It’s been over ten years since the release of Hollywood’s first big “gritty reboot,” Batman Begins. Before Christopher Nolan got a chance to make a brooding Batman that was grounded in realism, there were all kinds of different takes on the Caped Crusader in various stages of development in Warner Brothers. The Hollywood Reporter looked at five of them.
Envisioned in a time when Batman Forever was a smash-hit and Batman & Robin had yet to render the Bat-brand toxic to audiences, Warner Brothers thought it best to ready another Bat-film from director Joel Schumacher while the iron was hot. He teamed up with I Am Legend scribe Mark Protosevich for a take on what was to be the final chapter of the Burton-esque Batman.
The film was to feature Harley Quinn and Scarecrow, with the latter potentially being played by film icon Nicolas Cage, and Courtney Love as the Joker’s lady friend. Protosevich actually met with Love about the role, but there’s no telling if Love actually would have gotten the part.
“I think she had heard about the possibility of Harley Quinn being in the new Batman and was thinking she would be good for it,” says Protosevich. “But we didn’t really talk about that. We talked about a lot of other things. It was certainly one of the better lunches I’ve ever had in my career in show business.”
Had Joel been able to realize his grand vision, the film’s final sequence would have culminated in visions of Batman’s greatest foes reappearing as nightmares, including cameos from Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, and grandest of all, Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
Ultimately, the scathing reviews of Batman & Robin scared Warner Brothers off, and Batman Unchained never went into production. These days, Harley is up to something different, front-and-center in a ‘Suicide Squad’ film set for next summer.
DarKnight was supposed to be a reboot still set in the continuity of Tim Burton’s Batman universe, while simultaneously totally not at all like Batman & Robin. Man-Bat and Scarecrow were to be the film’s villains, in a plot that would focus on a retired Batman (played by George Clooney) being forced to save Gotham, and Robin going off to college. Thrilling stuff.
Ultimately (and probably for the best), Warner decided they were going to drop the continuity of the existing franchise, and head off in a new direction. The reboot was on.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE
Ask any DC Comics fanboy about the Batman films they wish they could have seen, and this one tops the list. Set to be directed by Darren Aronofsky from revered source material written by Frank Miller, this was the WB’s first crack at resetting the Batman saga.
Following closely to the storyline of the source material, Year One would have featured a down-and-out Jim Gordon in a failing marriage, still trying to make a name for himself and far from being Gotham’s commissioner. An Un-Batmanned Bruce Wayne is rejecting his inheritance, and wants to work at becoming the World’s Greatest Detective in order save his city. These days it sounds tame, but at the time this R-rated take on the classic hero wasn’t very well-received.
“I think I heard a shriek of horror at first,” Miller says of the studio reaction. “They were shocked at how bold it was and wanted it to be softened as much as it could be and then we wanted it to be as hard as it could be.”
In 2002, Warner Brothers shelved this version of their new Bat-flick. Miller would go on to make Sin City with Robert Rodriguez (based on another of Miller’s comics). While we’re thinking about it, Sin City would have been an amazing Batman film itself.
In the early '00s, Batman was finding himself in a weird place. On the big screen he was a flop, but Warner Bros. animation had carved a perfect niche for him on television with Batman Beyond. Set in a distant future where Bruce Wayne has retired and technology runs rampant, the series followed a young man named Terry McGinnis as Bruce trained him to take on the mantle of the Bat.
The series was the brainchild of DC animation guru Paul Dini, and together with Return of the Titans director Boaz Yakin they set about finding a way to translate the success of Beyond to the box office. As you already know, things didn’t pan out.
“It didn’t quite have the fantastic futuristic edge. It was a little bit of an amalgam [of the animated show and traditional Batman comics],” said Dini. “There was a little bit of The Dark Knight, there was a little bit of contemporary comics. There was Terry in the suit. It was old Bruce Wayne. They were in it.”
Dini later dismissed the project on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man on Batman Podcast, saying that the film fell apart when an exciting enough first draft couldn’t be put together.
BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN
Unsatisfied with all the Bat-options available, Warner mused over the idea of taking their shelved Superman films and smashing them together with Batman to inject a little life into both franchises. With a tag team of Lex Luthor and the Joker to fight, the project could have been a near-mythical take on the genre.
The leaked script had the synopsis as follows:
Batman Vs. Superman begins with among the most unlikely things imaginable: Bruce Wayne’s wedding. Bruce has been retired for five years, his bride knowing nothing of his former life as Batman. During Bruce’s honeymoon, his bride is killed, all signs pointing to The Joker as the culprit. This prompts The Batman out of retirement to seek out his mortal enemy, whom he believes had died years earlier.
Clark Kent is going through changes of his own, with his wife Lois Lane having left him. After serving as Bruce’s best man earlier in the ceremony — and foiling a terror attack in an action-packed opening scene — he returns to Smallville. Both his parents have died, but his former love interest Lana Lang is still back in Kansas, and he rekindles a romance.
Bruce goes about violently tearing up the underworld to get to the Joker. Eventually it’s revealed Lex Luthor and The Joker have been behind all of their troubles — from the terror attack on Metropolis to the death of Bruce’s wife. The Joker actually plucked Bruce’s wife from obscurity and molded her into a woman Bruce would love, manipulating the couple into falling in love.
Surely you can figure out the rest from there, as Batman and Superman come to blows, only to finally realize that the real enemies are the bald billionaire and the clown prince of crime. While this certainly would have brought Batman and Superman into the future, Warner Brothers thankfully instead went with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins take in 2003, and decided that maybe (for then), Superman and Batman were better off as friends.
Of course, the idea of DC’s two biggest characters pummeling each other never quite went away, and before too long we’ll be seeing Zach Snyder’s take in theaters.
(Via The Hollywood Reporter)