After 1997’s Batman and Robin, Warner Bros. had succeeded in turning a cash cow into a devastated animal incapable of attracting an audience to a movie based on one of the most recognizable superheroes in the industry. Whereas Tim Burton’s two films paid homage to the source material and sought to establish the character in the modern film world, Schumacherr was faced with making what was called a ‘toy-etic’ movie. The third Batman film (Schumacher’s first), Batman Forever, has its fans, but the fourth is largely forgotten by most. In most cases when I bring up the fourth film, I’m met with confusion, ‘there were four Batman movies??’ that reinforces the somehow blurred visual style resulting in a pair of products that may as well be one.
After Batman and Robin, I recall hearing that Schumacher was in talks with George Clooney about returning for a darker film based loosely in Grant Morrison’s graphic novel Arkham Asylum.
Entitled Batman Triumphant, the movie would focus on an older Batman acting alone as he enters the madhouse to fight the combined forces of all of his villains leading to a final confrontation with the Joker. There were variations of this idea that also saw the Scarecrow and the Man-Bat as villains. I remember reading an interview with Schumacher about his set-up shot mirroring the opening sequence of the Killing Joke in which Batman stands outside of Arkham Asylum in the rain.
It’s important to note that these projects with Schumacher were in development before the bad press started to build up. After it was clear that neither Clooney nor Schumacher wished to return to the franchise, Warner Bros. made the unusually brilliant move to develop Batman Beyond with animation legend Paul Dini and science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson signed up to work up a script. Based on the cartoon of the same name, this would be set in a cyberpunk-ish future Gotham City where an aged Bruce Wayne trained his protege to be the new Batman. But Warner Bros. execs dumped this idea in favor of a massive movie that would combine two legends, Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) and Frank Miller (Sin City), to create Batman Year One.
Christopher Kugler has an article over at his blog ClockworkKugler on the proposed remake including extensive concept art (sample above) that I highly recommend checking out for the full story on this one. It needs to be read to be believed. I won’t even give any details… just go read it.
Eventually we ended up getting Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins and Batman: The Dark Knight which have both proven so successful that few even talk about the 80’s movies, or the aborted projects that never made it past the drawing board. This includes the insane Batman Vs. Superman in which Bruce Wayne has survived the deaths of Alfred, Robin and Commissioner Gordon only to see his fiancee die at the alter while Superman does nothing… leading to a knock-down brawl between the two former comrades. Christian Bale and Josh Hartnett were signed up to play Batman and Superman. That one is still on the table.