During the filming of Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. were apparently so impressed with Joel Schumacher's approach and direction he was taking the series that they offered him the chance to return as director for a third time. (I'll give you a moment to let that sink in........ OK?) Unsurprisingly, Schumacher accepted then and there.
And so in late 1996, six months before Batman & Robin was release, Warner Bros. and Schumacher hired Mark Protosevich to write the script for what would be the fifth Batman film. A projected mid-1999 release date was announced, and the movie was given the title 'Batman Triumphant'.
Protosevich's script had the Scarecrow as the main villain. Through the use of his fear toxin, he resurrects the Joker as a hallucination in Batman's mind. Harley Quinn was also to have appeared as a supporting character, written in as the Joker's daughter, and George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, and Alicia Silverstone were set to reprise the roles of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl.
It was hoped to attract Madonna to the part of Harley Quinn, seeking vengeance for the death of her father. As for the Scarecrow, both Nicolas Cage and Jeff Goldblum were being considered for the part, and as early development progressed Schumacher had hoped to make this installment darker than the previous one
And then on the 20th June 1997 Batman & Robin was released, and everything very quickly changed.
The reception from the press was so negative that it essentially killed the franchise, even though Batman & Robin did return a fairly decent profit - $238 million off a $125 million budget. Clooney, who at the time only had a one film contract, vowed never to reprise his role, and any idea for a fifth Batman movie which would act as a sequel to the previous installments were quickly dropped.
Not wanting to abandon the money spinning Bat-movie franchise altogether, Warner Bros. and Schumacher considered a different approach...
Schumacher was a big fan of Frank Miller's graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, and at one point had actually suggested it being the basis of what would eventually become Batman & Robin, but Warner Bros. weren't interested at the time, as he revealed:
"I think I’m the most envious of Chris Nolan because he got to do The Dark Knight — and that’s the one I begged to do as my second Batman film. I wanted to do a whole other thing, because we had kind of re-invented franchise with Val as Batman and it was a very young, sexy, and much less expensive movie. We brought in Robin and I wanted to make The Dark Knight desperately, but the studio didn’t want that and it’s their money and they’re my bosses."This time however, Warner Bros. did listen to his pitch and seriously considered it. Both sides agreed that ideally they like to lure Michael Keaton back to the role, but if that wasn't possible (and it seems it was never really going to be an option as Keaton was unlikely to have agreed) then Clint Eastwood would've been approached. Schumacher also thought about casting David Bowie in the role of the Joker.
However it never got past the discussion stage, but still under contract and wanting to make one last Batman movie, Schumacher didn't give up hope and suggested a direction which would've been a total re-boot to the series.
Schumacher felt he,
"owe[d] the Batman culture a real Batman movie. I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight."His first discussions with Warner Bros. about doing Batman: Year One came in mid-1998, and the studio were very receptive to the idea - however they now didn't like the idea of Schumacher returning as director. So they hired Darren Aronofsky instead.
At the time there were some press reports about the project, with names for potential Batman's mentioned, surprisingly including both Ben Affleck and Christian Bale, and Aaron Eckhart was rumoured to be attached as Jim Gordon.
Frank Miller was approached to adapt his comic book, and adapt it he did! Apparently his new script included Bruce Wayne as an orphan on the streets of Gotham, stripped of his fortune and taken in like Oliver Twist by an Alfred surrogate called Big Al, who ran an autoshop with his son, Little Al. Selina Kyle also featured as a young prostitute.
Stuck in development hell, the project went through numerous re-writes and directors, until ultimately it was canceled. Christopher Nolan was eventually hired to helm the next Batman film in January 2003, resulting in the rebooted Batman Begins. And that's where we will pick up the story next time...
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