Truth be told, we’re pretty spoiled in terms of the Batman films we’ve gotten so far. We’ve gotten a pulp-noir Batman, a campy, neon Batman, a gritty “real-world” Batman and a Batman fighting aliens. In the history of Bat-Films, there has truly been something for everybody. There are, however, some questions and some scenarios that remain unanswered. We’ve heard rumors and innuendos for years about the various “what-ifs” of Batman films. Whether they were about casting decisions, sequels, costumes or something else entirely, these what-if scenarios are sometimes more intriguing than some of the films themselves. We want to examine some of these scenarios, discussing what could have happened and what actually did happen. Some of these what-ifs are “elseworld” tales about what Batman on film could have looked like. Others are potential train wrecks that we should thank the gods above never happened. They are all fun to imagine and dissect, though, and that’s what we want to do today as we present, in no particular order…
10 Insane ‘What-If’ Scenarios of Batman films.
But what if Batman and Robin was actually successful?
Batman and Robin was, in a word, a train wreck. Okay that’s two words. Still, Batman and Robin almost undid all of the good that Batman ’89, Batman Returns and, yes, even Batman Forever did for the character. It almost single-handedly stopped the franchise dead in its tracks. Batman on film would not fully recover until 8 years later. Batman and Robin was awful, both critically and commercially.
What Could Have Happened– If Batman and Robin was successful, it would have probably continued the Schumacher-Verse, giving birth to the heavily-rumored Batman Unchained (more on that later).
What did Happen: The abysmal failure of Batman and Robin resulted in the franchise essentially lying dormant for the next 8 years until Christopher Nolan began filming Batman Begins, which would bring the character back to the top of the Superhero Box Office, where he belonged.
But what if Marlon Wayans actually got to be Robin?
In the years between Batman ’89 and Batman Returns, it was heavily-rumored that comedian Marlon Wayans was cast as Robin, the Boy Wonder. After being cut from Batman Returns, Wayans was actually paid off before production began on Batman Forever, with the part of Robin going to Chris O’Donnell.
What Could Have Happened: Batman Forever could’ve been seen as the ‘progressive Batman movie.” It could have launched the career of Wayans. It could have been an interesting take on a classic character.
What Did Happen: Chris O’Donnell became the 40-year-old Boy Wonder, forever opening himself up to snide remarks from snarky writers. Robin would appear as one of the titular characters in Joel Schumacher’s follow-up but, after that, Robin on film would never be seen again.
But what if the Joker wasn’t killed off in Batman ’89?
In The Dark Knight, the Joker told Batman that they were “destined to do this forever.” In Batman ’89, the Joker falls off a helicopter and dies instantly. Somewhere in the Batman Nolan-Verse, the Joker is sitting alone in a dark, padded cell, just waiting for the perfect chance to escape. In the Burton-Verse, however, Batman is without his greatest foe.
What Could Have Happened: By not killing off Batman’s arch-nemesis, Warner Bros. could have had a proverbial ace (or Joker?) up its sleeve. Perhaps they could have used the Joker in a future movie, like Batman Forever. That way, Two-Face wouldn’t have had to try so hard to act like him. Jack Nicholson made a ton of money because of Batman ’89. He also seemed to genuinely enjoy being the character. We have to believe he wouldn’t have minded coming back for a follow-up.
What Did Happen: Joker stayed dead, but his spirit lived on via Tommy Lee Jones’ take on Two-Face in Batman Forever. It wasn’t good and we cannot, in good conscience, sanction his buffoonery. Joker wouldn’t be seen again in a Batman film for almost 20 years.
But what if Batman ’66 never got made?
It’s no secret that, in the early to mid-60’s, Batman was not the hot seller that he had been or would be again. When the Batman television show first aired, many thought it was the beginning of the end for the Caped Crusader. It was just as campy as the failing comic books were, and there was no way it would succeed. Except it did and it started the first wave of “Bat-Mania,” reviving the character and saving the comic books.
What Could Have Happened: Batman very easily could have been discontinued and we would have lost 50 years of the best Batman stories ever told.
What Did Happen: Batman ’66 was, for the most part, a success. While some are quick to lambast Adam West’s Batman, without him we might not have had any other iteration.
But what if Catwoman got her own (good) movie?
Arguably, the biggest hit of Batman Returns was Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of Catwoman. She was such a huge hit that plans were set in motion for her to have her own feature film. This is why she was allowed to have that scene at the end of Batman Returns, showing us that she still had a few lives left. This begs the question…
What Could Have Happened: Catwoman could’ve been the first real cinematic female anti-hero, launching her own franchise and going off on her own adventures, providing a role model for girls in the process of finding out how strong, smart and beautiful they actually were.
What Did Happen: Various rewrites resulted in 2004’s Catwoman, a terrible movie featuring Halle Berry in a tube top and bearing no resemblance to the original film idea.
But what if Christopher Nolan made one more Batman film?
