Looking Back #5: Batman 1997-2003

Looking Back #5: Batman 1997-2003

In the 5th installment of Looking Back, I'll be taking a look at all the propsed Batman movies Warner Bros. had in development after Batman &Robin and before Batman Begins.

Previously, I took a look at the proposed Batman Beyond movie that was part of Warner Bros. "battle royale" to determine how the Batman franchise would proceed after the disastrous Batman & Robin. During the period between 1997 and 2003, Warner Bros. had five Batman films in development [sometimes simultaneously] before ultimately deciding to give the green light to Christopher Nolan and Batman Begins. While I'm sure the vast majority of the Batman fans out there are pleased with Warner Bros. decision making here, some of the unused proposals were very exciting and had some big name actors and directors attached. Some of the names and proposed directions may surprise you.

Batman Triumphant (1997)
A direct sequel to Batman & Robin that would return to the roots of the first two films, with George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell returning since they were still under contract, and Joel Schumacher still as director. The Scarecrow was to be the main villain and through the use of his fear gas, would cause Batman to confront his worst fear: the return of the Joker. Harley Quinn was going to be in the movie too, as the daughter of Jack Napier. This movie was in development before Batman & Robin came out, but once it did, this was scrapped faster than you can say "To the Batcave Robin". Still Schumacher, a little embarrassed, wanted a chance to redeem his directorial name. Schumacher felt he "owed the Batman culture a real Batman movie. I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight." He approached Warner Bros. of doing Batman: Year One in mid-1998.

Batman: DarKnight (1998-2000)
Screenwriters Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise approached WB about taking the Batman franchise in a new direction. A proposal, akin to the "requel" concept [Think Ang Lee's Hulk and The Incredible Hulk] had the Scarecrow and Man-Bat to be the main villains, with Fear being the theme of the movie (a lot of themes and concepts from this script were ultimately used in Batman Begins). Joel Schumacher was still signed on to direct, but dropped out for unknown reasons [probably to pursue Batman:Year One]. The story started out with Bruce Wayne in self-imposed exile because he has lost his way and Dick Grayson has also hung-up the tights to attend Gotham University. Dr. Jonathan Crane conducts experiments at both Gotham University and Arkham Asylum, where one of his experiments transforms colleague Dr. Kirk Langstrom into Man-Bat. Citizens of Gotham believe Man-Bat's nightly activities to be Batman's "bloodthirsty" return. The plot was described as very similar to On Leather Wings [the pilot episode of Batman: The Animated Series]. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were to return as Batman and Robin to clear Batman's name. The movie lasted in development hell up until late 2000. Warner Bros. decided not to move forward, and passed on Batman: DarKnight in favor of Year One and Batman Beyond.

Batman: Year One (1998-2002)
Joel Schumacher, who wanted to do Batman: Year One, proposed the idea of a reboot so he could make that into a movie and restore his name as a director. WB liked the idea but simply no longer had faith in Schumacher and decided to give it to up-and-coming filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky. Around this time, Aronofsky wanted to do an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns with Clint Eastwood as Batman and Tokyo standing in for Gotham. Aronofsky decided to scrap his Dark Knight Returns idea and attach his name to the Year One proposal. However, Aronofsky left the project to make Requiem for a Dream, and WB returned to Shapiro's DarKnight and began discussion on a Batman Beyond adaption. When those projects fell apart, the studio returned to Aronofsky who brought Frank Miller along to work on the script. With Frank Miller as the writer, Year One was to be inspired by crime dramas like Taxi Driver, The French Connection, and Death Wish. Aronofsky approached Christian Bale for the role of Batman and Kurt Russell for the role of Commissioner Gordon. While it was always whispered that Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, Brenden Fraiser were also approached to play Batman, this was never officially confirmed by Aronofsky or Miller. Per Batman-on-Film, here's a synopsis of the plot:

In YEAR ONE Bruce Wayne’s parents are still murdered in front of him as a child, but Bruce –instead of going back to Wayne Manor to be raised by Alfred – wanders lost on the streets, eventually to be taken in by “Big Al” – owner of an auto mechanic shop across the street from a brothel in a pretty seedy part of town. There, as he grows up watching the pimps, prostitutes, petty street criminals overtake his area of Gotham, he becomes an angry – almost dementedly angry – and swears to do something about it. He eventually takes on the guise of a bat, and “The Bat-Man” – as he is called – wages war on the criminal element of Gotham. While there are elements of the comic book “YEAR ONE” in this adaptation, quite a bit of it was changed (like the reason he chooses to become “The Bat-Man”).

