Batman is arguably the most popular superhero of all time. He’s so popular, in fact, that there have been just as many canceled movies about the Caped Crusader. For every Batman & Robin there’s an even campier cinematic bat-stravaganza. For every Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there’s an even more epic DC team-up that we never got to see.
In an age where the stories behind the production of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters has become an industry in its own right, Batman’s countless stories of failed adaptations are worth some serious exploration.
The cinematic Batman has gone through several iterations over the past 30 years-- from Tim Burton’s gothic crime fantasies to Ben Affleck’s gruff-as-hell Batman of the DCEU. In between there’s been some brilliant feature length animated adventures (Mask of the Phantasm, Sub Zero), some slightly sillier live-action fare (the Schumacher Batman films) and what might be the most beloved superhero trilogy of all time.
For fans who haven't had enough, or simply wonder what else could have been, here are the 15 Amazing Batman Movies That Were Canceled Before Getting Made, Ranked.
15 Robin Spinoff
Batman & Robin has become almost universally loathed, but right up to it’s premiere, the Warner Bros. executives were so pleased with everything they had seen of Joel Schumacher’s colorful, campy romp that they had already green-lit a follow up. A Robin spin-off was also in the works, with Chris O'Donnell set to reprise his Boy Wonder role.
Unfortunately, Batman & Robin’s severely unfavorable reception caused Warner Bros. to nix all plans of continuing the Schumacher brand, including the Robin movie. Batman & Robin probably gets more hate than it deserves.
Despite its drastic departure from the dark-and-gritty Batman that fans are now accustomed to seeing on the silver screen, Schumacher deserves some love for making Batman & Robin an enjoyable, colorful piece of solid entertainment. However, let’s face it: a Robin spin-off wouldn’t have been worth anyone’s time.
14 Batman Unchained
Harley Quinn only recently made her live-action debut in Suicide Squad, but nearly 20 years before, the popular character was set to appear in Joel Schumacher’s proposed third Batman film, Batman Unchained. The movie would have seen George Clooney, Chris O’Donnel, and Alicia Silverstone all reprise their bat roles, with Harley Quinn— the Joker’s daughter in this version— and Scarecrow as the central villains.
Even if you consider Schumacher’s Batman films as hidden gems, Batman Unchained would likely have been a bigger disaster than its predecessors. Some of the story points had some potential— like a cameo from Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the form of a Scarecrow-gas hallucination— but the pressure on Schumacher to make something “better” or “more serious” than Batman & Robin would probably have resulted in a tonally half-baked feature.
13 Tim Burton's Batman (first draft)
Tim Burton’s Batman invented the summer blockbuster, but in hindsight, it also clearly avoids the overstuffed aspect of most modern superhero franchise films. Had an earlier draft of the movie’s script made it to production, Batman would have been just as clogged with villains, secondary characters and subplots as any 21st century comic book movie.
After Burton was hired to direct Batman, comic writer Steve Englehart was brought in to write the screenplay based on some of his own work in Batman: Strange Apparitions. The Englehart screenplay included the Joker, mob boss Rupert Thorne, Dick Grayson, and even a Penguin cameo.
Englehart himself thought there were too many characters in this screenplay and cut out Grayson and Penguin before his script was eventually dropped altogether, and Sam Hamm was brought in to write the final draft.
12 Batman DarKnight
Once Warner Bros. canceled all plans to continue with Schumacher’s Batman series in the late '90s, the studio took all sorts of pitches for a new Batman movie in hopes of setting a fresh course for the property. One of those pitches was Batman: DarKnight, a treatment from writers Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise that featured Bruce Wayne being forced out of retirement to take on Scarecrow and Man-Bat.
Tim Burton’s two Batman movies have had a long-stretching influence over every Batman film since. The pitch for Batman: DarKnight sounds like a continuation of the darker tone and simpler story structure that Burton established, which, unfortunately, might have created either a semi-safe course correction or a tired retread.
Either way, the villain combo of Scarecrow and Man-Bat would have made for an intriguing, nightmarish aesthetic.
11 Batman v Superman
Fifteen years before Zack Snyder’s Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. began work on a Batman v Superman project written by franchise veteran Akiva Goldsman. Goldsman’s script featured Bruce Wayne struggling with the deaths of Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, and Clark Kent in an equally depressive state after a divorce with Lois Lane.
