George Clooney has long apologize for Batman and Robin. Clooney had this to say about the consensus fan and critical opinion that marks that 1997 Joel Schumacher movie and Clooney's performance in it as the worst cinematic batman episode and Cape Crusader performance.
“I think since Batman that I’ve been disinvited from Comic-Con for 20 years. I see the comment sections on all you guys. I just met Adam West there [referring to behind the NYCC main stage] and I apologized to him. Sorry about the nipples on the suit. Freeze, freeze, I apologize for that.”
It wouldn't be until 2003 that shooting on another Caped Crusader saga, Batman Begins would start under the direction of the young British filmmaker, Christopher Nolan. Nolan's reboot released 10 years ago this month has become a classic, while the Clooney version is the Batman every one wishes to forget.
During those lost years from 1997-2003 an unsure Warner Brothers went through five different versions of Batman written by eight writers (one of them being Frank Miller who penned the graphic novel that Nolan liberally borrowed thematic elements from) and with four different directors attached-- Schumacher, Darren Aronofsky, Boaz Yankin and disaster movie auteur Wolfgang Petrerson.
This is the history of these lost Batman adventures.
Batman Unchained was to be the follow-up sequel to Batman and Robin with Clooney and Chris O'Donnell returning as the Dynamic Duo and Joel Schumacher directing the trifecta. The script by Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend) was commissioned while Batman and Robin was still being shot.
The script had a surprise cameo for Jack Nicholson returning as the Joker.
"Joel wanted to tie up all of the films. The Tim Burton films and his films, building up to this moment," says Protosevich in a Hollywood reporter interview.
"It was going to be very dark," says Schumacher. "I remember going to the set of Face/Off and asking Nic Cage to play the Scarecrow," in a Hollywood Reporter discussion.
The script built to a hallucinogenic finale that had Batman being put on trial by every previous Bat Villain with Nicholson's Joker being the final witness.
Warner Brothers wanted cameos from the Tim Burton directed franchise villains: Danny DeVito (The Penguin), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman), Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face) and Jim Carrey (The Riddler).
Courtney Love, after hearing that Harley Quinn would play an important part in the film, tried to get her agent to push for the role. Harley Quinn's character arch had her going from villain to hero after the Darth Vader-like reveal that the Joker was her father.
"I think she (Courtney Love) had heard about the possibility of Harley Quinn being in the new Batman and was thinking she would be good for it," says Protosevich to the Hollywood Reporter "But we didn't really talk about that. We talked about a lot of other things. It was certainly one of the better lunches I've ever had in my career in show business."
The final scene had Clooney's Batman entering a cave as bats swarmed all around him.
"There's a similar image in Batman Begins, where he discovers what will be the bat cave and it's filled with bats and they are flying around him," says Protosevich. "Not that this scene was inspired by mine, but it was a similar idea. It was a powerful image."
Protosevich was starting the final rewrites for Batman Unchained when Batman and Robin was released. The poor reviews for that film had Warner Brothers running scared on bank rolling another Batman picture.
"A few days later, I'm getting a call from Joel, whose main comment was that I had written maybe the most expensive movie ever made. Then I remember I never heard from the executive at Warner Bros. I called many times, never got any kind of response," says Protosevich. "This got into a period of weeks and then a month, and my agent pestering Warners. And the next thing I knew, they were pulling the plug on the whole project. They were going to wait and see what they were going to do with Batman. The Joel Schumacher-driven Batman train was taken off the rails."
While Warner Brothers was stalling on the Mark Protosevich's scripted Batman Unchained the studio went looking for writers that would take the franchise in an entirely new direction. Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise had written a post apocalyptic screenplay that had caught the eye of junior production executive Fred Silverman. Silverman asked the aspiring writing team to come up with a plot outline that would reboot the franchise but still keep it close to the roots of the other Batman movies.
A few weeks later Shapiro and Wise had come up with a pitch impressive enough to be commissioned into a screenplay.
"Our script was just a direct answer to the last movie. Everything we were doing was, 'What did they do? Let's not do that,' " recalls Shapiro.
