Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins surely ranks among the most significant superhero movies of all time. Released back in 2005, it helped usher in a new era for caped crusaders like the Dark Knight, where realism was king and everything was dark. Really dark.
It also spawned multiple imitations, both good and bad, all of which highlighted just how influential Nolan’s approach to the superhero genre was. From Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel to Josh Trank’s ill-fated Fantastic Four, all of a sudden, filmmakers saw the potential in turning these comic book stories into dark, adult-orientated affairs.
But Nolan doesn’t warrant all the credit. Sure, he found a way to get his vision on to film, but prior to landing the director’s chair on Batman Begins, two men were working on an even darker incarnation of the DC Comics icon.
Darren Aronofksy’s Batman movie may have never even got to the point of casting, but it remains the stuff of legend among fans of the Dark Knight, with details and info on the doomed project having been teased by those involved in the years since. What we do know is that Aronofsky was working on a very different version of the Caped Crusader alongside renowned Batman writer and comic book visionary Frank Miller. And, if the stories are true, it would have been unlike any superhero movie fans have seen before or since.
Here are 15 Crazy Things You Never Knew About Darren Aronofsky’s Canceled Batman Movie.
15 X Men Helped Kick-Start The Batman Franchise Again
The Batman franchise was at an all-time low prior to the new millennium. 1997’s super-camp Batman & Robin may have fared well at the box office and sold plenty of merchandise, but it was a critical disaster and a film rightly lambasted by fans of the comic book. At this point, Warner Bros. seemed happy to leave the Dark Knight dormant for a couple of years, while memories of Joel Schumacher’s colorful effort faded from the mind, Bat credit card and all.
But those plans went out the window when the studio got wind that 20th Century Fox was moving forward with plans for a movie based on the exploits of the Marvel superhero collective the X-Men, and that Bryan Singer, best known for The Usual Suspects, was on board. They figured that if X-Men could work as a movie franchise, there was really no excuse not to get the Caped Crusader back up and running. Eager to seek out a visionary filmmaker in the mold of Singer, they looked to Darren Aronofsky, who had just made a name for himself with Pi.
14 Aronofsky’s Initial Pitch Starred Clint Eastwood
Aronofsky, who was working with Frank Miller on an adaptation of another of his comic books, Ronin, caught the eye of the studio execs over at Warner Bros. after making a bold initial pitch for a superhero movie. Far removed from the version he would go on to create in their script, Aronofsky imagined a version of Batman with Clint Eastwood cast as the Caped Crusader, as part of a movie inspired by Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
In this version of the film, the action would take place on the streets of Tokyo, which would double as Gotham. Aronofsky’s vision for Batman was heavily influenced by films like Death Wish and The French Connection. He even initially wanted the movie to be set in the 1970s. Though the 1970s vibe was retained, most of these elements were ditched, with Aronofsky instead focusing on adapting another one of Miller's comics, Batman: Year One, for the big screen.
13 Bruce Wayne Was Left Poor And Homeless
Though the core of the Batman mythology remains in place in the Miller/Aronofsky script, there are some notable changes when it comes to Bruce Wayne. As in keeping with the comics, a young Wayne does bear witness to his parents’ deaths at the hands of criminals. But rather than head back to the family mansion and develop his alter ego of the Dark Knight, this version of the story saw him end up penniless and on the streets.
He is eventually rescued by a character named Big Al and brought up by his son Little Al, the African American owner of an auto repair shop and a former Vietnam War combat medic who works alongside the car-mad Bruce as a mechanic. The idea of stripping Wayne of his riches wasn’t an entirely new one for Miller, who did something similar with Matt Murdock during his time writing for Daredevil. Everyone's favorite blind lawyer never resorted to the kinds of actions this version of Batman did, though.
12 Aronofsky Was Inspired By Taxi Driver
Taking inspiration from the vigilante cinema of the 1970s, Aronofsky and Miller’s script presented Bruce Wayne as a character not all that dissimilar to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Like Travis, he had nothing, and was shown to be disgusted at goings-on in Gotham. Working alongside Little Al and growing up in squalor, he saw any number of pimps, prostitutes, and corrupt cops roaming the streets.
It’s this environment that eventually inspires Wayne to take action, vigilante style, though at this point, the idea of him being a Batman is not really on the cards. He is instead portrayed as a Charles Bronson-esque one-man army, which works until a close run-in with a prostitute named Selina Kyle (Catwoman) convinces him to get serious about things and tackle the real issue threatening Gotham: corruption in the upper echelons of society.
