“I want a car. Chicks dig the car.” Those words, spoken by the Boy Wonder himself, open 1997’s Batman & Robin. They are a harbinger of (bad) things to come. The movie, which was the fourth in the original big screen series of Dark Knight adventures, was critically lambasted and ridiculed by audiences. Despite a box office take of just over $100 million, it is considered a flop, having made less than any of the previous three installments in the franchise. The film suffers from a weak script, some genuinely off-the-mark casting choices, absurd action sequences, and an excess of mayhem that prevents the story from ever being as coherent as a good superhero picture needs to be. Also, nipples on the Batsuit.
Nevertheless, Batman & Robin remains an important film of its kind, if only because it serves as an example of how not to tell a superhero story onscreen. To look back at this maligned, yet vital motion picture, we have put together the following list of facts and curiosities. We aren’t going to argue that the movie is good or underrated, nor are we here to suggest that those who, for whatever reason, like it are wrong. That said, we do hope that the following entries help explain why things went so massively off course, as well as why the film remains a bizarretouchstone in the annals of comic book cinema.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Batman & Robin.
15. Toy sales were the studio’s top concern
Joel Schumacher took over the director’s chair from Tim Burton for 1995’s Batman Forever. Although the tone of that film was noticeably lighter than Burton’s two previous entries, it was mostly well-regarded by fans and critics. The series seemed to be in fairly good hands. The fate of Batman & Robin was probably sealed from the beginning, however, as Warner Bros. proved eager to get another sequel into production as quickly as possible, meaning that there wasn’t as much time to hone a screenplay as there should have been.
Why did they want to fast-track things? According to an interview with Schumacher in the DVD bonus features, the interest wasn’t so much in making a good Batman picture as it was in being “toyetic.” WB worked with toy companies during the pre-production phase, trying to ensure that there would be all kinds of cool playthings spun off from the film. They even had a say in how the Batmobile was going to look. That, in turn, meant that the movie would have to conform to the toy plans to a substantial degree. Crafting a movie to fit merchandising goals is a recipe for creative disaster, as those involved found out the hard way.
14. George Clooney was cast because of problems with Val Kilmer
Batman & Robin featured the third different Dark Knight in four pictures. Michael Keaton bowed out after playing the character twice for Tim Burton, and Val Kilmer had taken over for Schumacher’s first outing, Batman Forever. The actor and the director famously clashed on set, so obviously, neither of them were eager to collaborate once more. But other factors were involved in the split. Kilmer had signed on to do The Saint, and also had an opportunity to co-star alongside legendary thespian Marlon Brando in the ill-fated Island of Dr. Moreau — a chance he told Schumacher he couldn’t pass up. With the studio wanting to fast-track production, he simply wouldn’t be available. And with that, Kilmer was out.
The director has claimed in the past that he came up with the idea of George Clooney for Batman after drawing a cowl over the actor’s face on a still photo from the movie From Dusk Till Dawn. More recently, though, he did an interview with Vice in which he gave credit to Warner Bros. then-Chief Executive Bob Daly, who was eager to find a big movie role for the star of the WB-produced hit TV series ER. With that, a new Batman was born.
13. David Duchovny and Sharon Stone were considered for roles
A big part of the appeal of the original Batman franchise was seeing major stars cast in the roles of famous comic book heroes and villains. The success or failure of superhero movies, then and now, often depends on how good the casting is. During the period after Kilmer left and before Clooney came on board, Schumacher considered David Duchovny for Batman. He was hot off The X-Files at the time, and the director thought he might have the correct intensity for the role.
Several other big-name actors were under consideration to play the film’s villains. Many of the top actresses of the mid-’90s were thought of to bring Poison Ivy to life, as Demi Moore and Sharon Stone were among the names that got tossed around before the part finally went to Uma Thurman. (Julia Roberts, often mentioned as a potential Poison Ivy, was never up for the role, according to Schumacher.) Perhaps the most oddball near-miss choice was Anthony Hopkins for Dr. Freeze. There’s no doubt that the Silence of the Lambs Oscar winner is a great actor, but he’s also physically the polar opposite of eventual star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then again, given how poorly Arnold’s performance was received, maybe Hopkins would have been a better choice.
