Long before superhero movies dominated pop culture, Batman had a stranglehold on the cinematic genre. After Tim Burton’s, Batman, became a legitimate cultural phenomenon in 1989, Batman dominated the 1990s. In 1992, Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight flew high again in Burton’s dark Batman Returns. As the decade went on, Burton’s weird gothic operas gave way to Joel Schumacher’s neon Batman Forever in 1995 and his cartoonish Batman & Robin in 1997. While Batman’s cape and cowl passed down to Val Kilmer and later George Clooney, the Batman movies faced falling box office totals and increasing critical scorn. Despite their varying reputations, these Batman films all helped establish the modern cinematic superhero genre and started to set the stage for today’s plethora of superhero movies.
Now, CBR takes a look back at some of the behind-the-scenes secrets from the Batman movies of the 1990s (and 1989). While Burton’s Batman was released in 1989, we’ll be diving into the lengthy developments of that film and its era-defining sequels. In this list, we’ll be looking at what could’ve been and what really happened. Even though these films are a long way away from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, we’ll even reveal how these films shaped the Batman movies of the 21st century.
15. BILL MURRAY’S BATMAN
Throughout the 1980s, the movie that would eventually become Burton’s Batman went through several drastically different iterations. One of the first serious attempts to make the first modern Batman movie came in 1983, thanks to director Ivan Reitman and writer Tom Mankiewicz. Even though the film wasn’t a comedy, comedians Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy were considered for the parts of Batman and Robin. After the deaths of two of Reitman’s other proposed cast members, David Niven and William Holden, work on the project languished for a few years.
Mankiewicz’s script was based on Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ “Strange Apparitions” storyline, one of that era’s most highly-regarded Batman tales. It also featured Robin, the Joker, mobster Rupert Thorne and Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Silver St. Cloud. That script went through a reported nine drafts, including one by Englehart himself, before Burton and writer Sam Hamm took over the beleaguered production.
14. LEAKS AND PROTESTS
Even though Burton’s Batman was made in the 1980s, it faced some very modern production problems. In the mid-1980s, a version of Sam Hamm’s screenplay leaked and was bootlegged in some comic book stores and fan conventions. While that kind of leak isn’t unheard of today, it was more unusual in a pre-Internet age.
After Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman, the WB had to deal with another modern problem: fan outrage. At the time, Keaton was known as a more comedic actor thanks to his roles in movies like Mr. Mom and Burton’s Beetlejuice. The studio allegedly received 50,000 letters protesting Keaton’s casting, and the fan outcry became a minor national news story. To combat the negative buzz, the film’s producers showed off the movie’s serious tone with a hastily assembled trailer that ran in movie theaters in late 1988.
13. ALMOST BATMAN
Before Keaton was cast as the Dark Knight, almost a dozen lead actors were in consideration for the role. Before he was James Bond, Pierce Brosnan met with Burton about the role, but claimed that he “couldn’t take it seriously” and turned it down. In 2009, Willem Dafoe revealed that he also had talks about being Batman early in the film’s production and discredited a rumor that he was considered for the Joker.
After Keaton left the franchise, director Joel Schumacher had to find a new Batman for 1995’s Batman Forever. Before settling on Val Kilmer, the director reportedly considered Ethan Hawke, William Baldwin and Johnny Depp for the role. For Batman & Robin, Schumacher strongly considered Baldwin once again before George Clooney got the part. After those two missed opportunities, Baldwin finally got to play Batman in the 2010 direct-to-video animated feature Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.
12. NICHOLSON’S LAST LAUGH
Although the film’s producers had pegged Jack Nicholson as their ideal Joker as far back as 1980, several other major actors were briefly considered for the role of Batman’s nemesis. John Lithgow, Brad Dourif and Tim Curry were all in contention for the role, and Curry was briefly cast as the villain on Batman: The Animated Series. Lifelong comic fan Robin Williams was also linked with the role and claimed that he was even offered the part before Nicholson signed on.
While he excelled at the role, Nicholson only joined Batman with major conditions. Nicholson only worked a fixed number of hours a day, and he took off days when the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team had home games. In addition to a $6 million salary for the film, he also took home a percentage of the film’s massive gross, which added tens of millions to his final pay check.
