Mind-blowing Batman movies that nearly got made
The Bat-Signal is blazing brightly over Gotham City, as the Caped Crusader celebrates Batman Day on Saturday, 17 September.
Making his first appearance in the comics in 1939, Batman has been gracing the silver screen since 1943, but away from the Michael Keaton years, George Clooney’s codpiece, and Christian Bale growling “where are they?”, there have been plenty of adventures that never made it to cinemas.
From a pre-Margot Robbie Harley Quinn to one of the Wayans boys playing Robin, the fanciful return of Jack Nicholson as the Joker to Robin Williams portraying the Riddler, here are the canned Batman movies you’ll never get to see.
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Not everything has the nine lives of Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman.
The most famous Batman movie that never happened is Tim Burton’s third, or as some know it, Batman Continues. Seeing the marketing potential of Happy Meal toys (after McDonald’s was slammed for its Batman Returns tie-in), Warner Bros. wanted a lighter tone for the next chapter. This didn’t sit well with Tim Burton, who promptly left and inadvertently took Michael Keaton with him.
Much like the eventual release of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, it was going to feature Two-Face, the Riddler, and Robin's debut. Burton’s ambitious plans wanted White Chicks’ Marlon Wayans to play Dick Grayson. As an aside, Wayans got paid $100,000 when his role in Returns and its mythical sequel were cut and he still gets royalties.
Star Wars alumni Billy Dee Williams was supposed to reprise his role as Harvey Dent from Batman, while Renee Russo was pitched as Dr. Chase Meridian. Michelle Pfeiffer was also touted to return as Catwoman, and as a cherry on top, Robin Williams was in talks to play the Riddler after he'd previously been linked to Nicholson’s Joker role. Sadly, we left Burton’s Art Deco Gotham behind in 1992.
We might’ve had the acclaimed Batman Beyond cartoon and direct-to-video Return of the Joker, but it’s baffling that we’re still yet to get a live-action movie based on a grizzled Bruce Wayne training Terry McGinnis as his protégé.
As a huge fan of Batman Beyond, Boaz Yakin was supposed to helm a Batman Beyond movie around 2000. Hoping to blow our minds, the director wanted Clint Eastwood to play the aged Bruce Wayne, with series creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnett hired to write the script.
It was another case of a director wanting Joker-level violence, and with the studio pushing for a PG-13 rating, Batman Beyond was placed on indefinite hold in 2001. Ironically, it feels like a lot of this was coming to pass with Keaton's return as Batman in The Flash and Batgirl, but all that is now up in the air following the cancellation of the latter.
Joel Schumacher had been vocal about his battle with Warner Bros. over his vision for Batman, saying he wanted a darker aesthetic. Batman & Robin was once held as the worst superhero movie of all time by some, and despite its frosty reception, Schumacher had been touted for a sequel.
Batman Unchained had the makings of something great. Alongside the frankly brilliant idea of Nicolas Cage as Scarecrow, a who’s who of past villains were going to return thanks to Dr. Crane’s fear toxin. A particularly harrowing scene featured Batman standing trial (in his head) against Nicholson’s Joker, Danny DeVito’s Penguin, and Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.
Harley Quinn was going to enter the fray, revamped as Joker’s daughter who was out for revenge after her father’s death. It was never fully confirmed, but Courtney Love was being eyed for Quinn. As we all know though, Batman & Robin’s panning left this one on ice.
After Batman Unchained was canned, Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise drafted a script for Batman: DarKnight. The Scarecrow-centric movie packed Dick Grayson off to Gotham University, with Crane pulling double duty as a professor and head of Arkham Asylum, where he’d use his position of power to exploit the inmates for his own nefarious means.
There was the out-there choice of Man-Bat as a secondary villain, while Scarecrow was going to trigger Kirk Langstrom’s metamorphosis into the winged beast. In this full reboot, a more mature Robin takes centre stage, however, when Gothamites think Man-Bat is Batman, Bruce is forced out of retirement to try and restore the hero’s reputation.
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Despite the movie moving forward without Schumacher, Clooney and O’Donnell were optioned to return, with the lead categorically refusing. In terms of others, Jeff Goldblum was thrown around for Scarecrow. DarKnight was shelved when the studio wanted a Batman: Year One adaptation, which would eventually evolve into Nolan’s Batman Begins.
Batman v Superman
No, not that one. Between the cancellation of Brett Ratner’s Superman: Flyby and Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, the Metropolis Marvel and Dark Knight were going to butt heads. Long before he was wearing prosthetics to play the Penguin in The Batman, Colin Farrell was due to play Batman across from Jude Law as Superman.
Batman was widowed, Supes was divorced from Lois Lane, and these titans were going to feature as Lex Luther's puppets. For anyone thinking this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s pretty similar to what happened in Snyder’s Batman v Superman.
Opening with Alfred’s funeral and having Bruce’s wife killed on her honeymoon, writer Akiva Goldsman dubbed it “the darkest thing you’ve ever seen” during a 2020 interview with Collider.
Justice League: Mortal
Forget Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we tried to “unite the seven” a whole decade earlier. Mad Max’s George Miller was just weeks away from shooting Justice League: Mortal when the studio pulled the plug. Featuring a who’s who of famous faces, Armie Hammer was suiting up as Batman, teaming with an all-star cast that included D. J. Cotrona as Superman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Adam Brody as the Flash, and Common (the rapper-turned-actor) as Cyborg.
If an already bloated roster of actors wasn’t enough, villains included Maxwell Lord and Talia al Ghul, as well as a cliffhanger ending featuring Starro the Conqueror. Concept art is everywhere online, and although the movie might’ve been a better Justice League than Snyder’s, its demise was largely down to the 2007/2008 writer’s strike.
Strikes aside, the fact Nolan’s The Dark Knight did so well also meant Warner Bros decided it was more profitable to move forward with single-hero movies instead of the gamble of a budget-blowing ensemble.
Ben Affleck’s The Batman
Hoping to follow Batman v Superman and Justice League was a Batman standalone. Wearing the cape and cowl is one thing, but co-writing the movie as well is a challenge. Juggling the two seemed too much for Ben Affleck’s The Batman, and although it lives on in some form, Reeves’ movie only shares a name with Batfleck’s nixed blockbuster.
Justice League’s post-credits stinger of Deathstroke would’ve seen Joe Manganiello return, while the star has since said there were plans to introduce Batgirl. Only recently, Reeves told EW this take on The Batman would’ve featured 'James Bondian' action and included cameos from other 'big heroes'. Although, he stopped short of revealing who.
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Affleck admitted to GQ he’d lost his passion for the project, and although Reeves says there was nothing wrong with the idea, he felt the burden of a movie being tied to the DCEU.
Breaking free from the past, Reeves opted to start again with the Pattinson-led version of The Batman, now including a younger version of the brooding billionaire.
Watch a trailer for The Batman below