Gotham City is a environment open to interpretation. One reader may view the urban conurbation as a land synonymous with fantastical tragedy with Gothic demonic structures rupturing from Hell, reaching to infect the Heavens with venomous smog and liquid night. An operatic land so immersed in darkness and corruption, that its evil dons the comforting smile of a jester – whilst its only hero basks in shadows; wearing the sinister, almost Satanic, image of a Bat.
Others may conjure the conception of hope from the Detective Comic pages – hope that heroism can prosper in the most dire of places – whilst some might synthesise The Dark Knight’s world of urban decadence with our own; thriving on the comic’s presentation of post-modern realism. This is precisely what makes Batman a tremendous character to watch on screen. With every new director; be it Burton, Schumacher or Nolan, we are presented with a renewed outlook on Bob Kane/Bill Finger’s creation.
With the release of new information from Darren Aronofsky’s radically different, unrealised portrayal of ‘Batman: Year One’ – we are left to only speculate; what else would have we seen from Gotham City, had one or more of these projects not been moved into ‘development hell’ by Warner Bros?
Over the next 10 days
1. Ivan Reitman’s “The Batman” (1985)
Before Nolan, Schumacher or even Burton – the responsibly of bringing The Dark Knight to the big screen was in the hands of producer and life-long comic book geek, Michael Uslan. Armed with great enthusiasm (and a $20 million budget), he commissioned former James Bond and Superman I and II writer Tony Mankiewicz to pen a screenplay entitled “The Batman” in 1983. The choice of screenwriter was obvious… the other DC Comics superhero Superman had been a huge pop culture success just five years earlier and is still seen now as the quintessential origin movie for a comic book character. Mankiewicz was tasked with doing the same for Batman but bringing in more realistic elements and action set pieces taken from the Bond saga.
Mankiewicz’s script drew its influence from Steve Englehart’s comic book – Batman: Strange Apparitions, adapting the characters of the villainous gangster, Rupert Thorn and love interest Silver St. Cloud, directly from the comic book – with The Joker, filling in for the lesser known Hugo Strange, who’s subplot would have involved attempting to reveal Bruce Wayne’s secret identity to the masses. The film would have also dealt with Robin’s origins.
Uslan hired comic book artist Marshell Rogers (also fresh from work on ‘Strange Apparitions’ ) to design concept art for the motion picture. Fresh from delivering the sci-fi comedy hit Ghostbusters in theaters, Ivan Reitman was attached to the project to helm and he wanted to bring Bill Murray with him to portray Batman. The concept of having Murray as Batman may seem a ludicrous one, but we have to remember that Michael Keaton, like Bill, was essentially a comedy actor prior to his role as The Dark Detective in 1989 – and with Uslan’s dedication to presenting his comic book hero in a tone that reflected ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, could we have perhaps seen Bill Murray pursue a more serious, drama-orientated career had he donned the cape and cowl in 1985?
Or could this ‘Batman’ followed in vain of the 1960′s television series, keeping in tone with Reitman’s other comedic works, such as; ‘Meatballs’, ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Twins’?
Retiman had planned British film legend David Niven (in a casting that would late mirror Nolan’s hiring of Michael Caine) as Alfred, William Holden as Commissioner Gordon and actor/musician David Bowie, who had just transformed himself as The Elephant Man on stage, was seen as eccentric enough to portray The Joker. All interesting castings but with names such as Eddie Murphy and Michael J Fox being thrown around for the part of Robin, it seemed as though we’d have witnessed nothing less than campy caped antics, punctuated by “POW!”, “BANG!” and “CRASH!” had this film been released in the summer of 1985 as planned.
In the end Holden & Niven died before production would have begun on Reitman’s film and both those roles would have had to be re-cast. In the end script problems (there were said to be nine separate re-writes by nine different writers in just a few years) led to the death of the project and Reitman eventually left the director’s chair to be replaced by another Gremlins helmer Joe Dante but Warner Bros could never get the tone of the film right and it fizzled out.
“I would have been a fine Batman. You know, there have been a number of Batmen. I like them… I thought Mike Keaton did a great job as Batman. It’s obviously – it’s a great role.”
- Bill Murray on being offered the part of Batman (ironically Tim Burton also considered casting Murray in 1989 before he went with Keaton).
2. Tim Burton’s “Batman Forever” (1995)
While I’m probably in the minority who can admit to actually liking Joel Schumacher’s ‘Batman Forever’ – perhaps slightly more even than Tim Burton’s previous effort, ‘Batman Returns’, the concept of Burton returning for a third movie with Michael Keaton, is one that has always fascinated me.
Tim Burton had initially signed on to complete his trilogy with ‘Batman Forever’, however he was kicked from the project by Warner Bros due to his inability to create a ‘kid-friendly’ film. Warner Bros had perceived Batman Returns to be a failure, especially because they struggled to sell tie-in merchandise as buyers and parents weren’t happy with the bleak tone of the adult themed movie that was more horror than superhero.
