Hollywood is a wasteland in some regards.
What once burned bright, esteemed in widespread popularity can end up languishing in purgatory, where studio executives hold the reigns and projects are caught in a perpetual development hell.
As a movie property, Batman was too lucrative a lightning rod to stay dead after 1997’s “Batman & Robin.” Even despite the backlash, that film did incredible business, especially overseas in the Asian markets.
Built on a foundation of business and profit, Warner Brothers knew that an audience for Batman still existed for filling seats and, more importantly, filling box office. And for years, they weighed their options on a number of ways to bring their caped crusading cash cow back into the forefront of cinema.
Here are a few of the avenues Warners sought to take both in film and on television in order to return Batman to his former glory:
Meant to be the 5th film in the existing Tim Burton-enacted franchise, “Batman: Triumphant” was the proposed title for what would’ve been “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin” director Joel Schumacher’s 3rd journey into Gotham City. Returning to the batcave, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone would once again don their capes and cowls to battle the master of fear himself, the Scarecrow; rumor speculated that “Leaving Las Vegas” star Nicolas Cage met with Joel to discuss the possibility of portraying Jonathan Crane in the film and Jeff Goldblum was also a proposed candidate. "Triumphant" would’ve also brought back both Michael Gough and Pat Hingle into the mix yet again.
Ultimately, Schumacher bowed out of the project and the franchise as overseen by both him and Burton was declared officially dead. Some tethers were left intact via the animated Batman of the day and the live action “Birds of Prey” television series before finally being put out to pastor. If anything, that shows you how much of an impression the franchise Burton laid the seeds for had made.
Following the success of Al Gough and Miles Millar’s reinterpretation of Superman with “Smallville,” Warners considered the potential of capitalizing on the show’s audience and appeal by putting Batman through a similar treatment on the small screen.
Under the proposed and admittedly logical title, “Wayne” would tell an episodic account of young Bruce’s departure from Gotham City and time abroad following the murders of his parents, following him on weekly travels around the globe to train with and learn from sensei’s, detectives, scholars, ninjas and even criminals in his quest to hone his mind and body for the war on crime that loomed on the horizon.
The concept is a great one on paper but in hindsight, Batman isn’t Superman. Without that costume, Clark Kent can still do all the incredible and fantastic things he’s known for and that can be enough. While passionate fans know Bruce is the same way, general audiences might not have found a ‘Batman’ TV series without the cape and cowl nearly as satisfying. One could also argue that budgeting for the numerous locations and accompanying casting might’ve ran steep.
In an interesting tidbit, proposed casting for the show included a fresh-faced actress from the WB’s popular “Dawson’s Creek” television show named Katie Holmes.
With its rise in popularity on Kid’s WB, Warners thought it’d be a better idea to capitalizing on the animated “Batman Beyond” television series with its very own live action film.
Show runners Alan Burnett and Paul Dini were tapped to pen the script, which would’ve adapted their animated pilot to tell the story of Neo-Gotham punk Terry McGinnis and his ascension to the mantle of Batman under the watchful eye of an elderly Bruce Wayne.
Many fans speculated that the film could’ve harkened back to the original 1989 piece by casting Michael Keaton in the Bruce Wayne role once more; others saw it as a tremendous opportunity to bring in a fantastic older actor like Charleston Heston or fan favorite Clint Eastwood to take on the legendary character. Meanwhile, everyone from “X-Men”/”Superman Returns” star James Marsden to Wes Bently was considered for McGinnis.
In retrospect, this could’ve been a great project and still might be. In spite of how the franchise has transpired since, fans still have interest in seeing the world of “Beyond” be translated to the live action forum, with its “Blade Runner” inspired setting and techno-visual aesthetics.
Who knows; maybe the future crusade of Terry McGinnis will get its live action due someday.
“Batman vs. Superman”
This one was a long time coming for comic book fans.
For decades and through multiple stories, the dark knight and the man of steel had been interpreted as everything from best of friends to bitter rivals. Their partnership is the stuff of legend and given the burn out of the “Superman” movie franchise in 1987, Warners might’ve seen this as a means of killing two birds with a huge fanboy-dream boulder.
The project got so far that a director was attached as Warners brought Wolfgang Peterson on board to helm the piece, which mutated into everything from a ‘buddy-cop’ mentality to a bizarre plot that saw Bruce Wayne married only to have his bride supposedly ‘killed’ by Superman, leading into Batman’s lust for vengeance against the Kryptonian.
Much like “Batman Beyond,” a “World’s Finest” movie involving Batman and Superman DOES have an incredible amount of potential in its conceptualization and, truth be told, several fans would be thrilled to see the movie lift off the ground.
The studio even poked fun at the turbulent development history of the project in their Will Smith vehicle “I am Legend,” which depicted a post-apocalyptic New York city that included a Times Square billboard for the film’s ‘marketing campaign.’
Perhaps one of these days, Bats and Supes will share the silver screen together.
“Batman: Year One”
Eventually, Warner Brothers decided on what one can see now as a no-brainer.
Rather than propel the legend of Batman into the future with a project like “Batman Beyond,” why not take the dark knight back into the past; a past where Batman was a young man, Jim Gordon hadn’t yet earned the role of Police Commissioner and Gotham City was worse off than it had ever been shown before.
For the decision, they turned to Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel “Year One” to act as a near page-for-page translation that would achieve the elements they wanted to incorporate.
Miller himself was brought in to adapt the book into a screenplay. Of course the problem in doing so is that we’re talking about a Frank Miller that’s separate from the Frank Miller who wrote the book back in 1986.
Inspired by his own recent affinity for defying convention and ignoring the pressures of commercial expectation, Miller sought to make changes to the Batman mythology that didn’t sit well with either the fans or the studio.
Case in point; the “Year One” movie would’ve abandoned Bruce Wayne’s trusted English butler Alfred Pennyworth. In his place would’ve been a big, burly, jive-talking black auto mechanic named ‘Big Al’ (short for Alfred) who operates in the Gotham slums, making equipment for Batman.
While the framework for the book was the way they wanted to go, Warners had no intentions of succumbing to Miller’s changes and, eventually, he bowed out of the process.
When it comes to chaotic production histories, Batman has his fair share of attempts to get his film franchise back off the ground, all of which were viable in their own right at the time.
For eight years, the caped crusader was stuck in the rut.
And after several attempts, endless amounts of scripts and a number of directors, Warner Brothers thought that perhaps the end had been reached for Batman.
But as with all legends, they’re never truly dead.
With no hope in sight, the studio was caught off guard as a filmmaker entered into their graces...with a proposal for how the character might be remade and revitalized on film.
It was a sight to behold.
For as one chapter on the cinematic legacy of Batman was coming to an end, another was about...