For our latest edition of Vulture Scavenger, we watched all six modern Batman films, listened to multiple DVD commentaries, watched dozens of featurettes, read several books, and scoured old newspaper and magazine articles in search of the tidbits that any obsessive Batman fan would love to know.
1. Gremlins director Joe Dante and Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman were both attached to the film before 29-year-old wunderkind Tim Burton signed on to direct. The film came about after comic fan Michael Uslan — who, in 1971, convinced Indiana University to let him teach the first ever college-accredited course on comic books — bought the film rights for Batman in 1979. (By that time, Uslan had scored a job at DC Comics.) Wanting “to make the definitive, dark, serious version of Batman,” he teamed up with producer Benjamin Melniker and the project eventually landed at Warner Bros.
2. Tim Burton was offered Batman after the surprising success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. He was unhappy with the initial script, saying in the interview book Burton on Burton that it “was basically Superman only the names had been changed. It had the same jokey tone … they didn’t acknowledge any of the freakish nature of it. They didn’t acknowledge he was a man who puts on a costume.” Later, Sam Hamm, a screenwriter with one produced credit to his name, took over and completely changed the script from an origin story to a narrative with flashbacks.
3. Michael Keaton’s casting was initially a source of controversy, resulting in fanboys writing 50,000 letters to Warner Bros. protesting the decision. The main fear was that, as a comedic actor, Keaton would push the movie toward campy, TV-Batman territory. But Burton knew from working with Keaton on Beetlejuice that the actor could do both funny and serious. “He also doesn’t look like a superhero,” said Burton in the documentary Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight. “He looks like a guy who would need to dress up like a bat for effect.” Other actors considered to play Batman included: Alec Baldwin, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck, and Bill Murray.
4. Jack Nicholson was always the first choice to play the Joker, though others were considered, including Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, Robin Williams, and James Woods. Nicholson’s casting had the future benefit of making the role of a Batman villain an attractive one for big Hollywood actors.
5. Sean Young was originally cast as Vicki Vale, but one week before shooting she fell off a horse while practicing for a scene that was eventually cut from the movie.
6. Designers of the Batmobile experienced a moment of trepidation when they realized the ears on Keaton’s cowl were too tall for the vehicle to close. Since the car sat so low to the ground, the seats couldn’t be lowered, so a new cowl was made instead.
7. Batman had two soundtracks: one a score by Danny Elfman, the other an album Prince wrote just for the movie. Initially contracted to write just two songs, Prince ended up falling in love with the movie and knocking out an LP’s worth. Burton later wrote that he “couldn’t make the [Prince] songs work, and I think I did a disservice to the movie and to him.”
8. The process of building the perfect Batsuit required the construction of 28 models, along with 25 capes and six cowls. Because the cowl was attached to the cape, it didn’t allow him to move his head, giving rise to a move called the “Bat Turn,” which required Keaton to move his whole body along with his head.
9. After the stress of shooting Batman, Burton wasn’t keen on making a sequel. In order to convince him, Warner Bros. handed over increased creative control. Burton gave Sam Hamm’s script to Heathers writer Daniel Waters with the instruction to cleanse the script of all signs that Batman Returns was a sequel. That included removing Vicki Vale, deleting revelations about Jack Napier, and scraping mentions of Batwing scraps being sold as souvenirs in Gotham.
10. Sam Hamm’s original script for Batman 2, its name at the time, originally featured Marlon Wayans as Robin, a teenage garage mechanic. The character remained until a few days before Wayans was set to shoot his scenes, when it was cut. The script also saw Batman defeat the Penguin and Catwoman, then get engaged to Vicki Vale.
11. Annette Bening was originally cast to play Catwoman but dropped out shortly before filming because she was pregnant. Among the actresses considered for the role were Raquel Welch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madonna, Ellen Barkin, Cher, Bridget Fonda and Susan Sarandon. One actress not considered was Sean Young, who showed up at Burton’s office demanding an audition in a homemade Catsuit. Burton later admitted that he hid behind his desk so he wouldn’t have to see Young. Denied her audition, she prowled the studio lot with a personal camera crew documenting the embarrassing affair. Later she appeared on Joan Rivers’s talk show in costume. “I thought it would work to be aggressive in the sense that that’s what Catwoman would have done,” Young said. It didn’t.
12. Burgess Meredith, who played the Penguin in the TV version of Batman, was initially supposed to play Oswald Cobblepot’s father. He wasn’t available because of an illness, so Paul Reubens of Pee-wee Herman fame was given the role.
13. Sixty rubber catsuits, each costing $1,000, were designed for Pfeiffer. For each shot, a costumed Pfeiffer was painted in wet silicone to produce the suit’s shine.
14. The final shot of Catwoman looking at the Bat-Signal was cobbled together at the last minute because the studio wanted to keep her alive for future films. The moment, which mimics the final shot of Batman, cost around a quarter of a million dollars. It also required a Catwoman body double because Pfeiffer wasn’t available.