Batman: Darknight was written with the idea that George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell would want to star in an alternate origin story of Batman and Robin.
The story had a reclusive and tragedy stricken Batman returning to fighting crime upon the abduction of Robin (now in college).
Scarecrow and Man-Bat would be the villains.
Jonathan Crane who would later become Scarecrow is one of Dick Grayson's college professors. Crane suffers from a disease that does not allow him to feel physical pain.
"His sense of touch is off, so it's heightened his other senses, and it made him like a living scarecrow," Shapiro says of Scarecrow. "He gets physically scarred during a confrontation with Man-Bat, and that scarring of his face becomes his mask. It becomes the stitches he puts on himself, and the cauterizing of the wounds and all of that stuff. His face becomes the scarecrow mask."
After Grayson had challenged a dearly held Crane idea, Crane kidnaps Grayson, performs awful experiments on him and eventually has Grayson committed to Arkham Asylum.
Karl Langstrom/Man-Bat was another colleague turned evil villain after a Scarecrow experiment gone awry.
The screenplay was a gruesome mixture of John Carpenter's Halloween mixed with the Batman legend.
Shapiro and Wise envisioned the script as an eventual trilogy.
The script was liberally planted with Easter eggs that pointed to the future of the franchise. Among the surprises had Harley Quinn (Harleen Quinzel in the script) as a male character. Robin would transform to Nightwing over the course of the trilogy. Killer Croc and Clayface would be the new Batman villains.
Unbeknownst to Shapiro and Wise was Warner Brothers decision to take the Batman franchise entirely away from its Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher directed roots.
Wise and Shapiro even went as far to create Batman and Robin action figures in an attempt to convince the studio to commit to the project. In 2001 Jeff Robinov who had been placed in charge of the Bat franchise let the duo know that Warner Brothers had decided to pass on their script.
That was where the term reboot came from. They basically wanted to start over," says Wise to the Hollywood Reporter.
Batman: Year One
Batman: Year One was Frank Miller's follow-up to his dark, gritty and hugely popular four graphic novel series The Dark Knight Returns. Illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, Batman: Year One focused on the early months of Batman's crime-fighting career.
Warner Brothers, realizing the obvious fit, commissioned Miller to do a Batman screenplay.
Darren Aronfosky whose remarkable first feature Pi tagged him as a challenging and visionary new director was also recruited by Warner Brothers to share his Batman vision.
"He had really specific ideas about the character and which way to take it," Miller says of Aronofsky to the Hollywood Reporter. "I was surprised at the time, because I tend to be the more radical of any team I'm on, but it was Darren who was much more radical than I was. I said 'Darren, would you be willing to be faithful to the comics? and he was ready to rip the eyes out of them. We just had a wonderful time bashing around the story every which way and developing these characters."
The script had Bruce Wayne rejecting his inheritance until such time he proved to himself that he can make due entirely on his own.
"He forced himself to live in poverty and went to live on the streets he was going to defend,"noted Miller tothe Hollywood Reporter, who describes the character as monk-like. "So he lived like a bum. He was a short order cook until he finally proved to himself that not only could he become the greatest crime fighter the world had ever known, but he could support himself."
"He then took the fortune on, and traveled the world studying every kind of martial arts and detective school he could go to," says Miller. "He became a master of all of them and he became the greatest crime fighter the world would ever know."
The screenplay turned in to the studio was very unique, very violent and very very R-rated. It was the exact opposite of what Warner Brothers, who was looking to push the film to a heavily teen market, was looking for.
"I think I heard a shriek of horror at first," Miller says of the studio reaction. "They were shocked at how bold it was and wanted it to be softened as much as it could be and then we wanted it to be as hard as it could be."
Miller and Aronofsky and Warner Brothers agreed to a friendly parting of the ways.
"The whole process was one of discovery for me. I had to figure out what they wanted. Normally somebody like me, if you say you want to make a movie, I'll come up with something that will be 12 hours long and cost $1 billion to make," noted Miller to the Hollywood Reporter. "I had to learn a lot more about the restrictions. The restrictions that make sense — such as budgetary and who you can get to play the roles—and the restrictions that don't make sense — which there are millions."
