With the release of the latest trailer for 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, anticipation for the Dark Knight’s return to the big screen is at an all-time high. (Who among us hasn’t wondered what Batman would sound like with a Southie accent?) But this isn’t the first attempt to have DC’s two ultimate heroes meet at the multiplex. In fact, countless Batman movies have come close to getting made, only to fall apart due to budget issues, internal politics or the fact that they just weren’t very good. Before you catch IFC’s Batman movie marathon, bone up on all the Batman projects that ended up buried in the development hell Batcave.
1. Ivan Reitman’s The Batman (1985)
With the success of Richard Donner’s Superman, it was only natural to hire Tom Mankiewicz, one of the original film’s screenwriters, to have a pass at the Dark Knight. Based on Steve Englehart’s comic book Batman: Strange Apparitions, the movie would have dealt with the Joker’s quest to expose Batman’s true identity. The tone was imagined as dark and gritty, which of course meant hiring Ghostbusters helmer Ivan Reitman. This odd choice got even crazier when the comedy director tapped Bill Murray to be his Bruce Wayne.
While Michael Keaton would cause similar head scratching when he was cast a few years later, Reitman and Murray’s involvement suggest that the film may have started veering a little closer to camp than first planned. With David Niven rumored to have been signed to play Alfred, and Eddie Murphy in talks to play Robin, the tone of the film continued to be schizophrenic. In the end, nine different screenwriters were brought in to take a pass at the script, before Warner Brothers finally killed the project. (Murray would later be on the potential casting list for Burton’s Batman before Keaton scored the role.)
2. Tim Burton’s Batman Forever (1995)
Tim Burton would eventually be brought in to direct 1989’s Batman, which proved to be a massive hit. After returning to the character with 1992’s Batman Returns, Burton set his sights on the final installment of his trilogy. The Riddler was the sole villain in the script, and Robin Williams was in talks to bring him to life. The origins of Robin were also a part of the story, with Marlon Wayans brought on board to play the junior member of the dynamic duo, after nearly playing the part in Batman Returns.
But when Batman Returns failed to do the business of its predecessor, Warner Brothers decided to move in a more family friendly direction. Burton was out, Keaton turned down $15 million to reprise his role, and Wayans was paid in full to not be in the movie. Yep, Marlon Wayans still receives residual checks for not being in a Batman movie.
3. Joel Schumacher’s Batman Unchained (1998)
Before the world got a look at the cinematic trainwreck that was 1997’s Batman and Robin, Warner Brothers and director Joel Schumacher assumed it would be a hit. Rose colored glasses firmly in place, they started planning their next chapter, which would’ve featured the Scarecrow locking Batman up in Arkham Asylum in an attempt to drive The Dark Knight insane.
Nicholas Cage was approached to play Scarecrow, while cameos from past villains (including Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Jack Nicholson’s Joker) were lined up for the climax of the film, as Batman fights off the effects of the creepy baddie’s fear toxin. Courtney Love and Madonna were rumored to be up for the part of Harley Quinn, who would be revealed as the Joker’s daughter out for revenge. But when Batman & Robin bombed, Schumacher was shown the door, and the Batman franchise was cast adrift.
4. Batman: DarKnight (2000)
With frustration mounting on the direction of the franchise, two unknown writers were hired off a pitch to bring the movies back from the campfest they had become. But not knowing exactly how the backlash from Batman & Robin would play out, the script was still designed as a possible vehicle for George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell, only with a very different tone.
In the pitch, Bruce Wayne would be retired, and Dick Grayson a student at Gotham University. His professor would be Jonathan Crane, otherwise known as the Scarecrow, who would use his student as a guinea pig for his fear toxin, driving him insane. Wayne would have to return to his crime fighting roots, fighting Scarecrow as well as his creation, the monstrous winged villain Man-Bat. The script would bounce around Warner Brothers for months before it was decided to make a clean break from the past.
5. Boaz Yakin’s Batman: Beyond (2002)
With four wildly different Batman movies under Warner Bros’ utility belt, it was decided during the late ’90s to go in a new direction. While Batman & Robin was stinking up theaters, they did have a hit on TV with the animated Batman Beyond. The story of Terry McGinnis, a protégé of Bruce Wayne fighting crime in the far future, was thought to be a way to reintroduce Batman to the public without covering the same ground yet again. Batman Beyond co-creators Alan Burnett and Paul Dini were brought in to develop a live-action version with Remember the Titans director Boaz Yakin. But, yet again, the project went nowhere, and Warner Bros. found itself back at the drawing board.
6. Darren Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One (2002)
Desperate for a fresh take, Warner Bros. decided to go right to the comics. Frank Miller had reinvented Batman, and the superhero genre in general, in the 1980s with his one-two punch of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Exploring the end and the beginnings of Bruce Wayne’s life as Batman, the two graphic novels dropped like nuclear bombs, bringing dark and adult themes to comics for what seemed like the first time.
Miller was brought in to develop a script for Year One with up-and-coming director Darren Aronofsky, who was then best known for his lighthearted romp Requiem For A Dream. So it’s no surprise that these two came up with a hard-edged, R-rated movie, full of graphic violence. Unsurprisingly, the studio execs tried to neuter the script before ditching it altogether.
7. Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman VS Superman (2004)
Looking for a more accessible Batman, action helmer Wolfgang Petersen, then best known for Air Force One, was brought on board. Working off a pitch by Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, the idea was to pit Batman against the Man of Steel just like how the two heroes had faced off in Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Bruce Wayne would be retired (again), and married, until his blushing bride is killed on their honeymoon. When The Joker is outed as the killer, Wayne returns to crime fighting to take him down once and for all. Superman is going through hard times himself after getting divorced from Lois Lane. Gradually it’s revealed that Lex Luthor and the Joker have teamed up to manipulate the lives of Kent and Wayne, leading the heroes to engage in some serious fisticuffs. Fortunately, in the midst of a massive fight in which Batman is decked out in Kryptonite armor, the two realize what’s really happening, and unite to take down their foes.
Josh Harnett was a favorite at the time for the role of Superman, and Christian Bale found himself rumored for the Dark Knight years before he would take the role on in Batman Begins. But as the shoot grew more and more complicated, Petersen decided to move on to Troy, and the project collapsed under its own weight.
8. George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal (2009)
The most recent failed attempt to bring Batman to the big screen might just have been the best. Anyone who saw last summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road knows that director George Miller knows his way around an action movie. In 2009 he was all set to shoot a massive superhero movie, which would have brought large parts of the DC Universe to the silver screen. With Armie Hammer locked in as Batman, along with Adam Brody as The Flash and D.J. Controna as Superman, this all-star line up was stopped by the one thing more powerful than a supervillain: A writer’s strike. When the Writers Guild of America picketed in 2009, the movie lost momentum and eventually was canceled. But Warner Brothers refused to let sleeping Batmen lie, and that, ladies and gentleman, is how a Batfleck happens.