12. Arnold Schwarzenegger received top billing – and a pretty penny for his work
For a movie called Batman & Robin, you might think that the actors portraying the titular characters would get top billing. (Or least the actor playing Batman.) That wasn’t the case, however, because while Clooney was popular from ER, he was not yet the A-list star we know him as today. O’Donnell, meanwhile, fell squarely into the “up-and-coming” category. Scent of a Woman, Mad Love, and The Chamber put him on the map, but he wasn’t a proven box office draw.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, was one of the biggest movie stars in the world at that time, and he therefore was able to demand — and receive — top billing. (A similar thing happened on the original Batman, when Oscar winner Jack Nicholson received top billing over Michael Keaton.) Of course, a star of his caliber comes with a price, and Arnold reportedly walked away with a $25 million payday for his work on the film. Given that he only had about thirty or so minutes of screen time, the salary is an astonishing example of his stature in the industry.
11. Schwarzenegger and Chris O’Donnell didn’t work together
By all accounts, the movie’s production was massive. Aside from the main unit, which filmed all the scenes with the actors, there was a lot of second and third unit work taking place simultaneously. Those units took care of things like insert shots and stunts. Chris O’Donnell, in a making-of documentary on the DVD, said that he’s watched the film and been unable to recall filming certain sequences. Then he remembers that it’s his body double or stuntman who performed those scenes.
That extended to the other stars, as well. In fact, because of the complexity of the shoot, O’Donnell didn’t actually work with Schwarzenegger. Says the actor, “I was in a lot of scenes with Mr. Freeze, but I didn’t work a single day with Arnold. Not a single day. I was on the set with him a lot, to hang out and talk to, and I did a lot of publicity with him.” They did not, however, act opposite one another. He further adds that the Mr. Freeze suit was so complicated to put on and so cumbersome to wear that Schwarzenegger only donned it when he had to, letting his body double do anything that didn’t require seeing his face.
10. Alicia Silverstone was plagued by rumors about her weight
Alicia Silverstone seemed like a great choice to play Batgirl in 1997. The Crush and a couple of Aerosmith music videos got her some notice, and Clueless (released two years prior) made her a bonafide star. Even if her screen persona didn’t seem like a completely natural fit for the character’s image, the actress was all the rage at that particular moment in pop culture, which made her casting feel inspired. Unfortunately for Silverstone, things quickly backfired.
As it turned out, the actress gained a small amount of weight during the shoot, requiring her costume to be refitted. As per a recent Hollywood Reporter article, a storyboard artist on the production mocked her by drawing an image of the actress struggling to get into a corset and circulating it through the art department. There were also nasty, persistent rumors that some of her scenes got cut out because of continuity problems caused by her appearance. Audiences also picked up on Silverstone’s fluctuating weight, cruelly dubbing her “Buttgirl” online. Had this happened to a male actor, it’s quite likely that no one would have made a fuss about it. Such is the double standard in society.
9. Clooney totally peed in the Batsuit
Ask any of the actors and they will tell you that the costumes for this film were not especially comfortable. Schwarzenegger, for instance, had to put on a bulky (and very heavy) suit. His skin was painted blue, and he needed to wear uncomfortable contact lenses. Thurman’s Poison Ivy outfits, meanwhile, were skintight. Jeep Swenson, the former professional wrestler who portrayed Bane, endured hours of body makeup application and got his head placed inside a leather mask with tubes coming out and attaching to his back.
Wearing the Batsuit wasn’t pleasant either. There were several pieces to it, all of which were more than a little restricting (by necessity, in order to get the “look” right on camera). Because it was so complex, putting the suit on and taking it off was no easy feat. Any time spent removing it only slowed down the filming, so Clooney wasn’t particularly eager to go through the process unnecessarily. In interviews over the years, the actor has claimed that he therefore took to urinating inside the suit, specifically to avoid potty breaks. It sounds like Clooney’s experience in the Batsuit was a gross one inside and out.
