What do you get when you cross George Clooney, Nicholas Cage and Joel Schumacher? I'll tell you — a big mess and a bat-splat which somehow (eight years later) becomes Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. This is the story of the Batman film which never managed to fly from the Batcave.
A well known cinematic duff, Batman & Robin cast a dark shadow over the Dark Knight in 1997, but rumors of another outing were always on the cards. During the filming of Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. were so impressed by the dailies, (how on Earth?) they immediately hired Joel Schumacher to reprise his directing duties for a third film.
In late 1996, with Schumacher on board, Mark Protosevich was hired to pen a script, seeing a mid-1999 release date. Protosevich's script was titled Batman Triumphant and saw the Caped Crusader face off against villains such as The Scarecrow and Harley Quinn.
Clooney (sigh), O'Donnell (sigh) and Silverstone (biggest sigh) were all set to reprise their roles, with Nicolas Cage tipped to pick up a hessian sack to play The Scarecrow. Although never hired, it was rumored that a young Courtney Love would be putting on the red and black as Harley Quinn.
As for Harley Quinn, she was still (relatively) new, having first appeared in a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Triumphant would see Joker's long time lover not as his lover at all — she would be his daughter. As this isn't Game of Thrones, fans should have expected a very different relationship for Puddin' and the Clown Princess. If Schumacher's desecration of the franchise hadn't already done enough damage, then that 'slight' change was sure to push fanboys over the edge.
The premise of Triumphant would be Batman's take on fear. The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face and The Riddler were all set to return (played by their original actors) and put Batman on trial like the Animated Series episode "Trial." The script had the vengeful Harley wanting justice against Batman for the death of her (Joker) father. Crane would find out Bruce's identity and the two would team up to take down The Bat, driving him crazy and having him committed to Arkham Asylum.
The idea of having more Arkham time sounds great, it is an amazing location, but badly underused in the entirety of the franchise; especially you Nolan! However, I'm sorry Schumacher, didn't you already kind of cover the whole teaming up thing in Batman Forever with Two-Face and The Riddler? We would also see Robin abandoning Batman, presumably to 'spread his wings,' but then retuning in a climactic final battle to help the Caped Crusader take down his foes.
A very Nolan-eqsue ending would see Batman holidaying in Bali, entering a cave of bats as they all fly around him, thus proving he has conquered his fear. Alas, the negative reviews of Batman & Robin pretty much put a stop to all of this. Clooney was out after saying he would never wear the cape and cowl again and Schumacher had 'lost' his passion for the franchise. Warner Bros. intended to bring in Tim Drake as a new Robin, but this never transpired.
Triumphant was pretty much scrapped and rewritten by Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise into a new story called DarKnight. Their script kept Scarecrow, but swapped Quinn out for Dr. Kirk Langstrom's Man-Bat. The inclusion of Man-Bat would definitely set a darker tone for the film, then sent it in a more Dracula direction. I have always found Man-Bat fascinating and one of the more scary foes, but a late '90s/early 2000s screen version was sure to include some pretty dodgy CGI. For a genuinely scary Man-Bat, look to 2015's Batman: Arkham Knight game.
When Schumacher eventually dropped out of all talks, he was replaced by The Fugitive director Andrew Davis, but even this wasn't enough to save the franchise. In late 2000, plans for fifth film were completely dropped and Schumacher said:
I felt I disappointed a lot of older fans by being too conscious of the family aspect... I’d gotten tens of thousands of letters from parents asking for a film their children could go to. Now, I owe the hardcore fans the Batman movie they would love me to give them
After that Warner Bros. toyed with adapting live-screen version of Batman Beyond — written by show creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnet, however the director's instance on an R-rated version also binned that. The franchise hovered in limbo with various incarnations rumored. Studios wanted everything from a Robin-centric spin-off, to a big screen Batman: Year One. Thankfully Schumacher never got to round off his Batman trilogy, but themes of his legacy live on.
The similarities between Triumphant and Batman Begins are clear, while the Batman Arkham video games are also mainly Scarecrow centric. Arguably Schumacher could have taken his third film in a great direction, but I wouldn't place your bets on it. The upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is sure to point the Batman franchise in some sort of direction, as for the rest, we will have to wait and see. Batman Triumphant, much like Thomas and Martha Wayne, is history.