Movies That Might Have Been – Batman Triumphant

Gary Collinson ponders the fate of the Dark Knight had the stars aligned differently in Movies That Might Have Been…

What We Got…

Having produced four Batman movies in the space of eight years, Warner Bros. found their lucrative feature film series lying in tatters following the disastrous release of the Joel Schumacher-directed sequel Batman & Robin in the summer of 1997. Despite turning a profit, the overtly toyetic, neon-soaked abomination met with a deservedly hostile reception from fans, critics and audiences alike, and it was clear to all and sundry that the ailing franchise was in desperate need of an overhaul. However, due to the fall-out from Batman & Robin, it would take another eight years for that to be achieved…

Succeeding where the likes of Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans), Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) and Wolfgang Peterson (A Perfect Storm) had all failed was Christopher Nolan – an up-and-coming British filmmaker who found himself hot property in Hollywood following the success of his previous two features, Memento and Insomnia. Signing on to the Batman franchise in January 2003, Nolan and scriptwriter David S. Goyer – whose comic book experience included the Blade trilogy, and the David Hasselhoff-headlined Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – set about developing what Nolan described as “a superhero story told in a realistic fashion”, combining elements of the comic book tales ‘Year One’, ‘The Man Who Falls’ and ‘The Long Halloween’ for a new origin story entitled Batman Begins.

Securing a cast that included Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Gary Oldman (James Gordon), Michael Caine (Alfred), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Liam Neeson (Ra’s al Ghul) and Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow), Nolan finally brought the Caped Crusader back to cinemas in June 2005. Although it failed to top Tim Burton’s Batman and Schumacher’s Batman Forever in terms of box-office, Batman Begins was a critical triumph that succeeded in reinvigorating fan confidence in Warner’s handling of the character. Furthermore, it also paved the way for the biggest comic book movie of all-time, The Dark Knight – and of course, the hugely anticipated final installment, The Dark Knight Rises, which arrives this coming July.

What Might Have Been…

Oh, but it all could have been so different, had Warner Bros. decided to turn a blind eye to the shambolic Batman & Robin and allowed Joel Schumacher to continue his mis-handling of the franchise. You see, having been supremely confident in their director following the positive reception to Batman Forever, the studio had already given Schumacher the green light to develop a fifth movie while cameras were still rolling on the fourth. Having penned the previous two Schumacher scripts, Akiva Goldsman (A Time to Kill) chose to pass on a third, with Warner Bros. then turning to screenwriter Mark Protosevich (who would later contribute to Marvel’s Thor) to develop the next installment – Batman Triumphant.

As the finishing touches were being put to Batman & Robin, all eyes began to turn to the follow-up. George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone were contractually obliged to return as Batman, Robin and Batgirl respectively and it soon emerged that Batman Triumphant would see the heroic trio squaring off against two new villains in Dr. Jonathan Crane – a.k.a. the Scarecrow – and Dr. Harleen Quinzel, better known as Harley Quinn, with the popular Batman: The Animated Series character having her back-story revised to that of Jack Napier’s daughter. Furthermore, the inclusion of the Scarecrow would pave the way for the producers to bring back the Dark Knight’s arch-enemy, the Joker, who would return to torment Clooney’s Caped Crusader courtesy of a fear gas-induced hallucination.

With the Scarecrow confirmed as the next member of the Rogue’s Gallery to make the jump to the screen, speculation linked the likes of Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs), Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Jeff Goldblum (The Fly), Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) and shock jock radio personality Howard Stern (Private Parts) to the role, while Nicolas Cage (The Rock) recently revealed that he’d also met with Schumacher about the part. Jack Nicholson was said to be open to a return as the Clown Prince of Crime and – worryingly – both Jenny McCarthy (BASEketball) and Madonna (Dick Tracy) were thought to be in the frame for Harley Quinn. It was also rumoured that two other villains would cameo, with Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers) and Martin Short (¡Three Amigos!) said to have been Schumacher’s preferred casting choices for the roles of Dr. Kirk Langstrom / Man-Bat and Dr. Jervis Tetch / The Mad Hatter.

Plans were moving ahead on Batman Triumphant until June 20th, 1997, when Warner Bros. unleashed Batman & Robin on an unsuspecting audience. Despite a solid opening, Batman & Robin met with a critical lambasting and quickly slid down the box office chart as negative word-of-mouth spread like wildfire. This may not have been enough to convince Warner Bros. to give Schumacher the push, but Clooney was out – the actor stating that he believed he’d “killed Batman” – which eventually led the studio to put the breaks on Batman Triumphant. We can only presume Warner executives were still drowning their sorrows after Batman & Robin as the director was then linked to an adaptation of Batman: Year One before someone finally sobered up and came to their senses, calling time on Schumacher’s reign over the Batman series.

Over the next few years, the studio tried – and failed – on several occasions to revive their franchise, moving into development on a spec script entitled Batman: DarKnight, the Darren Aronofsky / Frank Miller adaptation of Year One, a live-action Batman Beyond movie and the sequel / crossover Batman vs. Superman, before finally handing Christopher Nolan the keys to Gotham City…

Did We Miss Out..?

If you’ve ever had the absolute misfortune of sitting through Batman & Robin, then obviously you’re already more than aware that the short answer is no. An emphatic no. A not-a-cat-in-hells-chance, I’d-rather-stick-needles-into-my-eyes-than-sit-through-more-of-this-rubbish no. Although Batman Triumphant was said to employ a ‘darker take’ on the material than Batman & Robin, let’s face it – even the Adam West television series had provided a darker take on the material than Batman & Robin. A small mercy would have been the early death of Silverstone’s Batgirl and under another director the film may have succeeded, but with Schumacher at the helm the likelihood of another anatomically-correct abomination was high and with Batman & Robin still fresh in people’s minds, it just wasn’t worth the risk.

Had Schumacher somehow managed to convince Warner Bros. to allow his butchery of the Bat to continue, then who knows what damage could have been done – not only to the Caped Crusader, but indeed to the entire superhero movie genre? If another sub-par Batman sequel had hit cinemas in the late-90s, it could have destroyed what little credibility the comic book movie had left and may have had lasting ramifications on the likes of X-Men and Spider-Man, two titles that proved instrumental in launching the current superhero movie boom.

On the other hand, if Batman Triumphant had defied the odds and succeeded, Warner Bros. would have had no need to reboot the franchise. That means no Batman Begins – a film that proved you could present a realistic take on the genre, and has since been cited as an influence on subsequent superhero efforts such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and X-Men: First Class (you can also add X-Men Origins: Wolverine to that list, but we’ll forgive it that one). And of course, no Batman Begins means no Dark Knight, which in turn means no Dark Knight Rises… I guess Schumacher deserves some credit, after all.

How you think this would have worked out? Feel free to leave your thoughts…

For more on the Batman franchise, be sure to check out my book Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen, which is released on June 30th and is available for pre-order via and

Gary Collinson

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