Since legendary co-creators Bob Kane and Bob Finger gave life to Bruce Wayne back in 1939, there have been a number of Batman projects in various stages of Hollywood development, with several adaptations nearly getting made. Some sound great. Some sound atrocious. But all would have been endlessly fascinating in some way, shape or form.
Here, we take a look at the heroes, villains, and filmmakers behind 10 Batman movies you never saw. Sure some sound great, but most of them sound awful. Now, with Justice League and The Batman on the horizon, all we can think about is how these might have turned out, and what awaits us in the future, with current Batman Ben Affleck still wavering on whether or not to ditch the cape and cowl and let someone else give it a try.
Ivan Reitman's The Batman
After the 1978 Superman movie directed by Richard Donner famously made the world believe a man could fly, one of the screenwriters responsible for the film was soon drafted to take a crack at Gotham City's brooding vigilante. Given his work on nearly a half dozen James Bond films, it's safe to assume that late screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz's take would have given us a much grittier version of the Caped Crusader than the campy 1960s TV series. His script was reportedly inspired by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers' fan-favorite Detective Comics run, a bright spot in the '70s comic book scene that brought Batman to new heights. Once Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman came onboard, Bill Murray was rumored to star, going up against David Bowie as the Joker. Eddie Murphy was one of the names thrown around as a potential Robin. Warner ordered multiple rewrites with various writers, which is funny considering that Mankiewicz himself served as a go-to script doctor for the studio, punching up Gremlins, The Goonies, and WarGames. Even after this version of Batman collapsed, Bill Murray was still in consideration, for Tim Burton's Batman, before Michael Keaton was cast. Mel Gibson, Alec Baldwin, Charlie Sheen, and Pierce Brosnan were rumored possibilities, too.
Tim Burton's Batman Forever
Speaking of Tim Burton, the third entry in the successful franchise the visionary filmmaker kicked off with 1989's Batman and continued with 1992's Batman Returns was originally his for the taking. Though Billy Dee Williams had already appeared as Burton's Harvey Dent, the Riddler would have been the only villain in Burton's version of Batman Forever, with the late Robin Williams at the top of the list for the role. Burton was keen to introduce Marlon Wayans as Robin in his third film, which almost happened with Batman Returns. Ultimately, when Warner decided to lighten up the tone of the franchise with a new director, and Keaton walked from the project, Wayans was cut as well, though he was famously still paid.
Joel Schumacher's Batman Unchained
Like Tim Burton, Lost Boys director Joel Schumacher made two Batman films, serving as sequels to Burton's films rather than going the reboot route. Batman Forever, with Val Kilmer in the lead, was certainly less strange and more family friendly than Batman Returns, while still maintaining a bit of balance. But Schumacher's follow-up, with George Clooney as Bruce Wayne, stalled the franchise, scaring Hollywood away from big budget superhero movies altogether for a minute. A notoriously campy Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Batgirl, and bat nipples were among the many problems that made Batman & Robin a massive failure.
Of course, prior to its release, the franchise was doing well enough that a third Schumacher film seemed like a given. A script was already in place, one that would have seen the Scarecrow as the villain and a move back toward the strange. Batman Unchained, often erroneously referred to as Batman Triumphant by fans, would have introduced Harley Quinn, possibly played by either Courtney Love or Madonna. Schumacher wanted Nicholas Cage to play his main villain, in a story that would see Batman locked inside Arkham Asylum as Scarecrow dosed him with fear gas. The script would have brought back every single Batman villain from the previous films in a big hallucination set piece where Batman was put on trial by his Rogue's Gallery. Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy would all be on hand, culminating in the onscreen return of Jack Nicholson as the Joker.
But alas, the poor reception to Batman & Robin put Schumacher's future with the franchise in jeopardy. The fact that gathering the likes of Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfieffer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, and Jack Nicholson together in a single movie would have made this one of the most expensive (if not the most expensive) scripts ever produced certainly didn't help. Despite rumored ideas, like Kurt Russell, for recasting Batman, Clooney was still signed on for another Batman movie. As recently as 1997, he was telling reporters he'd be willing to do it, while acknowledging the shortcomings of Batman & Robin.
Joel Schumacher's Batman: Darknight
The studio let Batman Triumphant writers Stephen Wise and Lee Shapiro take another crack at a script for a Schumacher directed sequel. They kept Scarecrow as their villain, adding Dr. Langstrom, aka Man-Bat, as well. There was talk of Terence Stamp playing that role. Stamp, of course, was General Zod in 1980's Superman II. Batman: DarKnight was in development for a couple of years. In 2015, Lee and Wise actually made the screenplay available to the public, on Amazon and other retailers.
Joel Schumacher's The Dark Knight Returns
For a moment there, Schumacher nearly had Warner Bros. convinced to let him adapt Frank Miller's gritty graphic novel series, The Dark Knight Returns, about an aging Batman in a near-future Gotham City. He reportedly wanted Clint Eastwood to play his senior citizen Batman. David Bowie's name came up for the Joker once again, too. At that point, the iconic pop star was 52 years old, which would've been perfect. There was even talk of bringing back Michael Keaton to maybe play Batman.