Although some of the Batman Forever concepts originally envisioned by Burton were utilised in Schumacher’s film; such as the use of the Riddler, the introduction of Robin as well as the love interest of Chase Meridian (who was a character invented specifically for the film) – Tim had never intended to use Two-Face as a villain, and was to portray Robin as a streetwise African American kid, who’s origin would have drawn elements from both Jason Todd and Dick Grayson.
The cast would have featured Michael Keaton returning as The Bat, Robin William as The Riddler/Edward Nygma, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (reprising his role from the original which was left out of Batman Returns), Rene Russo as Dr Chase Meridian and Marlon Wayans finally getting to portray Robin after initially being approached for the part for the 1989 original.
Keaton left with Burton, after being dissatisfied with Schumacher’s approach to the franchise even though Warner Bros. offered Keaton a whopping $15 million to return. Rene Russo was pulled from the project once Schumacher joined, believing that with the casting of Val Kilmer as Batman, the film required a ‘younger’ love interest and WB opted for rising star Nicole Kidman. Marlon Wayans, who was also set to appear as Robin in Batman Returns as well, was paid out in full by Warner Bros to exit the project, and replaced by Chris O’Donnell in Batman Forever. There were always rumours that early on Burton had wanted to cast Winona Ryder as Robin – creating a female version of the character, that combined the circus background of Dick Grayson and the modern rebelliousness of Carrie Kelley from Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’.
Above; Bob Ringwood’s concept art for Robin’s costume in Burton’s third Batman.
“I get why they picked Chris O’ Donnell, because it would be messed up to have Batman and you’ve got Robin, and his bulge is somewhat bigger than Batman’s. Batman would have a serious problem with that.”
- Marlon Wayans on the studio recasting Robin
3. Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Triumphant” (1998)
1997′s ‘Batman and Robin’ was a train wreck of a motion picture and as the internet’s usage grew, fanboys had a new communication tool to spread their anger at what they had seen. Extremely poor word of mouth spread on George Clooney’s first outing as Batman even before it opened in theaters with an infamous AICN review. A poor box office performance for the film would force Warner Bros to put the Batman franchise on hold for 8 years, until the release of 2005′s ‘Batman Begins’ reboot.
Whilst ‘Batman and Robin’ was still in production however, Warner Bros. executives were expecting a hit and were already planning a fifth Batman movie for a mid-1999 release. Joel Schumacher was set to return as director for the third time. Stars George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone were contracted to another 3 Batman films with the ever reliable Michael Gough (as Alfred) and Pat Hingle (as Gordon) back for supporting roles.
The fifth entry in the Batman franchise would have been entitled ‘Batman Triumphant’, and the script, written by future I Am Legend writer Mark Potosevich, featured the villainous Scarecrow (set to be portrayed by Nicolas Cage) terrorising Gotham. There would also be a subplot involving Harley Quinn (rumoured as a part for Madonna) who was depicted as the Joker’s daughter – out for revenge on Batman after his murder of her father in Tim Burton’s first film. Jack Nicholson expressed enthusiasm in returning to his role as The Joker in a fear gas-induced dream sequence, where Batman would have to face his parents’ killer yet again.
While I think this plot did contain potential for the franchise to return to its dark routes presented in Burton’s first film – Warner Bros. was pressuring Joel Schumacher for another family friendly ‘toy-commercial’ – and with the highly marketable cast of George Clooney, Nicolas Cage, Madonna and Jack Nicholson, it seems likely we would have experienced an atrocity on the scale – if not worse than ‘Batman and Robin’. Just as well Warner Bros. realised that the franchise needed time to cool off… (I’ll probably freeze in hell for that awful pun).
“I was supposed to do a fifth one… I was talking to Nic Cage about playing the Scarecrow. I had begged the studio for ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, but they wanted a family friendly, toyetic thing.”
- Joel Schumacher
4. Joel Schumacher’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (1999)
For a brief period in mid 1998, Warner Bros. had considered adapting Frank Miller’s acclaimed, ultra bleak graphic novel ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ into a motion picture. Joel Schumacher had always been a huge fan of the graphic novel, and it was his ambition to bring it to the big screen when Batman & Robin flopped. Both Clint Eastwood and Michael Keaton were rumoured to have been approached to play the aged billionaire crime-fighter. David Bowie was again in consideration for the part of The Joker – something, which I feel, could have worked extremely well in this piece.
But outside of a few discussions at meetings, Warner Bros never allowed Schmaucher to make the Batman movie he really wanted too. No script was ever commissioned as WB wanted to go in a different direction….