Like the comic book, Jim Gordon is portrayed as the one good cop in the corrupt GPD. But he is written as a very dark character with suicidal thoughts. Also as in the comic, D.A. Harvey Dent is believed to be the vigilante known as “The Bat-Man.” Selina Kyle is also in the mix as well, written much as the character appears in Miller’s “YEAR ONE” arc.

In the end, Bruce is found to be the heir of the Wayne estate and accepts his destiny – as the billionaire Bruce Wayne we know from the comics, and also as The Bat-Man.

Despite best intentions, the studio deemed the film too violent, which would've made it an R-rated Batman movie. As such, the concept was shot down.

Batman Beyond (1999-2000)
I previously covered this film in Looking Back #4. Click here for all the details. This proposal was my personal favorite.

Batman vs. Superman (2001-2002)

The movie came up when the script to Superman: Flyby was being written [by JJ Abrams]. Wolfgang Peterson was going to direct, and Andrew Kevin Walker wrote the script. But for unknown reasons, Akiva Goldsman was hired to rewrite Walker's draft. It was rumored that Jude Law had been cast as Superman and Colin Farrell as The Dark Knight. In Goldsman's draft; Clark Kent is down on his luck and in despair. He is going through a divorce from Lois Lane, and is in a teetering romance with Lana Lang. Bruce Wayne has retired from being Batman for five years, has shaken all his inner demons, and is about to marry Elizabeth Miller, with Clark as the best man. When the Joker returns and kills Elizabeth, Bruce returns as Batman, and goes to the edge in his quest for revenge. This leads to a big fight between Batman and Superman, however a late revelation that Lex Luthor is the real mastermind leads to a big finish between the two heroes and Luthor. Batman vs. Superman was to relaunch both the Batman and Superman franchises respectively, with both characters spinning out into their own franchises. However, it seems that when debating the course of the Superman and Batman franchises, two WB factions arose. One side favored the BvS film – and then shooting the characters off into their own film franchises. The other wanted to reboot the franchises with origin stories, before doing any sort of team-up film. The latter group won out, and thus development began on BATMAN BEGINS - which is an origin film – and SUPERMAN RETURNS - a quasi-sequel to the first two Chris Reeve SUPERMAN films – but a restart of sorts as well.

Batman Begins (2001-2003)
In December 2002, Joss Whedon pitched an origin story that was met with negative feedback from Warner Bros. Whedon's version had "a Hannibal Lecter-type villain in Arkham Asylum that Bruce went and sort of studied with," Whedon explained. "It was set in Bruce's early years in Gotham City. I get very emotional about it, I still love the story. Maybe I’ll get to do it as a comic one day." However, according to Whedon, the studio Execs. hated it. Says Whedon, "I came up with an idea that I really loved, which was an origin story. After I finished pitching it, they looked at me like I was a video fishbowl." Ultimately, Warner Bros. turned to Christopher Nolan and that's how we got the Batman franchise we all know and love today. Up for the role of Bruce Wayne along with Christian Bale were, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Eion Bailey, Cillian Murphy, Joshua Jackson, David Boreanaz, and Ashton Kutcher among others. A select few were given a screen test with the choice being narrowed down to two – Gyllenhaal and Bale. And of course, Bale nabbed the role.

Colin Farrell was rumored to be Bruce Wayne in Batman vs. Superman.

Ben Affleck was rumored to be up for the role of Bruce Wayne in Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One.

Whenever there is a rumored "aged" Batman/Bruce Wayne project, Clint Eastwood's name is the first to come up, and for good reason!


Batman is a fictional character created by the artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. A comic book superhero, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939), and since then has appeared in many of DC Comics’ publications. Originally referred to as "the Bat-Man" and still referred to at times as "the Batman", he is additionally known as the "Caped Crusader", the "Dark Knight", the "Darknight Detective", and the "World's Greatest Detective".

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Filed Under "Batman" 7/31/2011
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