For the seven years that Batman was absent on the big screen the Cape Crusader was making a big splash on the small one.
Batman Beyond was an animated series that ran from 1999-2001. It charted the course of a new Batman, Terry McGinnis as he was being tutored by a very elderly Bruce Wayne.
Warner Brothers naturally made overtures to the series creators Alan Burnett and Paul Dini. The studio even set out directing feelers to Baoz Yankin (Remember the Titans) to gauge his interest.
The first draft that Burnett and Dini turned in failed to wow the Warner Brothers suits.
"It didn't quite have the fantastic futuristic edge. It was a little bit of an amalgam [of the animated show and traditional Batman comics]," said Dini noted in a Kevin Smith reported in the Hollywood Reporter. "There was a little bit of The Dark Knight, there was a little bit of contemporary comics. There was Terry in the suit. It was old Bruce Wayne. They were in it."
Yankin mentioned in a 2012 Crave Online interview noted in the Hollywood Reporter that the project wasn't a good fit for his directing talents.
"I thought it would be interesting but partway through writing it and being where I was at in my life at the time, I realized that actually it wasn’t something I felt comfortable pursuing," said Yakin. "Who knows whether I stayed with it or not whether that film would have ever gotten made or not."
Batman Vs. Superman
Next year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was not the first time a studio tried to bring the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight to the screen.
In 2002 Warner Brothers hired Se7en scriptwriter Andrew Kevin Walker to do a first draft. The results must have been unimpressive. The Walker script was buried and Akiva Goldsman (Batman Forever and Batman and Robin) was hired to do a rewrite.
The Goldsman script has a retired Batman coming back to seek revenge on the Joker who killed Bruce Wayne's/Batman's wife while they were on their honeymoon. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne/Batman best man Clark Kent/Superman after divorcing Lois Lane returns to Smallville to eventually rekindle a romance with former gf Lana Lang.
The story evolves to include Lex Luthor in cahoots with the Joker to have Batman not only fall in love with a woman of their choosing but to also watch her die horribly in front of Wayne/Batman at an appropriately scheduled time.
Part of the evil duos plan is to have Batman and Superman fight each other. Batman (wearing a kryptonite suit) and Superman fight to a bloody draw. Eventually Batman and Superman discover the Joker/Luthor evil plan. The good guys team up to defeat the bad guys plan.
Wolfgang Peterson (The Perfect Storm, Das Boot) was hired to direct.
Sam Dickerman, then the head of Petersen's production company, pushed Walker not to think of the film as just another superhero movie.
"Sam said 'let's write this as if we want this to be a movie that gets considered for an Academy Award," says Walker in the Hollywood Reporter. "It's not supposed to be some kind of disposable popular culture. We wanted to take the character seriously."
Unfortunately the opening scene featured a massive terrorist attack. 9/11 had happened the previous year.
"There was a terrorist event in the screenplay that took on an entirely different timbre," says Walker to the Hollywood Reporter. "In the years after, both [DC's] Geoff Johns and [Marvel Studios chief] Kevin Feige, at different points made the observation about how before 9/11, Batman was always the cooler, cynical, 'Dark Knight' character and Superman to a certain extent was regarded as a little more wholesome, a little old fashioned and at certain points wasn't as admired as a character. Post-9/11, Superman became much more what people really wanted and needed in a way."
Warner Brothers decided to keep the two franchises separate. Christopher Nolan was hired to write and direct Batman Begins in 2003. JJ Abrams took a stab at writing what eventually became Superman Returns. McG was initially hired to direct but was eventually replaced by X-Men franchise director Bryan Singer.
In a Hollywood Reporter piece Walker recalls fondly writing the script, especially writing for Superman.
"One of the Supermans I most admire was Richard Donner's Superman," says Walker. "Just that idea of Superman as a mixture of an alien and almost a Christlike or Godlike figure. Even if he was just hovering above a scene and having a discussion with someone with his cape waving behind him, there was always a really strong image. Even on the page, you really felt that stuff very strongly."