8. Schwarzenegger received grave medical news during the shoot
The filming of Batman & Robin was a personally turbulent time for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Toward the end of production, he had the now-infamous affair with his housekeeper that resulted in a child and, when it was revealed years later, ended his marriage to Maria Shriver. But another drama was also unfolding during this time, as the actor received word that he would need major surgery to repair a faulty valve in his heart.
According to his autobiography Total Recall, Arnold consulted with surgeons during his downtime playing Mr. Freeze. He scheduled the surgery for shortly after filming was completed, so that he would be recuperated in time to promote the movie. Schwarzenegger says that he didn’t tell anyone about the surgery, including his children. He didn’t even tell Shriver at first, only filling her in at the last minute. When the procedure didn’t work, as evidenced by his trouble breathing, Schwarzenegger had to go right back in for a second surgery. This time, the problem was fixed, and the star began the process of recovery.
7. It killed off the possibility of another sequel
After a respectable $42 million opening weekend, bad word-of-mouth began to spread. By the time its second weekend saw business plummet by 63%, it was clear that Batman & Robin was misfiring. That proved to be a sobering moment for Warner Bros, as their cash cow was no longer producing the big-time numbers they’d come to expect. When all was said and done, the film was the lowest-grossing entry in the series by a wide margin. Recognizing that the whole enterprise needed rethinking, the studio cancelled plans for a fifth installment called Batman Unchained (or Triumphant, depending on who you ask) — one that Schumacher hoped would bring Nicolas Cage to the series in the role of the Scarecrow. (Or Coolio, again, depending on who you ask.)
The director lobbied WB to let him reinvigorate the franchise by going in a completely different direction, in the form of a screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s celebrated (and dark) graphic novel Batman: Year One. By that point, though, the studio had lost confidence in Schumacher’s ability to deliver a blockbuster Dark Knight adventure. Instead, they had their eye on a hot new filmmaker named Darren Aronofsky, whose debut, Pi, had garnered him a ton of positive notice. Of course, Aronofsky’s take on Miller’s tale never made it to the screen, and Schumacher’s days as Batman’s cinematic caretaker went the way of the dinosaurs.
6. It was one of the first movies to use CGI for stuntwork
The action sequences in Batman & Robin are often quite laughable. In the opening scene, our heroes and Mr. Freeze’s goons play a game of ice hockey, using a gigantic diamond for a puck. There’s also a much-ridiculed moment in which the Dynamic Duo “sky surf” with the doors of an escape pod Freeze uses to blast himself out of trouble. They ride those doors through the air like surfboards, with Robin even gliding down the slanted facade of a skyscraper on one. Physics had clearly taken the day off.
CGI technology was still fairly new to cinema in 1997, and special effects experts were finding new ways to use them. According to Michael Singer’s officially-licensed book Batman & Robin: The Making of the Movie, computer-generated “stuntmen” were used onscreen for one of the first times ever — perhaps the very first. Computers created Batman and Robin figures during some of the more complicated action scenes, in order to achieve things that real-life stuntmen never could. Watching the movie now, it’s pretty easy to spot when the CGI heroes take over. Back then, though, it was actually kind of groundbreaking.
5. The soundtrack’s Grammy-winning song almost didn’t happen
While the movie itself didn’t set the world on fire, the Batman & Robin soundtrack proved to be immensely successful, hitting the top five on the Billboard album chart. Popular artists like Jewel, the Goo Goo Dolls, and R.E.M. contributed songs, most of which weren’t even used in the film. Still, some of them became hits, including R. Kelly’s “Gotham City,” which plays over the end credits, as does the Smashing Pumpkins’ “The End Is the Beginning Is the End.” As far as we know, this marks the only time these two artists have ever been played back-to-back anywhere.