Similarly to Dawn of Justice, the movie would have had Lex Luthor taking advantage of Batman and Superman in their fragile emotional states to turn them against each other.
The Batman v Superman that we ended up with has been severely maligned for the now-infamous “Martha!” plot device. Goldman’s BvS script offered a far more emotionally satisfying backdrop for the rift between the two heroes that may very well have led to a more thematically satisfying movie.
10 Batgirl Year One
The DC Animated Universe is full of worthwhile feature films that most mainstream audiences will never see. One of the most intriguing DC Animated projects that unfortunately fell off track in was Batgirl: Year One, based on the comic mini-series by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon.
As its title suggests, Batgirl: Year One is an updated origin story for Barbara Gordon, detailing her difficult road to becoming the first Batgirl. The comic offered a timely take on Barbara’s journey as she dealt with overwhelming sexism while trying to make a difference in Gotham.
Bruce Timm, DCAU veteran and Batman: Year One executive producer, tried to produce an animated Batgirl: Year One adaptation, but the project was eventually axed by DC.
Batgirl: Year One’s uncompromising look at sexism in a crime-fighting environment would have made it a valuable addition to the DCAU filmography. Here’s hoping Warner Bros’ takes inspiration from Year One when their live-action Batgirl movie begins production in earnest.
9 Tim Burton's Catwoman
When we talk about the Tim Burton superhero movies that never were, Batman Forever and Superman Lives are usually the ones that come to mind. However, Burton’s planned Catwoman spin-off with Michelle Pfeiffer is potentially awesome enough to deserve equal, if not even more attention.
Batman Returns was a box office disappointment for Warner Bros., which led to a shift in tone with Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. However, before Warner Bros. pushed the franchise in a more light-hearted, neon-soaked direction, a Catwoman spin-off was still in play, with both star Michelle Pfeiffer and director Tim Burton set to return.
A full draft of the screenplay had even been turned in by the time anything associated with Burton’s bat-verse fell by the wayside. Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman was clearly handled with great love and care by Burton in Batman Returns, and one can only surmise that a Catwoman spin-off would have been executed with equal passion.
8 The Batman
In the early '80s, Tom Mankiewicz, best known for his work on the James Bond films, wrote a Batman movie set for a 1985 release date, featuring the origins of both Batman and Robin, and Penguin as a mobster with unusually low body temperature.
Mankiewicz also sought out David Niven to play Alfred Pennyworth and Peter O’Toole to play Penguin, with the intention of casting an unknown as Batman. At one point, Joe Dante was even attached to direct.
Mankiewicz’s The Batman was one of a few different scripts from the early '80s that drew heavily from the limited comic series Strange Apparitions— a classic run that would have undoubtedly led to a solid Batman film.
Unfortunately for Mankiewicz, his script went through some drastic changes with another director (see our next entry), which in turn would completely give way to the 1989 Tim Burton-helmed version.
7 Ivan Reitman's Batman (Starring Bill Murray)
Tom Mankiewicz’s early '80s Batman script eventually made it’s way to Ivan Reitman, director of the enormously successful Ghostbusters. Reitman wanted to take the film in a more comic direction, casting Bill Murray as Bruce Wayne/Batman and either Eddie Murphy or Michael J. Fox as Robin.
Even in the mid-'80s, mainstream audiences still associated Batman with the 1960’s Adam West TV series, so it wouldn’t have been a huge stretch to continue the comic tradition and make a Ghosbusters-esque, special effects-heavy comedy out of the Batman property.
Imagine the Adam West series with a way bigger budget and Bill Murray’s particular brand of witty humor, and you’ve probably got a clear picture of what this movie would have looked like. Reitman’s Batman wouldn’t have necessarily been the coolest or most distinguished Batman adaptation, but there’s no question that it would’ve been a blast.
6 Ben Affleck's The Batman
Warner Bros. gained a lot of good will when it was announced that Ben Affleck would direct, co-write, and star in the first standalone Batman film of the DCEU, and they lost it just as quickly when Affleck stepped down from the director’s chair.
