular belief, Chris Evans was not the first live action Captain America.
Heck, Matt Salinger played the part in this film, and he wasn’t even the first Captain America.
Matt Salinger as Steve Rogers (left) and Captain America (right).
The first “live action” depiction of Captain America was actually – brace yourself – Reb Brown. Yes, Reb Brown. Mr. “Big McLarge Huge” from Space Mutiny and the man behind the most nonsensical scream in existence, was the very first person to play Captain America as a live action character, 12 years before Matt Salinger tried to (and a whole 22 years before Chris Evans). In fact, Evans wasn’t even born when this happened, and he would have been 8-9 years old when the 1990 version was an almost-thing (you’ll know what I mean by that soon enough).
Reb Brown as a modern-day “free spirited” Steve Rogers (left) and as Captain America (right)
Both 1979 films (Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon) were made-for-television films that aired on NBC, and were significantly different from the version of the story everyone knows and loves. In other words…it’s modern. Steve Rogers is a character in contemporary times, driving one of those painted vans that were all the rage in the 1970s (but look like pedo mobiles now), and drifting aimlessly. How does it connect back to the actual Captain America canon? It turns out his father was the original Captain America.
It’s ok, you’re shaking your head with disbelief. I understand. But seriously, the movies do exist. They’re hard to find, but they exist. And they’re terrible, unless you like movie cheese. In that case, they’re freakin’ fantastic!
2. The concept for a Captain America feature film was in the works as far back as 1984.
The rights to a Captain America film were originally purchased by The Cannon Group founders, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, in 1984.
They of the typical 1980s movie logo. You always knew what was coming next.
At the time, Marvel was not interested in bringing their characters to the world of live action (such a stark contrast from their current standpoint on live action adaptations of their characters 😉 ). James Silke wrote the original script, to be directed by Michael Winner (director of the first three Death Wish films). In 1986, Winner took over writing the film along with Stan Lee (yes, that Stan Lee) and Lawrence Block. Winner was gone from the film in 1987, the script had gone to Stephen Tolkin, and was then to be directed by John Stockwell.
Two years later…
In 1989, Menahem Golan left The Cannon Group (essentially a sinking ship by that time), and was given control of 21st Century Film Corporation as part of his severance package. He was able to carry over Captain America with him. Oh thank goodness, we saw what Cannon did with He-Man, so this could have been a good thing, right?
Oh it just keeps on going….
The film changed directors again, finally going with Albert Pyun (who had worked with Cannon in the past), and the script that Stephen Tolkin wrote. The film finally went to principal photography in 1989, wrapping in 1990.
Essentially, it took five years, but the film happened. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, not exactly.
3. The release date that never was.
You sit on a throne of lies, Captain America poster.
Poster Source: “Captain america”. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_america.jpg#/media/File:Captain_america.jpg
The film was set for release in the summer of 1990, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Captain America. That got further pushed back into the fall of 1990, and even into the winter of 1991…and was pulled from a theatrical release altogether. Instead, the film made a direct-to-video and cable debut on July 22, 1992. Internationally, it was given a limited release (December 14, 1990 in the United Kingdom). However, it did screen at San Diego Comi-Con in 2013.
The fangirls were lured in with the promises of seeing Chris Evans…and they got someone named Matt Salinger instead.
They’ve never heard of him before. Who is this man who “replaced” the (supposedly) only Captain America?
Seriously, this sounds like the story my dad told about the time he was in Keansburg, New Jersey, and saw a sign that said (in big letters) “Frank Sinatra.” With “Jr.” underneath in small letters.
4. The part of Captain America was originally slated to go to Howie Long.
Yes, Howie Long. The football player Howie Long.
Yep. “Another Project”
Long (who would have played Rogers, post-transformation) was unable to commit to the film due to another project, so the part went to actor Matt Salinger (the son of Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger). Salinger was cast for his All-American good looks (something I agree with whole-heartedly), but was originally only going to play Steve Rogers pre-Captain America. When it was decided the character would be one actor who would go through the transformation, Salinger played the part both pre- and post-transformation.
Also previously considered for the role? Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, Ivan Drago/He-Man and the Terminator/Hercules/Conan the Barbarian. Actors who had previously worked for Cannon. Lundgren was unable to commit due to filming The Punisher at the time, and Arnold lost out…well, let’s face it, it was his accent that did him in. And I’m not sure how many people thought Lundgren could pull it off.
Captain “America,” ladies and gentlemen.
Remember how I said the film was in the works since 1984? Those casting decisions occurred in the late 1980s.
My mind is equally blown!
Also considered? Val Kilmer…who turned down the role for the Jim Morrison biopic The Doors.
5. The film’s budget was $10 million.
And it only made back…$10,173. Yes, that’s right. Just over $10K. Don’t try to adjust that for 2015 figures. It’s crap no matter how you slice it. This film literally hemorrhaged it’s cost, 1990 figures versus 2015 equivalent or otherwise. This film had bankrupting powers (it didn’t come down to that), and yet, didn’t happen.
I mean come on, not every film has the incredible bankrupting powers of Heaven’s Gate. That movie took down an entire studio.
The most controversial, written-about, and talked-about film of the decade. In 1980.
Surprisingly, 21st Century Film Corporation hung in there for seven more films, until finally declaring bankruptcy and closing in 1996. The Cannon Group (Captain America’s original production company) effectively went defunct in 1994.
And there’s your short list – some details you likely already knew (assuming you knew this film had a pulse and existed at some point), but most likely didn’t (since I’ll assume most don’t even know this film existed until now).
And if you really want to see this other Captain America, feel free to just push play. The video is available on You Tube thanks to You Tube User Vine Pop 54. I’m not going to tell you it’s the greatest attempt at bringing a superhero to live action film, but seriously, there are worse adaptations out there.
Yeah, this version.
And there you have it, five things about the first time Captain America made (or, at least, attempted to make) his way to the big screen. I never said it was particularly enlightening or exciting, but just another feather in the cap of Bad Movie Aficionados.
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