5. Joel Schumacher’s “Batman: DarKnight” (2000)
In late 1998, after the disastrous release of ‘Batman and Robin’, Warner Bros. decided to change their approach to the Batman franchise and scrapped plans for Batman Triumphant. As Schmaucher wanted The Dark Knight Returns adaptation, Warner Bros listened somewhat and turned to rookies Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise to pitch a new sequel idea, returning the character to his dark, edgier routes.
The idea involved Bruce Wayne abandoning his role as Gotham’s protector – realising that he had lost his greatest weapon against his enemies – fear. Dick Grayson, now at Gotham University, comes face to face with Professor Jonathan Crane, who tests out various fear toxin experiments on his class – eventually transforming into his masked persona of the Scarecrow. Crane also unknowingly initiates his colleague, Dr Kirk Langstrom’s transformation into Man-Bat – and as the devious creature terrorises the Gotham, citizens view it as Batman’s ‘bloodthirsty’ return to crime fighting; thus with his status as fearful demon of the night reinstated, Wayne must come out of retirement, save Robin and clear his name.
Veteran Brit actor Terrence Stamp was linked with the Man-bat role.
Warner Bros. decided to pass on this project in favour of Year One, and Batman Beyond – all that exists is the above piece of logo concept art, created in 1999.
6. Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Year One” (2000)
You have to feel sorry for Joel Schumacher. No matter how much you hated the bat-nipples, lame one-liners, and dreadful neon-gadgets, you can’t place the blame 100% on the director. The studio was putting Schumacher under incredible pressure to deliver a 2-hour-long, toy commercial – and from that point of view, he accomplished his goal. Batman and Robin sold it’s share of action figures and in its own way Batman Forever had saved the blockbuster franchise after Tim Burton tried to turn it into an art house series.
I should know – 80% of every figure manufactured probably resides in my bedroom… but anyway, that’s irrelevant right now. After ‘Batman and Robin’, Schumacher was out to redeem himself in the eyes of bat-fans – the director, being a huge fan of Frank Miller’s work, wanted to create a prequel to Tim Burton’s 1989 ‘Batman’, which would show Bruce Wayne travelling the world, and returning to Gotham, adjusting to his life as the cities protector. The film was essentially based on Miller’s ‘Batman: Year One’ graphic novel and Schumacher’s idea of adapting this work into a film was one that stayed with the studio until the production of ‘Batman Begins’ started in 2004.
However Warner Bros weren’t keen on working with Schmaucher again and the project never got off the ground.
7. Boaz Yakin’s “Batman: Beyond” (2002)
Although not much is known of this project – in August 2000, Warner Bros. announced that it was in the process of developing a live action adaptation of the popular animated series ‘Batman Beyond’, written by the television series creators, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, with novelist Neal Stephenson assisting the pair.
In July 2001, the first draft was handed into the studio; however, Warner Bros. was more fixated on the concept of a ‘Batman: Year One’ motion picture, and thus ‘Batman Beyond’ was put on indefinite hold in the August of 2001. Such a shame really – the film would have most certainly depicted the character in a way in which we have never seen him before; using the breathtaking ‘Blade Runner’ inspired scenery, as seen in the animated series – I think this film would have been a visual feast, combined with a script penned by Dini and Burnett… how could you go wrong? It would have been schway.
8. Darren Aronofsky’s “Batman: Year One” (2002)
Darren Aronfsky’s plan for the Batman franchise is now one of legend. In collaboration with Year One comic book writer, Frank Miller, the director took to presenting Bruce Wayne as an orphan to Gotham Cities streets – stripped of his fortune upon the murder of his wealthy parents; the young boy was left deserted, and taken in by an Alfred-based character, known as ‘Big Al’, who runs an auto repair shop with his son, ‘Little Al’. The narrative would have played out in a similar fashion to the Taxi Driver, with Wayne growing up, despising crime and corruption – watching in distain as hookers, pimps, dealers and corrupt cops run amuck on the streets of Gotham; slowly the audience would begin to gage that the titular character is perhaps falling into madness. The transformation is complete, once Bruce Wayne dons his make-shift cape and cowl, exacting his own breed of ultra-violent on-the-spot justice on the criminal element.
Like the ‘Year One’ graphic novel, Selina Kyle would have been featured as an African-American prostitute, who finds herself inspired by the fearful street whispers of ‘The Bat-Man’s’ ventures. The character of Jim Gordon would have been presented a chain-smoking, hard-nosed, Dirty Harry-esque cop, who would have shared the narrative with Bruce Wayne, drawing juxtapositions between men who fight for essentially the same goals – yet operate alternate on sides of the law.
“In the comic book, the reinvention of Gordon was inspired, because for the first time he wasn’t a wimp, he was a bad-ass guy. Gordon’s opening scene for us was [him] sitting on a toilet with the gun barrel in his mouth and six bullets in his hand, thinking about blowing his head off — and that to me is the character.”