Actually, the latter song almost didn’t happen. Smashing Pumpkins’ front man Billy Corgan had doubts as to whether he could write a song for a popcorn superhero movie, fearing it would hurt his alt-rock credibility. In an interview with MTV News, he discussed chasing that fear away, saying, “I thought this is stupid. If I can write a song about Batman and it serves the purpose, which is to make it happen and connect with the movie…then why not?” His change of heart proved to be rewarding. “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
4. It was the first Batman movie to receive zero Oscar nominations
The Batman movies were never really traditional awards bait, although many people thought Jack Nicholson should have been nominated for playing the Joker in Tim Burton’s original. Still, the films did get some recognition in the below-the-line categories. Anton Furst and Peter Young won the Oscar for Best Art Direction for their work on the 1989 film, and the first sequel, Batman Returns, was nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup. Batman Forever, meanwhile, got nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing.
There wasn’t any reason to believe that Batman & Robin couldn’t get a nod in one or more of those categories, yet it came up short across the board. That made it the first picture in the franchise to walk away with no Oscar love. Lest you feel sorry for it, this was not the only Batman movie to get ignored by the Academy. After Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both earned noms (the latter’s Heath Ledger even won Best Supporting Actor), The Dark Knight Rises, was thoroughly shut out as well.
3. The Razzies nominated it for a very unusual award
It should come as no surprise that the Razzie Awards, given each year to represent the ostensible “worst” in cinema over a twelve-month period, saw fit to set its sights on Batman & Robin. The film earned a whopping eleven nominations, including Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. Clooney somehow missed out in the Worst Actor category, but O’Donnell, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, and Silverstone were all recognized in the Worst Supporting Actor/Actress categories. Silverstone actually won…or should we say lost?
What’s a little more surprising is another category in which the film was placed. The Razzies occasionally come up with one-shot awards to recognize trends from a particular year. For their 18th annual ceremony, they nominated Batman & Robin in the category of Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property. This award was created to acknowledge that a lot of movies in 1997 featured scenes of large-scale destruction. The movie stood alongside other nominees Volcano, Turbulence, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and eventual winner Con Air.
2. It was voted #1 in Empire magazine’s poll of the worst movies ever
Empire is a British film magazine that is widely considered one of the finest publications of its kind in the world. It manages to combine features on current popular mainstream movies with a fairly scholarly look at the classics. It is also known for its provocative lists, articles on cinematic masterpieces, and occasional celebrity guest editors (which have included Steven Spielberg). This is all to say: they’re a reputable source in the movie industry.
A few years ago, Empire decided to publish a list of the Worst Movies Ever, and they asked their readers to weigh in. Thousands of them did. And as you may have gathered by now, Batman & Robin was named #1, with three times as many votes as the #2 film, Battlefield: Earth. (Stop and let that sink in for a moment.) They dubbed Schumacher’s picture “a byword for franchise-killing and bad movie-making.” Other films it beat out for this dubious honor include The Love Guru, The Room, Catwoman, and Gigli. That’s some hardcore reader dissatisfaction right there, folks. We’re guessing the pointless Coolio cameo was a contributor.
1. Director Joel Schumacher has apologized for it
In a rare display of frankness, many of the people involved in making Batman & Robin have openly admitted that it wasn’t very good. Chris O’Donnell has publicly stated that he thought Batman Forever was more satisfying, both to watch and to make. George Clooney has blamed himself for killing the franchise, stated that he “wasn’t very good in it.” There are also amusing rumors that he has good-naturedly refunded the money of people who came up to him personally and said they saw the movie.
That brings us to Joel Schumacher, who has apologized repeatedly for making a picture that disappointed so many people. He first did so on the “Shadows of the Bat” documentary that can be found on the Batman & Robin DVD and Blu-ray, specifically citing the “Bat-nipples” as something he regrets. In June of this year, he offered another mea culpa to the Vice website. Said the director: “Look, I apologize. I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed, because I think I owe them that.” In a time when many filmmakers get defensive about bad reviews or poor audience response, it’s refreshing to find one who fesses up to his errors.
What do you think about Batman & Robin? If you hate it, what do you dislike most? If you like it, what do think everyone else missed? Tell us all your thoughts in the comments.
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