6 Unmade Live-Action BATMAN Projects

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Geek Dave looks back at 6 pre-Burton Batman projects that never made it to fruition.

After the cancellation of the Adam West Batman TV show in 1968, and prior to the ultra successful Tim Burton / Michael Keaton Batman movie in 1989, there were several attempts to bring the Dark Knight back out of the comic book. Here are 6 of them...


1. Adam West's Batman
For many people growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80s Adam West was Batman, it was certainly a role he couldn't escape, and even though he turned down the part of James Bond West found it increasingly difficult to escape the shadow of the bat. Bit parts and guest star roles in shows like Mannix and Police Woman became the staple of West's 1970s career, and in between that he was working as a Batman for hire at public events.

But in the background Adam West was attempting to bring his most famous role back to the big screen, and wrote a screenplay himself for a brand new, very odd sounding, Batman movie. West explained the plot to Rolling Stone magazine;
“Bruce Wayne had basically retired to his ranch in New Mexico after having cleaned up Gotham City. Most of the main villains were in madhouses or penitentiaries. So I invented a new supervillain called Sun Yat Mars, who was so heinous he inspired to spring them on one horrible stormy night, making them his minions – Marsies. Moreover he was kidnapping college kids from all over the world, taking them to his Zombie Satellite, which was very Alien looking, and there they marched like Dracula, filing in long lines into these terrible machines that sucked their brains out.
The Picture would've opened with Bruce and his girlfriends out riding horses in the moonlight, and they come across a mutilated cow's carcass surrounded by burned grass. You don't know whether or not a spaceship is involved. It's all very mysterious. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson has become a signing medical intern somewhere/ He's chasing nurses around with his guitar - the Bruce Springsteen of Mercy Hospital. We reunite and end up conquering all those guys again"
I think I know what you're thinking and it goes by the initials WTF, right?

It sounds absolutely Batshit-crazy. It's no surprise that the movie never happened, but boy, would I have paid hard cash money to have seen it!


2. Superbat
More classic West.

After everyone turned down his Batman script Adam West tried to buy the rights to produce the movie himself. When he realised that was never going to happen West decided to find a way around the licensing issue. He explained;
“I also wrote a thing called Superbat when it was clear I’d never get film rights to the Batman character. It was a hybrid of Batman and Superman who came from another galaxy, but he now lives in this vast cave.”
If you're a fan of the comics then you may know that a character called Superbat actually saw the light of day in DC's 2008 Final Crises series....


...somehow i doubt Adam West got paid!


3. Batman In Outer Space
Yeah, you read that right.

Having broadcast the 1977 animated series The New Adventures of Batman, CBS were keen to get themselves some more Bat-action and went to DC Comics with a pitch for a new television movie called Batman In Outer Space. Nothing came of it (of course) as DC didn't go for the idea. Although Batman has left our planet in comic form on more than one occasion, and more recently in the video game LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham...



It's unknown if Adam West would've donned the space cowl, but he did return to the spandex for two TV specials (airing on NBC) in early 1979. There could've possibly been more, but this happened...


4. Return Of The Batman
Michael Uslan (who has worked as a producer on all the modern Batman movies, starting with Tim Burton's 1989 film, and continuing to the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) had a vision for a new darker take on the character and went to see the President of DC Comics, Sol Harrison, to acquire the rights. Uslan explained;
"He said “Michael, Batman is as dead as a dodo” – and that’s a quote – “since it went off on TV.” He says to me, “No one is interested in Batman.”"
Unperturbed, Uslan landed the rights to Batman in April 1979, but he faced stiff opposition from just about everyone in Hollywood.
"People - in the Hollywood community - weren’t understanding what I was saying [about a dark, serious BATMAN film]. “Batman is a pot-bellied funny guy with ‘Pows, Zaps, and Whams. It’s silliness. “ And I’d tell them “No it’s not.” They couldn’t get it. Even when I showed them [the dark Batman comic books - old and current]. So I sat down and worked with a friend of mine on a script titled RETURN OF THE BATMAN. I wanted to do it not because this was what the film would be, but to give people some idea of just what the hell I was talking about! It really was about ten years before “The Dark Knight Returns” - it was that sort of approach to it. And that helped me convince a few people in Hollywood what I was trying to accomplish."
On October 3, 1979 Uslan and his partner Ben Melniker formed BATFILM PRODUCTIONS, INC, and set about in earnest bringing Batman to the big screen. And they were setting their sights high!


5. The Batman
In 1983 Uslan commissioned James Bond script writer, Tom Mankiewicz to produced the screenplay for The Batman. The basis of the movie was the late 1970s series Batman: Strange Apparitions. These comics were/are highly regarded as helping transition Batman into a three-dimensional character who is as much adventurer as detective. Featuring bold and rich portrayals of the Joker, Clayface, Hugo Strange and the Penguin, plus also including Bruce Wayne's love affair with Silver St. Cloud and her astonishing discovery of his alter ego. These stories and character interpretations are the foundation upon which Batman's current mythos has been built. Mankiewicz adapted the original comic tales to include The Joker in the place of Hugo Strange, he also added Rupert Thorne amongst the villains and included a Robin origin story as a central part of the plot.

By the end of 1984 several actors were linked to the project, amongst them were David Niven as Alfred, William Holden as Jim Gordon and David Bowie as The Joker...


How great would that have been?
Ivan Reitman signed on as director. Having just worked with Bill Murray on Ghostbusters he was very keen to bring him in as Batman...


But the best of all were the suggestions for Robin. Amongst them was a small screen actor who was yet to get the call for Back To The Future, Michael J Fox, and because movie studios love a bit of diversity Warned Bros. really wanted Eddie Murphy to play the Boy Wonder...


Holy banana in the tailpipe Batman!
The movie was drifting far away from Michael Uslan's original vision. Reitman left the project and Joe Dante was bought on board as his replacement, but he didn't stay in the directors chair for long as after nine rewrites time was called on The Batman and Ussan decided to press reset. It would be a couple more years until he sat down with Tim Burton and introduce him to the Dark Knight. Wanting to make sure Burton understood the concept Ussan revealed;
"I only let Tim see the original year of the Bob Kane/Bill Finger run, up until the time that Robin was introduced. I showed him the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers and the Neal Adams/Denny O'Neil stories. My biggest fear was that somehow Tim would get hold of the campiest Batman comics and then where would we be?"
Maybe here?..


6. A Night In Wayne Manor
Poor Adam West. He'd clearly been out of the loop for the last decade. In 1987 he had an idea for one last return to the Bat-cowl;
"I went to DC Comics and tried to sell them on the idea of a big Broadway play called A Night In Wayne Manor, which could’ve been a musical. But by then no one would touch Batman. The (Tim Burton) movie was in the works."
Somehow I doubt it was just the pre-production of the new movie that made DC say no, but I'm sure it was a great excuse for them to use. "Oh, we'd really love to Adam, what a shame, it's just timing - honest."


Of course, there have been several Batman stage shows, both before and after West's pitch to DC, and there was even an attempt to bring Batman: The Musical to the stage. Jim Steinman was writing the lyrics, including such fascinatingly named songs as In The Land Of The Pig The Butcher Is King and The Joker Song (Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?). It never saw the light of day but if you want to know more then there's a brilliant unofficial website complete with demos.

Next Friday we will pick up the story post-Burton.
Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

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