When Marvel Studios announces a project is happening, you can take that to the bank. You could pretty much set a reminder on your calendar for two or three years into the future and feel confident that long-term planning will pan out. The expansive multimedia continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe means that stories are planned out years in advance and the same is true of when those stories get released. The varying degrees of interconnectivity of these various projects means that Marvel Studios won’t just greenlight anything, hence why they don’t announce a film to the public until they’re sure it’s good to go.
There are, of course, two exceptions to this rule. One of the most infamous is Inhumans, once set for a November 2018 bow before getting reconfigured as a widely maligned ABC miniseries. But less well-known is Runaways, a proposed feature film written by Iron Man 3 scribe Drew Pearce that once seemed like it could grace multiplexes in 2012 or 2013. The only Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, to date, to get an announced director but never actually make it to movie theaters, Runaways is a strange but fascinating anomaly in the history of this franchise.
In the comics, The Runaways are a group of teenagers who learn that their parents are actually supervillains. This is when they decide to become superheroes and stop the greatest foes of all-time: mom and dad. Along for the ride is a velociraptor friend named Old Lace as well as superpowers ranging from super-strength to magic. First debuting in 2003, The Runaways are a relatively new addition to the Marvel Comics mythos, but that didn’t stop Marvel Studios from commissioning a screenplay for a Runaways movie in 2008 just three weeks after Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang.
Two years after this development, Runaways got taken to the next level of development by hiring Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) as a director. Getting a filmmaker on board to handle this project seemed to be an indicator that Runaways was a high priority for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as one of its first post-Avengers projects. While Drew Pearce was hired to pen a new draft of the screenplay and an open casting call was put out for performers to inhabit the lead roles, all of the good fortune for this Runaways movie would be short-lived.
By October 2010, Runaways had been halted, with Deadline reporting that Marvel’s busy schedule was to blame for the project being put on the backburner. At the time, Sollett was being kept around as the director, but he would be allowed to pursue other projects. It was a noticeable setback that began a period of total radio silence for Runaways as Marvel Studios began to focus on other projects. Not only did Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger need to get sequels, but another obscure team property, Guardians of the Galaxy, would be announced for an August 2014 debut less than two years after Runaways bit the dust.
Like Inhumans, though, Runaways would garner a second life for itself on the small screen. A Hulu TV show adaptation of these characters would debut in 2017 and proceed to run for three seasons. Nobody involved with this program has ever indicated that the original film approach to the Runaways influenced this new TV incarnation, with neither Sollett nor Pearce being involved with the Hulu show. This production would be a fresh property that just so happened to share source material with an abandoned Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.
In the wake of Runaways airing its final episode in 2019, there has been no further word on these characters making their way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe features. While there have been tons of hints and rumors about the Netflix Marvel Television characters, like Daredevil, creeping into this franchise, both Hulu’s version of Runaways and the initial feature film take on the team are lingering on a shelf. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe was once in a hurry to add these characters to its mythos, it now seems like everyone’s already forgotten about the team.
Though it looks unlikely we’ll be seeing these characters in, say, a Shang-Chi or Thor movie anytime soon, that doesn’t mean the abandoned Runaways movie has had zero impact on the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. For one thing, Deadline’s early description of the project as being as akin to The Breakfast Club serves, in hindsight, as an early indicator for the kind of Spider-Man movie Marvel Studios would pursue with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Even back in 2010, Marvel saw the potential for mixing superhero adventures with grounded teenage escapades.
Similarly, pursuing a Runaways movie as one of the earliest Marvel Cinematic Universe properties also served as an early harbinger of how this franchise wasn’t afraid to embrace more obscure teams from the world of Marvel Comics. In the years that followed, the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Eternals based massively expensive blockbusters on characters that weren’t household names to even comic book geeks. Runaways may not have gotten made but Marvel Studios committing a screenplay and a director to this production did set a precedent for little-known superhero teams having potential as cinematic entities.
Meanwhile, Runaways screenwriter Drew Pearce ended up returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe fold to pen the screenplay for Iron Man 3 alongside Shane Black. Pearce’s relationship with Marvel Studios was strong enough that it didn’t just end with this capper to the Iron Man trilogy. He continued to work for the company by writing and directing the Marvel One-Shot short film All Hail the King. Runaways may not have been able to add new superheroes to this expansive saga but it did help deliver one of the more prominent creative figures of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The ways that Runaways served as an unintentional precursor for later Marvel Studios endeavors provide some form of a happy ending to a project that was besieged with disappointing developments. Years later, the Runaways script looks no closer to becoming an actual film than it did at the tail end of 2010. With so many characters, like the Fantastic Four and various X-Men mutants, on the horizon to be added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s doubtful we’ll be seeing the Runaways join this franchise anytime soon. Hardcore fans of the characters will just have to settle for the Hulu TV show as well as imagining what this feature could’ve been.
One huge plate of lore with a side of continuity salad.
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