The addition of director Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) to the project seems to have at least partially tempered public opinion since then, but there’s no doubt that the quick and sloppy birth and death of Affleck’s Batman has permanently shaken our collective trust in the DCEU’s ability to deliver quality films.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman may very well turn out better than what we would have gotten with the Affleck version, but it’s still difficult for audiences to have full confidence in project after it has gone through such a public mess of a pre-production phase.
5 Justice League: Mortal
Planned for a 2009 release, the film would have been the first live-action version of the DC super team. An all-star cast of young talent was in place— including Armie Hammer as Batman and Adam Brody as The Flash— it seemed that everything was ready until the project was canceled days before principal photography was set to begin.
There were a lot of contributing factors to Justice League: Mortal’s cancellation. The 2008 writers strike played a role, as did disputes over whether the film’s production would be based in Australia. In the end, fate was simply working against Justice League: Mortal, an adaptation that would have been extremely faithful to the source material, and surely a joy to watch under George Miller’s direction.
4 Batman Beyond
Around the same time Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was in the early development stages, Warner Bros. was entertaining the idea of a Batman Beyond feature based on the popular animated series.
Creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnett were working on a script with Remember the Titans director Boaz Yakin, who unfortunately lost interest pretty early on in the development stage. Once they lost their director, Dini and Burnett decided to shelve the project altogether and start pitching a more traditional Batman movie to Warner Bros executives.
It’s impossible to imagine something as fringy as Batman Beyond being as successful as Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, especially after the critical fallout of Batman & Robin. Nevertheless, a sci-fi heavy, Blade Runner-esque Batman movie is a prospect too awesome not to consider reviving in the near future. Take note Warner Bros.
3 Return of the Batman
As we’ve seen in previous entries on this list, various writers, producers, and directors had been trying to get a darker cinematic Batman off the ground long before Tim Burton’s uber successful 1989 version.
In the late '70s, producer Michael Uslan was desperate to make a serious version of Batman that ditched the camp of the Adam West series in favor of the crime-fighting “creature of the night” found in Bob Kane’s original comics. Uslan’s script, titled Return of the Batman, was shopped around for years with no success in convincing studios that a dark superhero movie was worth it.
Few big-screen iterations of the Dark Knight sound as exciting on paper as Michael Uslan’s Return of the Batman. Had it been made in the late '70s per Uslan’s wishes, the finished product might have tonally landed somewhere between the operatic, kiddie-matinee vibe of Star Wars and the gritty urban action of '70s crime thrillers like Dirty Harry and The French Connection. What could be better?
2 Tim Burton's Batman Forever
Batman Returns is generally one of the Caped Crusader’s more well-regarded films, but upon its release in 1992, Tim Burton’s surreal, gothic take on the Batman universe was a bit much for summer blockbuster audiences (the fact that the movie had a heavy Christmas aesthetic probably didn’t help either).
Thus, Warner Bros. demanded a lighter tone for the third Batman movie, causing both Burton and star Michael Keaton to exit the project. In Burton’s place, director Joel Schumacher created a lighter, campier follow-up that sold a lot of toys but has failed to make the cultural impact of Burton’s Batman films in the years since its release.
Michael Keaton has stated on a few occasions that the Dark Knight trilogy closely resembles what he and Burton had wanted to do with Batman Forever. Had Keaton and Burton been given the chance to make a third Batman film, we probably would have gotten a grittier, more realistic story similar to Nolan’s Batman, only with Burton’s signature aesthetic flare still in tact. If only.
1 Batman Year One
There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about Darren Aronofsky's Batman Year One. The canceled post-Batman & Robin, pre-Dark Knight feature has become the stuff of Internet legend in recent years.
Looking back, it’s almost shocking how close Aronofsky's singular take on the Batman mythos came to fruition. Only loosely based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, Batman Year One would have starred Joaquin Phoenix as Bruce Wayne, a more psychopathic, low-tech vigilante more akin to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle than any other iteration of the character.
Of all the canceled Batman movies that have come and gone over the years, Aronofsky’s gloriously unfaithful adaptation is the only one that might have been the greatest Batman movie of all time. Sure, it would have puzzled die-hard fans and confounded mainstream audiences, but it also would have been a comic book masterpiece. Here’s hoping the Scorsese-produced Joker movie can even come close to capturing the spirit of Aronofsky’s innovative take on everyone's favorite masked vigilante.
How was our ranking? What do you consider to be the best Batman movie never made? Join the conversation in the comments!
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