As I unfortunately reminded myself yesterday, there's still a good four months away before Chris Nolan's insanely anticipated final Bat-Flick, and with the wait becoming unbearable I thought I'd turn anticipation into appreciation for this film instead of a quartet that we could've had. So here's a list of the 4 batman films that came this close to the multiplex.
1. Ivan Reitman's The Batman (1985)
With Ghostbusters knocking it out of the park so spectacularly, Jason Reitman's dad was in a position to pick any project he wanted and have it greenlighted any way he wanted. And what he wanted was for his 3-time comedy star Bill Murray to play Bruce Wayne. Yes, you read that right. I can hear those clamouring that Michael Keaton was a comedian too and he nailed it, but hold-off the bat-bitching for a moment; this was scheduled to be released in 1985, but pre-production began in 1983. Before Burton's Gothic re-imagining, before even Frank Miller's game-changing Dark Knight Returns. Add to that the casting of David Bowie as The Joker and Eddie Murphy in talks to play Robin and what you got is Billy Murray playing Adam West, NOT Bruce Wayne.
As often happens though, the film went into re-writes nine times, at which point Reitman had moved on to bigger and better things (like, you know, Kindergarten Cop and Ghostbusters II). Gremlins helmer Joe Dante came in to replace him but Warner quickly scrapped the whole thing and decided to start from scratch. Interesting to note that Tim Burton considered Bill Murray for his own take, before sticking to his Beetlejuice star instead.
2. Joel Schumacher's Batman 5 (1998)
Poor Joel. Like most people involved with Batman & Robin, his career never recovered (Clooney should get an Oscar just to recognize that he made us forget he ever was involved with it), and when Chris Nolan broke the bank with TDK, started jabbing that he could've done that had Warner let him. Part of me wants to say "Yeah, Riiiiiiight", but part of me also feels for the guy. After all the reason Burton stepped down from Batman Forever was that he refused to do a family-friendlier film and instead wanted to go even darker than his Horror-movie laced Batman Returns. SO basically Schumacher was contracted to make a 2-hour toy commercial. Forever was forgiven, but B&R was just too damn horrible.
Before the world-wide thud heard form the film's crash, Warner was already planning a fifth one with Joel yet again, called Batman Triumphant which would've see Clooney battle Scarecrow played by Nic "Wig Out" Cage. But of course that one was now out of the question, so Schumacher apparently went to Warner with another idea: Batman Dark Knight. That thing even went as far as a logo. BUT Warner (wisely) decided that audiences need to forget about the bad ice puns of Arnie for a few years before trying again.
3.Boaz Yakin's Batman Beyond (2002)
While the live-action Dark Knight was getting worse, the animated side of him couldn't have been better. On the heel of Bruce Timm's amazing Batman: The Animated Series and the equally successful JLA series, came the next generation as Terry McGinnis doned the cowl and suit 40 years after Bruce Wayne. Batman Beyond launched in 1999 with a highly entertaining DTV movie, and follow-up with a quite creative series that turned many of the Bat-clichés on their head while keeping the Dark Knight flame alive.
Since logic dictates that no successful title should be left unspoiled, Warner indulged series creators Paul Dini & Alan Burnett who turned in a script in 2001 with Remember the Titans director Yakin on board as well. By then though the darker & grittier idea of Batman Year One had already planted its roots in Warner minds, and the idea was indefinitely shelved (in other words killed).
4. Darren Aronofsky's Batman Year One (2002)
Poor Darren. Dude's been trying for A DECADE to bring his personal vision of a superhero to life, with three different properties, and each time it ended up the way of most Friday Night shows on Fox. His much-buzzed about Robocop couldn't survive MGM's financial woes (although that one's back on the books with a new director) and he slammed the door on his Wolverine sequel after Sony tried to coax a toy-marketing movie out of him. But before all that, there was The Bat.
Although sharing a title, his take would only borrow some elements of Frank Miller's iconic Batman Year One graphic novel. The reason it didn't work, believe it or not, is Aronofsky's insistance on going even darker than Miller. His Bruce Wayne becomes a crime fighter not out of duty and revenge but sheer insanity, driven mad by a childhood of poverty while mentored by "Big Al'", a gruff but kind African-American mechanic meant to replace the usually-rich kid's usually British buttler. Selena Kyle is a prostitute who comes to admire and emulate the new crime fighter, while Jim Gordon is a chain-smoking a-hole. Alright, so Aronofsky is regarded as a genius in Hollywood, but so was David Lynch when he made Dune (Oh get off it - he's the director, he gets the blame!). And THAT sounds like a bad batman movie from ANY director.