15. After Batman Returns made less money than Batman, Warner Bros. decided the franchise needed a new director. Joel Schumacher was brought on with the explicit goal of making Batman “more pop.”
16. After Michael Keaton dropped out (a “source close to the production” told EW that Keaton was demanding too much, including a $15 million payday, a cut of the gross, and a cut of merchandising), Warner Bros. pounced on Val Kilmer to replace him. When Kilmer got the call, he was inside a cave of bats in Africa researching an unrelated role.
17. Robin Williams had long been the leading candidate to play the Riddler should the character ever make it into a movie. Ultimately Williams turned down the role because he thought it wasn’t as comedic as the version Frank Gorshin played in the sixties TV series.
18. When Billy Dee Williams accepted the role of Harvey Dent in Batman, it was so he could play Two-Face in a future film. But when Schumacher took over the franchise, he had different plans. Tommy Lee Jones was offered the role and took it in part because his son Austin, 11 at the time, said Two-Face was his favorite character.
19. After getting cut from the Batman Returns script, Robin was made an integral part of Batman Forever. Leonardo DiCaprio and Chris O’Donnell were the top two contenders for the part, with the 24-year-old O’Donnell ultimately winning out over Leo, Ewan McGregor, Jude Law, and Alan Cumming. “Joel really wanted the Robin character to be a heartthrob for the young teenage girls,” said makeup artist Ve Neill. So O’Donnell had his ear pierced, wore eye makeup, and got what Neill called “an edgy haircut.”
20. The Batmobile was redesigned for Batman Forever. Famed-Alien designer H.R. Giger was originally hired to build it but left after creative differences with the studio. Even with Giger gone, Schumacher wanted something in the artist’s style. The final design was based on something from a leather fetish magazine.
21. The Riddler’s riddles still hadn’t been written by the time filming began. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman asked New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz for help. For $2,000, Shortz did what Goldsman couldn’t and wrote four riddles used to taunt Bruce Wayne. He had one quibble with how they were used in the film, though — Batman figured them out too fast. “There was no sense of mental effort on Val Kilmer’s part. So I wasn’t impressed,” Shortz said.
22. One of Schumacher’s most controversial changes in Batman Forever was adding nipples to the Batsuit, an idea he got from statues of Greek gods. The nipples went over poorly with many Batfans. More important, Jim Carrey says the nipples “pissed off Bob Kane,” the creator of Batman who worked as a consultant on the film.
23. Schumacher says Bono asked to be in the film but neither was able to come up with an idea that fit. Schumacher’s suggestion was to have Bono make a cameo as Mr. Macphisto, a character he played on U2’s Zoo TV Tour, and perform a song. Instead U2 recorded a song for the soundtrack, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.”
24. On-set drama included a churlish Kilmer, who at one point didn’t talk to Schumacher for two weeks, and an entitled Tommy Lee Jones. ”Jim Carrey was a gentleman, and Tommy Lee was threatened by him,” Schumacher later told EW. “I’m tired of defending overpaid, over privileged actors. I pray I don’t work with them again.”
Batman & Robin
25. Schumacher also didn’t enjoy working with Kilmer. In 1997, he told Premiere, “Val is the most psychologically troubled human being I’ve ever worked with.” When production on Batman & Robin started (soon after it became clear that Batman Forever was going to be a hit), Kilmer had been replaced with George Clooney, who was simultaneously starring on ER.
26. From the outset of Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. pushed Schumacher to make a more family-friendly film, and the studio allowed toy companies to be involved in the production. Schumacher says that the studio asked for the movie to be “toyetic, which means that what you create makes toys that can sell.” Toy companies didn’t just get advance designs of costumes, vehicles, and weapons either; they helped develop them.
27. According to John Glover, who played Dr. Jason Woodrue, “Before a take Joel would pick up his bullhorn and go, ‘Remember, everybody, it’s a cartoon.’ So that kind of set the tone and style of Joel’s Batman.” Chris O’Donnell expressed a similar sentiment, saying “I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.”
28. Uma Thurman beat out Julia Roberts and Demi Moore to play Poison Ivy. Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins were considered for Mr. Freeze before Schumacher decided the maniac needed to be a pumped-up giant. So he asked Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the part and told him if he said no, the movie would have to find a new director.
29. The nipple controversy that cropped up during Batman Forever reached new heights with Batman & Robin. The problem, as many fans saw it, wasn’t the nipples themselves but the characters’ sexualization. Tight shots of latex-clad butts and bulging codpieces pepper the movie, leading some to wonder if Batman and Robin might be partners in more than one way. Schumacher defended it, saying, “I will take responsibility for casting and glorifying beauty and sexuality. That’s part of the fun of a Batman comic book.”