- Darren Aronofsky on the character roof Jim Gordon
While casting was not officially deciphered for this project, Aronofsky had half-jokingly told Warner Bros. that he would cast Clint Eastwood as The Dark Knight, and shoot the motion picture in Tokyo. He had also approached Christian Bale for the role… but c’mon… how badass would it have been to have Clint Eastwood as Batman? Yeah, I know, he was probably about 200-years too old for the part, but in the late 1960′s – early 70′s, Eastwood would have been the mot perfect choice for a young Bruce Wayne.
In June 2002, the studio decided to move forward on Batman vs. Superman and abandon Year One after thinking better of adapting the script that was turned in. While I think the idea sounds extremely cool – it is one that seems extremely unmarketable for a motion picture, and would work brilliantly as a stand-alone graphic novel (which is exactly what Aronofsky and Miller are planning on doing someday).
9. Wolfgang Petersen’s “Batman VS Superman” (2004)
In August 2001, Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker pitched Warner Bros. an idea titled ‘Batman vs Superman’, a teaming of the two big DC Comic characters that Warner Bros had forever been interested in doing. At one time there were tentative plans to make a Batman and Superman team-up involving Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve in the early 90′s but the latter’s eventually fatal accident put a stop to that.
The new concept was adapted into a screenplay by Batman & Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsman in June, 2002 for veteran filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen (In The Line of Fire, Das Boot) to direct, and was in loose-continuation with the Burton/Schumacher universe, although the characters of Dick Grayson, Barbara Wilson, Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon were all now diseased. The story however, differed from such incarnations as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, in that Bruce Wayne’s depressed emotions had seemingly become resolved by a fiancee, Elizabeth Miller.
The friendship between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne is addressed as the former character being best man at the latter’s wedding – however, on Bruce’s honeymoon, the Joker kills Elizabeth; and Wayne must succumb to the mantel of the Bat. The Dark Knight falls into a state of mental breakdown, and Superman tries to hold Batman back in his violent plot of revenge against the Clown Prince of Crime – in return, Bruce blames Clark for her death, and the two must battle it out, mano-a-mano. Predictably, the story ends with the two teaming up yet again to defeat the combined threat of The Joker and Lex Luthor
Christian Bale and Josh Hartnett had been tentatively offered the roles of Batman and Superman, and principle photography was to start early-2003, with plans for a five-six month shoot for release in 2004 – however, Petersen left in favour of Troy, and Warner Bros. chose to progress on their Batman reboot, which would become ‘Batman Begins’. All in all, I’m rather glad they chose this course of action… the idea of having both Batman and Superman battling it out it seems like a lame gimmick and the storyline seems extremely out-of-character for Batman. Thank god for Christopher Nolan.
10: George Miller’s “Justice League: Mortal” (2009)
Mad Max director George Miller recently planned to bring the Justice League of America to the big screen, with a script written by the husband-and-wife team of Kieran (brother of Dermot) and Michelle Mulroney. The idea with the quickly put into production project was to trump Marvel’s plans to team all their big superheroes together as The Avengers.
The plot was never fully revealed, but the film was cast with a batch of young actors who Miller hoped would “grow into their roles” over the course of the film trilogy – these included; Adam Brody as Barry Allen/The Flash, D.J. Cotrona as Superman, rapper/actor Common as John Stewart/Green Lantern, Megan Gale as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Armie Hammer as Batman and Teresa Palmer as the key villain Talia Al Ghul.
I remember following the progress of this film on the internet, and feeling bizarrely unenthusiastic about the whole thing – I mean, when I saw the news article “Armie Hammer cast as Batman!”, something inside me was telling me that I should dying of excitement, and that this was HUGE news – yet it didn’t seem to emote me in anyway. I couldn’t process it. Probably because I was more like; “Who the hell is Armie Hammer? Sounds like a toothpaste brand.” I’d imagine that was why this project didn’t sit too well with fans – the casting of unknowns made it impossible to connect with the film – it all seemed to grand in scale, and every part of us knew this film wouldn’t see light of day. And sure enough – we were right. In 2010, the film was announced as ‘canceled’.
So that’s it, 10 Batman Films from the Vaults of Development Hell that never did see the light of day. Some bullets certainly dodged above but perhaps one or two projects that we would loved to have seen come to fruition. Who wouldn’t have liked to have seen what Tim Burton did with Batman Forever after his visual and aesthetic signature on the series was so strong with the previous two movies, not to mention how awesome Michael Keaton was as Batman.
But alas, sometimes things happen for a reason and that reason is that we got to see Chris Nolan triumphantly reboot the Batman saga in 2005. And which of course comes to an end this summer with The Dark Knight Rises. Don’t know about you but we can’t wait!