11. ROBIN IN BATMAN AND BATMAN RETURNS
Although he was present in most of Batman‘s early drafts, Robin never appeared in the final film. While Burton allegedly didn’t want to include the character, the studio approached Kiefer Sutherland about the role before settling on Ricky Addison Reed. Although the part was cut out before filming, a storyboarded sequence showed how the Joker caused the deaths of Dick Grayson’s parents and was released as a DVD extra.
In Batman Returns, Marlon Wayans was cast as Robin. In one draft of the film, he would’ve been a car mechanic, driven the Batmobile and worn a mechanic’s jumpsuit. Although he was a big part of the final battle with the Penguin, Robin was cut out of the crowded film. Wayans was contracted for two movies, and was even paid for Robin’s appearance in Batman Forever, even after Joel Schumacher recast the part with Chris O’Donnell.
10. BATMAN ’66 CAMEOS
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the general public didn’t think about Batman the same way they do today. Thanks to faded memories of Adam West as the Caped Crusader on TV’s Batman, he was largely seen as a character best suited for children or campy comedy. To help Batman shed this image, Batman‘s producers tried to distance themselves from the old series. Although West expressed some interest about appearing in the film in some capacity, he never appeared in any live-action Batman productions.
Despite that, West’s Batman co-star, Burgess Meredith, was set to appear in Batman Returns. The one-time Penguin actor was set to play Tucker Cobblepot, the Penguin’s father, but had to drop out due to illness. That part ultimately went to regular Burton collaborator Paul Reubens, who recently played the Penguin’s father again in the second season of Gotham.
9. FINDING CATWOMAN
Sean Young was originally cast as the reporter Vicki Vale in 1989’s Batman. After a horseback riding injury, she dropped out of the production, and Kim Basinger was cast as Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Burton’s first Bat-film. When the makers of Batman Returns were looking for their Catwoman, Young openly campaigned for the role. She appeared on The Joan Rivers Show in a homemade Catwoman costume where she spoke about wanting the role. She also allegedly snuck onto the WB lot, where she interrupted a meeting between Keaton and the film’s producers to campaign for the role in person.
While Young was never really in contention for the part, Annette Bening was originally cast in the highly-coveted role of Catwoman. She dropped out due to pregnancy shortly before filming began, Michelle Pfeiffer ultimately took over the role after a single meeting with Burton.
8. HAPPY MEAL BACKLASH
When Batman Returns was released in 1992, brands and vendors lined up to make tie-in products, hoping to replicate the success of Batman‘s massive marketing campaign. While Batman Returns received mostly positive reviews, some critics made note of the film’s darker, more violent tone. After screenings of the movie reportedly left children in tears, parents noticed too.
Several parents’ groups turned their anger towards companies like McDonald’s, who sold Batman Returns-toys with their Happy Meals. Although the fast-food giant tried to downplay the connection between the film and their products, McDonald’s sold and advertised toys and cups with images from the movie. Despite a bigger opening weekend, the film only made half of its predecessor’s total gross thanks to its dark tone. Ultimately, these incidents were a big part of why Burton left the franchise and laid the groundwork for Joel Schumacher’s decidedly more kid-friendly Batman Forever.
7. CATWOMAN: THE MOVIE
Michelle Pfeiffer’s turn as Catwoman was widely agreed upon as one of Batman Returns‘ strongest points. After the production wrapped, Pfeiffer expressed a strong interest in playing Selina Kyle again, under the direction of Tim Burton. Although he left the main Batman franchise, he and the WB explored the idea of a Catwoman spin-off movie for a few years.
As screenwriter Daniel Waters described it, the movie would’ve found an amnesiac Kyle recovering from the events of Batman Returns in a desert resort spa run by superheroes. Over the course of the darkly comic film, she would’ve eventually taken up her cowl and claws once again. After the commercial success of the more cartoonish Batman Forever, development on the movie stalled. Although both Ashley Judd and Nicole Kidman were linked with the role, Halle Berry starred in 2004’s Catwoman, which had little in common with any version of the character.
6. BILLY DEE WILLIAMS’ TWO-FACE
In 1989’s Batman, Billy Dee Williams became the first actor to bring Harvey Dent to life. While he didn’t have a huge role in the film, Williams’ turn as Gotham City’s newly-minted District Attorney set the stage for the cinematic debut of Two-Face, who had never appeared on TV or film at that point.