11 The Batsuit, Batmobile, and Batcave Were Very Different
Aronofsky and Miller kept things simple when it came to Bruce Wayne’s vigilante get-up, with the pair evidently eager to distance themselves from the merchandise-friendly look of Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which included any number of Bat-related suits and vehicles clearly designed with toy manufacturers in mind.
The initial take on the Batsuit, for example, consisted of little more than a costume cape, some gloves lined with razor blades, and a hockey mask (though the script would later see Bruce adopt a slightly more traditional suit, as glimpsed in the concept art above). Our hero's Batmobile was a beat up black Lincoln Continental with blacked out windows and a couple of bus engines under the hood. The Batcave, meanwhile, was a small abandoned part of the Gotham subway system that Wayne discovered and quickly set about turning into his HQ.
Though these additions were in-line with the gritty 1970s flavor Aronofsky was keen on, they may ultimately have played a part in the project failing to get off the ground, with execs always likely to be hesitant about a Batman project that didn’t allow for merchandizing opportunities.
10 Batman Earned His Name Under Odd Circumstances
This version of Bruce Wayne wasn’t trained in the art of hand-to-hand combat by any Ra’s al Ghul type characters, either. Instead, he learned how to fight from books, which also taught him how to create a number of chemical-based weapons. Yet the most significant of all Wayne’s weapons was also arguably his smallest. Keen to honor the memory of his father, he also wore his dad’s signet ring on his hand at all times.
In the script, the ring features his father Thomas Wayne’s initials, TW, engraved into the design. This became significant when Batman punched criminals, as it left an imprint that gets compared to a bat. It’s this particular turn of events that prompts the Gotham media to dub the vigilante Wayne "The Batman", with Bruce ultimately taking a liking to the name in the script.
9 Aronofsky Wanted To Go Even Darker Than Miller
Miller may be the genius mind behind such dark and twisted graphic novel delights as Sin City and 300, as well as several notable DC and Marvel titles, but even he is willing to admit that Aronofsky’s vision for their Batman movie was a whole lot darker than his could ever be.
"My Batman was too nice for him. We would argue about it, and I'd say, ‘Batman wouldn't do that, he wouldn't torture anybody,’ and so on," Miller revealed to The Hollywood Reporter in an interview years later.
Though the script was essentially an adaptation of Batman: Year One, Aronofsky evidently only wanted to use the book to provide a rough framework for their film, and was happy to scrap several key scenes from the source material. His main focus was on creating a brutal and entirely realistic version of the Dark Knight.
8 Commissioner Gordon Was Really Messed Up
The Aronofsky script was as much a story about Jim Gordon as it was about Bruce Wayne with the future Gotham police commissioner cast in the role of an Al Pacino-esque Serpico to Wayne’s Travis Bickle-type vigilante.Whereas Miller’s Batman Year One graphic novel had Gordon engaging in an affair with a female colleague, the script saw Gordon trying to make a better life for his pregnant wife, while wrestling with the endemic corrupt in the Gothan police force and some pretty serious inner demons.
"Gordon’s opening scene for us was [him] sitting on a toilet with the gun barrel in his mouth and six bullets in his hand, thinking about blowing his head off — and that to me is the character," Aronofsky revealed in David Hughes' book Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made. Though initially critical of Batman and his methods, the script saw Gordon eventually team up with the vigilante.
7 Miller and Aronofsky Had Plans For Two-Face
Though he does not feature as a villain in Aronofsky and Miller’s script, Two-Face appears to have been very much a part of their long-term plans for Batman. The character of Harvey Dent / Two-Face had already been used and abused in the previous Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher big screen incarnations of the Caped Crusader, so it was something of a surprise that the character would feature in the script.
Dent appears in the role of up and coming Assistant District Attorney, one of the few incorruptible characters within the system dictating Gotham’s law and order. In fact, at one point, Gordon becomes convinced Dent is the one behind the vigilante acts attributed to Batman and confronts him over it. The version of Dent that appeared in Nolan’s The Dark Knight was not all that dissimilar to the one pitched by Aronofsky and Miller, though their version never switched to his criminal alter ego, with the suspicion being that that was being saved for a future sequel.
6 Gotham Was More Corrupt Than Ever
Bruce Wayne would go on to enlist Jim Gordon to help him fight crime and corruption in Gotham, with the pair eventually uncovering the true source of the city’s problems: Police Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb. Whereas the comic books and even Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins established that mob boss Carmine Falcone was the true mastermind behind the city’s problems, Aronofsky and Miller decided to use Loeb, a character that debuted in the Year One comic.