30. Coolio has a small cameo as a nameless banker.
31. Two weeks after wrapping Batman & Robin, Schumacher began work on a sequel entitled Batman Triumphant. There was a writer, a villain (Scarecrow), and a mid-1999 release date. Then Batman & Robin did less well than expected and the studio got cold feet. With hopes of giving “the hardcore fans the Batman movie they would love me to give them,” Schumacher asked the studio about directing an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel Batman: Year One. Warner Bros. liked the idea of a prequel but wanted Darren Aronofsky instead. In the book Tales From Development Hell, Aronofsky says he wanted to “set it in a kind of real reality — no stages, no sets, shooting it all in inner cities across America, creating a very real feeling. My pitch was Death Wish or The French Connection meets Batman.” Warner Bros. passed.
32. In 1999, Warner Bros. launched a successful TV cartoon featuring a retired Batman called Batman Beyond. Only a year later the studio had director Boaz Yakin work with the show’s creators on a script with a futuristic Blade Runner feel that would ideally star Clint Eastwood as the aging Caped Crusader. The idea never got much further than that.
33. The studio’s next attempt to revive Batman involved the Man of Steel. Wolfgang Peterson was hired to direct Batman vs. Superman and Se7en writer Kevin Walker wrote a screenplay. Peterson said the movie would pit a brooding, big city Batman against an innocent, small-town Superman and provide “a true existential experience with visual fun.” Studio politics doomed the mash-up and Warner Bros. decided to prioritize a Superman movie instead.
34. Warner Bros. hired Christopher Nolan in January 2003 to reboot the Batman franchise. From the outset, Nolan said his goal was to tell Batman’s origin story while keeping the movie grounded in reality. By the summer of 2003, Nolan was working with screenwriter David S. Goyer and production designer Nathan Crowley in Nolan’s garage, writing the story and coming up with visual elements. The trio took days off when Nolan’s cleaning people used the dryer because the garage became too hot.
35. The movie’s intentionally misleading working title was The Intimidation Game.
36. Christian Bale was the first actor Nolan met with about playing Batman. “I contacted them. I heard they were doing some low-budget Batman not aimed at kids and I was tantalized,” Bale said. When he learned it was actually a big-budget production, Bale was disappointed but still wanted to take part, partially because he felt the previous films minimized Batman in favor of the villains. Other actors considered for the role included Billy Crudup, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joshua Jackson, David Boreanaz, and Cillian Murphy.
37. As with all the previous Batman movies, the Batsuit was redesigned for Batman Begins. Among the significant advancements was a new cowl that allowed Batman to turn his head, along with a cooling system that allowed Bale to stay in the suit for longer periods of time. The new cape also represented a significant advancement. After experimenting with velvet, costume designer Lindy Hemming and her team invented a new fabric made of parachute nylon and velvet pile that had an animal-like look but was light enough to fly. She also borrowed a technique called electrostatic flocking from the British Ministry of Defense that gave the cape a flowing, billowing effect.
38. Nolan shied away from using CGI whenever possible, even attempting to use real bats on the set. That lasted one day. Dead bats were scanned digitally to create the computer images and proved much easier to handle than the real things.
39. Gotham was based on New York, Tokyo, and especially Chicago, where some of the scenes were filmed on location. Gotham City license plates were designed to look like Illinois plates so that they would look consistent with other plates while filming car-chase scenes in the city.
The Dark Knight
40. Before Batman Begins was even complete, Goyer had written treatments for two more Batman movies. The second was to have Batman, Harvey Dent, and Sergeant James Gordon working to take down the Joker. Then, in the third, the Joker would turn Dent into Two-Face during his trial. Instead, those stories were combined in the script for The Dark Knight, which Nolan wrote with his brother Jonathan Nolan.
41. The fake name given to The Dark Knight during production was Rory’s First Kiss, named for Nolan’s son Rory. Notices posted throughout Chicago included this title but it didn’t take long for the code to be cracked. When the studio posted casting notices for Rory’s First Kiss, it mentioned that the film was “a Warner Bros. production directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale and Gary Oldman.” When the movie was delivered to theaters, it was labeled Oliver’s Army in an attempt to deter piracy.
42. Heath Ledger closed himself off in a hotel room for a month to get into character for the Joker. He worked on his voice and personality, all while keeping a diary to chronicle the Joker’s thoughts. He also designed the character’s makeup with some mascara and grease paint. Ledger said Sid Vicious and the thugs in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange inspired him, while costume designer Lindy Hemming looked to scraggly musicians like Pete Doherty, Iggy Pop, and Johnny Rotten.
43. Katie Holmes turned down a chance to reprise Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight so she could make Mad Money with Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah.
44. While Bale did speak in a bearlike growl when dressed as Batman, much of the bizarre gravelly effect of his voice in The Dark Knight was added in postproduction.
45. Heath Ledger directed both videos sent to the news network GCN by the Joker. Nolan supervised the direction of the first and gave the actor full autonomy to direct the second.
46. Composer Hans Zimmer set out to create the Joker’s signature sound without retreading stock villain music. He started experimenting with razor blades on piano wire and pencils tapping on the floor. Ultimately the sound he settled on hinged on playing two conflicting notes on a cello then adding in a guitar part played with a piece of metal.