Williams’ Dent was supposed to have a bigger role in Batman Returns, but he was written out of the film to make room for other characters. Although Two-Face appeared in Batman Forever, Joel Schumacher recast Tommy Lee Jones as the famous villain. Despite a popular rumor that Williams’ was still paid for that film’s use of the character, he debunked it in 2013 and revealed that he was only contracted for the one movie. After 28 years, Williams finally got a chance to play Two-Face on the big screen in 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie.
5. BATMAN FOREVER’S CASTING TROUBLE
Contrary to popular belief, Michael Keaton didn’t leave the production that would become Batman Forever when Tim Burton did. In the brief period he was set to star in the film, Rene Russo was cast as Batman’s love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian. Despite a reported $15 million contract, Keaton passed on the film, and Val Kilmer was cast as his replacement. Citing the Kilmer and Russo’s six-year age difference, producers replaced her with Nicole Kidman.
After almost playing the Joker a few years earlier, Robin Williams came even closer to playing the Riddler. Although the character’s dialogue was written with Williams in mind, the role went to Jim Carrey. Over the years, conflicting stories emerged about why Williams didn’t take the role, including Williams’ own claim that the studio simply wanted Carrey more. Allegedly, Michael Jackson also launched an unsuccessful campaign for the role.
4. BATGIRL’S COSTUME CHANGED DURING THE MOVIE
The decade’s final Batman movie, 1997’s Batman & Robin, is generally regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. During filming, Joel Schumacher reportedly told actors to remember that they were making a cartoon. As Schumacher later recalled, the studio’s main concern with the movie was selling merchandise through “toyetic” action sequences.
Since the film’s action figures and playsets were manufactured while the film was still in production, they weren’t able to respond to changes made during filming. While Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl costume was originally designed with a cowl, filmmakers replaced it with a large domino mask during filming. Since the toys were already in production, this meant that Batgirl’s toys didn’t really look like the character did for most of the movie. Without any explanation, Silverstone’s character wore the cowl for a few seconds during the film’s climactic action sequence, but ditched it before the end of the battle.
3. ARNOLD RENTED MR. FREEZE
After a lifetime as a minor Batman villain, Mr. Freeze found fame when Batman: The Animated Series gave the character a tragic origin. While Batman & Robin still used parts of that origin, Schumacher reportedly wanted his Mr. Freeze to be “cut out of a glacier,” and hired Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the villain.
It’s not all that unusual for an actor to take home a memento from a production they worked on, even Nicholson is rumored to have paid as much as $70,000 for some of his Joker attire. As producer Peter Macgregor-Scott revealed in 2015, Schwarzenegger reportedly liked the suit so much that he signed a contract to rent it from Warner Brothers. For some time, one of Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze costumes, possibly that one, was on display at London’s Planet Hollywood, a chain of restaurants with movie props that the actor had a stake in.
2. BATMAN UNCHAINED
Before Batman & Robin had a lackluster box office and rotten reviews, Schumacher had already started work on a sequel, tentatively called “Batman Unchained.” Set to star Clooney and O’Donnell as Batman and Robin, the film would’ve focused on Scarecrow and Harley Quinn, who would’ve been the Joker’s long-lost daughter. Schumacher has said that he offered the role of the Scarecrow to Nicholas Cage, and Courtney Love was reportedly in contention for the Harley Quinn role.
The film would’ve dealt with Batman confronting his fears, and would have featured most of Batman’s previous cinematic villains in a sequence induced by the Scarecrow’s fear gas. With cameos from Nicholson’s Joker, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Carrey’s Riddler, the film was set to featur cast members from all of that era’s Batman movies and tied the franchise together. In the wake of Schumacher’s second Bat-film, the WB quietly dropped the project.
1. BATMAN 5 SHAPED BATMAN BEGINS
In the subsequent years, the WB made several attempts to revive the Batman film franchise. Screenwriters Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise tried to take the franchise to its more serious roots with “Batman: DarKnight,” another movie with the Scarecrow as the villain. Frank Miller and Darren Aronofsky proposed a radically different adaptation of Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s “Batman: Year One.”
While these projects never really got off the ground, they refined several ideas that eventually ended up in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. The deadly serious 2005 movie was a sharp response to Batman & Robin‘s silly tone, offered a new take on “Batman: Year One” and featured the Scarecrow as a primary villain. Even though Nolan’s reboot stood on its own, these ideas were all pieces of pitches that were originally made when the studio was trying to figure out how to salvage the 1990s Batman franchise.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest in comic books and pop culture. Let us know who you would’ve liked to have seen in Batman’s cowl during the 1990s!
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