Loeb was revealed to also be in cahoots with the city’s Mayor Noone, with Gotham shown to be rotten to the core. It was a move that allowed the writers to further highlight the blurring of the lines between good and evil - an overriding theme present throughout the script and one that was also prominent in Batman Begins. And while Loeb ultimately gets his comeuppance, Noone remains in power and is unlikely to face charges.
5 Catwoman Was Sexy...A Little Too Sexy
This version of Batman came complete with Catwoman too – albeit a very different one than we're used to. This version of Batman’s feline foe was an African American prostitute known only as Mistress Selina. A central character in the script, Mistress Selina was also a dominatrix who was only too happy to use sadomasochistic sex toys on her clients. In short, she would not have looked out of place in another of Miller’s most notable works, Sin City.
Kyle plays a key role in the creation of Batman too – Bruce Wayne’s first act of vigilantism is to confront a corrupt cop by the name of Campbell, who he spots accosting Selina at the local cathouse. Selina ends up knocking Wayne out during the ensuing struggle between the three, and he wakes the next day alongside the dead body of Campbell, whom she had seemingly killed. Bruce narrowly escapes being blamed for the murder, and heads off in search of Mistress Selina.
4 The Finale Was Intensely Violent
The film’s finale was a bloody affair of Tarantino-esque proportions. It all starts when Loeb takes extreme measures to stop Gordon’s anti-corruption crusade, by enlisting a squad of shady cops to kidnap his pregnant wife, Ann. Gordon arrives just as they are taking her away and a bloody shootout ensues. Gordon is shot and several officers are left dead. Batman arrives on the scene later and prevents Loeb from escaping with Ann, with his disguise destroyed in the process.
Batman finally gets the better of the escaping Loeb and takes revenge in disturbing fashion. First, with Gordon watching on, he manages to aim a throwing knife directly into Loeb’s eye while he holds Ann hostage. Batman then carves the letter “Z” into Loeb’s cheek in reference to the Mask of Zorro – the film he was watching on the evening of Martha and Thomas Wayne’s deaths - in a clear sign that everything is still not right with him. Loeb is still taken in by police and looks set to stand trial when the film finishes. It’s also hinted that Gordon now knows Batman’s true identity, despite losing his glasses in the fight.
3 Aronofsky Had One Actor In Mind For Batman
At some point after completing work on the script for their Batman movie, Aronofsky was thought to have approached Christian Bale to play the part of the Caped Crusader. Or at least, that was what most fans were led to believe. That notion was upended this past week, when Aronofsky revealed in an interview with Yahoo that he had "always wanted Joaquin Phoenix for Batman."
The script did call for an actor in his 20s, and Phoenix certainly fit the bill, having just come off the back of films like To Die For and Inventing the Abbotts, and just prior to his first major blockbuster role in Gladiator. He arguably would have been a better choice for the role than Bale, given the rough-and-ready approach Aronofsky and Miller took towards Bruce Wayne.
2 Why The Film Ended Up Getting Shelved
Having originally entertained Aronofsky’s ideas for a Clint Eastwood-led version of The Dark Knight Returns, Warner Bros. executives were most likely dismayed to find out that the filmmaker had focused his efforts on adapting Batman: Year One, while seemingly stripping everything that was quintessentially Batman from the story.
The script was also deemed too dark and violent, with the studio worried that the resulting film would most likely be rated R. Toys were also a factor. "The executive wanted to do a Batman he could take his kids to. And this wasn't that. It didn't have the toys in it. The Batmobile was just a tricked-out car," Miller told THR.
The project was ultimately shelved, with Aronofsky and Miller still being paid for their work on the aborted film, which was just about to go through storyboarding when the plug was pulled.
1 The Film Set Up A Very Different Sequel
Though Aronofsky and Miller’s script shared some similarities to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the two appear to differ wildly when it comes to setting up a sequel.
In the case of the unproduced script, it appears that Mistress Selina’s Catwoman was set to become at least one of the main villains in the second film, with the character shown to have turned to a life of cat burglary at the end of the film. At this point, Bruce Wayne has reclaimed his family’s fortune, and when Selina spots this, she describes it as an "interesting development", having already discovered Batman's true identity during their initial encounter in the cathouse.
There’s still a chance the Joker would have featured, though – in one scene, Jim Gordon visits Arkham Asylum and passes the Clown Prince of Crime’s cell. Had a sequel been made, it's likely that the Joker would appeared - because why have the scene in the film otherwise?
Did we miss anything out about Aronofsky's Batman movie? Have your say in the comments!