The impact Christopher Nolan had on the Batman Franchise cannot be overstated. He took a broken character and breathed new life into him, reminding the world that he is not a goofy, pandering, joker- he’s the goddamn Batman! The Dark Knight Trilogy is, arguably, the quintessential Batman story, with a mostly satisfying ending.
What Could Have Happened: Nolan could have made a 4th Dark Knight movie, forcing Bruce Wayne out of retirement to avenge the death of John ‘Robin’ Blake, who was expected to take up the mantle of the bat, despite having literally zero training.
What Did Happen: Christian Bale’s Batman did go quietly into that good night. We get to hold up the Dark Knight Trilogy as one of the best, most well-rounded Batman stories ever told. Then, we got Ben Affleck and a few mediocre but not-as-bad-as-people-say movies.
But what if Bill Murray was actually cast as Batman?
Before Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton’s Batman, there were rumors that Bill Murray would be the one to don the cape and cowl. Ultimately, this didn’t happen and we got one of the best Batman portrayals of all time from Keaton.
What Could Have Happened: Bill Murray could have been cast as Batman and the film could have been a slapstick comedy. It also could’ve, and would’ve, failed miserably.
What Did Happen: Despite fan protest, Michael Keaton was cast as Batman. He would end up silencing critics forever with just two little words: “I’m Batman.”
But what if Batman V Superman was actually successful?
When Man of Steel was released, it wasn’t intended to be a universe-starter. When it was not as successful as originally projected, the people at Warner Bros. panicked and pressed the “Add-Batman” button. Now, instead of organically building a world in which other heroes could be a part, Batman and Superman were forced to battle in a rushed, mediocre movie, despite not really having a reason to. Don’t worry though; they stopped fighting because they both had a mom named Martha.
Needless to say, Batman v Superman was a minor commercial hit, but a total critical failure. This tide would continue throughout multiple films, including the even-more-anticipated Justice League. Wonder Woman was the only hero left unscathed by the whole mess and the film universe is set for a hard reset, following the release of Aquaman.
What Could Have Happened: Imagine a world in which numerous films led to the clash between Batman and Superman. We would already care about the characters, based on previous adventures, and we would pick a side based on whose ideals we agreed with. This film is actually called Captain America: Civil War, and it’s everything BVS should’ve been. Had BVS simply followed that formula, its world would be fully realized, featuring all of the DC heroes that we know and love. And Aquaman.
What Did Happen: BVS was a bust. It started a trajectory that has been insurmountable to overcome. After the Justice League debacle, it seems that the entire DC Cinematic Universe is about to be overhauled.
But what if Joel Schumacher actually made a 3rd Batman film?
Believe it or not, there was a brief moment when Warner Bros. execs actually thought Batman and Robin was gonna be a hit. They saw dailies and almost immediately planned orders for a sequel. Then, Batman and Robin hit theaters. Any plans for future installments were put on hold indefinitely.
What Could Have Happened: Allegedly, a script to the Schumacher Batman featured Scarecrow and Harley Quinn. The latter would’ve been Joker’s daughter, out to avenge her father’s death. The former would have used his fear gas to make Batman think he was “on trial,” facing a jury of anything but his peers. Batman Unchained, as it would come to be called, would feature “hallucinatory” versions of previous adversaries, including the Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin, the Riddler and more. Quite surprisingly, this actually sounds like a fairly interesting movie. Just add it to the things that Batman and Robin ruined, also including our childhood and general faith in humanity.
What Did Happen: Schumacher’s trilogy-ender was shelved and Batman was to hibernate in his cave for the next 8 years. Then, Christopher Nolan came along and gave us one of the definitive iterations of the Dark Knight, which was a fine compromise.
But what if Tim Burton actually made a 3rd Batman film?
Perhaps the only thing more interesting that Joel Schumacher’s unmade 3rd Batman film is Tim Burton’s unmade 3rd Batman film. Upon its release, Batman Returns divided fans more than our nation’s leader. Some thought the film was gothic and beautiful; others saw it as dark, macabre and gross. McDonald’s pulled sponsorship because parents were outraged that a movie rated PG-13 wasn’t suitable for children. Burton was set to make a follow up to Batman Returns, but WB decided to go in a new, family-friendly direction.
What Could Have Happened: Tim Burton and Michael Keaton could’ve teamed up one more time for a 3rd Batman film. Robin Williams could have portrayed the “dark” version of the Riddler that fans have been clamoring for since, well, forever. It could have been an excellent ending to Tim Burton’s take on The Batman.
What Did Happen: Because Happy Meal Toys are more important than the quality of a movie, WB executives called for a more family-friendly approach to Batman. This led to the creation of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, which led to the creation of Batman and Robin…which resulted in a long break for the character…which gave birth to the Dark Knight Trilogy…which paved the way for Batfleck, which resulted in an entirely different take on the character that Matt Reeves will direct sometime in 2020. So you see, Dear Reader, had Tim Burton made a 3rd Batman movie, we might never have gotten the Dark Knight Trilogy or the upcoming Matt Reeves Batman film. The Lord, or Warner Bros. producers, work in mysterious ways.