Boaz Yakin's Batman Beyond
In the summer of 2017, rumors kicked into high gear that Ben Affleck had signed on to make an entire trilogy of Batman films with director Matt Reeves, who took over on the standalone film, The Batman, originally to be written and directed by Affleck himself. The trilogy was said to setup Batman Beyond, the futuristic story of a younger Batman protégé, mentored by Bruce Wayne. This would make sense, given that Affleck was already in his 40s when he first appeared as the character. But a Batman Beyond film nearly happened a long time ago, back when the success of the Batman Beyond television series was fresh in the studio's mind. Co-creators Alan Burnett and Paul Dini were tasked with writing a live action adaptation of the Terry McGinnis character's story, for Remember the Titans director Boaz Yakin. Incidentally, Yakin's first major credit was for another comic book film; he wrote the script for Marvel's 1989 version of The Punisher, which starred Dolph Lundgren.
Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One
Eventually Warner Bros. decided the best way to handle Batman was to reboot the character altogether, going back for an origin story. Schumacher's desire to mine some of Frank Miller's comic book material must have made an impression, as the reboot idea was originally set to center around Miller's Batman: Year One story. The studio hired Miller to work up what became a typically Miller-esque script filled with adult themes and violence. They paired him with cowriter and director Darren Aronofsky, fresh off of Pi. Years later, Miller would recount to The Hollywood Reporter that Aronofsky's take on the character was even darker than his was. The story the two of them cooked up certainly would have been Rated-R and was unlikely to cater to the massive merchandising surrounding the franchise. They rewrote much of Batman's origin, even departing from Year One. Aronofsky would later describe his take as Death Wish or The French Connection meets Batman. He saw Jim Gordon as Serpico and Batman as someone like Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. Later, Aronofsky almost made another hard-edged superhero movie, The Wolverine.
The Wachowski's Batman: Year One
Thanks to The Matrix, Warner Bros. flirted with the idea of having the Wachowskis direct Batman: Year One. (Incidentally, years before he helped finish Justice League and had Batgirl in development, Joss Whedon was in the mix for Batman, too.)
Wolfgang Petersen's Batman Vs Superman
While all of these various ideas were getting kicked around, there was actually a Batman vs. Superman movie in development more than a decade before the release of the one we got. There hadn't been a Superman movie since 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Tim Burton nearly made his Superman with Nicolas Cage, as chronicled in the documentary, The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened? Charlie's Angels and music video director McG, Rush Hour franchise head Brett Ratner, and showrunner J.J. Abrams of TV's Alias were all involved with Superman at various stages, with Ratner eventually swapping franchises, for better or worse, with X-Men director Bryan Singer. Ratner made X-Men: The Last Stand and Singer was able to finally get the Man of Steel back off the ground with Superman Returns.
But around 2002, the trades were abuzz with talk of Air Force One director Wolfgang Petersen's Batman vs Superman movie. It was supposed to shoot in 2003 for release the following year. Se7en scribe Andrew Kevin Walker delivered a reportedly dark script, which the studio had rewritten by Akiva Goldsman, who had worked on both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Lex Luthor and the Joker were the villains. Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Christian Bale were some of the names thrown around for the two leads. Ultimately, the studio decided they'd rather re-launch each character separately. Wolfgang Petersen moved on to direct Brad Pitt in Troy.
George Miller's Justice League: Mortal
Last but certainly not least, there was almost a Justice League movie in 2009. Before we knew how awesome Mad Max: Fury Road would be, George Miller was all set to direct Justice League: Mortal, from a script by Kieran and Michele Mulroney, a husband and wife team who wrote Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows together. The storyline sounds a bit like the plot to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Like Tony Stark, Batman creates a bunch of robots to protect the world. But naturally, they turn evil. What is probably the most interesting about Justice League: Mortal is how many heroes it would have included. D.J. Cotrona, who went on to play Flint in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, as Superman. Armie Hammer from The Social Network as Batman. Wonder Woman would have been played by Australian model Megan Gale, who Miller ended up casting as Valkyrie in Fury Road. Adam Brody from The O.C. as The Flash. Rapper/actor Common as Green Lantern; Santiago Cabrera from TV'S Heroes as Aquaman. Original Mad Max veteran Hugh Keays-Byrne would have played Martian Manhunter. He ended up playing the main bad guy of Fury Road, Immortan Joe. Zoe Kazan, who starred in 2017's The Big Sick, as Iris West. Comedic actor Jay Baruchel was cast as businessman Maxwell Lord, with Teresa Palmer as Talia al Ghul.
Fans have long salivated over concept art, sculptures, and storyboards from Justice League: Mortal, which was never made due to a number of factors, including the Writer's Strike, which prevented rewrites from happening in time to make the studio's desired 2009 release date. Like Superman Lives, Justice League: Mortal will get the documentary treatment, with a look at the troubled production due in 2018.